Cyclists from Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity across the country stopped in Pratt during their 4,300 plus miles trip across the U.S. to raise funds and awareness for people with handicaps of all kinds.

Hopping on a bicycle and traveling 4,370 miles in the summer may not seem like an ideal way to spend a vacation but that's exactly what 88 bicyclists from Pi Kappa Phi Fraternities across America are doing this year to raise money and awareness for people with disabilities in their cross country “Journey of Hope.”

One of three groups of Journey of Hope riders was in Pratt on July 12 and paid a friendship visit to the clients and staff at Arrowhead West. The group enjoyed a noon meal with clients and staff then got to cool off with a water balloon fight, dunk tank and water slide as well as some snow cones.

For supper, Ninnescah Archers invited the team to their club for some shooting and a streak dinner with all the fixings. The cyclists and crew members had a good time learning how to shoot and a couple even learned about an atlatl, a very long arrow that is thrown with a throwing stick.

The meal was a special treat for the group. Ninnescah Archers has been providing a meal for Journey of Hope for about 10 years. Each year every team member signs a t-shirt for the club collection. The group was very thankful for the meal that included home made ice cream. The group only gets steak once or twice on their ride and they really enjoyed their good food and hospitality at Ninnescah Archers.

Each year, participating members in Journey of Hope have to raise funds to participate in the ride. This year, participants have to raise $5,500 each that will become grant funding for organizations that deal with people with disabilities, said media person Jacob Beale.

In 2017, Journey of Hope, combined with corporate sponsorship, is expected to raise some $650,000 for people with disabilities.

The trip began in Seattle on June 3 when the group set out for their two and a half month trip. There are two other groups on two other routes and all three are scheduled to meet up in Washington D.C. on the Capital steps on Aug. 12.

The group that came through Pratt has the longest of the three routes. They get up around 5:45 a.m., pack up the support vehicles, have a light breakfast, review their days travel route then head on down the road with support vans leap frogging around the riders. They make sure the riders stay within 10 miles of each other and are available to provide water and food, help with bicycle repair and any medical needs, said Beale, who, like all the crew members, are certified in first aid and CPR.

On most days they cover from 75 to 80 miles. On day two, however, they took on Mount Rainier and rode 125 miles going over two 4,000 foot passes in the pouring rain at 40 degrees with a headwind and sometimes snow.

"They all finished strong that day. It was one of the hardest days," Beale said.

Staying hydrated is a big factors for the riders. When the riders got out of the mountains in Colorado where the temperature could start at 30 degrees, they had several days in Kansas where it reached 100. They are not seeing the inclines here but they are also not getting into declines either.

While in Pratt, the group stayed at the municipal building. Sometimes they get money donations to stay in a motel but that is rare. Most of the time they spend the night on high school gym floors, YMCA or the Salvation Army provides a location.

There are Kansans in Journey of Hope but none with the group that came through Pratt. Cyclist Ben Jackson is "close to Kansas" and attends the University of Colorado in Boulder. He said 11 guys from his fraternity participated last year and they encouraged him and others to take part. At first, Jackson didn't think this was a big deal but he soon changed his tune after going over Mount Rainier.

Since he has participated in the ride, he has learned to appreciate little things he used to take for granted like sleeping in a bed, having clean clothes and having his own shower.

His biggest challenge on the ride has been to keep a good, positive attitude. The mental battle he had going over Mount Rainier was hard for him.

One of his best experiences was traveling through Kansas. He had never been in Kansas before and he got here just by riding a bicycle. Jackson also enjoys the friendship meetings with disabled people across the country. It has helped him grow as a person to see how those with disabilities don't give up and over come challenges.

"They press on and never give up," Jackson said.

Another close to Kansas rider is Ryan Duke who attends Colorado State University. He has wanted to make the trip since the joined the fraternity. He wasn't able to get an internship this summer and it would be his last chance to go so he decided to pull the trigger and do it.

He has grown as a person and has gained new friends, grown stronger mentally and physically. His biggest challenge on the trip keeping a positive outlook even when the voice in his head says he is tired and hurting.

He really enjoyed the ride from Phillipsburg to Butte, Mont. At the George Town Lake between the Olympia Mountains and the Grand Tetons, he marveled at the lake full of trout and how he would never have seen it like he did on a bike.

He also enjoyed a friendship visit in Casper, Wyo. where he met Warren, a man with brain tumors. He learned a lot about living from Warren, said Duke whose life changed after their meeting.

Duke also works with Unified Sports and Special Olympics. Duke said it was the highlight of their week to spend time with people who volunteer to help them.

Beale said they hear from the other teams they have different outlooks even though the motto is "Same Team, Same Dream."

Beale said he has enjoyed doing the journey and leaning about other traditions from the other riders. He encourages everyone who has the chance to do the Journey if they get the chance. He has learned much from the friendship visits. They are so happy to see the riders and Beale has learned how to get joy out of things.

The biggest thing Beale has learned in this experience comes down to a simple philosophy.

"The only disability in life is a bad attitude," Beale said.

@GaleR_Tribune