Frankfort brothers Tucker and Parker Phelps, who began a 3,600-mile cross country cycling trip in May, are about 800 miles from the Atlantic Ocean and made a brief pit stop Monday in their hometown.
Tucker, 21, and Parker, 19, are members of Phi Gamma Delta fraternity at Western Kentucky University, pursuing degrees in nursing and are part of a Bike4Alz team raising money and awareness for Alzheimer's disease research.
"I had no plans to do the trip until I went to a fundraiser at Goodfellas in Lexington to meet the riders from (a prior) trip," said Tucker. "Before, I thought the idea of giving up your entire summer was crazy. But I talked to the guys, and they told me, 'This is the coolest thing that you'll ever do.' I realized it was a lifetime experience."
This year's team is composed of 12 riders and two drivers who travel alongside the crew with supplies. They began their journey by dipping their rear tires in the Pacific Ocean just after Mother's Day. Their trip will conclude in Virginia Beach on July 20.
Each day, the team covers around 70 miles. The Phelpses say despite the distance, they did little physical training. Most of the preparations revolved around event planning and coordination.
"We really didn't train at all," Parker said. "Both of us have always played sports, but as far as training, we really didn't. We just got on our bikes in San Francisco and did it. Most of the preparation involved finding places to stay and planning fundraisers."
The team relies on the kindness of strangers, various churches and other Phi Gamma Delta chapters for lodging. Most nights, the boys have a place to stay arranged in advance; other nights, they are forced to tent camp.
"I think the most rewarding thing has been seeing how kind others can be," Parker said. "All of our hosts have gone above and beyond. Complete strangers have helped us out and supported us. Like, when we were in McDonald's the other day, a man started talking to us about what we were doing. He ended up giving us a $100 McDonald's gift card."
Parker also recalled a white car that followed slowly behind him one evening when he was feeling particularly exhausted.
"A man in all white — bald with very kind eyes — got out of the car and handed me a water bottle," he said. "All he said was 'stay hydrated' then went back to his car and drove off in the opposite direction. It was like he was an angel."
But the journey has not come without some ugly challenges.
"We got stuck in a hail storm in Nevada, around Lake Tahoe," Tucker said. "We had to pull over and wait for it to pass."
Along with unexpected weather, the terrain posed threats to the team's mission.
"Biking the Rockies was amazing, but there was one day that we went up 3,000 feet in just 7 miles," said Parker. "We also went 120 miles in one day going from Colorado into Kansas, which is about double what we're used to. And at one point when we were in Kansas, I got knocked off my bike by the wind from a semi truck."
According to the brothers, western Kentucky has been their biggest relief yet. Although the region is represented by the Hilltoppers, Parker and Tucker say that portion of Kentucky is, ironically, the flattest terrain they have encountered.
"The mental fortitude of biking every day and the idea that every day gets a little easier is something that will translate into all other aspects of life," Tucker said. "At first, 70 miles seemed crazy. Now, it's no big deal."