Dianne Frances D. Powell
TERRE HAUTE —
Two college students hopped onto their bicycles and together went on a “huge adventure” this summer for a cause close to their hearts.
What Jesse Beller called a “huge adventure” is riding 800 miles from his hometown of Jasonville to Fort Walton Beach, Fla., alongside his cousin, Garrett Caldwell.
The cycling duo left Jasonville on July 6 and reached the beach 10 days later, cycling for an average of 90 to 100 miles per day.
“I was in awe,” Caldwell said of what he felt upon reaching the beach. He still could not believe they made it to Florida “but it’s the experience of a lifetime.”
“The trip, our goal was finally accomplished,” the 22-year old Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis student added.
Their goal of reaching Florida on their bikes was only a part of their bigger purpose.
Caldwell and Beller — who planned to drive back to Indiana Friday night — aim to raise awareness and funds for the American Cancer Society, the organization that helped their grandmother after she was diagnosed with breast cancer more than two years ago.
Inspired by their grandmother, Sue Nance of Lebanon — who is now cancer-free — Caldwell and Beller want to help other patients.
“We thought we could pay it forward” and help somebody else out, Beller said.
“We’re just trying to do a small part and help on the bigger picture,” the 19-year old Vincennes University student said.
Beller’s mother, Laura, who followed the two cyclists in a support vehicle for part of the trip, expressed her pride.
“Very exciting to be with them, so proud of them for their hard work and determination,” she said, admitting that when she first heard of the idea two years ago “thought it was pretty crazy.”
And the long journey took hard work.
“It was definitely tough at first,” Beller said, adding that on their first day, they traveled 120 miles on their bikes. It was their longest day.
“It was a ... wakeup call of how hard it was going to be, but I’m not complaining. It was worth it,” Beller said.
Eventually, they learned to manage the long trip.
“When we broke it down per day,” said Caldwell, a resident of Lebanon, their goal became much easier to achieve. He said they started to “relax and take it easy.”
The cousins pushed on and stuck to their route that took them through the back roads, small towns and hills of Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama, before reaching Florida.
“We don’t have hills like that at the Wabash Valley,” Beller said.
While the Wabash Valley experienced a heat wave last week, Beller said that it was “a lot cooler for July than we thought it would be.”
But the wind posed a physical challenge.
“We had headwind most of the time,” Beller said, which meant that the cyclists had to work harder.
Beller points out that there was never a time when the pair wanted to give up.
He reminded himself of “how hard we’ve worked leading up to this, and to give up now would just throw everything we worked for.”
The cousins put together fundrasing events in the area before embarking on the trip. They also reached out to the American Cancer Society early on. They originally planned the trip for the summer of 2012 but after Beller had a knee injury, so they put it off for a year. Caldwell said they plan to donate around $2,000 to the American Cancer Society when they get back to Indiana.
Beller said keeping in mind the support his hometown has given him and the support from the people he met along the way kept him going.
“The whole way, people were just really supportive. ... everybody was helpful,” he said. His mother, Laura, also said that people donated to their cause. These donations included free hotel room stays in some cities.
But even when the cousins were close to the finish line, their resolve was tested.
Caldwell said he ran on a flat tire the last 10-15 miles of the trip after they ran out of supplies.
“I would say the hardest part was staying mentally tough,” he said.
“I was really frustrated at that point . ... We went through all of our tubes,” Caldwell said of running on a flat tire.
But “it was the perfect ending to the perfect ride. It taught me no matter how close you are, you still have to be patient.”
Caldwell said through the trip he wanted to “try to inspire people to do something like this.”
“No matter how big or small your part is, it is important to get involved,” he said.
The activity they chose took months of preparation and training. Because Caldwell and Beller lived in different cities, they trained separately. But Beller credits Caldwell’s influence for getting him interested in cycling.
And their bond as cousins made the trip even more memorable.
“We’re good friends. We just have a close relationship,” Caldwell said.
Just like most things in life, every hill can be conquered with family.
“We helped each other get through this ride, for sure,” Caldwell ended.
Tribune-Star Reporter Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299 or dianne.powell