A quick check of Google maps indicates that from start to finish, a journey from Seattle to Washington, D.C., will require more than 2,700 miles worth of travel.
Now, imagine doing that on a bike.
That's what 22 young men who are members of various chapters of the national Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity are doing this summer in an effort to raise money and awareness on behalf of people with disabilities.
Dubbed the Journey of Hope, the men began their journey Wednesday morning at the Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle and made the Enumclaw Ashley House their first stop the same evening. These friendship visits that will take place along their cross country route allow the men to get to know the people they're riding for and spend some quality time with them.
Over a communal dinner Wednesday night with some of the kids who live at Ashley House as well as staff members, the men conveyed their appreciation for the hospitality as well as their admiration for service that Ashley House provides to children living with disabilities as well as their families.
They enjoyed the facilities so much so that several rushed through dinner to resume playing video games with the kids.
What is Ashley House?
Ashley House has been a presence in Enumclaw since 1989. It was set up to be a home for children with special needs and their families who are coping with the challenges that that presents.
Otherwise, the children would likely have to stay in a hospital or other facility that may not be as amenable to accommodating their families who oftentimes also need help and guidance too.
Ashley House aims to help normalize life for both the children and their families. "Our work is long-standing," said director of program services Michael Pugsley. The staff works with the local school district, the state, healthcare providers and parents to come up with the best solutions for the children.
Much of the emphasis is on helping the children, but "it's really also about helping the family around the kids," he said.
According to Pugsley, who relayed this information from a medical field acquaintance, the cost for caring for a child in a hospital for nine days is equivalent to a two-month stay at Ashley House.
The cost of care for a child is taken care of through a combination of resources that could include public assistance, foster care, and private insurance, he said.
While Ashley House has benefitted from donor contributions, they have been directed toward making capital improvements including replacing a roof as well as interior renovations when needed.
The House in Enumclaw is a large 10,000-square-foot home that sits on six acres. Ashley House also maintains four other facilities in Tacoma, Kent and Olympia. Combined, the organization is supported by 85 employees at all five facilities and over the years, Pugsley estimates that about 900 children have been helped through Ashley House.
To support its work, Ashley House relies on volunteers for everything from helping to make improvements to the facility to simply spending time with the children. More information about how you can get involved is available on the organization's website.
Journey of Hope Isn't Just for Avid Cyclists
While youth is on their side, which in itself imparts a certain amount of vitality and stamina to accomplish such a cross country ride, the men are the first to admit that they aren't necessarily cycling enthusiasts. And they know this is going to be hard.
"It's unbelievably hard to ride," said Wes Clarkson, who rode the Journey of Hope last year and this year serves as the team's crew chief having just graduated from Queens University of Charlotte in North Carolina. "These guys work really hard."
The team will average 80 miles each day, but daily mileage can fluctuate anywhere from 30 miles a day to 130 miles a day, he said. As crew chief, he isn't riding but is supervising the crew in helping to supply food and water and mark routes and turns so that the cyclists only have to worry about getting themselves up the hill.
They aim to be in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 13, he said.
Axel Holm, of Iowa State, who serves as both the team spokesperson and a crew member explained that the team did have some regional training events and at the beginning of Journey of Hope is accompanied by a trainer to help get the men oriented and accustomed to the long rides.
Justin Wallace, of the University of Tennesee in Knoxville, acknowledges he'll likely feel overwhelmed at times. "We'll just get on the bike each day," he said. "It's painful and it's tough. But people with disabilities -- they can't just say 'I don't feel like it,' so we won't either."
From All Over the U.S.
The 22 cyclists come from everywhere including Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, Virginia and Washington, D.C.
They represent schools including Purdue University, University of North Carolina, George Washington University, Texas Christian University, University of Massachusetts - Amherst, University of Tennessee, Virginia Tech, University of Nevada and the University of Southern Mississippi.
As part of Pi Kappa Phi, participating in Journey of Hope is one way the men get to meet each other over the course of a year. Several other philanthropic events and conferences also give the fraternity members a chance to hang out together, Holm said.
In fact, though there was no one representing the University of Washington in this group, the team did meet and have dinner with the local chapter when they first arrived in Seattle, Holm said.
So they know it's hard -- why do they do it?
Drew Szaroletta, also of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, said he had previously done volunteer work with the Special Olympics and other organizations throughout high school. "When I learned about this [Journey of Hope], I was automatically set on it."
Fellow classmate Wallace added, "I don't think you get a lot of opportunities in life to do good not only for yourself but for a lot of other people. ... Once you get involved, you realize how little it takes to make a difference."
Marshall Grill, from the University of Nevada - Reno is a returning cyclist who rode a different route last year. "It was the greatest summer of my life," he said. "It was for a great cause and we met great people."
Clarkson concurred. Upon reaching Washington, D.C., the team will head toward the U.S. Capitol to conclude their journey. At that point, "the feeling you get is indescribable," he said. "You have a huge welcome and your family and friends are there. August 14,  -- it was the best day of my life."
Every cyclist commits to raising at least $5,000 on behalf of people with disabilities. Combine their individual efforts with corporate sponsorships and the Journey of Hope 2011 team will raise more than $500,000 for people with disabilities.
Joining up with Other Journeys
This Seattle-to-Washington, D.C., team is known as the Journey of Hope TransAmerica team.
Two other teams called Journey of Hope North and Journey of Hope South are set to leave San Francisco this weekend, and their routes are reflected in their names: one will take a northerly route and the other a southerly one. Both aim to meet with the TransAmerica team in Washington, D.C., on August 13.
But first, the TransAmerica guys need to get past the Cascades.
The TransAmerica team is set for a 6 a.m. departure from the in Enumclaw Thursday morning, heading up State Route 410 toward Cayuse Pass on their way toward Yakima, Wash., their next stop. It's a 112 mile ride.
If you're up and about and in town at that hour, keep an eye out for them!
Follow Them on their Journey
Twitter - JOHtrans (track them via #JOH2011)