Courtesy Chris Henderson Dan Schier (SFS ’05) bikes across the American idwest.

For the first time during his cross-country bike trip, Chris Henderson (SFS ’03) felt utterly stranded.

After pedaling up Soldiers’ Summit in Utah, Henderson and Dan Schier (SFS ’05) found themselves in the middle of a thunderstorm. Lightning flashed all around, and the two were forced to find shelter under a grove of trees. Temperatures plummeted to just above freezing, though it was already June.

Buffeted by wind and rain, the two decided to pitch their tent behind a gas station at the summit. Eventually, the “scraggly-looking” gas station attendant offered the two riders lodging in his basement, Henderson recalled. Good thing: “It snowed six inches that night,” he said.

Henderson and Schier experienced many such examples of “out-of-the-blue philanthropy” along their multi-state, 47-day bike trek across America. It was fitting, however, considering the philanthropic goals Henderson and Schier had in mind: to raise money for Catholic Relief Services.

According to the agency’s description, CRS serves as the non-proselytizing overseas relief and development agency of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. CRS operates in 80 countries worldwide and promotes sustainable agricultural methods, medical relief, microfinancing and education. Henderson decided to raise money for the charity because he considers it very efficient, and “one dollar can go farther abroad.”

The pair, as part of Hoyas Across America, an organization spearheaded by Henderson supplemented their initial individual donations with $2,700 collected from people they met while on the road. The Georgetown Jesuit residence contributed funds to defray their lodging and emergency costs, and the Office of Volunteer and Public Service donated money for food. Of the $6,500 collected, Henderson sent $4,000, after expenses, to CRS.

“I decided to go on the trip because I had passed up many big projects in the past and wanted to do something interesting for once during the summer,” Schier explained. “I was sick of working at home and wanted to see the country, many parts of which I haven’t visited, especially out west.”

Henderson pitched his “Hoyas Across America” project at last year’s SAC Fair. By the time summer arrived, however, only two were able to undertake the project, but as Schier explained, “it also solidified my commitment to the effort.”

Henderson also stressed the “unbelievable kindness of strangers” he and Schier encountered while on their trip. People would offer their homes for a night’s rest or donate money to the pair after talking to them “in a parking lot or along the side of the road,” Henderson said.

While the two had planned their route and secured lodging arrangements for each night, they often depended on generosity and “randomness,” as Henderson called it, to continue their trip.

“One day we were in the middle of Utah, and the tire of my supply wagon goes flat,” he said. “I don’t have a spare tire, and there isn’t a Wal-Mart for 100 miles. But not 10 minutes later, a man with the same trailer rides by and gives me his spare . After something bad happened, something good would happen.”

An eclectic group of people hosted Henderson and Schier, including a bodybuilding priest, a lesbian bike shop owner, a cattle auctioneer, a corn farmer and a dairy farmer. “An ex-con [gave] us a ride through the freezing Utah mountains, and a county commissioner gave us another ride,” Schier said. “I sat in the cab of his truck, right next to his shotgun.” For the most part, however, the pair stayed with the priests and parishioners of the areas they visited.

Together, Schier and Henderson pedaled from the shores of Delaware through the Appalachians, across the Mississippi, across the Great Plains, over the Rocky Mountains, through the Nevada desert and across the Sierra Nevada. Although they named the constant ascents and descents of the Appalachians as the most difficult part of the journey, riding through the wheat fields of the Midwest presented different challenges. Schier called pedaling for miles and miles without any change in the Midwestern landscape “a Zen experience.”

After traveling for over a month and a half and spending, as Henderson noted, almost “every waking moment together,” the two got along surprisingly well. “Our personalities complemented each other,” Henderson explained.

The two parted ways just north of San Francisco. Schier stopped just north of the city to visit family, and Henderson crossed the Golden Gate Bridge on July 4, completing the coast-to-coast journey begun May 19.

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