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Following their dream

Friday, January 4, 2013

NOREEN HYSLOP-nhyslop@dailystatesman.com John Hunter, at left, with his uncle, Shane Hunter, have been cycling across the U.S. since May 2012. The pair passed through Dexter this week on their way from Maine to Arizona.
They're an unlikely pair -- a 51-year-old and his 35-year-old nephew -- on a mission to inspire others to follow their dreams.

Their dream, which they've been ardently pursuing since last May, is to reach the Grand Canyon. When they reached Dexter over the New Year's holiday, the duo had logged in nearly half of their proposed 3,000 miles -- all by bicycle.

The uncle of the pair, Shane Hunter, 51, was unemployed last spring. His nephew, John, was washing dishes at a restaurant in his hometown in Maine. Restless and with a spirit of adventure, John made the decision to quit his job and fulfill a lifelong dream. He wanted to see Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon, and everything in-between on a journey from east to west.

"He didn't agree to go along right away," John said of the invitation to his uncle to join him. "It took a few days."

It was a warm day in May 2012 when the pair left their Maine home on bicycles that were donated to them for their trek across the country. Neither were accomplished bikers. Neither had ever maneuvered weighted-down bicycles along the shoulder of a busy four-lane blacktop as traffic whizzed by in excess of 60 miles per hour.

"It had been a good 20 years," said John, "since I'd even been on a bike."

The pair has battled 100+ temperatures and most recently sleet and snow with the mercury dropping into the teens. They're currently on their eighth and ninth bicycles, each donated by friends established along their western route.

"We've met people who see our bikes and say, 'Hey, you're not going to make it much further on those things,' and they come up with an old used bike in their garage and give it to us. That's how we've made it," Shane explained.

A couple of worn tarps and a pair of backpacks carry all their supplies, including clothing.

"When winter came on," Shane noted, "we had to start carrying heavier clothes, which meant a lot more weight. With our own weight, plus supplies, we're each pushing over 300 pounds."

Literally hundreds of the miles behind them have been covered on foot, pushing their two-wheel vehicles uphill. It's those moments at which they've questioned their sanity on more than one occasion, but they say they've never regretted their decision to make the trip.

"We've seen sights we never thought we'd see," said John, "and we've met the most amazing people. The people have been the best part of this journey."

The two have camped in state parks and cooked food on campfires, although they much prefer ordering off the dollar menu at McDonald's or Burger King.

Camping in open air or state parks in freezing temperatures with hail and sleet and in the mosquito-ridden summer heat, the two admit they had no idea what a bicycle journey across the U.S. would entail. But what they lacked in experience, they made up for in faith. Since their trip began, their bikes have carried words of inspiration found in the Bible's Book of Proverbs. The verses seem fitting for the bearded, often weary travelers. Visible to motorists approaching John are the words from Proverbs 3:16 -- "In all your ways acknowledge him, and He will make your paths straight."

And for the elder of the two, the words from Proverbs 16:3 -- "Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed."

The pair's stopover in Dexter came about just as many similar stops across the country have been made possible -- through the kindness of strangers.

"We'd never have gotten this far without help from so many people along the way," John explained. "It's funny, but at our lowest point on this journey, when we didn't have a dime to spend or a thing to eat, it was total strangers who came to our rescue."

Those strangers include pastors, farmers, store clerks and even a small town mayor from New York state who allowed the two to "camp out" on his front porch overnight.

They haven't depended upon the help from strangers entirely, however, along their route. There is no sponsorship for the two, and so they have worked at tasks from farm work and gardening to handyman chores, with hopes that each job will earn them enough to see them through the next leg of their trip.

With hopes of someday writing a book about his travels, John records his thoughts nearly every day in a journal he's managed to keep out of the weather along his bike trek.

"I try to write down the highlights," he said.

The pair was headed west Friday to Poplar Bluff with plans to then head south and pick up Hwy. 62, which they said will take them all the way to Arizona. Asked if they had an estimated time of arrival at the Grand Canyon, they responded with a laugh, "Soon."

Once there, the two plan on spending a few days just taking in the beauty of what many refer to as the "Eighth Wonder of the World."

"Then we'll probably head to the West Coast and eventually find a way back," Shane said. "We'd like to stop in and see some of the folks we've met on the way. We're not sure how we'll get back yet -- maybe by RV. We just know it won't be on the seat of a bicycle!"

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I wonder how they are going to acquire an RV on the West Coast? Regardless, that is a great story. Very inspirational.

-- Posted by Blogdog on Fri, Jan 4, 2013, at 5:35 PM

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