A father-daughter team have recently completed a 3,700-mile bicycle trek across the United States to support underserved children in Asia. Riders Dawn Jones and Ray Gifford made the long journey to raise awareness in America about children in need in Asia and two of the charities that support them, Alpha Communities and Shining Light International.
"Not only did we want to ride our bicycles, but we wanted to ride with a purpose," said Jones, a Springfield Township native.
The pair, who had been riding together since Jones was a child, started May 18 near San Francisco. They also had two support roadies, Chris Bergquist and Bart Williams. After leaving the Pacific Ocean, the team crossed the plains of Kansas and farmlands in the Midwest, went south on the Great Allegheny Passage trail in Pennsylvania, and ended in Yorktown, Va., for a family reunion on July 19.
Gifford, a resident of Cimarron, Colo., first came up with the idea about five years ago when playing dominoes with his daughter. Jones said she was up for the ride but only after her kids were older. In the interim, Gifford and Jones trained in their respective towns.
Whenever she could, Jones worked out at the Green YMCA, which offered childcare. When the kids were in school, she rode and hiked trails in the area. She also read up on people who had done the trip before.
"It’s a very good thing to learn from someone else’s experience, so we don't all have to fail in the same places," she said.
Gifford, who planned the route with Bergquist, practiced part of the route on the weekends by pedaling through some of the hardest mountain passes they would encounter in Colorado. Aged 67, Gifford is a long-time cyclist and he has been doing week-long rides in the Canadian Rockies annually for the past 14 years.
The father-daughter duo also made sure to ride for a cause. Called Sea2Sea 2017, the charity program was hosted by Beloved Ministries, a subsidiary of Across International Ministries. It focuses on raising money and awareness for nonprofits, Shining Light International and Alpha Communities. The former nonprofit provides education to more than 1,000 children in troubled areas of Pakistan while the latter has foster homes for children in Mongolia.
Jones and Gifford spent time talking with people in the towns they passed about the purpose for their ride. Jones said having a purpose made it easier to complete the trip.
"A ride like this opens up opportunities to speak about topics that you are passionate about," she said. "It makes the bumps in the road seem small because you are not just riding for the joy of it. You’re riding for a bigger mission that won’t be affected by wind or rumble strips, but will be affected by you finishing well."
But, it wasn’t all easy.
"The worst part was the wind," said Jones. "Head winds make pedaling frustrating and sudden canyon crosswinds can blow you out of your traveling lane into danger in an instant."
Still, Jones found the light every day.
"Hands down, the best part was pedaling at sunrise daily with my daddy," she said. "The scenery was stunning most days and the conversation was wonderful. I am especially fond of the snow-capped mountain passes."
What’s next for the pair? Jones is settling back into her role as housewife. She continues to cycle as a commuter. Gifford returned to Colorado where he teaches young people about mission trips. He still cycles on the weekends and is already talking about another big ride.
Jones hopes their story will inspire others to do something similar, even those that feel they are "too old" because that’s never truly the case.