May 102009
 
Authors: Erin Smith

“You’re biking across America this summer.” Period. What would you do, if one your college friends text-messaged something similar to you?

Kristen DeMint, a senior graduating with a degree in restaurant and resort management, said ‘okay’ to her friend Mark Kowalik, another senior graduating this spring, when he invited her on a cross-country bike trip via text message last November.

They will be riding their bicycles together this summer from the month of May, just following graduation ceremonies, until August in an effort to raise funds for the Invisible Children Foundation, a non-profit created in response to a 22-year-long civil war in Northern Uganda.

From Oregon to Virginia, for each of the grueling, 4,262 miles on the road, they will be seeking sponsorship of $3, to total into $10,000 in donations to the “Schools For Schools” program, which is a project aimed at bringing 10 Ugandan schools decimated by the war to a nationally competitive standard.

Through their campaign, “Buy a Mile, Teach a Child,” they have collected donations through their Web site, www.biking4invisiblechildren.com, since early this semester.

From the first time he saw the Invisible Children documentary, Kowalik said he has wanted to do something to help.

“I knew I wanted to take this bike trip, and I knew I wasn’t able to financially help the Invisible Children Organization on my own,” he said.

The Invisible Children Organization has a variety of campaigns needing support and Schools For Schools emerged as the obvious choice as they were finalizing the details of their fundraising journey.

“Looking back at how privileged we are to have an education and parents to support us in that, we decided the best area to donate to would give kids the opportunity to succeed, to emerge as future leaders and give them the tools to be successful,” Kowalik said.

“For as long as I’ve been on board, this is a cause we decided we’d be interested in contributing to,” DeMint said in agreement.

A bike-trip worthy bond

Rather than jump directly into the job market in uncertain economic times, both DeMint and Kowalik, who graduates with a degree in natural resources and recreation tourism, have decided to forgo the job hunt to embark on an adventure and raise money for a good cause.

“It’s a great time in their lives to be doing this,” said Caroline DeMint, Kristen’s mom, from her home in Thousand Oaks, Calif.

“Not only to have fun and see the world, but to reach out. They are very thankful for their educations and they want that opportunity for the kids in Uganda.”

After taking a road trip to Las Vegas together last fall, Kowalik decided to share his plan to bike across the country, a scheme he had originally planned to do alone.

“I need to talk to someone, or I’ll go crazy,” said Kowalik, a former member of the CSU cycling team, adding that DeMint’s relaxed attitude is what makes her his choice for a biking buddy.

“That’s what I love about her, she’s always ready to try anything,” he said of his friend.

The two became friends during their freshman year in college. While at the time they were both out-of-state students, Kowalik from Chicago, and DeMint from California, neither of them imagined their friendship would eventually develop into a bike-trip worthy bond.

On the road

The blistering heat of summer, headwinds, hills and flat tires are all concerns for them both.

They will tow a small trailer with all of their camping gear and food, but the resources will be limited between the towns they pass through.

Averaging about 60 miles a day, DeMint said they will plan stops two or three days in advance, according to a map they received through a sponsorship from Adventure Cycling. The map lists stops with information on amenities like grocery stores and campsites.

They plan to complete the journey by mid-August, after which they will part ways. Kowalik plans on completing an internship in Chicago before traveling internationally, and DeMint has decided to move to Argentina for a few months before settling in Tahoe, Calif. with a friend next year.

“I fully believe my life will always be fun, and I’m always going to try and make it that way,” DeMint said, describing their last hurrah before a return to everyday life.

“When else are you going to take three months off to ride a bike? I think it’s a great time to go,” she said.

During the trip, they’ll stay connected by updating their progress and uploading pictures to their Web site. A handheld phone device will keep them in contact with supporters, friends and family while on the road.

“We’ll be taking donations throughout the trip,” DeMint said.

Getting used to the toe-clips on her new road bike, outfitted with sturdy long-distance tires, DeMint took a fall on a recent training ride on Shields Street. Aside from sporting some road rash on her elbow and a roughed up shoulder, she took it in stride.

“They say every time you fall you learn something,” she said, adding that unlike Kowalik, she had little experience cycling before she decided to bicycle across the country.

Kowalik said they’ll have months on the road to train. Plenty of time, he said to get used to toe clips and the day to day difficulties they haven’t accounted for.

“My theory is that cycling is 80 percent mental and 20 percent physical, and you can only train up to a certain point,” he said.

“The one thing I know about Kristen is that she won’t give up.”

For information about Kowalik and DeMint’s trip and to donate to their cause, visit their Web site at http://www.biking4invisiblechildren.com.

Staff reporter Erin Smith can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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