Cross country cyclists brake for hometown of Blue Island
BY DONNA VICKROY firstname.lastname@example.org July 27, 2012 8:36PM
David Henry, 19, (center) talks about his experience of bicycling across the country with Momma Henry's Team Friday, July 27, 2012. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 30, 2012 6:22AM
When they pedaled into Blue Island this week, their hearts swelled.
“Riding down my street, seeing my mom opening the front door, her arms open wide, that’s when it hit me: I rode my bike from San Francisco to Chicago,” said Guadelupe Fernandez, one of four Eisenhower High School graduates cycling from California to York, Va., this summer in memory of her friends’ mother and to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
After 53 days of pushing it up mountains, sweating across deserts, overcoming heatstroke in Utah and eating ramen noodles around a campfire, the college students comprising Momma Henry’s Trek Across America finally were home for a much-needed break.
“I’m so happy to be home,” Fernandez, 20, said.
By all accounts, the feeling is mutual. Blue Island feted the riders at a welcome-back party on Friday evening in Central Park, replete with pizza, soft drinks and too many high-fives to count.
Among those who came out to cheer the team on was Eisenhower social studies teacher John Duckhorn.
“I was impressed with each of them as students,” Duckhorn said. “I’m that much more impressed now. I’m really proud of them.”
Antonia “Momma” Henry raised five children, homeschooling each until eighth grade. More recently, she worked as a parent liaison at Eisenhower. She died in November after a yearlong battle with lymphoma.
David Henry organized the trip in her memory and to support the LLS, an organization that helped his mom when she needed it most.
The group left San Francisco on June 1.
Along the way, David Henry, 19, went through 20 inner tubes and lost 30 pounds. Fernandez survived a bout with heatstroke in the Utah desert. And Johnathon Henry, 21, and Carlos Salgado, 21, came away with a new definition of America.
“The personality of America is small town,” Johnathon said. “We were founded on the small town and it continues today. There is a surprising amount of character and culture in that.”
Salgado said, “America is not what we thought it was. There’s a lot of space, a lot of desolation.”
There’s also a lot of kindness, trust and generosity, he said.
“I’m surprised that so many people would let us into their homes,” he said.
They couch-surfed, showered and were fed free meals by complete strangers. One woman even let David Henry use her car.
They also were introduced to an international network of cyclists.
“It’s surprising the number of people in the cycling community,” Johnathon Henry said. “Europeans come over here on vacation just to cycle across the United States. We met people from the Netherlands and all over the world.”
For David Henry, who organized the 4,000-mile trip, the most memorable part so far has been when the group crossed the continental divide.
“At 11,312 feet, it was our highest climb and it was our last climb,” he said. “Knowing it was downhill from there, after 32 days of straight mountains, was fantastic.”
After a week of rest, which for Johnathon Henry was filled with multiple trips to Beggars Pizza, the team heads back out Sunday, bound for York, Va.
Through sponsorship and donations, they’ve raised more than $10,000 for the LLS.
What would “Momma” Henry say?
Howard Henry could answer that: “My wife was an adventurous person. She would say, ‘I envy you.’ This is the kind of thing she’d want to tag along on.”
Mostly, he said, she’d be proud.
“I know I am,” he said.