September 11th,

 Final Day

It has been almost two months now since I have written anything regarding the Fijis Across America bike trip for Alzheimer’s.  I have blogged about everyday of the trip except for the last day. So now that I have had plenty of time to meditate on the trip and see some of the effects it has had on people I am prepared to write my final entry of my journey.

On the day of the ride we had less than 40 miles to ride to reach the destination of Yorktown, VA.  We first rode to Mike and Barbara Stripling’s home to eat a wonderful breakfast of blueberry pancakes and bacon.  We enjoyed it tremendously but most of all we enjoyed talking with our new friends of Mike and Barbara.  They were so encouraging to all of us as young men and made us believe that all things are possible if we really want to accomplish them.  We then rode on as we were all anxious to reach our destination.  As we rode on the colonial parkway we saw our different family members congratulating us as we neared our destination.  Mitch’s family made banners, Cameron’s father drove the vehicle so Jordan could ride along, and we all enjoyed every mile. 

As we pulled into Yorktown with the beach just ahead, I thought of the previous 3,000 miles we had traveled.  There were so many people that I will never forget.  Jeff Ingram in Oceanside, CA, Steve from the Wickenburg, AZ fire station, Pastor Rick from Mancos, CO, the mayor and his wife in Toronto, KS, the older gentlemen that was on a bike trip to celebrate his retirement, the many friends of Kentucky that opened their homes to us, Dana Hess and the Fiji Chapters in Virginia, and so many others that were so generous.  I thought about how selfish I can be with my possessions and so many other things, but these people were so generous and made our trip possible.  There were so many that helped make our dream of traveling cross country a reality and I have retained this inspiration as I have now started school.

All nine states memories crossed my mind as I pulled up to the body of water.  I saw my family, including my niece Scarlett Jean, my cousins Mike, Sue, Josh, Sarah, Savanah, Nick, Daja, and Isaiah, and many other friends standing on the beach.  However, we all had a job to do and that was jumping in the water.  We dove head first like a fish out of water and splashed around like we had seen the ocean for the first time.  It was a moment I will remember for all my life.  A true moment of accomplishment.

I went on to spend time with my family that night and enjoyed being with my niece that I had not seen for so long.  But, as I thought of the great adventure I had finished I realized once more how God takes us on the ultimate journey.  Riding your bicycle across the country is wonderful and I will always remember it, but my journey as a man of God has been the most meaningful and will continue to be in my time here on earth.  God is mysterious and he works in powerful ways.  Two months following the ride I have had so many people on WKU’s campus give us such great encouragement, support, and congratulations.  But, I hope everyone realizes that our ride was more than an adventure.  It was bringing hope to thousands that have felt the sharp pain of Alzheimer’s.  It was a mission more divine than 7 guys going cross country, but instead a mission that was divinely blessed with little problems and many blessings.  For God used this bike ride this summer and I pray the lessons learned and hope found will never end in Yorktown, VA but instead carry on for years to come.

At the end of an adventure but always in His Adventure,

Chaz Vittitow

July 15th 2010, Mountpellier, VA - Chickahominy River

Day 50

We woke up in the house of Fiji brother, Oz, and got ready for our second to last day of riding.  We enjoyed some bagels and also some leftover apple cobbler from the Dutch Oven.  Breakfast of Champions.

We began our ride where we had left off the day before.  We were on a little more of a tight schedule because we had to be at the Dominion Energy headquarters by 1030 in Richmond, VA for the event they were hosting for us.  We rode through the suburbs and downtown of Richmond where we rode past Virginia Commonwealth University.  I enjoy seeing the different campuses we pass along the way.

We arrived to Dominion Energy and we were welcomed by our friends David and Mark and the president of the Richmond Alzheimer’s Association chapter.  We took some photos and then we went inside to cool off for a bit.  When the event started we rode our bikes onto the stage where the employees of Dominion welcomed us.  The Vice President of the company offered a wonderful congratulations speech and made the whole crowd laugh with his stories of his mother, who suffered from Alzheimer’s.  Dominion presented Fijis Across America with $1,000 and we were very honored.  It gives me hope in corporate America to see a big corporation take the time to host an event for us and donate toward our cause. 

We rode the last 40 miles into our campsite on the Chickahominy River.  Dana Hesse was there to meet us and was treating us to one dinner at the home of his family friends, Barbara and Mike Stripling.  We were also met by Virginia Tech grad brother, Sean, who now lives in Virginia Beach.  After we showered, we drove up the rode to enjoy some barbecue and cedar plank salmon at the couples home.  Barbara and Mike were so hospitable and very pleasant to be around.  We listened to their stories and enjoyed the several talents they possessed with Barbara’s photography and Mike’s painting and wood carvings.  They inspired me to pursue your passion and share your blessings with others.  They were very generous to have us in their home and entertain us with their amazing stories.

We returned to the campsite and enjoyed our final night together.  Justin started a campfire for us and we pulled our Wade’s guitar.  Dana and Sean stuck around for the music and we all gathered around for one last night of “broing” out and doing some picking and singing.  I opened the night with a couple original songs such as “My schedule is open” and “Pensacola” (despite what Cameron might tell you) and then Wade, the real guitarist, took over.  We listened to some picking, joined in on some of our favorites (Free Fallin, Folsom Prison Blues, Walking in Memphis, Etc.) and even Cameron got his wish of singing “Snake Farm” while Jordan picked on the guitar.  It was the perfect last night as we camped out and enjoyed the guys we had gone through so many trials with the past summer. 

As I hopped into my hammock to call it a night I thought of the great journey we had accomplished.  Crossing the Mohave Desert, climbing over the Continental Divide, and surviving the Appalachian Mountains, I had gone through some of my toughest challenges with these other men.  But, I know these are some of the best men I have known and I am proud to have made the trek across the country with them.  We have one more day to soak up the joy of this challenge and one more day to soak in the lessons God offers us through this journey.

In His Adventure,

Chaz Vittitow

July 14th 2010, Charlottesville, VA - Montpellier, VA

Day 49

We woke up in the UVA Fiji house and got ready for a day full of media.  The day begun at 615 in front of the Rotunda on UVA’s grounds with a interview and photo shoot.  Tyler did a great job in his interview and we all enjoyed being on tv since it was a live shoot.  We then went back to the house to enjoy some Bodo’s bagels (which are awesome) and Tyler and Jordan went to do a radio interview. 

We started our ride from the Fiji house and rode with eagerness since we only have three days left.  We rode through the UVA grounds one last time and were able to get out of the busy town pretty quickly.  In looking at the elevation gradient we knew the ride would be much easier than the day before in climbing the blue ridge mountain ridge.

At about the 25 mile mark we were met by David and Mark, of the Dominion Energy media crew.  Dominion is one of the biggest energy corporations with over 18,000 employees and covers several states.  They will be hosting an event for us in Richmond tomorrow and were putting a video together for us and for their corporation to have for their records.  David and Mark were very nice and very professional in their filming and capturing of all the riders.  They even stuck around with us as we ate some bologna fo lunch and took a short nap.

We were able to cut some mileage off the original route so we could arrive at our destination sooner.  Unfortunately, we did encounter a short section of gravel that we had to get off our bikes to cross.  But, it was less than a mile and we were able to hope right back on the bike. 

We arrived to Robert Osborne’s (aka Oz) house in Montpellier at a pretty decent hour.  He lives out in the country a little and we chilled in his garage for a while and drank some cold water and root beer.  Dana and Oz arranged for a cookout and some Fiji graduates from Old Dominion were coming over.  After we showered up we enjoyed the company of all the men and their families.  We ate hamburgers and hotdogs and listened to old lies from their college days.  We ended the night with watching some Man vs Food on the discovery channel. 

The ride is coming to a close and we are all anticipating what we will do once the ride is over.  I hope to catch up with some old friends, learn some cooking techniques from my mom, and spend time with my father and grandfather.  But I will continue to enjoy my time on this adventure and enjoy the people I get to meet along the way.

In His Adventure,

Chaz Vittitow

July 13th 2010, Lexington, VA - Charlottesville, VA

Day 48

After a great night sleep (I only had to throw a pillow at Dana in the bed across the room once while he was snoring) we woke up early to start riding.  We enjoyed some eggs, bacon, and cinnamon rolls at the hotel.  The skies were cloudy and there was a 40% chance of thunderstorms, but we knew we had to ride on. 

Today was the day of the last big climb up onto the Blue Ridge Parkway.  We were somewhat dreading it but at the same time looking forward to facing our last really big challenge (in regard to hill climbing) of the ride.  So we took a break in Vesuvius, right before the mountain, and got pumped up by playing some different tunes.  We played some rap, classic rock, and other various songs such as “Carry on my Wayward Son” and “Man of Constant Sorrow”. 

We embraced the hill and while it was our last one, I felt very tired.  So, I took a lesson from our friend Norma Henry and called out to the mountain, “If you are gonna bet between me and the mountain, you better bet on me!  Because you are going to have to be so steep that you flip me backwards before I quit.”  With this aggression combined with a prayer requesting strength, I was able summit the mountain.  We all finished climbing around the same time and we took a break to reflect upon the ride up to this point.  We had some great spiritual conversation and reflection. 

We finished the ride at the UVA Fiji House and were welcomed by the Omicron brothers.  We enjoyed their company and some pizza on the front porch for dinner.  One of the brothers, Cam Coleman, gave me a tour of the UVA campus and we all had a fun and relaxing evening of some intense games of foosball and pool.  Three days left and we can smell the ocean baby!

In His Adventure,

Chaz Vittitow

July 12th 2010, Blacksburg, VA - Lexington, VA

Day 47

Following our rest day in Blacksburg, VA we were ready to finish the last 5 days of the ride.  We were able to stay in a townhouse of a Fiji grad brother (special thanks to Henry) and were able to receive a tour of the campus of Virginia Tech from brother Dana Hesse.  We enjoyed our time in Blacksburg and felt well rested for the remainder of the ride.

This day of riding would turn out to be a very interesting ride.  When we woke up the sky was full of clouds and fog rolled down the streets.  For the first few miles of the ride, from the campus of Virginia Tech to the first town, we stayed dry.  However, that didn’t last long as the rain began to fall hard.  We enjoyed the rain as we sang and laughed at our bodies being soaked to the bone. 

We rode 40 miles before we broke for lunch.  It was around 1230 and we decided to save some money and get into the MRE’s (Meal Ready to Eat) we had packed.  Since it was raining, all of piled into the trailer to enjoy our meals.  We felt like 2nd graders as we traded the different items in our packages.  I had beef frankfurters, potato sticks, mixed fruit, hot cocoa mix, and some crackers.  Some guys got lucky and got bags of M&M’s and grilled chicken.  But, we all had fun eating in the trailer on this rainy day.

The last 40 miles of the trip we almost lost our minds, but in a good way.  We were laughing and singing loudly and when we pulled up for our first water break, which was almost unnecessary since we were covered in water, people gave us strange looks as we did push up and jumping jacks in the rain.

We finally rolled into Lexington, VA and were feeling a little tired after riding in the rain all day.  Lexington is a very historic town and has a lot of character.  We rode past Stonewall Jackson’s gravesite, Virginia Military Institute, and the Washington and Lee Fiji house.  We were very blessed when we rode up to the Holiday Inn (special thanks to Dana Hesse) and the manager had upgraded all the rooms to suites since he had heard about our ride. 

We continue to move forward on our journey and tomorrow look forward to the great challenge of climbing the Blue Ridge Parkway.  We have faced many trials in our journey and have tasted victory in most occasions.  We know that throughout life there will be many times where we face the bitter taste of defeat, but we can always look back and remember the thrill of climbing mountains and traveling rough terrain.  May we never live in the gray twilight of fear but instead always embrace all challenges even if we are not sure of victory.  For it is better to fight than to never try at all.

In His Adventure,

Chaz Vittitow

July 10th 2010, Rural Retreat, VA - Blacksburg, VA

Day 45

We woke up early at the camp site and even Dana, who said he had not camped in almost 20 years, joined us in camping.  We got ready quickly knowing that today would be much easier than the past couple in regards to the amount of climbing and the distance was a little shorter.  Dana experienced the peanut butter bagel breakfast that we have enjoyed so many times and we got started with our day. 

The miles passed by quickly and we enjoyed the ride together.  Wade and I spoke some Spanish to practice and we all took the day to enjoy the ride.  We stopped for lunch with only 15 miles left on the day.  Since the day was not very hot and we were near a city with a grocery we ate sandwiches and chips for lunch.  It was very good except for the apples.  But, we had some fun with them as Cameron tasted his apple and decided to throw it.  Little did he know that he was throwing it toward a moving car.  Fortunately, the car missed it by a couple centimeters and we all got a good laugh out of the incident. 

As we rode our final section we had some moments of great encouragement.  Bill, the Virginia Tech Fiji Purple Legionnaire, met us a few miles outside Virginia Tech and took some pictures.  We rode into Blacksburg and were met by some Fiji brothers in the center of the campus.  We grabbed some pictures and celebrated our arrival.

After we showered, we all met up to eat some dinner at Cabo Fish Taco restaurant.  It was great to chill out, talk with the VT guys, and enjoy some great food.  But, what stood out most about the night to me was the generosity of Dana.  He bought everyone dinner and we were all very thankful.  When I went up to him after the dinner and thanked him for the meal he said something to me that I hope I never forget.  Dana said, “You are welcome, my only request is that you pay it forward one day.  When you have a job and you are able to, take some Fiji undergrads out to dinner on your bill.  It may sound cheesy but your time will come.”  I knew Dana was a great guy but that meant a lot to me.  I look forward to paying Dana’s generosity forward to some undergrads one day. 

In His Adventure,

Chaz Vittitow

July 9th 2010, Rosedale, VA - Rural Retreat, VA

Day 44

After a good nights rest we prepared for another day of long riding and lots of climbing.  Virginia is turning out to be one of the most beautiful states we have gone through.  The mountain air is refreshing, the rolling hills rival the horse farms of Kentucky, and since it is the last state of our journey I am also full of a little more joy.

We climbed some more hills and rode through the beautiful state and stopped in Damascus, VA for lunch.  Damascus was awesome because it was in the middle of the Appalachian trail.  Several people were asking us about our ride and we even spoke with a few people hiking a section of the A.T.  We spoke with a man at a store for a while and he was very refreshing.  He lived on the trail for several years as he said he was “Running from his troubles and the law” but came to know Christ while on the trail.  He lived very simply and told us to keep up the good work but warned us of a few more hills ahead. 

We ate at a small diner in town and tried to get one with our ride quickly to beat the heat of the day.  We climbed a couple big hills and finally reached our destination of the middle of nowhere in Rural Retreat, VA.  Luckily, we were met there by Fiji brother and friend, Dana Hess, who has been helping us greatly in our ride across country.  He reserved our camp site and welcomed us into town.  I forgot to mention earlier, but this day was Tyler’s birthday so Dana took us to get some pizza to celebrate properly.  We sat down at Pizza Plus and were welcomed by a few more guests.  Nasty Jones, Fiji brother and fellow Virginia Tech grad with Dana joined us for pizza.  I felt like I had met a cartoon character as this guy was truly Nasty.  He had a handlebar mustache that had not been groomed in a couple years and a trucker hat with some interesting words on it.  He told stories and did impressions of Kentuckians he had met in his life and we all laughed.  He even joined along as we sang happy birthday to Tyler with the cake Dana had so graciously bought him.

We set up camp and Nasty joined us for a while.  Unfortunately, we were all too tired to join him for long as he brought his guitar and picked some awesome tunes.  He was great to listen to as he played some music as we all fell asleep.  Another great day of accomplishment and a night of bathing under a spicket.  We ride into Blacksburg, VA tomorrow and get to experience the land of the Hokies with our friend Dana and the Rho Alpha Fiji brothers.

In His Adventure,

Chaz Vittitow

July 8th 2010, Buckingham, KY - Rosedale, VA

Day 43

The group woke up on this foggy Eastern Kentucky morning to with some anxiousness for the great trials ahead.  This would prove to be one of our toughest days as we rode into the heart of the Appalachian mountains and would also cross into our final state.

We got off to a little of a late start as we woke up in the First Baptist church we were staying in.  As we prepared by loading our stuff into the trailer, stretching, and doing the normal routine, we were accompanied by one of the locals.  He kept saying, “You guys are riding to Rosedale?  That there is a pretty nice piece!”  It was nice to have the company and we were able to imitate him for the next few miles. 

We rode the initial 35 miles before lunch and climbed 3 hills that were steeper than any hills we had ever seen.  Until this point I had yet to admit that we had seen a hill steeper than the hill in Bowling Green off Glen Lily Road that we frequently trained on, but at this lunch spot I told the guys that I encountered a steeper hill. 

We ate lunch at the Rusty Fork Cafe in Elkhorn City, KY.  Don’t let the name fool you, this place was legit.  Although it proved to be not the best decision, I had the meatloaf special and three sides and felt very well fed.  Unfortunately, riding after a meal like this through the mountains was not very pleasant. 

We crossed into Virginia and celebrated our last crossing of states.  Tyler even played “Meet Virginia” on his iphone to make the moment even more special.  We had a few more hills to climb but the last one of the day was supposed to be our biggest so we had a rest stop right before.  Justin and I were so tired and fed up with riding that day so we decided to ride up the hill with no jerseys and only bibs.  A couple others followed and it proved to be quite a show for all the passers by as we looked like men in spandex and suspenders. 

We finished our ride in Rosedale and celebrated completing a long day of riding.  It had been a while since I practiced my post ride ritual, but after this day I enjoyed some reese cups and some vitamin D milk.  I know what you are thinking and yes it was glorious.  Another day of living the dream and facing challenges that develop perseverance.  We are continuing to enjoy the ride and are looking ahead to the Atlantic Ocean.

In His Adventure,

Chaz Vittitow

July 7th 2010, Buckhorn, KY – Buckingham, KY

Day 42

I never knew that some of these parts of Kentucky ever existed.  We rode straight into the Appalachian Mountains and the eastern part of Kentucky and I saw some places in my own home state that I never knew about.

After waking up in the bunkhouse Wade’s grandfather so graciously arranged for us, special thanks to Jack Haga and his wife DeLane, we embraced our ride for the day with 79 miles ahead of us.  We rode in honor of Wade’s great grandmother who developed Alzheimer’s in her 80’s.  Wade’s great grandfather is still living and will be visiting us along with Jack Haga this coming Friday.  I am excited to meet him as he is in his 90’s and I am sure has many pearls of wisdom, or maybe just made up stories, to share with all of us.

The first 15 miles of the ride were very challenging.  We had three large hills to climb and it certainly woke us all up after being a little groggy.  We tried to pace ourselves as we summated each hill but we also wanted to get them over with as soon as possible.

After riding about 50 miles we met up with Wade’s uncle, Robb Haga, and the Troublesome Creek Newspaper.  The local newspaper, of Hindman, KY, asked us a few questions and a reporter from the Hazard, KY newspaper also came by for an interview.  We enjoyed talking about the ride with them and were happy to spread more awareness about the ride and our cause.  We then rode a few miles to have lunch with Robb at the “Mall Restaurant.  Robb bought us all lunch, and made a special purchase of hot fudge cake for me (thanks Robb), and was very encouraging to us about what we are doing.  We enjoyed the break from the heat and the company.

As we rode our last sections of the ride we had some interesting moments.  We rode behind a truck that was painting the middle road lines yellow so Wade and I could not resist.  I rubbed my shoe across the paint to have a little mark of eastern Kentucky and Wade felt the need to run his front bike tire through the paint.  Never the less, it was some good fun.

But, the best part of the day was Tyler’s encounter with the dogs.  Tyler, Wade, and I were beginning to climb our last hill of the day.  We came about 80 yards from a house and saw a small dog crouched behind the mailbox.  We knew this dog must have seen cyclists before on this road and he was ready to ambush us when we rode by.  So Tyler, being the brave soul he is, rode ahead to spray his water bottle at the dog.  Tyler squirted the dog but it was ineffective.  The dog continued to follow him and was then joined by two other dogs.  So Wade and I watched as Tyler had three dogs surrounding him.  As all the dogs were barking one dog mustered up the courage to attempt to bite Tyler.  Tyler hit the dog and then ran over the dog’s neck with his front wheel.  The dogs ran off and after the fact we were warned by a lady on her front porch that said, “Better be careful, dem dogs bite.”  A little late but still appreciated.

God has continued to bless us as we ride with great joy and blessings.  Tonight we are staying in the Wheelwright Baptist Church and are very well accommodated.  We continue to thank God for keeping us safe and allowing us to spread the word to raise awareness for the disease of Alzheimer’s and thanks to all of those who are in constant prayer and thought of us.

In His Adventure,

Chaz Vittitow

July 6th 2010, Berea, KY – Buckhorn, KY

Day 41

We were blessed again today to have another rider join us for the first stretch of our ride.  Kristi Lunceford, mother of friend and fraternity brother Malcolm Lunceford, rode the first 15 miles of our ride with us.  Little did any of us know, it would turn out to be one of the more difficult 15 mile sections.  However, Kristi was a real champ and finished the 15 miles with us and always kept a smile and great attitude.  Big props to Kristi who housed us, fed us, and accompanied us for a section of our ride.  Also, big shout out to Chris Heil, friend and fraternity brother, who came out to meet us in Berea before we left.

So we rode into the Appalachian mountains and embraced the hills of Eastern Kentucky.  We kept a pretty good pace and all felt pretty strong the whole time, even after we ate blizzards for lunch to celebrate the 25th birthday of blizzards.   We also had a great encouraging moment when Scott and Jack Haga (Wade’s father and grandfather) and Bud Ball (Wade’s grandfather) met us 15 miles outside of Buckhorn.  They encouraged us and assured us we had a great meal ahead of us, so we rode as fast as we could on the last stretch.

We rode into Buckhorn and had a small welcoming party cheer us on, but let me assure you that Amy Haga made the small group seem like a large chorus with her rebel yell that she belted out for all of Buckhorn to hear.  We were welcomed with hugs and signs that said, “Hungry Bikers Wanted” and “Ready for Spaghetti”.  We enjoyed a reciting of the history of the church by Jack Haga and a wonderful meal prepared by Wade’s grandparents.  And yes, I think even Erin Haga helped a little with the meal, haha.  But we all enjoyed the company of Wade’s family and of course the food.

I really appreciated Wade’s family coming down as I was reminded of how wonderful our families have been on this ride.  It really shows how much our families love us by the wonderful support they have given us all.  I also enjoyed hearing about the history of the church where we enjoyed our meal.  I appreciated where the church had come from and I hope I can learn more about my heritage and even develop a greater appreciation of all history. 

But, we had another day of living the dream and enjoying the journey of the lifetime.  But, may we never forget that the greatest adventure is the life we are able to live in Christ.  So it is on the journey of cycling across America and the lifelong adventure of walking with Christ I leave you today.

In His Adventure,

Chaz Vittitow