'Harvest of Hope' ride takes sisters on cross country bicycle ride
By Brian Sweeney
Riding bicycles cross-country had never entered the thoughts of sisters Jena and Jami Haynes. That changed when Jami, a student at SUNY Oneonta, witnessed a presentation on Harvest of Hope, a program that raises funds to benefit migrant farm workers.
“The college president gave a speech about Harvest of Hope and it was really moving,” Jena related about the event her sister attended.
Last spring’s program was so inspirational, that the girls decided to embark on a nearly 4,000-mile bike trek to help raise funds for the organization. They also enlisted a friend, Caleb Grippen, to join them on their adventure.
In the months leading up their May 28 departure, the former New Kingston residents began riding bikes back and forth to their jobs (Jena, 20, works at a daycare facility and Jami, 22, is student teaching), but their training sessions were far less demanding then the 30 to 100 miles per day that they traveled over the course of their 73-day trek.
“The first week we could barely even walk,” Jena laughed. “We were just waiting for one of the others to say that one of us was done.”
But no one did.
By the time they had ridden from their starting point at the girls’ home in Central Bridge, and arrived at their aunt’s house in Buffalo, they had reached a turning point. More accurately, it was a point of not turning back.
“When we got to Buffalo, I had a flat and the weather was terrible. If we got through that, we were definitely going to stick it out,” Jena recalled.
And they did. With newfound determination, the bikers soon departed New York State and continued their way westward. They followed an extremely detailed Adventure Cycling Association map that is made specifically for biking cross-country.
“The map had everything laid out turn-by-turn,” Jena related.
Life on the road
To stretch their finances, the travelers stayed primarily at campgrounds and with friends and family. They also took advantage of the services of the Warm Showers community, a free worldwide hospitality exchange for touring cyclists.
“Once we got way out west, we camped alongside the road and nobody bothered us,” Jena said.
Just in case, they were equipped with pepper spray, but they never had an occasion to use it — on people or angry canines.
“We encountered a few mean dogs, but we were able to out-ride them,” she said.
Jena recalled many warnings they had received about following safely guidelines during their trip. Fortunately, the biking trio encountered no troubles of this nature. In fact, they were pleasantly surprised by the kindness they experienced throughout their venture.
“It was a life-changing experience. It opened our eyes to how wonderful people are and how beautiful the world is. We would totally do it again,” she enthusiastically related.
In addition to the personal growth they experienced, Jena, Jami and Caleb were also raising awareness and funds on behalf of Harvest of Hope. Their efforts included bake sales (before they departed), sponsorships and funds donated by people along the route who supported their efforts. In all, they donated nearly $10,000 to the organization.
While fund-raising was their primary goal, the bikers enjoyed an unforgettable voyage of discovery.
Jena said the crew endured its share of flat tires, minor mechanical issues and small crashes, but ultimately, these proved to be mere inconveniences along the path of a remarkable expedition.
Each traveler initially hauled about 60 pounds of gear (stove, tent, sleeping bags, etc.) in tagalong trailers, but they eventually lightened their loads as they gained knowledge about which items were essential.
Over the course of traveling from May 28-August 8, the bikers took off only five or six days. They averaged about 60 miles daily and completed the trip having pedaled 3,853 miles. They took three days by bus to return home.
Because the biking map they followed is carefully planned, the route avoids major climbs, as much as possible.
“It was pretty flat through the Midwest, but Colorado and Utah – they were a different story,” laughed Jena.
By the end of their venture, all the cycling resulted in Caleb losing 20 pounds and Jena and Jami winding up eight and five pounds lighter, respectively.
“And we all gained lots of muscle!” Jami reported.
Despite the fact that it took them awhile to adapt to the rigors of riding in the early going, Jena said the most pain they experienced was after they arrived at their destination in San Francisco.
“We walked around a lot and we weren’t used to walking around in the city,” explained Jena.
Jena and Jami brought along two cameras and a smart phone to help document their trip. The photos help create a lasting memory of their excursion, but even without pictures the journey is indelibly ingrained in the sisters’ memories.
“There were bad moments,” Jena related, “but when people ask us about the worst day we had on the road, none of us had an answer. It was all just good.”
All in the family
The sisters lived in New Kingston until their parents, Fred and Chrissy Haynes, moved to Central Bridge when the girls were in elementary school. Their grandmother, Marie Haynes, also lived locally for many years before moving to the Syracuse area. Jena and Jami have other relatives in the region, as well.