Travelers enjoy brief visit to county

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 7, 2002

Features Editor

On March 30, a group of 20 cyclists dipped the back wheels of their bikes in the Pacific Ocean with plans to dip their front wheels in the Atlantic Ocean May 8.

The cyclists are part of Wandering Wheels, a coast-to-coast bicycle tour that will travel 2,500 miles before the journey’s end.

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There’s no noble purpose in their journey, only a noble spirit that pushes them toward the opposite and very distant shore.

"For the most part, we’re just a bunch of retirees looking for adventure," said Jack Helffrich of Pennsylvania. "We come from all parts of the country and all walks of life. Our ages range from 35 to 71 and we were all strangers when we met. But, this has been one terrific experience. I wouldn’t trade it for anything."

The cyclists passed through Brundidge Saturday and braked their bikes to drop donations in the buckets of the young men who were participating in a road block for Relay for Life.

"This is what America is all about," said Kent Kroehler, also from the Keystone State. "People helping people. These kids don’t have to be doing this, but they are because they care about people. That’s what has been so great about this trip. We’ve gotten to see what the people of this country are really like and we like what we have seen."

The cyclists dismounted and stayed a while in Brundidge where they were drawn to music coming from the We Piddle Around Theater.

The cyclists could have felt like foreigners at a small town festival and at a Southern gospel singing, but they made themselves right at home and even took the stage and joined in singing "I’ll Fly Away."

"It’s been amazing the

beauty of this country of ours – the deserts, the trees that canopied the roadways in Louisiana and the rolling hills – yes, unbelievably, the hills – of Alabama," Kroehler said. "But the most beautiful thing is the caring spirit of the people."

Almost to the man, and woman, the cyclists said they had been touched by cancer and would gladly ride 10,000 mile or more if it would help to find a cure.

Cancer knows no favorites. No one is immune and no one goes untouched.

From coast-to-coast, cancer is a national health problem and no one knows that better than Frank Shoemaker.

Shoemaker is the driver of the "Celebration on the Hill" bus that is making its way across the country collecting signatures from those who believe cancer should be a national priority.

Shoemaker was on another tour and didn’t get to start the tour in New York March 6. However, he came on board April 9 and will be with the bus until it reaches its final destination, Washington D.C. on Sept. 19.

"My dad died from colon cancer in 1984 and it was very important for me to make this tour," Shoemaker said. "I wish I could have started in New York, but I’m just proud to have this opportunity now. This is probably the most important tour I’ll ever make."

The tour will go through more than 40 states and collect more than 100,000 signatures.

"This is a unique experience," Shoemaker said. "People all across the country are having a chance to send personal messages to Congress and I believe our leaders in Washington are going to have to stand up and take notice."

Shoemaker said he has been overwhelmed by the number of people who have come out in support of the "Celebration’ bus.

"You know that cancer has many victims but you don’t realize how many until you see the faces of those who are battling the disease," he said. "People with ‘survivor’ ribbons come to sign the bus and they are the faces of America – all ages, all walks of life – that’s when it really hits you. Cancer is a national health problem and it should be a national priority."