Two men, two bikes, and one 'good cause'

    So what did you do on Christmas?

    Isaac Sullivan
    Guardian

    Nathan Atteberry, 27, and Steve Alsum, 20, spent Dec. 25 at a chilly campsite near Shepherd, Texas: about 30 miles north of Houston, about 40 degrees Fahrenheit and fitting just about anybody’s description of the middle of nowhere.

    The New Jersey residents found themselves camping in the Lone Star State on day 76 of a journey originally conceived as an adventure, albeit a utilitarian one — Alsum, a former New York City bike messenger, was planning to move to San Diego via 4,600 miles of cross-country bike trails and highways.

    Atteberry, Alsum’s brother-in-law, was on a one-year leave from his job as a Continental Airlines flight attendant, and 10 days before the October departure date, he told Alsum he’d come along.

    The trip then grew in significance.

    “”I always wanted to do something like this, and after [Sept. 11] … things just kind of changed, and I decided to do it,”” Atteberry explained. “”We figured if we were gonna do it, we might as well do it for a good cause.””

    That cause is the Red Cross, and the bike trip turned into a grassroots fund-raiser and awareness-raising campaign to benefit the organization that Alsum said was “”in the spotlight … help[ing] people at the World Trade Center.

    “”We figured they needed money,”” Alsum said.

    Atteberry devised the name for the effort: Red aCross America, a play on the name of the organization to benefit and on the annual Ride Across America event. His brother Dan set up a Web site at http://www.redacrossamerica.org to publicize the effort, and on Oct. 11, they were off with little more than their bikes, a tent and sleeping bags.

    “”We didn’t have any biker shoes or spandex and ugly-ass shirts and stuff,”” Nathan joked. “”Just our regular clothes.””

    Indeed, their riding gear was often as simple as long johns and tennis shoes. And as for the bikes, Nathan’s was a 20-year-old Schwinn, and Alsum’s was salvaged from a dumpster.

    Neither was nervous at the outset — “”It’s just a bunch of short bike rides put together into one long one,”” Alsum pointed out. Once on the road, they were more concerned with flat tires, rough backroads, unfriendly weather and sleep accomodations than contemplating the scope of their trip. But, at 4,660 miles total from New York City to St. Augustine, Fla. to San Diego, this was no amateur effort.

    Dan, who claimed he was “”just the Web master,”” in fact assumed public relations and fund-raising duties, calling newspapers and television stations in cities that Nathan and Alsum were slated to arrive in, and contacting organizations about donating or pledging to the Red Cross.

    All in all, Dan found his job “”pretty tough.

    “”When I started contacting people about [the fund-raiser], they’d say, ‘Oh, it’s kinda getting old news,’ you know, as far as the Sept. 11 disaster thing,”” Dan said. “”And [Alsum’s and Nathan’s] thing has always been that the Red Cross is always helping out, whether it’s here or it’s South America or wherever … So for them it wasn’t just all Sept. 11, it was everything the Red Cross has been doing.””

    Media coverage was spotty, as well, due in part to the unpredictable nature of the trip. The men received favorable press in The New Orleans Times-Picayune and television coverage in Tuscon, where the owner of a car dealership pledged to donate $100 for every bike rider who would accompany Alsum and Nathan on their ride to the city. That pledge alone netted $4,000.

    All totaled, Red aCross America raised about $6,000 for the Red Cross. While this was short of the goal Nathan had in mind at the outset, the two were satisfied with the trip and its yield.

    Of course, for these guys, who arrived in San Diego on Saturday, the benefits extend beyond satisfaction at having helped the Red Cross: They had fun.

    “”It was pretty unique — something I would not do later in my life probably, when I have kids and stuff, so I took the opportunity to do it now,”” Nathan said.

    What stood out for Nathan was the chance to be immersed in nature for four months, and seeing “”red moons, supernovas … bears, wolves, coyotes — the regular nature stuff.””

    Alsum also appreciated the distance from the rest of humanity.

    “”I guess it was kind of relaxing, like you’re just doing your whole thing and the world is flying by,”” Alsum said. “”Like all this stuff is happening all over the place, but it doesn’t really affect you at all: You’re just doing your thing, having fun.””

    Although the road trip is finished, Red aCross America will persist; the Web site, which features first-hand updates and digital photos from the duration of the trip, will be maintained for two or three months.

    Now Alsum will settle in San Diego, while Nathan will return to New Jersey with his wife, Sue, who is starting medical school in August.

    Sue said she worried occasionally during the trip, but has always supported the effort.

    “”It hasn’t really sunk in yet,”” she said. “”It’s kinda crazy. I’m really glad they did it … I wish I could have done it, too.””

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