Eight middle school and high school students from Western North Carolina recently completed an 800-mile bicycle odyssey they called Bike Across America.
The students – from Cherokee, Swain, Graham, Madison and Buncombe counties – are enrolled in Project Discovery, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Education and hosted by Western Carolina University. Their journey began Sunday, June 28, in Yorktown, Virginia, and ended July 19 in St. Louis.
“It was awesome,” said program director Todd Murdock. “The kids did a great job. They cycled almost 800 miles across Virginia and Kentucky, through parts of Illinois and across the Mississippi River.”
In preparation for the ride, the students had two practice rides. The first was a 30-mile ride from the WCU campus. The next was a 50-mile trek as participants in the Fletcher Flyer race in Brevard.
It was a small taste of what their trip across America would be like. They averaged 50-55 miles of riding per day, with three days consisting of 65 or more miles. The nearly 800 miles was the longest ride a Project Discovery group has ever done, Murdock said.
The trip also was a learning experience for the students with sessions on leadership skills like situational leadership theory, conflict styles, conflict resolution and decision-making. They also visited Berea College in Kentucky.
“The main thing was just to experience new places, meet new people and do something epic,” Murdock said.
The students also are part of a research project conducted by the WCU Human Services Department. Phyllis Robertson, interim department head and associate professor, said the research will help create outcome data on the effect of short-term experiential adventure-based activity.
Two pre-trip assessments were administered to the students and Robertson said a post-trip assessment will be given in the form of a focus group in early September.
“We’re going to ask them some questions about their experience, getting a little bit more of a narrative rather than statistics on their experience,” Robertson said. “We want to know, what was their favorite memory? How will the experience help them in school? What did you learn about yourself? If you were to advertise this trip to others, what would you say?”
Project Discovery is an Educational Talent Search Program that helps many low-income, first-generation students go to college. Nearly 800 students from the five WNC counties participate in the program. Of those who participate, 99 percent graduate from high school and 78 percent go on to college.
For more information on Project Discovery, call 877-402-3130 or 828-227-7137.