Six middle school and high school students from across Western North Carolina are about to trek more than 300 miles in the Colorado Rocky Mountains by way of bicycles on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route.
The students – from Madison, Jackson, Swain and Cherokee counties – are part of Project Discovery, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Education and hosted by Western Carolina University. Their 13-day trip, Bike Across America, begins Friday, June 24, in Silverthorne, Colorado, and will conclude Wednesday, July 6, in Platoro, Colorado.
Project Discovery is an Educational Talent Search Program that helps many low-income, first-generation students go to college. During the trip, students will learn about leadership, as well as see some of the most breathtaking views in America, said project director Todd Murdock.
“I’m hoping that they just come home stronger people in every way,” Murdock said. “We also know that based on some research that Dr. (Phyllis) Robertson and Dr. (Andrew) Bobilya did with the group last year, we know that they’re going to come home better leaders and more willing to accept challenges.”
Murdock was referring to a research project conducted by the WCU Human Services Department with Robertson, interim department head and associate professor, and Bobilya, associate professor of parks and recreation management. They administered pre-trip and post-trip assessments of the eight students who made last year’s nearly 800-mile trip from Yorktown, Virginia, to St. Louis, Missouri.
This year, Murdock chose a span of some 320 miles of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, which is nearly 2,800 miles in its entirety from Banff, Alberta, Canada, to Antelope Wells, Mexico.
“We were looking for something long and something awesome and something epic,” Murdock said. “The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route meets all of those things. We were just looking for a good section to ride this summer and that’s why we picked it. Most of what we’re doing is dirt. There will be very little pavement. I bet there’s less than 20 miles of paved road.”
Murdock said none of Project Discovery’s grant money was used to support the trip. The students raised money through donations, with local businesses helping out as well. Murdock said the Subway restaurant in Bryson City sponsored a student, as did Steak ‘n Shake in Weaverville.
Those wishing to donate can still do so at gofundme.com/baam16.