WALLA WALLA -- Two friends and one idea came together one night after a long bicycle ride around the harbor. That idea turned into something that is changing both their lives and the lives of military children across America.
It's called Bike Free and this non-profit organization exists for the sole purpose of helping children with parents in the military make memories on bicycles. Paul Lebelle, 34, and Adam Burkowske, 30, have been traveling across the country since June 10, when they left their lives in Maryland behind.
Their journey will take them through 13 states and countless cities where they have been asking for support for this project.
Why bicycles? For Lebell and Burkowske riding is a favorite pastime.
"Adam and I both gave up our cars a while ago," Lebelle said. "It's a lot of fun to ride your bike."
Lebelle describes his riding as a way to let go of problems and just feel joy. He also enjoys not having to pay insurance, gas and other costs that go along with having a car.
Their goal in creating Bike Free was to bottle up the joy they experience while riding and give it away. It might seem a bit extreme to just pack up their lives and ride across the country, but these men are driven to be a part of something great.
"Now was the time for us to do something good for our country and the children of our troops that are serving the country," said Lebelle. "This is not a vacation for us, this is a mission for us to get bikes in the hands of some kids who really need them."
Their riding schedule fits their attitude of mission with their 75 to 100 miles each day. Stopping to camp at night or stay in the homes of friendly faces along the way doesn't stop Lebelle and Burkowske from riding vigorously. They travel upward of 17 mph when the wind is low.
Entering Washington brought their number of states visited up to 11 as they near the West Coast, a place Lebelle and Burkowske have been looking forward to. The duo reached Waitsburg on Tuesday evening. Because of the strong headwind Tuesday, their ride was slower than normal, taking them down to 5 mph.
The pair plans to ride through Walla Walla today, then down the Columbia River Gorge to Portland and then head south for California. On Oct. 12 they will finish their ride with a finale dinner at San Diego's Roy's Hawiian Fusion Restaurant, one of their sponsors for the ride.
Lebelle and Burkowske's final goal for this ride is to raise $125,000, enough to buy 1,000 bicycles and helmets. But their plans don't stop there.
"I don't plan on going back to the old life I was leading," Lebelle said, referring to his plans to stay in California. "It's just a matter of time until this goes national.
The two men have big plans to expand this project to give more military kids the chance to have memories riding a bike. With the expansion they have seen in their project over the summer, Lebelle feels it may become something he does year-round.
"This is a complete change," said Lebelle. "We retired the lives we were leading. We wanted to stop living paycheck to paycheck and do something greater."
For more information about Bike Free or to donate to the cause go to www.bikefree.org.
Jennifer Jorgenson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.