Gearin' Up D.C.
credit: Gearin' Up D.C.

Despite heavy storms in the forecast, military veterans and supporters celebrated this Independence Day by completing a 335-mile bike ride from Pittsburgh to Washington in honor of veterans. Stopping in Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia along the way, the group aimed to raise awareness of veterans’ struggles on the home front and collect funds to support them. The ride, 335 Miles for Veterans, raised more than $26,000 for the Veterans Leadership Program of Western Pennsylvania (VLP), which helps 2-2,500 veterans and families each year through housing, employment and supportive services.

Military Veterans and supporters arrive in Georgetown Waterfront Park after 335-mile bicycle ride from Pittsburgh, July 4, 2016 Washington, D.C. (Rodney Choice/Choice Photography/www.choicephotography.com)

Military Veterans and supporters arrive in Georgetown Waterfront Park after 335-mile bicycle ride from Pittsburgh, July 4, 2016 Washington, D.C. | Photo by Rodney Choice

 

Jack Kudrav, a case manager at VLP who served in the United States Army for 23 years, came up with the idea for the ride to raise awareness about the veterans that need more support in the community.

Jack Kudrav, 23 years U.S. Army | Photos by Rodney Choice

“There’s a significant percentage [of veterans] who seem to experience a falling out of society when they join the military,” he said. “Then, when they come back, they’re struggling to get back into society… And typically that means they need help within the community.”

Kudrav said he was impressed with the ride turnout, which not only included veterans, but veteran supporters, friends and family. Young adults from D.C.’s own Gearin’ Up Bicycles, a nonprofit used bicycle store that trains and employs young adults from underserved communities, joined the riders for the last leg of their journey into the District.

A photo of two children.

Austin and Natalie Goetze. Riders and volunteers’ family members traveled with them. | Rodney Choice

When asked about the ride, Kudrav said, “It’s just a whole bunch of people that came together. I call them ‘servant leaders,’ because the main component there is caring for others; that’s what it’s all about. We say, ‘let us challenge others to become servant leaders.’”

One of the riders, Daniel Blevins—who fought in Iraq, Afghanistan and South Korea—runs the Project Journey program through the VLP. The program helps veterans and their families experiencing homelessness get back on their feet and find housing, without upsetting the family’s routine. “I would’ve been out on the streets had it not been for my girlfriend. I’m real lucky, and not everyone’s that lucky,” Blevins said of returning from war.

Daniel Blevins, 10 years U.S. Army | Photos by Rodney Choice

According to riders, the toughest part about the ride was having to go very fast on the last leg into Georgetown, because storms were approaching. “We had to hustle on the C&O Canal trail to beat the rain. So that was pretty challenging,” said Boe Bailey, 66, the oldest rider and a retired senior navy chief.

A photo of veteran Boe Bailey wearing a shirt that reads "Navy, Protect this House"

Retired Senior Navy Chief Boe Bailey. | Photos by Rodney Choice

According to Kudrav, there needs to be more awareness about veterans and their needs. “We’re not something that you can just take off the shelf during a patriotic holiday once or twice a year, this is happening all the time.”