Reading and biking across America

| 30 Sep 2011 | 09:48

    With the support of family, local men are pedaling from coast to coast and encouraging literacy SPARTA — Local Sparta HS graduates and college students John Vrabel and Andy Underwood have been on some long bicycle rides before, but never one that tests the limits of mind and body like this one. With Venice Beach, Calif., as their pedaling off point, they are currently pushing their way through the plains of Kansas in their epic journey to reach Asbury Park by July 23. Their ride is in support of their Uncle Kevin Vrabel’s organization Bike, Books and Better Living, which works to promote the love of reading and the knowledge of healthier living choices in school-aged children. For every two hours spent riding, the boys have pledged to read for 15 minutes. They also have stopped in several libraries to read to elementary-aged children in local summer reading programs and to tell their stories of the road. So far they have visited libraries in Salome, Calif., Prescott,Ariz, , Walsenberg,Colo. , and Syracuse, Kansas. Local Sparta resident Mike Vrabel, who is Kevin’s brother and John’s dad, took a week off in early June and rode with the group from southwest Arizona to the grand canyon. He is taking his vacation time in July to reconnect with the group to ride with them from St. Louis until they finish in Asbury Park. Mike was there for the Prescott, Ariz., library visit. He said, “It was heartwarming to see how engaged the kids were in the story of the trip and how patient the boys were reading to the kids for almost two hours. The more popular books like 'LLama Mama, Red Pajamas’ must have been read 100 times to different groups of kids. You can tell the boys are really connecting with these children and spreading the passion for reading.” The riders, John, Andy and their Uncle Kevin, are being supported along the way by a capable team operating a rented RV consisting of the boys 82-year-old grandfather, Frank Vrabel, a veteran of two hitchhiking trips across the USA, and John’s girlfriend, Danielle Limoncelli, who coordinates all the library stops, water breaks and campsites. Andy’s mom, Melinda Underwood, and John’s mom, Tammy Vrabel, will be lending moral support with separate week-long visits in July as the trip continues. One of the kids from the first library visit in the middle of the Mojave desert summed up the spirit of this endeavor: when asked by Kevin why he likes reading, he replied, “ It makes movies in my head.” Kevin quoted one of his favorite authors John Steinbeck, “A journey is a person in itself. No two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip, a trip takes us.” Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charlie” is one of the many books read by the group so far on their trek. Also on the list, “Last of the Mohicans” and contemporary books like Garth Stein’s “The Art of Racing in the Rain,” Laura Hillebrand’s “Unbroken” and “Food Rules” about healthier nutrition. John and Andy and the rest of the team are planting the seed of the written word and set the example of simpler, healthier living with more exercise and less video games to school age kids.

    To follow their journey on the Internet,