'On the Road Again:' Two cyclists stop in Saline County on way to Grand Canyon
It has been 280 days since John and Shane Hunter set out on a pedal-driven odyssey from their home state of Maine. The two have ridden their bicycles through 11 states so far, en route to their target destination, the Grand Canyon.
Most recently, they spent a few days here in Benton.
May 14, 2012, John Hunter quit his dishwashing job at a Thai restaurant and the very same day he and his uncle, Shane Hunter, set out on their bikes to ride 500 miles toward their first stop, Niagara Falls, on what the two expected would be “the trip of a lifetime.”
The pair had aspirations to see the country and considered purchasing an RV for the endeavor, but instead opted for the more economical traveling method. The self-proclaimed “Maniacs from Maine” say they are happy with the choice.
“We wouldn't have made it nearly as far in an RV,” John said.
Although they got rid of their apartment to take the journey, the two take issue with being mistaken for homeless.
“We are not homeless. The road is our home,” John said.
They also brush off comparisons to Forrest Gump, pointing out that, unlike him, they have an objective.
Initially, the ambition was the trek to Niagara Falls. But at some point the two set their sights on the Grand Canyon. They plan to continue to the Pacific coast after their stay at the canyon and have not yet determined whether they will ride back to Maine on their bicycles or if they will use another mode of transportation.
They're not athletes. They're not going for a world record or any similar feat. "Unless there is a record for the slowest," Shane said.
Both Shane, 51, and John, 35, have suffered injuries along the way, which have not helped their pace. John recently fractured his wrist, and because of the pain caused by putting weight on it, the two have been forced to walk their bikes a lot of the time.
This was the case Friday as the uncle and nephew pushed their heavily loaded-down bicycles up the hill from JJ's Truck Stop onto U.S. 67 to continue their journey.
They concluded a four-day stay at the home of Kenneth and Diane Hines in Benton. Diane had spotted the two riding along the U.S. 67 and offered them food and water.
“I always try to help where I can because you never know when someone is an angel in disguise,” Hines said. After Hines and the two men made a connection on their shared strong faith in God, she offered them a place to stay in the Hines' camping trailer.
Shane and John say they have been pleasantly surprised by the kindness of strangers throughout their voyage.
“People have been very nice – more than you can imagine," John said.
An experience that stands out to them happened late one night in Kentucky. The pair were struggling to climb a particularly steep hill, when a vehicle pulled over nearby them. It was pretty hot out that night, and sweat was pouring off of them, John said.
This made it all the more surprising when a woman got out of the vehicle, gave them each a big hug and then got back in her car and drove away.
A man in Ohio gave Shane a cell phone “out of the blue,” Shane said.
Also, numerous people have given them food, money or a place to stay.
The two try to give back to others by completing odd jobs wherever they can find them. They say they are grateful for the Hines family and every other supporter along the way, without whom they would have not made it half the distance.
"We will never forget anyone we have met on this journey," John said. "I like to say we take all of them on the bike with us."
And in a way they do. John records the tales of their adventure in a journal and aspires to one day write a book.
In the spirit of the undertaking, one courtesy the two refuse to accept are rides. They say they have taken rides only a handful of times throughout an estimated 2,700 or 2,800 miles traveled.
Most everything they carry with them, however, has either been found on the side of the road or donated. Those items include license plates from each state through which they have passed, a collection of destroyed coins, two sleeping bags, a tent, clothing, blankets, 10 pounds in bungee cords, ropes, WD40, a tarp, and two backpacks filled with supplies.
Between them, they have gone through eight or nine bicycles and 14 backpacks.
At first, they did not have sleeping bags or a tent. One rainy night they slept in a tree hut that they made out of fir boughs. They have slept in a dugout in Erie, Pa., and on a staircase in front of a church.
They carry with them a small knife pepper spray and bear Mace. This makes them feel safe, although they have not yet needed to fight off any attackers, and the most menacing animal they have come across so far is a fox.
They have eaten fish and crawfish caught along the way, survived on peanut butter sandwiches and peanut butter crackers, and attempted to cook hot dogs with a cigarette lighter. John even picked blackberries and made wine once.
John's birthday was in July, and the two celebrated by escaping the brutal New York summer heat for the day by checking into an air-conditioned hotel.
At Christmas time, the two acknowledged the holiday with the purchase of truck stop trinkets for each other, including key chains and a blanket.
They consider themselves role models for people who want to follow their dreams, and others agree.
"I think what these guys show is if there's something you want to do, you can achieve it," Hines said. "You just have to give it all you've got."