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West Aurora teachers bike to the Pacific to raise funds for Best Buddies program

David Zine (right) Peter Baker both West Aurorteachers hit rawind poor road conditions Iowthcaused them change their route. | Submitted

David Zine (right) and Peter Baker, both West Aurora teachers, hit rain, wind and poor road conditions in Iowa that caused them to change their route. | Submitted

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Updated: September 12, 2013 6:41AM

AURORA — Sitting in a booth at an Aurora restaurant a few days ago, David Zine and Peter Baker were seeing one other for the first time since they parted ways June 28 in Washington.

Buzzing with energy, the two West Aurora High School social studies teachers volley back and forth accounts from the cross-country trip they took together — seeking shelter from the rain in a phone booth, eating at hole-in-the-wall diners, fixing 14 flat tires — and stop to pull up photos and videos on their smartphones.

But this wasn’t just any road trip. It was a 28-day, 2,300-mile bike ride from West Aurora High School to Seattle.

“This was the trip of a lifetime,” Zine said. “It’s the best way to see the country.”

The duo decided to make the trip and try to raise money and awareness for Best Buddies, an international nonprofit that partners special needs and general education students in middle schools, high schools and colleges to help the students forge friendships.

Twenty-one states have chapters, including Illinois, which has Best Buddies programs in 18 colleges, 54 high schools and 10 middle schools, including West High and the district’s Washington Middle. Students buddy up in their own schools or with Hope D. Wall School, where Zine and Baker stopped to visit before they left.

Zine, 52, asked Baker, 31, to complete the challenge with him on New Year’s Day, even though the farthest Baker had ever biked before was 30 miles. Zine had done three long-distance bike rides in the mid-1990s on the West Coast and in Europe and he was confident Baker could also complete such a trip.

Though they didn’t train much before they left — Baker did his normal four-day-a-week workout and Zine came in an hour early before work some days to do an hour of stationary biking — they had experience with high levels of physical activity.

Zine served in the U.S. Air Force for a decade, starting in 1982, and Baker served four and a half years as an Army Ranger, starting in 2003.

The pair left their last day of school, May 24, and followed a route from Illinois to Iowa, up to Minnesota and South Dakota, through Wyoming, Montana and Idaho and finally ending in Washington on June 21.

Jay Bauer, also a West High teacher, drove a support vehicle nearby for most of the trip, in case there was an emergency.

Along the way, Zine passed out cards he printed about Best Buddies to let people know about the organization and encourage them to donate, since six of the states they cycled though don’t have chapters.

Though they plotted out how they wanted to get to Seattle ahead of time, Zine and Baker hit unexpected flooding, wind and poor road conditions in Iowa that caused them to take a longer route up through Minnesota.

They rode major highways and five mountain passes, braving sometimes 30 mph winds and cold rain.

They cycled through tiny towns — like Spotted Horse, Wyo., population 2 — looking for “local knowledge.” Zine and Baker talked to residents who suggested more scenic routes and dangerous paths to avoid.

“We’d go to the coolest places in the middle of nowhere,” Zine said. “The best part about the trip was people we met. Out there, you see somebody and you stop.”

Diners were their go-to eateries — places with names like Bubba’s Bar and Grill and Doxie’s Diner — and they could eat huge portions because they were burning 7,000 to 8,000 calories a day, according to their fitness monitors.

“We ate everything,” Baker said. “I’d eat one breakfast and eat like 20 pancakes and then be hungry again in two hours.”

Zine lost 12 pounds on the trip.

Zine and Baker both chronicled their trip on social media sites, posting photos friends accused them of Photoshopping because they were so unreal, as Baker put it.

They saw giant lakes, mountain ranges and pronghorns, which resemble antelopes, galloping alongside them as they biked. They even stopped to move turtles sunbathing in the middle of the road.

Along the way they encountered others also on long journeys. In Washington they met a pair of men biking to Boston. One woman was walking from Seattle to Georgia.

Baker, who often works long days between teaching and coaching wrestling and softball, said he liked that the trip gave him time to think.

“I had a lot of time to reflect on my old life in the military, my family, my teaching career,” he said. “I thought about how people walked this distance. It just amazed me how gutsy people were to go and explore during Westward Expansion,” which is a topic he teaches.

Zine said his smartphone made the trip much easier than his past bike rides because he was able to use the street view of maps to see the road and how wide the shoulder was. He could also look up traffic reports, wind speed, if bad weather was coming and more.

“When you put things in perspective it wasn’t that difficult,” Zine said.

Zine and Baker said they tried to think about the trip in daily doses, instead of in its totality so it was less overwhelming. And some days they had friendly speed competitions to motivate one another.

“I’m glad we made some of those days like that because it made it more mentally and physically challenging,” Baker said.

The end of the trip seemed anticlimactic, the pair said. There was no fanfare, just the quiet realization they had done something few people ever do.

They raised about $900 for Best Buddies and Zine plans to help the nonprofit with a biking trip it is planning next year.

“We live in a pretty amazing country that you can just travel,” Baker said. “We never got stopped, there was never a single bad thing that happened to us.”

In a lot of places in the world you can’t do that.”

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