Biking across the Cooper River or down the West Ashley greenway is good exercise. But a cross-country bike trip is a measure of will and endurance — as riders shave their legs or, in one case, openly subject themselves to one bad joke after another.

Charleston will be the end point for a marathon bike ride this spring to support the families of the Charleston Nine. Around the same time, a College of Charleston grad will take a bike trip from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., dedicated to helping special needs children. Meanwhile, two joke-loving bike riders are hoping to publish a book about their cross-country trek that ended last November on the shores of Sullivan’s Island.

Firefighters and other first responders will be biking from Naples, Fla., to Charleston in late May in memory of the nine firefighters lost in the Sofa Super Store blaze last year. The riders are raising money for the nine-day, 600-mile trip. They competed in a recent community run/walk in 40 pounds of firefighter gear to bring attention to their cause.

Jeff Morse, 44, came up with the idea for the “Brotherhood Ride” as a fund-raiser for the families of the lost Charleston firefighters.

“Any time there’s such a large loss, it touches every firefighter, no matter where you are,” Morse says. “This is to show the families that, a year later, we haven’t forgotten.”

Riders often take on these trips to raise money for a cause or group, but Chris Cox of Charleston went on his January 2007 trip from the Lowcountry to Miami to convince his sister to lose 100 pounds.

“This is kind of putting my sister on the spot,” Cox told a reporter in St. Augustine, Fla. “But I’m tired of biting my lip. It needs to be addressed.”

Jokes across America

Simon Goldberg and Dan Ettinger had been on a few benefit bike trips in the Midwest, but were far from experts when they decided that biking across the country would be an epic trip. The two had almost no training when they started on the Oregon shores. Goldberg, who hopped on his bike for the first time days before the trip, says his knees started bothering him on day one.

“I could feel something wasn’t right,” he says, though he pressed on for nearly three months. “By the end of the trip, the biking was wonderful.”

But these guys didn’t just ride across the country to see the sights; they also came up with a hook for their journey. With both men coming from “a long line of vocational joke tellers,” they decided to collect jokes on video from the many people they encountered on the trip.

When asked for a favorite, Goldberg gives this gem:

“Knock, knock.” “Who’s there?” “I eat mop.” “I eat mop who?”

He chuckles. Silent pause.

“It’s a lot funnier when you get somebody else to say it,” he says.

The jokes were a great way to start conversations, particularly when they needed a place to eat or sleep, Goldberg says. Oatmeal was an easy snack with a little hot water from convenience stores on the route. In the evening, they’d typically find a park or campground to sleep, but they occasionally begged a homeowner or two for a little yard space to pitch their tents. They weren’t in any particular hurry — they took days off here and there to rest up, including a week in Minneapolis and some time in Chicago and Asheville.

There was no particular reason for choosing Charleston as the end point.

“We wanted a southern city on the east coast,” Goldberg says. Savannah had been the original end point, but the two settled on Charleston based in part on Goldberg’s experience here when he worked with AmeriCorps.

As they headed into the Lowcountry late on the last day, the two were determined to press on to the finish. Battling through evening traffic on Highway 61 in West Ashley, they stopped at the Wolf Track Bar and Grill. The bartender, Marie, gave them a joke about old people, their lack of hearing and their various bodily fluids, and filled their water bottles up with beer for the last stretch.

Goldberg and Ettinger crossed the Arthur Ravenel Bridge — “Beautiful,” Goldberg says (of course) — and made it to Sullivan’s Island. They stopped at a bar and asked how much farther it was to the beach, happy to learn they were practically there. Once on the sand, they popped a bottle of champagne and lit a few cigars they’d stowed away on the long trip.

After finally completing a bike trip across the country, what did they do the next day?

“We biked around downtown Charleston,” Goldberg says.

The two are now shopping a manuscript of their journey that he describes as one part journal and one part joke book.

Journey of Hope

Founded in Charleston more than 100 years ago, Pi Kappa Phi fraternity has been organizing a ride across America for 20 years. The Journey of Hope, mostly made up of underclassmen and a handful of fresh grads, calls attention to special needs children and is expected to raise around half a million dollars for the fraternity’s philanthropic arm, Push America.

Twenty-four year old Andrew Jaffee, a former president of the chapter at the College of Charleston, will be taking on the 4,000 mile trip this summer after being a part of a similar, smaller ride through Florida in 2004.

Much like his preparation for the first trip, Jaffee says he exercises, but rarely rides a bike, meaning the long-distance cycling (expected to be about 75 miles a day on the cross-country trip) will mean adjusting to life on two wheels.

“Your rear end definitely has to get used to the bicycle,” Jaffee says, speaking from the experience of his Florida trip.

After biking for the day, fraternity brothers spend time at special needs facilities, taking kids in the community bowling or on trips to water parks or ball games. The visits are focused on the abilities of the special needs kids, and not their disabilities. Jaffee says these stops were the most rewarding part of the previous trip.

“There were a couple of times when we were getting ready to leave and the counselors would cry, saying they hadn’t seen one kid smile in six months,” he says. “It really hit home that we were doing more than just hanging around.”

A key tool on the first trip that Jaffee’s sure to pack this time is his camel bag, a water pouch strapped to the chest that has a tube snaking up to the jaw line, preventing the rider from having to reach down and struggle with a water bottle. Other must-haves for this trip include CO2 packs to help inflate tires and an air mattress for the uncomfortable nights on gym floors.

When he arrived for the journey through Florida, Jaffee got some surprising advice. Upon looking at his legs, another rider asked him, “You’re not going to ride like that, are you? Dude, you have to shave your legs.” Nursing scrapes and cuts on the trip is a lot easier without the hair in the way, he was told. Looking around at the other riders and their hairless legs, Jaffee set his razor to its hardest task ever.

His legs may have reforested over the interim, but what about the bike? Up until now, it’s been stored away, collecting dust.

“I finally got a bike rack,” Jaffee says, excitedly. “I know there’s a bike path somewhere around U.S. 17. It’s just one of those things where it’s more fun when you’re with somebody.”

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