Great 48: The journey continues

What could a devout mormon woman and a gay nudist possibly have in common?  If you ask the Great 48 team, they’ll tell you that both have supported their cause by providing them housing and a new, interesting perspective on their journey. 

On May 13, Mike Amen, Shaheed Shihan, Ben Ruggeberg, Chris Gould and Brett Citrowske, all South Dakota State University students and Delta Chi brothers, began the Great 48 in support of building a school in the Comayagua, Honduras. The students are riding bikes; two tandem bikes pulling 80 lb. trailers, and one single bike, across the continental United States, touching each state at least once. 

After three and a half months, the team has reached 20 states, and has raised $15,608 of their $100,000 goal. The team updates their website,, with a map that tracks the location of the bikers, as well as blog posts about their journey and opportunities to donate.

Currently, three members of the team remain. Amen, Gould and Citrowske have reached Mississippi while Ruggeberg and Shihan return to school this fall. Although the team is separated, each member still maintains an important role. 

“I’ll contact the media ahead of time based on where they’ll be the next week,” Shihan said. Fundraising proves to be the biggest challenge for the team as they travel. After riding all day, the team sometimes finds it hard to make contact with media ahead of time. The best response comes when they contacted churches ahead of time and shared the story of their journey. 

“It can get very frustrating because I’m so passionate about getting this school built and sometimes I can’t get that message across to people … and I never thought fundraising would be what we would struggle with. But like I said, we’re learning,” Amen said. 

The team also came up with a “Penny a Mile” donation program which allows people to pledge to donate one penny per mile the group rode. The trip totals 10,000 miles, which adds up to $100 per pledge. A Google form was added to the website and individuals are able to fill out their name and contact information to join the “Penny a Mile” program, Shihan said. 

“Just accepting the fact that you are the dirty person walking into the store … it’s the mental challenge you have to adjust to. It was a lot of learning as you go … a lot of things take adjusting,” Shihan said. Dealing with lack of warm showers and beds and riding bikes for hours and miles on end took its toll at times. 

Finding housing has been much easier than the team had anticipated. Not only were they able to stay with many people through connections to friends, family or professors back home, but complete strangers welcomed them into their homes, Shihan said. 

“People would leave and trust us to stay in their homes … it is amazing what people will do for you,” Shihan said. According to Amen, with only three of them left, finding housing proves an easier task than before.

Looking back, there aren’t many things the team would change about the process that got them to this point. Other than joking about buying a more comfortable seat, the team agrees that the challenges are what has made the journey worth it, as it provided them a learning experience, Amen said. 

“I think I’ve learned more about myself and what I’m capable of and at the same time, what my weaknesses are. Travel is such a great tool for learning and I highly recommend it for all students,” Amen said. 

The team originally planned on returning to Brookings near the end of November; however, if they stay on track, they forsee returning ahead of schedule the first week of November, Shihan said. There is a possibility of a welcome back celebration for the remainder of the team when they return to Brookings, but no firm plans have been set. 

Even though the majority of the team is still biking, they hope people at home continue to support their cause through T-shirt purchases, donations and spreading the word. Shihan recently spoke at the 1 Million Cups event at the Brookings Children’s Museum to promote the Great 48 team’s efforts. 

“I can’t wait until December when we are able to go to Honduras and see the impact we will have on these children’s lives,” Amen said. “All the pedaling, the long uphills, the sweltering hot days, all the time spent on the road, away from friends and family, all of that will be worth it when we can see the smiles of … the children there. To be able to give a child the same education that we’re so privileged to have…I can’t begin to describe what an amazing feeling that will be.”