Scout volunteer raises money for campers by cycling across the country

After Scout volunteer Don Harter retired from the University of Missouri power plant, he planned to spend a lot more time on his bike. What he didn’t anticipate: blogging from a new smart phone. But people wanted to know how his first retirement endeavor was going — a cycling trip that took him 4,300 miles from Oregon to Virginia, and he was raising money for Scouts along the way.

Harter, a roundtable commissioner for the Great Rivers Council’s Boonslick District, collected $5,400 for the district during his 63-day journey. The money will be earmarked for the district’s Scoutreach program, providing camperships for underprivileged Scouts to attend the Lake of the Ozarks Scout Reservation in Missouri.

“I’ve seen the benefits of the program,” says Harter, who has volunteered in the Great Rivers Council for the last 30 years.

During the trip, he also raised just as much for Enlace, a nonprofit that equips churches for mission work in Central America and Nepal.

Blogging across the country

Equipped with a sturdy 1982 Centurion Pro Tour 15 bicycle; a wide, comfy seat, and packs to carry 30 pounds of gear, Harter was ready for the longest ride of his life. He had cycled from South Carolina back home to Missouri during 30 days of R&R while he was in the Navy. After he was discharged after serving aboard a ballistic missile submarine, he completed a bike trip from Maine to Missouri. But the Trans Am Bike Ride was more than three times as long as each of his previous two treks.

He and more than 110 other riders were going to try the annual cross-country challenge. More than 60 reached the finish line, including Harter, who began June 2 and got to the end last month. The 62-year-old wasn’t trying to finish first; he simply wanted to finish strong.

“I just got out there and got in as many miles as I could,” he says.

Some days that meant nearly 100 miles on the road, others he had to stay put as storms loomed over windy paths, making the route dangerous. On average, he traveled almost 70 miles a day. After each day of riding, Harter typed a blog post on his phone that he bought a month before the race. Scouts had shown him how to use it, so he could update supporters.

“It was beyond me that people found it interesting; how do you make a day of bicycling sound interesting?” Harter says.

Harter’s posts soon shifted to focus on the people he encountered. Drivers would slow down as they passed him on the road to shout a few words of encouragement; residents would welcome him and fellow cyclists into their homes for a nice meal and a hot shower.

“The scenery changed dramatically, but the people never did,” Harter says. “It was always the same friendliness. The only thing that did change was the twang in their voice.”

Riding forward

Harter endured plenty of frustrating days during the Trans Am Bike Ride, from 100-plus-degree days to grueling uphill rides.

But he kept reminding himself that he could’ve been in a worse situation. That resiliency he attributes to Scouting. He also credits his success to the power of prayer. He told people at home to think about him often and to say a little prayer.

“I had things happen that I can’t explain,” Harter says. “I was being helped by God.”

During one stretch, a car struck a two-by-four in the road, sending wooden shrapnel in his direction, narrowly missing him. Another time, a dog attacked him, fortunately satisfied with only biting at his food satchel. And yet another time while cycling on a desolate road, he came across a clean port-a-potty, just as he was feeling ill.

But the good times definitely outweighed the bad. In Sterling, Kan., Harter and fellow rider Nishanth Iyengar stopped to enjoy the small town’s Fourth of July celebration, which featured pizza-eating contests, a parade with antique tractors and fireworks. When he reached Missouri, friends and former coworkers joined him on the ride.

Cycling for Scouting

Harter was a Life Scout; his son, Justin, became an Eagle. He took leadership roles while his son was in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts — as an assistant den leader, a Cubmaster, an assistant Scoutmaster and a Scoutmaster. He helped run Pinewood Derby Day for the district and volunteered at summer camp to ensure Scouts had a great time.

So when fellow Scout volunteer Hank Stelzer proposed the idea of a fundraising campaign to go along with his ride, Harter was intrigued. Volunteers quickly pitched in $500. With a goal of $4,300, Harter’s campaign would fund summer camp for 16 Scouts.

Along the way, Harter wore a BSA cycling jersey. He camped at city and state parks. And he took in the natural beauty of the country — from Old Faithful at Yellowstone National Park to Haystack Rock on the Oregon coast to the wheat fields of Kansas and scenic valley overlooks in Virginia.

About Michael Freeman 43 Articles
Michael Freeman, an Eagle Scout, is associate editor of Boys’ Life, Scouting and Eagles’ Call magazines.