By TRAVIS MORSE
MT. VERNON — — Bicyclist Rick Lerma said it took him about 10 seconds to decide what group to raise money for as part of his cross-country bike trip from Lake Michigan to the Gulf of Mexico.
He chose the Boy Scouts of America, an organization that promotes key values for youth such as honesty, loyalty and kindness, Lerma said.
“I tried to think of a charity or a nonprofit and there's a lot of them, but when I just went with my gut, I like the Boy Scouts. I think it's a good institution,” said Lerma, who was a Boy Scout himself as a child. “Find an organization for youth that's that solid with that kind of history. I don't know what it is.”
Lerma, who lives near Charlotte, N.C., is making a roughly 900-mile trip across the U.S. to raise awareness and encourage donations to the Boy Scouts. His trip began Friday and Lerma expects to be finished by Saturday.
This past Sunday, Lerma made a stop in Mt. Vernon to visit his brother, Tony. At that time, he said the trip was on schedule and going as planned.
Even so, the journey has been difficult mainly because of the discomfort that comes from staying on a bicycle seat so long, Lerma said.
“I can't think of anything more challenging than this, sitting on that seat,” Lerma said.
Lerma said he likes to travel through the Main Streets of towns along the route to meet people and see the sites. He also enjoys visiting nature centers and forest preserves.
He usually stops for a break every few hours. While riding, he takes salt pills as a supplement to lessen cramps and fatigue caused by excessive perspiration, Lerma said.
“If you're doing anything on a bike or probably anything strenuous for over a couple of hours, you're probably going to need some salt pills,” Lerma said. “If you don't put that stuff back in your body, you are in trouble.”
During the trip, Lerma said he stays in hotels or with relatives overnight to sleep. Three of his relatives live along the route, including a sister in Kankakee, a brother in Mt. Vernon and a great-aunt near Gulfport, Miss.
Lerma is a native of Sterling. In the Charlotte area, he works in operations management for a company that makes parts for the housing market.
He is a fitness buff, but this is the first time Lerma has attempted such a lengthy bicycle ride.
He had been planning the cross-country trip for some time but only recently decided to use his venture to help the Boy Scouts.
“The reason I'm raising money for Boy Scouts of America is, I thought if I was going to do the trip I might as well do something good,” Lerma said.
Lerma added he has fond memories of being in the Boy Scouts as a youth, including one “sub-zero campout” where he had to walk through the snow with a 50-pound pack.
“I just kind of liked that stuff,” Lerma said. “And I remember camping up in a cabin and the whole place smells like a fire.”
Lerma said he expects to be very pleased when he finishes his bike ride.
“I think that my emotions will be one of happy reflection because I meet lots of people along the way,” Lerma said. “These are all good times.”
To encourage donations, Lerma has created a Facebook page that includes a link to the Boy Scouts donation website. You can visit the page at www.facebook.com/RideAcrossAmericaForBoyScoutsOfAmerica.