Randi Topps from Casselberry, Flo. bikes past one of the iconic Vale Oregon trail murals on Holland St. as she rides into the Vale Christian Church on Tuesday morning, July 27, 2021. (ANGELINA KATSANIS/The Enterprise)

VALE - Bicycles, shoes and water bottles lined the halls of the Vale Christian Church last week as travelers clad in orange jerseys and bike shorts slumped in chairs and waddled to the showers on stiff legs.

They had just finished another leg of their cross-country bike ride, which on Tuesday, July 27, took them from Nampa to Vale. The group of 11 cyclists and two van drivers started on Amelia Island in Florida on May 28, and will finish 3,750 miles later in Florence on Sunday.

The Fuller Center Bike Adventure raises money for The Fuller Center for Housing, a faith-based nonprofit that, upon request from local community leaders, builds and repairs homes in the U.S. and 20 countries.

Neil Mullikin, the group leader, said he had felt a calling from God to give back, and that the coast-to-coast journey had been personally transformative. He keeps the group organized and on a tight schedule.

“They laugh at me. The latest I’ve let them wake up is 5:30 a.m.,” Mullikin said. “I feel good, though, believe it or not. Today was 56 miles, which was a light day.”

Randi Topps from Casselberry, Flo. and "The Great and Powerful Neil" Mullikin from Americus, Ga. arrived with the rest of the Fuller Center Bike Adventure group to Vale Christian Church on Tuesday morning, July 27, 2021. (ANGELINA KATSANIS/The Enterprise)

Despite the group having just finished their daily ride, they chatted enthusiastically about the route ahead, which includes camping at Crater Lake National Park.

“I was so excited to see that Oregon sign, I thought, ‘Yes, it’s the last state,’'' said rider Karen Dejoe, pumping her fist in the air. “I’m still in utter amazement that I rode my bike across the United States.”

Though Dejoe said she was doing the ride to help people in need, her personal experience added to the accomplishment.

“For me it’s extra special because I have MS, and I used to be in a wheelchair,” Dejoe said. She said her 26-year-long experience with Multiple sclerosis, a neurological disease, had been up and down, and that on several occasions it had impaired her sight and ability to speak.

She got into cycling after her health rebounded, and soon began looking for a long-distance ride. When she learned about the work of the Fuller Center, she knew she’d found the perfect team.

The group has raised over $600,000 in their journey this year from sponsors and from collections on the side of the road, according to Mullikin. Dejoe said seeing the beauty of the country and its people has been the best part.

“This past year there’s been so much controversy and so much sadness,” Dejoe said. “Every time we stopped to meet people, nobody asked if we were a Republican or a Democrat, they just asked, ‘how can we help you?”

Jim Kruse, who Dejoe called the “strongest rider” of the group, has seen the world on his bike, from Ireland to Tasmania. Though he’s often the fastest, he refused the title.

“Everybody on the team is strong in one way or another,” said Kruse, who is a retired Navy helicopter pilot.

The group has stayed the night in churches and community centers across the country.

“It’s humbling. We’re the fundraising arm of a great organization, but we couldn’t do it without the hosts,” Kruse said.

Kruse said one thing has stood out to him above all else along the ride.

“People are really, really generous,” Kruse said.

News tip? Contact reporter Abbey McDonald at [email protected]

EXCELLENCE IN JOURNALISM - Available for $5 a month. Subscribe to the digital service of the Enterprise and get the very best in local journalism. We report with care, attention to accuracy, and an unwavering devotion to fairness. Get the kind of news you’ve been looking for - day in and day out from the Enterprise.