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Dentist rides bicycle coast-to-coast for charity


West coast start: The Mercy Riders, including Dr. Greg Duffner, second from left, dip their back wheels in the Pacific Ocean June 14 in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park as they embark on a coast-to-coast charity bicycle ride.

East coast finish: The Mercy Riders wrap up their nearly 3,700-mile ride July 25 by dipping their front wheels in the Atlantic Ocean in Rehoboth Beach, Del. Pictured, from left, are Barb Duffner, Bill Goldsmith, Claire Reinbold, Dr. Greg Duffner, Emil McCauley, Keith Melbourne, Jim Andricopulos and Mark Bucherl.
Frankfort, Ill.—Shortly after graduating from the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Dentistry in 1985, Dr. Greg Duffner and his sister got on their bicycles in Florida and arrived in Chicago 20 days later.

And he hasn't stopped riding.

"I hate to start small," Dr. Duffner joked. "That first long ride got me hooked."

The 54-year-old general dentist routinely rides the 13-1/2 miles from his home in Frankfort to his office in Homewood, Ill.—a 45-minute commute from one Chicago suburb to the other.

"I used to stop with the time change every fall, but now I ride often in the winter, too," Dr. Duffner said. "I don't mind rain or the dark anymore. I have LED lights.

These days his rule of thumb is that he rides as long as it's warmer than 30 degrees and there is no ice or snow.

After nearly three decades of bike commuting and participating in nearly three-dozen charity rides, Dr. Duffner said he had the urge to do something more challenging.

This summer, he and five of his bicycling enthusiast friends set out on a coast-to-coast trip to raise money for Mercy Housing, a national nonprofit organization that helps provide affordable housing in 41 states. One of the riders, Bill Goldsmith, had a personal connection to the charity, and convinced the others to raise money and visibility of the plight of homeless with their bicycles.

The team included Dr. Duffner, Mr. Goldsmith, Jim Andricopulos, Mark Bucherl, Emil McCauley and Keith Melbourne. Dr. Duffner's sister, Barb, and Emil's wife, Michelle McCauley, drove the route in a van, providing a safety net, carrying supplies, food and extra equipment and supported the team with day-to-day help with cooking and laundry. The riders are all experienced bicyclists in their 50s who wanted to combine their passion with compassion.

The group's 3,667-mile ride began June 14, when they dipped their back tires in the Pacific Ocean in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. They reached the east coast 42 days later, and dipped their front wheels in the Atlantic Ocean in Rehoboth Beach, Del., on July 25.


Pedaling: The Mercy Riders navigate the Nevada Great Basin on Route 50 during their 42-day charity ride.
The team rode 36 of the 42 days, an average of 102 miles a day and encountered only three hours of rain in six weeks of cycling. They stayed in hotels, campsites, churches, schools and private homes—from one man's small two-bedroom apartment to a Mormon bishop's home—and they raised $60,000 for their charity.

"Staying as guests in private homes gave us a wonderful opportunity to meet people and enjoy their hospitality," Dr. Duffner said. "We really learned about ourselves and others and we put ourselves in the shoes of homeless people for six weeks. You really appreciate every act of goodwill when you are in a position of depending on others for your shelter. We definitely got an education. It was an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience."

The team planned the route to include San Francisco, Denver, Chicago and Washington, D.C.—all places where Mercy Housing has offices and has provided housing. The team was able to meet with residents and staff who were thrilled that the bicyclists were raising money for the housing organization.

"I met a Mercy resident in Chicago at Mercy's South Loop Apartments who was in a wheelchair," Dr. Duffner said. "He told me he was proud of my courage. I was so humbled. He was the one who had courage. He was living his life without legs and in a wheelchair. That takes more courage than I can imagine. It was very moving for me."

Their other stops gave them a chance to make friends and meet people, Dr. Duffner added.
"In Iowa, a man opened his very small apartment and welcomed us. Near Lake Tahoe, just a few days into our trip, we met a recent widow who urged us to stay with her for two nights, insisting that we were helping her get out of her funk. We met up with a schoolteacher in the Sierra Mountains and she ended up joining us for the rest of the trip. Total strangers were donating money to our charity while we were on the road, or picking up our lunch tabs. It was amazing."

The riders have a website with a blog about the ride, sponsors, money raised and more. Visit mercyriders.org.