Originally published May 24, 2021 by the Enterprise-Record.
By Will Denner
A recent Chico State graduate is using her first summer out of college to take a scenic route across the country on her bicycle in an effort to raise money for physical education programs.
In just a couple of weeks, Christine Wilhoyte, who recently completed a bachelor’s degree in exercise physiology, will embark on a mostly solo, coast-to-coast trip from Oregon to Maine covering an estimated 5,600 miles on a bike carrying her compact camping gear and a few other necessities.
Wilhoyte founded Spoke48, a fundraising effort taking place via Donorbox and on its Facebook page, www.facebook.com/spoke48, with the goal of raising $10,000 to fund the purchase of equipment, curriculum, or in-person support for communities lacking in resources for physical education. Wilhoyte hopes to identify those areas of need when visiting and meeting people in communities along the trip.
“I feel very, very lucky that I was raised to accumulate the skills and resources that I need to be able to be sitting here in this position with my degree, looking at the world and being like, ‘what do I want to do?'” Wilhoyte said. “Being able to pursue this, basically, it’s like a little fun project.”
Her passion for physical education lies in empowering people to take care of their bodies in a way that works for them. She’s seen firsthand, working as a physical therapy aide at both Butte Premier Physical Therapy and Enloe Medical Center, people from all over the spectrum working to regain a level of function in their bodies that supports them.
“All those people have one thing in common — that their body is not helping them in doing what they want,” Wilhoyte said. “I just think education is the key to empowering people through that.”
But well before then, Wilhoyte grew up in Santa Rosa playing soccer. Whenever she faced an injury, she was interested in the anatomy behind it and would return to her teammates with insight on how to deal with them.
“I’ve always liked helping my friends in that way,” she said. “A lot of my friends and people that I know through things other than sports and physical activity will come to me for advice for things like that. I always liked being that person that can bridge that gap for people and helping them learn.”
While on a camping trip to Buckhorn Recreation Area nearly two-and-a-half years ago with friends from Chico State’s club soccer team, the group befriended a couple who helped them start a fire at their campsite. Over breakfast the following morning, the couple told a story of how they once traveled across the country on a three-person bike when their son was eight years old.
The idea left an impression on Wilhoyte. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year, she officially decided in November to do a similar trip and began planning it.
“I remember my mind was totally blown,” said Wilhoyte, recalling the conversation during the camping trip. “I thought that was so cool and such a cool way to travel. From then on, the seed was just kind of planted. When I hear something crazy like that and get attached to an idea, it’s like, OK, I have to do it now. I can’t not do it. Once the opportunity came up and with Covid and everything happening, slowing everything down, I was like, ‘OK, this is my chance to do it.’”
Wilhoyte had an abstract idea of what she wanted to do, but to fully flesh it out, she reached out to one of her kinesiology professors at Chico State, Dr. Steve Henderson, who referred her to another professor, Dr. Cathrine Himberg. Himberg, who Wilhoyte said is an important advocate for physical education through her website, www.supportrealteachers.org, guided Wilhoyte through the process of putting her plan into action with the launch of Spoke48.
Wilhoyte has also leaned on her roommate, a bike mechanic, to equip her mode of transportation with all of the necessary gear. She’s also taken multiple shopping trips to REI in recent months for camping gear.
“I’m probably their best customer at this point,” she joked.
The trip itself is set to begin in Astoria, Oregon, traverse down the coast before Wilhoyte cuts toward Salem, and continues east into Idaho, Montana, Yellowstone National Park, and down through Wyoming and Colorado. Following a brief detour to a bluegrass festival and to visit Durango, Colorado, Wilhoyte plans to continue east into Kansas and Missouri, pick up with the Bicycle Route 66 up through Chicago and around Lake Michigan, and head toward the finish line of the trip in Maine.
On the approximately 5,600-mile route, Wilhoyte is aiming to complete 50 miles per day, six days per week and complete the trip in about 15 weeks. But, the timeline isn’t set in stone.
“Definitely, it’s scary, the idea of spending that much time alone, especially when we’re so connected on our phones and stuff. I think it will be a really challenging experience, but I’m kind of excited for those moments,” Wilhoyte said. “I want to have one of those moments when I’m like, ‘I hate this, I want to give up, this sucks.’ Just so I can get through it and look back on it and be like, ‘We’re all good.’”
“I’m keeping my expectations low and my hopes high — that’s what I’ve been telling people.”
Where exactly the money is focused for physical education programs will likely depend on what Wilhoyte learns along the trip. It could be as simple as donating funds to purchase equipment or curriculum to help teachers. There could also be an in-person component, whether it means Wilhoyte returns to volunteer and provide a P.E. program or camp, or connects with other Chico State students interested in doing something similar.
“The plan is to fundraise now, use the trip to fundraise and then execute something,” Wilhoyte said.
In addition to Spoke48’s Donorbox and Facebook pages, Wilhoyte said she’s also planning to keep a blog along the trip.
“We’ll see what happens,” she said.