The road to higher education has taken on a special meaning for 2009 Wellesley College graduate students Jessie Cherofsky, 24, and Stephanie Cosantino, 24.
It is not the number of books and papers completed that gives them their education, it is the amount of potholes, rocks, and pavement breaks on their 5,000-mile coast-to-coast quest to raise funds for their fellow teachers at Our Sister's School in New Bedford, Mass.
"We both wanted to travel while contributing back to the community," Cherofsky said. "We wanted to give back to the school and the cause it was working for. And we wanted to see the country."
The school's name refers to the sailing reference of ‘Sister Sailors,' the wives of sailors who would sometimes get to go out on the boats and see the world in other ways than most women of that time did.
Teachers at the historical whaling community inner city school are paid by an AmeriCorps grant. The goal of the school is to offer opportunities to girls whose families are living below the poverty line by offering them an intensive, challenging, and nurturing small class environment.
New Jersey-born Cosantino finished her two-year post there and New York-born Cherofsky a year as a volunteer teaching Spanish once a week while also tending to an organic garden.
"We were so inspired by the kids there," Cherofsky said. "They were so incredibly passionate."
The duo are new to tour biking. Cosantino is a Frisbee player and runner with a recent finish in the Boston Marathon and Cherofsky is a martial artist.
"Cycling was kind of the only realistic way we could see the country," Cherofsky said. "Because of the cost and environmental impact of driving everywhere, as well as with biking you get to see the country in a completely different way."
Added Cosantino, "I wanted to bike really, really far. And then we wanted to do that with a purpose."
The trip began in Anchorage on July 4. A 10-day ride to Seward and back gave them some Alaska visuals of Exit Glacier.
"There are no mountains like that in southeastern Massachusetts where we live," Cherofsky said. "We couldn't have even begun to train for that portion. That was a wake up call."
They next pedaled to Tok, on to Whitehorse and down to Skagway, averaging about 40-miles per day. The downhill to Skagway was almost as hard as the uphill portions due to the steep decline and the hand braking needed.
After more than a week of Juneau excursions, including Perseverance Trail, salmon streams on Thane and the Mendenhall Glacier they departed for Sitka Wednesday morning, experienced the result of a fast-ferry mechanical return to the Capital City, and now will leave again today. After exploring the Russian-settled town they plan to stop in Petersburg, Ketchikan and Prince Rupert before continuing to cycle down the coast of California.
Cherofsky is riding a Trek 520 and Cosantino an REI Novara Randonee. The tires are wider for touring and have yielded no flats so far.
Each biker holds their camping gear, food, and essentials stored in front and back saddlebags and a back bike rack. On the sides of the bags are printed "5000 miles for education" and their trip website "www.anothermileanotherstarfish.com."
Both have studied and taught abroad while at Wellesley, including Europe, Turkey, Latin America, Spain, and London.
"I have just really enjoyed talking to the people in Alaska," Cherofsky said. "Many of the communities have been so small. We are both so interested in learning about the economies of places like that. There is a survival kind of feeling here. A harder life than what I am used to. I have met a lot of hunters and fishers, people who live off the land in a way I haven't seen before."
The two said they are learning that inner-city and some of the small places they visited have many of the same problems such as a lack of finances for quality teachers, supplies, and drug and alcohol battles.
"Our school tries to make sure no one slips through the cracks," Cosantino said. "That everyone is at or well above grade levels and that is what we are raising funds for."
Cosantino also said the trip is raising her own expectations of life, "Just seeing vast expanses of uninhabited beautiful views and mountains, Alaska is definitely broadening my eyes. I had never seen a real mountain before, and then to have to bike over it. It is inspiring me to see other parts of the country and other places of interest."