VUHS 8th-grader, mom get ready to go far for a cause

FERRISBURGH — Fourteen-year-old Kobe Kessler said he was getting restless and wanted to break out of his school-and-sports routine, and not in a small way.
Kessler, a Ferrisburgh resident and Vergennes Union Middle School 8th-grader, found the perfect answer. He; his veterinarian mother, Denise Kessler; and family friend Tom Stuwe, a Barre veterinarian, will this summer ride bicycles 4,200 miles across America and raise money for a good cause while doing so.
Kobe Kessler said he discussed doing “something big” with his family and embraced a suggestion made by his mother.
“I felt like I’d just fell into the ordinary rhythm of life, and I just wanted to get out and do something crazy, I guess, and this was it,” Kobe said. “My mom shared her idea of doing this with me, and I was psyched. And I’m so excited. This was the only option we came up with, and it’s a great idea.”
Kobe said his mother’s inspiration came from a member of their church in Burlington, Lindy Millington, now 83.
“She had this necklace around her neck with a bicycle on it. And (my mom) asked her what it was, and she said, ‘Oh, I biked across America when I was 50, and then I did it again,’” Kobe said. “And my mom, she’s an avid biker, she’s done many tours, she just felt she had to do it now before it’s too late.”
Denise Kessler, who will turn 53 about the time their journey starts the day after VUHS graduation, laughed at the memory. 
“She said to me, ‘It’s from when I rode my bike across the U.S.’ And I said, ‘When did you do it?’ And she said, ‘When I was 50.’ And I’m staring at her going wow,” Denise said. “And she said, ‘Yeah, and I did it again when I was 77.’ I went, whoa, I’ve got to do this.”
The charity they chose is Christian Veterinary Missions, which sends veterinarians to developing countries around the world to vaccinate and treat livestock and teach animal husbandry and marketing to farmers. Denise Kessler said volunteers are inspired by their faith, but no strings are attached to the help they offer.
“I have seen their work and how they faithfully use their funds,” Denise said. “(They) teach people how to take care of their livestock, vaccinate, de-worm, do whatever they can … to teach people how to have an income.”
Kobe — who, his mother said, “has always had a heart for people who are hungry” — readily agreed to the choice of the cause.
“They teach them how to grow certain crops and how to take care of their animals,” Kobe said. “It’s animal husbandry and it’s also giving them a food source, which I think is really important, and my mom also really believes in their cause. I think it’s a great thing to fundraise for.”
A penny-a-mile sponsorship means a $42 donation, they noted, but that anything helps, they added. Those interested may go online to donate.cvmusa.org/Kessler.
Some non-financial sponsorship has already come forward: Denise said Terry Bicycles of Burlington donated a saddle that “should enable me to complete the journey,” while local fabric crafter Laura Socinski offered a Garmin GPS navigator.   
For the first half of the trip the trio will camp out, carrying small tents and other necessities in bicycle saddlebags called panniers. Kobe’s father, Tom Kessler, will join them halfway through and follow them in a camper, allowing for a little more luxury and a lighter load.
The trio plans to start in Seattle and head east over the Cascade Mountains, definitely the most physically challenging part of the ride. Once they reach the Great Lakes they will decide to skirt them to the north and reach the Atlantic Ocean in Maine, or to the south and finish their journey in New Jersey.
The northern route might be a little shorter, Kobe said, and the decision might hinge on their progress when they hit the fork in the road. 
“We’re hoping to finish within eight weeks, which will be the whole summer. So we’ll be back for school in time,” Kobe said.
To keep that schedule means about 70 miles a day, but the number of days they actually pedal that distance could be few.
“An average really doesn’t tell too much,” Kobe said. “On days we’re going through mountains we might get 30 or 20 miles, because it’s really steep through the Cascades. Or if the wind is in front of us and it’s downpouring or it’s sleeting or snowing, which can happen, we’ll probably only get around 30 or 40 miles. But if it’s just flat land and we’re just going for a day in pristine conditions we hope to be up around 100, or at least 80.”
Denise and Kobe have been preparing for the ride, at least when Kobe is not playing basketball and soccer.
“I have a lot of sports and activities and stuff, but on the weekends I try to get at least 50, 40 miles in,” Kobe said.
Denise is not concerned about Kobe’s ability to handle the trip. She described a recent weekend in the Adirondacks.
“On the second day he wanted to reverse and come back towards Vermont and go over Graphite Mountain, which I think is over 2,000 feet. And, my goodness, this was, like, I don’t want him to be discouraged. But he really wanted to come back this way, so we did,” Denise said.
“And he was way ahead of me. He was beyond the corners. I couldn’t see him. I don’t have any worries about Kobe making the trip. It will be heavier when we have panniers with cookwear and tents and stuff, but I think he’ll do fine. He’ll have to pull these old people with him.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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