Four guys from England wanted to tour the United States on bicycles, and thereby hangs a tale of courage, endurance and enterprise.
The young men, all karate experts from a town called Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire, said it started with the idea of visiting martial-arts devotees in other countries to see how they did it in their dojos , or studios.
In England, said Neil Axe, 23, the group's spokesman, karate tends to be a bit stuffy, so he and his comrades wanted to develop a less formal, more exciting approach by borrowing the best elements from other styles.
Short on Money
Being short on money and long on youthful enthusiasm, they decided to attract support for their venture by throwing in a few other elements, Axe said. Like offering to ride bicycles across any country that would help with their basic expenses.
China, a stronghold of karate, seemed like a good place to start, Axe said. And Chinese authorities were receptive for a while, indicating that their dojos would act as hosts to the visiting karate experts along a proposed 2,000-mile bike trip, he said.
But after the group spent six months getting in shape, he said, the Chinese signaled that the time was not yet ripe for the British excursion. "That didn't upset us one bloody bit," Axe said. "When people say no, we just keep trooping along."
So, in March, the four men packed their dismantled bikes with their luggage and flew off to the United States. "We stopped long enough in New York to touch the Statue of Liberty for good luck," Axe said.
Now we get into the courage part. The shortest distance across the United States is not a mere 2,000 miles, it's about 3,500 miles, and two of the Englishmen are physically handicapped. Axe said he picked up a severe spinal injury in a karate match several years ago, and one of his pals, 21-year-old Julian Carlino, still has to wear leg braces as a result of a motorcycle accident in 1984.
Undaunted, the Englishmen pooled their money to rent a truck, and set off. Some of them would pedal while the others rode in the truck. Axe said the going got tough, particularly in the mountainous and desert areas, but the hardest part was overcoming boredom.
"It was bloody tiresome at times," he said. "But we muddled through, and we always had at least one biker out on the road and often two or three."
To attract media attention and give a higher purpose to all that pedaling, the Englishmen billed the trek as a fund-raiser for children's hospitals in London and Washington.
"For us, this is a strictly personal achievement," Axe said. "But at the same time, we want to help others."
Media coverage picked up as the quartet--the other two members are Michael Graham, 27, a postman back home, and 23-year-old nightclub bouncer Graham Cadle--headed into the hinterlands, Axe said. Local newspapers and TV stations reported their passage, and eventually network television spread the word across the nation, he said.
"We began to run into people who recognized us and wanted to help," Axe said. "The hospitality and openness of this country are just incredible."
Along the way, he said, the group stopped at every dojo they could find to exchange karate expertise. Last Tuesday, they wound up the five-week marathon at Ted Tabura's Karate Studio in Gardena.
"These guys are gutsy," said Tabura, a former national champion of the kata form of karate. "I told them, 'My dojo is your dojo. ' "
Tabura, saying "the gangs would shoot them up in the parks," will let the Englishmen sack out at his studio until their flight home, scheduled for later this month. In the meantime, he said, he is helping arrange karate demonstrations for them in the Los Angeles area.