In Moscow, the group's cycles were stored, for security reasons, in the bomb shelter of the Hotel Ukraine. A hotel custodian said he never expected in his lifetime to see a Russian bomb shelter used to protect American possessions.
Through Russia, Orthodox priests blessed the cyclists and their bikes and the vans that escorted them. Villagers appeared on roadsides to cheer the riders on. A 22-year-old man named Oleg showed up with a rusty bike and a sleeping bag to join the group. He'd just finished his duty with the army, and he wanted to join the World Ride cause.
The ride's organizers hired Nikolai, Alexander and Sasha, former KGB agents, to provide armed security through Russia. The men proved to be a friendly bunch and, by the end of the Russian stage, were wearing Walkmans, courtesy of World Ride organizers.
In Siberia, the cyclists were met at district borders by local dignitaries wishing them well with a traditional bread-and-salt ceremony.
In Mongolia, villagers rushed from their huts to the roadside with fresh mare's milk, anointing each cyclist's bike as a blessing for the road. Every night, every morning, someone seemed to be offering a vodka toast.
World Ride turned to mud in China. Mudslides, mud puddles, mud in eyes and mouths, mud up noses. It was dreary riding. The pace was agonizingly slow. At one point, someone estimated that, at the rate they were going, the riders would not finish the day's distance for 26 hours. Most of the time was spent scraping mud off fenders. When they finally reached a paved road, riders crawled off their bikes and kissed the asphalt.
But through all the drudgery, World Ride's point was being made. The cyclists visited rehabilitation hospitals and institutes for the blind. They made appearances in town halls and on television, offering a message of hope.
They befriended disabled men and women, some of whom had lived their lives in second- or third-story apartments because the apartment had no wheelchair access.
"The standard term for disabled people in many parts of the world is 'invalid,' " Cornelsen says. "In Russia, unless you come from a family of means, you have a dismal life as a disabled person. You might get a wheelchair if you're lucky. But you're totally dependent on others."
One Russian man took Cornelsen to a half-built rehabilitation center that had run out of funds. The man, whose name is Lukin, told Cornelsen that he hoped to get enough money, about $50,000, to complete the project. But considering the economy in his homeland, he didn't expect it to happen any time soon.
"I would love to help out someone like that," Cornelsen says, "maybe as a joint venture with an American company. . . . Disabled people are really suffering internationally."
For now, though, he and the other World Rider participants are happy just to continue their mission, spreading the word that disabled people are quite able when they try.
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Around the World in 8 Months
David Cornelson of Huntington Beach is in the core group of athletics with disabilities who are traveling the entire course of the World Ride '95 cycling event.
Ride begins in Atlanta, March 17
Arrive Washington , D.C., March 27
Boston, April 8
Shannon, Irleand, April 9
Paris, April 26
Vienna, May 21
Moscow, June 15
Celjabinsk, Russian Federation, July 4
Novosibirsk, Russian Federation, july 23
Irkutsk, Russian Federation, Aug. 15
Ulan Bator, Mongolia, Aug. 27
Beijing, Sept. 15
Wajima, Japan, Sept. 16
Los Angeles, Thursday
Santa Fe, Oct 12
St. Louis, Oct. 30
Washington, D.C., Nov. 18