By Rob Potter
SULLIVAN COUNTY July 19, 2002 When Zach Baker was a kindergarten student, he befriended a physically challenged classmate after the other kids ridiculed and shunned her.
Fifteen years later, Baker is still displaying that compassion for his fellow humans. He is currently completing a journey that will benefit hundreds of people.
And they are people that Baker, the valedictorian of the Fallsburg Central School Class of 2001, has never met.
Baker is presently riding his bike across the United States with 21 other people in Bike Aid. The trek is held in conjunction with Global Exchange, a human rights organization that exposes economic and political injustice around the world and then seeks to organize for change.
Due to his status as the top student in the Fallsburg Class of 01 and his other academic achievements, Baker was accepted to Tufts University. He also secured a special scholarship at the university, the Omyidiar Community Service Scholarship. (This scholarship was the result of a grant from the founders of E-Bay Internet auction site.)
As a project for the scholarship, Baker chose to participate in Bike-Aid.
The 22 riders left San Francisco on June 15 and plan to arrive in Washington, DC on August 18. Baker noted that the cyclists on the 3,600 mile trip are from all over the United States, while one rider is from Japan and another hails from the Philippines.
Along the route, the riders either camp out, stay with host families or bunk down in churches or community centers.
With 22 of us, its pretty crowded, Baker said in a telephone interview on July 12, when the group was enjoying a rest day after riding through the Rocky Mountains. Most of the time were sleeping on the floor in sleeping bags.
While he might be missing a comfortable bed, Baker is enjoying the experience. The group members ride an average of 75 miles per day.
He said that while the trip is both scenic and challenging especially transversing the Rocky Mountains there is a deeper meaning to the trek across our nation.
Its not just biking, Baker said. Were learning a great deal about being able to relate to and work with people. We all have varied opinions about the problems in the world.
He noted that the group recently learned about people in Utah who live and work in communities near a nuclear waste incinerator. When the Bike-Aid contingent reaches Missouri, family farmers will share their stories and struggles with the riders. And in Columbus, Ohio, the cyclists are scheduled to meet with local groups to discuss issues such as racism and homophobia.
Nineteen-year-old Baker, who will be a sophomore at Tufts University this fall, and his fellow Bike-Aid participants each had to raise $3,600 prior to beginning the ride. The money raised will be used to support Global Exchanges No More Innocent Victims campaign, which benefits bombing victims in Afghanistan.
Family members, friends and businesses from all around Sullivan County donated money for Bakers ride.
I was so surprised and thankful, Baker said. Everyone really came together.
Zachs parents, Michael and Lucy Baker of Woodridge, were also pleasantly surprised.
Theres so much negativism in Sullivan County, said Lucy Baker, proprietor of the Naturally You hair salon on Broadway in Monticello. But the businesses really came through and people gave a little here and there.
But when she thought about it again for a second, Lucy Baker came up with a simple answer for the support.
They know Zach, she said of those who donated to the Bike-Aid cause. They know hes a kind, compassionate person. He just has a need to help people.
Even though he had yet to complete the arduous journey across the country, Baker, who volunteered for a few organizations during his freshman year at Tufts, including the Big Brothers/Big Sisters Program, said he would definitely do it again.
Its the most amazing thing Ive ever done, he said.