Service across the States: In her own words

By Samantha Mangum
Edited by Ashley Festa

For seven weeks this summer, Samantha Mangum ’06 BA took a nearly 3,700-mile bicycle trek from Yorktown, Va., to San Francisco, Calif., to raise money for orphans living at the Living Water Children Center in Arusha, Tanzania. She chronicled her journey with two other dedicated bikers on her blog on UIW’s alumni Web site, The Cardinal's Nest. The following are excerpts from her trip. To read Sam’s entire blog, leave a comment or to start your own account, visit

Monday, May 19
I came across a picture of Barreki and I. Barreki (which means "Spirit of God" in Swahili) is a 9-year-old boy at the orphanage that I'm raising money for. He's wearing my reggae hat, his arms crossed and he's smiling at my camera. I can’t help but wonder if he knows how much he’s changed my life. I wonder if he knows I’m leaving my life on the East Coast to find it on the West Coast … and he is my drive for doing it. He makes me smile.

Sunday, June 8
During our ride we met a man named Bruce Tyler (an attorney in Afton, [Va.]) who let us use his bathroom in his office and fill up our camel packs. I told him why we were riding across country, and we left with his business card and a donation of 50 bucks!

We’re all going to be different after this trip. I can already tell. And it’s in the best way. This trip is shaping us not only physically, but shaping our spirits in a way that could ONLY better the lives around us.

Friday, June 13
Greetings from Kentucky!
I have NO clue what is going on with my left knee; feels like my I.T. band is loose and moving back and forth. The pain is sharp; it takes my breath away (literally) every time. Though I am hurt, we are still making great time during the days.

Thursday, June 19
When we pulled up to the camper, Laura gave us the bad news. The campsite that we were supposed to stay at had no water and no electricity. Oh, no … what about a motel/hotel? Nope! In a town with the population of less than 700, Sebree, [Ky.] had only restaurants and churches.

Laura said, “I did, however, call The First Baptist Church, and they said they would love to have us!” We road two blocks to the church and the first sign we saw says “WELCOME CYCLISTS.” We pull up to the front where Bob (the head of the church for 29 years) greets [us] with his wife, Violet.

They basically said, “What’s ours is yours.” Right when we thought things couldn’t get better, Violet says, “Dinner will be ready by 5:30, and if you have any laundry, give it to me.”
Now this, my fellow readers, is what making a journey is about. NOT the finish line, NOT the summit, NOT the gold medal, and certainly NOT fresh breath of “Ah, finally it’s over.”
It’s EVERY SINGLE factor that is weaved together, along the path that leads to doors like Bob’s and Violet’s. It’s one pedal at a time; it’s one step at a time, that really makes the journey through life more enjoyable than the outcome.

Monday, June 23
Farmington, [Ky.] to Owls Bend, [Mo.] (70 miles, five hours 30 minutes)
When the sun went down, we were all mesmerized by the fire flies. The best way to describe them … Incarnate Word lit up during Christmas.

Thursday, June 26
I rode up to a gas station where Bob and Cheryl stopped to fill up and saw two people sitting on the curb. Brian and Diana were their names. They were homeless, hungry and needing a ride to the next town. I pulled up beside them and asked if I could buy them a soda or water. We got to talking and within seconds they were calling me Sam. I left them with 40 bucks so they could afford a hotel for the night, and we parted. After I drove off, I got to thinking and I couldn’t stop … I walkie talkied my Dad and asked him if he’d do me a favor. I said, “Dad there are two homeless people on the side of the road and I need to know, how nice are you feeling today?” He laughed and said, “What do you want me to give them, peanut butter?" I said nope, a ride.

Oh, the simplicity of service.

Tuesday, July 8
I went to Africa last summer and volunteered at an orphanage, where I also unobtrusively found and clutched to the summit of my physical and mental zenith. I leave Africa on a cloud; astonished, sad, complete. I get an e-mail from Mama Dora (the mother of The Living Water Orphanage). Can you help raise money?

Wow. A dream I thought would be all about me, Samantha Mangum, has now been revitalized by 33 African children. It is not about me anymore. I get to serve others.

A little over a month ago, I was in Kent, Conn., now I am in Garfield, Colo. That's when we started raising money; now we’ve fund-raised close to $10,000. In the past two days, we’ve been given over $700 from people we come across.

I’ve come to realize that life cannot be lived in “the big picture” but rather in moments. Our kindness goes as far as someone carries it, whether they bear it for years or lose it in a minute, nothing will change the moment you brought it into their life.

* * *

Pea-size to marble-size hail comes pouring down. I have nowhere to go. I’m on the side of a highway that has no shoulder; the white line merges into a HUGE ROCK WALL that contains signs (FALLING ROCKS).

I have no other choice than to lay my bike down on the side of the highway, put my back against the rock wall, and tuck myself in a ball and pray that no rocks come down and that the hail stops. It actually hurt so bad I started screaming.

Sunday, July 27
Though our spirits are high, our bodies are drained. We’ve biked 3,600 miles since we left Yorktown and certain parts of our bodies are screaming “Enough is enough!" Oh goodness, two more days and we’ll be crossing the Golden Gate Bridge.

Monday, July 28
Tomorrow we ride 83 miles to San Fran. I don’t know if I’ll be able to eat breakfast, heck, I don’t even know if I’ll be able to eat lunch.

I’ve waited six years to accomplish this.

Friday, August 1
The trip is done, 54 days.

A few people just recently asked me “So have you found what you were looking for?” I thought about that question and thought and thought …

A smile came over me followed by a subtle peace, and I thought to myself, No, not even close. I have not found what I’m looking for, and I hope I never do. The possibilities of contentment are endless and the cards of happiness that life deals you are infinite.

Why stop?