Jerry and Lynne Lisenby of Peoria believe in angels - trail angels, that is.
"We would probably never have made it without all those angels who helped us along the trail," said Lynne, who with her husband completed a 5,000-mile bike ride across America.
As any long-distance cyclist and hiker knows, men and women across the country who live along the TransAmerica bicycle trail or the Appalachian Trail have generously opened their homes and their pocketbooks to feed, and sometimes house, these athletes, who often literally tumble into bed after a hard day of riding, walking or rock climbing.
The generosity and kindness of these trail angels shocked the Lisenbys, who are still compiling the lists of all the people and places they saw on their journey.
"It was hard," Lynne said.
"It certainly wasn't a breeze," Jerry added. "It was as much a mental as a physical challenge to get back in the saddle and keep going."
Along the way, they raised more than $7,000 for the Children's Home Association of Illinois.
"Lynne wanted to do something worthwhile and not just come back and say 'I did it,'" Jerry said.
The couple set off on May 1 for their ride of a lifetime on the TransAm trail, which starts in Yorktown, Va., and ends in Astoria, Ore. They returned home on Aug. 22.
At the various small towns they went through, Jerry used his celebrity from appearing on "The Biggest Loser" television show to talk about their quest and to collect donations for charity.
They saw more gorgeous landscapes than they could absorb, more snakes than they cared to see, and experienced more kindnesses than they ever expected. For instance, there was the pregnant woman who was home-schooling her four children when the Lisenbys came to her little shop looking for a campground that apparently had shut down. She took them home and gave them the keys to her house while she set off for a T-ball game with the children.
"She had never even heard of us before and she left her house to us," Lynne said in awe.
In Halfway, Mont., (yes, that is actually the name of a town), Jerry wanted to go on a jet boat ride down the Snake River in Hell's Canyon.
"They have 1,000 hp boats with 335 cc engines," he recalled.
But to get to the point where the boats are moored was about 46 miles out of his way, which on a bicycle using his own pedal power was a bit much. But a man in a shop where he was making inquiries offered to drive them in his car.
Then there was the girl in Denver who told them to look up her parents, who would surely offer them accommodation at their Eugene, Ore., home.
"They (the girl's parents) called us five days before we got to Oregon and we stayed at their house," Jerry said.
It was just as well because after that they rode 78 miles on the last leg of their journey through cold, foggy weather.
"It was not easy and I didn't want to be squashed like a bug by the trucks on my last day," Jerry said. "They fed us and showed us around as we hung around waiting for a train that had a sleeper that we could take home."
Several churches also offered clean showers, shampoo, beds and meals for the hordes of cyclists who attempt the TransAm.
Despite being saddle-weary, the first thing the Lisenbys did upon returning home was take their grandchildren on a 16-mile bike ride and overnight camping trip.