Former Barry University softball standout Julie Brito’s recently completed 781-mile charity bike ride from Utah to California was many things.
▪ Her trip was thrilling:
Going down mountains, Brito, a relatively inexperienced rider, hit speeds in excess of 35 mph – without pedaling.
“Once I saw that I hit 40 mph, I hit the brakes a little,” said Brito, 24. “It sounds scary. But when you’re in the moment, it’s exhilarating. It’s a crazy feeling.”
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
▪ Her trip was grueling:
Brito, participating in Bike The US for MS, climbed 16 mountains in 12 days, often in heat that reached triple digits.
“No amount of training in South Florida can prepare you for the mountains,” said Brito, who biked between 48 to 82 miles per day. “It was the most challenging thing I’ve ever done physically. And it’s tough mentally because you see that next mountain coming up.”
▪ Her trip was also gratifying:
Brito, who was riding with a team of 20 riders and support-staff members, said she was at a gas station in Utah with the Bike The US crew when a stranger struck up a conversation with her.
“I explained to him that we were doing this to raise money for multiple sclerosis research and treatment,” Brito said, “and he went to our van and donated money.”
John McCray, one of four route leaders on the trip, said the charity raised more than $100,000 this year.
Most of the crew biked through nine states: Virginia, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Utah, Nevada and California.
Brito, a recently hired accountant, did not have the vacation time to make the whole trip. Instead, she flew — at her own expense — from Miami to Utah. One of the route leaders met her at the airport and took her to the camp where the group was spending the night in Cedar City, Utah.
“It was intimidating joining a group that had already been together for 50 days,” Brito said, “but everyone was welcoming.”
Brito was tested immediately.
“The last mile of every mountain is super steep,” she said. “For the first three mountains, I had to get off my bike and walk up.”
McCray said the support staff, which follows the riders in a van, will pick up anyone who needs help — no questions asked.
But McCray said Brito didn’t give in.
“Even if Julie had to crawl up,” he said, “she was going to climb.”
There was just one time when Brito was forced to call for help due to a dangerous situation.
It happened on her fourth day, riding through Austin, Nevada.
Brito, trailing the more experienced riders in the group, got stuck in a hailstorm.
“The area we were at,” McCray said, “goes through monsoon season in the summer. Julie and Ron Pinkerton got caught in the storm.”
Brito said she had very little service on her cellphone, but she managed to leave a voicemail with the route leaders.
McCray heard the voicemail and moved in immediately.
“They were drenched and shivering when we picked them up on the side of the road,” McCray said. “We put the heater on right away.”
Brito, who in the past has donated her time to Camillus House and the Miami Rescue Mission, said she’s grateful to everyone who went to her fundraising page. She raised $2 for every mile, which came to $1,562, and all of that money went toward supporting MS. She was helped by sponsors such as Coral Way Bike Shop and MCCI Medical Group.
Originally, Brito wanted to raise money for cancer because her uncle, Barry basketball coach Cesar Odio, died of leukemia in July 2016.
“But she found this great organization,” said Brito’s mother, Julia, referencing Bike The US.
Brito, a 5-9, 145-pounder, was a four-year starter at first base as a Barry University softball player. An accounting major, she compiled a 3.5 grade-point and graduated from Barry in May 2015. She earned a master’s degree from Nova Southeastern University in December 2016.
By January 2017, she had been hired at her current firm, Marcum L.L.P., as an insurance associate/auditor.
She was also the only female on her company’s softball team, but she longed for a bigger challenge.
“There was a void after playing college softball,” she said. “I needed to find something I was passionate about.”
She found it in Bike The US, even if her parents were concerned for her safety, at least initially.
“I have always been at all her events, but I wasn’t going to be there for this one,” her mother said. “I feel very proud of her. She’s a very determined person.”
Julie’s father, Rick, said he was shocked when he found out what his daughter was going to do with her vacation time.
“She had just finished the busy season at a big accounting firm,” he said. “I thought she would take it easy and go lay out on a beach.”
Brito took a different path, literally, and was amazed at everything she saw, including a deer that crossed her path in Sacramento, numerous ground hogs and “huge” rabbits bigger than her little dog.
The Bike The US group traveled through towns so small that you could miss it if you blink. One Nevada “city”, for example, had all of 17 residents and then there wouldn’t be another town for more than 50 miles.
That happened on U.S. 50 in Nevada, which has been called “The Loneliest Road in America.”
Most of the group’s camps had showers. But there was one camp where the only thing available was a hose.
It was all worth it, though. At one point, after climbing the Sierra Mountains, the group camped for the night at an elevation of 8,500 feet.
“That was the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen,” Brito said.
As for her conditioning, Brito said her legs were sore on the third day, and her ankles got swollen once the trip was over. But, overall, she was healthy and had no issues with her bike.
“Your body gets used to it,” she said. “It’s crazy how strong you get. By the 12th day, I was feeling great.”
Brito said there were about 30 or 40 people — mostly family members of some of the riders — who lined the streets and clanked cowbells at the end of the journey in San Francisco.
“The trip was awesome and more rewarding than I could’ve imagined,” Brito said. “If I can get more time off from work, I want to do this again next year for a longer period of time.”