NEW PALESTINE — After 72 long days and 3,600 grueling miles, Evan Axthelm had pushed himself to use every ounce of his physical, mental and emotional capabilities.

Axthelm, a 2012 New Palestine High School graduate, Eagle Scout and Purdue University senior, completed a cross-country bicycle charity ride safely this summer.

The adventure started on the Atlantic coast in North Carolina and ended on the shores of the Pacific coast in San Diego. It was a ride Axthelm said pushed him beyond belief, even to the limit.

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“I think I’m going to be processing everything that happened for a very long time,” Axthelm said.

The highlight of the trip was realizing he had the ability to accomplish it — ride his bike on the cross-country venture.

“Every time I saw something incredible, I said to myself, ‘We biked here,’” he said.

A view in the Smokey Mountains was the first place to take his breath away, he said.

“Standing up there with my team and looking out and realizing that we got there with our legs was really something,” he said.

Axthelm, 21, signed up for the ride across the United States to raise money for a program called Bike and Build. It’s a national charity building homes and awareness for affordable housing for the less fortunate.

Along the cross-country journey, the riders stopped to build awareness for the charity as well as homes at 14 different locations. His group also was able to raise an estimated $150,000 for the cause.

“We worked with different Habitat (For Humanity) organizations around the country,” Axthelm said. “Every time we had a build day, it just really brought the focus back to what we were doing and why.”

Axthelm was one of 30 cyclists who left for the trip in mid-May and rode all summer, finishing the journey in late July.

There were times he felt too tired, hurt and even sick to move on. However, once he realized, after a certain point, he was physically strong enough to make the full journey, Axthelm was determined to push through.

“I just had to find the mental strength to keep going and keep my legs moving,” he said.

On the day of their last ride, Axthelm said he was overwhelmed by emotion to finally make it to San Diego.

“It was bittersweet,” he said. “Those last couple of miles, I can’t even put it into words … It was the moment we had done it.”

Still, he said it wasn’t the best part of the experience. That came in Colorado where the team was on a tough 11,000-foot climb through the mountains.

“It was so challenging,” Axthelm said. “It was so cold, and I could not breathe.”

He said he had to use every ounce of his strength to keep pushing and breathing.

“I had to consciously think about breathing,” he said. “I had to stop and get off my bike and catch my breath before I could even take a drink of water.”

Axthelm said the journey was no doubt a life-changing experience.

“I don’t think there was one single situation that didn’t push me out of my comfort zone,” he said.

After concluding the adventure, Axthelm, who is in his final year of college, said he feels better prepared to graduate and head into the working world.

“I learned a lot about myself over the summer,” Axthelm said. “I don’t think there is anything out there that I can’t get through.”

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Some of the stops on the Bike and Build 72 day, 3,600 mile cross country ride: 

Start: Nags Head, North Carolina

Charlotte, North Carolina,

Gatlinburg, Tennessee,

Memphis, Tennessee,

Little Rock, Arkansas,

Fayetteville, Arkansas,  

Bartesville, Oklahoma,

Wichita, Kansas,

Dodge City, Kansas,

Garden City, Kansas,

Lamar, Colorado,

Pueblo, Colorado,

Colorado Springs, Colorado,

Bluff, Utah,

Dessert View, Yuma, Arizona,

Blaise, California

El, Cajon, California

Finish: San Diego, California