Rich and Colleen Scheid pose in front of their bikes in the desert early in their ride across America. The journeyman inside wiremen live in Phoenix and are members of South Bend, Ind., Local 153 and Phoenix Local 640. 

Colleen and Rich Scheid each grew up in northern Indiana, but the two journeymen inside wiremen didn’t meet until 2004, when they were working at the Pastoria Energy Facility near Bakersfield, Calif.

Colleen and Rich Scheid.

“The first time we started hanging out with each other, we said, ‘Let’s go hiking,’ so we went on this beautiful walk around Frazier Lake [in California’s Tejon Valley],” Colleen said. “I love exercising. When I found someone else who loves it as much as I do, we fell in love pretty quickly.”

They married in 2007 and endurance training was part of a shared exercise regimen that included bicycling. They wondered what it would be like to ride across the country.

Earlier this year, the couple started their journey, which they’re using to raise money to fight childhood cancer. The Scheids dipped the back tires of their bikes in the Pacific Ocean in San Diego on April 20. They plan to dip their front tires in the Atlantic Ocean in St. Augustine, Fla., on or around July 4, a distance of 3,053 miles.

Along the way, they are collecting donations to CureSearch in memory of Rich’s nephew, Graham Wolff, who passed away in 2007 at 9 years old. CureSearch raises money to fight childhood cancer and bring researchers in the field together.

“When I get on my bicycle, I instantly have a smile on my face,” Colleen said. “It’s something about how you connect with the road, how you feel when the wind blows in your hair and on your face. When you conquer hills, it’s such an accomplishment.”

Two flags are always present on their bikes: America’s stars and stripes and the IBEW’s logo on a blue field.

“Both of our fathers were IBEW members,” Rich said. “Very few days pass when we don’t tell each other ‘Thank goodness for them and for getting us into the union at a young age.’

“We thank our lucky stars they got us into this line of work. It’s why we have all of this.”

Colleen graduated from high school in northwest Indiana near Chicago. She was 19 when her family moved to Phoenix, and she wasn’t sure about a career when her father encouraged her to pursue an apprenticeship. She took his advice and now is a 20-year member of Phoenix Local 640.

Rich is a second-generation IBEW member, who followed his father into South Bend, Ind., Local 153. He was working as a traveler following his divorce when he met Colleen. The two now live in Phoenix.

“I told her to stay away from a guy like me with three kids and all this baggage,” Rich said. “But she was persistent and kept at it, and it’s been magic ever since.”

That’s due in large part to their love of exercise and endurance training. They’ve regularly gone on long-distance bike rides and run in half-marathons. Rich jokes that Colleen turned him into a “vegetable guy instead of a chicken-wing guy.”

But the cross-country ride was his idea. It was something he wanted to try for most of his adult life. Colleen was the perfect partner.

“He loves my energy,” she said. “I was born with a smile on my face.”

The ride takes on even more purpose because of Graham, who died one year after being diagnosed with brain cancer. The Scheids hope to raise at least $7,777 for CureSearch. They were about one-quarter of the way to their goal in mid-May.

“This has become so much bigger than we imagined,” Colleen said. “When I am riding up long hills, and it’s kicking my butt, I realize these little kids are suffering more than me riding up a hill. That gives me more motivation to never complain.”

Graham Wolff, Rich's nephew, who suffered from cancer and died in 2007 at 9 years old. The Scheids are raising money for CureSearch during the ride in Graham's memory.

The Scheids have no support personnel accompanying them. They did that in part because of the expense, but also because it allows them to keep their own schedule. They thought it would mean more if they could share special moments by themselves. And, even early in the ride, there have been many.

Strangers have donated money or offered a place to say. Fellow union members see the IBEW flag and talk about the importance of unions in their lives. Local 153, which remains Rich’s home local, donated $500. Rich has noticed Teamsters honking their horns and giving them a thumbs-up when they pass.

“We’ve met so many great people who will just randomly stop and ask if we need any water,” Colleen said. “We don’t ask for money. They just say, ‘Hey, how can I donate?’ Just unbelievable kindness.”

Local 153 Business Manager Bill Haase has known Rich for about 17 years. He originally proposed to his board the local donate $153 to the ride because of the local number, but the board agreed to bump it up to $500 because Haase and several other members have good memories of him, even though he’s now seldom seen because he usually works as a traveler.

Rich was always the one bringing in doughnuts when Local 153 members were working on the Four Winds Casino in nearby New Buffalo, Mich., in 2007, for instance, he said.

“The guy always has a smile, he’s a good worker and he always has a story to tell,” Haase said.

Local 640 Business Manager Dean Wine said the Scheid’s ride has been a rallying point for his members. Local 640 donated $1,000 to the ride.

“Union members work as hard as anyone, but we’re all pretty blown away by what Colleen and Rich are doing,” he said. “To have them spread our message while also raising money for a great cause, you can’t ask for anything more. I encourage all IBEW members to support them during their ride across America.”

As they do, Colleen and Rich – who recently crossed from Arizona into New Mexico -- have one constant visual reminder to motivate them.

“When I look back at the pictures and see the American and IBEW flags flying together,” she said, “it’s freaking gorgeous.”

Those interested in helping can donate online and track the couple’s progress on their Facebook page.