Somewhere, somehow, the idea arose that doing something for a long, long time without stopping is a good way to raise money.
Probably because it works.
First, there were Labor Day telethons. Then, walk-a-thons. Read-a-thons. Swim-a-thons. Trike-a-thons. Jump-a-thons. Anything done long enough can have a "thon" added to it.
People long to be heroes! Asking for money for a cause straight up just seems too easy. No heroism in that.
So, the young idealists come with their pledge book and say, "for every lap I run, you can give my cause a dime."
My general response is, here are 100 dimes, now skip the laps and get a good night's sleep.
But that's no fun. Young people love to get together and do crazy things.
Thons of every sort give young people, and some not so young, the chance to stay up all night for reasons no kind person would dispute.
While at an Alzheimer's conference in Washington, D. C. a few weeks ago, I met four college guys from Western Kentucky University who were going to ride across country to raise funds for research to fight the disease.
Two years ago, they biked from coast-to-coast. This year, they decided to go north to south. I was intrigued that they planned to start in International Falls, Minn.
Last week, to show them at least a little Minnesota hospitality, I met them as they passed through Bemidji. We took a picture of the bikers with Babe and the Blue Ox and had lunch.
On the day I met them, the group consisted of nine riders and two drivers with support trailers.
Young southern gentlemen all, they marveled at the strange accents they had encountered in northern Minnesota.
And they called me "sir."
Some southern accents send a chill up a northerner's spine, but a gentle Kentucky drawl sounds like music, especially when they call you "sir."
Although their trip was impeccably planned, the bikers are flying by the seat of their pants when it comes to places to stay. As they approach a town, Will, a little freckled fireplug in charge of finding places to stay, looks up churches on the internet. He calls right down the list of a town's churches until he finds find one willing to let them sleep on the floor.
Several of the riders are motivated to ride by relatives who have suffered from the disease. Others came along just to help.
The group visits nursing homes as they can.
And they raise funds. In Minneapolis, they took pails and stood at intersections in downtown with members of a local chapter of the Alzheimer's Association and collected $500. Their goal is to raise $175,000. They've done it before, so they're confident they can do it again.
As we visited at lunch, I was struck by the maturity and contentment of the group.
We discussed their potential careers. I exercised my prerogative as their elder to interrogate the young about their plans, even though my own future plans remain lost in the fog.
What struck me in the end was what a perfect activity a cross-country fund-raising bike trip was for these college guys who are still trying to figure life out.
They have to develop enough confidence to ask people for help. They have to deal with rejection. Most churches turn them down. Drivers yell at them on the road. Not everybody is intrigued by their mission.
The boys had to plan, not only their route, but for food, tires, repairs and weather. They had to get in shape. Now, they have to deal with injury and exhaustion. A cross-country bike trip provides a great combination of education, travel, practical experience, idealism and exercise.
So many of our young males stuck between voting and drinking age are sort of lost these days. They lack purpose. They don't feel needed. They don't have a driving mission.
In the old days, we'd say join the Army. Builds character. Turns you into a man. Gives you something to do. However, I am not sure tiptoeing around roadside bombs is something I'd wish on any kid no matter how much character it builds.
Instead, why not take a cross-country bike trip to raise funds for a good cause, any cause?
Sure beats rotting in a dorm room.
Follow the bikers on their trip at www.bike4alz.org./