By Eli Francovich (`14)
They move confidently, securing straps, tightening things, stroking a silken shoulder. They know what to do. Gonzaga alumni and cousins, Nicholas Roach (`12) and Jack Chambers (`11) are cowboys to a T. Flannel shirts, boots, hats and big old, shiny belt buckles. Their one concession to modernity is sunglasses.
This summer they’re on an adventure of a lifetime, riding from Gardiner, Mont., to Bellingham, Wash. One of their shared bucket list items, this ride is no long-distance lark. Their goal is to raise $100,000 to fight Crohn’s disease.
On Aug. 12 the two men visited Gonzaga. They had spent the weekend at Trustee Fred Brown’s horse ranch in Colbert, Wash., refueling and resting coming off a 10-day ride from Missoula, Mont. From Spokane they now make their way west, toward Portland, up to Seattle and eventually north to Bellingham.
Roach said that from the get-go the trip has been a learning experience. The first lesson? Don’t overpack, especially food. “People are just so eager to help out,” he said. “You kind of get adopted. I feel like I have 30 new sets of grandparents. Everyone cares so much.”
So now they pack food for two days and rely on grocery stores and strangers’ generosity. An ideal day starts at 6 a.m., Roach said. They hit the road by 7 a.m. and ride until 5 p.m., with lunch somewhere in the middle. On average they cover 25 miles a day, but that varies. Their shortest day was 12, the longest 37.
The cousins have worked together before. “We balance each other out real well,” Roach said. “The only real problem is we don’t always get up as early as we want to.”
Still, it’s a challenging experience. Chambers has lost 23 pounds and Roach, 30. They ride every day, but walk about 50 percent of the time. Why? To give their mounts a break, especially on the downhill slopes of the mountains they cross. If it was a normal trip, their daily exhaustion might overwhelm them. However, they have a reason to keep going.
“Life is about overcoming obstacles on one level or another and that’s what dealing with Crohn’s disease is all about,” Roach said.
An estimated 700,000 Americans have Crohn’s disease, which is a poorly understood intestinal track condition. Chambers and two other Roach cousins have it. Chambers’ uncle has it. His freshman dorm neighbor Joey has it, Joey’s little brother has it. They all suffer from this incredibly painful disease with no known cure. Roach describes Jack as a tough guy. Someone who can be bucked off a horse and jump right back on. Jack spends his summers in ranch jobs – hours and hours in the saddle without tiring. Still, on occasion he slips up and shows the pain he endures with the disease.
In addition to their exterior motivation, these travelers are internally prepared. The Jesuit foundation instilled in them at Gonzaga helps to ground them. The two have discussed the importance of mind, body and spirit, especially in relation to this adventure. They have integrated all three, and in some ways, this integration is pulling together their college experiences.
“I think that what they’re trying to do at Gonzaga when they educate the whole person is to help you face anything and take it in stride,” Roach said.
Back on their mounts, heading west from Spokane, these two young men – so competent and compassionate with their horses – are also becoming confident in the ways of men who serve others.
To learn more or follow along during the journey, visit cowboysvscrohns.com.