After two misleading arrivals, family and friends lining Calico Court in Springfield were starting to wonder what was taking so long for four skaters to come home. They'd been waiting three months for this moment and, fireworks and signs in hand, the men were already late.
Around the corner came the four friends on skateboards, their hair a little longer and bushier than when they left in August, their calf muscles a little bigger, their skin a bit more tan and weathered.
For Adam Colton, 22; Chris Gregory, 25; Byron Levy, 22 and Shayne Rivers, 26; it was a journey more than 3,000 miles in the making, one that they traveled from Salem, Ore. to the Colton's front door in Springfield on their skateboards in the name of raising money for an educational center in Anacostia.
The skaters arrived to a rock star welcome, screaming fans, balloons, fireworks and neon-colored signs lining Calico Court, the street where Adam grew up.
"I cannot thank all of you enough," Colton said after giving two bouquets of flowers to his girlfriend, Mary Sessions of Atlanta, Ga., and his mother, Joanne Colton. He apologized for not being able to spend time with everyone that had gathered to welcome them home but reminded them of the incredible journey they had completed.
"We were skating through a very sketchy neighborhood in Chicago, and there were these kids hanging out on a street corner," he said, admitting to wondering what they were planning to do. "If kids don't have something to do or a place to go, they'll hang out on street corners and eventually get into trouble. Skateboarding is a good thing, people, forget about the bad rep it has."
SUNDAY AFTERNOON'S festivities may have been the conclusion of Colton and his friends' trip, but it was only the beginning of their work. Along the journey, the men had raised more than $7,000 for the GreenSkate Laboratory, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C. that uses recycled tires and materials to build skate parks in neighborhoods. The money they raised will go toward the construction of an after-school education center near one of the parks to help children who need assistance with their homework or tutors.
"Piece by piece, that's how we did it," Colton said, telling the crowd how often they would be stopped by someone driving by their big blue bus that served as an assistance vehicle and gave them donations. "I'm so proud of us, that we did this, and I know this is going to such a great place for the kids that need it."
From Aug. 2 until Sunday, Oct. 23, Colton and Gregory spent an average of eight hours every day on their skateboards traveling across the country to raise money for GreenSkate Laboratories. Only one other trip like this has been made, by a relay team led by a skateboarder named Jack Smith for a national illness-related charity, said Rich Colton, Adam's father. The other two skaters, Levy and Rivers, took turns driving the blue bus they named "Old Skool" and skating with Gregory and Colton.
"The guys set up a message board on the Web so people could follow their trip," said Rich Colton, standing in front of his garage where a projector and white screen were set up to play some of the videos Adam and Gregory filmed on their trip. Adam majored in communications with a concentration in film studies at Elon University in North Carolina.
Adam Colton got the idea for this trip by reading about Jack Smith's fund-raiser in a skateboarding magazine, Rich Colton said. Together, he and his son worked out the logistics of the trip, encouraging Adam to find friends to travel with him and helped secure some corporate sponsors to provide food and lodging along the way.
Along the way, Adam Colton and his friends ran into a few problems with their bus. When it broke down in Oregon early in their trip, they were introduced to "Longboard" Larry Peterson, a skateboard builder in Salem who became a friend, sponsor and fellow traveler.
"I don't know how these guys did this," said Peterson, after skating with the other four men during the last 10 miles of their trip Sunday morning.
Peterson builds skateboards that dip down in the middle, allowing the rider's feet to be closer to the ground which produces less muscle strain. He gave each of the skaters a board when they were staying with him in Salem and Colton and Gregory used his boards for most of the trip.
"The first day they used the boards, they skated 62 miles and said they felt great. That day was all uphill," he laughed, shaking his head in disbelief.
THOSE WHO know Adam Colton were not surprised with his decision to make the journey.
"I knew he would do this no matter what anyone said," said Colton's girlfriend Mary Sessions, who he said "powered" his legs during the long days when exhaustion threatened to slow him down.
"Adam is an experience," she said.
During the trip, they exchanged letters and phone calls, Sessions said. She would track his advancement each day on a large map of the U.S. she had on her wall, marking each stop with push pins.
She and the other two girlfriends, Jackie Czarnecki and Liane Tavernier, had been staying with the Coltons since Thursday to help prepare for the homecoming party. They joked with Tavernier about being Shayne Rivers' "mystery woman" because they began corresponding when she learned of their trip through a friend on the Web site.
"We first met in person a few weeks ago when Shayne had to stop in Salt Lake City," she said. "He told me he was doing this trip not to meet a lot of girls but to meet the right girl. I believed him," she laughed. Luckily, they only live about an hour away from each other; she lives in Raleigh, N.C. and he lives in Burlington Bay.
The journey provided the skaters with stories to tell "for the rest of their lives," said Chuck Cirino, Colton's neighbor. "We always knew Adam was a little different. This skating stuff gets into your blood. I'm sure there's a few kids here who have been waiting for Adam to get back so they can skate with him."
Now that their trip is over, the skaters have to start thinking about the 'real world' and finding jobs — eventually.
"I'm going to go home and sit around for a week," said Gregory. "We got some really great stories out of the trip, but I didn't expect much from it. I'm glad I won't have to sleep on the bus anymore. It'll be nice taking a shower every day again."
The only other local skater, Byron Levy, said he quit his job as an information technology consultant to join his friends.
"Consulting is a horrible job that no one should ever do," he said. He flew out to join Rivers, Gregory and Colton in Salt Lake City and would alternate driving the big blue bus with Rivers.
"I got to skate through Utah, Colorado, Kansas and Illinois, which were the best parts of the trip," he said. "We came down through Poudre Canyon in Colorado, which was 50 miles straight downhill coming into Denver. It was absolutely beautiful."
Now that he's done, he's planning to "let it all sink in" before looking for a job. "I'm totally uncertain of my future and it's great."
"I'm just going to live every moment," said Shayne Rivers, who started the trip with Colton and Gregory but had to leave two weeks ago to return to North Carolina.
"It was great to see the country like this," he said.
They met some unusual people along the way, Rivers said, including a woman in Oregon who pulled a red wagon behind her and was followed by a small cat, and a man who "thought the whole state of Arizona was after him," he said.
"This was a great trip. That's what living is supposed to be about," Rivers said.