FARMINGTON — Chris Rupp, a 25-year-old firefighter and part-time preschool teacher from Mount Horeb, Wis., first heard of the Make-A-Wish Foundation when a child in his hometown was going through the wish-making process.
The girl, who was dying of cancer, wanted to swim with dolphins at Walt Disney World. Less than a week before her death, the foundation arranged for the child and her family to swim with dolphins.
"The elephant's in the room," Rupp said while telling the story on Wednesday night at Farmington Fire Station No. 6. "They know their daughter's going to die."
But, he said, for a week they spent time together making memories.
Now, Rupp has the chance to grant wishes as his cycles across the country on his bicycle to raise money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. He left Seattle on May 28 and is making his way to Miami.
His goal is to complete the 6,000-mile trip to Miami by mid-August and raise $100,000 along the way. So far, he has raised $3,635. Rupp also hopes to grant 22 wishes during the ride.
On Wednesday night, he stopped in Farmington and spent the night at the fire station. He is heading north to Durango, Colo., today.
Fire Station No. 6 Battalion Chief David Burke said the firefighters know of the foundation and thought it was a good cause.
"We were more than happy to give him the opportunity and a place to stay," he said.
Rupp left Gallup at about 7 a.m. Wednesday to make his way to Farmington. But he took a wrong turn, adding an additional 30 miles to his journey. Rupp said detours and extra miles are not unusual for him.
"A third of the time when I leave the fire station, I turn the wrong way," he said.
He actually rode past Fire Station No. 6 as he entered Farmington and had to turn around.
"Tell me you're not a driver back home," Farmington Fire Chief Terry Page joked as he sat across the table from Rupp.
Rupp chuckled, adding he doesn't drive the fire trucks back in Wisconsin.
But despite his detour, Ruff said he enjoyed the ride.
"It was beautiful," he said. "I love the rock formations. I've never seen anything like that in my life. Back in Wisconsin, you can't see miles. It's all obstructed."
Rupp's bicycle tour took shape after he donated money to the Wisconsin Make-A-Wish Foundation. While at the chapter's headquarters, he spoke to an official there about a cross-country bike trip he completed in 2011 from San Francisco to New York City. He stayed in fire stations during the trip, and the ride raised money for the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.
A month after his encounter at the Wisconsin chapter, a representative from the national Make-A-Wish Foundation asked Rupp to do a similar ride for the organization. After initially declining the offer, Rupp eventually decided it would be a good way to support the nonprofit.
While at a fire station in Santa Maria, Calif., Rupp granted a wish for a 16-year-old boy with cerebral palsy. His wish was for a wheelchair-accessible van. The firefighters invited the family to meet Rupp.
"Everybody was in on it, except the family," Rupp said.
The engine pulled out of the garage, and the van drove through.
"Once he saw the door open and the ramp come out, he smiled," Rupp recalled.
Often, big wishes like that of Batkid get national attention, Rupp said. Batkid was the nickname of Miles Scott, a 5-year-old cancer survivor from San Francisco whose wish last year was to save Gotham City. Hundreds of people turned out to make the boy's wish come true.
"It's cool, but sometimes it overshadows the simple wishes that kids have," Rupp said.
HOW TO HELP
For more information about Rupp's journey or to make a donation, go to RideForWishes.us.
Follow his progress at facebook.com/CoastToCoastforMakeAWish .