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VALPARAISO | A history teacher cycling across America to teach his students a lesson about life took time Tuesday to speak to the teenage residents of the Porter County Juvenile Detention Center.

Rafael Giraldo, who teaches U.S. history to eighth graders at Tequesta Trace Middle School in Weston, Fla., embarked June 6 from San Francisco on his recumbent tricycle, planning to reach his home in South Florida by the end of August.

He calls the trip Cycling across America: A Tour of Discovery Inspiring Young Minds.

"I'm trying to send a message to my students," he told the juvenile center residents. "In today's world, you need to spend 19 to 20 years in school. To be competitive, you need a graduate degree. It is a huge distance to travel. This 4,000-mile journey is similar to the journey of life. You have to have commitment, discipline and believe in yourself."

Residents peppered Giraldo with questions on everything from "How many hours a day do you ride?" to "Do you ever get lonely?"

Giraldo said he rides between eight and 14 hours a day. While he misses his wife and daughters, he doesn't have time to be lonely because he keeps so busy, he said.

He's been attacked by dogs 15 times, encountered wild coyotes, endured a storm in the Great Plains, run out of water in 119-degree temperatures, and suffered minor problems with his trike.

But he's also enjoyed the beauty of the scenery and night sky -- and the generosity of strangers, he said.

"You have to keep your focus and understand you're going to encounter obstacles," he said. "You don't have control, and you have to let go.

"It's an exercise in humility. You realize how small you are."

Born in Medellin, Colombia, in 1963, Giraldo has lived in South Florida since 1992. He became a writer and a teacher in 2004, after a 17-year career in the business world. He is the author of "Blessings Given," which chronicles his escape from Colombian terrorists in the Andes mountains in 1985.

He ended his speech with words of encouragement.

"You are on a journey. You are the captain of your ship, and you determine where you go in life. You can accomplish great things if you put your mind to it."

Learn more about the cross country trip at tourofdiscovery.com.

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