Craft Beer, the Race Across America, and Autism; at first glance you would say they have nothing in common, but you would be wrong. What they have in common, is a four man cycling team from Sandpoint, Idaho on a mission. For Jacob Styer, Mel Dick, Wayne Pignolet, and Al Lemire the race will be a reality.The Race Across America is one of the most respected and longest running annual endurance events holding legendary stature the world over. It is one of the pinnacles of sporting accomplishment, globally seen as the highest rung of the endurance sports ladder. Since 1982, RAAM has a rich and storied history standing as a monument to human endeavors. The Race Across America is an event so staggering that merely to finish is, for most, the accomplishment of a lifetime. RAAM inspires everyone that it touches. A monumental race contested with the utmost of sportsmanship and zeal. Truly, RAAM is larger than life. A breeding ground for champions, a testing ground for elite riders and a shining example of the strength of human spirit. So, deciding to participate is not something to be taken lightly, but for some the road to the race has an interesting beginning.The whole adventure started around a campfire in the Grand Teton's of Wyoming after way too many beers, lots of laughs and some joking around. Now two years later, out of the ashes, rises Team Laughing Dog to compete and hopefully complete The Race Across America to raise awareness and funds for organizations that support families living with autism.Prior to joining Team Laughing Dog, most team members had very few interactions with those on the Autism Spectrum. During the journey as Team Laughing Dog, the team members have come to understand Autism and Aspergers better because of education and more regular interactions with children and families affected by autism in the Sandpoint community. It's given the purpose a more personal feel.There are too many families who do not have even the basic services that autism requires, such as child care, medical care or education. Often these services are not available because there are no qualified providers, particularly in rural areas. Many times they are not an option, because families just can't afford to pay for them or the services are too far from home.Team Laughing Dog wants to help change all that, with a goal of raising $1 million to provide the services these families need – in the communities where they live. The team actively works with local autism service providers and chapters of the Autism Society of America to create and/or maintain these programs.It has not been, (and will not be), an easy road for any of the four riders, the two alternate riders (Jim Mellen and Mike Murray), and their crew of ten volunteers. The training schedules are grueling, North Idaho weather doesn't always permit outdoor training, and when they were able to do their first training ride outside it also came with some hardship. During that ride Mel Dick suffered a broken hip that required surgery after a crash. His ability to compete in the race is at question, but his heart and spirit are ready to race and regardless of the outcome he will be there for his team. In a blog post he had written after the crash he said:"Emotionally, it has been a week of ups and downs. Coming to grips with the possibility of not being able to ride. Replaying the crash over and over again. Going in an out of consciousness from the constant stream of pain medications. Thinking about the countless hours of training and preparation. Frankly, it was a bit overwhelming.The week has allowed me to reflect on the reasons I got involved in RAAM in the first place–to achieve a dream, to have fun, to meet new people, to do something challenging and to make a difference in the lives of others.After much thought, I realize how lucky I am. I'm achieving a dream, I am having fun, I've met countless new people, many of who have become great new friends, I've been challenged physically and mentally beyond anything I could have imagined 2 years ago and most importantly I truly believe we are making a difference in the lives of families dealing with autism."The entire Team's feelings are expressed through Mel's words. They are achieving a dream, having fun, meeting new people, making new friends, and being challenged everyday. With every passing hour they move one step closer to fulfilling their mission to raise awareness and funds for organizations that support families living with autism along with being the premier amateur ultra-endurance cycling team in the U.S. In the words of the team and it's crew "We compete in cycling events such as the Race Across America and other nonstop long distance races to raise awareness of the difficulty of living with autism." The Race Across America is a 24/7 race and families dealing with autism don't get to take a time out, so the entire crew of Team Laughing Dog won't either.