August 1, 2011
It has been a week since the team separated. A week since we said goodbye. A week since we left New York. It is so strange that it is over now. We looked forward to it, talked about it, prepared for it, and anticipated it for so long. But it seemed to go by so quickly, leaving my mind and heart overflowing. I arrived back home on Thursday, July 28th. It has been a joy and delight to be with my family again, but it also feels so strange. People keep asking how my trip was, as if it was a weekend trip to the cabin that I can sum up in one word. I cannot give it one word, one paragraph, one page, or even one chapter. How can you put into words two months of life changing? How do you verbalize every hill, every bump, every flat tire, every missed turn, and every sore muscle? How do you explain each face that you saw, each person you met, each word that was spoken, each story that was heard, each life that was touched? You cannot convey the personalities and quirks of every town you rode through. You cannot explain the miles of road that passed beneath your tires. Unless they have experienced it themselves, they cannot fully appreciate the thrill of racing down the backside of a mountain after conquering the peak. People ask me what my favorite part was. It seems an unfair answer, but the only honest one that I can give is ‘my trip.’
I knew as I traveled that this trip was changing me. I saw it in my journal entries, heard it in my phone conversations with home, felt it inside of myself. But I did not realize how much or in what ways I had changed until coming back home. Home, a place I used to fit perfectly, a place that had molded and shaped me into who I was before I left. A place that is still familiar, but where I no longer fit the way I used to. We were told the biggest adventure would be going home. How right they were.
One of the changes I have seen in myself is that my perspective on life has changed. For two months I have been a potted plant, moving from place to place but never putting down roots. I was watered, pruned, fed, and weeded by a different person each night of the trip. I learned to watch and listen with great attentiveness to every word that was said, every story that was shared, every piece of wisdom that was spoken, because I would probably never see this person again. After arriving home I found that I have maintained that attitude, at least it has lasted for this first week. While eating lunch with a dear friend I found myself listening to each word she spoke and trying to retain them all to memory as if I would never again be able to sit at her table and converse with her. I watch out the window of the car and soak in every detail of the scenery as we drive as if I have never driven my street before and will never have the opportunity again. I am sure that some of this will dissipate and lessen with time. However, I find that I do not want it to go away entirely. I think there is such value in recognizing and appreciating the brevity of life and in enjoying the simple things. I hope I am able to find a balance between being able to live life and being able to appreciate it to the fullest, enjoying every tiny piece of it. I believe it can be done, I am just not yet sure exactly what ratio is needed of each.
One thing that returning home has made me aware of is how big this trip really was. When you are in the middle of it, waking up each morning, getting on your bike, pedaling all day, I think you lose the big picture. You see it mile by mile and not as a whole. But when you step back and see it as a whole, it is quite daunting and epic looking. I have a map of the United States that I brought on the trip. Each night I would mark that day’s miles on the map, charting our entire course as we went. Each line, a mere inch or two long, that I put on the map looked so small and insignificant. And then, suddenly, one night, I pulled it out and realized that a journey that was once the length of my outstretched arms now had less than my handbreadth left to it. My friends keep addressing me with titles such as ‘epic adventurer’ and ‘miss-continental champion.’ I find they make me uncomfortable. I don’t see what I did this summer as being that big. Yes, I biked across the country, but that is not the point. The point is not what I did. The point is why. I did not bike to amaze anyone. I did not ride to add something to my list of accomplishments. I did not pedal to make people look at me. I cycled across the country to change the world. I rode for the people who cannot speak up for themselves. I pedaled to make people ask questions so that I could tell them about the plight of so many and challenge them to take action as well. I rode to bring justice and hope.
So where do I go from here? How do you go back to normal life after something so huge? The answer is that you don’t. You can’t. My life has been changed and I will never be able to live the same way again. I have seen, heard, experienced, witnessed, and felt things that have left a mark on my mind and heart that will last the rest of my life. And that is how it should be. You cannot walk away from an adventure, a true adventure, and be unchanged. Although I do not yet know all of the ways I have changed, I have the rest of my life to figure it out and I plan to. What is next for me? Life. With all of the questions, the answers, the trials, the joys, the frustrations, the bounty, the famine, the expectations, the surprises, and the unknowns that make it such a grand adventure to live.
Journal Entry 7-July 24th, 2011
July 24, 2011
Mileage to date: 3,296 miles
We made it! We are now in New York City! I want to jump right in and talk about our arrival but first I think I should fill you in on the last week and what it held for me and the team. I think I can safely say it was the hardest week of the entire trip. We had days that were hard throughout the trip, but this entire week was hard for us all. On Monday we hit the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. The hills became steep and continuous. Every time you reached the top there was another one behind it. I have resigned to the fact that I cannot reach the top of hills like this in one shot but that I have to stop once or twice on the way up to catch my breathe and refocus. It still kind of frustrates me, especially as it means that everyone passes me on the hills and gets pretty far ahead of me. But at least I get to the top. That is the part that matters. It seems that in that area, predominantly we were riding through valleys and not over hills. It makes it that much harder too. You get excellent momentum and it is a glorious ride down, but you lose all of that momentum in the first 10 yards of the next hill. It’s so frustrating but so rewarding when you get to the top.
Tuesday, the 19th, was our hardest day by far. Here is an excerpt from my journal that day that describes it well.
“Today was the hardest day of the entire trip. We really hit the Appalachians today. Yesterday’s couple of climbs were quite steep and hard and Steven’s Pass on day two of the trip was really difficult. But today we had five peaks that easily equaled Steven’s Pass. They were not quite as long as Steven’s but they were steep and to have steep hill after steep hill and then have one that went forever just killed. Unlike Steven’s Pass you knew when you reached the top you had a downhill to look forward to but that you also had more mountains left to climb and another one like the last waiting to kick your butt.
Our first peak was on Henrietta Mountain Road. When you are given your directions and one of the streets has a name like that, you know it’s going to be a hard climb. It was. I had to stop multiple times on the way up, but I mad it to the top. The ride down was incredibly steep and would have been a really sweet, fast ride if it hadn’t been so incredibly curving and winding. The turns were so sharp that the speeds for the cars were recommended at about 20mph or so. I kept it at about 23 to 25 as much as I could on the way down and still felt like I could barely make the curves safely.
Each time we had a climb, whether it was big or small, my leg muscles started to get incredibly fatigued. On the shorter climbs it didn’t cause too much of a problem because they weren’t as long and I could push really hard, get to the top, and then let my legs rest. But the longer climbs killed. I only know how to push with everything to get to the top. But I can only give my all for so long. The long climbs are inevitably longer than I can give my all for. I have to stop at least once on the long climbs to catch my breath and let my legs recharge for a minute.
On the second to last peak of the day I simply couldn’t do it anymore. My body was exhausted, my legs felt like they were about to give out, my arms were weak and my hands shaking from exertion, my heart and head were pounding, and I could barely catch my breath. My body went into an almost panic mode, I think it was mostly from my inability to breathe. That made me breathe even harder and faster and really not be able to catch my breathe. I stopped on the side of the road and simply couldn’t keep biking. I stood there, close to tears, frustrated and discouraged. Jessica and Jeramy, who were on sweep behind me, stopped as well. I hate having to make others stop with me. I know that I am the only one on this trip who is able to restart on hills and do it well. I apologized every time I had to stop on the hills. When my body refused to go on Jeramy asked me “Can you walk up?” And so we did. “One way or another, we’ll get to the top.” He said. And we did. It was slow, it was painful, we still had to stop several times, but we made it. We found out at the top that it was over 1,000 feet and a 12% grade we had climbed up. Ridiculous.
At the next water stop I was battling with myself about whether I should push forward or if I should get in the van. I talked with Jeramy about it and he said that if it was my muscles and not my joints that he would push through. But he also said he did sports his whole life so he’s kind of forgotten how hard it is when your muscles are like that. I decided to keep going. We got to the last climb, however, and I had barely started up before I knew that my legs were not going to get me up the hill on my bike. I stopped again and Jeramy stopped with me. Karl, who had switched with Jessica to ride sweep since her bike wasn’t shifting to her lower gears, said he would meet us at the top and went on ahead. Jeramy and I walked up the entire hill. It was almost as hard to walk up as it was to bike, the only comfort being you knew that if your leg muscles did decide to give out you weren’t going to fall off your bike. Even walking I had to stop several times to catch my breath. I hated making Jeramy walk with me. I knew that he could have made it to the top on his bike. But he chose to walk. It was a very humbling and pride-breaking thing for me. To have no choice but to allow someone else to walk with me when I was too weak to ride, to admit that I couldn’t do it the way others did and to be OK with that. I found out later we climbed 1,100 feet in two miles. No wonder it killed.
I reached the top of Steven’s Pass, and I reached the top of all five peaks today. But each one was done very differently. I know no other way to address trials and hardships than to put my everything into it, to push with everything I have and to give it my all. That works when these struggles are more scattered and far between. I am able to recuperate, to prepare, and to give it my all. But when they come, one after the other, and each time I give it my all, push through, and another one is waiting for me, it breaks me. I cannot continue. That is why we have the body of Christ. There are times we need to carry the burden ourselves. Times that God is teaching us something for just us through the struggles. But then there are times that we cannot do it ourselves. Times that we must rely on other people to get us through, that God is teaching them something through our struggles, as well as teaching us” (end of July 19 journal entry).
On Friday, the 22nd, we reached New York. My journal entry from that day seems to sum it up the best.
“We are currently in the van shuttling to our beginning location for the day. It’s not safe to drive through northern New Jersey and so we’re shuttling up to the George Washington Bridge and starting from there instead. We’ll end up starting the same distance from the beach as we would had we started at the church, so it’s all good.
It is so strange to hear everyone talking about the places we will be going through in New York today. We are biking across the George Washington Bridge to enter New York. We will be biking through Harlem, Central Park, Time Square, Little Italy, Wall Street, Brooklyn Bridge, Brooklyn, down Broadway, and ending in Jacob Riis Park. All these names, these words I have seen only in print, black and white ink on a page, words I have heard on the lips of actors and in the scripts of movies. And today, hours from now, I will be biking through them all. I wish I could adequately describe in words what I am feeling. So much that I cannot even begin to express it. This is a city so filled with history, with culture, with stories, with expectations, with stereotypes, with everything. I feel that I am about to enter a completely new world, one I have heard so much about it seems I know it already.”
Later on the 22nd: “I really don’t know how to start talking about today. We are in New York. Josh Iniguez, one of the Venture tour coordinators, had flown out today to help with our debriefing and wrapping everything up. He met us in the morning and drove the van to meet us at the beach so that our entire team could ride into New York City together. It was ridiculously hot all day. Apparently it was the hottest of this date in New York since 1957. We reached 107 with a heat index of about 115. There were apparently heat advisories and severe pollution advisories because everything was working to keep things cool.
We got to bike through the city and see so much today. Harlem was non-descript. Central Park was amazingly beautiful. It was exactly what I have seen in so many movies. I half expected to see the cast of ‘Enchanted’ come dancing and singing around every turn. It is such a unique island of green and peace in the middle of the busy city. Actually, though, I found that the city is not as loud as I thought it would be. It is visually deafening, but audibly it is not actually that loud. Time Square was probably the loudest place visually for me. With every inch of space filled with advertisements and billboards and lights and posters and signs, it is kind of exhausting. However, we did have a lot of fun there. There is an American Eagle store and they have a huge billboard outside. If you make a purchase you can go have your picture taken inside and five minutes later it is put up on the billboard outside for ’15 seconds of fame.’ Us girls went inside to see about it, not knowing you had to make a purchase. When we found that out we were trying to decide what to do about it because we really didn’t want to buy anything. As we stood in the middle of American Eagle, in our bike shorts and jerseys, some of the employees came up and started asking about what we were doing, where we were going, and all of that. We told them and one of the guys said ‘hold on, let me see if I can hook you up.’ He talked to his supervisor and we got to take the picture without making a purchase. It was really fun.
After Time Square we biked past Washington Square. Our next sight was the Brooklyn Bridge. It was huge! I would very much have liked to stop at every sign and read all about the history of the bridge. Perhaps someday I will get to go back. We had some adventures on the Brooklyn Bridge when Jessica got a flat. Dustin, Rebecca, Tim, Riley, and myself were in the front half of the group and didn’t realize until we were off the bridge that the rest of the group had stopped. We went ahead, found a little park, and sat to wait for Jessica, Jeramy, Samantha, and Karl to catch up to us. It took them about an hour. She had a bad tube to replace her flat and they just couldn’t get it to work. After four tries of taking it all off, putting it back on, and the like, they got it working. At about 2:30 the front group left the park and headed to a Subway a couple blocks away to get lunch. The rest of the team caught up to us there.
As I was sitting outside of Subway watching the bikes, I noticed that it seems everyone in New York is somehow disconnected from everything around them. They are on their phone, plugged into their iPod, or so focused on getting somewhere they are paying no attention to their surroundings. It seems kind of strange to me, but I guess in a place that has so much input all the time you have to be able to remove yourself to survive. It can cause problems, however. Pedestrians seem so entirely clueless in New York. We were fortunate to be in bike lanes almost the entire day today. They are along the roads and, in places, kind of share the road with cars, but they are still bike lanes. But the pedestrians will walk in the bike lane instead of on the sidewalk, and will step out in front of you without ever seeing you. We had a lot of close calls with people who were so entirely unaware of the fact that they had just stepped into traffic.
After lunch we went a lot faster as there were no longer sights to see and stop at. It was so strange to look at each other and say ‘15 more miles.’ After riding for two months and over 2,000 miles, we had less than 20 left. Each time we stopped at a light and someone asked how much farther we had, it seemed so unreal. We were so excited when we first left lunch but the heat took its toll and our energy was waning. Then, when we got about six miles away from our ending point, we got hit with a cool ocean breeze. It was the most glorious thing I have ever felt in my life! Our last six miles were spent being teased by the breeze and the smells of ocean. It was amazing. We ended up missing our turn and adding about four miles to our ride. But we reached the beach. Breezy Point, New York; Jacob Riis Park; Rockaway Beach. Josh met us on the beach to take pictures. We all brought our bikes down onto the beach, laid them down, and then held hands and ran into the ocean together. It was glorious, especially on such a hot day. We swam and splashed and laughed and screamed and got smacked by the waves. It was so much fun. We took pictures in the water, pictures on the beach, pictures with our bikes. It was wonderful” (end of July 22 journal entries).
It was so strange to stand on the beach, to look out over the ocean, and to realize this was the end. We had done it. Seattle to New York, 2,196 miles in seven weeks. I honestly cannot entirely believe that we did it. We biked across the country. I really don’t know what to do with it all. It’s a little bit frustrating because I feel like I am entirely on overload of information, emotions, memories, experiences, stories, lessons, and everything from these last two months that I am unable to feel about this now. I should be excited. I should be happy to have reached our goal. I should be sad to have the team separating. I should be a lot of things. And I seem to be nothing at the moment. I really wonder when it will hit me. I wonder how it will hit me.
So much has happened in the last two months, I am sure I will be sorting through it for the rest of my life. I doubt I will ever stop learning from this trip and discovering new things about myself, about life, about God, about the world, about the people around me. I really don’t know what else to say about it all. Nine people. 18 tires. Seven weeks. 13 states. 3,296 miles. One cause. Tomorrow, Monday the 25th, we all depart our separate ways. Some to drive back to Minnesota, some to fly to various other home states. We will never all be together in a place like this again. Never get to do what we have done with these people again. “I have found there are three stages to every great work of God,” Hudson Taylor once said, “first it is impossible, then it is difficult, then it is done.” Our tour is now done, but, as Dustin said recently, it has left us “forever changed. Never wanting to go back to a less adventurous, less desirable life.” It will be difficult to adjust back to ‘normal’ life at home. It will be hard to no longer be around the same eight people all day every day. To wake up in the morning and not be biking. I don’t know how I will fill my time. But I will keep moving forward, keep looking for the next God-adventure, and keep living life to the fullest.
Journal Entry 6-July 17th, 2011
July 17, 2011
Mileage to date: 2,794
This week began with quite the adventure for the team. On Monday, July 11, we left Chicago. We got up at 5:30am in an attempt to get on the road early. We didn’t get on the road until 8am, but it was a good thing we got up that early as the day ended up being one of those days where everything happens and everything goes wrong. When we left Belmont Assembly of God, the church that was hosting us, we had beautiful blue skies in front of us. However, you could feel the heaviness and humidity in the air of a storm that was coming. Behind us were dark, ominous storm clouds. We were trying to beat them to ‘the bean’ in down town Chicago. We made it all of three miles before Dustin decided we should pull over into a Walgreens to wait for the storm to pass us over. As we were walking our bikes across the parking lot we heard the wall of rain coming behind us. We sprinted under the awning and stood in awe as the sky that had been crystal clear two minutes earlier became so dark and cloudy, as the wind whipped by at 60mph and bent the trees over, as the rain poured down almost sideways, as the thunder shook the sidewalk and the lightning almost blinded us. It was amazing! We ended up hanging out in Walgreens for about 45 minutes before we were able to get back on the road.
We then headed down town to see ‘the bean’ and the Buckingham Fountain. We then hit the road and headed out for Plymouth, Indiana. We reached the state line rather quickly and took our traditional team picture there. We continued on our way, repairing two flat tires as we went. We were not making very good time and had a long day ahead of us: 114 miles. It was about 2pm and 40 miles into our day that we got a phone call from Karl, who was driving the van that day. He had been going through a tollbooth when suddenly the ‘Ghost Rider,’ as we have named the van, inexplicably died. He was getting it towed and we were going to be unsupported the rest of the day. This was not necessarily what we would have chosen, but it was entirely doable by stopping at restaurants and gas stations for bathrooms and filling up water bottles. Everyone responded well, squared their shoulders, and kept riding. We had planned to eat lunch at the next water stop and so it ended up being 4pm by the time we found a Subway to stop and eat. We all ate and then took brief naps in the air conditioning before we hit the road again. We were all a bit worried about getting flats or anything now since the pump we have that attaches to a bike was broken, we had only Jeramy’s tiny hand pump, and were limited to only two CO² cartridges to fill up any flats we got. We did end up getting more flats, three of them total I think, and by the grace of God managed alright with what we had.
We got a call from Karl at about 5:30pm that the van had been repaired and he was on his way to meet us. We were all very excited. By the time we met him at a gas station it was about 6pm and we had 40 more miles left to ride that day. Jeramy especially wanted to get all the miles in. So after a quick stop with the van Jeramy, Riley, myself, and Jessica, headed out to plow our way to the finish. We kept in a pace line, drafting off of each other, and maintained a pace of between 21 and 23mph for about 25 miles. We were racing the sun, trying to reach Plymouth before we ran out of daylight. Although it was challenging to maintain that pace, it was probably the most amazing ride I have ever had in my life. As the sun set over our left shoulders it turned the clouds ahead of us brilliant shades of lilac purple and bright pink. The moon, almost full, had risen and sat in the middle of the pink and purple, adding its white glow to their neon shades. We passed between fields of mint that enveloped us with their tangy, sweet smell. As the sun sank the temperature began to drop and the humidity of the day settled around us. It filled the fields and low areas around us with layers of fog, like the layers of lace on a wedding dress. In one field we startled four deer that went leaping through the mist, leaving it purling behind them. From another field we disturbed a heron that gracefully rose in slow motion and flew off into the pink and purple sky. The Queen-Anne’s-Lace, Phlox, and other flowers that lined the road nodded as we passed, as if in salute. As the sky continued to darken we were surrounded by fireflies. All striving to outshine their neighbor, they danced and glided around us, never in the same place twice. We have a God that delights in beauty and wants to share it with us, if only we will slow down and take the time to notice. I liked Jessica’s perspective on it a few days later. She said we were ‘…seeing things that are beautiful for no reason. The sky didn’t have to be that color.’ But the sky was the color, and the countryside was beautiful. Our God is a God of details, of little things, of simple joys, and of extravagant beauty. We ended up losing the race with the sun and got picked up by the van about 15 miles out from Plymouth. But the ride was certainly worth it all.
Once again this week has been filled with people and their stories. In Fort Wayne, Indiana, we met Ken, a linguist, an artist, and a fellow cyclist. He and his family were missionaries in the Congo in 1988 but were evacuated in 1992 when the civil war broke out. His wife was pregnant with their fifth child and they missed the evacuation because they were in a village and unable to get to the city. He ended up delivering their child and then they managed to make it to the French Foreign Legion and escape the country, all with their child less than 24 hours old. He was working in Congo with Wycliffe Bible Translators. It was so interesting to hear him talking about his life as a missionary. “The idea of being a missionary is being flexible.” He said. “I was a linguist and an artist and ended up working as an accountant.” I liked his perspective on why missionaries do what they do. He told a story about a man who worked for 22 years before he was able to present the people group where he was working with a New Testament in their own language. Not one person was saved. “He did was he was supposed to do.” Ken said. “He gave them the Bible and a witness.” It was a challenge to hear. “Would you be willing to spend 22 years of your life working and have no one get saved?” Ken asked. “That would be tough. But you don’t know that two generations down the road it will touch someone.” It was thought provoking to see it in that way.
In Youngstown, Ohio, we were hosted by a woman named Tiffany. When she was 21, while on a mission trip to Africa, she had what she called a dream or vision. On the plane ride back to the US she turned to her friend Jack and said ‘I’m going to buy a small mansion in Youngstown and rent out rooms to single girls.’ Her friend kind of brushed it off, but now, two years later, she is doing just that. It was amazing to hear the story of how she came to own this house. She said that one of the reasons she felt such a desire to do this is that ‘single girls aren’t in the Bible. I believe we are the widows and orphans of our world today.’ She said that the way God orchestrated all of the pieces was phenomenal. “I was pre-approved for $100,000. How does that happen? I’d been out of college for three months.”
When they first moved in there was a mold problem in the basement. “It would have cost $5,000,” she said, “and I had just enough to buy the house.” But God had it all worked out for her. “I happened to work for a mold removal company at the time.” She said. “They told me if I wanted to train to be a mold removal specialist I could borrow the equipment. It ended up costing me all of $136.” She is so positive and so openly proclaims God’s provision and orchestration in her life. God is doing amazing things for her and preparing her for amazing things in the future. “I bought this house for $8,000.” She told us. “I can turn around and sell it for $136,000 and pay off another house.”
She is just so excited for what God has done and what He has for her in the future. “I’m 23 and I’ve been a home owner for a year and a half.” She is currently working, unpaid, for a church and working fulltime as a copier salesperson. It sounds like a very unglamorous career. She said that when people ask her what she does and she tells them she sells copiers they often respond with “that’s such a shame.” But she tells them “No. God’s using me.” She has the attitude of ‘anything is possible with God.’ “If God wanted me to be a rock star, He’d make it happen. If He wanted me to be a Broadway singer, He’d make it happen. If He wanted me to move to Africa, He’d make it happen.” Her attitude was just phenomenal to see and to listen to. Every statement comes back to God’s provision and to God’s faithfulness. “It’s amazing how God works. If I had continued following my plan I’d be in new York, bussing tables or homeless.”
Her attitude made me think of Don, a janitor at the church in Fort Wayne, Indiana, who was so excited about what we are doing. “You guys are doing amazing stuff, you don’t even know.” He said. “What you guys are doing is more important than what I do.” His last statement I certainly disagree with. Our society tends to compartmentalize and create a bit of a caste system within careers. We view one career as more glamorous and impactful than another. But I firmly believe that each one is vital to keeping our society running. There will also be dirty, unpleasant jobs to do, and there will always be people who do them. Do not degrade or belittle those people and what they do. If not for them, none of us could live our lives the way we are able to now.
We have met some people who are doing the impossible in their life too. John, in Akron, Ohio, is in a wheelchair. Instead of allowing this to limit him he purchased a bike attachment for the front of his chair and goes on 30 miles bike rides, ‘pedaling’ with his hands. Jay, who rode with us from Du Pere, Wisconsin, to Chicago, Illinois, was in a downhill skiing accident years ago. He broke multiple bones; was rushed to the hospital; flatlined in the helicopter on the way; lost his spleen and a kidney; and was told he would never walk again. Last year he biked across the country. This year he biked over 100 miles with us. He is now a trainer, teaching people who think they can’t how to run marathons. He lives in the town where he was born and works at a peanut factory with his dad. That is how life should be lived.
As we have continued east we are beginning to leave the flatlands of the country and are once again riding up and down rolling hills, the precursors to the Appalachians. As we were riding the hills in Ohio I began to contemplate how that relates to life. These were my thoughts.
July 14, 2011 “As you ride each hill down, the world around you seems to shrink and disappear. You sink into a secluded place. At times there are farms and homes between the hills, creating their own little world like a snow-globe. Everything else seems to disappear and it is so easy to forget that other things exist, just as it is so easy to ride down into that valley. You can climb up the other side if you are willing to put forth the effort. It takes work and determination, but as you peak the top the entire world opens up around you. You can see where you came from and what lies before you, at least to some extent. You can see the hills rolling ahead of you. Even though you cannot see them, between each one you know there lies a valley, ready to pull you down and hold you there. It is the same in life. We travel down the road, encountering hills and valleys as we go. Some valleys are deep with steep sides. If we allow ourselves, we get stuck in those valleys. So entirely focused on that valley, that thing we are in the middle of, that we forget the rest of the world exists. We forget there is still road left to travel and so much world to see and experience. We can stay in that valley, but life was not meant to be lived in a valley. We have to push ourselves on and climb out of the valley. At times you must do it by yourself. But that is not always the case. Indeed, it is not usually the case. If we take the time to look around we see that there are others around us. People able to push us on and offer a word of encouragement. People who refuse to allow us to stay in the valley.” (end July 14, journal entry)
Something I have discovered about myself on this trip is the fact that I am really bad at being positive and especially at giving encouragement to others when I am going through the same thing. When I am climbing up the steep hills I don’t want anyone to talk to me. I don’t want them to tell me I’m doing great, I don’t want them to tell me I’m almost there. I want them to leave me alone and let me keep pushing. But I know that I need to hear that. I need to know they are there with me, pushing as hard as I am. I just can’t seem to say it to them in return. I feel that I have to focus so hard on continuing up that hill that if I lose focus for a moment, it will kill me. But perhaps I do need to give them encouragement in order to find it myself. Perhaps we do not find strength until we give it to others.
We are currently in Sarver, Pennsylvania, enjoying a much needed day off. We drove into Pittsburgh this afternoon to do some sight seeing. It was fun. Dustin told us yesterday, after a 64 mile ride up and down rolling, steep hills, ‘I hope you enjoyed your last easy day of the tour.’ We are about the reach the Appalachians which will be the steepest and most spread out mountains we have climbed on this trip. Although they present a huge challenge and barrier to us, I think it will be the perfect way to end the tour. To be challenged, to be pushed, to be broken. To be reminded that it is not about us and that we cannot do it on our own. To have no choice but to give it everything we have every day, every hour, every minute, every pedal stroke.
We reach New York on Friday. Less than a week. So much has happened in these last two months. It seems unreal to think that we are almost done, almost there, almost to our goal. The word can’t does not appl
y anymore. We will. We have. We are.
Journal Entry 5-July 3rd, 2011
July 3, 2011
Total Mileage to date: 1,809
Unlike my previous updates it feels like there is not a lot to write about this week. That is probably mostly due to the fact that we have had Friday and Saturday off from biking. We crossed into Minnesota on Monday, June 28, after leaving Webster, South Dakota, that morning. For me it felt like one of the longest days due to a couple of factors. The first was that we were going a total of 106 miles, which is our longest day so far. The second was that we had a bit of a crosswind, which, compared to the tailwind we had the day before, made it feel like a lot more work to get anywhere. The third reason, and probably the biggest, was that we were headed to Montevideo, Minnesota, the hometown of my boyfriend, Owen Hein. Despite being delayed in the morning due to fog, however, we made good time throughout the day. We entered Minnesota just in time for lunch and were met in Ortonville, Minnesota, by my dear friends the Scholbergs. Their daughter Elena and I were college roommates my sophomore year at North Central University. They had created a welcome sign for us as well as gathering some lunch and snack foods to share.
It has been such a joy to be back in Minnesota for several days. To get to see friends and family, and to be in a place where people are so excited about our trip. Because Venture Expeditions is based out of Minneapolis, there are a lot of Venture people around this area who have participated in tours in previous years and are still incredibly passionate about the cause and the organization. This has been the first place since Washington State where we have had other people join our team to ride with us for pieces of our day. When we left Ortonville, Minnesota, on June 28, we were joined by Elena Scholberg, her mom, Meg, and her brother, Joseph, for the next 12 miles of our trip. When we left Montevideo, Minnesota, on June 29, we were joined by my boyfriend, Owen Hein, for the first 22 miles of the day. When we neared the Twin Cities on June 30, we were met in Wayzata by a whole slew of Venture people: Brian Elliot, who just completed a 210 mile run across the state of Minnesota to support the same cause as our team; Josh Iniguez, the trip coordinator of Venture; and Josias Hansen, Tyler Sevlie, and Karl Pasche, who all rode on tours in previous years. They joined us and led the way as we rode from Wayzata to our host church, Oak Hills Church, in Eagan. It was a delight to be off the roads and on bike paths for almost the entire second half of that day’s ride. It was also wonderful to be back in the Twin Cities, a place that is familiar and dear to me.
I felt such excitement as we crossed into Minnesota. Although it is only the halfway point of our ride, it seems like such a big mile marker for us all. I was thrilled to see the sign for Hennepin County as I knew we were then near the Twin Cities. I had such a great time pointing things out to our team members who are from other states. Things I had not realized I missed until I was reunited with them. For many of our non-Minnesotan riders, Minneapolis presented the most biker friendly city they have ever experienced, with its paved trail and bike lanes. But the highlight in that regard was certainly the Greenway. Essentially a highway for bicycles and pedestrians, it has two lanes for bikes and one for people on foot, off ramps, street signs, and even businesses that cater exclusively to those who travel along its route.
There is also a sense of camaraderie between cyclists in the Twin Cities. At one stop light our team was joined by a group of three bikers who asked about our jerseys. As we were explaining the cause we are riding for, we were joined by yet another biker who just completed a coast to coast ride to raise money for cancer research. All four of them pedaled with our group for the next ten miles or so, talking, sharing stories, and enjoying the ride. Today when we left Eagan to ride to Red Wing we were joined by eight other Venture people as well, bringing our group to a total of 17 for the 45 mile road. It is kind of crazy to think that is the size of the majority of the teams that Venture sends out. We looked quite daunting as we prepared to depart from the church.
Since my last update my flat tire count has risen to the double digits at 10. It is amazing how something as tiny as a sliver of glass or a minute pebble can cause you so much trouble. At times the flat is instantaneous, as happened to one of our riders in Minneapolis when his tire literally blew, bursting the tire as well as the tube. But they can also be slow. You can be entirely unaware that something has punctured your tube. However, if the issue is left unaddressed it begins to affect every aspect of your riding. You begin to feel every bump and crack in the pavement. Your smooth ride becomes rough as you begin to bounce slightly on the half inflated tube. You are forced into lower and lower gears as it begins to get increasingly difficult to pedal due to increased friction cause by more tire surface making contact with the road. But it can be so hard to recognize these signs sometimes.
For many of my flats I attributed these things to a variety of other potential causes. It was getting harder to pedal because there was a head wind or a slight incline. I was bouncing more because of dips in the pavement. I was feeling the bumps and cracks more because of the way I was sitting on my seat. But there comes a point where you cannot deny that your tire is flat. Part of me always wants to simply ignore the flat and press forward, as if that will fix the problem. There seems to always be something in our human nature that would rather ignore an issue than face it head one and find a solution. It seems easier to just keep riding, but in the end it causes you more work. You wear yourself out trying to push against the added friction and bouncing and still have to change the flat tire at the end of the day. Our desire for a fast-fix comes out when we are changing our flats as well. It seems so much easier to pull out the flat tube, put in a new tube, and continue on our way. This is often a waste of a tube, however. If we do not carefully check every inch of the tire to discover the source of the flat, we will simply put a hole in our new tube as soon as it is inflated. We need to take the time for careful examination to find the source of the problem before we try and find a solution. And each time that I remove my wheel, pop off the tire, and search for the culprit I am learning how to recognize the problems. Each time I change a flat I get faster and better as my hands and eyes learn what to look for and how to implement the solution. They say that practice makes perfect and it stands for both the things we enjoy practicing and the things we do not. So, halfway across the country, I have had 10 lessons in problem solving. And I am grateful for each one, regardless of how I felt at the time.
It feels unreal to say that we are already halfway across the country. It seems so strange to look back and think that less than a month ago our team met for the first time in Seattle, Washington: nine people from six states about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime. And now, over 1,800 miles later; having crossed two mountain ranges; passed countless cattle ranches; ridden in rain, sun, wind, hail, and fog; having developed some of the most unique tan-lines of our lives; meeting people from every walk of life; and seeing the country in more detail than many people will ever experience; we are only halfway to our destination. It feels like such a huge feat, to have reached Minnesota. There is a sense of completion to what we have done. Like the day we climbed Steven’s Pass. We reached the top of the mountain and celebrated and then looked at each other and realized we had 40 more miles yet to ride. It is the same now. We are rejoicing at reaching Minnesota, and yet there is still so much more yet to come. Tonight we are in Red Wing, Minnesota, and tomorrow we enterWisconsin. 1,800 miles, two mountain ranges, and six states down. 1,500 miles, one mountain range, and seven states left to go.
Journal Entry 4 – June 18th 2011
Saturday, June 18th 2011
Total mileage to date: 920 miles
The trip has been going incredibly well. We have been cruising along through wind and rain, fortunately mostly tailwinds and not too much rain. It has been surprisingly chilly so far. There have been few days that I have not worn my under-armor and windbreaker while riding. Personally, I would rather have chillier weather than really hot weather, but not all of the members of our team from the south agree with me on that point.
Last time I updated we had just crossed into Montana. We are now about halfway across and staying two days in Billings, Montana. We’ll be speaking at both services of The City Church tomorrow and heading to Hysham, Montana.
It seems that so much has happened it is hard to believe it has only been two weeks since we left Seattle, Washington. We have climbed four mountain passes and countless hills; passed through numerous towns of various sizes and personalities; had seven flat tires (well, that’s my count, not the whole team’s); and met so many amazing people. I know I wrote about it in my last update but it still stands that one of my favorite parts of this trip is seeing the church in action. I especially love seeing so many different aspects of what church is and how the church fulfills Jesus’ command to be His hands and feet.
We have seen churches that do bike clinics where they fix kid’s bikes for free just to minister to them, churches that serve meals, churches that meet in community centers because it benefits both them and the community. It is just phenomenal. I feel that I am seeing aspects of what the church could be, what the church should be. I was struck by something Jeramy Wheeler, a teammate, said:
“How many lead pastors do you see making spaghetti, doing the dishes, and then going to the coffee shop to hear their kid’s sing?”
I also love the individual people we are meeting along the road and the glimpses I am seeing of the way life can be. I am seeing so much diversity.
Ty in Thompson Falls, Montana, a 23 year old who is about to get his masters in clarinet performance. Ryan and his brother Tyler in Thompson Falls, Montana, nine and seven respectively, who want to be a rescue helicopter pilot and a marine biologist. The choir at The Yoked Parish of American Lutheran & First Presbyterian Churches in White Sulfur Springs, Montana, that welcomed myself and Tim Shaw, a teammate, to their choir rehearsal to sing with them.
John and Verlaine in Harrison, Idaho have been married for 47 years and still as in love as ever. It was such a delight to sit outside the church with them and listen to the stories they had to tell about real life, the adventures they had shared, marriage, and love. “I met him when I was 15,” Verlaine said, “and he’s been my best friend ever since.”
And I think of the people we met in Harlowton, Montana. After feeding us a spaghetti dinner and watching our presentation about the Just+Hope Campaign, we all headed over to the local coffee shop where they were having an ‘open mic’ night. The small coffee shop was packed as people took turns singing a wide variety of styles and songs. Everyone clapped and sang along to their favorites and yelled requests when the songs ended. It was an eclectic group, from the men who looked like they had just walked in from the range to the teens with their makeup and styled hair to the toddlers climbing under tables and chairs. But it all felt right. It felt like life is supposed to be: relaxed, laid back, not free from cares and trials but able to put everything else aside to spend an evening with family and friends just enjoying life together. It seems that I am seeing more of life on this trip than I have ever experienced before and it makes me excited to go out and life it. I am learning to live life.
It has been very interesting to live such a nomadic lifestyle for the past two weeks: to be continually on the move, always in a new place, sleeping on a different floor each night, never knowing what to expect before you arrive. Each night we arrive at our destination, unload our bins from the van, claim a spot on the floor, unroll our sleeping bags, and spend the night. Each morning we repack our bins, roll up our sleeping bags, put it all in the trailer, and head out for a new destination.
There is an aspect to if that is very exciting, a sense of anticipation for the unknown and the surprises that are coming. But it can also be quite exhausting: a sense of unsettledness, a feeling of incompleteness, an inability to put down roots of any kind. But this trip is not about putting down roots. This trip is about planting and scattering seeds. I do not entirely know what seeds I am planting. Some I may receive a harvest from this year, next year, or ten years down the road. Others I may not be the one to receive and benefit from the fruit that is born. But that is not the point. I am not planting to gain something for myself. I am planting because I can. I am planting because, as I am learning more and more on this trip, it is the little things that change the world. And so, regardless of how miniscule and insignificant they may appear to me, I am planting seeds from coast to coast this summer.
Journal Entry 3 – June 11, 2011
It seems hard to believe that the team has now been together for over a week. It seems like we have always known each other. The last six days have held so much for me, from climbing the Cascade Mountains to reaching 45mph on my bike (downhill, obviously). The most difficult day for me was certainly Monday, June 6. This was part of my journal entry from that day:
“Our trip today was through Steven’s Pass which has an elevation of 4,061 feet. We biked every inch of it. When it first began it was not too steep, but it was a constant incline that just wore on me. We had, in our team meeting, been warned that today would probably be the hardest day of our trip. As we went I honestly felt they had exaggerated. The incline was long and wearing but wasn’t that steep. At our second water stop we were told that the next five miles would be the absolute hardest as we would climb over 1,000 feet in that distance. They were not exaggerating, by any means, in their assessment. That five miles was absolutely the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I crawled forward at about five miles an hour, stopping every four minutes or so (less than a ¼ mile) to stop and breathe for a bit.
I had set off with Riley and Jeramy. Riley quickly out distanced us. It don’t blame her as she was able and it is so hard to go at another person’s pace on such a climb. Jeramy stayed back with me and kept me going. We began between mile marker 59 and 60. At mile 62 I started hitting a wall. I could feel myself sliding into the ‘ditch’ of crying and giving up and all of that. I warned Jeramy that I was going to start crying as some point and not to worry about it, that’s just what I did. Eventually the sweep (last riders, appointed to always stay in the back that day) caught up with us. Jeramy went on ahead and I pressed on with Tim, Samantha, Rebecca, and Dustin.
The worst part of the entire thing was in my head. Mentally I just couldn’t grasp what I was doing enough to make myself do it. There is absolutely no way I could have done it without my teammates, without the tribe, around me. Isn’t that always the case in life? We are made to be interdependent beings. We are made to need each other and to be needed. We are not made to be alone.
I reached the top, by the grace, mercy, and power of God and through the support of my teammates. I got to the top and stood looking at the sign. “Steven’s Point Elevation: 4,061.” Four simple words that represented so much to me. I made it. My body did what was impossible in my mind. And so it begins. I can do anything. With the guidance of God, the support of other people, and the stubbornness to keep pressing on. I can bike up a mountain. I can touch those around me. I can change the world.
Almost the entire ride up was lined on either side with outcroppings of granite on either side. When I got to the top I searched the parking lot until I found the perfect one and I kept it. I plan to use it as a marker, a reminder, of what I have accomplished here today, of the fact that I can do the impossible.” (end June 6 journal entry)
I think that one of the things I am loving about this trip is that it is allowing me to see the body of Christ working the way it is meant to work. So far for this trip we have stayed in five different churches, each a different denomination. But all share a passion to serve, a desire to give and enable others, and a fire for sharing the gospel. In each church we stop at I am seeing a different facet of the body of Christ. I am seeing a different facet of God’s love and how He chooses to bless His children and show His compassion towards them. It is inspiring and challenging. These churches are stepping out in faith. They are focused not on themselves but on the surrounding people they have been called to love, to serve, and to shine Christ to. They are opening their doors to a group of sweaty, smelly bicyclists from around the country, serving us hot meals (usually homemade), getting us showers, giving them places to sleep, blessing us in immeasurable ways. We are often sent away with more food than we came with, but beyond the physical things we are sent away with our hearts and minds filled. We are strengthened in our journey, encouraged in our cause, built up and reminded that we are not alone in this fight.
Indeed, this fight is far too great to be won by any single person. No one person can solve the problem of human trafficking and oppression around the world. However, if every one person was willing to stand up, to take a step of faith, and to come beside those people who are already working to fight this injustice, we could bring about change.
“A cord of three strands is not easily broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12).
And so I challenge you: take a stand, find others who are fighting and join them. It may only be something small, but if enough people do enough small things, it will make a big difference. In Spokane, Washington, we stayed at Jacob’s Well Church, a small downtown church with a focus on reaching Burmese refugees in the area. Talking with Pastor Eric Blauer there was inspiring as he shared his passion and views of the world.
One of the things that really stuck with me was “Everybody, if they can, should engage in something that takes them outside of home.” And it is so true. We all get so comfortable and safe feeling within our own homes, but we are called to change the world and make a difference, and doing that requires stepping out of our comfort zones and into the unknown. As I am learning, it is so worth the risks and fears!
Journal Entry 2 – June 5, 2011
And we’re off.
I left Burnsville, Minn. with the four guys on our team, Karl Feller, Tim Shaw, Dustin Burkhart, and Jeramy Wheeler, and another Venture staff member, Erin White, to drive out to Seattle, Wash., in our support van. Our trip began with adventure as we sat on the shoulder of the highway in the wind and hail waiting for a tornado to pass five miles ahead of us. We arrived at Sammamish Presbyterian Church in Sammamish, Wash. on Wednesday afternoon. The drive was a bit long but made enjoyable by the company and conversation, as well as a stop at Glacier National Park. The rest of the team, Samantha Gonzalez, Riley Johnson, Jessica Mahoney, and Rebecca Cunningham, flew in Thursday morning from Texas, Idaho, and Louisiana, respectively. It was so strange to finally meet these people in person. I had only talked with them online, but I feel so close to them already. These are the people with whom I am going to spend the next eight weeks, sharing every trial, triumph, frustration, and joy.
We spent time from in training for the trip Thursday through Sunday, learning how to assemble bikes, change flat tires, bike maintenance, bike safety on the road, hand signals, and the like. On Saturday we went on a training ride to Seattle, approximately 34 miles. What a delight it was to finally get out on a bike with the team. We were challenged as we strove to figure out the logistics of group riding, how to simultaneously use hand signals and steer without wiping out, and whether our training was up to the challenge. We were rewarded at the end of the ride by the most beautiful skyline of Seattle, complete with Mt. Rainier in the background, thanks to the ideal and un-Washington-like sunny weather. It was a hard ride up the hills, those will certainly be the most challenging part for me physically, as I learned again today.
We just completed our first day on the road today, approximately 32 miles from Sammamish, Washington, to Sultan, Washington. It may have been the most beautiful stretch of road I have ever gone down, though I wouldn’t be surprised to find myself saying that about every stretch of road on this trip. The hardest parts were the hills. You see them coming ahead of you and try to gain as much momentum as you can going into them. You shift to the lowest gear, trying to give yourself everything you can to get to the top. It is inevitable that no matter how fast you are going and how low of a gear you are in, however, there will always be a hill that uses up the steam you had before you have reached the top.
How similar to life that is: we can often see trials coming. We see them looming ahead of us and we do everything we can to prepare. But so many times ‘everything we can’ is not enough to get us to the top. So where do you turn when that happens? Where do you find the strength to push on? For me it comes from several things. I find strength in my own stubbornness, my refusal to quit and to be defeated by something I know I can beat. I also find strength in others. I do not know exactly how but to hear the voice of a fellow rider behind you, encouraging you, pushing you on to reach to top, somehow it gives you the energy you need. Somehow, knowing that you are not alone in the fight, that there are others struggling along with you, willing you to get to the top as much as they are willing themselves, it gets you through. But more than anything else I find my strength in the knowledge that I am exactly where God wants me to be. He does not promise that it will be an easy road, but He promises that He will get us through when we are faithful to follow Him.
I have a choice. I could choose to give up, I could choose to walk away. But when I think that way I also remember why I am riding. I am not riding for myself, it is not about me. It is about the millions around the world who do not have a choice. It’s about the refugees in Burma, victims of a 60 year civil war that has ripped their country apart and destroyed thousands of lives and families. It’s about the children who are being forced into prostitution and other atrocities all over the world. And so I press on.
Tomorrow will be a test of everything I am. Our ride will be just under 80 miles, the entire first half of which is uphill as we cross the Cascade Mountains. It will be unlike anything I have ever done in my life and, I have no doubt, it will be phenomenal and ridiculously difficult. But we’ll make it. Each one of us, as a team, we’ll make it.
Journal Entry 1 – May 30, 2011
It is 8:22am.
In less than 10 hours I will be leaving on the biggest adventure of my life to date. I will meet the Minnesotan team members at the Venture Expeditions headquarters in Burnsville, Minnesota. We will depart in the support van, headed west, and arrive on June 1st in Seattle, Washington. There we will meet the remaining team members and have several days to get to know each other and have last minute training and preparation before we mount our bikes and head east on June 5th.
As I look forward to the trip I see a huge unknown bookended by the familiar. The beginning point, Seattle, I know. I was born in Washington State and spent the first eight years of my life there. It will be a pleasure to return after 13 years in Minnesota. The ending point, New York, I know from the stories of friends and family, books and movies. It has a reputation and an expectation within my mind. But stretching between those two is a blank slate. Eight weeks of discoveries, successes, failures, lessons, joys, frustrations…the unknowns. And that is what adventures are made of; the unknowns.
In these last hours before I depart my mind races. Wondering if I have packed everything I will need. Wondering if I have trained enough, prepared enough. Asking myself how you can really prepare for such an epic adventure. I wonder about the people we will meet along the road. I wonder if we will be effective in spreading our message. Will we be able to clearly communicate the desperate need of millions around the world? Will people be able and willing to step up and do their part? I have no answers to the questions flying through my head. But in the midst of it all, I have peace. God has called me to this adventure and He is faithful. And so I walk to the edge, breathe deep, and take the first step on the adventure of a lifetime.