11 May 2013

Spring Ride Recap

I have officially finished my first bike ride as Fuller Center Bicycle Adventure trip leader!

On March 15th I met 32 awesome new friends in Nashville and we spent the next week biking nearly 400 miles on the Natchez Trace Parkway to Jackson, Mississippi.  We rode bikes, we helped rebuild homes and we told everyone we met along the way about the Fuller Center for Housing and the great need for affordable decent homes that we have in our world.  It was amazing, intimidating, inspiring, stressful, and all kinds of other adjectives.  The experience both stretched me to my limits, and renewed my energy for this role I've somehow been led to fill!  I wanted to write something to try to share the experience with everyone who has supported me in this little detour I've taken to Americus, GA to volunteer and lead this bike ride.  I hope this can express some of the gratitude I have for everyone who's helped me as I take on this awesome challenge!

Two of my fellow cyclists and new friends:
Bud, age 75 (left) and Jack, age 85 (right)
... two of the most inspiring guys I've ever met.
photo credit: Dan Sheridan
My favorite part of the ride was definitely the people.  I've (sort of... not really) started to get used to talking with reporters, and they often ask what kind of people do a bike ride like this.  I just say "awesome people!!" ... I don't think it's quite the answer they're looking for, but it's so true!  The combination of loving biking, loving adventure, and loving people makes for a pretty awesome sort of person, and the 2013 Spring Ride team was no exception.  As I think back on each rider, every single one makes me smile for their own unique reasons.  There were the silly ones who were always making everyone laugh, the ones who always seemed to have the perfect words of encouragement at just the right moments, the ones who were willing to do whatever needed to be done and more, the ones who always had great wisdom and advice to share, but were still so open to new ways of doing things.

Of course, not every moment was perfect (like the morning we had no coffee...), but amazingly most moments were!  It's especially surprising when I remember the weather.  We had a day of thunder and lightning, a near-100 mile day in 40 degree temperatures, then another 75 miles in 35 degree rain ... and most of the riders came from up north, hoping for an idyllic spring cycling destination with wild flowers and sunshine!  But instead of complaining they just pulled the plastic shopping bags over their socks, duct taped their shoes for wind resistance, put shower caps over their helmets to try and block a few drops of rain, and got on their bikes.  Everyone kept a positive attitude the whole time, encouraged each other through the challenges, and laughed about them afterward.  They kept riding through the rain because they were grateful that they could, because they knew that at least they'd have a warm church floor to sleep on when they finished, and because it's more than just a bike ride.  They did something a little bit extraordinary to remind people that extraordinary things are happening everyday--things like Haitians living in the dirt under threadbare tarps, or elderly Americans confined to one room of their home because the roof is leaking everywhere else.  It's such a blessing to get to call these wonderful people friends, and an honor to get to plan an event that brings them together.
A rainy pace line (I'm third).
photo credit: Dan Sheridan

There were so many other things I loved too...

  • getting to visit "towns" like Duck River, TN
  • experiencing the amazing generosity and love of the churches we stayed with
  • working alongside a family in need in Tupelo, MS, helping them to make their home simple and decent again, and giving the local Fuller Center a boost of bike adventure energy
  • raising more than $28,000 as a team to help those in need of affordable housing
  • the fact that my job now requires that I ride my bike and spend massive amounts of time outside seeing beautiful places like the Natchez Trace Parkway (even if it's cold!!)

I could easily write a play by play for each day we were on the ride and go into even more detail about why this has been such a wonderful opportunity for me, but since my fellow cyclists already did all of that on our official Bike Adventure blog, I'll just give you the links.  Of course their words help show even more of what this ride is really all about!

Day 1:  Everyone arrives in Nashville and we spend a day getting to know each other, learning about the chore teams that will be working together to complete tasks like packing the trailer and making breakfast, and going on a practice ride / tour of Nashville.

Day 2:  After attending the early service at our host church in Nashville, we had a short send off ceremony, and a visit with our first TV reporter!  Then the adventure officially begins! We finished the day at one of the tiniest and most generous churches I have ever experienced with warm showers in the church members' homes, and an amazing meal (my first fried chicken in a very long time...).

Day 3:  The first rain ride ... we cycled through a storm so big that it earned itself a name, and coated most of the southeast in hail and even sprouted a few tornadoes  but everyone arrives safely at another generous church where I got to practice my presentation skills (which still need lots of work!) and share what the Fuller Center is all about.

Day 4:  A very cold 96 miles ... but thank God for no rain!

Day 5:  Build Day in Tupelo!  Also, one of my most stressful days, as I did everything I could along with the local volunteers to put our 30 enthusiastic cyclists to work.  You have to be very organized to make a big impact in one day's work!  The stress was worth it though--a big difference was made for a family truly need, and I think the local Fuller Center leadership caught a second wind from our team's energy (somehow we always manage to have some energy to share, even after biking almost 100 miles the day before!).

Day 6:  A short ride and another amazingly generous church, complete with 30 lbs of pulled pork!??!

Day 7:  The really cold and rainy day...

Day 8:  This was probably my favorite day (and not because it was the last day!).  The weather was perfect, the scenery seemed a little extra beautiful, and much of the team road together in long pace lines to share the experience.  Plus, we received a surprise police escort for the last few miles to our final church host and our amazing 85-year-old rider lead us in behind the police car.  It was a perfect celebration of our accomplishments that I couldn't have even tried to plan!  We were also treated to a gourmet dinner with the president of Tougaloo College, and learned about how it's rich civil rights era history is intertwined with the Fuller Center's!

We were in the news in Tupelo: A group uses bikes to serve others
Florence, AL: Cyclists on ride to help others
and in Nashville, Williamsport, TN, and Houston, MS.

The experience of planning and participating in these bike rides has brought so many new and crazy challenges to my life.  It has definitely not been easy, but I'm learning so much.  Whenever I take a step back from the chaos and endless details and remember what this ride and the Fuller Center is all about, I feel so blessed to be a part of something so simple and good.

Thank you again to everyone who's supported my crazy leap of faith.  I couldn't do this without your encouragement and friendship!  If you'd like to contribute funds as well, I know it will go a long way to help people who are truly in need.  You can donate here.

Celebrating at the finish line in Jackson!
photo credit: www.beretmeyersphotography.com

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