More than half way to New York, Kelsey Bjorkman bikes through Chicago during week 7

by Kelsey Bjorkman
Special to the Star News

July 10, 2011
Total Mileage to Date: 2,297

It feels that the weeks are going faster now. Perhaps it is that the days feel more routine. Although every day differs there is a certain continuity that flows throughout them all. We have being doing this for about six weeks now; we know what we’re doing more than we did at the beginning.

I realize that I haven’t really talked at all about what a ‘typical’ day looks like on this trip. Let me first start with the disclaimer that there is no ‘typical’ day and that every day is different, holding new challenges, curve-balls and adventures. But, regardless of how the in betweens are filled in, the days tend to have similar outlines around them. We have gotten up anywhere between 5:30 and 8 a.m. The time varies depending on the distance for that day, the weather and terrain, and if we need to be in by a certain time to meet anyone or do an event.

L to R: Samantha Gonzalez, Jessica Mahoney, Rebecca Cunningham, Riley Johnson, Kelsey Bjorkman show off their muscles and tan lines in Wisconsin

Our team is quite slow about getting out the door in the morning and it usually takes us about two hours to get up, pack up our 18 gallon bins, put our biking gear on, eat breakfast, pump up bike tires, get our maps for the day and finally hit the road. We bike about an hour and a half, or about 20 miles, and then have our first water break. We fill water bottles, eat snacks, sometimes have a brief dance party and then hit the road again. We repeat the water stops at those intervals all throughout the day, eating lunch somewhere in the middle.

Once we arrive at our destination, we find out where we will be sleeping and showering that night. Some days we eat before showers, some days we are able to shower first. The evenings are the part of the day that seem to be the most varied. We have done everything from simply hanging out as a team, to speaking at churches and small groups, to having barbecues with a church congregation. We have also worked at a brat and burger booth and attended a concert in the park. That is the time of the day we get to meet people, talk about the cause, relax and fellowship.

Each day is a new challenge because there are so many factors that contribute to how the riding that day will be; tailwind, crosswind, headwind, hills or flat ground. The type of surface we are riding on matters, too, whether it’s asphalt, concrete, no shoulder, gravel, smooth or if it’s bumpy. The number of directions also matter, and if we are on country roads or in a city, if we take any detours or field trips and how many flats we have that day. Those are all contributing factors to our ride. Back in Montana we had a day where we were flying down the road and did 78 miles in about three and a half hours time. This was due to wonderfully smooth roads and a tailwind. However, this last week we had a day where it took us about 11 hours to travel 114 miles. So many things effect the time.

We have had some adventures in getting lost throughout the trip as well. We have had people (in our group) bike two miles out of their way, miss an exit and add five miles to their day’s ride, or misread the directions and go 17 miles in the wrong direction, almost returning to the state we had just left. It would be nice if we had a step-by-step guidebook for this trip, but adventures don’t have a guidebook, and that’s what makes them adventures.

We got to celebrate the Fourth of July in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. We celebrated at one of the water stops with fireworks, squirt guns, sparklers and patriotic music. It was most enjoyable.

Since my last update I have also ridden what is my farthest day so far and will probably be my farthest day ever: 120 miles. It was only supposed to be a 114-mile day, but thanks to getting lost a bit, Riley and I were at 117 miles when we reached our host home. Somehow we still had energy and decided to bike around the neighborhood just to get those last three miles in. We managed to stop my odometer at exactly 120 miles. It’s those kinds of little things that make life fun.

This last week of riding has blessed us with many meetings as well. In Minneapolis we were joined by Tim’s dad, who rode with us until we reached Winston, Wisconsin. We also met Dustin’s mom and brother there. In Eau Claire, Wisconsin, we were unexpectedly hosted by a dear friend of mine from school. In Du Pere, Wisconsin, we were joined by Jay Williams, a guy who rode the southern tour last year with Karl and Dustin. He rode with us until Chicago and flies back to Georgia on Monday. While in Du Pere, we met the family of one of the Venture founders. In Chicago we are being hosted by the church of Kate Pilman, a girl who road the southern tour last year with Dustin and Karl. Each connection is a delight. Each person brings a new dynamic, new stories, new experiences and new perspectives.

The country is beginning to change as we continue east. We are leaving the Great Plains. There are towns more frequently and we are passing

Jessica Mahoney is careful to obey the street signs while we travel, even in the case of changing a flat tire.

through larger cities more often. We are reaching the part of the country that is unknown and unfamiliar to me. Due to family vacations, I am quite familiar with the western half of the country. However, beyond Wisconsin is a stretch of complete unknown to me. I am excited to see new things, but do find myself wishing I knew more of what to expect in the days to come.

Once again I was touched by the people we are meeting and the conversations we are able to have. In Du Pere, we met and talked with Erik, the brother of the woman hosting us. He has experienced and lived more of life than most people I think, even though he is only in his mid-thirties. He is an eighth grade teacher and absolutely loves his job and has two boys under age three. He has spent extended periods of time in at least five different countries around the world doing a wide range of things.

His first trip, though, was to Alaska with Campus Crusade for Christ to do a summer long missions work trip. He has also spent a year in Thailand, a year in Honduras, a semester in New Zealand, and a year in China. His year in China was with an organization called the English Language Institute of China, which is now based out of Colorado. They have partnered with China to send English teachers to Chinese schools. All of the teachers they send also happen to be Christians. He said his decision to work with this organization was based from his desire to live life to the fullest.

“I didn’t want to stick around home and get a job,” he said, “I could do that for the rest of my life. I was young and single and I wanted to take advantage of that while I could. I wanted to do something with that.”

So he joined this organization and went to China for a year to teach English. He is also very athletic and active. He has done triathalons and marathons as well as biking extensively. He sounds like he is living a venture tour. He is living life how it could be, challenging himself, living for others, doing what he loves and doing what he can because he can.

I felt challenged to continue this pattern of living when this trip is done. I wonder what patterns am I creating on this trip that will continue through my life. What patterns do I want to continue after this trip is done?

From left: Riley Johnson and Jay Williams doing push ups at a water stop to work their upper bodies a bit

One thing this trip is doing is making me notice those little things we take for granted; things like showers. Having showers at all, or having hot showers, and having the time to take a shower for as long as we want as well as having clean towels to dry off with when we are done, has made me appreciate beds, pillows and clean blankets. To have a bed to sleep in instead of on the floor, to have clean sheets and as many blankets as you want and to have a pillow under your head are the little things in life that we don’t even realize that we have. I have been living the last month and a half out of an 18 gallon tote, and I have everything that I need. I kind of dread finishing this trip and returning to a culture that demands material possessions and having a lot of stuff. I hope to be able to find a balance between the two.

God’s surprises and blessings continue to amaze us as we travel. In Plymouth, Wisconsin we happened to arrive the night the church was working a brat stand in the park. Every week there is a concert in the park and a different organization runs the brat stand and keeps the profits. This week it was the church that was hosting us and they decided to give all of the profits to the Just+Hope Campaign. It was so much fun to work in the booth, see the people of the town coming to the concert and enjoy the music. It was also in Plymouth that I had the delight of meeting John, a Deaf man originally from Minnesota. It was wonderful to find someone on this trip who I could (use) sign (language) with. We got to talk for several hours.

During the concert, I got to eavesdrop on another piece of real life, one that I have not yet experienced. I sat at one end of a picnic table while three elderly gentlemen sat at the other. I couldn’t help but overhear their conversation. I initially found it sad but then realized that it is simply another piece of what life truly is.

“I saw Chuck a week before he died,” one guy said, “He told me, ‘I’m just ready to die.’”

“He was a good friend of mine,” his companion replied.

Their conversation continued as they listed friends who have passed away and the things they did, where they were from; the kinds of friends they were. This is all another piece of life. Just like the grandchild that was born to the pastor in Ipswich, South Dakota three days before we arrived, this too is part of real life. It cannot be ignored, denied or avoided. But it can be embraced, learned from and taken in stride.

Something I have been noticing, and greatly appreciating, on this trip are the dynamics of our team, how we have to rely on each other to ride together and how our leaders impact and influence us all.

The following is a blog update I wrote for Venture Expeditions on July 5th:
“Attitude reflect leadership.”
‘As this tour has progressed it has been on my mind and heart to write something about our leaders, Dustin Burkhart and Karl Feller. I knew the kinds of things I wanted to say but wasn’t sure how to formulate them into a complete, coherent post. It came together today.
‘We rode 115 miles today, our longest day so far. Although we had a tailwind for the entire day we had multiple run-ins with construction and everything that includes. I and one other team member accidentally added four miles to our already long day that included seven flat tires due to the rough shoulders and the amount of gravel and rocks we rode through. And yet, through it all, our team responded with patience, humor, joy and grace. Flats were accepted as a part of the journey and replacing them became a group effort. Detours and extra miles were laughed at and teased about throughout the day. Construction was seen as a blessing when it gave us an entire lane to ourselves on the highway, and taken in stride when we had to load into the van to shuttle through.
‘One would think that after staying up to watch the fireworks on the fourth, getting less sleep than is probably recommended, getting up at 6 a.m., spending 11 hours on the road and biking about 115 miles, that tempers would be short and tensions high. But neither was the case. I think that this is due, primarily, to the attitude of our leaders.
‘Throughout this trip, Dustin and Karl have displayed attitudes of patience, flexibility and joy. When routes had to be changed, they tackled the

Road construction Kelsey Bjorkman and her team mates shuttled past in Wisconsin.

challenge and did everything within their power to ensure we had a clear, safe route before us. When the weather turned sour they met us at water stops with enthusiasm and creativity, keeping us laughing and pressing through the next 20 miles just to see what they would do next. They are careful to check up on everyone, ensure that people are drinking enough water and if someone mentions a food that they enjoy, they go out of their way to purchase it for lunch the next day. They have humored our every dietary whim, from avocados to mangos and peaches to peanuts to humus to sun chips and raisins to gummy snacks. They have patiently instructed us in bike repair and maintenance needs as required. They have stayed up late ensuring we would have a place to sleep, showers and laundry facilities the next day. They tease us, they laugh with us, they write songs for us, they share things with us and they even keep us in line. They are willing to listen, willing to speak their minds, willing to challenge and yet are willing to be taught.
‘One of my favorite movie lines of all time is found in “Remember the Titans.” One of the players is speaking to their team captain, who is complaining about the players attitude. The player looks at the captain and states “Attitude reflects leadership, captain.” And I don’t know if I have ever seen a more vivid picture of this than what I am living right now. The attitude of our team is exemplary, and it is a reflection of our leaders. I cannot imagine our trip with any other people. We are greatly blessed by the leaders that God has provided for us.‘                           (end blog update from July 5)

We are currently in Chicago and leave early tomorrow morning. I was dreading riding into a big city like this after we rode through Milwaukee and were almost eaten by the potholes and traffic. But Chicago has proved to be a biker-friendly and an enjoyable challenge.

We went to The Field Museum today, Chicago’s natural history museum. One of the exhibits we walked through was on the African slave trade. I found myself looking at it with very different eyes now than I would have before this trip. The thing that struck me the most was the fact that we now look back at the slave trade and see it as something that was so horrendous, so grotesque, so horrible, we cannot fathom how people allowed it to continue for as long as it did before it was abolished. And yet, it hasn’t been abolished. It still continues today. It has simply taken on a different form.

I began to wonder what makes today’s slavery different than the African slave trade. The biggest difference that I noticed was the fact that the African slave trade was a publicly accepted, and entirely unhidden, thing. Everyone knew it existed and the majority of the population took part in it. I think that this made it a lot easier for it to be abolished, at least in some ways, because it was easy to see, to challenge and to know when it was abolished.  The slave trade today is different. It does not sit on the surface but lies far beneath, hidden behind layers of deception, corruption and greed. People do not openly acknowledge it. They do not publicly display and sell their human ‘property.’ They do not brazenly kidnap thousands of victims at a time. They take them one by one, silently and in secret.

This brought up a lot of questions for me. How do you fight an invisible enemy? How do you know when he is beaten if he cannot be seen? How do you convince others that your unseen enemy exists and you are not simply beating the air? I must honestly admit that I do not know the answers to these questions. But I can also honestly admit that I am searching.

I believe I am on the right track to finding the answers simply by doing this trip. I have been made aware of this issue and I am therefore challenged to do my part in fighting it. My role may look different than the role others are called to play and it may change over time, but it will never lose its importance. I think we so often look at an issue of this magnitude and assume that the solution will be as huge as the problem. But I don’t think that is usually the case. We think we have to do so many things to fix the problem and we end up over-thinking it all and making it much more complicated than it needs to be. I think a quote by Gil Bailie that I heard this last week is very fitting on this topic. “Do not ask what the world needs. Instead, ask what makes you come alive. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” I do not expect you to single handedly solve this issue. But I want you to be open.

What is your role in this fight? Not everyone can ride their bike. Not everyone can speak in front of a crowd of people. But I challenge you to challenge yourself. What can you do? It has been said that “the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” For me it began with the first push of my pedal. Where will it begin for you? What is the first step you can take to make a difference and to change the world?

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