Approaching Appalachians are last obstacle on Kelsey Bjorkman’s 3,000-mile bike ride; week 8

by Kelsey Bjorkman

Special to the Star News

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 5:30 a.m. in an attempt to get on the road early, but didn’t get on the road until 8 a.m., 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, our host church, we had beautiful blue skies in front of us. However, you could feel the heaviness and humidity of a coming storm in the air. Behind us were dark, ominous storm clouds. We were trying to beat them to

From left: Riley Johnson, Rebecca Cunningham, Jessica Mahoney, Jeramy Wheeler trying to out-ride the storm behind them in Chicago

‘the bean’ in downtown 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 over. As we were walking our bikes across the parking lot we heard the wall of rain coming behind us and sprinted under an awning to take cover. We stood in awe as the sky that had been crystal clear two minutes earlier became dark and the wind whipped by at 60 mph and bent the trees over. 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.

Once the storm passed, we headed down town to see ‘the bean’ and the Buckingham Fountain, 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.

About 2 p.m. and 40 miles into our day we got a phone call from Karl, who was driving the van that day. He had been going through a toll booth when suddenly the ‘Ghost Rider,’ as we have named the van, inexplicably died. He was getting it towed so we were not going to be supported 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 4 p.m. by the time we found a Subway to stop at 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

Jeramy Wheeler hides under the awning at Walgreens in Chicago

were limited to only two CO² cartridges to fill up any flats we got. We did end up getting more flats, three of them I think, and by the grace of God managed all right with what we had.

We got a call from Karl at about 5:30 p.m. 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 6 p.m. 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 23 mph 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 to 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, and 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 that color, and the countryside was beautiful. Our God is a God of details; of little things that are 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 of Plymouth. But the ride was certainly worth it all.

Getting ready to start a new day.

Once again, this week has been filled with people and their stories. In Fort Wayne, Indiana we met Ken, a linguist, artist and a fellow cyclist. He and his family were missionaries in the Congo in 1988 but were evacuated in 1992 when 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. Would you be willing to spend 22 years of your life working and have no one get saved? That would be tough. But you don’t know that two generations down the road it will touch someone.”

It was thought provoking and challenging 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 United States 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 she 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 very positive and 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 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 full time as a copier salesperson. Her career doesn’t sound very glamorous. 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,” she said.

Tiffany’s attitude made me think of Don, a janitor at the church in Fort Wayne, 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. 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-mile bike rides, ‘pedaling’ with his hands. Jay, who rode with us from Du Pere, Wisconsin, to Chicago, was in a downhill skiing accident years ago. He broke multiple bones, flatlined in the helicopter on the way to the hospital, 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 now trains people who think they can’t run, 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, 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. 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

The foothills of the Appalachians, a foretaste of the challenge to come in the next week

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, you know a valley lies between each one, 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. We get 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 yet 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 who are able to push us on and offer a word of encouragement and 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 negative circumstances we’re all facing. 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

Jeramy Wheeler and Kelsey Bjorkman enjoying their day off in Pittsburgh

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 and reminded that it is not about us and that we cannot do it on our own. We need to come to a place where we 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 in 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 apply anymore. We will. We have. We are.


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