Last day hardest, but Elk River woman finishes 3,000-mile bike ride; week 9

by Kelsey Bjorkman

Special to the Star News


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 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, we were predominantly 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, where you knew when you reached the top you had a downhill to look forward to, in the Appalachians you also have 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 made 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 20 mph or so. I kept it at about 23 to 25 as much as I

Kelsey Bjorkman at the top of one of the Appalachian peaks, about to enjoy the ride down

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 percent grade we had climbed. 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 okay 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 when God is teaching us something that is just for 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. In these times, 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 are 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 just hours from now I will be biking through them all. I wish I could adequately describe in words what I am feeling, but I cannot even begin to express it. This is a city 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 that I have heard so much about it seems I know it already.”

Later from my journal 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, flew in 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.


Karl Feller photographs the picture of the Just+Hope Northern Tour girls on the billboard of American Eagle in Time Square

“We got to bike through the city and see so much today. Harlem was nondescript. Central Park was amazingly beautiful. It is 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

L to R Karl Feller, Dustin Burkhart, Rebecca Cunningham, Jeramy Wheeler, Kelsey Bjorkman, Riley Johnson, Jessica Mahoney, Tim Shaw, and Samantha Gonzalez at the Atlantic Ocean on Rockaway Beach in Breezy Point, New York.

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, 3,196 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 an overload of information, emotions, memories, experiences, stories, lessons and everything from these last two months, that I am unable to know how 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 or 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 and some to fly to various other home states. We will never all be together in a place like this again. We will never get to do what we have done with these same people again.

Kelsey Bjorkman at the final destination on the Atlantic beach in New York

“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 during our journey together. I don’t know how I will fill my time When I wake up in the morning and I’m not biking. But I will keep moving forward, keep looking for the next God-adventure and keep living life to the fullest.

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