Leaving the Midwest

October 7-8, Days 97-98 of TheHopeLine Tour of 2014

We’ve been in the Midwest for roughly two months, thanks in part to our extended stay in Sioux City, Iowa, while recovering from an injury and a bicycle route designed for geographic diversity and to increase fundraising opportunities for TheHopeLine. Well, today, we officially entered the northeast with our entry into our 14th state, Pennsylvania.

Entering PALeaving the Midwest did come with a unique geographic feature. How many states can you enter by bicycling over a lake? The Pymatuning Reservoir, the largest manmade lake in Pennsylvania, straddles the border of Ohio and Pennsylvania. Entering Pennsylvania gave us renewed confidence that we would indeed make it home from this long tour. We can do this!

On our first day in the state, we cycled to Meadville and booked a room early. There aren’t many accommodations for miles beyond this city, and the weather was again cold with a strong possibility of showers. Rather than a repeat performance of yesterday’s dousing, we opted for a drier end to the day. We also need to catch up on some rest, as we seem to need more of it these days.

Climbing into Meadville PAWe avoided one detour of a bridge outage on US Route 6, but ran into another one. Locals tipped us off regarding a shortcut that improved mightily upon the official detour rerouting. It saved us several miles. However, it also put us on track for a monster hill outside of Meadville. It didn’t matter. There are no more monster hills at this juncture in our tour. No matter the size or the grade, we can handle them. This one was long and straight, with four lanes of traffic along for the ride. We dispatched of it systematically while anticipating an early end to the day.

Pennsylvania PotatoesPennsylvania feels like familiar ground. On our second day here, we still saw corn and soybeans, but we also saw a potato field! This brought me back to the days of my youth, picking potatoes in Houlton, Maine. I had to get off the bike to believe my eyes. I was indeed looking at a potato field.

I reminded Debbie of the potato-picking lifestyle, which I’d brought up when cooler weather struck us in Ohio. We’d arise at 4:30 in the morning to a hearty breakfast in preparation for a long day in the field. Even before sunrise, the farmer’s pickup, which was designed for transporting pickers to and from the field, swung through town to pick us up. This vehicle usually contained a wooden structure with a bench seat lining its three inner walls to house more pickers than you’d imagine could fit in. Some would ride on the rear bumper.

Silos and CloudsThe attire we now wore was so similar to the approach back then. We layered our clothing for picking potatoes. Since the near-frost temperatures from the morning would give way to warm afternoons, the layers would come off one-by-one until the final row of the day was dug. The crisp autumn air of potato harvest has been in full abundance on our tour of late.

This video will give you a feel for the road conditions as we left Meadville today. Check out the sky!

A strong tailwind from the west whisked us along US Route 6. The road has some truck traffic on it, yet it also has a reasonable shoulder for bicyclists. Indeed, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania deemed it appropriate for bicycles and designated it as “Bike Route Y.” Late in the afternoon, we approached Warren, an industrial town on the banks of the Allegheny River.

We’d bridged a long gap between services on a road for which we lacked good intelligence. It was satisfying. A few more days like this one, and the end would soon be in sight.

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An Abrupt End (cont.): Beauty from Ashes

October 12, Day 102 of TheHopeLine Tour of 2014

Part II

(Click here for Part I of an Abrupt End)

At breakfast at McDonalds after church, it hit me. Tim had just explained that we probably had only seven or eight riding days left. This tour would soon be coming to an end. As much as I wanted to be home and as tired as I was, I was sad that the tour would soon be ending. I was so looking forward to the two days of rest just ahead to prepare us for the homestretch. With 4,336 miles to date, we are 90% of the way home. The shortest ride of our tour thus far, 20-25 miles, would get us to our rest days.

We headed toward Towanda, Pennsylvania. The beauty of northern Pennsylvania in the peak of foliage season was breathtaking. The day seemed warmer than the past week, when we wore 3-5 layers of clothing to ward off the morning chill.

The Accident

As I ascended a slight grade along a narrower portion of US Route 6, I grazed the guardrail with my right rear pannier. I then swerved left and straightened my bike, only to hit a loose rock on the shoulder with my front tire. Down I went, right into the travel lane. Thankfully, no cars were speeding up behind me, which gave me time to pick myself up and get out of the road. When I first moved my right arm, I could hear a crackling sound, which triggered a well of emotions. As bad as my arm hurt, there was another haunting feeling: was the remainder of our bicycling adventure in jeopardy?

Meanwhile, cars and trucks continued to speed by on the other side of the road. Eventually, one of those cars, as we discovered later, turned around and came back to check on us. It slowed down and the woman on the passenger’s side asked if I needed help. They continued down the road to turn around while Tim moved our bicycles to a wider portion of the road. The carful of would-be rescuers met us there.

When the husband and wife, named Gary and Amy, quickly got out of the car, I immediately felt a calm and peace come over me. Their countenances radiated joy and contentment. Gary said that they had just come from church and were on their way home to Canton. They had seen me fall and came back to see if we needed help. Somehow, I felt an instant connection amongst the four of us. The calm within me grew when Amy said, “Whatever you need, we’ll see that you get it.”

As our conversation unfolded, they seemed to know exactly what we needed, yet they respected our decision making while offering information about local services. The more time we spent with them, it also became apparent that they understood what we were feeling. I soon found out that they were both in education, so we would have much to talk about, as we would spend much of the rest of the day together.

Their four-passenger Subaru would not fit our bicycles and gear, so Gary immediately called their neighbor, Jeff, who was watching his son’s soccer game. Jeff arrived in no time with a clean and capable pickup truck to transport us to the hospital. He hopped out of his truck and joined Gary and his son, who picked up the bicycles, loaded panniers and all, like they were children’s tricycles and placed them in the back of the pickup.

To the Hospital

The hospital experience was a blessing. When we arrived at the emergency room at the Troy hospital, the security guard asked me to fill out a simple form before admitting me. With Tim by my side, a kind nurse attended to me within two minutes of arriving. Only one other person was being treated, so I saw the doctor soon. The radiologist who read the X-ray concurred with the doctor. I had chipped my radius. They put my arm in a cast and the doctor recommended that I see an orthopedic surgeon within a few days.

Unbeknownst to me, our Good Samaritans were outside, waiting for a couple of hours on a football Sunday, and they had called their pastor who had joined them. They had already placed us on their church’s prayer chain!

FootballSundayI came outside and saw them basking in the late afternoon sun. As I looked at the blue sky and the colorful trees displaying their autumn regalia on the nearby hills, I thought, This must be what heaven is like: surrounded by loving people in a beautiful setting.

I looked back and saw the other ER patient come out of the hospital with a sling on his arm. I approached him and said, “What is this? One size fits all treatment?” He had popped the tendon in his right arm while bowling. His parents asked what had happened to me. I shared that we were bicycling across the country raising money for TheHopeLine, and told them about our goal to raise $100,000 for this organization with the main focus of preventing suicide in young people. The woman’s eyes filled with tears as she told of her father’s suicide in 1974. Her husband whipped out a twenty-dollar bill to donate to TheHopeLine. It was another reminder of the generous hearts of so many Americans and that too many people have been permanently affected by the suicide of a loved one.

While I was in the ER, Amy had been busy checking on ways for us to return to Massachusetts in the most economical way. Calling airlines and rental car companies, she landed a one-way rental car in Williamsport, 45 minutes away. Gary and Amy would drive us there. How can this couple—both working full time, one with a school board meeting to prepare for and the other with a dissertation to write, and with three kids at home—drop everything for us on a Sunday? The sermon I had heard a couple of weeks ago came to mind. You can’t hurry and love at the same time! They were living out the sermon as they devoted their attention to our needs.

Heading Home

The pastor prayed for us before we departed to Gary and Amy’s house. Jeff drove us there to swap vehicles with them so that he could attend to matters at home. We were overwhelmed by the grace, kindness, and care of these strangers. With arrangements made for our trip back to Massachusetts, we headed to Williamsport to pick up the rental car.

CelebrationDinnerMy conversation with Amy on the way warmed my heart. I kept thanking her. With her wholesome smile looking me in the eye, she told me how pleased she was to be able to do this for us. Later, after a late-night meal with them in Williamsport, she told me that her daily prayer to the Lord is, “Bless me into usefulness.” Then she said, “He answered my prayer today through you.”

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An Abrupt End

October 12, 2014, Day 102 of TheHopeLine Tour of 2014

Part I

It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. A beautiful day, a visit to a church, and a short ride of 25 miles to a waiting motel room would bring us to a couple of rest days. We’d catch up on some loose ends, make some more pitches in support of TheHopeLine, and catapult into the final week or so of our tour and our arrival at the Atlantic Ocean.

However, we don’t get to write the script to our adventures, or to life for that matter. A few miles out of Troy, Pennsylvania, today, Debbie took a spill on her bicycle and chipped the radius bone near her elbow. When I looked up from a few hundred feet behind her to see her tumble, I wasn’t sure what had happened. Knowing Debbie, I expected her to pull herself up and continue on. She did the first part, but she knew a bone had been broken. And, naturally, the uncertainty of what that might mean for the rest of our trip immediately tugged at her emotions, and at mine.

Falls like this are common in bicycling. It could have happened anywhere, at any time, and it could have happened to me. Why it happened now, just a few hundred miles from the “finish line,” only God knows.

We pulled ourselves aside to regroup. When she felt extreme pain when trying to flex her arm, we were both concerned about her ability to ride for help. Soon, a vehicle came and a woman asked if we needed some help. Debbie didn’t hesitate with her response. “Yes!”

What was about to unfold would be among the most moving acts of kindness and understanding we’ve received in all of our miles of bicycle touring. Our Good Samaritans were about to dramatically change the complexion of what would be the final day of bicycling on TheHopeLine Tour.

Debbie in the ERAs we stood by stunned at what had happened, our Good Samaritan swat team of three mobilized, bringing our would-be crash landing to an ever-so-gentle transition back to ordinary life. They operated with the speed and efficiency of a skilled bike mechanic, the tenacity of Kentucky dogs in pursuit of bicycles, and the grace of dedicated Christ-followers. At day’s end, Debbie and I had to enumerate the incredible events in order to take it all in. Debbie will elaborate on the care and kindness of today’s angels and the awesome blessings we experienced in Part II. Later, we’ll fill in the as-yet-unreported highlights that led up to our final day of cycling. However, we wanted to share this latest news as soon as possible, because we know and appreciate that people are praying for us.

The past week or so, we’ve found ourselves cycling in the land of paradox, where we wanted to bring this long tour to a triumphant and fulfilling end, yet never wanting the experience itself to end. How can you wish away brand new days in new places with new faces, feeling the ever present touch of God’s hand on your journey? Yet, the physical and mental demands to be “on your game” every waking hour—and too many waking hours to contend with—take their toll. It’s been an intense tour, which augments both the reward and the challenge. We’ve loved it.

Beauty in PennsylvaniaWe couldn’t have picked a finer day to end our tour, nor finer people to end it with. When we walked out of the hospital emergency room with our fate sealed in the cast upon Debbie’s right arm, the beauty of the sun casting its spotlight on thousands of multi-colored trees on the Pennsylvania hills reminded us that all is still well. And with an overflow of love and care from our guardian angels, who had arrived on the scene too soon for the intended finale yet right on time, we felt the gentleness of God’s provision setting us at rest. This is a day we will never forget.

Debbie is feeling fine and her arm will heal in time. And despite the obvious disappointment at our abrupt end and not reaching our intended destination, we are overwhelmed with gratitude for the phenomenal experiences we’ve been privileged to share on TheHopeLine Tour. It has been a time of great blessing and, although the cycling has ended, the fundraising need not end. We are still far from our goal of raising $100,000 for TheHopeLine. If you have not yet pledged your support to TheHopeLine, won’t you please consider doing so now? Here’s a webpage that explains why we think it’s a good investment in the lives of young people. You can pledge online using this pledge form.

If you know others who would find it a blessing to donate to this worthy cause, please share this post with them today. Thank you.

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Click here for Part II.

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Rough and Rainy Riding

October 6, Day 96 of TheHopeLine Tour of 2014

What Happened to Customer Service?

Nothing like getting reprimanded as soon as you come downstairs in the morning! After breakfast, Tim was the first to arrive in the lobby with his bicycle when he was spoken to harshly about having it in the room, even though the night clerk allowed us to do so. Not only was the hotel clerk disgruntled with the bicycle situation, she was defensive when we mentioned that the shower curtain does not stay closed when showering, resulting in a very wet bathroom floor.

Isn’t it interesting, when you try to give people helpful feedback to HELP them, they get all snarky! It is a strange phenomenon that this blog post can’t possibly resolve. To put it simply, our Monday morning was not off to the best of starts…but I remember the advice I often put into practice, “You can start your day over at any time!” No need to ruin a gorgeous day with a woman lacking in the graces of customer service.

About That Gorgeous Day…

Tim in northeastern OhioThe weather report predicted a beautiful morning with showers coming in during the mid-afternoon hours. As much as we tried to leave Streetsboro early, errands and excessive bathroom stops prevented us from leaving before 10:30! We would only have a few hours before the rain rolls in.

On our Mom-to-Mom tour in 2012, we often got caught in rain while riding in Florida and up the Atlantic coast. I never minded it because it would cool us down from the 90-plus degrees we encountered.  But that was July and August. Today, we are talking October rain and cold! We had to bundle up and stay dry to prepare for rainy riding, not a comfortable combination.

Rural Ohio has limited accommodations (and gas stations with no bathrooms), so when we stopped at a port-a-potty, thankfully we met a man familiar with the area. He made a call to one of his friends and suggested a guest house in Kinsman, Ohio.

In order to expedite our travel, we skipped lunch and headed east to Kinsman. I called the owner of the guest house a few times and we kept missing each other’s calls. Thankfully, in the middle of the downpour, about three miles from the guest house, we connected and made a reservation. Off we went, in our layers of silk long johns, gloves, fleece tops, and now, waterproof pants and jackets. We still got soaked!

Arriving at a Dream Horse Dream House

Dream Horse Guesthouse signI remember on the phone, the proprietor of The Dream Horse Guest House thought that staying there would be a unique experience on our bike tour. I thought he was just talking about the accommodations! Not only was it unique, the hospitality that Allen and Catherine offered topped the charts. When we arrived, a fresh cup of coffee was made to warm me up (Tim doesn’t drink coffee) and they offered to dry our wet clothing if needed the next morning. The most amazing connection was that they were involved in youth ministry many years back and we quickly shared our mission and our fundraiser for TheHopeLine with them. They understand the need and the calling that we are so passionate about.

DSCN3109Allen and Catherine converted this old dairy barn into a very beautiful guesthouse indeed! Both are extremely gifted and talented in engineering, architecture, interior decorating, painting, and hospitality! Getting soaked in the rain, and chilled to the bone was a small price to pay for landing in such a wonderful place for the night. Check out: www.dreamhorseguesthouse.com and, if you find yourself traveling through Ohio and Pennsylvania, definitely stay there in Kinsman with these outstanding hosts!

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Passing a test

October 5, Day 95 of TheHopeLine Tour of 2014

Icebox

After two consecutive rest days, the weather had turned particularly cold. It almost felt like we skipped fall this year, with morning temps in the low 40s and feel-like readings in the 30s. It was a test. We know we can handle heat, but what about riding in cold weather? Frankly, the prospect had us intimidated, so today’s test was pivotal. With cooler weather ahead as we march deeper into fall, could we handle riding in the cold temperatures?

I can remember playing basketball outside in subzero weather as a kid…and without mittens or gloves. You couldn’t control the ball as well with those on. Then there were the many days of walking a mile to and from school in subzero weather…or blizzards. It was simply part of life in Houlton, Maine. And I didn’t mind it a bit.

Well, I no longer tolerate the cold as well. And losing some body weight on this bicycle trip seems to make me more susceptible to cold temperatures. Even my hot-blooded wife was a bit concerned about how we would adapt to the cooler temperatures. When you bicycle, you create wind on your exposed skin. That air flow translates to wind chill. If you’re cycling into a headwind, you’ve just increased the speed of the wind, and its chilling effect.

So, we didn’t sleep too well last night. For, we had been glued to the weather forecasts and were dreading the biting cold predicted for our early morning ride to church, and the afternoon ride in well below seasonable temperatures.

Prepping for the coldI was as determined not to get cold today as I am to finish this bicycle tour. I packed on six layers up top and four down bottom. With Debbie’s naturally warm tendencies, she got by with much less, although an impromptu visit to Century Cycles in Peninsula helped bail out her cold toes. She made a strategic purchase of a pair of shoe coverings from the bargain bin.

Outside of Century Cycles Peninsula OhioThese measures worked remarkably well. I even felt overheated at times. We felt liberated and justified to cycle to our hearts’ content even while the mercury struggled to touch 50 degrees in the “heat of the afternoon.” Today was a confidence booster. Passing a test is always a good feeling. We needn’t be intimidated by cold-weather riding any longer. The next test may come tomorrow when rain may be added to the mix.

Church

First Baptist Medina OhioOur arrival at First Baptist Church in Medina was most encouraging. The people were warm and engaging. In fact, it felt like they’d been waiting for us.

After explaining our mission, we were immediately directed to the youth pastor, who invited us to later share a brief plug for TheHopeLine to his senior high group. In the meantime, we attended a small group exploring the book of Philippians, where we were again invited to share our mission with the class. Our visit to the youth group exposed us to a guest speaker’s presentation about how God is moving in Pakistan. After the talk, the group heard our two-minute spiel. Debbie bailed me out when I blanked out on TheHopeLine’s 1-800-394-4673 phone number. She turned around so I could read the phone number on the back of her T-shirt. I love those T-shirts!

Another Milestone

It’s not often that you can celebrate a mileage milestone in a day when you cycle only 34 miles, but today was one of those days. We’ve now logged over 4,000 miles on TheHopeLine Tour of 2014. This milestone is particularly satisfying because it achieves a goal set at the start of our tour: to cycle over 4,000 miles. Now if we can log 800 more miles, we’ll really celebrate!

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