New Beginnings across the Mississippi

September 17, Day 77 of TheHopeLine Tour of 2014

Crossing the Mississippi

Leaving the Mississippi River behindToday was brimming with new beginnings. Early in the day, we cycled into downtown Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and crossed the Mississippi River, which acts as an east-west divider to those who travel by latitude. We were reminded of the new beginning immediately upon entering Illinois. The rolling hills were replaced by a large, flat floodplain with bountiful crops preparing for harvest. Even after several miles in our new state, we could look back and see the bridge that spans the Mississippi, which acted as a backdrop for the expansive fields.

Illinois Soybean Field with Bridge on HorizonThe Mississippi River is a big deal on a bicycle tour, but an even bigger deal in our nation’s commercial history. We talked about it in Sioux City, Iowa, with a farming couple who shipped their products to market down the river. How many businesses use this body of water to ship and receive goods? We followed the Missouri River, from its origins in Montana, for weeks. It dumps into the mighty Mississippi before its waters spill into the Gulf of Mexico. The Mississippi and its tributaries impact so many lives, from those who plant crops on its floodplains—or consume them—to those who live in harm’s way of its rising waters.

Entering IllinoisThere’s a psychological effect to our crossing. We’re now heading home. We’re on our side of the country now. The Wild West is long gone, and we’re returning to more familiar ground. It changes our perspective.

Revived by a Passionate Visitor

In an Illinois town just this side of the River, a young man came into the restaurant where Debbie and I were eating lunch, just as we were wrapping up.

“Do you have time to talk?” he asked.

“Sure!” I said. He had apparently sought us out in the restaurant after seeing our bicycles outside labeled with “TheHopeLine” signs.

He proceeded to ask me about our tour and about TheHopeLine. He was passionate about adventure as well as his Christian faith. TheHopeLine intrigued him because he was converted to Christianity after a life of drug abuse and other bad decisions. It took no time, and little explanation, for him to totally understand what TheHopeLine is designed to do and why it is effective.

His exuberance fueled mine. It reminded me of our purpose on this bicycle tour. Many people with whom we share our mission listen politely. They may make supportive comments or they may just listen and keep their thoughts to themselves. Some may simply need time to process and investigate what we’ve represented. But they don’t exude the type of passion this gentleman showed. His attitude renewed my outlook on why we are sharing about TheHopeLine on this tour.

God reminded me, yet again, that He has placed certain people in our path. This encourages me to keep “sowing the seed.” And it convinces me that our volunteer efforts are not in vain. This new beginning was right on time. When we returned to the road after lunch, it seemed we were cycling faster with less effort! We had just been jumpstarted.

New Beginnings in Life

Such is the case with new beginnings in life. We all need them from time to time, if for no other reason than to renew our perspective and refresh our approach. They may come in the form of a new hobby, a new job, a new home, a new marital status, a new locale, perhaps even a new idea, or maybe just a resolve to make a needed change. These changes can often accelerate personal growth or jumpstart us when we are stuck. Welcome them when they come. Better yet, pursue them with reckless abandon.

Some who contact TheHopeLine are due for a new beginning. It’s why they reach out in the first place. Some are eager to embrace it, while others haven’t yet mustered the courage to take the plunge. Those who are desperate enough will often grab hold of the new beginning, which usually means deciding to change course. They may realize that a destructive habit needs to go. Perhaps they need a relationship change. Some may even realize they need a new spiritual beginning. Whatever the case, when new beginnings come to those who reach out to TheHopeLine, they’ll be traveling toward a predetermined destination, just like us!

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What are You Made for?

September 16, Day 76 of TheHopeLine Tour of 2014

A few weeks ago, after I exuberantly exclaimed how much I love this bike tour, Tim looked at me and said, “We were made for this.” That statement has stayed with me ever since. Tim is like E.F. Hutton. When he talks, people listen…probably because he is very thoughtful before he opens his mouth. I love that about him. There is nothing wiser than a person who thinks before they speak, or who says something that really sticks with you.

View from atop Perry TowerToday was one of those days that I was made for. The weather was cool, the sun peeked out from the clouds, the hills were rolling, and the scenery was beautiful. Mile after mile, I felt my muscles burn and the fresh air in my lungs. I was made for this. Not only did we get a good dose of bicycling, we climbed up and down eight flights of stairs to the top of a fire tower to catch a breathtaking view of the vast Missouri landscape. It was a picture perfect day. And after a rest day and much sleep last night, I was feeling my energetic self again.

It is amazing how difficult this bike tour has been and how long we have been gone. Since we departed from the Oregon coast on July 3, I have had a cortisone shot in my knee, I have burned my foot with boiling water while camping, and I was diagnosed with chronic compartment syndrome, keeping me off the bike for two weeks.

Deb was made for this!Nevertheless, I was made for this. And so we carry on. My knee, foot, and leg have all healed. Maybe some people are thinking I should have my head examined next to determine what keeps me going after all those issues on the road. Once again, I think: I was made for this. Just because we have had a few bumps in the road along the way, doesn’t necessarily mean we should stop and give up.

If you are made for something, you naturally want to venture forward in that made-for-you task that you love. Even when hardships come, you persevere through them because that is just part of the process. Have you ever thought: What am I made for? It is a pertinent question to ponder because we all have unique gifts and desires. Once you’ve discovered those, and devote your time to them, you’ll experience deep joy and fulfillment as you live out a facet of God’s calling on your life.

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Choose Faith not Fear

September 16, Day 76 of TheHopeLine Tour of 2014

Ribbon roadOn Sunday, we couldn’t wait to get away from the canned bicycle maps. They were sending us farther into Ozark country, with its beauty, but also with its steep hills and lack of services. We’d had enough of that. Fast forward to today: now what? How do we get to Cape Girardeau and back on the maps?

Downhill DebWe began our route meandering under overcast skies. It was another day for lettered routes. If a route in Missouri is denoted with one letter (A), or a double letter (AA), it is a paved road with no shoulder and often light traffic. They call them “highways” (e.g., AA Highway), and you can count on plenty of rolling hills, if not curves thrown in for good measure. Such was the case today.

After 60-odd miles, we had arrived at Jackson, a sizeable suburb of Cape Girardeau. And it was close to the evening rush hour. We needed to dispense of the shoulderless lettered highways. I asked a lady outside a local store for advice.

“How many miles have you guys gone?” she asked.

“3,000! We started in Oregon.” I replied.

“Why would anyone do such a thing? I’m active and I like exercise, but I’ll do it at the gym. Aren’t you concerned about people texting while they drive?” She proceeded to inform us that her husband, who spent eight years in the legislature, was unable to get a bill passed to regulate cellphone use by Missouri drivers.

“Does this road have any shoulders on it? Is it okay to bicycle on?” I asked, while pointing to the adjacent Kings Highway, which had begun filling up with cars.

“You’re going to bicycle on THAT road?” she asked.

Eventually, we sorted out that the Kings Highway would be our safest route into Cape Girardeau. We did so without explaining to the lady that we had bicycled through a detour on an Interstate in Montana on the left-hand, three-foot shoulder into oncoming 65-mph traffic. It’s not that we weren’t concerned about the traffic and narrow shoulder on Kings Highway; it’s just that we’ve seen far worse. You assess the situation, collaboratively make your best judgment call, exercise caution, and then leave the rest up to the Lord. Her tolerance for this type of risk, or her choice of avoiding it, was clearly much different from our approach.

Tim in SE MissouriIt seems we need to use the same decision-making model with any issues that we face in life. If we avoid all risk, where is the adventure…or the faith, for that matter? Recognizing that many things are beyond our control and placing our trust in a God who loves us and has a plan for our lives seems like the best approach to me. Wouldn’t you agree? If we let our fears rule us, we’ll never reach our full potential. So choose faith not fear.

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Reaching a Milestone: 3,000!

September 14, Day 74 of TheHopeLine Tour of 2014

Toughest Road

CliffhangerToday, we faced the toughest road we have faced for weeks. Route 185 from Sullivan to Potosi, on the edge of the Ozark region, lived up to its billing. A local named Carl at Dairy Queen in Sullivan had briefed us on its dangerous elements the prior day and spared us from a headlamp ride on a perilously unshouldered road with poor sight lines and absolutely no services. This ride also came with a backwoods feel to it, heavily forested for miles. We’ve found that most locals don’t translate from auto travel to bicycle travel very well. However, Carl certainly knew what he was talking about and translated flawlessly. Yet, until we cycled the road ourselves, we couldn’t fully appreciate his cautions.

Tim on Route 185 hillsAfter 35 miles on it today, we were happy to say we’d made it through unscathed. Not only were there no shoulders on this road, but there were also certain stretches where there was no room to get off the road without crashing the bike into a gully or the woods. Motorists were thoughtful and cautious when they spotted our wide loads and slow progress up the steep hills. Most were gracious, giving us plenty of space and time to make our way up the hills before they swerved into the other lane to avoid any oncoming traffic while passing us.

Debbie facing a long climbWe had also climbed most of the 4,000 feet of elevation gain achieved for the entire day. One killer hill was so steep that I was wondering whether I would need to dismount the bike and walk it. I must admit, we rather enjoyed some of the descents. This stretch had some rollers that we were able to climb without too much effort due to the pitch of the preceding hill’s descent. Many others, of course, did not! Although we had to be on our guard due to the narrow road, we also had fun. Once we had cleared the more deeply forested stretch, we were also treated to some beautiful views of the neighboring countryside from atop the hills.

Did you see what I saw?

We thought we had broken free from serious encounters with canines after we departed from Potosi and the incredibly curvy, hilly, and heavily forested topography that preceded it. However, with Debbie leading the charge on flat Route 8 at a respectable speed of 16 mph, all of a sudden, out darted an animal on a mission. It raced across the road in no time flat, just in front of her, seemingly in pursuit of lunch at full speed. Thankfully, we weren’t on his menu.

“Did you see that?” Debbie asked.

“Yes,” I said, “it must have been one of those wild dogs.”

We’d heard wild dogs frequent the Ozarks and eastern Kentucky and harass unsuspecting cyclists who find themselves led into the dogs’ habitat as their Adventure Cycling maps lead them through their adventure. Yet, the more I thought about it, the behavior of this animal seemed suspicious. First, it wasn’t traveling in a pack as we’ve been told wild dogs tend to do. Second, it was totally unfazed by its surroundings and seemed completely focused on something well ahead of it. The chase was on, and it wasn’t to be interrupted by 55 mph vehicles or much slower, manually powered contraptions. We couldn’t figure out what it was, but we felt confident it came with sharp teeth and a vicious growl.

Our sighting led me to the Internet. Does Missouri have wolves? For that matter, do they have bears or cats? I was surprised to learn that wolves have been sighted in this state, as have mountain lions and black bears. Regarding wolves, there is debate as to how they got here. The so-called experts think they wandered down from “nearby states like Minnesota, Wisconsin, or Michigan.” I have news for the experts. Those states aren’t really nearby. There are some pretty big states in between, full of corn fields and little forest cover.

Regardless of how they got here, wolves are here. Did we see a wolf on the hunt? Who knows! Unfortunately, the helmet cam wasn’t running. Otherwise, we’d really have had a story.

Three Thousand Miles

Amid all of the climbing and caution regarding the trailing traffic and our wildlife sighting, we almost lost sight of an important milestone. Today, we climbed over the 3,000-mile threshold. What can you get from cycling 3,000 miles? You can get some tired and sore body parts. You can also see some things you never knew existed. You’ll have had plenty of opportunity to share an important mission with some strangers. And you can discover for yourself that you can do more than you had ever thought or imagined, with God’s help, of course. And you’ll also carry with you some memories of a lifetime.

Reaching a milestone like this is satisfying, but there is still much work to be done. We estimate that we’re two-thirds of the way through our travel journey, yet only 15% of the way to our fundraising destination. Many teens and young adults will benefit from your financial support of TheHopeLine. Isn’t the 3,000-mile mark a good time to make your pledge, if you have not already done so? You can pledge by clicking this link. Or, you can click here to find out why we think TheHopeLine is worthy of your support.


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Return to Civilization

September 13, Day 73 of TheHopeLine Tour of 2014

Something happened today. The character of our tour changed, and we welcomed it.

After our dark ride off the Katy Trail and over the Missouri River last night, we were sluggish on short sleep this morning. We cycled to our intended morning stop: a bike shop on the other side of town. My rear tire was again in need of replacement. When you carry a lot of weight on a touring bicycle, the rear tire takes a beating, particularly when you are also traveling on unpaved surfaces.

Revolution CyclesAlex at Revolution Cycles knows customer service. And he knows how to engage the customer with appropriate and friendly banter. He also understands how to tune a bicycle. In short order, he slapped on a new rear tire, replaced the chain on both bicycles, and even restored my indexed shifting, which other bicycle shops failed to do. We were impressed. That was a great way to start the day.

Subway was right around the corner, so we had breakfast there. A young man named Michael came up to our table and inquired about our trip. He is a bicyclist as well and has done some touring based out of his home in Washington, Missouri. He knew well some of the routes that we were traveling and shared his insights. He recommended we have Revolution Bicycles check out our bikes! When we told him that we’d just been there, he said the owner was like a second father to him. We also found out that Alex was the owner’s son.

Soon, we left lunch and made an impromptu visit to a church we had passed near the bicycle shop. A youth leader was in the office preparing for a big day. We shared about TheHopeLine, left some material for him, and headed for our next stop.

We had some interesting encounters outside the grocery store. Two women were raffling off a quilt to benefit a small church. They intercepted Debbie at the door and queried her about our journey. When I came by after Debbie had made her way into the store, we shared some more conversation. I described TheHopeLine to them and they really “got it.” We find some people readily understand the mission of TheHopeLine, while others simply don’t get it. Later, one of the women, who’d had some personal brushes with suicide, enthusiastically pledged some support. She described how heroin addiction had become a major problem with the area’s youth.

Meanwhile, one of the store’s stock clerks passed me by again. He’d been in and out of the store, attending to customers’ needs in the parking lot. Eventually, he brought one of his fellow clerks out to see our loaded bicycles and to chat further. When I asked them whether any of their peers struggled with suicidal thoughts, they went silent. Soon, however, one of them cited a few cases of youth suicide in nearby schools. The other shared some stories, too, about relatives who had killed themselves. Their initial silence made me wonder whether suicide was a topic that no one talked about or whether suicide had become so commonplace to these youth that the question may have seemed irrelevant to them. One of the youth commented that holidays are always different now because he doesn’t see his cousin at them anymore. A person’s absence is a constant reminder to those he leaves behind after he takes his own life.

US Route 66Finally, we hit the road, which included a ride down US Route 66. However, there was much to ponder. Cycling would take a back seat today. In the past several days, we were bound by the confines of the Katy Trail. Now, there were people around, and friendly ones at that! There was also traffic around, as route 47 was filled with cars on this Saturday afternoon. We had begun to take Katy’s peacefulness for granted.

After 30 miles, we were at a crossroads. We would need to cycle another 30-plus miles, with no services in between, to make it to evening accommodations. After asking a local named Carl at the Dairy Queen about the roads, he convinced us to stay put and tackle the hilly and windy road deeper into the Ozark region with fresh legs tomorrow morning.

We rolled a couple more miles to a budget motel and called it a day. The rest will do us good. We had yet another meaningful discussion with the motel attendant about TheHopeLine. Her son is a pastor and understands these youth issues well. Today was more about people contact. Our return to civilization had spawned several strong connections with people. We needed that. Communicating with people is really what TheHopeLine is all about.

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