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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The Katy Trail

September 11-12, Days 71-72 of The HopeLine Tour of 2014

Debbie bundled upIt felt more like mid-October in New England than what we expected of mid-September in Missouri. Regardless, we bundled up and hit the Katy Trail.

Deb entering tunnel on Katy TrailWhat a beautiful two days of biking. If you’ve never heard of it, the Katy Trail State Park is the longest developed rail trail in the country. It is an amazing system that runs from Clinton, Missouri, to Machens, Missouri, a distance of 237 miles. Check out www.katytrailstatepark.com if you are looking for a new adventure. We met a few people who were riding the trail during their vacation, either camping or staying at B&B’s near the trail. In addition to the beauty, there is much history documented on placards along the route. There’s no car traffic, and very little bicycle or pedestrian traffic, either. You could say Tim and I had most stretches to ourselves.

Deer on the Katy TrailThe big entertainment on the trail was the deer that would pop out from the woods and bounce along. Once they had baited us, they would gracefully leap across fences and into the adjacent brush or fields. Here is a great shot by Tim, who was right next to the deer! The bunnies hopping around, the cardinals flying and chirping, and the sound of the Missouri River current made for an engaging ride. We traveled slower compared to riding on pavement, but the time went quickly as we logged 60 miles one day and 80 the next. The terrain was so flat that the cycling was easy on the body parts.

With the September sun now setting earlier, we need to hit the road earlier in the morning. We didn’t finish biking Friday night until after 9pm. Thank goodness for headlamps. We biked on the trail in the pitch dark. I happened to notice (while it was getting dark) that the Katy Trail is open from sunrise to sunset. We haven’t figured out who enforces this law. And we didn’t intend to break the law, but felt safer on the trail than on the road at that hour. It confirmed, once again, that we are truly on a bicycle adventure!

I cannot imagine how Lewis and Clark crossed the Missouri River in olden times, when the wilderness flourished and without the aid of modern technology. Our crossings were quite different:

  • Capitol in Jefferson City MissouriOn Thursday, we crossed the Missouri River in Jefferson City (the capital of Missouri). We arrived in Jefferson City to a pedestrian and bike path over the Missouri River. What engineering! We cycled up a ramp that placed us on what looked like a metal maze, which raised us four or five “flights” from the ground. This metal maze functioned like a spiral parking garage ramp, and then dumped us out onto our own enclosure attached to the side of the bridge. We were protected from the fast-moving cars. It was cool looking down into the river, but we were relieved to get across safely and quickly.
  • On Friday night, we crossed the Missouri into Washington, Missouri, in the pitch dark. We rode with headlamps from Marthasville along the Katy Trail. Once we hit the road to Washington, the Friday night traffic was heavy. There were no metal mazes to go through, but the traffic and the unfamiliar road were scary. Thank goodness for kind drivers who saw our wide loads, our flashing lights, and our reflective panniers, and let us cross the shoulderless, two-lane bridge with ease. Biking at night is not our desire, but sometimes you just have to do what you have to do. And we were happy to arrive in a town with a bike shop that we will visit tomorrow morning.

We’re off the Katy Trail now and back onto Missouri’s rolling hills. We expect the hills to get bigger as we head south toward the Ozarks. We expect to leave Missouri in a few days.

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Bike Shop Angel

September 9, Day 69 of TheHopeLine Tour of 2014

Worn brakes can be a problem on a bicycle when riding up and down hill after hill in Missouri, or anywhere for that matter. And we have shared in the past that neither of us are bicycle mechanics. We are in search of a bicycle shop for any issue that goes beyond a flat tire. It is humbling to admit that. As much as we both love bicycling, we have never invested much time in the actual mechanics of bike maintenance.

So on our day off yesterday, I called a bike shop in Boonville, Missouri, identified on our maps as the closest shop even though it was 75 miles away. Three times I called, as we were getting nervous about Tim’s brakes. With rain in the forecast, the spent brake shoes would not last. The shop never called me back.

Nevertheless, we ventured forth from Higginsville this morning, still anticipating a stop at the next bike shop 75 miles down the road in Boonville. I told Tim simply not to brake. That would save his brakes. I have never had to replace my brake pads on the road because I seldom engage them. It makes for exciting riding!

I called the shop owner’s personal line today since both numbers were listed on our Adventure Cycling map. Sadly, I learned of his death from a family member, and I felt horrible for placing four phone calls in less than 24 hours. He had run his shop well into his 80s before succumbing to illness in January.

Marshall Missouri PDWe enjoyed this morning’s ride. After a day off on Monday and a good breakfast this morning, we were energized. We rode to Marshall in record time. Marshall is a college town with a population of over 12,000, so there was a slim possibility of a bike shop there even though none was listed on the map. It is amazing how many bike shops have shut their doors, a sad reflection of our under-exercised society. Tim pulled into the police station to see if there was a bike shop, as I snuck into a C-store to get a Krispy Crème donut. Yum!

Jim the Wonder DogMuch to our surprise, a bicycle shop had just opened in April and it was right on our route in the center of town! Back from the Past Bicycles was paired with the town’s visitor center. Next to the shop was an unusual garden honoring an amazing canine. Jim the Wonder Dog has a whole garden dedicated to him. Check out this link, all you dog lovers: http://www.jimthewonderdog.org.

Back from the Past BicyclesOne thing not in the forecast for the day was a bridge knocked out on our route. But upon arriving at the heaven-sent bicycle shop, Tom, the owner, informed us of the bridge reconstruction. This would present a huge problem as there was seemingly no way around the river without traveling many extra miles. Since we were unfamiliar with the roads, but for what our narrow-routed bicycle maps told us, we had no idea how to proceed. Thankfully, the bike shop stop would become more than just a time to fix the brakes. Tom, bike shop owner and mechanic, and now turned bike shop angel, called his friend to get directions on how best to reroute us into Boonville, where we would find shelter from the impending storm and start on the Katy Trail the following day.

Debbie cycling Route 41 in MissouriAfter much discussion, and a few calls to consult with one of Adventure Cycling Association’s map gurus (who was unaware of the bridge outage and Tom’s bike shop), we set out for Blackwater, Missouri. We rolled into town just as the only store there, Bucksnort Trading Company, was closing. Thankfully, they had some cold drinks next door at the alcohol-free saloon and some great company. Gerald and Connie Cunningham proved that Missourians are friendly and generous with their time. They stayed past hours to chat with us. Both Blackwater and Arrow Rock, a town we also passed through today, have much history to be proud of.

Sunset in Boonville MissouriAs we wound down our 78-mile day, daylight was fading and a beautiful sunset was a wonderful reflection on a day well spent. Meeting kind people, enjoying God’s creation, and being grateful for safety and strength on the road will give us a peaceful sleep, despite the predicted thunderstorms that are coming tonight.

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