Perhaps you’ve heard of cycling trips that tour a region or state – think of RAGBRAI, a ride that crosses Iowa, from the Missouri River to the Mississippi– or rides that challenge riders with mountain climbs (and descents!), like Ride the Rockies or the Triple Bypass.
If you’re looking for a great way to know a place, you can hardly do better than to pedal your way through it. Finding the right ride for you can also help you to better know yourself.
There are lots of bike rides, routes and tours that allow you to see parts of the U.S. Often you can make what you want of a ride – get up early and see how quickly you can cover the terrain or enjoy a more leisurely ride, stopping as sites catch your interest.
But one ride is on a mission from God.
Reverend Christopher Powell has been organizing cycling trips to the region in the U.S. where he grew up. Each summer, he has led a flock of parishioners for seven days of cycling each summer in the country’s northeast. Since being called as Rector of Christ Church Winnetka last year from St. James in Jackson, MS, Reverend Powell has continued the tradition. Members of both parishes rode in 2012 and 2013.
When Reverend Powell made the announcement at Christ Church, Phil Adams knew immediately he would give it a try. Not because he was an avid cyclist. But because he was up for a challenge. “You have to live outside your comfort zone. Life is pretty boring if you’re doing the same crap every day.”
At the time, Phil was taking himself out of his comfort zone by giving running a try. He and his family had signed up for the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition – Illinois’ Annual Walk/Run to Break the Silence. May 2013 was the event’s 16th year. Phil and his family ran to celebrate the life of his wife and to raise both funds and awareness for ovarian cancer research. It was Phil’s first 5k.
So why not try a bike trip? “Christopher is all about taking spiritual risks. I felt like, ‘I’d like to do this. I can take risks.’”
The route Phil would be attempting would be seven days, about 70 miles a day and include two or three mountain passes. “This was the first time I’ve ever done anything crazy like this. It’s the first time I’ve ever done a long mountain trip.”
The Butterfield & Robinson trips were very pleasant, but they have their own bicycles. What’s cool about this trip is that we were riding our own bikes. Everybody was more comfortable with what we were doing because we were on our own bikes.
Before Phil could head out on his own bike, though, he needed a bike of his own. He had an old bike – a 1973 Mercier with eight gears – sitting in his garage. Reverend Powell (and common sense) told Phil he would need more than eight gears for a ride like this, so the Reverend sent him to Higher Gear.
I hate to be stupid, but I didn’t know anything about this stuff. I needed nice quality equipment for this trip. Fredo and Beccy were great. As a customer, I was just delighted. They told me, ‘If it doesn’t work right for you, bring it back, and we’ll adjust it.’
Phil pointed out that a purchase of something like a bicycle requires a relationship of trust. “It’s what you want in a relationship. It really is a relationship.” He found just that in his relationship with Fredo and Beccy in our Wilmette shop.
Phil ended up on a Bianchi Vertigo 105. “It fit like a glove.” He rode it for two or three weeks, “just getting used to it,” then came back to the shop. “At that point, Fredo did a full fit. He changed the height of the handlebars, moved the seat and showed me how to sit correctly.”
Now that he had a bike, Phil got some rides under his belt. He laughs when he remembers his first ride on his new bike.
The first day I brought bike home, I went for a ride up Sheridan Rod. I go over a pothole and blow the tire. I thought, ‘I’ll see if I can do it,’ but I was having a bit of trouble. Everybody’s friendly; people asked if I needed help. Eventually a kid stops to try to help me, but ends up discharging my CO2 and leaves me stranded. What do I do? Walk the three and a half miles home? In bike shoes? So, I think to call the guy who drives me to the airport to pick me up. After a fifteen minute bike ride, we put my bike in his trunk and he drove me home.
After his first attempt, Phil got in more rides, “pedaling up and down Sheridan Road.” Concerned about training in Flatlandia for the mountain ranges he would be encountering, he was instructed to do ten consecutive hill repeats up the Tower Road hill. So he added that to his repertoire.
I got my bike around Memorial Day and trained regularly after that. But it was a cold and rainy spring. I got training in when I could. I wish I had had another eight weeks to prepare.
At the end of June, Phil’s bike and belongings were loaded inside a Penske truck that would carry equipment for the 22 members of the two congregations (16 from Winnetka; six from Jackson, MS) to Clifton Park, NY, where their adventure would begin.
Reverend Powell has mapped out a few different routes for this trip, alternating between them. For 2013, the group would follow a clockwise route northeast to Manchester, VT, north to Rutland, VT, east to Hanover, NH, south to Brattleboro, VT, back east to Williamstown, MA and further east to end up back in Clifton Park, NY.
And Reverend Powell had every detail of the trip covered. The route took them from one Episcopal Church to the next. After a day of riding, they would set up in a church for the evening, prepare their dinner, share community time over a meal and “adult beverages” and then collapse for the night.
The Penske truck carried everyone’s sleeping gear, a portable shower (a hot shower is most welcome after a hard day’s ride) and even a portable washing machine to keep everyone’s clothing fresh. A bonus about setting up camp in a church is that churches tend to have really good kitchens.
The evenings were a special time for the group. First they would divvy up chores, sharing the burden of shopping for their meal, washing up and preparing dinner. “Everybody took turns. It was part of the spiritual journey. Everybody contributed. Everybody worked it out according to what was best for them.”
And, with that attitude of sharing responsibilities, things just worked themselves out. For example, people took turns driving each of the two vehicles, the Penske truck and the SAG wagon. One guy developed a back problem, so he took over driving for a while. “A journey like this helps you repurpose yourself – in the sense of community, taking care of each other and serving other people.”
While everybody takes care of each other, in the long run, you’re still out there on your own. You’re pedaling. You’re doing what it takes to keep up. Testing your limits. Without being stupid. This is not about being in a race. This is about self-actualization.
After dinner, over drinks, the group would discuss the “spiritual aspects of the trip that occurred over the day.” One day, for example, the group experienced their own version of “the lost sheep,” when one of the riders missed a turn. “It was interesting to learn what people’s thoughts were as we moved along. It’s what made this cycling trip different than a typical one. This trip was church-based.”
Enjoying the ride were quite a range of riders. According to Phil, there were several women triathletes who are “phenomenally fast.” At the other end of the spectrum, Phil describes himself as “a rookie cyclist.”
With cycling there’s a bit of a learning curve. It took me about four or five days to figure out how to pace myself for this trip. I didn’t even know how to shift gears going up and down mountains. After three or four days, I finally figured out the shifting. My road speed picked up three or four miles per hour once I knew what I was doing.
I also grew more comfortable with descending. The first time going downhill, I was doing 20 miles per hour and hanging on for dear life. By the end, I was comfortably going down at 30 miles per hour.
Another detail that Reverend Powell arranged was to start cyclists off each morning in two groups – so that they would all meet up at a rendezvous point for lunch at about the same time. Food was certainly part of the journey. “I was too tired to concentrate on anything except the next pedal stroke and what I was going to eat next.”
Speaking of food, “Somebody figured we were eating 5,000 Calories a day. We were hungry all the time. We were just burning the calories like crazy. In that respect, it was completely healthy. You can never get fat on a bike trip!”
Phil learned that the trip was what he made it. “If it got to be hard, I could get off and get in the wagon. Nobody’s expecting you to do anything except enjoy yourself. It’s about riding. It’s not a race.”
The trip was about going the pace you can go. If I was last – which I was frequently – our cycling coach would back it up or another rider would back it up. He was there with me most of the time. We would ride together. Sometimes we would just enjoy the ride, other times we would talk.
The whole point of it was the doing it. I wasn’t interested in doing it first. I didn’t care if I was first or last. I was interested in the scenery. I own a farm. I could have done a crop report every night.
“It’s not a race. It’s just people who want to do this sort of thing.” And Phil admits, it’s not for everyone. “This has got to be a sort of a self-selecting type of thing. Convincing people to do this is never going to work.”
There are all kinds of vacations out there. The idea of doing something athletic and spiritually fulfilling in a community of people is a vacation to me. For me, it’s just a matter of getting out of comfort zone, trying things I’ve never tried before.
For this trip, we got a bunch of people – people with common interests – together from pretty far apart communities. We pushed ourselves to do something some of us have never done before, or to do it better than we have done it before. We tested our ability to achieve things new to us.
In all, in their seven days of riding, the group’s efforts covered approximately 385 miles and 20,000 feet of climbing. “It was hard, but not impossible. It was well worth doing. And doing again every day.”
Phil readily admits: “I’d be happy to do it again. I’ll definitely do again. It was too much fun. It was a blast!”
Phil’s advice for anyone attempting an endurance ride of any sort:
You’ve got to have the right equipment. You have to be prepared enough to make it worthwhile in whatever way you’re going to make it worthwhile. Go see Fredo and get a bike that fits you. Then go out and ride.
As their jerseys stated, the cycling trip was certainly “Harder than watching TV,” but, as Phil learned, it was also more rewarding.
Special thanks to Bob Lind, a Christ Church parishioner who also rode this year, for capturing moments from the trip in these beautiful photos.
For more information on ovarian cancer, visit the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition.