38th Annual Jaunt With Jim

Trip Start Jun 09, 2012
Trip End Jun 15, 2012

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Flag of United States  , North Dakota
Friday, June 15, 2012

This blog entry is a full report of my 2012 week-long bike ride in northern Wisconsin, and not a day-by-day story.  It is more about lessons and impressions than specific sites and details.  Before you read my blog entry, be sure to first read the section "About This Blog". 

Road Kill – Road Life

Road kill is abundant along the way when one cycles several hundred miles on highways and back county roads.  Fox, raccoons, skunks, birds, turtles, deer, squirrels, butterflies – I saw them all in their state of demise along the roadsides. Sometimes I biked around their decayed carcasses.

But even more abundant is road LIFE, especially if one chooses to look for the wonders unseen through a fast-moving car window.  Often I dismounted and set the kickstand of my bike to shimmy down a steep ditch and marvel at some tiny, hidden flower patch covered by tall grass.  When pushing aside the overgrowth, the tender, wild blooms were fully exposed to the sun's warmth and my appreciative acknowledgement of their delicate beauty.

Often I am too ensconced in day-to-day routines and miss some of God’s best creative work surrounding me.  I overlook certain people because of their outward appearance, their lifestyles incongruent with mine, their beliefs that don’t fit with beliefs I cling to.  They are lost in the "undergrowth" of social norms.  When I take time to push aside all of these things, I have most often discovered a profound and delicate beauty that previously I had not seen, and I am the richer for a new relationship of value that intersects mine.

Magnificent lupines were in full bloom here and there along our route – radiant pinks, purples, whites – with their spindly stalks.   Sometimes a small stand of them were in the ditches but other times whole fields of lupines spread out in front of me like an artist’s rendering.  I began to greet the flowers as my “Lady Lupines”, because their beauty and strength reminded me of women in my life who  have mentored me and modeled feminine wisdom and presence.  Lupines appear to be rather vulnerable as they sway in the wind, and it seems as if the wind could  easily snap their spiny stalks.  But as I passed they waved at me with their tenacity to stand tall and firm amidst the torrential rains and raging winds.   They sent me encouragement, cheered me on, and I drew a deeper will and determination to continue my hard work of pedaling against the 23 mile-per-hour wind gusts they could somehow withstand.   



Breathtaking as the Lupines were, an equally astonishing scene often unfolded – picturesque white fields of daisies.  Acres of them, as if they were in place to remind me of God’s good creation.  How can one pass by such beauty without breathing words of thanksgiving to the Great Creator?  I found those kinds of mantras on my lips many times.   “Thank you.” “Thank you.”  More than once I felt compelled to pick just one flower and put it behind my ear so I could carry its soft touch against my skin. 

Eye on the Prize

I definitely had my eye open for a prize along the way.  I was on the lookout for Ladyslipper flowers, the state flower of Minnesota.  After several days I wondered if they had eluded me, but suddenly I spotted a patch off to my right.  They tantalized me, voluptuous and sturdy in the ditch when the heat was high and my strength was low.  Their unique appearance stood out above all else and I sat with  them for awhile, just soaking in their exquisiteness.  How many photos did I take, thinking the next would be better than the last?  In the end, none of my pictures captured their sensual and distinct character, all which I now hold in my mind’s eye.  No one I talked to on the ride had seen any Ladyslippers.  One had to have an eye on the prize while riding.  I got lucky. I could have missed them, too.

Come to the Church in the Wildwood

Meals and snacks (called nips and sips) were taken mostly where Jim had arranged groups to provide a break from our weariness in the mid-morning, noon, and mid-afternoon.  Some rest stops were at little country churches where a group of men and women or youth were serving homemade, tasty goodies to raise money for summer trips or equipment for the church.  Breakfasts were always in the school cafeteria of the site we camped the night before – high schools, middle schools – and money was for sports teams or other school needs.  Dinners were often in a restaurant or bar where a private back room gave us space to mingle and share time together about our day on the road.  Conviviality and community building provided opportunity to engage with fellow travelers a bit deeper, and our stories of aches and joint pain sometimes became a ticket into further conversation around many and varied topics.  

The Answer is blowing in the wind

“It’s a beautiful biking day” or “I don’t know…looks like it could rain”.  The iPads and Smart Phones gave bikers easy access to a full accounting of anticipated weather each day, with temps-by-the-hour readily at hand.  “Should be a good tail wind”, one might report to another; or “We’re heading into a northeast wind”, which always made me cringe.  Indeed the final answer was out on the road, sometimes pedaling headlong into gusts of 25 MPH or more, or cross winds.  But glorious were the tail winds when I felt like I had hitched my bike to the tail of a comet and was sailing unfettered.  The bonuses came in the long stretches of downhill roads, such as the time I watched my speedometer go up, up, up until my I clocked a speed of 37 MPH!  Whenever I had a superb downhill run, I rang my bell and broke into strains of the “Hallelujah Chorus”.  (I do my ringing and singing when I am assuredly alone on the road!)  Uphills were tough and breaths were hard to take, but with the wind at my back and a good 3-4 mile downhill stretch, the steep inclines became distant memories compared to the splendid descents.

Come Rain or Come Shine

The first days of biking were 90+ degree days in blazing sun.  Good sauna kind of heat cleansed the pores and the cold showers waiting for us at the camp site felt like rewards for a day well baked…I mean, biked.  Nights in the tent were generally cool and provided the climate for a good night’s sleep.  Our days started at 5am with the Conductor’s whistle and cheery “good morning – time to get up”.  If there was little response, his whistle and coinciding greeting became louder and louder until he was satisfied by our reasonably barked, “Good morning to you, too!”  Threats of rain came and went but our night in Superior, WI was a stormy one with loud thunder and lightning and pelting rain.  Fortunately my tent sat slightly downhill, so the puddle inside my tent in the morning was right at the tent door.  I unzipped my flap and swept the water out.  I never like packing up a wet tent, sleeping bag and air mattress, because when I set it up at the next site, the soggy equipment is quite unpleasant.  Things do dry out quickly, though, so by bedtime the next night, all was usually well again.

My last day began with a very strong rain threat, in fact, the possibility of a major storm moving through our biking route.  Not long after we started riding the rain began to fall.   It began as a lovely, gentle rain and the fresh wet smell of awakening forest growth and a light washing of my face was very soothing.  The storm, however, intensified, with booming thunder and relentless lightning which brightened a fast-moving, darkened sky.  Threats of hail were in the forecast. 

Logging trucks and other oversized vehicles, coupled with bicyclists on puddled, narrow roads with little or no shoulders is not a good combination for a safe bike ride.  After nearly 25 miles in such conditions, we began to come together one by one at the Clam Lake Junction, a warm and well equipped gas station/convenience store in that little Wisconsin village.  Our Conductor, Jim, advised us to stay there until the storm subsided, but after several hours it became apparent it was a long-haul kind of wait.  We drank hot chocolate and coffee, chewed on jerky and snacks, dried out a bit, and sang as we waited.  At some point the drivers who were accompanying some of the bikers began offering rides to Hayward, our stop for the night, and as we gathered one by one, we left one by one, which ended the ride for the day.  Many, including me, resisted ending our ride there, wanting to finish the ride and not “wimp out”.  But safety issues were important considerations, so as others gave in, I accepted a ride.  It was the right decision.

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother”

Every Christmas my family received a packet in the mail from Boy’s Town, Nebraska.  In addition to a request for funds, a set of perforated stamps was included with the picture of a boy carrying a small child on his back.  Imprinted on each stamp was the statement noted above.  The message was clear –  the child was willingly carrying his brother, and his brother was not a burden. 

I was questioned often during my bike ride about why I ride such a heavy bike.   All the other riders have lightweight bikes with narrow tires for the least road resistance and easy ability to ride swiftly along.  Some have said to me, “You work harder than anyone else on the ride with that heavy bike.”  It’s probably true.   For those interested, I explain that my bike ride is a spiritual journey for me.  It is a time of reflection on the beauty of creation and the wonder of the Creator.  It is a time of prayer and song, of contemplation on my life and calling. In addition to all that, I the ride is an opportunity to bring awareness about justice-seeking groups by inviting people to sponsor my ride with contributions to be divided between selected organizations.  I have done this each of the four rides I have made.

This year I raised my goal to $7000 and miraculously achieved that goal!  This amount includes a grant of $1000 from the East Cass County Chapter of Thrivent Financial for Lutherans.  The money is being divided between three groups:

 Flood of Love – This Minot, ND based organization assists churches and families recovering from devastating flood waters during summer of 2011, and is managed by the Western ND Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Sister Parish – The community of Tierra Nueva Uno, Chinautla, Guatemala, has been in sister parish relationship with Faith Lutheran Church, West Fargo, since 2001.  The church in Tierra Nueva Uno is creating a safe multi-purpose playground/sports area for children and youth who currently have no place to hold activities and sports activities except for on the streets, where there is a great deal of violence and crime.  Our church is committed to sharing in the development of their dream. 

United Hearts for Haiti – This West Fargo faith ministry was created and is administered by former refugees from strife-ridden Haiti, and seeks to create education opportunities and offer school supplies for children and youth that otherwise are not available to them.

As I pedal my heavy bike, I remember people living in poverty and in systems that perpetuate oppression, people who are denied basic human rights.  They carry very heavy burdens in life and have  few options to escape these situations.  My heavy bike is a symbol of these heavy burdens.  The difference between them and me is that I can park my heavy bike after a week of riding and go on with my life, while those who are marginalized and stuck in oppressive systems do not have the luxury of walking away from them.  And in the way the young boy is pictured carrying his younger brother on his back, I feel the Gospel calling to help ease the burdens that my sisters and brothers carry.   They aren’t heavy; they’re my sisters and brothers.  I am so grateful for the generous support of those who support my ride financially, as well as those who commit to praying for me in this endeavor.  I carry the names of my sponsors in my front bike basket, and during the long days of pedaling, I remember each sponsor and their families by name, asking God to carry their burdens and needs. It is a blessing to be praying for people this way. I am always surprised at what God’s Spirit brings to mind to pray for.


Then Sings My Soul…

“Jaunt with Jim” is a very exhausting but enlivening ride.  Biking in the open air offers freedom quite different from a car ride.  My world expands with intimate details of nature and its bounty.  As I feel the wind on my face and the sun on my back, many mysterious and holy moments of communing with an inner divinity fill me with awe.  Sometimes these moments come with the graceful flight of an eagle overhead, or a deer’s startling appearance before me. Sometimes the moments come with a spontaneous hymn sing around the altar of a little country church, or in a meaningful conversation with a fellow sojourner.  Whatever the moments bring, I hold and cherish them; my heart pounds with elation and my soul sings, “how great Thou art, how great thou art”.

This is my “Bike for Justice”.   

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