After skipping last year’s bicycle ride from the Ohio River to Lake Erie, it was great to get back on the trail again. This was my fourth ride with this group of guys after missing last year’s ride due to heart problems. It was my second ride with them without a SAG wagon, which is a mobile unit (car, truck, or van) that carries our biking supplies, extra clothes, toiletries, and etc. needed for the ride. Whatever we needed on this ride, we had to carry with us on our bikes, thus adding extra weight.
We rode this year’s ride backward from previous years. We usually start at the Ohio River in Cincinnati and end at Lake Erie in Cleveland, but Jim, the guy that coordinates the rides, wanted to start in Cleveland this year and head south to Cincinnati. The other difference of this year’s ride is that it was the largest group to participate. The usual number of 8-9 increased to twelve.
The guys on this ride are unique. Nine of us are in full-time ministry; two are elders, and one guy doesn’t hold an office in his congregation, but all of us are of the same brotherhood of churches, and we have a lot in common.
The other valuable characteristic of this group is that we don’t complain; not about our leaders or congregation. When some ministers meet, they tell various stories about problems in their congregations, but this group is different. Sure, we talk about a few problems or concerns, but not in a negative attitude. We share and we grow, but we never tear down. Maybe that is what makes it so enjoyable to ride with this group. We glorify God and lift up our ministries to Him.
Each morning begins with a short devotion and prayer. We meet in the motel parking lot in our gear and loaded bikes, but the ride doesn’t start without God in mind. Following devotions and prayer, we are off on the ride, but the day ends with God in mind too.
Each evening after dinner, we gather for a time of more intense devotions. Someone teaches a short lesson or gives us an idea for a direction to talk about, and then we allow time to share our thoughts. This year’s theme was to share something that God had taught or revealed to each of us this past year. These are often very powerful times of sharing, and we get to know one another quite well. Tears in this devotion time are not uncommon.
The ride itself also gives us time to share as we discuss family, church, personal lives, and ministry. Once again stressing how uplifting it is to talk with brothers that often help me, or allow me to help them. Those of us who have ridden several times have become close, and we gladly bring the new guys into our circle. Sometimes they fit well, and sometimes personalities are different, but we have never had a conflict or difficult problem. Actually, personalities have never become an issue that might cause a rider not to join with us again the following year. The most common reason someone doesn’t return to ride again is that person is a strong rider, and our pace is too slow. While I’m huffing and puffing at times, some riders glide past me like I’m standing still. Those are often the guys that don’t return. They have a difficult time slowing down for us slow pokes.
So what did we learn from the ride? Let’s go.
Preparation is the most important aspect of the ride. One of this year’s riders is a triathlete. Needless to say, he was already prepared by his conditioning for the three sports of the triathlon: swimming, biking and running. The rest of us trained on our bikes. Some of us had logged almost 1000 miles in the saddle before the ride, while another guy had close to 2000 miles. That’s a lot of time in the seat in getting ready to ride a mere 320 miles, but I learned the hard way a few years ago when I was not in shape. I only had a few hundred miles in the saddle before the ride. Wow, I paid for it. My rear side was sore, plus I felt the pain in my legs on the hills of Holmes County. Most all of us were ready this year.
Another aspect of preparation was packing for the ride. Since we carried all our supplies with us, and I had to take food because of my diet, ounces added up. I packed my bike bags, knowing that I had to pack light, but I often threw in a few things that didn’t weigh much. But after weighing the loaded bike, I dumped everything out and scrutinized every fraction of an ounce before it got repacked. The bike dropped several pounds
No one is an island. I don’t care who you are, everyone needs someone. We never left anyone far behind. That way, if a rider got in trouble, we always had someone there. On my first ride, five years ago, I had a flat tire in a mosquito-infested swamp. I thank God that I was with two of our best riders when the tire went flat. They dove into changing the flat with lightning speed, while a couple of us fanned and swatted mosquitoes off them. No one complained, and today we laugh about it, but it was teamwork. We are there for one another.
This year, we had a broken spoke and a broken wheel on the same afternoon. We found those problems at the end of the day and fortunately, we had no mishaps because of them. But if we had discovered them on the trail, we would have had someone there to help ride slowly with the broken bike until we could hobble into a place to get repairs. And just in case someone broke down on the trail with an unrepairable bike, we had telephone numbers to call for help. Jim has people across the state that he can call, and they will come to our rescue. It takes teamwork.
The trail is beautiful. Each year is unique and this year was no different. With all the rain the previous weekend, our ride, which began in Cleveland on Monday, was very wet. That caused some complications, as I’ll explain shortly, but it also added to the beauty. Water levels in the river and the swamp were up, thus providing beauty that we had not seen in previous years.
The hills of Holmes County were green, plus riding through Amish country is always a treat as we pass buggies both on the road and on the trails. We passed an Amish school with around sixty children out playing. Plus the Amish always wave and give us warm greetings as our two cultures meet.
Most of the trail follows abandoned railroad bed, so the incline and decline on the rail bed is never over 3%. Much of that portion of the trail is lined with trees and wildflowers. Hawks and various birds are a common sight, not to mention the sounds of the birds and wildlife. Chipmunks and squirrels scurry across the trail along with an occasional groundhog. Part of the trail goes through meadowlands and we get to see the beauty of open fields and other kinds of birds. We always enjoy seeing God’s beautiful creation.
Up until a couple of years ago, we began the ride on Labor Day, which resulted quite a slow day because of all the people on the trail, but it was always fun watching families with kids of all ages enjoying the trail together. Now that we ride a week later, we don’t see as many people.
Most everyone is glad to smile and greet one another as we pass; whether walking, running, or biking. This year I became aware, however, that as we got closer to Cincinnati, some of the riders and runners were not friendly. It was evident that these people were serious about their exercise. While it seemed rude of them to pass us without any greeting, we still enjoyed the challenge of trying to get them to say, “Hi.” Sometimes we got a response, but most of the time, these people just sped on past us.
While we don’t like things to go wrong, many times those problems make great memories. The first year I rode with these guys, I had six flats. I think I still hold the record. It was a learning experience and fortunately, I had two new tires in the SAG wagon. After getting both tires changed, I have not had another flat since.
This year, most of our memories came on two days. As previously stated, we began on the south edge of Cleveland and headed south on what is called the towpath. The towpath was used by the animals that pulled supplies up and down the Erie Canal in the early 1800s. Unlike most of the bike path that is paved, the towpath is made of finely crushed limestone. The limestone bed is always a little more challenging, but with all the rain previous to our trip, the towpath was soft in areas – very soft.
One problem the excess rain caused was that the path was slippery in spots. One of our riders fell twice, and another time, the rider ahead of me slightly off to my right went down in front of me. I had time to see that I was going to hit his bike, and instantly, I was laying in the soft limestone mud. Fortunately, no one got hurt, but it caused quite a bit of excitement as we unpiled. I wear biking shoes with clips that fasten into the specially built pedals. I can usually unclip from the pedals with no problem, but after the wreck, I tried to unclip, but the clips would not come loose. As I tried to unclip, my weary calf muscles cramped, and I began groaning in pain. Of course, the guys riding with me thought I had a serious injury from the wreck. They came running and worried what they were going to find. Fortunately, all they had to do was help me pull my feet out of my shoes and then the shoes easily unclipped from the bike. It was simple and fun excitement with no major injuries – but it made a great memory.
The excess rain also caused flooding across the trail. While we normally slow down for water, I was so filthy from the wet limestone trail, I sped up to try and wash the bike and myself. One area surprised us as we rode through 1 ½ feet of flowing water. Unfortunately, riding fast to splash water did not facilitate much of a bath in removing the limestone from myself or the bike, but it was fun.
The previous days’ storms also caused debris on the path, but the biggest surprise was a large tree across the trail that the park service had not cleaned up. With teamwork, we helped lift each other’s bikes over and through the giant obstacle.
Another day, when we discovered the broken spoke and broken wheel, we all jumped on a church bus and headed to the nearest bike shop, desperate to get there before they closed at the end of the day. It was a fun detour, and no one complained. It was just part of riding on the trail, but once again, we made another memory.
Lessons Applied to Life.
Let’s sum up what we learned from the trail.
Time with God
Each day begins and ends with God, plus lots of God in between. Just as we started and ended each day on the ride with devotions, our daily Christian walk should be the same with lots of God in between. Prayer, Bible reading, and devotions should be part of all our everyday lives. This follows Jesus’ example of spending a lot of time with His Father.
In our walk with God, we need daily preparation. Just like the ride, we cannot expect to be the best Child of God without daily preparation. Each day matters, and we cannot take it lightly. Also, little things matter. Just as each ounce of weight added up, and I needed to repack lighter, each mistake we make in our daily walk adds up. We cannot ignore the smallest of sins. We might not think little sins matter, but they add up. Things we ignore add up. Things we do that hurt ourselves, others, or God add up. We cannot overlook the smallest of details in our Christian lives. Thorough preparation matters.
None of us can live without others. As Christians, we are all part of Jesus’ Church. We need one another. And if you and I don’t appear to need someone right now, we need to be there for those that can use help. We are a team. We cannot live this Christian life by ourselves. We walk and run with one another. Let’s work together and support one another.
He’s always with us, but are we aware of Him, all He does for us, and the beauty He provides? Let’s get our eyes off ourselves and look around. Look for the beauty God provides: the beauty of nature, the beauty of people, the beauty of creation, and the beauty of God’s interaction with us.
Unexpected incidences make life memorable. Many times, we only remember the extravagant things in life. Some of those are fun and exciting, but others are made up of tragedies. Let’s keep things in perspective. Sometimes those tragic moments are disgusting or even terrifying. Sometimes they are sad. Tragic moments don’t schedule themselves into our days. They always come unexpectedly and often painfully regrettable, but they provide memories. Let’s try to embrace those memories. Most things that we consider tragedies don’t end up as bad as they seemed in the moment. Let’s handle them as best we can with the grace of God, and show the world that we are Christians: able to find good in everything.
Finishing the ride
Our ride ended at the Ohio River, and we were able to look back over that previous five days with joy and gladness on our faces and in our hearts. Yes, we were weary, but the ride was well worth it. We finished well.
All of us are on the journey of life. Have you prepared for it? Are you spending daily time with God? Are you participating in the journey as a team? Are you aware of God’s beauty along the way? Are you making great memories?
Our journey on this earth will come to an end someday. Will you be able to look back with a smile on your face and with joy in your heart? You may be weary, but was your ride worth it? I certainly hope so. How is your ride currently going?
Love you & God Bless,