Nearly Finished!

Hey! Does anyone happen to have $280.40 they’re looking to give away? It’s for a good cause.

I just added up everything we’ve received or that I know is coming in this month from the Finish Well Ride and we’re $280.40 short of the $75,000 goal.

That’s right! Two hundred and eighty dollars and 40 cents!

That’s $280.40 U.S. (I converted the pesos and the Canadian dollars. Sorry, Canadians, it was easier to do that).

The trip expenses have already been taken into account so we’ve actually received more than $75,000, but some of that was used to get us from Oklahoma to Canada, either to fuel our bike-riding bodies or pay for a hotel room for a night when there wasn’t a generous soul providing a resting place for our weary heads.

So that’s $74,719.60 net, not gross.

Today is three months to the day since we finished the ride in Sylvan Lake on Sept. 11. We finished the ride officially in Red Deer Sept. 9 and extra-officially in Sylvan Lake at the business of our sponsor.

We rode 2,792 miles in 54 days including rest days.

Both Cynthia Lopez and I would have ridden on to Alaska if we had had the time. We didn’t want that when we were riding the hot and windy plains of Oklahoma and Kansas, or when we started into the mountains of Colorado, or when we nearly got beaten back by wind and hills in Utah.

And definitely not in windy Wyoming or desert-like eastern Idaho.

But in Canada, well, it was feeling pretty good to ride by then.

But alas, we had to go back to the real world, and just as well we did.

By mid-afternoon the day we flew out (Sept. 12) the temperature had dropped considerably and the rain began to fall.

Two weeks after we finished the snow began to fall.

We were not only saved from inclement weather, but we managed to beat the forest fires, riding through on some highways right before they were closed down.

I felt kind of felt like that guy on The Maze Runner who always managed to get through the door just before it slammed shut.

I see God’s good hand in all that.

He was good to us on the trip and he has been good to us in our fundraising efforts on behalf of Bet Shalom.

We’re already looking for the senior friendly vehicle we hope to buy with a portion of the funds and now we have enough money to operate at capacity once the last rooms are completed.

I can’t believe we actually did it. I can’t believed we’ve nearly reached the goal. I can’t believe we rode nearly 3,000 miles.

I can’t believe we survived.

But we not only survived by God’s grace, we got the total eclipse in Stanley, ID and the northern lights two days before we finished the ride thrown in.

And then there were the marvels of how God worked on us.

Like I’ve told people since I got back. It was just a fundraising cycle, but it was so much more than that.

“Suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character and character produces hope and hope does not put us to shame for God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

I know I’m using the text in Romans out of context, but I spent a lot of time meditating on the process during the Finish Well Ride.

And somehow, even if there was suffering involved, the whole thing was a blast – an adventure to inspire more adventures.

I’m so thankful to God that He lets me do these things, to live this life, to not be normal.

He makes me think I’m His favorite…even if I end up $280.40 short.

If you want to help reach the goal, in the U.S. you can send donations to:

CMML, Inc.
P.O. Box 13
Spring Lake, NJ 07762-0013

Please make sure to make the check out to “CMML Inc.”
Also be sure to include a note that says “Bet Shalom/Finish Well fundraising ride” so the donation is applied correctly!

 

Boom!

All these days start running together.

I often wake up and am not sure where I am. I remember something that happened while I was cycling, but I can’t remember where or what day.

The only days that really stand out are the infamous Day 21, glorious Day 33 and now I have Day 41.

Day 21 was the day that tested us physically, mentally and emotionally near Flaming Gorge, UT. All the elements and the mountains were bearing down on us just like that one mountain in Lord of the Rings. The only thing missing was the snow.

Day 33 was the day on the way to Garden Valley, ID. that we got to see the total eclipse, the beautiful Sawtooth Mountains, the lovely Payette River and a surprise encouraging word from fellow Christians on the way.

Day 41, which was yesterday, was another banner day.

Since the last time I wrote we have changed sag wagon drivers 1.5 times and have been down to two cyclists for more than a week.

I say 1.5 times because Genessa Wright drove in to take over for Pat and John Garrett who finally got to head home after accompanying us from Manila, UT to Grangeville, ID (13 days). They were with us through windy Wyoming and the Idaho desert. They weathered the day that started at 32 degrees Fahrenheit and ended at 97 and toughed it through a couple of campouts that Pat didn’t sign up for, but was a trooper throughout.

Our last full day together they watched us climb an eight-mile 3,000-ft eight percent grade and it wasn’t pretty. They were a great sag wagon tag team.

The .5 right now has to do with the fact that we’ve got new drivers again, but Genessa is still hanging out with us.

She’s not our “official” driver because we’ve got our Canadian drivers with us… because we’re now in Canada.

In Canada.

Now.

We made it to Canada.

Day 41 was the day we crossed the border!

On the night of Day 40 we camped at a site less than a mile from the border. We decided we didn’t even want to see it before we were going to cross.

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A little drive up the mountain looking for moose on our last night in Idaho.

Maybe we were a little nervous. Or maybe we needed time to let it all sink in. I guess 2,300 miles isn’t quite time enough so we took one more night to prepare ourselves for this milestone.

Cynthia was probably the most torn on whether to stay in the Idaho Panhandle or go ahead and cross.

There’s talk that there are more than a few white supremacists in the Idaho Panhandle (Ruby Ridge country) and we were in either beautiful or creepy looking areas depending on your attitude.

Cynthia opted for creepy…maybe because she’s Mexican or maybe because she watched too many crazies-living-in-the-woods movies when she was younger.

But I guess her fear of what might happen at the Canadian border was worse than her fear of gun-toting government-hating preppers (as in preparing for the end of the world).

It’s hard for her to believe a country would just let a Mexican citizen in without any hassle or without any kind of visa requirement.

But on Aug. 29 at 10 a.m. Pacific Time we started cycling slowly toward the border. Even I was a little nervous…or excited…or a little of both. Maybe I was nervous because we had contraband blueberries in our sag wagon. We were ready to give up the apples, but we were going to be sad if we had to part with the blueberries we picked at Susan Carey’s house in Coeur d’Alene. I picked at least two quarts before we headed out Sunday after church.

I bet Susan didn’t even know we picked that much. Her bushes were so loaded.

(An aside here: We had a great meal at Susan’s house Saturday evening with great company (Steve and Patti Smith, and Jill). I’m sorry Don wasn’t there, but he was out conquering the John Muir Trail. Idahoans are extreme that way.)

So I was a little nervous about getting Cynthia and our blueberries into Canada and really excited to finally reach at least the country of our final destination.

There was a bit of a wait because of the cars in front of us so that added to the suspense, but as the minutes ticked by we inched closer to our turn with the border crossing guard.

Then we were called forward.

Nice guy. Good looking. Asked for our passports. Asked where we lived, what we were doing. Told us to have a nice day…and yes, we could take a photo with him. 10:15 a.m.

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Our friendly Canadian border crossing guard.

Boom!

Oh, but wait, our car.

We sat and sweated a little as Genessa pulled even with border control.

I guess since we told him she was with us, he was ready to give her the green light as long as she had no weapons and nothing she was going to leave in Canada.

Boom!

We made it into Canada with our blueberries!

Now we just have to finish this ride.

God’s Masterpieces

Today was Day 33 of the Finish Well Ride. We’ve ridden nearly 1,800 miles and are in the heart of Idaho.

I didn’t even know about the eclipse when I was planning my trip and here we are.

In the last few days I had no idea that Stanley, Idaho was a totality zone, but we ended up being there today because the fires in Montana forced me to change routes. Now we’re headed west first and then north toward Coeur d’Alene instead of north then west.

So circumstances blew us into the beautiful Sawtooth Mountains and into the direct path of the eclipse.

Just a little aside here, we’ve been blessed in each state by some wonderful hosts and Idaho is no exception. The Hotrums (Barry and Carol and their son Greg, who is home from China) not only took care of us in Pocatello, but set up a stay at their daughter’s house when they knew we’d be headed to Boise a few days afterward to take a rider to the airport. Amanda Holbrook and her family weren’t even going to be there, but they left the keys in the door, so to speak. Wonderful family.

Then we got to Hailey, Idaho and stayed with Paul and Sara Petit and the 10 guests they already had. We had a great time talking around the table at dinnertime and getting good advice on how to proceed. Paul wasn’t lying when he said we were going to ride through some beautiful country.

We all enjoyed our night’s stay at the Petit home. I’m just sorry we didn’t get to see a moose walk through the yard as frequently happens there.

God even answered a prayer of mine through the Petit party. I was having some slight asthma because of all the smoke in the air. I had asked the Lord a few days earlier that if this were going be an issue that He would take care of it. That evening at the Petits’, out of the blue Melia, a young, sweet, quiet mother of three, asked us if we had any problems with asthma because of the smoke. I hadn’t said anything to anyone except Cynthia. I told her I was having a bit of asthma and she gave me one of the five inhalers she had with her.

God amazes me. I took one puff and I’ve been breathing freely ever since.

Today was another day that God was amazing us. It was as if he were pointing out masterpieces in His creation one after another. The Sawtooth Mountains, the crystalline waters of the Salmon and Payette Rivers, the total solar eclipse …and His children.

We were about 10 miles from finishing our ride today when we stopped to step into the freezing waters of the Payette River. We were getting ready to ride again when a couple walked up to us and the woman asked us where we were headed today. Long story short, she and her husband were also believers. They prayed for us there in the parking lot, gave us some nutritious snacks for the road and donated to the Finish Well Ride. We parted with hugs as if we had known each other for years.

Alice and Wayne may have been God’s best masterpiece of the day. They encouraged us and reminded us that the power of the cross makes us instant family.

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With Alice and Wayne.

And that’s what I’ve been thinking about all day: His physical creation is breathtaking. I’m in awe.

But His best work is the cross…

Notes from Halfway

We are finally halfway to our destination.

Today we crossed the 1,300-mile mark on a windswept wild portion of Wyoming on our way from Diamondville, WY to Montpelier, ID (75 miles).

Yesterday was the halfway point on the calendar since it was Day 25, but we had a day off Saturday and spent Sunday morning with the brothers and sisters at Bridger Valley Baptist Church so we hit the halfway on the calendar before we hit it on the road.

Let me just say that we looked forward to our day off Saturday almost as much as we’re looking forward to reaching Red Deer, Alberta, Canada.

We had been on the road nine days straight, had ridden approximately 500 miles and crossed over three passes, including Day 21 from Dinosaur, CO to somewhere near the Flaming Gorge in a corner of Utah. The last bit was a 4,000-foot climb with 5- to 8-percent grades and 10 switchbacks over a four-mile portion of the climb. The rest of that last 20 miles was uphill too and against probably a 20-mile-per-hour north wind.

That ride included one bike flat, one car flat (at a place called Windy Point, so you can imagine how enjoyable that was) and one meltdown.

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What we saw on Day 21.

We found a campsite in the National Forest and had just enough time to build a fire, set up our tents and cook some dinner before the rain with lightning and thunder sent us to the car for cover.

We finally got out around midnight and went to our tents.

Anything after that would have been easy by comparison, but the next day was truly glorious. We hadn’t realized that we were so near the top and that the next day would be more like rolling hills through the National Forest. Besides that, we had the road to ourselves for a long stretch because of a roadblock down the mountain.

We saw incredible views that were “awesome in the religious sense” as Paul would say.

Even so, even after seeing the Flaming Gorge en route, we were still happy that the 44-mile ride was over when we rolled into Manila, UT because that meant we were one day away from rest.

Day 22 from Manila, UT to Lyman, WY (55 miles) went by pretty easily as well even though we lost a rider and changed sag wagons and drivers.

For the first time in the trip we were down to only two riders. Paul Friese left us. Our driver Tiffanie Wynn had to go home as well. We are so thankful for their participation.

Since Friday our sag wagon team has been John and Pat Garrett who so graciously volunteered to drive out and sag for us over the next 10 days.

Friday afternoon, after making it to Lyman and leaving our bikes at the church we drove to Salt Lake City and picked up another rider. Kevin McGeehee will be with us for a week and we’re already thankful for his presence.

He came to pull.

After a sweet time with the folks from Bridger Valley Baptist Church yesterday we started the trip anew and it was a windy afternoon ride of 38 miles to get us to Diamondville. We rode in 20- to 30-mile-per-hour headwinds and crosswinds.

Today we rode 75 miles to Montpelier and at times it was just as windy.

But Kevin has been up front the whole way breaking the worst of it.

As I look back on the first 25 days it seems as if God has given us just what we can handle week by week.

I would have thrown the bike down in despair if I had faced the windy uphills I faced on Day 21, but the first week I got flat roads and the wind at my back. About the time I was getting used to that, the climbing started.

That was hard, but by the third big climb, the one I wasn’t sure I was going to survive, I had enough behind me to just make it to the top.

We have a theme song on this ride. Part of the chorus says, “On the mountaintop I will bow my life to the one who put me there…”

Since God’s grace has gotten us this far, I’m sure he’ll get us to Red Deer. He doesn’t promise to make it easy, he just promises to give us what we need for the day.

His mercies are new every morning.

Watershed moments

Today we were at a watershed in our ride. Literally and figuratively.

We made it to the Continental Divide on Day 18 of the Finish Well Ride during our 57-mile trek from Walden to Steamboat Springs. That’s the literal watershed dividing what drains into the Atlantic side and what drains into the Pacific side of North America.

But more importantly, or more dramatically, we came to a watershed moment in our resolve. We were running a day behind in the itinerary because of all the mountains we’ve had to climb. It took us two days from Greely to climb over the Front Range (I can now speak Colorado-ese) and drop down into the wide and WINDY valley in which Walden is located.

The Ute Indians apparently called it the “cow pen” because it was spacious and grassy enough for a million cattle (that’s my calculation, not theirs).

The first pass over the Front Range was at 10,270 feet. If you consider that we started at elevation 1,200 feet in Oklahoma City, that’s something, but if you consider we started at a campground at 5,900 feet elevation and climbed some 4,400 feet over 52.6 miles to reach Cameron Pass on Day 16, that’s something completely different.

We were tired enough from the climb the next day to just ride the 22 miles from our campsite near Gould, CO and check into the West Side Motel, whose chatty and lovable owner, Carol, ended up writing a check in support of the Finish Well Ride.

Did I mention we hadn’t had a shower since Denver.

I felt a little like a trapper coming into town after months in the mountains. It had only been two days, but all of a sudden I had a new appreciation for restaurants, cell phone service, showers and beds.

A flushing toilet suddenly seemed pretty amazing too.

So we hung out in Walden – the moose capital of Colorado – for a day. We did laundry. I ate a French Dip and drank gallons of iced tea and fell asleep before I could finish a blog.

One conversation I did want to mention in that blog was one I overheard in the Moose Creek Cafe.

The waitress told a foreign worker: “One thing you need to do before you go home is shoot a gun and ride a motorcycle.”

‘Merica!

Then today happened.

We knew we needed to be on the road early to beat the infamous crosswinds in the cow pen, but 8 a.m. wasn’t quite early enough to beat some headwinds and not quite late enough to give us the rest we were craving.

None of us were too excited about the ride. I’m glad I’m not alone on this trip. I probably would have called in sick today…sick and tired of riding.

But we started… and the first 10 miles rolled by at a snail’s pace. My thighs felt like a couple of heavy bricks.

The second 10 miles I slowed down and just enjoyed the creation and working on Psalm 119. That was better. Everybody was doing their own thing today.

Cynthia was suffering. We were climbing again. I think she sent a text to her adopted family telling them she was about to give up, and to please pray.

We went slowly, slowly up through the foothills, then up the mountain toward Rabbit Ears Pass.

Then after about 40 miles of climbing, there it was – the Continental Divide.

We were so thankful, so excited and exultant that we put our bikes on our shoulders and flexed our muscles. At that moment, I was thinking the drivers starting the descent were probably pretty impressed.

We were in such a celebratory mood that we even had a PB&J at the CD. We were even laughing again. Cynthia had made it. Paul had made it. I had made it.

But they lied!

I was under the impression that the Continental Divide is the high point and everything’s downhill on the other side. Whoever drew the line was terribly mistaken. There were some five more miles of promising declines then disheartening ascents.

Now I know that those motorists passing us while we posed for our picture at the Continental Divide were only pitying our ignorance.

Five miles later when I saw the sign that said “Check Brakes” I knew the work was over.

We did it!

Somehow we did it and we survived that watershed choice between chucking it all and hanging in there.

I know we’re only on Day 18 and we’ve ridden only 952 miles and have more than 1,600 to go, but I think we just passed one important test. Maybe the most important test.

Now we need to go find some food.

Days off in Denver

What does one do with three days off in Denver?

I suppose a normal person would go see the sights. Maybe I’ll do that, but for now I’m content with reposing on the bed, popping pez candies and catching up on work. I’ve done some calculating and that’s what requires the least amount of effort.

This has been a glorious 24 hours of doing pretty much nothing at the home of Steve and Debbie Salmon in Denver, CO.

And I still have 48 hours to go.

I will have to resume riding Thursday, but while I’m waiting for my Finish Well Ride crew to show up, I’m going to make sure I do as little as possible.

While I’m reposing, I guess I could share a little summary of what’s happened so far:

I’ve ridden 760 miles, had two flats (though the team has had more), spoken at several stops between Oklahoma City and here, been in four states (including the present) and changed time zones about a zillion times back and forth between Central and Mountain Time Zone because western Kansas counties back in the day got to choose their time zone. Some chose central and some chose mountain.

From here on out I’ll be in Mountain Time Zone.

As for fundraising, I can’t put an exact amount on it because I haven’t seen the final amounts received by CMML, but I think we’re at about $31,000 of the $75,000 total goal – just less than half of what I’m trying to raise.

Considering I’m 11 days in on a 50-day journey, that’s not bad.

I do want to give a shout out to some special people who took it upon themselves to do a little fundraising for the cause. Let me just say that everyone who has given to the Finish Well Ride deserves a shout out. Giving has been great! But these two fundraising efforts were especially sweet.

And both are from my hometown of Crescent, OK.

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Sage Smith raised money for Bet Shalom selling snow cones.

Sage Smith was one of them. If I remember correctly she’s eight years old. She’s a little athlete (she rode a bike with her mom 50 miles in the HHH in Wichita Falls, TX) and she owns her own snow cone stand. The evening we arrived in Crescent she was open for business in the First Baptist Church parking lot and all proceeds from that evening were going to the Finish Well Ride and Bet Shalom.

Big thanks to this special little girl.

Then there were Trey and Josie. They’re actually newbies in Crescent, but they hit the ground running to support the cause. They’d only been in town three weeks and in the church two weeks, but opened a lemonade stand for three days to raise money for Bet Shalom.

Never mind that they think I’m building it. Details… They know it’s for senior adults and they know what it’s like to have an elderly loved one who needs extra care.

Way to go, Josie and Trey!

I’m just touched that such young people took the initiative to help out.

Sweet, sweet kids!

From Goodland, KS

I think we’re finally getting into a routine. Up before dawn, ride until we drop, then eat enough for about three people each.

My bicycle computer says I’m burning about 5,000 calories on the 100-mile days. And yes, I said “days” because we’ve now ridden two of them. Yesterday we put in an 111-mile day so that we could reach Peggy’s brother’s home. Peggy is my sister-in-law and her family is from the Goodland, KS area and she’s our sag wagon driver right now. Yay for Peggy!

So we had a target (Levant, KS) but it was 111 miles away and the forecast was wind out of the west. Did I mention we were heading west?

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This is how James takes a break during our 111-mile ride.

Even when we got up at 4:30 a.m. the wind was roaring from out of the west.

I hate riding against the wind. I hate it more than snakes. More than menudo. Lots more than riding up hills.

I wasn’t particularly happy at 5 a.m. when we were getting loaded up and ready to go.

But like someone told me when I said I wanted to see the northern lights in Canada, they said, “Ask the Father.”

So we asked the Father for a windless day.

I spent the first 60 miles being completely amazed that we were having a windless ride. It just died. And not only windless, but cloudy and 76 degrees.

It didn’t stay windless though. The next 40 miles were brutal with a crazy crosswind that forced us to learn how to ride a peloton, taking five-minute turns at the head, breaking the wind.

If wonder was the theme of the first 60 miles, teamwork was the theme of the next 40. By the time we were on our last 11 I think we were all just thankful it was close to being over.

Today was short and sweet by comparison. Just 62.8 miles.

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Time zone change. I’m in Mountain Time Zone. Cynthia’s in Central Time Zone.

Our stopping point was Goodland, KS, but we rode a few miles extra because we have to get to Ft. Collins by Sunday because most of the team is either flying home or renting a car and heading home. We rode to St. Francis, KS, 30 miles beyond Goodland, and left our bikes at the small airport there and came back to Goodland to stay with Peggy’s parents.

Tomorrow was supposed to be a full-fledged rest day…BUT we’ll travel to St. Francis by car and pick up where we left off. Cynthia and I will come back once more to Goodland after we finish riding because I’m speaking at an event Friday night while the rest of the team camps. It’s not the best scenario, but the best we can do without having to ride 150 miles in a day to get to Ft. Collins on schedule.

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This is an advertisement for our event on the local cable “roll around.” Pray that it goes well. The group of 4 became a group of 5 after Wichita.

I’m looking forward to a three-day rest in Denver.

We’ve been seeing signs for it since yesterday. I think that’s when it hit me that we’re really on a trip.

Up to then it just seemed like an extended ride through my neighborhood.