Meet Ben Wideman, first in our get-to-know-the-riders series. The 2017 PA-to-DC ride will take place May 19-24, though Ben can only get away for 1/2 the ride this year. Ben was a 2015 through-rider and wrote a profile in 2016, too.
Shortly after graduating from college I was over at a friend’s home who had just got a new road bike. I rolled my eyes after learning how much he had paid for it, saying something like, “You paid that much for a thing you could get from Walmart for $100?” He looked at me with a smile on his face and encouraged me to take it for a spin around the block. Despite the fact that I was wearing jeans and didn’t have a helmet, I got on, coasted down the driveway, and did a single lap around the block. I remember this almost instantaneous feedback from the bike. Having only ever ridden on clunky department store bikes with fat tires, I was amazed that when I pushed the pedal that the bike seemed to respond and rocket forward. Not only was this way easier than I had imagined, it was the most fun I’d ever had on an object that was self-propelled.
My birthday was coming up in a few months time, so I walked into the neighborhood bike shop and purchased an early birthday present for myself – my first real road bike. It wasn’t that special —it was the cheapest entry-level road bike I could find that had dropped bars and a bunch of gears— but the bike shop employee found one that fit my body type and would give me a similar feeling to the bike that I had been so impressed by. A love affair with two-wheeled transportation was kindled that day, and I don’t think there has been a month since that moment where I haven’t squeezed in a few miles of pedaling.
Riding a road bike wasn’t always easy. I quickly learned about the joy and sorrow of a hill climb. I learned how to downshift to be able to climb, and embraced the backwards-feeling notion that going slower up a hill will preserve your legs and allow you to ride longer and farther. I learned to find joy in the experience that was about far more than the calories burned or the destination, but about the experience of taking a journey. I also learned that the pace of a bicycle allows you to uncover parts of a region that would never be seen or noticed if travel was restricted to a car. I’ve had the joy of startling a tree filled with wild parrots in California, scattering a flock of wild turkeys in Pennsylvania, and a handful of deer in Virginia, because bicycle travel isn’t as imposing as car travel.
I also learned that using a bicycle for transportation was a way to curb some of the carbon dioxide I was putting into the atmosphere. My two mile drive to work required not a single drop of gasoline when I used my bike, and early on a friend gave me a sticker for my bike that I shared with pride – Zero Gallons Per Mile. Since then I’ve tried to live close enough to my place of employment to make travel by bicycle a possibility whenever I can.
Bicycle-based experiences also solidified connections and friendships. A group of my college friends are currently planning another annual bike trip, even though we graduated from college more than ten years ago.
I first experienced the PA IPL ride in the spring of 2015. I was still new to central Pennsylvania, but that trip introduced me to an incredible group of people who were also concerned about our environment and enjoyed discovering the world by bicycle. Even though we were from different walks of life, vocations, and faith traditions, we developed a connection that has lasted beyond our week of riding together. One of the things I most appreciated about my first PA IPL bike ride was that our pace was “conversational”. Some of the best conversations of my life have occurred by bicycle, and that trip allowed us to get to know a group of people in ways that we probably never would have in our social circles in central Pennsylvania. As people of faith we also got to explore how our respective traditions are unique, and the ways we are similar, breaking down some of the unfortunate “other-ing” that our culture has become so good at.
Conversations by bicycle inevitably remind me of the many great adventures I’ve had in my life with friends to go camping, discover great restaurants/breweries/wineries, get to a baseball game, or just enjoy getting ice cream together on a summer afternoon. Experiences like these don’t happen as frequently now that I’m a father of three young children, but my hope is that I can somehow instill a love of adventuring by bicycle so that together we may one day share in experiences like these as a family.
I feel fortunate that PA IPL continues to provide this kind of space to begin a pedal-powered conversations with whomever connects with our journey.
Ben is the pastor at 3rd Way Collective.