Guest blogger: Ben Wideman (profile)
During college my friend Matt Styer introduced me to the joy of touring by bicycle. Matt inspired a group of friends to embark on slow-moving bike trips through quiet country roads where the focus was slowing down and connecting with the people we met, discovering places we had never been, and most importantly enjoying and savoring delicious local food (Matt always made sure his pack included a decent frying pan, chef’s knife, and cutting board). Matt loved life in every way, and the bicycle was his favorite mode of transportation. Leukemia took his life in 2011, but his spirit lives on in the lives of those of us for whom he inspired to take that first pedal stroke.
Day two of the PA-IPL bike trip was a day full of life. From the early morning homemade breakfast and thinning the carrot patch at Plowshares Produce (our wonderful first night hosts), to the beautiful rolling countryside and wonderful strangers and places we discovered along our journey, today was a day full of the riches of life spent on two wheels.
Today we spent time savoring Central Pennsylvania’s scenery and slow rolling hills, and ate an incredible pot-luck lunch in a park in Huntington, PA. At the park we joined an event focusing on transportation issues which featured candidates for local county commissioners, and their myriad of positions on environmental issues. We were able to share about why we are riding to Washington DC, and why we believe we need to be raising our voices in the midst of significant climate change. After rolling into our evening destination at Orbisonia United Methodist Church and a tasty pizza dinner, we had time to wander this small Pennsylvania town and reflect on an incredible day.
The highlight for many of us was discovering that we have met our financial fundraising goal for this journey. We offer a huge THANK-YOU to all who have supported us in this way, and for the many who continue to send us their prayers and well-wishes on our journey.
It is clear that we are moving through town and countryside that has a rich and storied history. It is also clear that there is a political divide in our country that continues to shape local understanding of climate change and environmental issues. Many of the places we rode through seemed in need of a new alternative to the political noise in our country – something to breathe new life into communities that are struggling to survive. We lamented that there were stretches of our journey that required bicycle travel on busy stretches of rumble-stripped highway, sometimes alongside traffic that gave little room to a pack of loaded touring cyclists. We reflected that many of the places we visited required residents to have access to a car, and very few were communities that were walkable.
I can’t help wondering if trips like this help bridge the political, social, and economic divides that we have been encountering. Rather than arriving in these places assuming we know the answers to all the questions, we arrive needing to pause first to hear the stories and perspectives of those who live here. Stories become a powerful way to experience the reality of a new place, culture, and community. A few of us chose to end today by joining the crowd taking in a local little league baseball game – a pleasant reminder that there is still life, meaning, and value in small town communities like these.
As the day draws to a close, I remember again that even though he has been gone for more than three years, Matt continues to shape my life. It was his influence that first taught me that the journey is about much more than the destination. It was Matt who taught me to slow down and soak up the scenery before it passes you by. It was Matt who understood that life is about stepping outside of your comfort zone to discover the special and sacred parts of the world we’ve yet to explore. This journey is just getting started, but already we have been blessed by the experience of all we’ve seen.
MANY THANKS to our 2015 silver sponsors Sun Directed and Beth Richards, KBB Realtor,
and bronze sponsors Freeze Thaw Cycles and the Rock Ethics Institute for their support!
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