Meet Ben Wideman, fourth in the 2019 series of rider profiles, and one of the 2019 trip leaders. Get to know the riders for the PA to DC rides as the series unfolds, then follow the trips! Learn more. Donate.
More than four years ago I met with Penn State professor, Dr. Jon Brockopp, simply to connect and learn more about his work and experience. I was a new campus minister to the Penn State community, and Jon’s name kept coming up as someone I should get to know. At the end of our time together he casually mentioned an annual bike ride he had started years earlier, originating in State College, and ending on Capitol Hill. He explained about the ride, and the unique experience of bringing together people from different faiths to pedal their bikes as a response to climate change.
Later that spring (2015), I rode my bicycle for the first time with this group of riders. It was a wonderful experience and I wanted to do more. The following year, the death of a grandparent meant that I could not participate, but in 2017 I returned to ride and experience the joy of reaching DC by bicycle. Last year I helped to add another “spoke” to the IPL bike trip “wheel”, by co-coordinating a new group of riders from the Philadelphia area, bringing another set of roads, hosts, and perspectives to this ride. We timed our journey to arrive in DC on the same day as the State College group.
Every year I uncover new ways to measure or quantify this incredible ride. Each year there are close to 20 people willing to take on the ride, some with previous experience, some of whom the ride will present their longest ride they’ve ever experienced. We pass through numerous communities along our route, spending the night in five different locations. We power our bicycles approximately 200 miles from State College to DC, using about 50,000 pedal strokes (at ~250 rotations per mile) and burning more than 10,000 calories over the length of our journey. During that time we descend more than 1100 feet from State College elevation to near-sea-level DC, while climbing 3800 feet and descending almost 5000 feet of rolling Pennsylvania and Maryland hills. When we arrive in DC we meet with as many of Pennsylvania’s 20 congressional representatives and senators as we can arrange appointments with. Our journey home only takes around 4 hours by car, having spent five days riding our bikes to the Capitol.
All of these numbers help to paint a picture of what this ride is like, however the downside of explaining this journey using numbers misses some of the unquantifiable soul of this journey. Each of us who chooses to ride does it for a different reason, and we form a connection with people whom we did not know before. Hours of storytelling occur between the riders, and we pick up stories along the way of the people who have been working to reduce their environmental impact, or who have been affected by climate change. We all bring unique skills to our team. Some of us have been riding for decades, while others have limited experience. We’ve ridden everything from converted mountain bikes, to touring specific bikes, to hybrid bikes and even fancy road racing bicycles. We each bring our own stories and life experience with us on this journey.
I ride not for the numbers – as impressive as they are – but for the soul and spirit of this journey. I ride for the many people I’ve ridden with in the past, and the many people I will ride with in the future. I ride carrying the memories of my family and friends, and loved ones who are no longer with us. I ride despite the political division in this country, and I ride because of that very same thing. I ride for the future of our planet, and for the reminder that we are all connected in deep and intricate ways. I ride for the spiritual sense of call that this experience speaks out to me, every spring as the weather begins to warm. I ride because journeying by bicycle is often far more rewarding than the eventual destination. I cannot wait to ride again.
Ben is the pastor at 3rd Way Collective.