PA IPL bike trip 2013.1: training and preparation

Bike Trip blog: 2013.1 

Our big trip is only five days away, and there’s still a lot to do. I’ve decided to start the blog early this year to give everyone a sense of the preparations that the six of us are undertaking. I’m the only veteran in the crowd, and I have to say that everything’s a bit easier than last year, since I now know most of the route and the places we will stay. The training is harder, though. 

Frankly, we’ve had trouble getting in training rides in between snowstorms here in Central PA. We did get together last week for a 30-mile ride, and our local paper wrote up a nice story, with pictures. You can read it here. Personally, I’m about a week behind my training regimen, but I did make it up Pine Grove Mills’ mountain (pictured above) on Saturday and now have a picture of the view to prove it. 

Donations have been pouring in from family and friends – almost $2,000 so far, which is great! Thanks to everyone who has responded to our appeal; we’re very humbled by your support. If you haven’t donated, there’s still time, and it’s tax deductible! We’re still quite a ways from our goal of $6,000, and we could use your support. Just click here

We have also received many letters from kids of all ages who have written to support 12-year-old Hannah, who is riding along on a tandem with her father, Jesse Ballenger. You can read Hannah’s letter here, and I’m including a few photos of submissions we’ve received. On Friday, April 5, the morning of the day we leave, Hannah will be visiting the pre-school at Grace Lutheran Church; the kids there have been making drawings to send along and are excited for the chance to talk with her. 

Grace is also the site for our send-off. If you’re in State College, please come join us at 4 p.m. You can even ride a few miles with us. If you can’t join us, please say a prayer. It’s a long trip and we hope to all make it in one piece! 

More from our first stop, 
Jon (Andy, Dave, Hannah, Jesse and Ray) 

Cycling days 5&6

I’m writing this now from home in State College – hard to believe this adventure is over, it was such a whirlwind. We are so grateful to those of you who helped make it possible – we felt buoyed by your good thoughts and prayers and gratified by your continued outpouring of donations: we beat our goal of $3,000 for PA Interfaith Power and Light! That means 6,000 dollars, thanks to our matching grant from IPL national.

Our last day on the road was very pleasant – Joyce made a cyclist’s dream breakfast of eggs Benedict and asparagus, and we looked over maps while planning our final 35 miles into Washington. Just as we prepared to leave for our lunch meeting in Poolesville, though, Peter discovered his tire was flat again. Taking the tire apart he found, much to the surprise of his thumb, a small wire sticking through the tire. Good thing he has nine other fingers to play piano for Bernadette Peters tonight …

We had a great lunch meeting with representatives from local Presbyterian, Lutheran and Reform Jewish congregations, and afterwards, Peter quickly dashed over to the Presbyterian Church to have a look at their buildings. We are going to miss Peter and his readiness to share his knowledge and expertise so freely with others, but our loss is Maine’s gain.

The day turned quite warm (an amazing contrast to the freezing weather we had only a few days earlier), and we rode through some beautiful country on our last leg to Washington. The concentration of wealth was palpable, however, and the comparison with the poverty of Central PA couldn’t be more striking. As the roads got busier and traffic more annoying, we hit the old C&O; canal towpath once again for our ride in to DC. The going was slow, but seeing the Potomac river and the old canal locks was pretty cool.

We rounded one bend and could see the Washington monument, then a little farther on we glimpsed the Lincoln Center and passed the Watergate hotel. Soon we were riding up Independence Avenue and knew we had really arrived! We stopped briefly at the King memorial and then rode by the Smithsonian, around the Capitol building and to Reformation Lutheran Church, where Pastor Mike Wilker was waiting for us with cold water and a warm embrace. We didn’t stay for long, however, as we needed to connect up with Cricket (PA IPL executive director) who had our “meeting clothes” for us and our marching orders for the next day. Cricket was attending the Interfaith Power and Light national conference at Gallaudet University, and as people got wind of our arrival, they came out to greet us (see a short video clip linked from the national IPL Facebook page). Finally, Rev. Canon Sally Bingham, founder of IPL, came out and gave us a real hero’s welcome, beckoning us to bring our bikes right into the conference center where about 100 IPL folks gave us a standing ovation!

Peter and I stayed that night with Mavis and Rev. Phil Anderson, members of Reformation Lutheran and wise in all things political, who helped prepare us for our visit to Capitol Hill on Wednesday. We then joined Cricket and Rev. Cheryl Pyrch (board member of PA IPL) and split into two teams to cover as many offices as possible. Because Congress was in recess we didn’t meet any actual members, but we were able to talk at length with staffers in (so I am told) a much less hectic environment. Many of our meetings lasted 30 minutes or more as we urged them to support specific bills on energy efficiency (the U.S. government is a huge landlord – let’s start by making these buildings energy efficient: good for the budget, good for the environment!) and support new EPA Clean Air rules. We spoke to Republicans and Democrats, seeking common ground and trying to break the deadlock in DC.

Thanks to Cricket’s great work, all of them had heard about our bike trip and asked us about it. One staffer said to Peter: “we get a lot of people talking to us about the environment, but they fly their planes here to do it – you rode your bike in.” I think we really made an impression as we spoke passionately about the many people in Pennsylvania choosing between food and fuel, and about the people everywhere already suffering the effects of climate change.

After a long day, we tied our bikes to the rack of the car that Cricket drove down, piled in and headed for home (watching all those hills whiz by with amazing speed). We have a lot of experiences to process, many things to think through and much work ahead of us. Without doubt it was a successful, transformative experience and one that I hope we can repeat year after year. Thanks for being a part of it!

Jon, Kris and Peter

Cycling trip, day 4

Well, our longest day is behind us and we are waking up to find ourselves a mere 30 miles from our nation’s capital. Most of these days we have been on a 50 mile per day pace but yesterday we pushed the envelope a bit by riding 70 miles so that we could enjoy the wonderful hospitality of  Joyce Breiner (who is the executive director of Poolesville Green and a member of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Gaithersburg) her husband Dave Yaney and their son Alex. Kris and I can’t seem to pull Jon from his bottle of Advil long enough to update the blog so I’ll be the guest-blogger in this update of our trip (only kidding about Jon’s Advil… in fact, it’s much stronger stuff I can’t mention here for legal reasons).

Yesterday morning, we left the home of Pastor Dennis and Linda Beaver in Fayetteville, PA for a 12 mile morning ride to breakfast at the home of the Hersch family of Waynesboro Heights, PA who are members of Pastor Dennis’ church. They were very generous hosts and we were very thankful for their wonderful food and great stories. Jon, Kris and I were hoping they might adopt us so that we could enjoy more of their company and avoid the long journey ahead of us.
Once on our bikes we made our way over the Maryland border and discovered the lovely farm country and rolling hills of northern Maryland. The day was overcast and we had read that there was a chance of showers but in fact we avoided any rain and the temperature was cool and comfortable for the long ride.

There were a number of possible routes that we could choose to make our way to Poolesville. Originally we were following the suggestions provided by googlemaps which now has a handy bike option. Jon also had suggestions emailed to him by his high school buddy named Bill who is an avid bicycle enthusiast in the DC area. We opted to split the difference and start with the former and switch to Bill’s directions as we moved closer to our destination. As we started to encounter more frequent and increasingly larger hills Kris and I became skeptical of Bill’s motives.  On some of the worst hills, Kris and I began to wonder just what harm Jon had done to his friend Bill to deserve this level of punishment.

Our late breakfast kept us energized until we were finally ready for a lunch break at 2:30 in the village of Middletown. We opted for the Main Street Café in Middletown which we all thoroughly enjoyed and recommend to anyone who happens to be travelling through those parts. After our meals… and desserts… and coffee, we asked the staff the best way to Poolesville and made our way south.

That afternoon’s ride took us through more beautiful countryside on back roads until we found an entrance to the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal trail at Point of Rocks, MD. The C and O was a great break from the traffic of roadside touring and led us within 6 miles of our final destination in Poolesville.

Joyce and Dave have been wonderful hosts to us; holding dinner until our 8 pm arrival, providing a much needed shower, entertaining us with their wonderful stories and treating us to the best sleep of our trip so far. This morning we are enjoying another hearty breakfast and relaxing before we give a noontime talk at an interfaith gathering Joyce has arranged. After that, we have a mere 30 miles to Washington DC. With the end of our journey just around the corner, it’s hard to believe that we’re almost there.

Cycling trip, Day 3

Organizing a bike trip like this at the end of a semester is a bit of a stressor – it would be easier if I were on my own, but being responsible for two others and for making various arrangements has been tough. Don’t get me wrong – Peter and Kris are great companions, and so many friends and relatives have sent in good thoughts and prayers and donations that it has been overwhelming, but it really is a lot of work.
In fact, I had not realized the burden I was carrying until I let it go – this morning right in church. Toward the end of the service, Pastor Ed called for people to come forward to receive healing prayer. One member did, and folks surrounded her, putting their hands on her shoulders while the pastor anointed her forehead and prayed over her. It was a touching scene of support, and then he turned to us and asked us to come down to the front of the church.
And so the three of us did – stood in front of the pastor while all these people, perfect strangers, placed their hands on us while pastor prayed: for a safe journey, for our message of caring for God’s creation to be successful, for us to light up the hearts and souls of people we would meet along the way. I wept and embraced these complete strangers who were now to me like members of my own family.
The Methodist church of Orbisonia is a small church in a small town, like so many throughout Pennsylvania and the country. People are struggling, skeptical of outsiders and of politicians. Yet they are reaching out. They have acquired the old High School gym and converted part of it into an outreach center – they’re looking for $400,000 to complete the job.  It’s a beautiful dream, and I hope in a small way that PA IPL can help. Already Peter, in his matter-of-fact engineer way, has identified several ways that they can save hundreds of dollars a year in electrical costs (and carbon).  Just taking out the air conditioners during the winter, for example, would save a tremendous amount.
We arrived there as strangers and left as more than friends – that is what this trip is all about. Of course, the weather agreed, turning sunny and warm. Our ride out of Orbisonia was breathtakingly beautiful – through Shade Gap and Cowan’s Gap. Easy grades and gorgeous scenery – nothing better. We ate our lunch under the maple trees of Mountain View elementary school, even took a nap midday.  Somehow, though, the first 25 miles seemed so much easier than the second 25 miles. By 4, we were hallucinating about ice cream and finding the uphills so much longer than the downhills.
Peter and I were sure that Kris was underestimating the mileage…  But his directions held true and we finally arrived at the beautiful home of our hosts, Rev. Dennis and Linda Beaver, to a warm welcome, a hot shower and a cold beer!
Pastor Dennis is at the Evangelical Lutheran church in Waynesboro, but lives north of town. We’ll see the church tomorrow and visit with some members over breakfast. Already, we have shared many stories and many laughs – made all the more pleasant by Linda’s excellent lasagna. I feel full, well-fed, both physically and spiritually. I went on this trip to help others, but find that I’m the one who is being given so very much.
I wish for all of you a goodly measure of the grace that has surrounded us during this trip.
Jon (Kris and Peter)

Bike trip to DC, the first 26 hours

Peter, Kris and I (Jon) are relaxing now at the Outreach center of the United Methodist Church in Orbisonia. This is a town of 450 people and 7 churches, with some pretty, old homes and many houses in poor repair. Pastor Ed Seeley greeted us just as soon as we found the church and gave us a warm welcome, as well as a tour of the facilities. It’s so amazing to be met by strangers, taken in and be made to feel immediately a part of the family.

Altogether, our trip is going very well. We had a terrific send-off at St. Andrew’s in State College with more than two dozen friends and family members seeing us on our way. Barb Ballenger led us in song, Pastor Bonnie read the old Irish blessing, perfectly modified for cyclists, and Father Richard read from the Book of Common Prayer. See the festive send-off on YouTube here to get a sense of what we heard as we started our ride out of town.