By: Pastor Arne Walker
It was an ordinary Confirmation Class at Grace Lutheran Church of Lily Lake, Illinois. It was a regular request by me, their pastor, “What would you like to do for our next monthly fellowship outing? One of our more spirited girls said, “Let’s bike to Potawatomie Park in St. Charles for a picnic.” The idea caught on and each youth went home to resurrect an old bike. Dads now had a project to dust off bikes and check tires and brakes. Out from garages and basements for ride day emerged mainly one-speed bikes along with a three, a bicycle built for two, and even an exceedingly rare 5-speed bike. The ride, the fellowship and picnic from the 20-mile journey went very well.
That was met by a chorus, “Let’s go somewhere overnight.” Not having biked since paper route days, I had no expertise to offer. We planned together a 3-day trip to our Bible Camp (Camp Alpine) at Richmond, Illinois, which was 50 miles away. I wanted us to have a play day in between. Once again, the response was very positive.
To put this into some historical perspective, no one was biking. Our exchangee from Switzerland tried unsuccessfully to find a biking companion to ride three miles from Lily Lake to Elburn. There were no takers.
The exact progression from there is not clear in my memory but early on came the idea, to bike to Madison, Wisconsin. Knowing the hills to get there, I shared reluctant support. We were quite a sight with our backpacks, as paniers were not yet part of the scene. We unsuccessfully tried twice but setbacks turned us back home at Loves Park, Illinois. That did not discourage our crew. And the third try was exhausting but a wonderful trip up and back. The backroads were enjoyable and safe and very hilly.
The arrival home was met by two girls in chorus saying, “Now let’s do something really big.” I had regarded Madison as huge. I am not prone to sarcasm but I responded, “Like what, ride around Lake Michigan?” That met with a resounding. “Let’s do it! Thus, the Bikeathon Retreat was born.
With the help of a bike shop owner friend, the decision was made that you must be 8th grade or above. I found several men who were brave enough to give it a try and one of them committed to our first long endeavor. It was to be starting and finishing in Lily Lake. The ride was to be 1300 miles around Lake Michigan on backroads utilizing county maps.
I wanted this to be more than a long bike hike, so I designed it around the three marks of the Church. It would include proclamation – beginning and ending each day with the Word of God. It was also to be a Bikeathon raising money for a mutually agreed upon benevolence cause. That would well satisfy the diaconia or service mark of the Church. The last, Koinonia, a deep sense of Christian fellowship would grow out of the total experience. The benevolence component raised over $50,000 for varied projects over ten years.
The next aspect was not in the design but came about when a Kaneland track star was in major pain off his bike on the side of the road. As a lark, I had previously taken a two-week course in massage. So now it was to put this to work and in short order the young man bounced up, jumped on his bike, and rode off. Massage at that time did not have a good name, yet this incident gave birth to nightly massages on sore backs and aching muscles. I credit it as well to be one of the reasons our crew stayed healthy despite limited sleep.
“Forest breathing,” a research discovery of our Japanese friends, was another component of our health along with the socialization that was provided by our commitment to each other. THINK 21 was our ongoing motto. Prayer and meditation of recent time is receiving solid scientific support as beneficial to our health. Then add to all that activity participating in a project (cause) bigger than ourselves.
All this was part of our Bikeathon. Do you see a Hand working behind the scenes? Do you hear echoes of my repeated messages on “The Well-Round Square?” Welcome back! Reflect, renew, and restore, and be blessed and be a blessing.
And one last thing, thanks for following me on the adventure of “a road not yet built.” We indeed were pioneers.
P.S. Many of you have my book “Even I Will Learn to Dance” which includes many Bikeathon stories and has raised over $10,000 for a spiritual enrichment program for teens in the ELCA Southeastern Synod. A second book “A Trail Less Hiked” has raised over $6,000 to support Isaac Taylor on the missionary field in Australia. The stories are mainly to thank encouragers in my life during its many stages. As well it lifts up the challenge to walk a trail less hiked.
Arne Walker, Pastor