Today was a long, hot day. Probably the hottest day of the entire ride. 103 miles today ended our 550 mile bike ride.
The incredible support we received on the ride is staggering. At one point, every rider who is a current young man at the Paul Anderson Youth Home had family present on the ride. Not only that, but we had five alumni riders and two alumni parent riders with us the entire ride. We had bike ride staples Jeff and Judy Thompson with their magical cow bells. An endless list of folks who opened their homes, their churches, their restaurants to us. At our last count, we were less than $10,000 away form reaching our $150,000 goal. That is amazing.
Still, of all the miraculous things we witness on the bike ride each year, nothing compares with seeing our boys finish such a grueling ride. Riding a bike 100 miles in a day is bad enough. I know. But riding 550 miles in seven days requires a commitment that exceeds mere curiosity or hobby interest. Sure, many people love biking. But not everyone who rides on the PAYH bike ride is an avid cyclist fan. Yet the persevere, day after day. What compels them? Is it bragging rights? Being able to say, “I rode 550 miles on a bike”? Perhaps. No doubt that lends a certain glamor to it. But what pushes our boys past that? What makes them climb back on a bike after crashing into a ditch, having a major tire blowout, and getting lost, all in the same day? What would compel someone to get up at 5:30 in the morning with minimal sleep, squeeze into bike shorts and climb onto a tiny little bike saddle, one made just the right size for Woodie in Toy Story? Bragging rights just isn’t enough.
It is family. It is community and camaraderie. It is being part of something that is bigger than yourself, doing something that you know will forever be a milestone in your life. It is about knowing you are making a difference. On some days we pass through small towns that, to us, seem empty. Nearly desolate. Then we will up at someone’s home and find ourselves surrounded by incredible people with heart and love and such generosity that is is amazing. In those moments, it becomes a revelation that we did not merely pass through a small, southern town. We passed through the outskirts of heaven and fellowshiped with the salt of the earth.
There is something truly moving about pulling back on the campus of PAYH in Vidalia and seeing the faces of the boys and staff we haven’t seen in a week. Has it only been a week? It lasted a few brief moments, but took years for us to complete. And we did it together. The riders and support staff on the ride truly become a family. Quirky and unique and totally incapable of replication. But that family extends beyond that. To people in Indiana and Virginia and Texas. To all the folks back in Vidalia. All the family and friends who follow us, comment on the blog and videos. It is an experience unlike any other to be part of the bike ride. It is a simple fact.
Ride a bike 550 miles. Sure, that sounds like a lot, but it’s just riding a bike. Except it isn’t. We are blessed with a unique group of people who perform very specific tasks on the bike ride each year. Victoria travels the roads on the route double, sometimes triple the amount as the riders. Marking turns and checking routes. It is a tough job, and she does it with a permanent smile. Michelyn, on the days she was with us, forged the way as well. Those tow, along with all the parents who followed with us – an invaluable asset, in so many ways – made it possible for us to get where we needed to be. Every time. Every day. Once we had six riders get a little lost. For a little while. But compared to other times, that isn’t lost. Just ask alumni riders Reef and Christian.
And the hub of the bike ride, literally the most central point of the entire event, is the van and trailer. At the helm: Sam. There is only one Sam. His skills with a trailer are literally as impressive as the miles the riders do on a bike, and it is exceeded only by the size of his heart and his love for giving Eric a hard time. Sam volunteers every year. He is a genius. We are efficient and mobile in large part due to Sam.
Matthew is back at PAYH making calls and connecting with people for events and lodging. Rebecca working to keep the website and social media sites buzzing with all the latest news. The staff, who engage collectively as much around this event as they do over any one thing we do at the home, other than the boys themselves. And you don’t see them in the videos we post or hear about them in the blog entries. It takes so many people to pull this thing off.
Mac, this was your vision. You see what it has become. Thank you.
It is truly astounding when our boys who have graduated come back to join the ride. Joseph. Kent. Cody. Ben. Nick. We missed Jake this year, but know his heart would be with us if it wasn’t with someone more important… for this year at least. Seeing our graduates come back and engage in the ride is so encouraging to us as staff. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. You are why we do what we do. Sometimes the sheer number of young men who have been through the home makes it difficult for us to keep in touch like we want. In my 13 years, it has been well over 200 young men. Still, seeing our young men who have graduated go on to live their lives, be productive and happy, is the whole reason we do this. But to have you come back and invest back into this ministry in such a way as this is literally priceless.
A special thanks to Fritz and Daniel.We love when our alumni join us. Having you guys join us as well is a gift beyond expression. You guys both are beasts on a bike in your own right. Fritz, you smoked them all so far as I could tell, and Daniel we haven’t forgotten you riding last year’s ride one-handed. But the support and hard work you put into every other aspect of the ride exceeds anything either of you did on a bike. Our most sincere gratitude.
The same gratitude to all our other parents who joined us. I will not try to name you all, cause I would definitely fail. You guys rock. Thanks. And, to those of you who enjoy marshmallows, you go right ahead and enjoy marshmallows. You know who you are, and you earned your marshmallow break!
Thanks to our sponsors. We couldn’t do it without you.
I would be remiss to not throw in a thank you to our blogger, photographer and videographer. And he does look fantastic in shorts.
And finally, thank God that during all the years we have put on this event, we have never had a serious injury. We strive to be safe and look out for our young men, staff and volunteers who are riding. But roads are a dangerous place, especially for a cyclist. Thank you God for not only blessing this event to be successful in all the ways we hope it to be but also for keeping our riders safe year after year. You are a good God. We are thankful to see your goodness reflected in all the wonderful people who make this event so special.
God bless you all. See you next year.
P.S. Cracker Barrel breakfast this morning courtesy of Greg and Valerie. Those pancakes may have weighed the riders down, but the support staff is in your debt.