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Cross–Country Ride for a Cause With Stops at Kroc Centers

Last summer, I committed to the idea of riding cross–country. I thought it would be the ultimate challenge: body, mind, spirit. I eventually realized it would be more fulfilling to ride for a cause, to be motivated by a purpose greater than myself. After careful reflection, I decided to ride for a crisis pregnancy center in Indianapolis. I believe these [women and their children] are particularly disadvantaged in today’s society.

O’Connor House is a small, Christian–based home in the northern suburbs. I approached the board of directors with the idea. After our meeting, I was convinced this was the right organization. It was small, local, and highly effective.

Originally, I planned to start from San Francisco. Then I realized if I could partner with the practicually ubiquitous Salvation Army, perhaps they could help with some accommodations. I met with a manager at the South Bend Kroc after my morning spinning class to discuss the idea. She said, “It’s a shame you’re not starting in San Diego—that’s where it all began. Home to the original Kroc.”

OK, so I’ll start in San Diego, I thought. Then, perhaps, I should visit a few Krocs along the way.Consequently, the idea to visit seven Krocs nationwide was born, starting at the oldest and finishing at the newest, in Virginia Beach. I was also intrigued by the Kroc “business model” of locating in distressed communities, helping potentially wayward youth. Moreover, I loved the fact that Kroc Centers were working “upstream” to prevent personal crises such as unwanted/unplanned pregnancies. Soon I became equally excited about this parallel mission.

I flew to San Diego on April 24 and left that following day after dipping my bike in the Pacific Ocean. The trip to Virginia Beach took 49 days, traveling 3,465 miles (80–plus miles a day). I started off camping, but in Phoenix, I sent my tent back; it was simply too heavy. That was either a leap of faith or an act of foolishness! This became a recurring theme throughout the trip.

I had committed to finding shelter daily. Almost like foraging for food, I had to stay motivated, proactive. I stayed in a few motels, on church floors, and met people on the streets and in restaurants who opened their homes. Most often, I stayed with members of an online community for touring cyclists. There were some nights, however, when I rolled into town with literally no idea where I would sleep. Thank God, it always worked out!

Somewhere along the way, I became inspired to ride to Maine [after my journey ended]. After a short respite in Virginia Beach, I continued along the Atlantic Coast. I cycled along the wonderful Maine coast, eventually reaching New Brunswick, Canada. My return took me though northern Vermont and upstate New York, around the Great Lakes, and up to northern Michigan. I arrived back in South Bend on Sept. 8. Over the four–and–a–half–month period, I peddled 7,045 miles and visited 27 States. Nine Krocs in all. I am especially proud of the fact that I was able to raise over $13,000 for the O’Connor House. Humbled, in fact.

Trip highlights include: visiting Maine’s coast; careening through the Appalachians; rolling through the mountains of northern New England; crossing the Mississippi; and, of course, arriving at Virginia Beach after an 111–mile day and riding desperately through rush–hour traffic. I was thrilled to have met so many incredible people along the way—a good sign that acts of compassion and generosity are still alive and well.

People have often asked if I was ever scared. Yes. Not petrified, but definitely intimidated. There were five storms that were incredibly threatening. The worst was in New Mexico at over 6,000 feet. It was an electrical sleet storm with 40–plus knot headwinds. The temperature dropped to 46 degrees: I soon realized that this was serious—I was like a little boat in distress—as my body temperature plummeted. There was no shelter in sight as I had just merged onto I–40 (legal in that part of the country) and it was really too late to don more layers. After 20 minutes, I started to panic a bit. [But I made it!]

The lessons I learned were not particularly profound. I found myself constantly thinking about three simple themes/virtues. First, be humble. The trip could end at any time for myriad reasons. Second, stay focused. It was so easy to get distracted by unrelated excursions. And third, be patient. Indeed, for me, the hardest! Nothing happens quickly on a bike, except for, perhaps, an accident.

In the end, I think I can capture the spirit of my journey with a simple Peddler’s Prayer that I wrote last December: “My Lord, make not that the journey be light; for indeed, it will be for naught. Rather, I plead, give me the strength to cheerfully endure. I humbly beseech thee for safety. And above all, pray never to lose sight of you, Father.”

by Bill Bihlman

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