Tuesday, February 16, 2021

More Than Pushing Pedals


Easy section
In July 2017, I participate in what was then called The Trans South Dakota Bikepacking Expedition. It is now called the Trans South Dakota Race. The format is the same. The event directors, Joe and Tina Stiller exhibit the qualities of welcome, hospitality, and compassion in all circumstances. 

I found this writing on a flash drive which I was cleaning up for other purposes. It not only brought back memories, but still captures of essence of spirituality in daily events. The pictures are from the initial part of my journey. This writing is dated August 4, 2017.

I knew before it started that the Trans South Dakota Bikepacking Expedition would be a challenge. I had made my goals for each day. The goals did not seem extreme in my mind. In many ways I thought they would be attained, though with strong effort.

Less than an hour after leaving the start in Beulah, Wyoming my expectations were challenged. My legs felt weak and my heart rate was elevated beyond the usual for biking. Walking became the method for lowering my heart rate. However, those steps became the breeding ground for negative self-talk. I focused on being mindful of my setting, the opportunity of freedom and exploration, and simply placing one foot in front of the other and making one revolution of the crank to move me forward. 

There were many miles of single track. More than I anticipated. Pushing an overloaded bike over and around fallen trees became its own mental and physical challenge. Afternoon rains, gooey mud, and searching for a pannier that had bounded off the rack had my first day ending in the Spearfish Canyon. All other participants were miles ahead of me. 

Day 2 was pushing the heavy bike up rocky trails that mountain goats would not use. I could finally see the town of Lead ahead. This was a major boost until I missed a turn, descending about a mile down a steep grade. In order to participate each rider had to remain on course going back to the point of deviation. Now I was gaining altitude pushing a bike and losing attitude! I continued and made it to the Big D Sinclair station. The workers at the station had way more compassion and hospitality than I expected. They assured me that others who stopped did not look any better than myself.  At last the Michelson Trail and getting to Hill City as the sun was setting. Behind my goals but still upright!

Mt Rushmore and the Pig Tail Highway was a battle in all aspects. Climbing, pedaling, pushing, and screaming down the curving pavement. I quickly learned the skills of proper braking techniques. I lived with the gnawing sense that I would be off the GPS route at any time. Thus caution reigned. The graciousness of ranch residents allowing me access to their water source made the final push to the Hermosa RV Campground manageable. It was here that I connected with 2 other participants, Giorgio and Silvia. At least I was not alone!

Silvia + Giorgio
  Hermosa to Ft. Pierre was a long, hot, pain-filled, and insightful trip. The 3 days were filled with peaks and depths in all aspects of a journey. Riding with two others even when communication was difficult (They live in Italy) was a great boost for me. Silvia stopped her adventure prior to Ft Pierre. Giorgio and I continued the long, hot push. I sensed that I was going to crash and burn (especially burn) prior to reaching our destination. A teenager who was practicing roping with a metal steer was an unsuspecting personal hero. His willingness to provide rest in the shade, copious amounts of iced water, and conversation provided needed respite from my heat induced stupor. 

Reaching Ft Pierre and following the GPS to the destination of a provided campsite, I came headlong into Joe Stiller and Silvia. They were looking for Giorgio and myself. We all had mandatory tracking beacons so they saw our "dots." I had persuaded Giorgio to go ahead of me to Ft Pierre, as I was straining in the harsh conditions. My stop to recover with the roping guardian angel was unknown to Giorgio. My body and spirit were baked. I did not come close to any of my goals. 

I do not call these races. For me they are events. There were previous events that I did not complete. When that occurs the person is listed as "DNF" (did not finish). I told Joe that my journey was ending. His response, "Tomorrow you'll packraft down the Missouri River to Pierre. You will then officially arrive at Checkpoint #1." There was no mention of DNF in ensuing conversations. Joe said multiple times that he wants participants to complete their journey, meet their goals, and finish the ride to North Sioux City. I never heard him mention DNF.

Joe's words were those of acceptance. His acceptance was greater than my fears. In a world where we are constantly placing labels of success and failure, winners and losers upon people, I was taken back by Joe's words of understanding. He understood the journey was more than a finish line.

As a pastor, I needed to hear these words. These are not just Joe's words, but God's words. God wants us to be on and in the journey of life. God understands limits and frustrations. Goals are good. Planning is necessary. However, it is experiencing the people and places along the journey that enhance life. There are variances off the "set course." There are times when others are not strangers but sustainers for the journey. Even when communication is difficult and self-talk can move in the direction of despair, life is more than a race. It is a series of events. 

I completed the journey across South Dakota in July 2018, once again with the help of Joe + Tina, my wife, and gracious sustainers.

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