We’re back. After a year of being away from our shared home of Goshen, Indiana, we rolled through the iron gate at Goshen College at around 6:30 in the evening on Friday, April 18, 2014. Many friends and family came out to ride in with us the last 7 miles from Benton Mennonite Church. Along with the countless people who have helped us along the way, we also couldn’t have completed this journey without the support of these folks back home. Emotions were running high as we turned the corner and saw the people we had been missing for so long. Matthew Helmuth, who began this trip with us 11 months ago, joined us for the final day on northern Indiana’s county roads. His easy-going style and thoughtful companionship is something we had been missing for a long time, and we three were proud to be in a draft line with him.
The realization that the trip is over is something that has taken a while to sink in. For two weeks after the trip in Goshen, we still got together about every day, and were still biking around town together, so some things didn’t change all that much. We speak Spanish with anyone we can, and have visited a Spanish-speaking Mennonite church right here in Goshen, exploring a new community that we couldn’t have connected as well with a year ago. But our mindsets are completely different as our focus changes to catching up with old friends and looking ahead to a more settled life in the States. Med school is on the horizon for Levi, a summer bike shop job and eventually grad school in engineering for Abe, and who knows what for Michael (though he’s in the market for a programming, IT, or bike shop job until grad school in computer science).
We presented about our trip, with a special focus on Mennonites, at College Mennonite Church in Goshen. John D. Roth’s Institute for the Study of Global Anabaptism sponsored the event. Click here to view a video recording of the presentation. Interspersing songs with stories was a relaxed way for us to share about the trip at Benton Mennonite Church. Abe and Michael also presented in Spanish to a few of Craig Mast’s Bethany Christian School Spanish classes.
It was a quiet couple of weeks coming into Goshen from Nashville. We said goodbye to the Kansas Bible Company boys and headed north into Kentucky, where the hills were higher and the Southern accents a bit less pronounced. We cycled right through Mammoth Cave National Park and crossed the Green River on a ferry, which had special significance for us. Ever since Matthew Helmuth taught John Prine’s “Paradise” to us in the back of a truck in Bolivia, we’d been sharing that song about Kentucky and the Green River with people in countries throughout our trip. In Louisville, we met up with our old college friend, Nathan Stoess, and went to see the Thunder Over Louisville fireworks with his wife, Brittaney. Neighborhood barbecue and lots of fireworks is the way to ring in the Kentucky Derby season in Louisville.
We thought it fitting that our first day in Indiana was overcast and rainy, the weather we remembered from college. But we had many delights to discover while biking, even in a state we were familiar with. Columbus was a highlight. The mid-century architecture of the First Christian Church and North Christian Church, as well as many beautifully designed houses and gardens made this city stand out for us as highly livable. But that day heading out of Columbus we rode in our first snow on the trip. As our host grumbled about the late-April snowfall, we woke up excited as kids in December, to see what to us was the first snowfall of the season. We had to wrap our hands and feet in plastic bags that day to block the wind, but a cyclist traveling by car stopped to give us three steaming hot chocolates and share a little bit about his work with rail trails. He wrote about the encounter here. We rolled into Indianapolis on the newly completed Cultural Trail, a two-way bicycle lane separated from car traffic by large barriers–the best bike infrastructure we’ve seen in the US. Making a pit stop at Indiana University, Levi took off the plastic bags covering his gloves to drop in to the med school office and make arrangements for a follow-up interview. He’ll be back there wearing a lab coat some day. In the city, we had the pleasure of celebrating Ned Geiser’s birthday with him and his wife, Marie. Ned’s the father of our Goshen College friends Hannah and Nathan.
A few of our Warmshowers.org hosts in this last stretch were very involved in the cycling community and were interested not only in the people we met along the way, but whether we had any trouble finding replacement spokes or tires in Latin America. One of our hosts, Ben Orcutt, had started a bike shop that allowed people to use a stand and tools for a membership fee, and ran many educational classes. Michael especially loved talking to Ben about fixing up used and donated bikes for sale and the struggles in starting a non-profit bike advocacy and education organization. We all love bike coops such as the Chain Reaction in Goshen and the Cincinnati bike coop that inspired Orcutt to start Buckskin Bikes. Our final night before arriving in Goshen was spent with Dorothy Bumbaugh in North Manchester, a remarkable woman in her seventies who bikes 20 miles a day on a recumbent tricycle.
When we noticed the northern Indiana grid of county roads (very bikeable), passed by the Amish buggies, and even crossed the same railroad tracks that run through Goshen College, we knew we were coming home. We had a headwind those last miles but didn’t notice. Time and space blurred by as our hearts pumped to see our loved ones again and close this chapter–challenging, rewarding and unforgettable–in our lives.
To whoever’s still following us even to this “disturbingly” belated final blog post, thanks for reading along with us. It has always been so encouraging to hear from people following along, from long-time friends to people like Steve Ramer, who we didn’t know before. Steve, who was part of group who took a van to Paraguay and back again in the ’70s, established email correspondence throughout the trip with us and met us in Goshen.
This trip was a learning process. We’re still chewing through many of the lessons we’ve taken from bike touring for almost a year through Latin America and the United States. But here are a few lessons we hope to hold on to:
- The importance of family, extended beyond the nuclear group, in Latino culture has had a strong impact on us. Some of our favorite stays were in homes with multiple generations happily living together. After such a long trip, we want to remain firmly connected to family.
- The entrepreneurial spirit of those in Latin America has left us with a desire to follow ideas, and often integrate family, church and work life. We met a man selling steamed plantains in Mexico out of his homemade pedal-powered, wood-fired oven. We also saw this resourceful drive in the Ortiz family in Nicaragua, who run a pharmacy and health clinic from their home.
- This trip brought us to a deeper understanding of what it means to participate in the global church, and especially coming to the table as Mennonite. We ran the gamut through Anabaptist-Mennonite groups, from German-speaking Old Colony Mennonites to Spanish-speaking, evangelical Latino Mennonites. Across cultural barriers and despite our spandex bike shorts, all Anabaptist groups welcomed us in as fellow Mennonites. We saw the richness of Anabaptist community in colony economic structures in Paraguay and even in collective biblical interpretation in a small house church in Oaxaca, Mexico. Beyond Anabaptism, we learned to value the huge diversity of gifts that each tradition brings to the Christian faith. We admire the fervor and attentiveness to the Holy Spirit in Pentecostal churches. The unconditional hospitality and openness of the Catholic Church challenges us to share our wealth with those in need. Many evangélico Latino churches have services, Bible studies, and youth events every day, inspiring us to a greater discipleship and commitment to congregational life. Attending a Quechua service in a small town in the Andes Mountains of Bolivia opened our eyes to see that we worship the same God across continents and share a Christian bond with people the world over. We ourselves don’t define Christianity, and our emphases on peace and justice in our faith must seem as strange to someone else as focusing on spiritual warfare is to us. We’re all part of a global Christian family and have to remember our core beliefs in Jesus Christ, who died and was resurrected to give us new life.
- Hospitality has been so important to us in the last year; sharing that with other people is a life-time commitment for us. If you ever want to stay with one of us, our group email will still be active. Do drop by!
- You can get almost anywhere on a bike. We are going to continue biking as our primary means of transportation, not only as an enjoyable way to travel. It’s healthy, sustainable, clean and quiet. After so much time fighting car traffic on bicycle, we would love to see fewer cars and more people joining us on bike. But we also recognize we’re a bit extreme on that end and are working on getting beyond our car hate to recognizing car drivers as people, too. Now that we’re back in familiar neighborhoods, we see how much infrastructure could be improved to slow down traffic and encourage bicycling and walking. In many cities and towns we visited in Latin America, a trip to get groceries by bicycle meant driving through slow-moving traffic on narrow streets with speed bumps and easily hopping off directly to a storefront. Here in the US, it means navigating stoplights and crossing medians on four-lane highways, only to have to traverse a huge car parking lot before arriving at the store.
- We’re more flexible than we’ve ever been. On this trip we had to release much of our control over where we would sleep for the night and where our meals would come from. We’ve learned to be more trusting of each other, of people we meet, and of God.
- Schedules and tasks have their place, but we want to make more time for people and relationships. This means being more spontaneous with visiting people and opening up time to linger in conversation in the city square.
Here’s a few final stats, mainly from our stat-counter, Abe Stucky:
|13||Number of countries traversed: Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Belize, Mexico, and the United States|
|329 days||Total time traveling from Asunción, Paraguay, to Goshen, Indiana (May 25, 2013 to April 18, 2014)|
|176 days||Number of days biking, making progress on our route|
|19,725 km||Total distance traveled on our route (12,256 mi)|
|16,472 km||Total distance biked on our route (10,235 mi)|
|84%||Percentage of total distance biked (the rest we bused, ferried or hitched)|
|94 km||Average riding distance per biking day (58 mi)|
|88 km||Average distance traveled per day, regardless of mode of travel (55 mi)|
|66.86°||Degrees of latitude traversed|
|37 kg||Average weight of each loaded bicycle, according to a highway truck scale in Colombia (82 lb)|
|$2,813.19||Total money spent as a group, per person. We had a shared wallet during the trip, but this figure doesn’t include the personal expenses before and during the trip. These personal expenses, especially counting the cost of our bikes, add at least a $1,000 per person.|
|28 days||Number of biking days with some rain, out of the 176 days biking|
|1 day||Number of days with snow. We rode through snowfall on April 15, 2014, leaving Columbus, Indiana|
|11 days||Debilitating (non-bikeable) sick days, when 1 or more members was laid out|
|0||Number of times robbed or assaulted, though Abe’s whistle was stolen in Mexico City|
|50||Number of flats. Abe had 8, Michael 21, Levi 18 and Matthew 3|
|8||New tires put on. Michael switched out 4, Abe 2 and Levi 2. Abe’s front tire was the only one to last the whole journey. Matthew used a tire in Paraguay and Bolivia that Abe then rode from Colombia to Belize, at which point Michael carried it through Mexico to Texas and then rode it from Texas to Indiana.|
|15||Number of spokes broken. Abe had 14 and Michael had 1.|
|389 days||Number of consecutive days Abe and Michael saw each other, extending both before and after the trip|
|4818 m||Highest point crossed above sea level, at Ticlio, Peru (15,807 ft)|
|-2 m||Lowest elevation, below sea level, in New Orleans, Louisiana (-6.5 ft)|
|27||Number of languages that we remember encountering, spoken by locals (we heard many others spoken by mostly European and East Asian tourists)|
|11||Number of ferries crossed, including 4 speedboat trips crossing from Colombia to Panama|
|16 nights||Number of nights spent at fire stations|
|11||Number of visits to pre-Columbian ruins|
|36||Number of Mennonite groups visited (every country except Guatemala)|