Authors: Paul Stutzman
Tags: #BIO018000, #BIO026000
Â© 2013 by Paul Stutzman
Published by Revell
a division of Baker Publishing Group
P.O. Box 6287, Grand Rapids, MI 49516-6287
Ebook edition created 2013
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any meansâfor example, electronic, photocopy, recordingâwithout the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, New International VersionÂ®. NIVÂ®. Copyright Â© 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.â¢ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.
Scripture quotations labeled KJV are from the King James Version of the Bible.
To protect the privacy of those who have shared their stories with the author, some details and names have been changed.
Dedicated to Ivan J. Schlabach
November 15, 1951âSeptember 5, 1966
He was the first person I knew to truly go home.
We thought we had all the time in the worldÂ .Â .Â .
CoverÂ Â Â Â
Title PageÂ Â Â Â
Copyright PageÂ Â Â Â
DedicationÂ Â Â Â
1. A New StoryÂ Â Â Â
2. Five Thousand Miles of UnknownsÂ Â Â Â
3. The Road ChosenÂ Â Â Â
4. The Emerald TriangleÂ Â Â Â
5. DannyÂ Â Â Â
6. Caples Lake CaperÂ Â Â Â
7. Middlegate StationÂ Â Â Â
8. The Peace TrainÂ Â Â Â
9. Long Night in UtahÂ Â Â Â
10. Colorful ColoradoÂ Â Â Â
11. Heroes and FriendsÂ Â Â Â
12. Choices on the Road toward HomeÂ Â Â Â
13. Biking the Bible BeltÂ Â Â Â
14. Kudzu, Cotton Fields, and CaninesÂ Â Â Â
15. Front Porches and DinersÂ Â Â Â
16. One WayÂ Â Â Â
17. It's about TimeÂ Â Â Â
AcknowledgmentsÂ Â Â Â
Other Books by Paul StutzmanÂ Â Â Â
Back AdsÂ Â Â Â
Back CoverÂ Â Â Â
his was not how things were supposed to happen. The Cape Trail was meant for walkers, not riders. But I was a bikerâat least, I intended to beâand somehow it just didn't seem right to start a cross-country bicycle ride without the bike. So I lugged my bicycle down a trail that led through a cedar forest to the very edge of our country. In some places the trail was a pleasant stroll down a woodland path, sometimes boardwalks crossed damp and swampy areas, and the path often climbed or descended. I pushed my bike along the narrow and bumpy boardwalk, tugged it up and down wooden steps, and lifted it over roots and rocks.
My journey would not begin or end according to the usual traditions of cross-country rides. Most adventurers back a tire into one ocean, then pedal across the continent until they finally splash into the opposite sea. Here, at my starting point, the surf swirled far below the high cliffs where the observation platform jutted out over the waters. My tires would not be washed by Pacific waves today.
And instead of taking the usual three-thousand-mile route from the Pacific to the Atlantic, my bike and I would have to cover almost five thousand miles. I had searched for the two farthest points in the continental United States and was determined to make the trip from one corner to the other.
I was familiar with the southernmost corner of America. My wife, Mary, and I had visited Key West, Florida, years before, and I relished a return trip there. The northwestern corner, where my journey would begin, was a town I had never heard of: Neah Bay, on the edge of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington. Several miles west of this town, the three-quarter-mile Cape Trail led through wetlands and cedar trees to the geographical northwestern corner of the contiguous United States, a dramatic overlook on the cliffs facing the Pacific Ocean.
So my bike would travel with me down this trail to the starting point for my new adventure.
Bob walked the trail with me. He lived in the Seattle area and had heard through a friend about the ride I had planned. When he offered to pick me up at the airport and transport me and my bike to my starting point, I gladly accepted. Although I'd never met Bob before, his assistance in launching my adventure proved extremely helpful.
At the terminus of the trail, we took in the stunning views from the observation platform high above the ocean. Huge rock formations stood offshore, sculpted into odd shapes by the powerful sea; dark indentations in the cliffs were sea caves that had been hollowed out by incessant waves. This was my first glimpse of the dramatic scenery that awaited me all along the northwest coastline.
Bob and I both snapped photos. It was a beautiful place, but my mind was on the reason I had come. I backed my bicycle up to the very edge of a sheer cliff, the very edge of America, and Bob's camera documented the start of my journey. Now my time had
come to depart for Key West, Florida, the opposite corner of our country, only five thousand miles away.
When we returned to the small parking area at the trailhead, I strapped on my bike panniers and Bob took a few more pictures. Then I started pedaling.
The day was Saturday, July 10.
Nothing about the start of my ride was how it was all supposed to be done. But then, for most of the last decade, my story had not gone the way it was
Mary and I had planned for this part of our lives. Our goal had been to get out of debt and store up some financial resources. When our children were grown, we could retire and volunteer time to mission work.
That was how our story was supposed to go. But in 2002, my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. Four years later, our debts were paid, our children were grownâand Mary was gone. It was not the story I had planned for myÂ life.
On a gorgeous Fourth of July in the summer of 2008, I walked the streets of Dalton, Massachusetts, lost in thought, contemplating the vagaries of life that had brought me to this place at this time. My friend Padre walked beside me. A Mennonite man and a Catholic priest: that picture alone was incredible, almost too strange to be true. I was hiking the Appalachian Trail after losing my wife; Padre the priest was on a sabbatical and fulfilling a lifetime dream. We were both intent on completing the 2,176-mile journey over three hundred mountains and fourteen states.
As I walked, my mind drifted back to my previous life. So many changes had occurred in just a few years. Some folks relish a life
that is in constant transformation. I suppose change is inevitable, but I embrace it reluctantly, preferring routine and stability. Sure, I enjoyed adventures, new trails to hike, and new bike routes to explore, but after every new adventure I could return to my wife and family, and my home kept me centered. That had all changed. My children were grown and cancer had taken my wife from me. At the time of Mary's death, it had been difficult to imagine that God had a plan or even cared about the pain of loss our family felt.
On my hike in the wilderness, though, God gave me a new understanding of his grace and love. I marveled at the changes that took place in my soul. A serene peace settled into my being, the peace I had longed for and sought when I first began hiking the Appalachian Trail.
As Padre and I strolled through Dalton that day, we heard laughter from front porches and lawns and watched families enjoying each other. We spoke of our own homes and families and childhoods. When I started my hike, I carried a message: any time I had opportunity, I wanted to encourage men to appreciate their wives and families. I knew, from firsthand experience, how important it is to cherish our loved ones while we still have them withÂ us.
That July day, I was struck by the significance of family. Family represents safety, acceptance, and being loved.
A thought crept into my mind, a thought so bizarre that in my previous life I would have immediately rejected it because it was so far beyond my comfort zone. But since my wife's death, that zone no longer existed, and somehow this idea made sense on that Fourth of July.
“When this hike is over,” I told my friend, “I'm going to ride my bicycle across America. I want to visit with families that I meet and hear their stories.” There had to be more places like Dalton, where families were the foundation of a community. I wanted to find those places.
My bold statement ignored two facts: I had never biked more than sixty miles in one day, and as a young boy I'd always felt uneasy riding more than several miles from home. But I had already done the unthinkable and quit a good job to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. A cross-country bike trip made senseÂ .Â .Â . almost.
On August 13, 2008, I summited Mount Katahdin in Maine and completed my Appalachian Trail journey. The AT hike brought healing to my soul and a contentment that had eluded me all my adult life. A new path lay ahead of me, a path filled with many unknowns. I had retired from a twenty-five-year restaurant career and left for the trail almost immediately. Once my hike was finished, I returned home to Ohio and settled into new habits and patterns of living. My new routines eventually emerged as I focused on writing a book about my hike.
Two years went by. I found myself retreating into memories of the past rather than dreaming about boldly attacking life and making new memories. I knew I had settled into comfortable habits and I would be stuck in those patternsâunless I made a difficult choice.
We are given many choices and pathways in life. I believe God wants the best for each of our lives, but he won't make the decisions for us. He will give guidance, but he waits for us to make our own choices. And sometimes, I imagine, he probably wishes we would just make up our minds and
so that he can work and meet us on the path we've chosen.
The idea of a bike ride across America had never left my mind. I constantly debated about it with myself. I knew I needed to challenge myself, but I was too comfortable, too safe. I was fine with postponing the ride; I rather preferred staying home. By now, the thought of being alone on a bicycle thousands of miles from home did not hold the same allure that it had on the day I walked through Dalton with Padre. I wavered and could not solidify plans to start the ride.
Recalling how clearly God had revealed to me that the time was right to leave my employment and hike the Appalachian Trail, I wondered if his direction would come to me again with such clarity.
I gave myself a deadline: the decision must be made by a certain date if I was to have enough time to buy equipment and do the planning necessary to bike from one end of America to the other. But the morning of my self-imposed deadline arrived and I had no clear answer to my dilemma. I fell to my knees and asked God for guidance in this difficult choice.
Not much later, I walked to the post office. Once again, I was reminded that God does indeed work in mysterious ways. In the few minutes I was in the post office, five people asked me when I would be starting my cross-country bike ride.
“I believe it will be this summer,” I told messenger number five, and a sense of relief filled me. The decision had been made. I would ride across America.
The beginning of any adventure holds so many uncertainties. On those first five miles downhill, returning to Neah Bay at the edge of the Olympic Mountain range, I coasted along in quiet contemplation. Mist from the Pacific drifted down and soaked me as my mind wandered back over the past ten years.
I was no longer on the well-planned pathway I had laid out for myself years before. The death of my spouse had caused me to rethink all of my priorities. After Mary was gone, storing up resources for some uncertain future no longer seemed a compelling goal. A previously unthinkable move morphed into an irresistible choice, and I quit my job to follow a different pathway. I determined to leave my comfort zone and trust that God would lead me forward. And he had not only led me but also walked with me, as a hiking partner, on every step of the trail from Georgia to Maine.
Here at the northwestern tip of America, I had once again pushed far beyond my comfort zone. I was no longer able to come round the bend of the road at day's end and see the welcome security of home. I had no idea where this day's end would even findÂ me.