Sea to Sea - And Other Waters

Two pins, some wire, and about 10 staples are holding my shattered left elbow together. I broke the elbow when I fell off my bicycle—but not on the day I thought I would.

The day I thought I was done for was Day 36 of “Sea to Sea with the CRC,” the bicycle tour that crossed Canada last summer. We were slated for a 152- kilometer (94 mile) ride from Quetico Provincial Park to Thunder Bay, Ontario, which would complete 3,517 km (2,185 miles) of our tour—the halfway point.

I had planned to ride that day with Kevin Rupke. Kevin was the youngest rider on the tour, a cheerful blond high school student who often wore his older brother’s colorful racing gear.

He didn’t hang out with any one crowd as many cyclists did but moved in many different circles. On Day 36 he had decided to stick with me.

Kevin and I were among the first of the 107 cyclists to get our rubber on the highway. We hadn’t pedaled far when it began to pour.

This was no mere rain. It was like the sky had been unzipped and an ocean was tumbling down. The road turned into a stream, and droplets began to find their way through our waterproof clothes.

Worst of all, we were cycling past nothing but rocks and trees. There was no shelter. We were at the mercy of the wilderness.

I felt like a waterlogged rat on wheels, and I could barely see the road. Salt from sweat had been building up in my helmet for weeks and the water coursing down my helmet carried it into my eyes, nearly blinding me. I blinked wildly, barely making out the edge of the road to my right. I prayed to God to save us, sincerely believing this could be the end.

When the panic ebbed, I thought about the storm that had hit us two days earlier in Emo, Ontario. It swept through the camp, soaking a number of tents and blowing others over. We had camped on the lawn of the local Christian Reformed church. They overwhelmed us with hospitality, offering showers in nearby homes and opening the church doors so we would not have to sleep in soggy tents. Supper, appropriately, was a tasty fish fry.

Today, however, the fish were a distant memory and water was my enemy. I glanced over at Kevin. To my surprise, he was cycling with both hands raised in the air, laughing, and shouting up into sheets of rain, “This is the best!” My agony was his ecstasy.

After about 50 km (30 miles) of cycling, we saw an old motel. An angel in disguise greeted us at the door, offering free coffee and tea, free use of the dryers, and warm blankets. Soon about 30 cyclists were huddled in the lounge, sipping hot liquids. We warmed ourselves for about an hour before slipping back into the rain, leaving money for our gracious host.

We still had 100 km (60 miles) to pedal. Kevin, restless with energy, drafted me forward. “You can make it!” he said, encouraging me when I mumbled something about packing it in.

The ride ended in the parking lot of Thunder Bay CRC. Kevin was still cheer- ful, and we decided a victory lap around the parking lot was in order. Inside, a table full of fresh-baked doughnuts (including a local specialty with pink icing called “Persians”) greeted us along with cool, fresh water. All cyclists were offered billets, if they wished.

The high point of the day was learning that Henk Versteeg (at 74 the oldest cyclist and a survivor of two hip replacements) was re-joining the tour. He had left shortly after he was injured near Regina, Saskatchewan, when he went over his handlebars and fractured bones in his face.

The following day, the “day of rest,” was weighted with a new load of appreciation. The 100-plus remaining cyclists and I would have to turn our wheels another 3,700 km (2,300 miles) before we waded into the Atlantic Ocean. This meant more hills and rain, but no bones were fractured on this second half of the tour.

What we did get was a torrent of support and encouragement from local churches. In Guelph, Ontario, more than 6,000 people joined in a celebration that was the largest gathering of CRC people in the history of the denomination.

We rode in support of church planting and to “Make Poverty History,” but we also rode to experience God and the church in a new way. It was intense. It was spectacular. I don’t think we’ll ever be the same.

Returning to noncycling life has been a journey in itself. Kevin and I did a presentation in his home church, Orillia CRC. It rained that day too. I remember little kids jumping in puddles on the church lawn with their Sunday clothes on.

Three weeks after the tour ended I fell off my bike. One careless moment in the saddle left me with a broken elbow. It was not even spitting rain.

I’m taking it well. I crossed Canada to celebrate the 100th anniversary of my church, and that accomplishment can never be erased, no matter how many bones I break. Considering the host of obstacles and hazards we riders faced, it is a grace that there were not more injuries.

I’m happy to belong to a church that does wet and dangerous things for the sake of God’s mission in this world. I hope we keep on rolling.

About the Author

Peter Schuurman, who is laboring toward a Ph.D. in religious studies, passed his comprehensive exam. He’s on the preaching team of New Life Christian Reformed Church in Guelph, Ontario. His youngest child, Grace, was born last Reformation Day.
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