“Time to get going,” Dad said as he thumped on the tent I shared with my husband.
Going? I could barely move.
I freed my beleaguered body from my sleeping bag and crawled from our tent out into the morning chill. Stiff and sore from the previous day’s ride, I picked my way across the dewy grass, looking for a dry place to put on my shoes. Before long, I would face the most painful moment of the morning: sitting down on the seat of my bike.
We—my husband, my parents, my brother, and his wife—were on RAGBRAI, otherwise known as the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa. A week-long, several hundred-mile ride would take us from the Missouri River to the Mississippi. Every day we logged long miles in the late July heat, slept on the ground, and got up early enough to do much of our riding during the coolest part of the day.
Along with ten thousand other riders, we traveled from town to town, standing in lines for port-a-potties, beverages, and all manner of food. On the ride, food is a big deal, serving both as fuel and reward for making it to the next town, through the next mile, up the next hill. Churches, clubs, and families set up and serve everything from full dinners to lemonade and cookies in basements, parks, and driveways.
If you believe Iowa is flat, I testify to you that it is not. There are hills. Lots of them. Whether long, short, steep, or barely perceptible to the eye, they heap difficulty onto an already laborious task.
One year, when my dad was riding RAGBRAI and I was not, he was hauling himself up one of these hills when he saw some children who had set up a lemonade stand halfway up the slope. A big supporter of little kids and their lemonade stands, he stopped. He bought what they were selling, and then he talked to their mom.
“You’ll get more business if you move to the top,” he told her. “Bikers don’t like to stop in the middle of a hill.” And then he got on his bike and did the demanding work of starting up the slope without any momentum to help him along.
Whether a slope is short and steep or long and steady, it’s common to see bikers slow to a stop, dismount, and walk the bike to the top. Sometimes, though, you see something a little different. A biker begins to move more and more slowly. A stronger biker, (probably one they know) rides up alongside them. The stronger biker reaches out, places one hand on the middle of the back of the struggling rider, lending strength and momentum by giving a long, steady push. You can feel the difference immediately. I’ve been the recipient of this gift more than once, helped along by my dad and by my husband. The trip to the top still takes effort from me, the struggling rider. But, supported by the strength of someone else, that effort gets me where I want to go.
It isn’t comfortable, traveling this way. Bikes and tires are much, much closer than we’re accustomed to. But years of biking with my dad and my husband have shown me that they’re stronger and more stable on two wheels (and two feet) than I. Comfortable or not, I gratefully accept their help.
There are other forms of help available on RAGBRAI. One is the sag wagon—a vehicle that picks up struggling riders. After many, many stops, it delivers them to the day’s destination. Whether their bikes have broken down or their bodies have just had enough, the sag wagon will get them where they need to go.
Occasionally—very occasionally—a biker will get a tow.
A biking, body-building friend-of-a-friend used to ride RAGBRAI and because he could, he would assist struggling bikers. Like my dad and my husband, he shared what he had in abundance–strength and stability—to help others over the taxing parts of the ride. His aid came in the form of a tow, which allowed him to share with strangers.
A year-long collective stop has illustrated that where, when, and even how long we stop isn’t always a choice we get to make. We stopped in the middle of a hill. Perhaps it’s time to get back on the bike and begin again.
“Always,” St. Benedict taught and a friend reminded me, “we begin again.” Always because interruptions, setbacks, and detours are a given. Again because God has woven resilience into the human heart.
Resilience doesn’t mean it’s easy. We’re doing a version of crawling out of tents, testing out limbs that are simultaneously weary from overuse and weak from underuse, settling our tender selves back on the bike, and setting off with no momentum. Most of us could use a little help–maybe a push from a friend, a tow from a stranger, or a lift to get what’s ailing us attended to. More likely, though, we could just use someone to ride beside us while we get moving again.
These words are for all time but maybe especially for such a time as this, a time where we’ve been collectively one-ing it for so long. Two can help one another out, lift one another up, keep one another warm. What one of us doesn’t need a little of that right now?
Look around. What help do you need? What help can you offer?