EMU students biking from Harrisonburg to Paraguay to experience the global church, raise funds for conference
By Andrew Jenner, Rocktown Weekly
It was the first Tuesday in January, cold and rainy, when Jon Spicher and Lars Akerson began pedaling south. In the 45 days and 2,000-plus miles since then, they’ve made steady progress, about five days of biking and two of rest each week, cutting a gentle arc across the Southeast, crossing the border in Laredo, Texas, and heading south into Mexico – Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, Coahuila, and now, San Luis Potosi.
They’re just hitting their rhythm, about a quarter of the way done. Spicher, a junior at EMU, and Akerson, a recent graduate, are bound for Asuncion, Paraguay, where the Mennonite World Conference will convene in mid-July.
Biking through the towns hear Oaxaca, Mexico (Photo from the bikers’ latest blog on americas.bikemovement.org)
They’re riding to meet new people and see new places, to "strengthen relationships within the global church," to "consider ways of living the life-changing call of Jesus Christ in the context of a global church" (so says their blog), to raise $30,000 to help other young people attend the conference in Paraguay – part pilgrimage, part adventure, all by bike, slowly, heading south.
So far, so good, they say.
Yes, lots of people ask them what they’re doing and where they’re headed. Yes, they’ve encountered unexpected kindness and hospitality, and yes, they’ve had a bunch of interesting conversations. No, nothing really bad has befallen them, so far. Some tendonitis that troubled Spicher early on dissipated somewhere in Alabama.
They eat a lot of bread, and they drink too much soda (everyone in Mexico seems to do this, they’ve found; Spicher says he’s giving it up for Lent). They both got sick soon after crossing into Mexico, something fluish, and now they’re mostly better except for a lingering cough.
Their bikes – Spicher’s on a Surly, Akerson’s on a Trek – have performed admirably, especially since they found a friendly bike shop in Corpus Christi, Texas, that allowed them use of the workshop for a tuneup.
Before they left, they expected to camp about half the time, to cook on their campstove, to purify their own water. But thanks to the unexpected hospitality they’ve encountered, and pleasantly cheap lodging and food elsewhere, they haven’t really roughed it at all. They haven’t even taken their tent out of its bag since leaving Harrisonburg.
Biker Lars Akerson enjoys the hospitality of local residents during a recent stop near Puebla, Mexico (Photo from the bikers’ latest blog on americas.bikemovement.org)
They carry about 50 pounds of gear each. They are a few days ahead of schedule, which affords them the luxury of a leisurely pace.
"I’d say we take at least two days a week off," said Akerson.
"It’s pretty laid back," added Spicher.
San Luis Potosi by Mardi Gras. The halfway point in Managua, Nicaragua, by Easter, hopefully, and that’s about as far ahead as they’ll let themselves look, right now. Conceiving their trip as a series of shorter ones keeps them from getting discouraged.
"You can’t really think about Peru or Bolivia from Mexico," Spicher said.
Two thousand-odd miles down, a lot more than that left to go. South America still feels like a dream.
To follow their trek, visit their blog at americas.bikemovement.org/route.