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June 24, 2005

Where are the bikers?

Leaving Minneapolis, I just found out, that’s where they are. All week I’ve been checking on the blog of the Habitat Bike Challenge 2005 (http://www.yale.edu/habitat/home.html), looking to ride tandem on the adventures of the 26 youth who cycled into Evanston, Ill., last week and into the hearts and imaginations of the members of St. Paul Lutheran Church who put them up and laid out a potluck supper.

Each one of these bikers raised $4,000 before leaving on the cross-country ride that is taking them from New Haven, Conn., their home base, to Seattle. That’s about $1 for every mile they’ll bike. The group that cycled through Chicago is just one of three heading West this year, the 10th for the New Haven effort. They earn enough to build five houses, or so, each year, one of the riders told me.

Over ham and coleslaw, lasagne and garlic bread, gooey chocolate cake and fresh bing cherries–all consumed at an astonishing rate—the riders told us about themselves. Most are Yale students, some 2005 grads and some returning. A few others heard about this trip that’s becoming legendary in Habitat circles. One of those is Maeve Quigley, a grad of Rice University, Houston, Texas, who didn’t want to sit still while she awaits her Peace Corps assignment in January.

Maeve came up to me and asked, bemused smiled on her beautiful face: “This is a Lutheran church—so where’s the coffee?” Someone in our kitchen had thought it was too hot for coffee. They hadn’t counted on Maeve who’s a member of Bethel Lutheran Church, Madison, Wis.  So we talked while waiting for the coffee maker to do its thing, and I learned that for the two-plus months of these trips, it’s mostly congregations of practically every denomination that open their doors to the bikers who roll out their sleeping bags on the floors of the social halls. Interesting, isn’t it, in these days when we worry about the vitality of congregations—and particularly small ones in rural America—that it’s churches that provide the hospitality that helps make a trip like this possible? We welcome and care for people we don’t know who have undertaken a remarkable journey to provide homes for people they don’t know. Except we all know we are brothers and sisters in Christ.

Well, a week ago today at 5:30 a.m., a few of us were flipping pancakes and frying sausages and, yes, making coffee for Maeve (and the other cyclists) whose goal—met—was a 6 a.m. push off for Lake Geneva, Wis. Now this morning they caught up with the blog and I caught up with them: “Wisconsin was beautiful,” the blogger wrote. “It really should be called the ‘Maeve’ state.” I can well imagine why.

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