On the way to First Baptist Church, the bicyclists traveled through the North Coast Inland Trail. It spans 105 miles from Toledo to Lorain. The Fuller Center group was on 10 miles of the trail, on the way to Norwalk.
“It was nice. Honestly, I like those kind of rides better (than others) because you don’t have to deal with cars. We actually practiced a lot on our own Rails to Trails in Cleveland,” said Abigail Ward, of Aurora, who attends Christ Community Church.
A Fuller Center group came to Ward’s church in 2015.
It was the end of ride day No. 43 when the Fuller group stopped in Norwalk. The cross-country bicyclists were on the way to Aurora. The 10-week trip roughly translates into 70 days on the bikes.
“That actually has kinda been getting us through the week. I’m like, ‘Hey, we’re gonna be home and get to sleep in our own bed soon,’” Ward said.
The group of 34 bicyclists stayed in The Haven for the night of July 27. The skating rink is part of the First Baptist Church property.
“They needed a safe place to store their bikes safely and locked and also a place where they could lay out their air mattresses and sleep for the night,” the Rev. Dr. Tara Henderson said.
The pastor took the idea of hosting the group to church leaders. Fuller Center is a faith-based affordable housing ministry based in Americus, Ga. It was started by the same people who began Habitat for Humanity.
“Everybody was like, ‘Yeah, it’s a great opportunity.’ A lot of people are familiar with Fuller and Habitat. It’s a way we can extend hospitality and learn about a group. If we can’t help them financially, it’s a great way to support them in their ride,” Henderson said.
The Norwalk hospitality extended to the Ernsthausen Community Center, where the bicyclists took showers.
“We are extending hospitality on behalf of Norwalk,” Henderson said. “We are providing a meal for them, so they will get a home-cooked meal. A couple church members made food for them.”
‘Love of cycling’
The group started its trip June 1 in Astoria, Ore.
“We do a cross-country ride every summer, typically from (the) Pacific to Atlantic coast because that’s the prevailing wind. We had been to Astoria before; it’s a beautiful town. It’s where Lewis and Clark finished their journey,” said Jessica McClain, bike adventure coordinator, who handles organizing church hosts, meals and showers.
People from about 20 different states also representing different Christian denominations are involved in the most recent 10-week trip. Many of the participants discover Fuller Center through a Google search.
“A lot of them come for their love of cycling or their love of the Fuller Center mission,” McClain said. “Some of them do the whole thing; some of them do different segments.
“They (often) find us through their love of cycling and then they fall in love with the organization. That’s what keeps people coming back more than anything, I think; they love working with the Fuller Center,” added McClain, who attends a Mennonite church. “There certainly is no requirement (to) profess faith to ride with us.”
Ward has been riding a tandem bike with her father, an avid bicyclist. The pair joined the group in South Bend, Ind. and traveled with the group for one week, which is common in cross-country trips.
“To be honest, the longest I’ve rode before is 40 miles and I did a 100 miles (recently),” Ward said. “We didn’t really start riding the tandem a lot until this summer because we knew we were going to do this trip. … We go relatively the same pace as everyone else, so we’re not super fast. Going downhill we get a lot of speed.”
The daughter and father started preparing for the trip by riding the tandem bike about 30 miles at a time.
“Honestly, the 80 to 90 miles the day before is what got us through the 100 miles,” said Ward, who noted riding tandem has helped with durability. “I’m on the back, so I get drafted from him, so I don’t have to work nearly as hard as him. If he’s struggling, I can add power.”
Fuller Center partners with many churches in the Buckeye State.
“We love Ohio,” McClain said. “We have awesome partners in both Toledo and Aurora, which is a suburb of Cleveland. … That’s probably the most unique thing about Ohio is the concentration of awesome Fuller Center partners. But you also have great trails. People have really enjoyed riding the bike trails the last couple days in Ohio.”