Archive for the ‘The Wilderness’ Category

Presented Saturday, November 13, 2011  at First Presbyterian Church, Corvallis, OR

T.S. Eliot wrote, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

The Wyoming "wilderness"

One year ago I felt an unseen force pushing me to leave home and go out into the wilderness.  I wasn’t sure what it was about, but I knew that my life, as I knew it, was coming to an end.  I knew that I could not sustain my life as it was and that I needed to go out and wrestle with God, face my demons, and let go of a world that was no longer serving me well.

So…on July 10th I left Portland on my bicycle with a grand send-off and Eastminster not knowing if I would return, what I would be like when I returned,  or whether they would even want me back after I returned.  I left loaded down with 50 pounds of gear, lots of unanswered questions, and a laptop to capture the raw, naked experience.  Over a 74 day period I cycled 4000 miles, through 8 Western states, crossed five mountain ranges, survived a testing week in the Nevada desert, and made my way home cycling up the coast from San Francisco to Portland.

I left not knowing why I felt pushed and psychologically goaded into making this pilgrimage.  As the miles wore on it became apparent that I was re-working my sense of call in a time when the church is changing, our culture is shifting, and the future is uncertain, at best.  The Church (Big “C”) that I became ordained in 22 years ago no longer exists.  And so it should come as no surprise that a shifting church also means a shifting sense of call among her many pastors and leaders.

I wonder what stories of life and faith the walls hold?

If there was any one image from my journey that reflected the inner workings of my soul it was this:  On dozens of occasions as I cycled across the prairies of eight Western states I rode by these beautiful, graceful sagging structures.  Along the roadside were homesteads dating back to the early pioneer days with these old houses and barns that had finally buckled under the passage of time, the weight of gravity, and the natural cycle of life.  It was easy to imagine in these structures the whole histories of families who had pioneered the land, endured repeated hardships, survived cold and harsh winters, shared in harvests, and rejoiced at the birth of children even as they buried loved ones.  It was easy to hear the faint echoes of children still laughing, dogs barking at wild critters, and to smell the rich aroma of fresh-baked bread through broken windows.  Riding by these relics of the past was a little like coming upon an old King James Version family Bible–outdated in many ways and yet emanating a soulfulness and rich beauty.

But as much as I cherished the spirit and the ghosts of these old buildings I also felt and knew something else–that MY calling was not to go into these sagging structures and try to prop up the old beams in order to keep the roof from falling in.  I knew that my calling was not to feel a burden to carry the weight of a building or a people or an institution that was clearly giving in to the natural force of life, history and gravity.

Crossing the Rocky Mountains in Colorado

I spent the first seven weeks and 3,000 miles of the trip pushing and grinding hard, riding long miles, and giving myself very little grace.  I rode with a grit and a determination that seemed to advertise that if I pushed hard enough, if I just crossed one more mountain pass, if I could just overcome one more obstacle that I could defy the precipitous decline of the Church over the last 40 years.  I rode as if I thought I could single-handedly build a bridge between the Church and our changing culture.

In the end, however, I was left with one overriding theme and emotion.  Every day on the road I could feel some piece of me dying–expectations about ministry, dreams for my life, and images of the Church I thought I was ordained in 22 years ago.  In the end I discovered that what this pilgrimage was really about was LETTING GO–letting go of an identity that no longer served me well, letting go of expectations and dreams.

Gary and Glenn--one of many soulful connections on the trip

After hundreds of conversations, 4,000 miles of cycling, through 8 states, and over two months in daily solitude I returned with one very clear and nagging feeling–there is a world passing away before us and God must be doing a new thing.  Ecclesiastes reminds us that “there is a time to build up and  a time to let go”.  I can’t seem to shake the feeling that this is the letting go time.  I wonder if history will look back on us and call us the “Letting Go People”.

My prayer is that we can now live into God’s rhythm as we gracefully let go even as we make room for God’s new creation.  T.S. Eliot wrote, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

May God continue to bless us on our journey.  Amen.


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Day 52   Tuesday, August 30   Middlegate Station to Fallon, NV   59 miles

I definitely am beginning to return to the world now.

Off to Fallon

Leaving Middlegate Station

I arrived in Fallon, NV in the early afternoon after a short, but hot ride from Middlegate Station.  I think I probably used the term “barren” prematurely in the days prior to today.  Until I neared Fallon, the landscape out of Middlegate Station became more and more barren until it felt almost as if I was riding through an oversized sandbox.  I have stopped in days prior alongside the road to fill a water bottle, get a snack from my packs, or take a picture.  I did the same today, but I realized that I had to force myself to stop.  I just wanted to keep moving and not linger too long out in the suffocating heat.

Sand Mountain

The biggest sand dune I have ever seen!

I did, however, stop to linger a couple of times.  This is sort of important as it has taken me this long to finally get this lesson.  I discovered with the distance between Middlegate Station and Fallon being only 47 miles that I felt no pressure about the riding.  In days past I wouldn’t have veered far off course for fear that adding 3 or 4 miles might just be the miles that put me over the top.  I actually rode 59 miles today, but 12 of those were unplanned miles.  I veered off course just about one mile to see the Sand Springs Recreation Area.  Then after getting to town and having a refreshing shower I rode around the town of Fallon in my street clothes.  Earlier in the day I even stopped for a few minutes to watch the Navy jets doing practice bombing runs.  That was an eerie experience!

Nevada sand

Just milesof sand rimmed by barren mountains. Phew!

So…if I had to plan this trip over again I would have planned for about 50 miles a day between destinations so that there was more room for spontaneous side trips, stopping for 30 minutes by a creek and soaking my feet, or lingering a little longer over a good conversation.  But, why wait until the next pilgrimage or trip?  The fact of that matter is that this is a lesson I need to bring back home with me.  It seems that I am brought back repeatedly to this Shorter Catechism answer, “The chief end of man is the glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”  That mantra has nagged at me the whole trip and today I think I tasted a little of what that life feels like.  Slowly and surely I will get it.  My friends and family are counting on it.  Enjoy, Brian, enjoy!

Entering Fallon

Irrigation can do wonders to the desert...nearing Fallon

As I said I am now returning to the world.  Nearing Fallon the terrain shifted fairly rapidly from barrenness to irrigated farmland.  I am essentially at the end of the “Loneliest Road in America” and am emerging prepared for a new chapter in this pilgrimage.  I would say that it is coincidental that as I emerge from the desert I also am reconnecting with my life and people.  But, at this point I am convinced that none of this is coincidental.  It’s as if the themes, pacing, and landscape of the pilgrimage and my life feed off of each other.

 I was hoping and expecting to ride my way home depending on the support and connections from my extended Presbyterian family, longtime friends, and my new Warmshowers friends.  As of tonight I have six churches who are trying to host me and/or schedule me to speak with their members.  With two Warmshowers hosts I now have places to stay all the way to San Francisco and into the North Bay.

I am feeling both apprehensive and excited about sharing what I have learned and heard on this trip.  Our mainline congregations have been on a steady decline for over 40 years.  The good news is that the religious impulse is strong out here.  People are asking and pondering the basic religious questions about who we are, the nature of our connections with each other, and our relationship with the natural world.  People are talking, thinking and exploring.  The bad news is that the trust put in the Church to be a safe, open and honest place to wrestle with those questions is very low.

It is time to return to my life, my people, and my community again.  I did fear going into the desert afraid that it might mentally break me as I was yearning more and to return to the comfort of home (whatever that will mean).  I am glad that I didn’t take the Greyhound bus.  I am glad that I had this final test where I had to dig deep before coming back into my life and the world.  I don’t think it would have been the same experience if I had leapfrogged over Nevada straight into the beauty of Lake Tahoe and California.  It might have been easier, but it would not have been true to the rhythm of life as I know it.  We all have times in our lives when we have to go through the wilderness before emerging stronger.

Now I can smile as I reach toward California.  I have a history there.  I have friends and family.  I have a church community I helped charter.  It feels like the beginning of another chapter.

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Day 46   Wednesday, August 24   Delta, UT to Border Inn, NV   90 miles


Leaving Delta

Entering the region of the "Loneliest Road in America"

I am not sure exactly what to say about today.  Have you ever had the feeling that you know something has happened to you, but you can’t quite put your finger on it?  The feeling is there, but the words haven’t quite yet formed yet.  That is how I am feeling about today.  There is a reason they call this the “Loneliest Road in America”.  I was struck by two things about that description.  The first is that I thought it probably was just referring to the lack of services, homes and ranches along the way.  I am sure that is part of it.  The road was also very lightly traveled.  I often went five or ten minutes without seeing another vehicle, semi, or RV pass me by.  Vehicles are often separated by many, many miles.

The Loneliest Road

The road stretches as far as the eyes can see

The second thing that struck me is that distance is very deceptive out here.  I haven’t had this experience anywhere else before.  There were times when I could see the road stretch far out ahead of me thinking that the next bend is, oh, three or four miles out.  It was often at least double that.  At other times I would watch a vehicle travel down the road to see if the road was going up the hill or down the valley (anticipating what is next).  A couple of times I would watch as a semi would melt into the road as I could see the outline of the road miles out, but the vehicles would shrink until there was nothing left to them.

Alkili lake

A vast alkili lake rests in the valley floor

I found this vast openness to be almost comforting and soothing.  Yes, it is a little unnerving at the same time to be out where there is little support, no drinkable water, and heat that just wrings the moisture out of one’s body.  I had prepared well, in fact, probably over-prepared with regard to water and hydration.  This allowed me to ease into the experience and enjoy the emptiness, the broad sweeping landscapes, and the invitation to reflection.

The Lowe Brothers

The bike seems to invite conversations. Here with the 4 Lowe brothers who meet annually for a brothers' camping trip.

This is where I am not sure exactly what to say about the day except that one word seems to be at the center of what is percolating up for me—acceptance.  Something about where I am in the trip at this point is bringing me into a place of acceptance.  I needed to do something that I knew would take me to my limits.  If I had chosen something easy and enjoyable I would have still had this unsettled feeling that I needed to go out and push myself and really see what I am capable of.  I am definitely getting that on this pilgrimage.  I am strong.  I know that.  But, this pilgrimage is helping me to also acknowledge my limits.  I have often felt limited by my circumstances rather than my abilities.  This pilgrimage has been a reality check highlighting both my strengths and my limitations.

Sacred rock

Nature's sacred architecture

I am coming face to face with the fact that I can’t simply will something into existence by the sheer force of my determination or personality. I have often lived by the philosophy that you can be and do anything you want if you put your mind to it.  In recent years I have been discovering that are some things in life, in fact, most things, that are bigger than me and beyond my ability to control them or shape them.  Things like mountain passes and deserts. Things like losses, deaths, disappointments, recessions, and the general shape of the world.

I am sitting in a comfortable sadness tonight.  It is a sadness for the way life sometimes turns out.  Yet, it is not a sadness that I want to chase away or medicate.  It’s a rich, deep sadness that seems to blossom out of a place of acceptance.  Acceptance of the way life is.

Rainbow by Border Inn

The day closes with a rainbow

I am not sure what it is about this landscape that gives permission to just let go.  There are no trees at all anywhere.  There is nothing to distract the eyes and ears.  There were many moments today when I dismounted my bike and understood what a “deafening silence” is. With the road that stretches as far as the eyes can see and a landscape that is deceptively much more vast than your senses will accept, it really is you and God out here.  There are no games and tricks that can help you dance around the reality of your life and life itself.  There is no running away, no running to.  There is only what is right before you at that moment.

Forget the Greyhound.  I am just where I need to be.



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Day 44   Monday, August 22   Spanish Fork, UT   Rest Day   23 errand miles

Downhill Cyclery

Bailey gives thumbs up from Downhill Cylcery in Payson

I had been feeling since leaving Loveland ten days ago that a new purpose was beginning to germinate for the pilgrimage.  I could see momentary glimpses of it. I could feel a shift occuring from some personal work to work on behalf of the community. In the midst of tha,t mountain passes have not brought the same joy they did earlier in the trip and minor inconveniences have tripped me up more easily.  Yet, I have been spurred on by the thought that I really need to cross the Nevada desert as a physical symbol for the journey that our religious communities are also on.   I have heard from enough ministers over the years who have a more progresive theology, but feel stymied in their congregations for fear of undermining the beliefs of their members.  I need to cross this bridge for myself and for Eastminster and the Portland community.  I sense that there are others too who want to cross this bridge.

Today was a good day for gaining some clarity on where I am going and what the rest of this pilgrimage is about.  A new purpose is beginning to emerge.  A definite shift has taken place as I make plans now to listen more to the changing story of the religious community.   I still have many details to work out, but I am sensing that once I cross “the wilderness” of Nevada that my focus will turn to listening to the Church and sharing what I have experienced in the last six weeks in the broader community.  I am beginning to see now why I was not able to approach churches on the early end.  I really needed go out for the story before coming back with anything to say.  I am looking forward to seeing how the stories complement and feed off each other.

Although I am still quite cognizant of the risks and the careful planning needed to cross the desert, the slow gelling of my purpose for the final weeks is changing how I feel about those days on the “Loneliest Road in America”.  It may be too premature (and probably naive), but I moving from a feeling of dread about those days to a feeling of anticipation for the richness of the experience.  Now it is beginning to feel like an opportunity for more reflection, growth, and the word that keeps coming to me is gratitude.

I think this change is brought on by the fact that once I hit Carson City, NV just below Lake Tahoe I will feel like I am coming home.  The rest of the trip is familiar territory.  I traveled in that part of Nevada and Northern California as a juvenile probation officer counseling youth in boot camps and group homes.  My sister was born in Sacramento which means I lived there for a short time (I have no recollection of it.)  I have already shared my connections to the Bay Area with graduate school, the birth of my children, and friends and family.  Then all the way up the coast from Marin County, CA to Astoria, Oregon are churches and colleagues with whom I have worked and worshiped for the better part of 20 years.  I am beginning to feel that this final push through the desert is the last major obstacle before “coming home”.  This pilgrimage was always about “leaving home” and “coming home” on so many levels and I can see them being played out as each week unfolds.

Utah Trikes

Bryce at Utah Trikes who got my bike back on the road

Now onto the matters of the day.  I spent the early morning making phone calls to a few bike shops in the area.  There are none in Spanish Fork, but a handful within about 10-15 miles.  It was clear that I was not going to be able to replace my front rack without having to wait until Wednesday (at the earliest) to have one shipped to a shop in Provo.  The next best thing was to see if I could remove the broken bolt that was severed from the eyelet and then just replace it with a new one and use my same rack.  Downhill Cyclery in Payson (8 miles south) was kind enough to let me use their work area to remedy the problem on my own.  Unfortunately, there was no tool that could do the job.  Along came Bryce at Utah Trikes (www.utahtrikes.com).  I knew from the moment he looked at it that he was going to get the job done.  He had a confidence even if he wasn’t sure exactly what would work.  After trying the usual plier and vice-grip methods he got serious.  With a power saw and a few drill bits he removed the bolt, gave me the tools to reattach my rack, and sent me on my way to complete this crazy journey.

Krishna temple

The Krishna Temple in, yes, you heard me right, Spanish Fork, UT!

On my way back to Spanish Fork I had to stop at this temple that I passed on the way down to Payson. I knew this was Mormon country and this did not look Mormon at all!  It had Eastern written all over it.  I rode up the small hill, parked my bike close to the temple, took off my shoes as is the sacred custom, and entered the building.  I found out it is the first Hare Krishna temple in Utah (www.utahkrishnas.org).  The second one was just built in Salt Lake City.  It was like looking at one of those questions on an SAT test where they show you four objects and then ask, “Which one doesn’t fit?”  In L.A., yes.  In Portland, yes.  But, in Utah it just baffled my mind.

In the temple space

In the temple space where celebration, worship and meditation are observed

I grew up in an atmosphere where the message was that Hare Krishna’s were a cult.  I can remember as a child seeing them in the airports handing out a flower and a pamphlet.  I don’t remember ever getting a flower as I steered as clear as I could from them.  Now that I have theology degrees and much more exposure to the world I don’t feel the same.  I read some of the material and like most religions it asks questions about what is our true spiritual nature, what does it mean to be in community, what is our connection with the divine, and how should we order our lives.  The hostess on site explained Hare Krishnas this way:  We are the monotheistic sect of Hinduism.  Now, that’s something for Christians to think about.  Yes, it looks different than what we are used to, but quite honestly I feel more of a kinship with the Hare Krishna who is pondering the world of spirit than I do with the stock broker who obsesses solely over markets and money.  We all have our gods!

The rest of the day was spent pondering and planning the rest of the pilgrimage.  It felt really good to be able to step back and get some perspective on it once again.  I was especially relieved as I brought my different maps and internet tools together to get a strategy for crossing Nevada.  After pulling all of my resources together there was no day where I felt it was impossible.  There are, however, five days straight where there will be no services for between 65 and 90 miles.  Each day is doable.  it’s the full package that is a bit daunting.  The trick will be to take my time, plan well, and not rush ahead until I feel ready for each day’s ride.

Which brings me to the issue of continuing to blog during this period.  I have reflected a great deal on whether I needed to unplug for a time.  What I came to is this.  Whether I actually send a blog out or not, I realized that I depend on and look forward to this time to capture and put my thoughts together from the day.  It is my form of journaling which I would do regardless.  The reason I send it out is that I made a commitment early on to try to mirror the “wilderness experience” that our religious culture is currently going through.  I am working very hard not to write for anyone in particular, but to capture the challenges, the joys, the emotional ups and downs, and the subtle shifts that take place day to day.  Having said that, I cannot guarantee that I will send a blog every day while going through Nevada.  My commitment is to cross the desert, do it safely, and remain pyschologically intact.  It may be all I can do to ride, eat, drink, sleep, recover and ride again.

Tomorrow I am off to the town of Delta, UT.  From there the 400- mile loneliest road section begins.  I am so glad my bike faltered yesterday.  It was just the gift I needed.  The world definitely looks a little brighter and more welcoming than it did two days ago.  Sigh…


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Day 41   Friday, August 19   Dinosaur, CO to Roosevelt, UT   64 miles

Entering Utah

Entering Utah and yet another stunning landscape

Well, I am at a bit of a crossroads.  Nothing to worry about.  It’s all part of discerning this shift that I have been experiencing since leaving Loveland and crossing Trail Ridge Road.  I rode with a real sense of purpose in the early weeks.  I desperately needed solitude and it felt like the further I rode away from Portland the more I found what I needed.  Then returning to the place of my birth, Bozeman, MT, pulled me through the mountains of Idaho.  With Yellowstone just a two days ride from there I easily kept moving forward.  After the major rainstorm setback just before crossing the high desert of Wyoming I was feeling a little sobered.  But, I had Loveland just a few days ride away and that provided the will to push on.

Overlook in Utah

Stopping to take a few pictures along the way

The next major destination for me is the Bay Area.  I have many connections there through the family and friends of my ex-wife.  I graduated from seminary from San Francisco Theological Seminary and our two children were born in Marin County, just north of the Golden Gate bridge.  Two hours north of there is Lake County where we lived for 9 years.  This is one of my most important stops.  I was a pastor there for 4 years and in my first attempt to bridge the traditional church with emerging spirituality, I lost my job and also helped found a Unitarian Universalist Church.  Much of my story was written in Northern California.


Welcome to Vernal, Utah!

So, my mind is already moving toward California and the stories and connections I have there.  I have at moments thought about hitching a ride with a semi to cross the Nevada desert and picking up again in Carson City, NV just below Lake Tahoe.  But, I just don’t like the idea of taking a large slice out of this circle of leaving home and returning home.  I think the Nevada desert is part of this experience.  If I was only riding for my pure enjoyment (read vacation)  it would be easy to hop on a Greyhound and fast forward to the Bay Area.  But, I am also working through what it means to be a minister in this changing time.  The Presbyterian Church has acknowledged that we are currently living in a wilderness time.  Wilderness is a major theme in our tradition including the freed Hebrew slaves, Jesus being tested in the wilderness, and the Desert Fathers who went to face God.  I feel like I need this if I am going to be one of those who lead the Church in this transitional time.

Between Vernal and Roosevelt

Lots of time for reflection and discernment today.

Interesting…as I am writing I feel like I am answering my own question.  I feel a little less at a crossroads than I did a few paragraphs ago.  It has felt like I need to discover a new purpose for the remainder of this pilgrimage.  I have some clarity on some personal work I needed to do–enough that any more growth will take place in relationship rather than in solitude.  I have also been seeing images of spending the last two weeks staying exclusively in the homes of Presbyterians in California and Oregon and beginning to share some of what I have experienced by listening to the community around us.  I can feel a movement from listening to sharing taking place.

LDS church

Seing more LDS churches now. I am always struck by how crisp and clean they are kept.

For the moment I will reflect on what it means to see the Nevada desert as an opportunity and see what comes.  If I see it only as an obstacle to overcome on the way to the Bay Area I don’t think it will serve me well.  That would be a waste of my time and I might as well take a Greyhound then.  But, if I can find a new purpose and make it a spiritual discipline it could open me up to even deeper places of discovery.  If I do go “unplugged” at any time it will be there as I travel along the “Loneliest Road in America” and get the full experience of being in a physical and psychological wilderness.

The 400 mile “Loneliest Road” stretch is still 3 days away.  That should be just enough time to discern whether I’ll find a deeper purpose or a Greyhound station.  I think I already know my answer, but a heat wave is expected to blow in starting Monday and I can always be convinced to change my mind!

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Day 40   Thursday, August 18   Craig to Dinosaur, CO   88 miles

Leaving Craig

Leaving Craig in the morning. Even the terrain warned, "This is going to be a long day."

This was an unbelievable day.  It was surprisingly richer than I could have imagined and it was painfully more difficult than I expected.  I knew it was going to be a long day.  The altitude in Craig where I departed this morning was just slightly higher than the altitude in Dinosaur where I arrived tonight.  I don’t have my nifty Adventure Cycling maps for this stretch.  They actually show a graph of the altitude gains and losses on the routes covered by them.  I assumed that the day would be reasonably flat with some minor rollers (as we call rolling hills).  I was wrong.  The first 30 miles were what I expected.  After I reached the town of Maybell an endless series of significant rollers ensued that did not end—period.

The rollers

The 60 miles of beautiful and demanding rollers!

In cycling it’s not the final elevation gain that matters.  It’s the elevation gain that you get when you add up all the hills you go up—that’s what saps the legs of their strength.  I actually lost about 200 feet between Craig and Dinosaur, but climbed 3,000, 4,000 or more feet during the final 60 miles.  That would have been enough but in addition to that the day reached 97 degrees and the headwind was simply demoralizing.  We arrived in town at about 5:00 p.m.  I set up my tent in the community park where they also have a community shower.  I had a good hamburger steak dinner and now am sitting at a picnic table writing my blog, drinking hot chocolate cappuccino, and munching on butter toffee peanuts.  There is no wireless service, so I’ll need to find a place to send the blog sometime tomorrow.


Meeting Jeremiah who is running across the country for health awareness

That’s my sob story.  Now the wonderfully surprising part.  You might have noticed that I said “We arrived in town” in my last paragraph.  The most amazing set of circumstances took place about 10 miles this side of Maybell.  The first thing that happened is that I came upon Jeremiah who was walking along the road.  This young man could not have just been out for a casual walk.  We were 10 miles from Maybell, a town of maybe 100.  We were 60 miles from Dinosaur , a town probably double the size of Maybell.  And there were no houses or ranches anywhere on this stretch.  I stopped and asked the young man, “You out for a long walk” understating the obvious.

We quickly shared why he would be on foot and I would be on bike this far removed from civilization.  Turns out that Jeremiah is from Portland and lives just a couple of miles from me.  He is running across America (going in the opposite direction as me) with his father, brother and cousin to raise awareness about health and naturopathic medicine.  He was ahead of the other runners and their RV support vehicle.  Two miles down the road I came upon the RV.  I actually went by it as I didn’t see anyone out of the vehicle.  I felt a little awkward about knocking on the door of an RV parked on the side of the road.  As I looked in my rearview mirror I saw a handful of people emerge and I quickly backtracked in order to introduce myself and find out more about this “Run Across America” that they were doing.

Yellow flowers

Miles of dry land and then the color catches the eye

Dennis, the father and creative force behind the project, emerged from the RV and he and I shared our stories.  He actually has a theology degree and taught religion at a Catholic school in Milwaukie for about 5 years before moving to Davis, CA.  In addition, he also spent a number of years working in Central America on peace and justice issues about the same time my sister and her family were in El Salvador involved in mission work.  I shared my story about listening for the story of the shift from institutional religion to personal spirituality and he shared how he is trying to connect our spiritual values with our health and medical decisions.

Dennis, Brian and Sandro

Dennis, Brian, Sandro with two team members

THEN…up rides Sandro on his bike.  Look, if this was Portland this wouldn’t be a surprise.  But, this really was out in the middle of nowhere.  I don’t think I am offending anyone by saying that because literally, no one even lives out here.  Sandro had a support vehicle also following him.  He saw my bike parked in front of the support RV that had the therun.org painted on the front.  He wanted to know who was out here running and riding their bikes in a place where they even warn the cars about how many miles until the next gas station.

It turns out that Sandro is riding half time and running half time across the country to raise awareness and funds for cancer research in Italy (run4lifeusa.tumblr.com).  He and I are going the same direction and using essentially the same route in order to get to San Francisco.  It is likely that we will play leapfrog for a few days, if not for the remainder of his trip.  He is riding more miles than I am per day, but then runs every other day.  We are in the same town tonight but I’ll likely pass him tomorrow running and then the next day he is likely to pass me cycling.  He is a much better and stronger cyclist than I am.

Sandro and me

Sandro and I arrive in Dinosaur--together!

I also made a little progress on the “when you’re winding round, my friend, just don’t go winding round alone” issue from a prior blog.  Sandro offered to have his support vehicle take all of my gear and then we could ride into Dinosaur together.  I immediately brushed him off and said, “I’m fine.  I’ve been at this for almost 6 weeks.”  A few miles down the road I realized that I had a direct offer to not shoulder this burden alone which is part of my new personal work.  I took him up on his offer, and thank God, I did.  The day was punishing enough.  With the extra 50 pounds I would have limped into Dinosaur in pretty sorry shape.  As it was I was showing signs of heat exhaustion and his team either saved me from severe dehydration, or more likely, from limping into town darn close to dark.

Maybell Church sign

The church sign in the town of Maybell

In Maybell I came across this church sign that had God asking, “Will the road you’re on get you to my place?”  I feel like the answer came back clearly 10 miles later as three separate groups of not quite sane, but very committed people converged in one very lonely spot.  I mean, who could have picked this spot to bring us all together to share our stories and journeys?  It was wild!  Here is what struck me about this God-moment.  Sandro is raising awareness for cancer research.  Dennis and his clan are raising awareness about connecting our spiritual values with our health.  I am listening for the story of this shift from our religious institutions to a spirituality that is on the loose!

Dinosaur sunset

The sunset west of my campsite

I am not completely sure what to make of this yet.  But, it does remind me of what has emerged and unfolded at Eastminster as we moved the discussion out of our church and into the community.  It resulted in the opening of a homeless family warming center and the soon to be breaking of the ground for a ¾ acre community garden.  I am convinced that the lines between the sacred and the secular are dissolving.  Three groups of us out on separate missions meet out in the middle of nowhere.  I have a feeling that this was God’s place.  God does have a reputation for showing up in the wilderness.

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Challis rocks

Rocky, rugged, dry and barrenly beautiful

I felt the first signs of entering into the “wilderness” of this experience about a week ago.  I was told to beware of the 2nd week as it is common for people who embark on this length of a solo pilgrimage to suddenly hit a psychological wall.  One person said he had to ride through that and then the world sort of opened up to him in a new way.  Another person simply quit the first time he hit that second week before successfully overcoming it the next time out.

So far I have not hit anything like a wall where I feel like I have to force myself to ride through a psychological barrier.  Nonetheless, I have been getting glimmers that are more sobering than anything else.  As I said, I felt it first about a week ago as I left the mountains of Oregon and settled into the plains of Eastern Oregon and Western Idaho.  I have a feeling that the shift in terrain was part of it.  As long as I was slicing through forests and passing at the foot of one of Oregon’s volcanic peaks I had enough external stimulation to keep me enthralled.  I am not saying that the plains are not beautiful in their own way.  But, I did find that the mile after mile of wheat fields and the treeless hillsides turned me inward.  Maybe I found that Iwas more interesting to look at and it turned me inward!

Whatever the reason, I have been noticing the longer I am on the pilgrimage the more reflective I have become.  When I say that I am beginning to see signs of the wilderness it is coming more than anything else in the form of feeling sobered.  I have now been out for just under two weeks.  I am now 18.5% of the way.  I have more than 8 weeks still remaining.  I will still need to cross the Wyoming high desert as well as the entire state of Nevada in late August. Not to mention a few more hills to climb between the deserts.  I am doing fine, but the reality of the what is still ahead of me is sobering.  I have wondered at times if I will just curl up in a ball at the foot of some mountain or the gateway to a desert and refuse to go on.

Strange thing about this, though.  The experience of being in the wilderness is less about the physical terrain as it is about what I might face pychologically and spiritually.  That’s the part that I am beginning to feel. In the past, I have been out on my own for a week or so at time.  I know how that feels.  I know how I respond to that.  I know what to expect of myself.  I have never set out on my own without the people closest to me for this length of time and through areas where I have little contact.

The road to nowhere

The road into the psychological wilderness. Where will it lead us?

I am experiencing the first signs of riding into the wilderness.  It might be because home is now a full 13 days ride away.  Even if I were to hit a wall I would still either need to ride back to Boise 140 miles west or push through to Bozeman, still 350 miles east before catching a plane.  I have also entered the great expansive West where towns are spread out 30-60 miles apart.  Planning has become critical.  More than once I have ridden through a “town” listed on the map only to find that the town was comprised of three houses and a welcome sign.  I feel the weight at times of being in a wilderness.  The distance between towns, the heat, the physical challenges, the unpredicable weather, andthe knowledge that  mistakes can be costly in this environment.

The first signs of riding into the wilderness are there.  Among my general excitement there is some fear, some anxiety, lots of unknowns, and a sobering feeling of what still lies before me.  For now, though, I am able to simply observe the feelings running through me, without reacting to them.  I think it is part of the pilgrimage experience.  Honor the feelings.  Don’t run from them.

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