The Last Two Miles
A journey through the desert
by Betsy Meenk
Facing challenges in our lives are often the best times to learn valuable lessons for living life to its fullest. It was during a recent 4-day cycling challenge that I learned lessons in selflessness that I hope will help equip me to overcome tests and trials in a God-honoring manner in the future.
The organization I work for, ZOE International, conducted a 64-day coast to coast cycling challenge called Road of Justice in order to bring awareness to the issue of child trafficking. The organizers of this event, Brad and Lori Ortenzi, took on this challenge with focus and determination that was inspirational. They road every inch of the 3,700 miles through all kinds of terrain, varying weather conditions, sore muscles and a host of other challenges. Keeping them going when their bodies and minds were done was the thought of all the pain and suffering a child caught in the trap of human trafficking must endure. Bringing attention to this atrocity in order to end it was their singular focus.
I had the privilege of spending a week on the road with Brad and Lori and other cyclists who joined them along the way. 3 of those days were spent on my bike making our way from the Grand Canyon to Needles, California, approximately 245 miles (my 4th day was the last day of the ride; Fontana to Santa Monica). It was the last 2 miles of that 3rd day near Needles, California that opened my eyes to a valuable principle I thought I knew but I discovered I still needed to grasp. What follows are the lessons I learned from those last 2 miles.
It was the last day of a 3-day ride before we got a rest day. The first two days had their challenges but this 3rd day pushed me both physically and mentally. At about 50 miles in, we were faced with a 4-mile climb that had as much as a 7% grade at times. The other riders in the group that day made this climb look easy as they all passed me struggling up this hill. I am fairly new to cycling and I am not a good climber so this really pushed my limits. As I fought my way up the hill, my sister stayed with me cheering me on. At one point Brad came back to ride with me pulling me up the hill with his words of encouragement. Either one of these riders could have made it up the hill much faster to get off their bikes for a much deserved rest but instead chose to stay with me! At the top of the hill, I was met by a line of the other riders cheering me on.
I know I could not have made it up that hill without the motivation of the other riders. It became very apparent to me that day that I was a member of a team and that the strength of the team was in each individual rider looking out for the others. It reminds me of Rudyard Kipling’s law of the jungle quoted in the jungle book: “the strength of the pack is the wolf and the strength of the wolf is the pack”. I definitely got my strength from the pack on that hill. The reality of drawing strength from team members would set me up to learn a valuable lesson in selflessness. That lesson would come at the last 2 miles of this 3rd day.
After climbing that hill, we had the most amazing and exhilarating downhill that seemed to magically erase the pain of that 4-mile climb. The rest of the ride that day should have been fairly easy but at about 10 miles out something began to happen in my body. Although we were on a flat road, I felt like I was climbing again. It was hot (upper 90’s) and every pedal stroke became a mental exercise to keep going. Just before the California/Arizona border the group stopped for something. I was feeling a bit nauseous so I got off my bike to sit down in the shade for a minute to cool off while the group did whatever they needed to do. Brad and my sister were close by and asked if I was okay. I told them that I was just a bit nauseous but that I would be okay. As I stood up to get back on my bike I felt a little light headed so I sat back down to try and clear my head. Seeing my condition, my sister dumped cold water on my head and Brad encouraged me to call it a day and take a ride on the van the final 2 miles. My immediate thought was, “No way, I am not giving up with only 2 miles to go. I can push through.” My body and others on the team convinced me otherwise, sighting facts about the dangers of heat exhaustion and so in the van I went. I felt totally defeated as I sat crying in the van and trying to cool off while my teammates loaded up my bike. 2 stinking miles to go and here I am sitting in the van! I was feeling quite sorry for myself! Before getting back on his bike to complete the day’s ride, Brad poked his head in the van to check on me. The two simple words he uttered at that moment would play over and over again in my head the next several days. He simply looked at me and said, “No pouting!”
No pouting? But pouting is just what I wanted to do. I failed. I didn’t finish. I was weak. What did the other riders think of me? I was pouting because I was thinking of myself; not about the group of riders I was with; not about the children we were riding for; just me! Why no pouting? Because this was not about me, it was a team effort that we were ALL doing for children who were suffering through the horrors of human trafficking. It really didn’t matter if I rode my bike another two miles or not. This wasn’t about my personal goals or my achievements. It was about children who needed help! I had lost my focus.
I would like to say that Brad’s words snapped me out of my selfish stupor at that moment but that is not the case. I continued to pout and regret my decision to get in the van and not finish those last two miles on my bike that day. I thought ending my ride two miles short of the finish line would haunt me the rest of my life. But after a rest day it was my turn to drive the support vehicle which would help to form the deep and hopefully long lasting lesson of “no pouting”. As the driver, it was my responsibility to be available to the riders to provide water, snacks, find rest stops or anything else they needed. I stayed behind the riders most of the time over the long and monotonous roads of the Mojave Desert and watched them work together to overcome some pretty daunting riding conditions. There were six riders but after following and watching them work together for 3 days, I no longer saw six riders; I saw one unit. Because I was by myself in the van I had plenty of time to think and contemplate the selfless team effort that was unfolding before my eyes in comparison to my pouting episode in the van a couple of days earlier. Oh, I had so much to learn from these determined individuals that I had come to admire so much.
Even now as I play those days over and over again in my mind, I am reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus: “You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly.” Then to the Philippians he wrote: “Work together with one mind and one purpose. Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out for your own interests, but take an interest in others too.”
I will never know if I could have done those last two miles. But instead of that thought haunting me, it is teaching me a valuable life lesson: This life is a journey we are on together. There are going to be hills to climb and challenging circumstances to face. It is going to take all of us working together, encouraging each other to make it to the finish line. Along this road we may find ourselves out front leading. Other times we may have to “sit on the van” for the benefit of the group. Either way, we travel together, we finish together, we win together.
To my fellow cyclists: thank you for helping me climb mountains! Thank you for teaching me to face challenges and conquer them selflessly. Most of all, thank you for the sacrifices you made to help rescue more children and get them to the finish line!