JACKSON, Tenn. – Aug. 13, 2009 – Erin Morris and Bethany Stallings had differing ideas about the best part of their summer. They were unanimous on the most difficult part – the mountains.
“You never know how much you can do until you’ve been biking for eight hours and there’s still 2,000 feet to climb,” Stallings said. “And you’re like, ‘My legs will not rotate one more time.’ But somehow you do.”
Morris, who graduated from Union University in May, and Stallings, a junior at Union, biked 3,321 miles this summer as part of the Ride:Well Tour, a project sponsored by Venture Expeditions to raise money and awareness for clean water and HIV/AIDS support in Africa through the work of Blood:Water Mission.
Morris, of Nashville, Tenn., was introduced to the Ride:Well Tour a year ago, when representatives from the tour spoke at Barefoot’s Joe, Union’s coffee shop. She decided it was a cause she wanted to support as well, and she recruited Stallings to join her on this summer’s tour.
The two trained together for several weeks before embarking upon the journey June 14 from Long Beach, Calif.
“Love is not just a sweet emotion, but doing something hard for someone that you care about,” Morris said.
Referencing Christ and his love for sinners, which manifested itself in suffering, she decided that the cycling tour would be something difficult she could do for those less fortunate than herself.
At least Morris had something of a cycling background, as she has been a biker for about a year and a half. Stallings, whose parents are missionaries in Korea, was another story.
“I bought by first bike in March,” she said.
Despite her lack of experience on a bicycle, Stallings knew she wanted to be a part of the tour as well.
“I think this was a crucial summer in discovering God’s purpose for me and what kind of person I want to be, and what I want to be about,” Stallings said. “You’re caring for people, and yet at the same time discovering things about yourself. Pairing those two is really important. It’s amazing what kind of vision it gives you for the world.”
The team consisted of 19 people from all over the world. Each person had to raise nearly $5,000 to participate. They averaged about 80 miles a day. A van followed the cyclists carrying their belongings, which had to fit in a small plastic bin. In the evenings, the team often stayed at churches, sleeping on gym floors, and sometimes in hotels provided by churches. They stayed in the student housing apartments at Union the night of July 22.
During the most physically trying times of the tour – like climbing mountains – Morris said she was reminded of the people in Africa who often have to walk miles to get clean water.
“They can’t stop,” Morris said. “That’s their life all the time, and they don’t really have an option.”
Throughout the tour, the team members often spoke in churches about their mission, collecting love offerings for their cause. Sometimes they would set up a booth at concerts selling Ride:Well Tour products. The goal was to raise $150,000 for clean water and clean blood initiatives in Africa.
“My favorite part, hands down, is the people,” Morris said. “Our team is incredible. And also the people we meet all across the country.”
For Stallings, the best part of her summer was the journey itself.
“Every day is a new challenge,” she said. “My favorite part is that I’m being stretched and I’m having to push myself. It puts me in a place of need. I’m learning to not take as much for granted.”