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Photo of Sea-Tri-Kan painted rock courtesy Scott Starbuck

Riding for Refugees: Day 1

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By Ben Shedlock

Day 1: Kent to Camp Sheppard. 57 miles, 2,450 feet of elevation gain.

The nature of endurance bike rides entails constant movement. The key is to get up early, settle into a comfortable pace quickly, and keep moving. At a 13-15 mile per hour pace, factoring in lunch and snack breaks, long rides take most of the day. So when we rolled off this morning from Kent’s Hogan Park, my goal was to keep moving.

Morning Rush Hour

After five months of training, fundraising and anxious anticipation, my nervous energy peaked waiting for the ride to start. When the ride finally started, my adrenaline and natural impatience vaulted me to the front of the 48 riders. I’m nowhere close to the strongest or most experienced rider, but I permitted myself 10–15 miles of fast riding to get the jitters out.

I led the pack riding two-abreast with a Seattle-based cyclist, and within 3 miles we led the group in taking a wrong turn. The lot of us went through a narrow overpass and created a bike traffic jam. I explained that it was my plan to make a mistake early, so no one would ask me to take charge for the rest of the ride.

After our eventful start, we enjoyed a drama-free morning riding along the Green River out of Kent, through Auburn, and through what a state sign declared a “farming area.” After a bathroom stop, my nerves once again got the better of me and I took off with the lead group. We kept up a too-fast-for-me 18 mile per hour pace into our lunch stop in Enumclaw.

Lunchtime and a (more) Leisurely Afternoon Pace

During our Chipotle-catered lunch, I found a much more suitably paced group to join. They were happy to have someone else to draft on, and I was happy about not having to turn myself inside out just to hang on to the back.

Slowing down turned out to be a great decision. The road out of Enumclaw climbed, with some downhill breaks, for the next 25 miles, following the White River on its fall from the mountain springs. The milepost that read “Chinook Pass 43” foreshadowed tomorrow’s climb over the Cascades.

As we ascended, Enumclaw’s shopping centers gave way to dense rainforest and partly clouded vistas. Abandoning downtown comforts gave the first hint that this was more than just an afternoon ride. We stopped to take pictures of the rock-bed rapids at scenic overlooks and to have snacks among the tall pines and dense undergrowth of Federation Forest State Park.

Finally, after an afternoon of climbing, we pulled in to Camp Sheppard, a Boy Scout high adventure camp. We racked our bikes, grabbed our luggage, picked a cot and realized just how many of us forgot to bring soap and shampoo when we hit the showers.

Waiting

Though movement is the essence of cycling, endurance events have another key characteristic: the waiting.

Because I stayed last night with one of World Relief Seattle’s managers, I had to wake early and get to Kent Park by 8 a.m., two hours before our 10 a.m. scheduled departure. While the well oiled World Relief machine set to work preparing breakfast and managing logistics, I simply waited.

There was a palpable sense that something big was about to happen, that a journey was about to begin. And though it heightened my anxious anticipation and fueled my jitters, I simply had to wait it out. Waiting, I noticed the cold. I grew irritated at the rain that began spitting. With every bullhorn announcement, I prepared to grab my bike and go, only to learn I had to wait longer. For a pre-ride meeting. For a dignitary’s speech. For a group photo.

Once I got control of my frustration, my thoughts turned to the refugees I’m riding for, who spend, on average, 17 years waiting. They wait in camps for someone to accept them. They wait in city’s for meetings at the UN and the consulate office. They wait with no work, no school, no civic opportunities. They wait as lists are posted with the names of the lucky few who have been accepted to be resettled today. They wait.

It puts into perspective the waiting I did this morning. And in our last 10 mile stretch into Camp Sheppard, one of my group, a propos of nothing, exclaimed, “We get to ride our bikes for five days. No work. No chores. What a privilege!”

A privilege, indeed. And one worth waiting for.

Ben Shedlock

About Ben Shedlock

Ben Shedlock is the communications coordinator for Catholic Charities Eastern Washington. Before working as a writer, he served Catholic Charities as a refugee resettlement caseworker. Ben’s career has emphasized Catholic Social Teaching’s themes of solidarity and an option for the poor. He is a member of St. Ann’s Catholic Church. You can reach him at bshedlock@ccspokane.org.

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