It was the adventure of a lifetime, a journey that tested their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual strength as they charged through the elements on their bicycles.
And after 61 days and 31 flat tires, they crossed their proverbial finish line.
Houghton College graduates Joanna Friesen ’17, Judith Marklin ’17, Chaz Ormond ’16, and Friesen’s fiancé Tim Schmell travelled from Seaside, Oregon to Ocean City, New Jersey, covering 3,477 miles of the United States. They viewed 12 states along the way, riding between 40 and 120 miles per day, as they made the eastward trip through heat, cold, sun, and rain.
The journey officially began on May 17 – four days after Friesen and Marklin graduated college – but the adventure dates back further to Friesen’s internship at Bike and Sol, a nonprofit bicycle shop where her cycling interest was born. Several of the group members were long-distance runners eager for a challenge, so naturally a cross-country bike trip was an exciting prospect. The ability to represent Houghton College – the very institution where their journeys intertwined – sealed the deal. Overwhelming encouragement from professors, friends, family, and community members spurred the team to try this seemingly impossible task.
The West Coast offered adventure from the get-go, including lost (later returned) luggage, travelling through Lewis and Clark country and seeing Mt. Rainier, encountering old ghost towns, and biking through the lush greenery of Portland, Oregon. From there the team explored iconic locations such as Yellowstone, the Columbia River Gorge, the Badlands, the homestead of author Laura Ingalls Wilder, Mount Rushmore, and more. They witnessed breathtaking views of snow-covered mountains as they camped in a state forest and enjoyed s’mores, hot dogs, spaghetti, and kale. The four flew by countless fields and farms and traversed challenging mountain passes, but some of their favorite sections “were those awesome 10-20 mile downhills” on the other side, remarks Friesen.
Friesen, Marklin, Ormond, and Schmell experienced the fury of volatile Midwest weather, traced part of the Mississippi River, and were truly roughing it by sleeping in fields and ditches! By the time they reached Cleveland, Ohio on the Fourth of July, they were more than ready for typical Fourth fare, particularly the prospect of massive cupcakes for dessert. From there, the team cruised through Pennsylvania and into New York, where they stopped in Houghton for a picnic celebration at the college where Friesen, Marklin, and Ormond met. Finally, on July 16, they reached their final stop in Ocean City.
Along the way, they met a myriad of individuals: Houghton alumni, helpful church staff, excited family members, welcoming strangers, and more. The cross-country generosity was astounding, from Dutch Blitz card tournaments, to help down the mountain when illness hit, to folks offering shelter from storms. Houghton alumni housed them, relatives took them in for an evening or bought stays at bed and breakfasts, and even strangers offered the use of their homes for hot showers (blessings in disguise for this trip). They exchanged biking stories – albeit cycling bikes vs. Harley Davidsons – with Christian Motorcycle Association bikers in Oregon before praying with the group.In the Midwest they met Beth, who was planning a bike trip across her state, and stayed with her family. As it happened, they had just encountered ‘Santa and Mrs. Claus,’ for Beth and her husband Tony play the pair at holiday time in their town. And in St. Anne, Illinois, they connected with Gladys, who runs the town newspaper all by herself and was delighted to print their story.
The arrival to the Atlantic Ocean was more than a final leg of a long trip – it was the culmination of countless experiences, conversations, and the memories of four friends on a remarkable voyage. “It was the daily moments, the many miles, the friendly faces, the flat tires that made the trip,” reflects Marklin. “It was after we jumped into the Atlantic that I realized it’s not just finishing that counts, but the whole adventure put together.”