Ho hum, another bike group riding through Payson.
But wait — 100 riders attended by 100 volunteers?
Two semis and an entourage of trucks and trailers?
More than 100 tents and 100 bicycles?
The amazingly organized Sea-to-Sea Cycling to End Poverty group rolled into Payson over the weekend to rest up before continuing on their trek from Newport, Calif. to Long Island, N.Y. to raise awareness and help the poor locally and abroad.
“When people normally go on a bike tour, the group is usually no more than 30 or 40 people,” said Al DeKoch, the manager of the Sea to Sea bicycling group, “but our kitchen semi makes servicing this many people possible.”
Many bicycle tours meander through Europe, but few break the 30-person barrier.
DeKoch said the two things that make this group different are the ability to feed 200 people on the road and the dedication of the members. The Christian Reformed Church sponsors the riders who come from the states and Canada.
“Forty percent of the riders are from Canada,” said DeKoch.
In fact, Canadian flags peeped out from everywhere on Monday, July 1 to celebrate Canada Day, the country’s independence day.
“Happy Canada Day!” DeKoch called out to friends.
A couple from New Brunswick waved in response. DeKoch said they came the farthest of any of the riders.
The price to participate is steep. Riders raise $10,000 each to fund anti-poverty programs locally and abroad. Riders provide their own equipment to complete the journey.
Why do they do it? To raise awareness and money to fight poverty.
Amanda Koopman DeBoer, from Evanston, Ill., decided to join in because her mother works for one of the supporting organizations. “When she mentioned it, it grabbed my heart,” she said.
DeBoer said raising the money and putting in the 1,000 miles of bike training time were daunting thoughts, but once she signed up to do the ride in September of last year, the path opened up for her.
She put on a concert and raised money. Her mother hosted a fund-raising dinner and she wrote to all of her friends and contacts to raise the money.
Despite the frigid Chicago winters, she put in her training miles.
Then she hit the heat of Arizona.
“The hardest day of this ride was definitely Thursday,” she said. “Riding on I-10 the on-road temperatures got to 113 degrees. I ended up riding alone. There was a lot of climbing — but the traffic moved out of my way, even semis.”
The heat forced the bike group to change its itinerary. Instead of staying in Phoenix and cooking, they came to Payson to cool off.
The field behind the RCMS gym had enough room to set up the tent city. The kitchen semi and the gear semi had room on the basketball courts. Outdoor showers were rigged up using five-gallon paint buckets, garden hoses, and six-foot high tubes with shower heads sprouting from the top.
“These showers are actually quite refreshing,” said Chris Vlaardingerbrock, wife of Hank, a pastor in the church and the communications director for the bike ride. “I’m going to sit under a shower after dinner and wash off these grimy clothes.”
Chris showed off the kitchen semi. “We used to rent a trailer, outfit it with kitchen gear for the ride, then disbanded it when we were finished,” she said. “It was very expensive. Now we can use this semitrailer with the first responders to a disaster area. It has been donated to this ride.”
The semi’s diesel engine hummed, cooling the walk-in refrigerator that took up a quarter of the length of the trailer. Chris showed the kitchen supplies that rivaled any top-notch commercial kitchen.
“Our coffee urn perks four gallons in six minutes, we have a four-burner gas cooktop, two convection ovens, a tilt skillet, a steam oven and three sinks,” she said, “We have a full-time kitchen crew and then rotate volunteers to help with setup and cleanup.”
The other quarter of the kitchen trailer housed dry goods.
Next to the kitchen semi, bikers walked in and out of the gear truck. “Each biker gets a shelf and two plastic baskets,” said Chris. The baskets hold extra clothes, toiletries and camping gear. “A lot of the bikers bring a camp chair,” said Chris.
Outside the gear trailer entrance, bikers sat in a semi-circle swapping stories. Many had kept in shape riding to areas like Water Wheel and the East Verde River. Some talked about the welcome Payson and its churches offered, but they seemed to be waiting for something.
“At 8 o’clock we will hold a reflector,” said Chris. She explained that each night the riders and support volunteers pull out a book of meditations to think about the poor they ride to support. “It’s a God moment.”
To follow the Sea-to-Sea Cycling to End Poverty group, check out www.seatosea.org or connect through Facebook, Twitter and You Tube.