Elaine Hofer is a member of Green Acres, a Hutterite community near Wawanesa, Manitoba. She cycled the Clear Lake Cyclathon with six others from Green Acres and five people from the Baker Hutterite community. The event raised funds for MCC water projects in Lebanon, this was especially significant to her because she and others at Green Acres helped sponsor a family of Syrian refugees, Najwa, Reyad and their children Ali and Raghad, who had passed through Lebanon on their way to Canada. (Watch a video about this sponsorship). Elaine shares her reflections on the ride:
I say to my friend Tirzah: “We need a summer adventure. What will we do?”
When my inbox holds a Clear Lake cyclathon challenge I know this is it! It’s a fitness challenge along with fundraising for clean water in Lebanon. Lebanon, I ponder — where Ali was born and the place Najwa and Reyad fled on their way to finding a safer home in Canada. A cycling challenge and fundraising for Lebanon sounds like the perfect fit for us.
So here we are. We wait beside the lake in a small circular forest grove. It’s 8:44 am as I step on my pedal.
After a welcoming speech and a prayer from MCC, we mount our bikes and head to a single file path. Like cars merging into a two lane highway, we hustle into a little foxhole of a wood. From then on, it’s a blinding survival game with a pack of people pushing from behind.
The trail is thin, oft times hugging the shoreline with a five-foot banked drop into the lake if you lose your balance. I’d have loved a map of my brain activity on that first trek of trail. There must have been a trillion new neurons fired for I’ve done nothing comparable to this!
I climbed the 100-foot leg of a grain elevator as a 13-year-old girl, ran a winter half marathon four months ago and I tried a rollercoaster in the Mall of America. I think the rollercoaster ride was about the closest kin to the cyclathon— except I had NO idea that this is what a cyclathon was like! With the rollercoaster I knew it would be wild, but before coming to this event I thought we’d be biking a clear, freshly mown path. ☺
Riders ahead of us shouted back “Sudden curve up ahead!” or “Hey, sharp slope”, or a “two-foot drop on the wooden bridge!”
I just bounced on. It was really great to ride with people who had done it before. “I know how you feel, I felt that way too when I did it the first time,” one rider sympathizes.
I ask him, “How often have you done this ride?”
“Fifteen times!” he replies. FIFTEEN! Ah, got it
What boggles my mind the most is that I didn’t realize something like this even existed! I had no idea the road conditions included a snaking thin trail with tree roots protruding up to six inches high.
A word of caution: don’t flip backwards on a 45-degree bank, sprawled just shy of splashing into a marsh. Most importantly, if you must take a spill, don’t do it with your friends nearby. First, they laugh until they’ve had their fill. Then they take out their phones, find their cameras and take a zillion shots. Meanwhile, a human being (me!) is hanging backwards with a swamp looming beside my ears.
I know exactly how pants feel hanging backwards on a line to dry. My friend Judy’s strong hand grasps mine to help lift me up, and my water bottle from my fanny pack falls into a hollow log. I reach in for it and my second one falls in. I lunge for it and it has reached water inside the hollow log and sailed off. I laugh at the absurdity of my experience. Is this me? I can’t find me here
MCC photo/Matthew Sawatzky
“Turn left,” says my friend Hadassah, “The trail is here.” We take our bikes onto a wet sandy shoreline. Up ahead I can see riders carrying their bikes over a creek of water about three feet deep. I feel like I can’t keep up with all this action!
It becomes my favorite part of the trail. I wade through the cool water carrying my bike and wonder how I’ll bike with my wet skirt. The creek cools and refreshes me. Maybe it was because I was walking, with no need for balancing, bumping and bustling. My feet touched the earth just like they like it.
“You’re tough,” Meghan Mast, from MCC had said to me as she fastened a GoPro camera on me before we started, “you do marathons!” I laugh at that now.
My bike creaks from the sand and there’s horsetail tangled up in its chains. I feel spoiled when I think of marathon treks: wide, flat, dry streets, huge waving mile markers. Stamina is my marathon challenge; here, skill is needed. When I run a half marathon, I’m keenly aware of my breathing and how my body feels. Here, there’s no time for self-reflection. It seemed like only my brain and bike were on the trail, with my body along for the ride.
My friends Tirzah, Laura and I tackle the next bit together. When the trail flattens out we attack it like a prize. Mossy and enclosed in the woods, it feels like I’m in my own little universe. And then suddenly, we’re are out in a thick open field where the trail seems to sweep together behind you with thick, high grass three feet high.
MCC photo/Matthew Sawatzky
And then there’s checkpoint one!! We were told to check in at all the checkpoints so that they could keep track of the riders. The refreshments are amazing. Plums and double chocolate cookies are my fuel. I ask innocently, “How far are we?”
The lovely doctor present for the event smiles warmly and says, “You’ve finished the first section, the most difficult leg.” The next day when I look at the map, I see the section covered only about 20 per cent of the trail ride. I chuckle at that! It took us 45 minutes to chew through that one.
We yelp and devour the short burst of highway, but then the reality of the trail hits us and we are deep into bush again, roots and all. Slugging time again. Tirzah, Laura and I giggle, gasp and shake our heads at this experience.
Some of my friends and fellow Green Acres people see the endorphin filled photos of the finish line and perhaps it all seems like one big fun party. But the days before the race were packed with summer garden work and a great deal of questioning, apprehension and reflecting.
“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home- so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world.”
— Eleanor Roosevelt
I had sent out the information about the cyclathon to passionate bikers a month or two ago and then tried to figure out the right balance of pushing, prodding and encouraging them. It’s still a new thing for our community to attend these events. Plus fundraising was part of this event. There are many issues and questions. How many people can be included before management has an issue with it? How many can be invited and included so things will go smoothly? Is it fair that I’m part of it and not others? Considering all these factors is very stressful. I often wondered why I was doing these kinds of events when they are so difficult to navigate. And I get anxious so easily.
But when you stand with so many fellow bikers and you feel the hearts connected in a passion for biking and fundraising, you know it was worth it. When you see committed young people who managed to raise $6,000 on their own, you know why you fought to show up.
The sense of regret and feelings of guilt linger, as I think of those who didn’t get to have this experience. I feel a sense of responsibility to try to ensure that more can take part in the future.
My dream would be to fill a bus of young people for the event: join the bike ride if you wish, or simply enjoy a scenic day at the lake.
Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.
As I reflect back on the challenge of the cyclathon, I realize it’s vital simply for my wellbeing — for my emotional health. I seek out these events because I always leave stronger and they continue to teach me about humankind so that I have goosebumps for days to follow. Thank you, Reinhard Kramer and Darryl Loewen and the strong crew of volunteers for this event, for prompt email replies and the warm reception in such a beautiful part of Manitoba that I hadn’t seen for over 20 years.
The next day I biked 19 km on my regular prairie route, and did have time to notice the brilliant canola, the sky and bounding deer. But the truth is, I found it a bit boring compared to the cyclathon. On to new challenges!