To change hearts
by Carly Gilmore, Class of 2017
Energy was high as a group of cyclists clipped in on the overcast morning of August 12. Having perfected their routine over the last three months, their movements were second nature as they began another day on the road. A few miles in, the crew had already worked the soreness out and found their rhythm. But their excitement hadn’t dwindled. The smell of saltwater and presence of seagulls grew more prominent and fueled them on, reminders of their nearing destination: the Atlantic.
Reflections on their experience and the mission they were about to accomplish clouded their minds—causing a few unintended detours along the final stretch. For the crew, the day seemed surreal. Their journey across the continent was ending, having covered 4,259 miles from Seaside, Oregon, to Yorktown, Virginia. Lulled by the repetition of the now accustomed pedaling, the cyclists were about to accomplish their prodigious goal set over a year before.
While Roskam brainstormed ways to spread Extreme Nazarene’s work, one concept continually emerged: a transcontinental excursion. “Doing something out of the box and ‘extreme’ is part of the DNA of Extreme Nazarene, so this radical, cross-country trek began to gain steam as a concept that could work well,” explained Roskam. “From there, it really grew through conversations with my father, Mike Roskam, an avid cyclist who’d always wanted to ride across the USA.”
This concept formed into an Extreme Nazarene fundraising campaign dubbed Pedal to Plant. Along with having face-to-face contact with current and potential partners, the purpose of the campaign was to raise $600,000 to enable Extreme Nazarene to plant six churches in 2018. To accomplish this, a group of cyclists would travel along the historic Trans-America Trail, each with sponsors donating on a per-mile basis. On route, the team would stop at Nazarene churches to hold services, talk about Pedal to Plant’s purpose and develop relationships. With this exposure, the team would find persons sharing Extreme Nazarene’s vision and with an interest in partnering as donors or missionaries.
To materialize Pedal to Plant, Roskam found people who were passionate about Extreme Nazarene’s mission and willing to use their skills to make the campaign a reality. One such group was an NNU graphic design class. Led by Instructor of Art & Design Mike Bartlett (’08), the five students in the 2016 Integrated Media Campaigns course designed all the campaign content. On partnering with a non-profit organization for this course each spring semester, Bartlett remarked, “The experience is invaluable. Students design real projects for clients.”
In addition to the design team, Roskam gathered a logistics team, seven full riders, 23 leg riders, many church hosts and volunteers for the support team. One of the full riders was Gene Schandorff, former NNU chaplain of 22 years. When asked about why he joined, Gene responded, “It’s a great cause. I think it’s part of what the church ought to be up to; it’s at the heart of our mission. And it’s a great way to accomplish something that I really enjoy doing and plug into a purpose that’s much bigger than me—much bigger than cycling—but really has a part to play in the work of the kingdom.”
Another full rider was graphic design major Korte Zickefoose, who also worked as the messaging intern for the campaign. After hearing about the opportunity during a design class, he was hooked. “Pedal to Plant was such a compelling and unique story that I knew I had to be part of it,” Zickefoose said. “I loved the idea of doing something physically challenging, while using my gifts to further the Kingdom.”
On May 29, after over a year of preparation, the team stood on the beach in Seaside shivering from the crisp ocean air and soaking in the Oregon vista. Amid the roar of the pounding waves were sounds of greetings and introductions. Having split to hold church services in both Astoria, Oregon, and Vancouver, Washington, the evening before, the entire crew gathered for the first time on the morning of departure. These friends and new acquaintances would be working together in close quarters for the next 11 weeks.
Although eager to begin their daunting trek, they wanted to begin it right. So, the cyclists walked their bikes to the edge of the shore and ceremoniously dipped their back tires in the Pacific Ocean—the trip would literally be from coast to coast now. Portaging their rides back to the pavement, they clipped in and looked east.
Wasting no time, the team plunged into the campaign. In the first week, the group covered over 400 miles and met with eight churches. The first 55-mile days conditioned the riders for the rest to come, which included multiple mountain passes and a 100-mile day that five cyclists completed on week five. They biked six days a week, through all weather and landscapes, in extreme heat and up killer inclines. Over the duration of the trek, they climbed 136,217 feet of elevation and survived days with 123 degree heat indexes.
After their rides in the mornings and afternoons, the team led worship and services at churches. Because some of the stops on the Trans-America Trail weren’t in towns with Nazarene congregations, the cyclists were often shuttled from their goal city to a host church. These churches fed and provided housing for the team.
When reflecting on the experience, Schandorff said, “We live in a great and beautiful country full of great and beautiful people. There were amazing days on the bike, beautiful country, great scenery, but my favorite aspect of the trip had to be the people.”
Roskam added, “The intergenerational aspect of the trip was life-changing for all involved—for the younger generation to learn from the older generation and for the older generation to see there are young adults who are passionate about the message of the gospel and going to great lengths to be a part of sharing that message with the world!”
Like Schandorff and Roskam, the biggest takeaway for Zickefoose was stories. “Listen. Everyone has a story. We just have to be willing to be present to it,” said Zickefoose. “The hardest part—our traveling caravan—brought the greatest reward. Our youngest team member was 17, our eldest over 70. We heard and learned from stories, not only from each other, but also from those in the churches and on the bicycles we encountered.”
Having crossed ten states, visited 12 Nazarene districts and burned 201,600 calories (per cyclist), the Pedal to Plant team found themselves staring at the Atlantic at last. The support team cheered as the riders glided down Yorktown’s Colonial Parkway. When they reached the sand, they stopped in elation and disbelief. Slowly, they dismounted, rolled their bikes across the beach to the lapping waves and dipped their front tires in the Atlantic.
The following day, still celebrating the endeavor’s success, the team led their final service at the 56th host church. Their vision was materialized. Having set out to raise awareness, friends and funds, Pedal to Plant had accomplished its goal. The campaign raised over $150,000 to plant churches in South America, Germany and the U.S. and connected hundreds of people across the US to Extreme Nazarene Missions. And these are just the immediate results.
Afterward, the team returned home to their usual schedules, carrying an unforgettable experience and proud to have accomplished their mission: “We ride to see hearts changed. We ride to see the world changed. We ride because we know when hearts are changed by the love and grace of Jesus, the world will be changed!”
The seven full riders on this trip were Mike Roskam, Ben Kuhn, Gene Schandorff, Korte Zickefoose (’18), Shannon Seward (’18), Shawn White and Luke Zane (’17). Visit pedaltoplant.org for more details about this trek.
Header photo caption: The team stands at their destination, the Atlantic Ocean near Yorktown, Virginia. Photo by Sarah Kuhn.