Cross country bicyclists on their way through Palmyra

Submitted by Cindy Brown

It’s spring and transcontinental cyclists are arriving at Palmyra United Methodist Church (PUMC) in groups ranging from seven down to those who travel solo. They have taken time off in their busy lives to ride over 4,000 miles. The majority of them ride from Yorktown, Va., to Astoria, Ore. – or vice versa.

Later in the year we see them taking a southern route, where they end up in San Francisco, Calif. If they are in the annual race, they may bike over 200 miles a day and can finish the route in less than three weeks, but most folks take their time and enjoy the scenery and history of our wonderful country, finishing it in around three months.

PUMC’s involvement started four years ago on a stormy night when we sighted two young men standing in front of our little church on the hill in Palmyra. Their bicycles were loaded with bags, tents, food, clothing and more. All they wanted was permission to pitch their tent for the night. The answer was, “No way! You are coming to my house for the night. This storm is going to be so bad you won’t want to sleep in a tent.”

A few days later two women showed up and shared with us a map of this transcontinental trail and pointed out the town of Palmyra. There was a statement saying there was lodging available here! We all know there are no public accommodations in this little town.

That was the beginning. After a very short discussion, our church decided that we needed to make this one of our missions. The map now contains two phone numbers and names so they can call ahead to let us know they are coming. Members of the church and our Pastor George Gorman greet them with a spirit of friendship and hospitality. They are either cold, hot or wet (depending on the weather that day), tired and always hungry.

The bikes are pushed into our Fellowship Hall for safekeeping. Inside they find an array of drinks like Gatorade, sodas, water and snacks of all kinds. Some staples are available like peanut butter, jelly, eggs, bread, canned vegetables and even chicken from EW Thomas grocery store. Toward the end of their trip they can often be low on money and are so appreciative of a free meal. We try to accommodate different diets and have fed many types, including gluten free, vegetarian, vegan and paleo. These cyclists need up to 4,000 calories a day or even up to 6,000 calories, if they are in the race.

When they don’t want to stop or there is no place to buy a meal, many of them turn to their packs full of protein bars.

In 2016 the Transcontinental Cyclist Association celebrated 40 years. PUMC housed 93 cyclists that year! The average is 60 to 75 riders a year.

The youngest cyclist was seven years old. He and his mom, dad and two older siblings were living their dream of the American vacation.

In comparison, the oldest was a 78-year-old man who takes each of his grandchildren with him cross country when they reach age 14 and he feels are mature enough to handle the trip. What a memory to have for the rest of their lives.

The stories just keep piling up as we meet people from not only from the USA, but Germany, France, Switzerland, Belgium, Sweden, Norway, England, Holland, Italy, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Korea, China, Brazil, Argentina and more. Some have had phones that translated different languages. Once a deaf father-son duo smiled at me as I tried to use my American Sign Language. Paper and pen won out over that battle.

Who are these people? Each person has his or her own reason for taking this trek: newlyweds for their honeymoon, newly divorced, newly retired, some working out their depression, some trying to get healthy, or others simply accomplishing an item off their bucket list.

As 2019 warms up, some cyclists have braved the weather to get an early start. We are looking forward to meeting more of these courageous people and hearing their travel stories. Our fourth cyclist this year, who is from Holland, told us he started his trip – around the world – in February 2018 and plans on arriving home within a week. “I won’t know what to do when I sleep in the same bed every night,” he told us.

One favor we ask of this community: When you see cyclists on a loaded bicycle, probably with a tall flag pole on the back, be cautious and considerate. Give them space as you pass, and even better, give a thumbs up sign of encouragement. This will let them know that they are being recognized for their admirable efforts and that our community, just like PUMC, is here for them.

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