Ordinary churchgoers from Canada and the U.S. spent 10 weeks on a grueling 6,759 km extraordinary pilgrimage; “cycling to end poverty” in an adventure-type charity ride hosted by the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA).
The Luimes family on their bikes.
They weren’t super athletes cycling across North America like those who do the three-week Tour de France for big money and personal glory while sleeping in luxury hotels each night.
Just ordinary churchgoers from Canada and the U.S. who, incredibly, spent 10 weeks on a grueling 6,759 km bike ride between Vancouver, B.C. and Halifax, Nova Scotia. Some were experienced cyclists and others relatively new to the activity.
But for all it was an extraordinary pilgrimage of Christian faith by people “cycling to end poverty” in an adventure-type charity ride hosted by the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA). Sea to Sea 2017 participants crossed the country pedal by pedal, camping out each night in a remarkable rolling tent city. Fifty of the 135 cyclists, ranging in age from 12 to 81, succeeded in doing the whole route.
It was, amazingly, a trip almost one sixth of the circumference of the earth and nearly twice the distance of the Tour de France. With rides between campgrounds reaching up 160 km per day, riders sometimes spent over eight hours in the saddle. This was the fourth Sea to Sea ride since 2005, outreach that has raised over seven million dollars for local and global anti-poverty programs through church aid agencies World Renew and Partners Worldwide, including at least $1.6 million this year.
Behind the scenes
Ed Witvoet of Ancaster, Ontario, spent 10 months planning a route that was scenic and relatively safe for cycling, using mostly backroads rather than highways. He’s an experienced cyclist and a member of Meadowlands Fellowship CRC. As tour manager, Witvoet rode in a 26-foot gear truck for Sea to Sea 2017, and won high praise for his skills in having everything run like a well-oiled machine.
“The beauty of this,” Witvoet said, “is that it wasn’t just a bike ride. We were out to make an impact on people’s lives. It was a great tour with awesome cyclists and support crews. We had zero sickness and the only injury of note was on a bike trail near Rimouski when a rider hit a post.” Even so, the injured rider – Grant Corey of Strathroy, Ontario – was able to attend end of ride celebrations in Halifax, albeit on crutches. He suffered cracks to his pelvis and severe bruising.
On July 16, everyone on the tour was shocked to hear of the tragic death of a cyclist who had been planning to join them in a few days in Grand Rapids, Minn. Cyclists biked in silence for several hours July 17 to grieve and honour the memory of Clarence Doornbos.
To help promote Sea to Sea, tall banners were put up at campgrounds and rest stops. Along the way many churches hosted meals, and the travelling volunteer crew set up about 250 rest stops over the 10 weeks, with water and snacks for grateful cyclists at key points every few hours.
John Stehouwer, 18, of Kalamazoo, Mich. on the last day of the trip.
Along the route, including a 700 km leg through the U.S. south of Lake Superior, riders marveled at the spectacular scenery of God’s creation and also found time to make brief stops at historic sites, small towns, coffee shops and for ice cream. They said highlights included the mountains in B.C., the prairies, cottage country in Ontario and vistas along the St. Lawrence River in Quebec and P.E.I.
Pastor Gary Bomhof, 68, who retired early in June from ministry at First CRC in Red Deer, Alberta, was one rider relatively new to cycling although he trained by taking spinning classes and joining a local biking club. He was thrilled to end the trip in Halifax and loved everything about the ride – the camaraderie between cyclists and especially the good weather – but found each day long and exhausting, wishing he’d done more hill training.
Stuart Vandervaart, 66, from Kincardine, Ontario, a retired nuclear power plant maintenance worker, felt the same and wondered at times how he found the inner strength to go on. For the last week he pedaled in pain with his right leg bandaged, having pulled a calf muscle.
Amazingly, the youngest rider was Eve Luimes, 12, from Kemptville, south of Ottawa. She biked 5,236 km from Vancouver to Ottawa with brother Seth, 14, and then both left to get ready for school. Their mom, Karen Luimes, 38, continued to Halifax. She had purchased bikes for the family a year ago.
Jim Beezhold, 81, from Pauma Valley, California, was the oldest rider and George Vanderkuur, 75, of Pickering, the senior Canadian. It was his fifth transcontinental ride using a bike he’s had since 1978, on which he's cycled about 70,000 kms. Betty Adam, 69, of Sherwood Park, Alberta, was the oldest female cyclist, doing her fourth cross-continent ride in 11 years.
Eric DenOuden, 58, of Belleville, Ontario, president of the Canadian Home Builders’ Association, joined the ride because he has “a heart for helping the poor” and to see Canada on the nation’s 150th birthday. He raised an astounding $100,802 for the Sea to Sea cause, mainly from industry contacts.
The Sea to Sea team dip their front tires in the Atlantic Ocean in Halifax.
Jasper Hoogendam, 64, from Cobourg, Ontario went all the way despite lingering issues with a traumatic brain injury and said: “When you want to do something you don’t quit.” Hoogendam once pedaled a unicycle 53 km from Trenton to Cobourg in five hours.
Ida Kaastra-Mutoigo, co-director of World Renew, cycled the 1,500 km section between Calgary and Winnipeg. She said it helped her to relate better to people in parts of the world where, if fortunate enough to own a bike, might have to ride long distances to meet essential needs.
Pastor Peter Slofstra, 65, who retired last year as pastor of Hope Fellowship in Courtice, Ontario, completed the ride for a second time, riding tandem with his wife Marja and also serving as ride chaplain.
At a farewell supper he urged riders to initiate anti-poverty projects in their home communities. “What can you do to live a simpler and more active and more grateful way of life?” he asked. “How and where does God want you to serve?”