August 16, 2004

After a "Blessing of the Bikes" ceremony at their church, members of the First Church Congregational in Palo Alto began their 350-mile journey circling the Bay Area. Their first stop, 30 miles later, was the Little Brown Church of Sunol.

As a youth Russell Stevens of Santa Clara started going on cycling trips around New England when he was active in the United Church of Christ's Silver Lake Conference Center. Russell said he "not only enjoyed bicycling but enjoyed the spiritual component that came along with it". Six years ago while in between jobs, Russell started thinking about riding his bike cross country when he received a newsletter from his previous church in Connecticut announcing a cross country bicycling trip and they were looking for youth counselors. So along with wife Sheila, they signed up working with students from 11 high schools. The group biked from Seattle to Connecticut and stayed about a third of the time at churches. Russell says, "Not only did we get to see the country but we really got to meet the people and find out what it was like to live there. Ever since that time I wanted to lead a trip of my own to share that experience with other people and this is my first trial run. I picked the Bay Area not only because our church is in the Bay Area but because there is a high concentration of UCC churches in the Bay Area so it was really easy to connect the dots".

Beginning August 1, this enthusiastic group of 15 bicyclists, which includes 4 high school students and one father riding with his two sons, will be bicycling around the Bay stopping at churches in Sunol, Stockton, Suisun-Fairfield, Petaluma, San Francisco and Pescadero. Most of the current riders are from the Palo Alto church; one person from San Rafael and three people from San Jose will join them during their journey. According to Russell, "Most of them are beginning cyclist and this will be pushing their comfort zone a little bit and their abilities, they are going to do things they thought they could never do before". Russell has also encouraged them to do some daily journaling during this trip.

Russell's only request of the host church was that they be provided shelter for the night, but the
members of the Little Brown Church graciously opened not only their doors but also their hearts as they also prepared for them a delicious meal. Special thanks go to Sunolians Ken Horton and Veronica Krell and Pastor Ron Hunt and Lisa Hunt for providing the bicyclists with hot showers.

There are two mission components to this trip as well. The first is to raise awareness for UCC's "OCWM-Our Churches Wider Mission" fund and so far they have raised approximately $2,000. The second mission component is to collect slightly used bicycles to donate to the Pescadero Community Congregational Church. The Pescadero church has a large community of migrant farm workers and their "Puente Ministries" provides the workers and their families with basic needs such as food, clothing, shelter, spiritual study and bicycles to help them with transportation to and from work.

Russell says, "It's been spiritually uplifting for me and it's been a neat physical adventure and I've really always wanted to share this with another group to share this experience and I really could not do it without churches like the Little Brown Church coming together and making dinner for us, cleaning up after us and giving us a place to sleep, really I'm not exaggerating this is a dream come true for me, we really appreciate all of the help".

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