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Cycling for Change: Jason Christensen's stories from the road

From time to time, PikesPeakSports will feature blog posts by Jason Christensen, CEO of Catholic Charities in Colorado Springs. Christensen is riding across the country this summer to help raise awareness about poverty in the U.S.
Read Christensen's full blog here.

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Day 33

Simple Prayers

“God grant me the gift of wonder” is a personal favorite. It leaves you open to possibility and appreciative of all circumstance.

While in places like the Tetons, Red Rocks, and some of the other majestic scenery of northwest Wyoming where we ventured, the “Gift of Wonder” was granted in the form of our
surroundings.

Central & Southern Wyoming is quite a bit different. In places like Jeffrey City with a population of about 50, the main industry is uranium mining. It’s wide open….Dry….Desolate. It
takes a strong constitution and a comfort in being practically alone in
order to survive out here. “Wonder” takes on a whole new meaning.

There’s a reason why this particular area of the country is described as “windswept.” Never have I experienced such powerful gusts.
Unfortunately for all of the riders, the winds that we experienced
during this stretch were headwinds and not tailwinds.

The wind is a mysterious element: It can give one the sensation of victory, but it can also be vexing.

And isn’t life like that? Makes you wonder….

There are those who are fortunate enough to go through life as if the wind is to their back. No struggles. Sadly, no challenges as well.

There are others who struggle day in and day out just to get by….Their lives are a perpetual climb uphill and into a full force gale.

Here’s the rub: We cannot always control our circumstances much like we cannot control the wind. If there’s one thing I wish I could accomplish in
this ride it’s for people to understand that poverty is not always a
“choice.”

Sure, it’s always good to have people live their lives with such confidence that they don’t always feel they’re a “victim of circumstance.” At the same time, what do we say to the person whose
child suffered a catastrophic illness and they have absolutely no
coverage for their medical expenses? Do we tell them to just toughen
up?

Try this one out: What about the young African-American man who is about to “age out” of foster care? His mother is deceased from an overdose and his father is in prison. Will he have the same
advantages in pursuing college and/or a job as I did? I mean, I’m white
afterall and my parents had the means to put me through school. It’s
intellectually dishonest to suggest that kid would have it better off
than me.

Sometimes the wind is in your face….Sometimes it’s at your back.

As riders, we can “draft” behind another rider. By drafting — riding within a wheel’s length of the person in front of you — a cyclist can preserve 25-33% of his/her power.

I think of places like Valor House in Missoula, MT that, provides transitional housing for homeless veterans. A percentage of the veteran’s income is applied
to rent and another percentage is required to be put away for savings.
In a way, Valor House is a lead cyclist allowing its guests to “draft.”

Some might scoff and say that’s “freeloading.” Is it? Or is it just smart?

When it comes to poverty, often a person just needs to be pulled out of the vortex they’re in so that they can stand on their own. It might be in
the form of transitional housing, treatment for addiction, or even a
job. Leaving someone on their own can be much like asking them to
reach their destination by a certain time with substandard equipment and
the wind to their face. It’s not always going to work. And sometimes
you’re going to need help.

My prayer for all is that the wind be to your back…most of the time. May God also give us the occasional headwind to keep us strong and
empathetic to those who do struggle in their daily lives.

May He also continue to grant us the gift of wonder.

From the road,

Jason

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Day 27: Making the Grade

An average of 3%. Doesn’t seem like much. Especially if you’re talking chances of rain.

When it’s describing the grade of a road, that’s another matter.

Today’s effort was a 71 mile stretch from Ennis, MT to West Yellowstone, MT. Our challenge came in the form of a consistent 3% grade pushing into a head wind over the first 42 miles of the trip. A
steady uphill climb…into wind which culminated into an 8% climb over
Reynolds Pass on our way to lunch at Earthquake Lake made for some tired
and hungry riders.

As we made that last ascent into our break, KTVM news out of Bozeman was capturing footage of the riders on the climb. Leading the pack and with the camera pointed on me I kept
telling myself, “Don’t look tired….Can’t let ‘em see you struggle!”

But isn’t that one of our problems in our present-day culture? Sometimes we’re just too proud to let others see or know that we are facing difficulties.

In our hyper-competitive, keeping-up-with-the-Joneses society even middle-class families are finding themselves on the brink. Poverty isn’t just for low-income
people. Loss of job, catastrophic health issues, burdensome debt can
all lead to a quick fall into poverty. And if not physical/economic
poverty, it can certainly lead to — or be a result of — spiritual
poverty.

During my interview with the television reporter I was asked what we had hoped to accomplish with this ride. Of course we want to create public awareness about poverty
and to assist local Catholic Charities’ programs in raising monies for
their operations. But we also want to change hearts and minds when it
comes to understanding and acting on poverty. That includes dealing
with our pride and open ourselves up to asking for help. It also means
being open to reaching out and helping those in need.

At the end of the day, we are all interdependent. As much as we promote “independence” and “rugged individualism” as an American ideal, we really need each other.

If we’re to tackle poverty in America, we’ve got to be willing to help our brother and our sister. We’ve got to take the shame out of poverty and the shame in asking for
help.

Whether we struggle or look tired doesn’t matter. It’s all about making it up the hill.



Day 23

An Open Letter to My Daughters

To my Dearest Amelia & Anna:

Some days are easier than others. But everyday is a day that I miss you dearly.

Twenty-seven days ago — the day that you dropped me off at the airport — was one of the hardest days of my life. The tears that flowed down my cheeks caused great concern to the flight attendants as the
plane lifted off for Seattle. I was missing you then and there’s an
ache in my heart that won’t go away until I get to see you again.

This cross-country journey has been exciting, exhausting, saddening, and uplifting. I am very blessed to see such beautiful areas of our great nation — places which I plan to take you to see.

I’ve also been blessed to meet some wonderful people. I’ve also seen some hurting people. I’ve met people who have very little; I’ve met people who have a lot. I’ve had it confirmed to me that “things” don’t
always bring you happiness. I’ve also had it confirmed to me that a big
and grateful heart gets you a lot farther in life.

I’ve seen injustice. Veterans — soldiers who fought for our nation — are sleeping under bridges because they’ve either been hurt or they cant find work or have a home. Kids — boys and girls that are your ages
— don’t get enough food to eat, have adequate clothing, or have the
supplies they need to go to school.

I’ve also seen kindness. There are many people who are so generous doing so many good things to help others. Unfortunately, we don’t always hear about them because it isn’t always “newsworthy.”

We live in a country with great resources and great opportunity. Sometimes our priorities are a little mixed up. But know this: Our country is the best place in the world to live and grow. But I hope it
will be a better place for you and for others. Right now many of our
fellow Americans are hurting. We need to change that.

I want you to become the kind of women that will work to make the lives of others better. You have all the abilities. You’re smart and you’re caring. You also have parents that love you with all their
hearts. You need to take those things and run with it. Go make the
world a better place!


Every day is a "Happy" Father's Day thanks to my girls.

You will have many choices in life. You will have rules to live by. That’s what life brings you. But there’s one important rule you need to know. It’s the “Greatest Commandment” that is given to all of us:
”Love God with all your heart, mind, and soul…and love your neighbor as
yourself.”

Love one another. It’s that simple.

Know that I love you. Know that I am so proud of you.

Know that Father’s Day and every day of the year is always a “Happy” Father’s Day for me because I have been blessed to be your Dad.

With all my love,

Daddy

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Day 14-15 - In the Valley With St. Vincent de Paul

C4C riders helping out at the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Clarkston.

Hospitality & Helping Out

After Mass at Holy Rosary parish in Pomeroy, WA we were feted with a BBQ at the home of some very generous parishioners.

Our hosts were a bit taken back by the appetites of calorie-consuming cyclists. As my grandmother would say: “We eat like birds….Vultures!”

The next day we would ride into Clarkston, WA and Lewiston, ID where we would stay on the Idaho side at Lewis & Clark State College. (Those Lewis & Clark guys are a big deal in this region!)

The following morning we were provided a great breakfast by parishioners at St. Stanislaus parish. As you may be observing, Catholic Hospitality has been superb.

We would then venture over the river back into Clarkston where “The Team” would help out with the local St. Vincent de Paul Society. SVDP Society provide food, clothing, and emergency assistance to anyone in
need. The local chapter is run by a go-getter of a woman by the name of
Ellen Dekan.

Ellen and a small group of core-volunteers make SVDP Society of Clarkston run. They serve the entire “Valley” which runs on both sides of the Snake River on the Washington & Idaho sides. The number of
consumers has been sharply on the rise. Another startling fact is the
growing number of homeless in the area. Many are sheltering under the
bridge. The more fortunate have been able to get temporary shelter in
local motels.

SVDP Society operates two warehouses. In one they have a large shop where customer can “purchase” household items and some of the finer donated clothes. All are available at incredibly discounted prices that
makes it affordable for people on very limited incomes. Revenue
generated in the shop goes for emergency assistance items such a rent,
utilities, prescription drugs, etc.

The other warehouse has all of the “exchange” items. Bring a can of non-perishable food to help stock the pantry and you can take as much clothing that you need. On this day C4C riders helped sort through a
pile of donated clothes that was about 4 feet high by 12 feet wide.
Because SVDP Society counts entirely on a small group of volunteers,
the sorting cannot keep up with the generosity of clothing items.

Riding an average of 67 miles a day can be a bit tiring and we appreciate as much down time as we can get. Yet, there was no grumbling about working on an off day because the actual riding is not what
Cycling For Change is about. Helping out Ellen IS what C4C is about.

No task is too small or insignificant. Thus, I would encourage readers to consider giving an hour — or two — a week to an organization that works with our poor. Every bit counts.

Rider’s Ramblings

What a fantastic descent we had going into Clarkston. Hitting the curves on the downhill at 40 mph — speeds of the more daring riders — requires total concentration. The angels have been watching over us as
no gravel or potholes have gotten in the way or caused any accidents.

The prayers of support and safety are appreciated and felt. Please keep ‘em coming!

From the road,

Jason

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Day 11

500 Miles….Now Pass Me The Chamois Butter.

Perhaps it’s a guy thing. We’re all about “accomplishing” a trip. We want to make so many miles in so much time, etc.

When you’re looking at a 5,000+ mile journey, things obviously don’t come as quickly on a bike as they do in a car. Thus, we take things one
day — sometimes one mile — at a time. On this day, just outside of
Hood River, OR we hit an important one: 500 miles. It occurred on this
11th day which is pretty darn good considering we had almost two whole
days of non-cycling. We now have 10% of the trip completed.

Those are merely miles on a bike. Consider this: What if we had moved 10% of those Americans living in poverty out from the margins of
our economy and back on their feet? 4 million Americans back at
work….Living, not just surviving. Four million.

Now that would be an accomplishment.


Day 9

With a Little Help From My Friends

For 3 hours we only advanced 20 miles. That’s not a very good pace. A cold, steady downpour did not help as we snaked through side-streets,
back-streets, trails and about everything in between leaving the city
of Portland.


We were cold. We were wet. Admittedly, we were discouraged. For the first time since the trip began, I wanted to throw my bike on the rack
and ride in one of the vans. But I stuck it out and I’m glad I did for
it gave me pause to think about situations that people find themselves
in, how they react, and how others around them react.

In this particular case, I had a water-resistant jacket. (Note: There’s a difference between “water-resistant” and “water-proof’.”) My water-proof pants and shoe covers were working great; however, the cold rain was seeping into my jersey and soaking up in my shorts. Quickly I became cold and miserable.

Now some would say, “It’s you’re own fault, Jason. You should have been better prepared.” This is true. If I’d had the proper equipment I wouldn’t have found myself in that situation. But I didn’t.

Fortunately we were able to rendezvous with the SAG wagons under a gas station awning after about 90 minutes of the cold and rain. C4C rider Lissa, whose husband Tom (another C4C rider) was back in Kansas, offered me the use of Tom’s rain gear and a dry jersey. What a savior! I was able to get myself together and continue and ultimately finish the ride for the day.

It’s a rather poor metaphor because one bad weather day is nothing to scraping and surviving while in poverty,but here’s my point: We all need a helping hand. ALL OF US.


It’s frustrating to hear uninformed, prejudicial comments about the poor. Yes, sometimes people
make poor choices. Maybe that’s because they don’t know any better. Does that mean we say “tough luck?”

I’m grateful that one of my C4C teammates stepped up to help me. If they’d all said, “too bad for you, Jason. Figure it out on your own” I would’ve been a bit upset. And sometimes people don’t have a choice in their circumstances. The 18 year old aging out of a foster care system has nowhere to go because his/her mother died of an overdose and his/her father is in prison.

Saying, “Pick yourself up by the bootstraps” is not going to be helpful to that child. The “rugged individualism” that characterizes much of our American mindset is admirable and all that….So long as we’renot forgetting those on the margins of our society.

So when we see the person sleeping on a park bench or the beggar outside the coffee shop, think before rushing to judgment. And if you’re daring enough, find out their situation. It may be something simple. It could very well be complicated. But who knows, you could be that warm dry clothing that could get that person down the road.

At the end of the day, it’s about relationships. It’s what gets us by in life. Don’t be afraid to have a relationship with the poor and the marginalized.

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June 3: Due to bad weather and a tight schedule the entire team SAG’d from Seattle to Tacoma for our visit and lunch to CCS’s Hospitality Center. The tour was incredible and the hospitality has been first class.
Nonetheless, we were scheduled to ride from Tacoma to Lacey, WA. It was a great feeling to be back on the bike after having it in the shop overnight. We took rain for most of the 45+ mile ride, but the weather was warm enough and spirits high enough to sustain us.
St. Martin University, a Catholic institution located in Lacey, WA is serving as our host tonight. Tomorrow we’ll ride the “STP” (Seattle to Portland) trail for about 75 miles before finishing up in Castle Rock , WA. Until then, I’ll see you
From the road,
Jason
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June 1: A lesson in patience. About 15 miles into my ride my gear shift broke leaving me with usage of my higher gears only. I managed to make
it for another 10 miles; however, I was encouraged to SAG (Support
& Gear) — which means to jump in the van and ride — for a tough
stretch of hills. It was frustrating because I wasn’t injured; it was a
mechanical failure. I was able to bike the last 8 miles of today’s
route and it felt really good to get back on the bike after being in the
van for 30 miles. Could this cycling thing become addictive?

Fortunately we were able to get my bike into Greg’s Bike Shop in Seattle and I’ll be ready to go tomorrow log afternoon. If you’re ever in the Emerald City, this is the place to go for service. Outstanding shop
and employees.

Tomorrow’s ride is a short ride to the Aloha Inn which is a transitional housing facility for the homeless that is operated by Catholic Community Services. We’ll meet with area legislators to
discuss poverty issues. Will look forward to reporting about tomorrow’s
activities.

From the road,

Jason

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