by Stan Purdum
During each of the last several winters, I have ridden a loop tour in Florida with a group called The Pedaling Parsons. I just returned from this winter’s ride, having enjoyed eight days of cycling in sunshine and temperatures that ranged from moderate to hot, depending on the day and the hour.
The group was formed in 1987 by three ministers from Ohio with a passion for cycling. They invited others to join them, and now, most riders of the group’s events are not clergy, and some belong to other denominations or to none at all. Today the group is directed by Rev. Don Richards, pastor of Rootstown United Methodist Church in Rootstown, Ohio.
Over the years since, the group has ridden in many locations, both nationally and abroad, often offering several tours each year, but always with a goal to raise funds for various mission projects, both domestic and foreign, both church-related and secular. To date, they’ve raised almost a $1 million and done a lot of good.
On one level, this winter’s trip was like any well-organized group bike event. It followed a planned route of 45-60 miles per day with provided queue sheets and was sagged and well supported by responsible people who knew what they were doing. And like any bike event using roads and highways that are not closed to other traffic, it included its share of risk, especially in Florida, where the population growth is outpacing the infrastructure.
Dave Cardarella, who is both the route master and a rider on the trip, runs video cameras both front and rear on his bike, and he has numerous clips of drivers behaving badly. Look at the clip above from this year’s ride. It contains examples of what Dave describes as the “Me First Law,” which, snarkly put, is, “If a bike is delaying a driver for a few seconds, it is okay to cross the center line to pass even if the oncoming traffic has to go off the road to keep from being hit by the impatient driver.” Interestingly, the passing drivers almost always gave bicycles at least three feet of clearance, even when there was oncoming traffic.
But on other levels, pedaling with TPP is it is remarkably different from riding commercial tours.
For one thing, the cost for participating is low. Participants departing from Ohio paid $250 for event, which included transportation in the van from Ohio to Florida and back, and one’s bike in the trailer pulled behind the van. Participants like me, who were already in Florida, and others who transported themselves, paid $200 for the event. The fee covers the trip expenses and two meals a day.
The low fees are possible 1) because there is no salaried staff; everyone is a volunteer, participating because of their love for cycling and willingness to help fund worthwhile causes, and 2) because we “camp” in churches that hosts us at no cost.
For another difference, there is no required minimum that participants must contribute to the fundraising goal to be allowed on the trip. Some riders secure pledges and others make contributions from their own funds, but the goals are usually reached.
For a third thing, the ride features shame-free sagging. Each day’s journey has a morning stop, a lunch break and an afternoon stop where we rendezvous with the van, and riders are welcome to put their bikes into the trailer and move into the van at any stop (or even in between stops if necessary). Most riders pedal every mile, but one older couple on this year’s ride pedaled half of each day’s route and then sagged to the end, and others occasionally sagged portions as needed.
Group size on these rides is another difference. Usually there are no more than 20 riders (13 plus the van driver/support person this year), and the small size encourages group cohesion. Being an event initiated by pastors, each day begins with a few devotional moments, but nobody is pressured to adopt a church view.
The other significant difference is the hospitality offered by churches. The Pedaling Parsons contacted these churches in advance, and each not only gave us sleeping space, but also arranged for us get showers, sometimes in the homes of members. Several of the churches also served us dinner — sometimes potluck meals with dishes brought in by church members, other times catered, other times a feast prepared in the church kitchen. This is especially true with the smaller congregations, for whom the arrival of the Parsons is an event. When no dinner is provided, we eat out.
For more on this year’s Florida ride, see this link.
There are many good reasons to participate in a bicycle group ride. The Pedaling Parsons approach leaves you feeling glad you went.
Stan Purdum has ridden several long-distance bike trips, including an across-America ride recounted in his book Roll Around Heaven All Day, and a trek on U.S. 62, from Niagara Falls, New York, to El Paso, Texas, the subject of his book Playing in Traffic. Stan, a freelance writer and editor, and Methodist minister, lives in New Jersey. See more at www.StanPurdum.com.