Recently, a team of adventurers took on the epic challenge of riding their bikes from Los Angeles to Washington D.C. (a 3,150-mile ride) to raise money and awareness for Blood:Water Mission’s 1,000 Wells project. Author Donald Miller was among the bikers of the Ride:Well tour, and RELEVANT caught up with him recently to talk about the ride.
Tell me a little bit about the Ride:Well tour and how you got involved.
I blocked out some time—two months—to do the ride around the county. It was something I had been wanting to do for a couple of years, and my plans fell through and I couldn’t do it; it wouldn’t work out. I heard about the Ride:Well tour via email. I think my assistant sent me an email saying, “Hey, do you realize these guys are doing this?” The weeks were already opened up, and I just signed up.
How did churches respond to your team?
It’s different. They all had something in common. They provided a place for us to sleep; they provided food—they were very, very gracious. Some of them were familiar with who we were and what we were doing, and others had no clue—they just knew somebody needed a place to sleep. The response differed from church to church.
In your blog you wrote, “The idea we are divided or opinionated is something propagated by the media to sell advertising, and adhered to by those I would consider to be ignorant.” What do you attribute this ignorance to?
By ignorance I mean I think there is a level of maturity that’s hard to achieve by the media age that we live in. I think what happens is that in order to sell advertising, talking heads, 24/7 news channels have to create a lot of tension because tension is interesting. And so what we do is we try to create polar-opposite opinions and then want them to clash. So you’re either Republican or Democrat, and those are binary opposites. There is no middle ground. There’s no in-between, because that’s not interesting. What happens is people aren’t savvy to that—they fall into that. They start believing the message that that’s the way the world is divided. And they pick a side and defend it very passionately without realizing their whole mindset has been manipulated by a machine that sells advertising. But the truth doesn’t work that way. The truth isn’t that black and white. The truth isn’t that opinionated—and not only that, but we don’t really know all sides of an argument. We need to decide the truth isn’t that polarized. I think I was addressing that. I think what was remarkable about the people we met is that they were like that. They were more objective.
In your blog you also talk a lot about unity among Americans. You even go so far as to say, “I think some of the cynicism that existed within me has been stripped away. I’m proud of my country.” What do you think it would take for others who are cynical as you were to get to that point?
Usually cynicism exists because we haven’t had a conversation with whatever person who had the idea we’re cynical about. Cynicism begins because we’ve had limited experience in the Church. You have to be removed from whatever subject you’re addressing in order to be cynical. Cynicism is really a sign of a lack of education on a given subject … I was pretty cynical. So getting to know America, getting to know some of these people—seeing just how open and friendly especially small America was really helped me understand that the America we encounter in the media is not an accurate representation. We aren’t that polarized. We’re not that divided. We’re actually quite unified, I would say.
What kind of thoughts ran through your head on the day you rode in 118-degree weather at the end of a 108-mile day? How did you stay motivated?
My motivation on that day was to get in and to get inside of a building that would possibly have air conditioning. We didn’t know if where we were going would have air conditioning or not. But if you just kept going, you could finish. The end was getting tough. It was true in a lot of cases. You just had to ride 100 miles, and at the end you could stop. The first 30 or 40 miles of the day were really great. They were very enjoyable. We had about five miles to warm up, and you were really happy. Then, the next 30 or 40 miles were just sort of like work. You just kind of got them done. Then the last 30 or 40 miles were really hard. It took longer to do those 30 or 40 miles at the end of the day than it took to do the rest of the day—it seemed that way. The day is kind of divided that way. It never really ended. Even in the last week, the end of the day was hard and very difficult. You were just sort of motivated by being able to get in, take your shoes off, take a shower. Be comfortable. Get something to eat. It was neat to have that repetitive challenge every day for seven weeks. Every day we’d wake up and have this very hard day that you weren’t sure whether you could get it done or not. Every day we would finish, so it was very rewarding.
How has the ride changed your self-perception?
I think it’s changed it a lot. I realized I have everything I needed in order to be happy. It’s a nice revelation to realize that if you were suddenly homeless and all you had was a bike and enough loose change to get something at a gas station, you would be OK. It’s been a really great revelation that I didn’t need all the stuff I thought I needed in order to be happy. I needed community. I needed people. I needed a shower. I needed exercise. I needed food and water, and that was basically it. I didn’t need a whole lot else other than that. I think it’s changed me in the sense that I found myself much more happy than I was before the trip.
How has the ride changed your faith?
I don’t know. I think I had the same faith going into the ride as I did coming out from the ride. I know God is good, I know He can pull me through, but I don’t see a big difference in my faith from the end of the ride to the beginning of the ride. That was a great question but … I don’t know. My faith is very practical. It’s not a very romantic thing—it’s just practical. I don’t see a big difference.
For more from Don Miller, check out this excerpt from one of his recent blog entries:
“The End of the Road”
To a man, we’d tell you this country isn’t as big as we thought. You’d think crossing it on a bike would stretch it out, but it doesn’t. America feels like one neighborhood to me now. Out west the houses are close together and the people wear sunglasses, then there is some desert, then in Texas there are some ranches and some oil fields, and down the road in Louisiana people live on the bays and the rivers. When you turn left there you come into Arkansas and the accents get thicker and the talk gets slower and then in Tennessee it speeds up again, but only slightly. You’d never know how close Tennessee is to the Virginias unless you biked it. And in Virginia you can still hear the old English as though the ancestors of the founding fathers kept some of the tongue that once debated slavery. When you slip down off the Blue Ridge Parkway you ride through the Civil War battle sites from which news must have come painfully slow to Lincoln’s White House. And then you arrive in D.C. and pedal around the monuments that make altars of our history. I don’t think the American people are any more special than any other group, and I suspect launching a kayak off the Atlantic and picking up our journey again in Europe would reveal to me that all the world is small, and the human story is even more remarkable than the American story. If we headed south from Europe to Africa we’d find ourselves in some of the villages for which we’ve been riding, and even though the journey would have taken years, it would seem to us we’d just left Santa Monica the previous week. At least that is how it seems to me now.
Photo provided by SJHarmon Photography