Writer Wickham Boyle caught up with Honess in Louisiana and traveled back roads with him there, on his cross-country bike ride to raise awareness of UMCOR’s work.
October 17, 2012-- Chuck Honess is riding his bike across the United States, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific shore, to promote the importance of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). Why?
Well, Chuck has always been a Christian and now, at 66, he is retired and wants both to fulfill a personal dream and bring light to a good cause while doing so. The dream was to traverse America by bike. But he had to find the cause.
Enter his high school buddy, Paul Sparks—Sparky, to all of us. Sparky is a member in good standing of Fremont United Methodist Church in Fremont, Indiana, and he supports and reveres the work that UMCOR does. And so he introduced Chuck to UMCOR, and the righteous roll across America was hatched.
On September 29, Chuck rode his seven-year-old, 27-speed Raleigh to the Atlantic Ocean and dipped his tire into the water, and rode off. He headed west, pedaling between 50 and 80 miles each day on some of the most bucolic roads the South has to offer. He will also ride back roads in the Southwest and California.
Every day as he biked, he meditated and listened to the Bible on his headphones, and he spoke with the people he passed, or ate with, or attended services with. It was a simple, elegant mission with many miles to cover. And so I joined him.
I arrived in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and was met by Sparky in his old Buick piled high with an extra bike, suitcases, and gear galore. We meandered north to Bunkie, Louisiana, and became a trio.
After adjusting the seat on the second bike for a short Northern gal, we headed out. No fanfare, just donned our UMCOR “LOVE GOD/LOVE PEOPLE” tee shirts and pedaled into the sunshine on back roads.
If you need proof of a benevolent universe, or the presence of a creator, you need only jump on a bike and ride from Bunkie to Mamou, Louisiana. The fields are verdant or dotted with cotton puffs and the air redolent with the aroma of burning sugar cane. People waved from porches, either dilapidated or elegant, and stopped their pickups to ask us about the cause, our thoughts, or just to wish us luck.
We crossed a bayou bridge, where below pre-historic looking alligators swam, cutting swaths, and leaving fierce wakes, as the babies lolled on sunny logs. The cypress trees rose out of the tobacco-colored water, and egrets and blue herons dove, perhaps finding a crawfish for lunch. We certainly did.
I have never eaten such amazing food. All cooked in small batches and rolled out in tiny joints along the road: Crawdads, shrimp, oysters, fried chicken, thick gumbos; all eaten on plates or stuffed into Po Boys. I ate pecan pie and washed it down with whole milk while sitting on the grass by the side of a road, unaware of anything save the blue sky and my tired legs. Oh yes, I also was deeply aware that I was with two men who believed strongly in the work UMCOR is doing, will do, and can do, so much so that they dedicated two months to wander the country, riding, and attending services in small United Methodist Churches.
Often we talk about devotion, Christianity, and faith. These are difficult concepts and precepts and can be muddled by politics or funding drives. So it was an honor to recognize the simplicity of good works unfettered by other goals. This was about raising awareness. Both Chuck and Sparky hope that funds will roll in behind them for relief efforts, but they want the knowledge to come first.
*Wickham Boyle is a writer and a frequent contributor to www.umcor.org.