Written by: Henry Downes, 2016 Whole Way Rider, 2017 Cross-Country Trip Leader
Summer 2016 was a productive season for me. I logged 3500 miles and over 100,000 feet of elevation as a rider with the Fuller Center Bike Adventure’s journey from Seattle to Washington, D.C., made many wonderful new friends along the way, and developed some truly superb tanlines. I visited national parks and capital cities, helped de-shingle and re-shingle a house in one day, and enjoyed the quirks and treasures of Small Town America. Oh, and I also dropped out of grad school and stumbled right into my dream job…with the Fuller Center for Housing!
It took 5 days to drive from Alabama to Seattle in the Fuller Center van back in June. As we rolled through the South, across
the Great Plains, up and over the Rockies, and onward to the Puget Sound, it began to dawn on me that we live in a very large country indeed, and that this whole cross-county bike thing was going to be quite the challenge. So as I meditated on the summer ahead in that van, my brain kept returning to one basic question: Can I really ride my bike for 75 miles every day?
I don’t know when exactly it happened, but somewhere between Seattle and Yellowstone I realized that the FCBA had gotten into my blood. I had already decided that I would take an “honorable discharge” from my graduate program at The University of Alabama, but I had a bunch of job applications out that I was waiting to hear back from. Now, however, my brain kept returning to a new question: Can I really leave the Fuller Center – this community and this mission – after just one summer? I was thoroughly enjoying our daily routes across the beautiful Western landscape, but I was honestly thinking less and less about the physical challenge – the mileage and the elevation – every day. In fact, my attention was turning inward: to the sense of joyful fulfillment that I was experiencing, and to the strength of the community which had already developed on the trip. I was addicted to the spirit of simple living and to the “quiet radicalism” which our group bore testament to everywhere we went.
I say it is “quiet radicalism,” because at the end of the day we were all just regular people who had decided to spend a summer riding bikes, hammering nails and fundraising. But…things happened within our FCBA community that just don’t happen in the “outside world.” People of all backgrounds, upbringings, generations, political persuasions and even religious worldviews got along in ways that could restore one’s faith in humanity. We lived simply, sleeping on floors, relying on the goodwill of churches for meals, and living off a change of clothes or two. We shared chores like a true family would, and looked out for each other in ways that were above and beyond the call of duty. “Millennials” pulled themselves off their iPhones and dedicated their summer to serving others, while retirees competed in PB&J competitions and acted like kids on vacation. Most importantly, our community was a loud and clear rejection of the notion that the problems of our world are too big, too complex, for us to do anything about. Collectively we raised $303,546 for families in-need…but the true impact of our ride is immeasurable, since the ripples of hope in action that we sent out across the country every day will reach untold numbers of people – believers and non-believers alike. That, to me, is pretty radical.
So how could I leave the Fuller Center after just one summer? Where else could I invest my creative energies into a project which means so much to so many? Where else could I team up with a cast of such talented and passionate individuals, where no one is afraid to think big about solving the biggest problems we face today? Where else could my official job description include riding a bike across the country for two months with 40 of my closest friends?
This summer’s ride was quite literally a life-changing moment for me, and I couldn’t be more excited to be joining the Fuller Center team. Most of all, I’m thankful for each and every person who was a part of my experience on the Bike Adventure, from our fearless trip leader to all the riders to our gracious church hosts, because their examples of radical love moved my heart in ways that I could never have anticipated when I sat in that van heading to Seattle. I am proud of all of them, and I hope to make them and the Fuller Center proud this year, as I work to advance the mission of providing decent and affordable housing for all people in need around the world. Oyee!