Bicycle Adventure coordinators share how leading the ride impacted their lives
The planning and preparation it takes to pull off a 10-week cross-country cycling event or even a one-week ride down The Natchez Trace is immense. There are countless phone calls and emails and changes of plans in the lead-up to the rides, and then there always are plenty of variables that crop up during the rides — from minor changes in a route to major problems such as a host site falling through.
Yet, intrepid folks still step forward to offer their leadership skills as Fuller Center Bicycle Coordinators to ensure that the rides are successful each year. And, they have indeed been successful — raising more than $3.5 million for The Fuller Center for Housing’s work across the United States and around the world. Equally valuable, those rides have raised awareness for our ministry and made countless new friends, many of whom have become volunteers and supporters.
We decided to check in with each of our Bicycle Adventure coordinators through the years as we head into our 15th years of the rides to see how their service in the role impacted them. Here’s what they had to say:
Ryan Iafigliola, founder
Melissa Safran, 2013-14
I’m not sure it’s really possible to sum up the impact of leading the FCBA on my life in any format short enough for your story — I could probably write a book on the topic if I had the time!
It’s impacted me in the very practical realm — my public speaking skills, my confidence in building relationships, planning, and communicating — and in much, much bigger ways. If I must summarize it, I think I can break it down to two big takeaways that I think (I hope) will stay with me forever.
First, leading the FCBA was the ultimate practice in acting on faith. Going into a situation where you know you really can’t control any of the variables — the group of totally random people who sign up for the adventure and have to work and live with each other for the summer; all the uncontrollable factors of biking on public roads and in all weather; relying on the hospitality of complete strangers for food and shelter every night; and having to just believe it’s all going to work out for the best.
Then seeing literal miracles every day when it somehow did all work out — sometimes because we worked hard to make it happen, but more often in spite of whatever we’d done, it worked out! Living in those miracles for a few summers has given me the gift of both humility (knowing deeply that I am not in control) and faith (that it’s going to be OK anyway).
Second, the experience showed me that even in a world that feels so full of division and hate (and that is definitely full of people who dogmatically believe all kinds of conflicting things on very important topics) people are still mostly good 99% of the time. I know most FCBA riders come away with similar thoughts on this, but I think as the leader it felt particularly personal and impactful.
As the person ultimately responsible for the well-being and safety of the riders, I was in turn personally relying on so many all across the country to take good care of my team. When I stepped into that role I really had to let go of all walls and guards I’d built up out of fear or self-preservation, and just trust that random strangers would answer the call to help — even if I knew we’d probably disagree on really big things like the way we live/pray/vote/etc.
And literal strangers across the country absolutely stepped up and delivered, constantly surprising me with how generous and full of love humans can be. That experience has been a lasting reminder to me that there’s a real human behind every difficult news story or infuriating Facebook post, and it gives me hope that we all have enormous capacity to love one another through our differences.
Oh, and a third important lesson — a good potluck usually helps with most problems :-).
Connor Ciment, 2016-2019
Leading the Fuller Center Bike Adventure brought me to so many things:
Leading the Adventure brought me to faith, brought me to Americus (a town I love dearly), brought me my deepest friendships, brought me to every state in the continental U.S., meeting and eating and working with people in all walks of life.
The memories are endless, I have thousands of photos and videos that bring me right back to riding through the Tetons, or playing a hilarious game of Catch Phrase in a church basement in Red Wing, MN, or that time when I turned down an ice cream run and the group met someone with a pet monkey and got to play with it (never turn down an ice cream run).
Oh, and one more thing, FCBA brought me my wife! How has it not impacted my life?! I am so grateful for the years of working in Americus and leading teams across the country, it has impacted all of my life!
Neil Mullikin, 2021-present
When I joined the Fuller Center, I was led by God to be here, yet I was not sure what to expect.
Ryan had clear expectations and provided clear guidance as to the requirements, but no one could have described the impact this journey would have in my life both during the rides and after.
I have to admit, there was some excitement about the prospect of cycling both across the U.S. and various parts of the country while helping families — yet the outcome of what I expected is significantly different and even better.
Physically, my first trip down the Natchez Trace pushed me a bit. I was a little more out of shape than I realized myself but held my own on the ride. I lost around 10 pounds and increased my average riding pace around 1-2 mph. This was surprising because of how well we were fed on this trip.
Yet, beyond the physical, I met some of the most amazing churches that really showed Christ’s love more than words alone. Churches acting in faith and operating beyond what you would expect their financial resources should be to serve their communities.
As we journeyed down the Trace, we met people who were being transformed by what we do. My heart was seized by the impact of our mission. Along the way I realized how God led this journey too. Every obstacle seemed to resolve itself miraculously. This trip truly energized me to press forward even harder.
The second trip, the big one, crossed the U.S.. This trip was with a group of exceptional riders and my first impressions were of physical challenge. The riders had lots of cycling experience and had both speed and stamina. This really was an elite group of cyclists who trained for this event, quite a bit harder than my daily bicycle commute to work. I had to overcome my own selfish nature to be competitive and take a step back to realize that God called me to do cycling and ministry, not bicycle racing. I initially struggled to overcome my own anxiety about keeping up. When I accepted this truth, my ride became much more impactful and enjoyable.
My speed began to increase naturally, too. I knew we were helping families, and it was impacting me even further in my growth, but what I needed to learn from this trip took a bit longer to discover.
I needed to humble myself and not think of how this has impacted me. I realized how much the Lord loves us all. He has given each of us talents that could be used to serve Him. God really gave me the ability to cycle as a gift — simply, God gave me something I love to do and allowed me to show love with it. It’s not complicated, but beautiful. That awareness makes it hard to get caught up in other aspects of life that take us away from our focus on Him, yet so simple. The challenge sometimes is how to use our God given talents.
I understand my impact is different from others and the same too. Some riders may not have been a part of the builds, never met the impacted families, and some completed the ride for other reasons. None of their reasons were wrong. Yet upon completion of our journey, I think all of us had to ask ourselves, “What’s next?” How do we move forward?
Just today, I got to listen to read texts from riders processing their experience. To paraphrase, some felt as though they were in a “Christian Bubble”. Upon returning home, they find it rather challenging, difficult to deal with the distractions of everyday life around them. For those who have been open about their experience, it has a common theme to struggle with news and things that seem materialistic. There is a reason it becomes difficult to return to that, and I would encourage all of us to ask the question as to why. It’s not for me to say how others should move forward, how to implement, if at all, this experience into our lives with/without causing complete disruption. This was their personal experience.
As for me, I am honored that riders and volunteers have both trusted me and the Fuller Center, and made sacrifices to be a part of something so beautiful. Many of us will be friends for life from this experience. We shared vulnerabilities, struggles, and pain in close proximity for a long time and have gained so much from the ride and others.
As a whole, I feel blessed to see all of us change and evolve in a short period of time. Riders and volunteers were humbled and heartbroken along these journeys. I witnessed people act in anonymous capacities to help families in need, stand up for them, and re-evaluate their own lives to see them as equals to the families/individuals in need. Many of us realized that those we helped were just like us but often just had a different set of circumstances that set their course.
The challenge after such and impactful experience is now, how do you guide others to behave in their lives? These experiences transformed me and the lives of several others. What are the next steps? Riders returned to their lives both confident in their abilities and left with a void to fill, often asking, “What to do now?”
My answer, it’s OK to reflect, yet realize that God gave us talents. All of our talents can be used to reflect the beauty of the Lord. We were witness to the beauty of giving and receiving and humbled by it. It’s not an experience that has to end because we return to our daily lives, but to be shown a tool to incorporate into our daily lives then evolve in that. Don’t expect the answers to come immediately.
For those riders who return, please allow new riders to be transformed by God with their experience, and those who are new, be open to allowing the adventure to enrich our lives.
At this point, I consider every day a blessing to be a part of the Fuller Center and I am just honored that people have trusted us enough and me enough to allow me to be a part of this transformation. I also know that these experiences are changing me too and I look forward to getting involved at deeper levels in both my community and with people around the world. I challenge you to pray for me, encourage me, and hold me accountable to doing more after these experiences.
Allen Slabaugh, 2011-2012
Having the opportunity to lead the Bike Adventure trips for two years was one of the most rewarding, challenging, and memorable things I’ve ever been able to do. I still think about it frequently as I go about my day.
It is hard to pinpoint one specific thing that stands out as there are really a number of things. But if I had to narrow it down I would go with the people and the mission.
First off, the people were amazing. The riders, the community hosts, the random people you meet during the day, the Fuller Center partners. There really are some incredible people out there who went way out of their way to provide us (somewhat random group of strangers) with incredible hospitality, meals, build days, activities, parades, etc. People not only opened their churches and schools for us but even their homes. All throughout this country there are incredible people out there who just want to serve and help each other out.
Some of my most memorable experiences on the ride came from the smallest towns. My fellow riders were also amazing and they are the ones who truly make these rides special. There is just something about coming together for a common goal and working hard to achieve that while experiencing many highs and lows that builds incredible friendships. It is something you really can’t describe unless you have been on one of the FCBA trips. This trip allows you to not only create new friendships but lifelong friendships. There are a number of riders I continue to keep in contact with and visit if I’m ever passing through their town.
Also, the mission. I love what the Fuller Center stands for, so build days were a definite highlight for me. I’ve always had a desire to serve others and to give back but these trips truly ignited that passion. Millard Fuller lived an amazing life full of giving back and used his gifts to help others acquire safe, decent affordable homes. It is just such a great example of how to live life, and affordable housing is still a huge need probably right now more than ever with rising home costs.
It is hard to go on one of these trips and not come away with a passion for wanting to help those around you. These trips really encourage you to explore your gifts and interests so you can figure out ways to serve when you head back home.
Lydia Huelskamp, 2015
It is hard to think of the thing that made the biggest impact on my life when it comes to the Fuller Center Bike Adventure. As cliche as it may sound, there are so many.
I could say the adventure side of it, which has led me to realize how much there is to do and see in life and inspired me to take up mountain biking and rock climbing and long distance paddling.
I could say just the duties and job of being the trip leader, since that experience led me to the job I have now as a Marketing and Events Manager (and an adventure guide).
But I think the thing I would have to say impacted me the most (once again it’s probably cliche) is how important community is. I could hop on my bike tomorrow and start biking across the country. But besides just being hecka painful, it wouldn’t be the same without the people:
The ones riding next to you on the good days and the days when you don’t think you can go another mile, sharing their stories and listening to yours.
The ones serving food to complete strangers as we came in from a ride, hungry.
The ones driving our gear from one stop to the next and making sure we get plenty of snacks.
And the ones who would just come up and see a tired 23-year-old trip leader and give me a hug or have a meeting under a table (Tom Weber, you’re number one) or say “Hey what can I help with today?”
All the riders are what made this experience so special. I learned so much from hearing others stories and getting to ride with folks of all ages. There is something special in that. I still long for that community in all aspects of life. I find it here and there, and am constantly reminded that counting on others and being in community is the way we are meant to be. Oyee!
Courtney Fields, 2020
Note: Courtney led the Adventure when it was disrupted by Covid. She and other team members came up with a virtual Global Home Challenge to keep participants active and raising a tremendous amount of funds for our international work. Here’s her story:
I was happy that we did get to do — and I got to lead — the Tour de Florida before everything happened.
Obviously, we were really excited for all of the things we had planned in 2020, but as the news headlines kept coming in, Ian Burkes (then the Global Builders Coordinator), Ryan Iafigliola (Vice President of International Programs) and I kept looking at everything and wondering if we were going to be able to do anything this year. Ryan tried to stay as optimistic as possible, but I wasn’t so sure.
Eventually we started dreaming up a new idea of doing a virtual challenge for The Natchez Trace spring ride, and we still had hopes that maybe we would be able to do the summer rides. But everyone was really supportive from our past riders to even our new riders. They knew that we had their best interests in mind and wanted to keep them safe and healthy, so we wanted to find the best solution possible for them.
One of the best things about the ride is the lifelong connections that you form on a Bicycle Adventure because you kind of close out the rest of the world when you go on a Bike Adventure. You try to spend that time investing in the community, the Fuller Center covenant partners and the partner families. Those connections last forever. Everybody is just so willing to be there for you, no matter the situation.
For instance, I met my friend Stephany as a rider on the 2018 Bike Adventure, and I called her up when I met up with this summer’s West Coast ride and said, “Hey, I’m coming to California. Will you give me a ride from L.A. to the Redwoods?” And she said sure, without any question. It was about a 12-hour drive, and she still drove me up there and back in one day.
Another Adventure friend, Karl, came down for my college graduation almost a year after the Bike Adventure even though we hadn’t even spoken for a while. It’s just moments like those that reinforce those lifelong connections.
The other thing that makes the Adventure so special is getting to see the impact that the Bike Adventure has when you get to work on build sites for families. I remember getting to meet a single mom whose daughter was so excited to have her own room for the first time in her entire life.
Those are the moments that stick with you forever.