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Going Up Hill

[This is Drew again. Careful readers will note that I have posted two old posts about the mountains. They will also note that Jim and Peter have been dominating “post time” and consequently I have had to dredge my inbox for quick-post literature in order to re-appear on the scene with some authority. What. Hope you can handle the time warps. I had written this hopeful for the Fergus Falls Daily Journal end of April, should they be interested. No word as of yet… but I’ll keep pressing on, one pedal stroke at a time.]

Going Up-Hill

My knuckles are tight against the handle bars, my back bent and aching, my shirt soaked in sweat. My legs are burning and my muscles cry for me to quit; my breaths are shallow and quick, quickening. I can hear them in the silence of the heat, a frantic metronome for my tires crunching bits of gravel on the pavement. Even though I’m in the lowest gear of my 21-speed mountain bike, it’s all I can do to keep the pedals turning, keep them turning, one pedal-stroke at a time…

That’s part of our bike trip mission statement: “Fueled By Rice: Spreading the spirit of tolerance and cooperation around the world one pedal-stroke at a time.” Admittedly it sounds a bit pretentious. We have no specific plan based on research analysis for spreading tolerance and cooperation, which (after many exhaustive consultations) is funded by a reputable philanthropic organization. We have no scientific system to measure our success at helping to create a more tolerant and cooperative world. We are just five Twenty-somethings with an idea to bike across half the world, and a hope that understanding between two countries, like the understanding between two individuals, can start with a simple smile. One smile at a time, one pedal stroke at a time… But never has this idea been so literal to me as now, climbing into the Himalayas.

We began our trip west from Beijing in September 2007, five graduates from The College of St. Benedict and St. Johns University planning to cycle 9000 miles across fourteen countries over the course of one year on a budget of $2000 USD per person. Beijing to Paris in one year, by cycle. I also thought the idea was a bit crazy. But when it was decided that as part of the trip we would carry two guitars, a South African bongo drum, and an erhu (pronounced “Are-Who”; a two-stringed Chinese violin) and try to make music together, I thought we should go for it. After all, what is an idea worth if you never give it a try? But of course, that was before reaching the Himalayas, the world’s highest mountain range. Now pulling a trailer full of instruments up a mountain didn’t seem like such a great idea. What was keeping me going?

Of all the possible influences that kept me pushing on, one thing was certain: to keep moving forward I had to be coached. I had to talk myself through it moment by moment. I was coaching myself forward, and a mantra was being repeated in my mind like an echo from the past: “Keep ‘em turning! Keep ‘em turning!” These were not my own words; instead, they had been given to me by my high school Track and Field coach at Hillcrest Lutheran Academy, Mr. Backstrom. I can still hear his voice talking me through each lap of the mile as he ran back and forth across the football field to offer encouragement: “Okay, you’re right on time, doing fine, just keep it up; keep ‘em turning, keep ‘em turning…” Now here I was facing a different physical challenge, and his voice had become my own, giving me the strength to keep going.

These weren’t the first hills I’d ever tackled. Although not as seemingly endless as the Himalayan mountains, the hill at Cleveland Elementary School was daunting enough to the determined Fergus Falls soccer players during that week of training at the beginning of the season affectionately known by the athletes as “Hell Week”. Each year that I played for the Fergus Falls High School soccer team, Coach Bjerke would gather us at the base of the hill and say, “Okay boys, let’s hit it hard. The payoff is at the end of the season. The payoff is in Sections, boys. Give it what you got; first group, ready, Go!”

The payoff is at the end. This message also trickled through my memory to give me hope. Now is the pain of pedaling; then is the glory of achievement. The payoff will be down the road (or up rather!), when I reach that windy summit and see the hills fading into the hazy distance. The reward for this pain will be the rush of humming down, down, through pine forests, letting gravity offer the breeze to effortlessly cool my exhausted body. The hard work of now will pay off in the end.

Of course, these collected thoughts are the benefit of arriving, of looking back. I can look back and see how even now, in north-eastern India, I am pushed to greater achievement by my coaches from Fergus Falls, Minnesota. At the top, at rest, I can reflect that in life I will face other metaphorical hills that will require me pressing on, and that any success I might achieve is thanks to the various coaches who gave me their encouragement, wisdom, and inspiration—parents, teachers, family, and friends, as well as sports coaches. But join me back on the hill as it switches endlessly back and forth, threatening to discourage my aching, sweating body from pedaling on, and these encouragements meld into a buzzing of voices and impulses. “The payoff is at the end; keep ‘em turning, keep ‘em turning; one pedal stroke at a time, one pedal stroke at a time…”

7 Responses to “Going Up Hill”

  1. Rod Says:

    Talked to the editor on Tuesday and it sounded like it might run this weekend under the “Lifestyle” section of Journal–I offered a few photos from your stash you sent me. Nice writing, one letter at a time . . . keep ‘em turning Andrew
    Love, Dad

  2. Michael Scharenbroich Says:

    Keep peddling my friends,

    I sent a token of my appreciation of your work to Jim’s account. It should be enough for some cold drinks and mustache wax.


  3. Peter Ehresmann Says:


    Thanks so much for the cold drinks! (laughter) We’re surrounded by hair wax and oil everyday, but we haven’t yet tried it ourselves.

    You’ve lived in or visited India I take it?

    Thanks again, we really appreciate your support.


  4. Kevin Rogness Says:

    Great post, Andrew. It was good to see your aritcle in “Faith and Fellowship” this month. Keep up the writing and peddling. Just as you said to me durning track season, “I don’t like the meets, just running in general.” Keep running (writing) and this big long meet will soon be completed and you can enjoy the end and look back and be satisfied.


    I really enjoyed your recent posts. The article in the Journal is very nice. Keep pedaling. The reward is at the end. Keep going all the way to France and you will experience a reward that you and your fellow travelers deserve as much as nearly any one who has ever biked the hexagon. Go For It!

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