I had completed 7,500 miles of a 10,000-mile bicycle ride of prayer and compassionate service around the USA when my trip came to an abrupt end. I had started on November 02, 2016 from the St. Augustine, Florida area, and I was hoping to finish the loop around the country and be back in Florida by Thanksgiving. This was my 72nd missionary bike tour around the USA, and I was 2,500 miles into my 17th crossing of the USA. During the previous 71 trips, I had ridden around 258,000 miles since 1993.
Along with accumulating all of the miles, I do basic evangelism (I’ve spoken at almost 1,200 churches around the country along with being interviewed on radio and television and written up in newspapers), perform roadside counseling, help after natural disasters (If I’m within 500 miles of a natural disaster site I will cycle there and volunteer for at least two weeks. I’ve given assistance after and during 25 natural disasters. The last one being the flooding in Denham Springs, Louisiana in 2017), helped build 65 homes with the Fuller Center for Housing and Habitat for Humanity, and promote compassionate social action by personally doing things myself and getting churches to set up things like clothes closets, food pantries, and temporary places of respite and shelter. One of the things that I strive to do is what I call “Feeding Jesus” (Matthew 25: 42-45). When I see and meet somebody who is homeless, I will ask them if they are hungry. If they say yes, I will provide food items that should last a meal or two out of my food pannier. During my Mission Trip 72, I “Fed Jesus” at least a dozen times. I’ve also “Clothed Jesus” where I gave one of my extra coats to somebody who didn’t have one.
An abrupt end to a bicycling mission
My dreams and expectations of finishing the trip ended abruptly around 3 pm on July 29, 2017. While I was attempting to ride on a narrow two-lane highway without any paved shoulder about 20 miles south of Dixon, Illinois, I was struck from behind by a young guy who was speeding and texting while driving. Instead of driving safely, his eyes were averted from the road as he read a text from his girlfriend. He was probably going around 60 mph when he hit me. I learned from the deputy sheriff that the 24-year-old man saw me at the last second, tried to avoid hitting me by swinging onto the dirt and stone shoulder to the right of the highway, but the dirt and stone caused the rear of the car to fishtail back onto the pavement, and the left rear part of the car slammed into the back of my short-wheelbase touring recumbent.
The force of the impact was so intense that my shoes got thrown off, and I flew in the air about 20 feet, and landed on the pavement on my back facing the opposite direction I was going. I remember doing one or two flips and spun around a couple of times. I didn’t lose consciousness, and I thank God for that. Things could have been a lot worse if I had landed on the road’s shoulder. My helmet had stayed on, but the straps were twisted around my throat. I asked somebody to take the helmet off. While this was happening, I remember hearing somebody cry out “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hit you.” Since I had the sun in my eyes, I didn’t see the person who said these words. Before I was put into the back of an ambulance, I did see a few of my panniers and other possessions scattered on the roadway in front of me. I didn’t see my recumbent, but I was told that it was damaged beyond repair. Here, I was losing a close friend who I had since 2007 and had ridden almost 97,000 miles on it. Because of the frame being made out of aluminum, I called her Alice.
Because of head and spinal concerns, I was airlifted by helicopter and flown to a trauma center in Rockford, Illinois about 60 miles from the accident site. This was the first time that I flew in a helicopter, but I didn’t see anything because they put a towel over my eyes. I suffered a fractured left shoulder, a fractured right pelvis, a couple of areas of road rash including my forehead, and some neuromuscular problems in my legs. I was able to wiggle my toes, have feeling, and was able to move my feet a little bit, but that was all. Thank God, I didn’t need any surgery, but I did spend eight days in the orthopedic-trauma unit of the hospital.
For the first six days in the hospital, I had to have help moving my feet and body. I had to relearn how to walk. I took my first steps six days after the accident. The morning of the day that I got released, I made it from my bed, out the hospital room door, and halfway down the hallway and back. After I was released, I stayed with a family for a week, and then I moved into a motel a couple miles east of downtown Rockford. I was happy that I got a room three doors away from the back door of the office so I could get breakfast in the morning. I went from struggling with a walker, to walking with a cane with four feet, to a regular cane in 2 months. During those two months, I didn’t give up hope that I was going to walk without assistance, and I was going to ride a bike again. As soon as I got strength back in my legs, I got out of the room to walk, and in about a month I was walking laps around the motel, and going to a store a half block away and across a busy highway.
Getting back in the saddle
After spending 2 months in Rockford, Illinois, I traveled to Hattiesburg, Mississippi where I am now. By Dec 1, 2017, I was walking without the cane. I still have some neuromuscular problems in my legs, and I’m not sure that they will be permanent. I have empathy now for people who are suffering from cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis. Some people have told me that God allowed the accident to happen to make me quit this adventure and to move on to something else, but I don’t believe this because God started me on this adventure on two-wheels back in 1993 through a series of dreams and the hearing of just one small word — “Go”.
I was quite fortunate in finding the same model of the damaged recumbent at a bike shop in New York. This was a mini-miracle in itself because back in 2005 there were only 330 made as a limited edition, short production run. I got the recumbent in two boxes, and I was able to put it almost together. I took it to a local bike shop to finish the assembly. Since the recumbent is a twin of Alice, I decided to call her Allison. I’ve ridden Allison a couple of times and it feels really great to finally have two-wheels underneath me again.
I am really hoping to head out on my 73rd missionary bike tour sometime in mid-March, 2018. My target date is March 19, 2018. I’d like to be on the road before March 27th, which is the 25th anniversary of my ministry. I’ll be 63 in June. From Hattiesburg, I’ll be cycling west to the Mississippi River; south to Baton Rouge, Louisiana; east to Waveland, Mississippi on US 190; follow US 90 around the Gulf of Mexico to Ft Myers, Florida; across Florida along the southern edge of Lake Okeechobee to West Palm Beach, head north along the East Coast up to at least Portland or Belfast, Maine; and then turning west towards the Midwest. Eventually, the trip might end back in Hattiesburg, Mississippi and the total mileage of the trip will be around 6,300 miles.
Update April 16, 2018: Rev Hans says: “The ride is going really well. I’ve cycled 948 miles so far. I changed my route because there were some wildfires near Ft Myers. I left the Gulf of Mexico west of Perry, Florida and then I turned southeast inland. I rode through Gainesville, Ocala, Leesburg, Apopka, to Weathersfield (N of Orlando) where I am now. From here, I’ll be riding to Titusville where I will be starting my trip north to Maine Monday.”