By Eric Hanson
Earlier this year, we talked with a few missionaries who were so passionate about social justice issues that they put together a biking trip to the Grand Canyon to raise awareness for human trafficking. This is the story of that bike ride:
After returning home from the World Race, I enjoyed grabbing my bike and riding up and down the streets around my parents Phoenix home. Part of it was just to get out and be able to think about all the things I had just experienced, all the things I did not want to forget. Through the World Race, I had my eyes opened up to so much. I saw things I never would have imagined I would have seen. Some of which were incredibly beautiful. Miracles, divine providence, pure joy, and natural wonders continually amazed me during my travels. But there were also hardships, pain, natural disasters, things I can not understand. But I believe that the darkness is all part of God’s magical creation, making the light stand out ever brighter.
I have always had a passion for the outdoors. Ever since I was a young boy and my dad would take me out into the wilderness camping, I loved being outside. I even celebrated one of my birthdays by going camping with my family. I think I got a slingshot that year for my birthday. My neighbors never slept easy after that. But I have always felt a strong connection with God while out in the wilderness. There is something about the quiet serenity of nature and the majesty of creation that always made me feel close with God. Before I left on the World Race, I spent 2 weeks traveling to national parks around Arizona, Utah, and Colorado, all by myself. It was a fantastic time to just be with God.
I believe that God wants to use our passions for His glory. That’s why I think He wanted me to do this bike ride. But Biking Against Human Trafficking was certainly more than just a bike ride. God took my passion for the outdoors and adventure, and paired it with something. I saw only a part of the horrors of human trafficking, something I simply cannot forget. I wanted to be able to tell the story. And I wanted others to react and be a part of instituting change. He paired that with my desire for my generation to get out and have their own experience with God.
Following after God is rarely done with ease. The bike ride was no exception. I was immediately met with a lack of interest, or maybe ‘doubt’ would be a better word here. People’s first reaction seemed to be doubt that I could even do it, and maybe doubt that it would actually happen. I’m sure most people figured it was just a passing fancy that would never flesh out. In my mind though, I had decided that even if I were the only one to go, I would still make it happen. But boy I was hoping it wouldn’t come to that.
After several weeks of trying to get people on board with this thing, I finally got a response. On the same day, I received calls from both Stephanie Fisk and Clay Massey telling me they wanted to take part. That is when it started to gain some momentum. Stephanie really used her passion for fighting human trafficking to get all sorts of organizations involved. It was really amazing to see her work hard on this and see things fall into place. Clay suddenly became our gear supplier and resident mechanic. All sorts of people were getting excited about this in his home state of New Mexico. He even had churches donate about $3,000 without him ever asking for any. A few weeks later, Eric Retterbush came on board and put together a great website. Each person was taking his own giftings and passions and using them to really make this whole event come together.
But the real challenges came when the rubber actually hit the road and it was time to depart. Not one of us had ever done something like this. Most of us were only able to train beforehand just a few days. Stephanie was unable to ride a single day outside because of all the snow in Iowa. She was not even able to bring her own bike out here, but she had to borrow one from Clay. Eric Retterbush’s bike broke two days before we left when his derailer (the thing that changes the gears) busted. The local mechanics refused to do anything with it and told him to buy a new bike. So we threw some road tires on my dad’s mountain bike, giving us our four bikes.
The uphill and the distance were both challenges that we expected to face. But we met a few foes that we had overlooked or not expected altogether. Hiking the Grand Canyon turned out to be much more difficult than we ever anticipated. We hiked a trail off the beaten path that was much steeper than a normal Grand Canyon hike. For the first half-mile we were forced to pick our way slowly down the trail as it was still covered with snow and ice. Our heavy backpacks and our light tennis shoes made this section of the trail incredibly awkward and even dangerous. A slip on the ice could have us tumbling down the Grand Canyon. At this point, my knees were already hurting from all the repetitious pedaling on my bike. Now I had to hike down 9 very steep miles of trail.
But making it to the Colorado River was worth every painful step and each weary pedal of the bike. The beauty at the bottom of the Grand Canyon is unparalleled. The Grand Canyon holds this mysterious quality in which nothing outside of it seems to matter. Time, worries, nothing else is important when you stare off into the vast canyon. Being at the bottom of the Grand Canyon is like being held in God’s hand, you are completely enveloped by it, and you feel perfectly at peace.
As I sat by the river and prayed the next morning, God gave me something He knew I would need. I noticed a washed up piece of driftwood that would make a perfect walking stick. With only a matter of hours to enjoy at the bottom of the canyon, we ate breakfast, broke camp, and headed out of the depths. My knees were in serious pain, so I relied heavily upon my newfound best friend of a stick.
Late that afternoon, we found ourselves back on the icy trail near the top of the rim. It is truly amazing the differences held within such a small ecosystem. Oasis at the river, baking desert, and snow-fil
led pine forest, all engulfed us within a few miles. We wearily clambered out of the canyon and were immediately met with an icy chill of wind. A few hours ago we were nearing heat exhaustion, and here we were bundling up with our winter clothes.
Read the rest of the story: The Great Bike Adventure: To the Grand Canyon and Back, Pt. 2
Eric Hanson, a graduate of Northern Arizona University, just got back from taking a year to backpack the globe. You can follow Eric’s journey here.