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PHC's York Keeps Pedalling Through Hardships

June 7th, 2011

By David Halbrook and Sarah Pride

CONTACT:  David Halbrook
Patrick Henry College
(540) 441-8722
OfficeOfCommunications@phc.edu

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Quick update: As of Monday, June 13, Russell York is back on the road. He was delayed in southwest Arkansas while he assessed the damage done to himself and his bike from a collision with a car that was traveling, he reports, at 55 mph. Russell says that he walked away with scrapes -- no fractures. Prayers appreciated for the safe continuation of his journey.

Senior Russell York borrows scrubs in Hopkinsville, KY while hospital staff do his laundry.

“Headwinds are a biker’s worst enemy,” observes Patrick Henry College senior Russell York, now in the fourth week of his cross-country bike journey to raise money and awareness for orphans in the Ukraine.

Of the joys of headwinds, he writes on his blog: “Day 4: Today was national Headwinds Awareness Day… it’s possible that you missed it but I was out there being ‘aware’ all day. Ways to celebrate include: pedaling down hills while losing speed, getting blown sideways off the road, and most importantly, wondering what sail boats do with headwinds. I’m sure there’s an obvious answer but physical exertion was hampering my cognitive abilities.”

In a blog notable for its wit, detail, and emotional transparency, York offers poignant observations of life pedaling along roads that have taken him through Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri and Arkansas: Treat people with respect and they will join your team; every mountain has a summit; West Virginia has earned its reputation; a bike seat is only as comfortable as the least comfortable couch in the world… on fire.

Aside from tired legs and rigid bike seats, York has endured plenty of opposition from the weather, innumerable flat tires, 2000-foot ridges throughout the Appalachians, and large dogs that have chased him into unwanted detours. Nonetheless, his blog is filled with entry after entry expressing thankfulness for God’s faithfulness, divine appointments, and regular, everyday Americans who have gone out of their way to help a bearded, hygienically-challenged, sunburnt stranger on two wheels.

On day 12, for example, York “woke up in a muddy field in Somerset, KY feeling pretty low:

York's progress across the continental United States

“My last real shower was a distant memory, my breakfast consisted of peanuts and cheese crackers, and I had to decide if I should go to a church smelling like a homeless man or hit the road. I contemplated this decision while picking ticks off of my legs and wiping mud off of my shoes.  Realizing that you are a homeless man is tough. Do you sleep outside? Do you bathe irregularly? Do you have a beard? Do you carry all of your belongings on a bike? After answering yes to all these questions I decided to boldly embrace the title. I am homeless! Finally deciding that no one has been thrown out of a church for smelling bad in a long time I found a local church (the First Presbyterian Church of Somerset) and pedaled over.”

The pastor of the church introduced York to the congregation. Some offered him donations. And one family took him to lunch and then home, where they did his laundry, allowed him to bathe, and let him stay the night.

Other blog entries relate simpler pleasures: “I made it into Bluefield just in time to slip into a Subway. I engaged the girl in conversation – conversation is something I am making into a practice – and my sandwich was soon piled high with extra meat, 10 strips of bacon, and a discount at the register. Well worth the trip.”

Perpetual chance encounters included meeting a Mennonite shop owner who ran what appeared to be a combination bike repair and butcher shop. The fellow fixed York’s tires and tuned up his entire machine, donating most of his time and labor “to the children in the orphanages.” And in Hopkinsville, KY, three upper-level administrators at the hospital noticed York in “Nanny’s Diner” and invited him to the hospital, where the staff gave him scrubs to wear while they washed his clothes. In addition, they called in reporters from the local radio station and paper, which published a story about the “charity rider” passing through their town.

A sign for an appropriately-named town York cycled through

“I’ve had the opportunity to meet incredible people on the road. One day at a time, the idea that ‘America isn’t what it used to be’ carries less and less weight for me,” notes York. “Every day seems to be a reminder that this country still boasts some of the most upstanding and charitable people on the planet.  Additionally, the story about the orphans in Ukraine is getting more attention. If you can contribute any amount to Young Life’s ministry it would be appreciated. My prayer is that my blisters, sun burns, dehydration, and stories about the kindness of others would encourage you to join my journey and give to this ministry.”

When York returns to PHC in the fall to complete his last year of undergraduate college education, the lessons learned and experiences gained from two months on the road will no doubt serve him for the rest of his life. And he will have earned it by risking life and limb in the service of innocents.

Find out more on York’s blog about the lives many Ukrainian orphans live in the streets. He would be the first to state that his own adventures, challenging as they are, do not compare to the plight of those he represents across the ocean. That is why, as his post from Friday, June 3 states, “I’ve learned to see the silver lining in every setback - a new friend, a lesson in patience… it’s always there somewhere. But for the most part it’s about clenching your jaw, turning off the frustration and not quitting... ever.”

Keep up with York's adventure or donate on his blog.