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Reverends on a roll for charity

May 10, 2009|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. -- For 100 days starting Wednesday, three Lutheran minister buddies will be wet, cold, hot and dry, enjoy fame and raise hopefully $5 million for charity.

The Tour de Revs hits the highway Wednesday morning in Chicago. Stops include 65 Evangelical Lutheran Church of America synods, the 2009 Youth Gathering and the Churchwide Assembly. Puerto Rico and Alaska also are on the itinerary, but by plane, not bicycle.

The three evangelists include Fred Soltow Jr., 60, pastor of the Shepherdstown Lutheran Parish.

Soltow, the most experienced rider, will be in the pilot's seat. He will work the gears and brakes, and check for hazards in the road ahead.

Ron Schlak, 58, of Trinity Lutheran Church in Charleston, W.Va., gets the middle seat.

David Twedt, 60, the back-seat guy, pastors the Capon North River Lutheran Parish in Wardensville, W.Va.

The three are passionate bikers. Soltow averages 150 miles a week. He's also a competitive runner and triathlete with several marathons under his belt.


"Biking is my first love," Schlak said. "Riding melted off nearly 60 pounds."

"Ron is a fraction of what he used to be," said pastor pal Twedt.

The tour was Twedt's idea. It's an offshoot of a 2001 bike ride he did across West Virginia. He visited 65 churches and raised $13,000 so some ministers in Madagascar could buy bicycles, their only means of transportation in that island nation off East Africa.

"We thought we'd like to try a little larger scale and go synod to synod across the country," Twedt said.

The idea gelled over lunch at the Blue Moon restaurant in Shepherdstown two years ago, Soltow said.

"It was Dave's idea," Schlak said. "He was always thinking out of the box to make this happen."

The tour will be their ride of a lifetime.

"I am one lucky guy," Schlak said. "How many get a chance to do something like this with two wonderful friends? Look what I'm going to see. The church supports it. My wife supports me. I'm already missing her. Being away 100 days will be hard."

All three will leave wives behind.

Bicycle built for three

The tour's Web site carries the slogan, "A bicycle built for three ... from a tree."

Actually, bamboo is a grass with qualities that lend themselves to building a strong bicycle frame, according to Californian Craig Calfee, who built it for the ministers. 

According to the tour's Web site, bamboo, a readily available, renewable resource, has the dampening quality of carbon fiber and the strength of steel.

The bike, measuring 10 feet 4 inches long, cost $10,000. Calfee promised to meet the ministers anywhere on the tour for emergency repairs.

Soltow's biggest fear is an accident or serious breakdown.

"We're taking our own bicycles along just in case," he said.

Roger Munro of Shepherdstown, a biker and the tour's paid logistics coordinator, will be a substitute rider if needed.

It took 16 months of preparation and more than $100,000 in donations to make the tour possible, Soltow said.

The money paid for the bike and other equipment; Munro's salary; travel expenses for the riders and crew; a 2008, 12-passenger Ford van; 12-foot trailer; and two van drivers.

The plan is to bike 80 miles a day, Soltow said.

"We'll have to travel some in the van to stay on schedule," he said. "Every stop will be choreographed. We have to be at a certain place every day. We'll do a presentation at a church or community center every night."

The ministers will preach in a church every Sunday morning and take Sunday afternoons off.

A contingent of local bike riders will meet the ministers 10 to 20 miles out at every stop. Arrangements have been made for press interviews along the way.

In 1999, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America launched a campaign to raise $25 million a year for its world hunger effort. So far, Soltow said, the church has been unable to meet the goal. 

The three West Virginia ministers hope to convince Lutherans along their path to reach deeper into their pockets every year to bring the total over the top.

Through sermons, presentations and media contacts, they also hope to stress the need for people to take personal responsibility for their own health and wellness.

Bishop Mark Hanson of the national Lutheran synod will be in Chicago Wednesday for the official send-off to bless the ministers and their bicycle.

On Saturday night, about 60 supporters held an "official" Shepherdstown send-off rally at the local train station.


Follow the revs

The tour's Web site,, will carry up-to-the-minute progress reports.

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