On the road with the rolling revs

July 05, 2009|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. -- It was a singular moment on a 13,000-mile bicycle trip across the United States.

A homeless man in a Brooklyn, N.Y., soup kitchen handed the Rev. Fred Soltow a quarter.

"He said he had his hot meal today and wanted to help somebody else get theirs," Soltow said. "I told him that this is why we were doing this (bike trip), so people like him can have the help they need."

Soltow, 60, pastor of the Shepherdstown Lutheran Parish; Ron Schlak, 58, of Trinity Lutheran Church in Charleston, W.Va.; and David Twedt, 60, pastor of the Capon North River Lutheran Parish in Wardensville, W.Va., hopped on a 10-foot-long, $10,000 bicycle built for three made from bamboo and headed out to crisscross the U.S. to raise $5 million for charity.

They began their ride in Chicago on May 13 with the official blessing of the Lutheran synod's national bishop. Their journey ends back home Sunday, Aug. 23.


Their itinerary includes stops at 65 Lutheran Church synods across the country -- east to New York, north to Alaska, south to Puerto Rico and the West Coast.

On Tuesday afternoon, day 49 of their 100-day journey, they were in eastern Montana heading for Great Falls. Thursday found them in Spokane, Wash., ready to board a plane for weekend stops in Alaska, including Anchorage, plus a visit to an Inuit village.

"Things are going well," Soltow said. "We've been meeting a lot of nice people. We haven't had any trouble with the bicycle so far, except for some technical problems that we caused ourselves. It's fun to ride."

In 1999, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America launched a campaign to raise $25 million a year for its world hunger effort, a goal thus far unmet.

Soltow and his priestly peddlers will ask Lutherans they meet along the way to give the national campaign a $5 million boost through donations and pledges.

It might take a year or two to fully realize the fruits of the bike trip, Soltow said. The plan is to convince Lutherans at every stop to make a special effort to help the church reach its goal.

"We're doing what we set out to do -- talk about our mission. Mostly we're trying to bring about a change in attitude. We picked up $50,000 at a synod in Lewisburg, Pa.," he said.

Originally, the ministers planned to bicycle 80 miles a day, but they're down to riding 30 to 40 miles a day, Soltow said.

Their equipment includes two drivers, a 2008 Ford van, a trailer to carry the bike, supplies, spare parts and the ministers when it's time to make time on the road.

"We're mostly driving now," Soltow said. "We hoped to bike more, but we're ending up spending more time talking to people."

At every stop, the ministers, through arrangements made in advance, are greeted by a local contingency of bicyclists who meet them 20 miles or so outside a town and escort them in. They leave town the same way the next day.

The pastors preach their message at every stop and give sermons in churches on Sunday mornings.

All three are married, and all have had opportunities to meet their wives en route or return home for quick visits.

The ministers' effort to change attitudes toward charitable giving apparently is paying off.

Soltow said they picked up a total of $8.50 in quarters from the homeless men in that Brooklyn soup kitchen.

Follow the ministers' daily travels through their Web site,

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