The 1,100 mile journey was an experience of growth and appreciation for all of the members in attendance, who finished the voyage with newfound friendships. Electronics, such as cell phones or iPods were not allowed. Thus, the students would not have any barriers to making friends or inhaling each moment around them.
Randy Cronk, psychology professor at Mt. Vernon Nazarene University, has taken students on 14 biking trips during his time at the school. The students receive three psychology credits for the course and one credit for advanced bicycling.
“We have an extra semester, (called) j-term, that only lasts for the month of January, when each student only takes one class. It provides the perfect opportunity for students to travel without the worry of taking a normal semester’s worth of classes,” explained Katie Miller, participant in this year’s bike ride. “We started off everyday with our prof saying, ‘It’s a great day, we get to ride our bikes’ and it was true.”
Biking wasn’t the only adventure to claim the group, however. They also partook in sight-seeing, camping and mountain climbing. According to Gordon Amstutz, staff member, they also stopped at the best-known shops to experience the goods California has to offer—including delicious donuts.
Nate Mast, who attended the trip twice as a student, returned as a staff member this year. He explained that the type of psychology they learn is positive psychology, which is the study of how positive thinking will make a person’s day better. The group learned how to take in the small things with deep breaths of gratitude.
“Some of the days we didn’t have showers so you really appreciate it when you got it,” Mast explained. “It’s engaging with the people around you and getting to know them. That’s the big thing. It’s really good friendships by the end of the trip. You go on the trip with complete strangers and come back with friends.”
Further, each staff member was in charge of about four students. They were provided maps in order to navigate the trip. Gordon Amstutz followed in his van and managed to read eight books along the way, as he often stopped and waited for the groups to catch up to him.
“I rode every mile in the van by myself. Never had anyone ride because they were sick or injured,” he said. “It’s a well-oiled machine. The professor is a fantastic person. He pulls this off every two years.”
Roger Amstutz, another staff member, who went along to repair the bikes, got a bit more than he bargained for—but in a good way. He reported developing positive relationships with the students and that the event was life changing.
“We literally did everything together. We ate almost every meal together, we slept together, we rode together, we laughed together, we played games like Rook and Jungle Speed together, we ached together, we rejoiced together,” Miller continued. “We really became a family of sorts—relying on each other for each thing that we need.”
At night, they slept on the floors of churches or schools. They ate plenty of oatmeal—but took advantage of opportunities to make French toast or pancakes when they were staying somewhere that had the appliances.
But the group of 41 may have learned something that could be transferred to the rest of the busy world. Miller explained part of the beauty of her experience, beauty that she won’t soon forget.
“I was able to slow down and look for the little things. The things like the feel of the mist of the ocean on my face, the warmth of the sun as it warms the earth, the smell of ripe strawberries and oranges as I biked past, the thrill of somersaulting down a sand dune. Part of my homework was to list five new things each night that I was thankful for and it helped me to realize the beauty of the little things and that I don’t need giant happy things in order to be grateful,” Miller said.
Appreciating God’s creation was another effect of the trip, which was reported by the participants.
“I have always felt closer to God when I’m outside in his creation. It’s impossible to see everything and not marvel at His power and imagination. I loved riding my bike along Highway One, listening and watching the Pacific Ocean pound against the cliffs. I loved looking at the mountains and the hills. They created a marvelous backdrop,” Miller said.
And though the trip only extended into the month of January, the group of staff and students will likely carry those lessons and experiences for the rest of their lives—taking opportunities to guide others in that same journey.
Published: February 15, 2012