Ernie’s Ride 2014 was the inaugural event, which I did solo. To challenge myself, my goal was to complete the entire ride in under 48 hours. We raised over $3,000.00 that first year. Since I didn’t want to tap out all my friends every 12 months, we skipped 2 years before going again. Here’s a story I wrote about that 2014 ride, shortly after finishing:
“Father, I can’t do this.” After nearly 47 ½ hours of pushing myself, lacking proper sleep, deprived of much-needed calories due to an unrelenting nausea that didn’t allow me to consume a whole meal; after 329 miles that included climbing the equivalent of 4 miles straight up; after pushing through numerous bouts with cramping hamstrings, quads, calves, & feet - - often simultaneously; with feet throbbing in pain and arms fatigued near failure; having quietly cried out to God on multiple occasions, “I don’t think I’m gonna make it”; with aching legs, a spinning head, and a queasy stomach - - I rounded the cloverleaf loop where the Towpath Trail would spit me out onto Harvard Avenue in Cleveland only to find that Harvard, which appears benign on a map, was actually more than a 10% incline for 200 – 300 yards. I knew that to walk now would mean I wouldn’t make it to Lake Erie in 48 hours as I had desired - - and as I had stated as my goal. With only just over 30 minutes before the 4:00 pm deadline and still more than 5 miles of completely unfamiliar city streets to navigate, once my foot popped out of that clip, the incline would be too steep to maintain momentum. And only a long, slow walk to the top could be the result. The time lost would prove too much to overcome. And I knew that anything short of the goal achieved would be a failure in my mind - - Like Evel Knievel’s infamous motorcycle jump across the Grand Canyon, which was really nothing more than a parachuted plummet to the canyon floor.
But my strength & ability had been exhausted. This time it wasn’t “I don’t think I’m gonna make it.” This was the end. “Father, I can’t do this.”
“How’s it going?” That’s what he asked. This young, dark-haired man on his commuter bike as he instantly pedaled up beside me. He appeared to be about the age of my son Andrew, mid-twenties, and obviously a strong cyclist as he had come upon me, without me even hearing him, as he prepared to push on past - - on to his destination.
“Well, to tell you the truth, I’m really struggling right now.” I had to be honest. Anyway, I’m sure he could already see this fact with his own eyes.
Then he slowed and matched my meager pace. “How far you going?”
So, in about 20 seconds, I told him of my goal to ride from the Ohio River to Lake Erie in 48 hours. How I was raising funds for a pro-life women’s center. That I didn’t think I was going to make it, though. I said, “I’m trying to get to Edgewater Park. Do you know where that is?”
“Yeah. Actually, I’m going right by there.”
“Would you mind pointing me in the right direction?”
“If you’d like, I’ll ride with you.”
And so, for the remainder of that hill - - on thru the numerous turns necessary to navigate western Cleveland, across major thoroughfares, thru little-traveled streets of cozy boroughs, around construction zones, and on avenues that were home to the small businesses that are common to older neighborhoods of our large cities - - he rode with me (sometimes just ahead, sometimes right beside). We talked some. He had built the bike he was riding. His friend was preparing to cycle a 100-mile race. How he is considering training and riding with him. Mostly, he responded to my queries about how much further and how much longer before we reached Edgewater Park.
At about 3:40, he told me we had about 40 city blocks to go. That seemed like a long way to me.
“We can pick up the pace, if you’d like.”
“I don’t think I can.” I replied.
Before long, he pointed down a long, broad boulevard. “Edgewater Park is right down this street.” Riding a couple minutes longer, I checked my clock . 3:56 – just 4 minutes left. About 10 blocks ahead was an oncoming car with headlights beaming. I pointed this out and, doubting we could get there in time, I asked, “Is it about where those headlights are?”
“No”, he said, “You’re here.” And, pointing to his right, he indicated the park entrance no more than 30 feet ahead. Then, nodding diagonally to our left, he said, “My friend that I’m visiting lives right over there, in that apartment behind the stone wall.”
I thanked him for his help, but he insisted on accompanying me into the park. We pedaled up the park path and coasted to a stop at 3:57 pm.
“You made it.” Then, he stuck out his hand and said, “What’s your name?”
“I’m Nick.” No last name. Just Nick.
I took his hand as firmly and as genuinely as I could, shook it, and said, “Nick, Thank you. I don’t know if you’re a believer, but I want you to know that God sure has used you today to help me.”
“Kinda looks like that, doesn’t it?” And he pedaled away.
At the risk of sounding silly, I’ll be straight with you: I don’t know if he was a bona fide angel or merely a man that, whether wittingly or not, was used by God. But of one thing I am quite certain: I wouldn’t have made it without him. He appeared, as if out of nowhere, at exactly the time I was ready to give up. A flesh & bones answer to prayer, from a Father who loves me.
And so it was with tears of joy threatening to burst from my eyes (just like the ones that have threatened as I sat here and shared this account) that I posted my picture, with Lake Erie over my right shoulder, and typed just two words, “Nuff said.”