Bikers ride length of state to help others
By BETH ALTENA
Most people drive their car to work, to the store, to run errands, and take the easy availability of transportation for granted. Rockford resident Todd Stelma has made it his mission to help those who, for whatever reason, do not have the convenience of a car for transportation in their lives. He and a group of friends have just completed a Freedom In Motion biking marathon across the state of Michigan to promote the local non-profit organization which provides free bicycles to those in need.
“Mostly they seem to find us,” Todd said of the adults and children who are the recipients of free bicycles, which Todd and his friends acquire and repair before giving out to people who don’t have a way to get around.
Todd and three biking friends left for an across-the-state bike ride beginning in Rockford and ending in Mackinac City. The three-day, long distance ride was a way to enjoy their hobby together, but also get the word out about what they are doing.
Formed as a non-profit in February of 2012, the organization began with a bike drive through Bella Vista Church that put about 80 functional and non-functional bikes in their hands. “We spent the winter fixing them up,” described Todd.
An avid cyclist, Todd has learned over the years how to tinker with the mechanisms of bicycles to put the machines in good repair. Enjoying bicycling for over 16 years, he appreciates where bikes can take their riders, from the beauty of mountain biking terrain to the more mundane work of taking someone from point A to point B without a long, slow walk.
“Usually if people don’t have a car, it is because of a predicament,” Todd stated. “We don’t get into that, we are not here to judge, we are just Christians who love finding a way to help.”
Todd, along with his cousin Derek Rust, friend Ben Hyink, both of Grand Haven, and Doug Chrysler, of Rockford, left June 20 from the parking lot of the Rockford Squire Newspaper with a 300 mile goal to pedal through. The day was clear, hot and sunny and during it the four put 100 miles under their wheels before spending the night at Mitchell State Park where family members had set up camp.
Todd said he had recruited his friends on this undertaking, and was anxious that the ride go well. Last year he started the Freedom In Motion ride by crossing Michigan side to side, starting from Montague and riding to Bay City. This year the ride grew to include four bikers, and he said as the planner he was “freaked out” about the details. “I didn’t want anyone else to stress out,” he said.
The computer mount on his handlebars said the four averaged 16 to 17 miles per hour, a pace that brought them to their first night’s goal in good time. “It’s not about how fast you go, it’s about getting there.”
On the second day the bikers rose early and had breakfast with their families before embarking on the second leg of the trip. They started at sunrise, and ended up riding until about 6:30 p.m.
Although only the men were riding, the adventure was a family affair as their journey was paralleled in vehicles by their children and family. Todd’s ten-year old son Caeden is a student at Rockford’s Spanish Immersion program at Roguewood Elementary. His daughter, Mael, is just seven. Derrik’s two-year-old daughter, Esther, was also camping along with the riders as they crossed Michigan. Todd said next year Doug’s son Dylan wants to be one of the bikers instead of pacing them in cars.
After the early breakfast, the riders set out under an overcast sky and had trouble getting into the groove. “If you’ve never done a ride that far, you might think. ‘How will I do this?’ “ Todd said. He said with hour after hour of riding it is very difficult to stay focused. “It’s a mental drain.”
Off to a wobbly start, the group of four was snapped into focus by Doug, who saw the difficultly they were having getting going on the middle day of the ride. Todd said Doug told them, “Guys, if we are going to make it, you are going to have to get it in gear. Follow me and let’s get it done.”
“From then on, nothing needed to be said,” Todd described. “We were one unit riding together.”
The second day was an even longer ride than the first, covering 130 miles from Cadillac to Petoskey in overcast, 70-degree weather. The group rode through some spectacular scenery, along Torch Lake and through Charlevoix, the last twenty miles following Little Traverse Bay. All Friday there was the chance of rain, but the weather continued to be perfect for riding. “It was an answer to prayer not to have to ride in rain.”
The last day they finished the ride, going through the beauty of Wilderness State Park and on to Mackinac City. “Anyone who has ever been to Mackinac knows the feeling,” Todd stated. “You drive and drive and all of a sudden you get your first glimpse of the white bridge over the trees.”
He said the feeling was triumphant. He described it as a cool moment, knowing they were going to make it, knowing this adventure was almost over, feeling like they weren’t quite ready for it to end, but it was going to.
Todd said he hopes the ride brings the Freedom In Motion to people’s awareness, that the new non-profit will continue to expand. He and Doug were the only riders on the first journey. This year’s group of four doubled the participants. From the original bike drive they have repaired and given out 45 bikes with a goal of 100 by year’s end.
Although the Freedom In Motion bikes are intended for adults who need transportation, Todd said people have donated children’s bikes as well, and those have been given to youth in the York Creek area off Alpine Avenue. The adults who receive the bikes come from referrals from Todd’s wife, who is a social worker for the Kent County Health Department, and her co-workers.
The ride was also a fundraiser, bringing in $6,000 in pledges and donations for bicycle parts. “We are all volunteers, no one is getting paid,” Todd stated. He said his goal is for the rides and donations to completely fund the repair of more bikes each year. He hopes next year to try to organize a ride here in Rockford, and perhaps have more bikers tag along on the big trip.
Rockford is a great place to have a bike-related organization, with some of the best biking trails in West Michigan with the new Merrill trail and the Luton Park bike trails. Todd said he and his friends also enjoy riding on the roads in this area. Local businesses have helped, and Todd particularly wanted to thank Kim Wood, owner of Speed Merchants Bike Shop here in Rockford for being very generous with parts for repairs.
Todd said the focus of Freedom In Motion is just to help those who can’t drive or can’t afford a car. “We haven’t expanded a ministry, although we are motivated by faith.”
Plan your charitable endeavors around something you love already, he advised if others want to find a way to positively impact others. He also said it is a good idea to start slow and build up. He said he feels giving a bike is not just a handout, because it drives the recipient to be more self-sufficient.
“It’s not free to have a bike, they need repairs and cost money,” he pointed out. “It’s also a burden, it is something you have to take care of.” He said most of those who receive the bikes are honestly grateful to have been given something that they need and that will help improve their lives.
“You have to have perseverance,” Todd advised of any undertaking. “You have to have something you love, something that will glorify God. The money is nothing, the money will come, the people will come. You have to have the courage to do it and don’t look back.”
To find out more about Freedom In Motion, visit the non-profit’s website at www.freedominmotion.org. Click a link to donate a bike or to send them a note at their email at email@example.com. Freedom In Motion is also on Facebook.