Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Sometimes it's risky business mentioning specific people, for fear of leaving someone out, but I'd like to thank those without whom this pilgrimage simply would not have been possible.

My mom and sister, for having the openness, stamina, and bravery to prepare for and pedal all those miles, to share of themselves out there in the open spaces, to support and encourage and be patient with one another, pedal stroke by pedal stroke.

My dad, who did all the rest of the work--laundry, grocery shopping, dishes, house cleaning, trail scouting, informal local publicity, press secretary, bike securing, tire fixing, camper set-up and tear-down, scrupulous Meriwether Lewis-like journaling of our progress, and much more, with nary a complaint.

Those who took interest in our story along the way, and especially those who befriended us and made our journey a little easier--Allen, Deb & Dary, Steve, Margie, Tina & Uncle Lloyd, the family at the farmers' market in Lemmon, the couple driving from Wisconsin to Montana, the couple from Bismarck that we met in Starbuck, everyone who read and responded to the blog.

Folks who took care of the pets back home--my brother and the Wolff gang.

All of our friends and family who were thinking of us, praying for us, checking in on us.

My dear sisters at St. Benedict's Monastery, who prayed us home safely.

And, of course, the One whose creation we marveled at daily, who was our source of consolation in the difficult stretches, who was and continues to be with us, guiding us all home.

Monday, August 27, 2007


Here are links to articles I know of regarding this pilgrimage.

Catholic News Service 8/27/2007

St. Cloud Times 8/24/2007

The Catholic Spirit 8/15/2007

St. Joseph Newsleader 8/31/2007

CSB/SJU Alumnae/i and Friends page 8/15/2007

Bristol News Journal 8/24/2007

Since the CNS picked this up, there are more and more articles out in diocesan papers, etc. And a special thanks to other bloggers who mentioned this blog.


Day 15. Or should that be Day 1?

We arrived to cheering and applauding and picture-taking at the end of the Lake Wobegon Trail in St. Joseph on Saturday evening, just before 7:00. My housemates met us there and celebrated our arrival in St. Joe. After enough hoopla there, we pedaled over to the monastery just in time for the end of evening prayer, where there was more excitement and merriment as sisters walked back home after prayers.

For the record, we logged 668 miles on my odometer, and 77 hours and 25 minutes of saddle time.

Here's a little video of our last few seconds on the trail:

Karen, the other postulant, finished her (much longer distance but much shorter duration) journey from England that evening as well, so our house was full of festivity and hospitality, as Benedictines do so well.

After sharing stories and treats and a little wine, I became better acquainted with my new bedroom. Mom, Dad, and Cindy made it safely home Monday--all riding in the pickup. I've spent the last couple of days settling in, unpacking boxes, living the rhythm of prayers, getting oriented to more of the spaces and procedures, being welcomed by sister after sister, and finally getting back to technology.

This blog has been a helpful tool for reflection as I began my journey at St. Ben's, and I'd like to keep it up as the journey continues--perhaps a couple times a week. So keep checking back for some musings from inside the monastery.

Friday, August 24, 2007

One more day

We are now one day’s ride away. We’ll arrive at St. Ben’s on Saturday evening. We’ll leave from Westport in the morning, travel 12 miles to Sauk Centre, then sail over to St. Joseph on the flat, smooth Lake Wobegon Trail, which runs basically parallel to I-94.

The nerves have set in. Once we crossed the border into Minnesota, and the culmination of this pilgrimage was one significant notch closer, some of the normal nervousness before a significant step such as arriving at the monastery one has asked to join began to creep in around the edges of my stomach. The waves come and go, seeming a little stronger with each return, and with each pedal stroke closer to the monastery. It’s more and more real that I really, really will be at the monastery, day in, day out, living the rhythm, facing the challenges, living the questions, listening to the tugs at my heart, hoping to find some of the places where my deepest longing meets the world’s deepest needs*, daring to be stretched to love bigger and bigger.

Just as it took us a while to establish and settle into a rhythm to our biking days, and just as it does in any transition, I imagine it will take a while to sink into a sense of normalcy at St. Ben’s. In the midst of these nerves, the best I can do is remember that until a few days ago I was very sure this was the best next step in my life, and that the people who have walked the journey with me must have had good reason to support and encourage my progress in this direction.

As any journey like this is bound to do, it has helped me to let go of some things and see life with a wider, fresher perspective. Numbers don’t matter as much any more--I watch our average speed less and less as the days pass. It’s nice to know the numbers at the end of the day, but I’ve let go of the early habit I had of trying to push us to achieve any particular average for the day while in the “lead” position. We bike as best as we are able, and we get where we need to be when we get there.

We three bikers are all finally finding/accepting/reconciling our individual paces with the group pace. The pushing and pulling and adjusting and second-guessing have mellowed into something more comfortable for all of us. Even the switching of the person in the front position is more fluid and flexible now. And so it is in any community, be it three bikers and a support crew, or nearly 300 nuns and all of their various webs of connection and support.

Most of these past 14 days, we've experienced an array of emotions--from high energy in the morning to a mid-afternoon slump, sometimes including real uncertainty about being able to continue through the wind or heat or pain. The end of some days is full of high energy again, especially if we are blown into town with a tail wind or down a hill, and sometimes we barely manage to crank the pedals the last five miles to the camper, then scramble around for our "recovery" food and fall into a bizarre, endorphin-influenced stupor as we try to prepare to do it all again the next day.

Water towers are one of the joys of my day now. They come much more frequently, as towns are increasingly closer together as we follow old trade and railroad routes. They signify a chance to take a break, rest our saddle sore bodies, our knees that have spun the pedals over 300,000 times.

We pedaled 468 miles on U.S. Highway 12 before turning north on South Dakota Road 25, taking a shortcut across SD-16 and BIA-3 to reach Highway 10 into Sisseton. The 10-mile section of Hwy 10 between Sisseton and the border of SD was the roughest road we’ve been on yet, including the day on dirt/gravel in the construction zone. At the border of Minnesota, SD-10 continues as MN-28. We’ve had fairly narrow shoulders again (with a wide girth of gravel to resort to before the ditch, though we haven’t really needed to). Mercifully, the highly trafficked area around Glenwood and Lake Minnewiska has a wider paved shoulder.

According to the odometer on my bike, we crossed the 600-mile mark today just past Starbuck, MN, and it took us 70 hours of saddle time to pedal that far (much more in clock time, once all of our breaks are added in—still to be added manually).

We’re in glacial lake country now. Rich, fertile soil whose depressions, be they vast or little more than a ditch, hold more water than we’ve seen yet. There are certainly more hills than around Aberdeen, but by and large they are gentle. We’ve been graced with gentle winds these past several days, and they more often scoop around from behind us rather than confront us head-on or tackle us from the side. It looks like this trend will continue on the final day of biking.

Biking all day feels very normal now, and I’m sure I will miss it, but Karen (the other postulant) and I will be busy settling in to the physical spaces and daily rhythms of prayer and work and leisure. Look for one or two more posts tying up the specific pilgrimage aspect of this journey, and possibly more relaying the daily journey of transition into monastic life. Now that I’m getting the hang of this blogging thing . . .

*Frederick Buechner's definition of vocation in the large sense of life calling--perhaps not an exact quote, but close.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

A rainy morning

On the tenth day, God took mercy on three bikers and granted unto them a tail wind. And “[made] straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! Every valley [was] filled in, every mountain and hill [was] made low; the rugged land [was] made a plain, the rough country, a broad valley” (Isaiah 40). And the people rejoiced much, and sustained speeds of 14 mph for the first time on their journey.

Again on the twelfth day, God saw to it to place a long downhill slope to the west of Sisseton, SD, and the bikers rejoiced much at the ability to top speeds of 30 mph without even pedaling. Their progress had been slow in the two days since the eldest member of their tribe fell down the stairs, but this speedy, effortless movement bolstered their spirits.

On the thirteenth day, they awoke to light rain, and a few mild leaks in the camper again. They prepared for the day slowly, in the hope that the rain would pass over before they began pedaling. Yet they kept in mind a little chant that the eldest member of the tribe came up with a few days earlier: “OSB! Openness, stamina, bravery!” [For those of you unfamiliar with those initials, they also stand for the Order of St. Benedict, and will be the initials after Stephanie’s name once she is a full member of St. Benedict’s Monastery.]

We are encountering more and more local folks as we progress on this journey. One man stands out in particular. Back in Selby, at the half-way point (literally mile 325), Cindy had a flat tire. It wasn’t just a punctured inner tube, but the tire itself was split and would have continued puncturing the tube. I went in search of something to act as a buffer between the tube and tire (an improvised “boot,” for anyone else who’s experienced this with their bike or car tire). As it was Sunday, Selby Auto was closed, but I tried knocking on the door anyway. A man rolled up on his motorcycle and said I likely wouldn’t find anybody home there, but did I need anything. I explained what I was looking for, and he took me down to the John Deere station, where he works, and found a few old car tire patches that they don’t use any more. Voila! That was exactly the sort of thing we needed to make Cindy’s tire drivable for the day.

A dairy farmer who was curious about the camper with Montana license plates stopped at an approach near his farm stopped to chat while us three girls took a little break. He also gave us a lead on where to park the camper in Bristol—full hook-ups, which is more than we expected that evening. Dad found it and got supper ready for us, and after we pedaled in, the neighbors came over. Deb had passed us on her way home from work, and Dary had already heard some of the scoop from Dad (whose role has expanded from housekeeper to press secretary to shortcut scouter). They stayed and chatted for quite a while, and we shared lots of laughs. The next morning, they also sent a retired Lutheran minister and oblate of Blue Cloud Abbey our way. He works with an online news source for Bristol, SD, and stopped us a few miles out of town to take our picture.

Cindy and Ellen even used the wireless internet connection from Deb and Dary's house to check the weather report for the day!

These sorts of connections are an important part of this journey, and I’m deeply grateful for all of the people who have opened themselves to us. May we continue to be open to them.

For now, we must cover ourselves with our rain gear and pedal the 10 or so miles to the Minnesota border, give thanks, take a picture in the rain, and keep pedaling toward Chokio. The camper has sprung a fourth leak as I typed this, and Dad wants to hitch up and get out of here in the hope that it will leak less when in motion.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

More thoughts from the road

I’ve been thinking a lot about the band of sisters who made the journey to St. Cloud and established St. Benedict’s Monastery 150 years ago—the physical demands of their long journey, and the continued stresses of adjusting to their new surroundings. And I’ve had more “inside” time. When we’re riding in mist, I tend to look around at the scenery less so as to keep my glasses a bit dryer. With my head down and eyes focused on the white line, it’s easier to slip into a deeper meditative state.

I already referred to Rosanne Keller’s book about various aspects of pilgrimage. One of the things that stuck with me the most when she talked about her pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain was the yellow arrows and signs that say “Animo!” and mean, “take courage, keep going.” On this pilgrimage, my “Animo!” comes in animal form—cows that turn to watch us pedal past, and sometimes even grace us with a chorus of moos; horses that walk up to the fence, or gallop to the end of their pasture along with us; songbirds that chirp from telephone wires or fence posts at just the right time to lighten our spirits.

The storms of Friday that drenched Mobridge and the surrounding area were slow to peter out. The next three mornings we had thick mist, then the skies cleared up and we shed our various rain gear. Saturday and Sunday the mist set in again near the end of the day, but Monday it cleared up and stayed clear. We even had our first tail wind! To top it off, the terrain totally flattened out (we only had a couple of rises or inclines—they don’t even merit being called hills) and we had smooth, wide shoulders to ride on. We were able to sustain speeds over 14 mph for the first time since we left Miles City. Mom even managed fine though she had just taken a nasty spill down the camper steps when we stopped for a break. She’s a bit sore today, but we’re all heading out.

We’re leaving Aberdeen today. We stopped at a bike shop and got a few things, including new rear brake cables and more spare tires and inner tubes, and new gloves. We wanted to take S. Vicky up on her invitation to visit her here, but we are too exhausted in the evenings, and were far too slow-moving this morning. It’ll take us two days to get to Sisseton, then we’ll cross into Minnesota and hook up with the Lake Wobegon Trail at Sauk Centre. We’re nearing the home stretch. With that comes the typical mix of anticipation for the destination and simultaneous desire for more time en route. But another one of Rosanne Keller’s motifs in her book with which I heartily agree is that we are always on a journey. We return home changed, but we do return home. And we live as returned pilgrims continuing our pilgrim journey.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Visual update

Here are a few more pictures of what we've been surrounded by. Pictures can never really capture the grandness of these wide open spaces, so try to imagine what extends beyond the border of these snapshots.

View from the saddle. (Rest assured, I was stopped when this one was taken!)

North Dakota sunflower fields add subtly cheery variety in the midst of the wheat fields and hay bales. And the honey bees love them!

Our outfits get more and more eccentric, and we seem to care less and less what's on the outside, as long as it helps us on this journey.

Cindy and I had to protect our legs from the sun, and have since concocted more ways to cover ourselves, especially our south-facing (right) sides.

The other photo shows us all prepared for our day of rain/mist. The skies were gracious--it only misted for the first and last 45-minute segments of the day's journey.

On Saturday, we left the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, crossed the narrow, mile-long bridge over the Missouri River / Lake Oahe, and entered the Central Time Zone, all within a couple of miles--an uplifting show of progress.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Heads or tails

The wind is one of our most constant companions and points of interest. On the first day the wind was pretty calm, on the second day we had an unbelievable side wind, on the third day we were elated to have a tail wind most of the day, on the fourth day we had a head wind again as we navigated our way through 17 miles of road construction, on the fifth day it turned from a side to an oblique to a relatively gentle head wind, on the sixth day we had a pretty gentle head wind again as we came into South Dakota, and on the seventh day we rested.

It's a good thing, too. Huge storms threatened the integrity of Arty's camper, let alone three bikers out on the road. I awoke to the sound of water spattering near my left arm from the corner of a ceiling vent. The day only got more interesting from there. As the rains continued, so did the leaking. We strapped a tarp over the top of the camper, only to have it snapped away by increasing winds. At that point, we abandoned ship and headed for cover at the casino in Mobridge, near where we had camped.

It's taking us much longer each day to get to the towns we want to get to, and several days we haven't made it to the intended town. We are constantly re-evaluating based on our energy levels, time of day, distance to the next possible stop, terrain, weather, etc. When we get in for the evening, we’re exhausted and quickly become quite loopy—finding the simplest things absolutely hilarious, and having great difficulty with the English language. We’re also supporting and relying on each other in fuller, deeper ways than we’ve had to before, I think.

It’s also been difficult to connect to the internet to update this little blog, but we finally have a solid connection at the casino, and I trust we’ll be able to find a place to connect in Aberdeen in a few days. We’re not quite at the half-way point yet (we’ve pedaled 276 of about 650 miles), so we likely won’t make it to St. Joseph by the 24th as we hoped, but the 25th or 26th seem doable, especially since it looks like the topography flattens out between here and Aberdeen. Every time we’ve crested one hill these past several days, we see another one, which sometimes elicits some of the grumbling that Benedict warns against, but we keep pedaling, and take breaks when we need them (which is sometimes very often).

In Joan Chittister’s commentary on the Rule of Benedict (Insights for the Ages, Crossroad, 1992), she reminds us that Dietrich Bonhoffer once wrote, “There is a meaning in every journey that is unknown to the traveler” (158). We’ve seen so much, experienced so much, been stretched so much, yet details get blurry and things are running together already in the midst of it all. But the “meta” lessons will keep coming to us as we keep mulling this over for some time to come, I’m sure. And perhaps those we’re meeting along the way—whose stories we hear and who hear our stories—and whose stories meld into each other’s—will know more of the meaning of this journey than we are yet aware of.

For me, part of the meaning has to do with the small things—going slow enough and being aware enough to see the cricket making its way across the pavement, and having enough compassion to swerve our bike tires around it. And for the trust to persevere in an endeavor that is totally new and full of unknowns and already more difficulties than we imagined we’d face, supporting each other the best we know how, and loving each other even when tempers run short. We’re riding in mist and probably rain today, another new and less-than-exciting part of this journey. We may be wet and raw at the end of the day, but we’re more refreshed for having had one day off the saddle, so we’ll do the best we can. That’s all any of us can do on any given day.

Sunday, August 12, 2007


We're at the 83 mile marker on Hwy 12, 85 miles into the journey. Today we managed 38 miles with a doozey of a side wind--up to 50 mph we think, and consistently over 25 mph. We had to split those 38 miles into two segments, with a nap in the camper in between. Tomorrow things should turn around, though, and we expect a tail wind will help push us into to Gascoyne, ND.

Only three times have I wondered if we're crazy for doing this--at one low point during today's struggle with the wind, and twice yesterday as I looked down and saw my feet pedaling around and around. This really is one pedal stroke closer to the monastery at a time. And each of the three of us has to do it on her own. Sort of. We support and encourage each other, but no one else can make those pedals go around for any of us. At the same time, we're definitely in this together--we can only go as fast as the slowest, tiredest, sorest, crankiest one among us can go during any given stretch. Rather like life in general, and like life in a monastery, but perhaps amplified.

Not only the biking but the camping is encouraging us to stretch and bond as a family--to communicate our needs and desires clearly, to be willing to adjust and adapt plans (and relinquish the security of any definite plan beyond the hour or possibly the day), to find more than an average day's amount of mercy, and to remember to laugh at the silly stuff--again, amplified lessons for life post pilgrimage. May we keep these lessons close.

Friday, August 10, 2007

In the beginning

Our departure time has arrived. This is us: Ellen, Cindy, Dean, and Stephanie.

And below is the prayer that I say as I begin the ride each morning. It's a variation on St. Patrick's Breastplate based largely on the version offered by Rosanne Keller in her reflections on pilgrimage (Pilgrim in Time, Liturgical Press, 2006). It also includes elements of versions available on the internet, as well as a few minor changes to make it even more appropriate for this journey.

I arise today
through the strength of heaven
light of sun
radiance of moon
splendor of fire
speed of lightning
freshness of wind
depth of sea
persistence of river
stability of earth
firmness of rock.

I arise today
through God's presence to pilot me
God's strength to comfort me
God's might to uphold me
God's eye to look before me
God's wisdom to guide me
God's way to lie before me
God's ear to hear me
God's word to speak for me
God's hand to lead me
God's angels to save me
God's shield to protect me
from all who wish me ill
afar and anear
alone and with others
against every cruel
merciless power
that may oppose my body, mind, and soul.

May Christ guard me today
so my mission may bear
fruit in abundance.
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ with me, Christ in me,
Christ around me, Christ about me,
Christ on my left, Christ on my right,
Christ when I arise in the morning,
Christ when I lie down at night,
Christ in each heart that thinks of me,
Christ in each mouth that speaks of me,
Christ in each eye that sees me,
Christ in each ear that hears me.

I arise today . .

Thursday, August 9, 2007

The route

The U-Haul and I arrived safely in Miles City, and I've been visiting friends and family and tying up details this week. We've also been cleaning and preparing the camper that an old cowboy from Jordan, MT, (who used to sell cattle to Grandpa's livestock yard) loaned us. These next couple of days, we'll be packing and loading and doing all of the last-minute things that one thinks of before a trip like this.

We head east in the early morning of Saturday, August 11. Here's a link to a Yahoo! map of our intended route. If it doesn't work, try entering the following towns into your favorite route builder (e.g., mapquest or yahoo).

Miles City, MT
Lemmon, SD
Aberdeen, SD
Lake City, SD
Sisseton, SD
Browns Valley, MN
Morris, MN
Sauk Centre, MN
Saint Joseph, MN

This is our intended route. It's always possible that there may be some variation as we progress, especially during the Minnesota portion of our journey where there is more pavement to choose from.

We'll be on Highway 12 all the way from Miles City to just past Aberdeen. We're taking a little jog up to Sisseton, SD, to visit the hometown of my dad's grandparents, and will come into Minnesota via SD-10 / MN-28. The shortest route is to follow MN-28 all the way to Sauk Centre and then take the Lake Wobegon Regional Bike Trail into St. Joseph, but another option is to take Hwy 55 to Paynesville and then enter St. Joe via Cold Spring on CR-2. Either way, the total distance comes out to be just over 650 miles.

Pray with us as we scurry around these next couple of days that things will be set in place for us to settle into the slower pace and open mindset/heartset of pilgrimage.