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You can read Mike Barrow's blog for his participation in Ride: Well Bike Tour, a cross-country tour from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., at http://ridewelltour.ning.com/profile/MikeBarrow.
By ROBERT VILLANUEVA
ELIZABETHTOWN — Thirty pounds and three months ago, Mike Barrow was not a regular cyclist. He rode his bike maybe a couple of times a year.
Not only has the Elizabethtown man put hundreds of miles on his 18-speed bicycle within a couple of months, Barrow is taking part in a cross-country bike event in which the majority of riders are much younger.
“I’m the oldest, by far,” Barrow said. “There are 17 riders, mostly in their 20s and 30s, and I just turned 55.”
Barrow and the others are cycling from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C,. as a part of Blood: Water Mission’s Ride: Well Bike Tour. The nonprofit organization, Blood: Water Mission was founded by members of Jars of Clay, a Grammy-winning contemporary Christian band. Its Web site describes its mission as an effort “to tangibly reduce the impact of the African HIV/AIDS pandemic, to promote clean blood and clean water in Africa, and to build equitable, sustainable and personal community links.”
The bike tour is specifically an effort by Blood: Water Mission to raise awareness and funding for its 1,000 Wells Project, which seeks to build 1,000 wells and clean water projects in 1,000 African communities.
For Barrow, the bike tour is a calling. After learning about it in an e-mail, Barrow — then weighing 230 pounds — mentioned it to his wife, expecting her to tell him he needed to be 20 pounds lighter and 10 or 20 years younger.
“And she gave me the answer I wasn’t expecting,” the registered nurse said, explaining his wife told him he should sign up.
When he found out March 17 that he was accepted for the tour, Barrow took it as a calling. He said his motivations for participating were to follow the footsteps of ordinary people in the Bible called to do extraordinary things.
The day Barrow was accepted for the tour, he signed up with a personal trainer at E-town Swim and Fitness. Up to that point, the most he had ridden his bike was 20 miles in one day, so he began a rigorous training schedule.
“I was out of shape,” he said.
Barrow kept up the training, riding most days as the tour start day approached. On days when it rained, he trained indoors.
“My first month of training I rode over 600 miles,” he said.
By the time he left Elizabethtown, Barrow’s weight was down from 230 to 200 pounds. He said he expects to weigh 165-170 pounds when he finishes the tour.
On top of training, Barrow had to raise $1,000 for his part in the tour, funds that will go to Blood: Water Mission. He said he managed that goal once he got over the difficulty of learning how to ask for money.
The bike tour begins Monday in Los Angeles, although the team will have practice rides Saturday. The tour route — which will encompasses about 3,150 miles — will includes stops in Dallas and Nashville before ending in Washington, D.C.
The 53-day event, which runs through July 28, has scheduled stops for sightseeing, promotion and local relief bike rides. The team actually will cycle for 40 days. Sundays always are taken off for worship.
“Probably the thing I see as the biggest obstacle in my mind is the heat,” Barrow said.
With part of the tour route going through desert, Barrow kept an eye on the weather forecasts before he left for Los Angeles. As a registered nurse, he will be responsible for the medical aspect of the tour, he said.
Physically, Barrow is confident.
“I feel prepared,” he said. “I feel ready.”
But being prepared physically is just one aspect of preparation.
“For me … the ride is far more mental than physical,” he said.
The tour will have daily mileage schedules that can feel overwhelming.
“There’s days when you get up in the morning that you’re going to go 100 miles that day,” he said.
But Barrow said he will rely on support from fellow cyclists, a positive attitude and strength through others.
And he has his faith.
“Prayer is going to be a very important and a powerful part of our trip,” he said.
The end of the trip, he said, is something he is least looking forward to.
“When we come riding into D.C., I know it’s going to be very emotional,” Barrow said.
Though the message he is helping spread — awareness of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa — is not a “pleasant, happy message,” Barrow feels he needs to take action. He cited the suffering and poverty in Africa as an incentive for his participation.
“If I can ride a bike across the U.S. to alleviate some of that, that’s what I’m going to do,” Barrow said.
Robert Villanueva can be reached at (270) 505-1743.