ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Grief can sometimes be debilitating, but it’s a key part of what’s motivating Jerry Koop to ride his bicycle across this country during spring and summer.
This will be the second cross-country trip for Koop, who spent a couple of days in Hillsboro last week.
But the grief Koop feels since the death of wife Kathi in an automobile accident 10 months ago is only part of his motivation. Koop also is promoting the work of Mennonite Central Committee, an inter-Mennonite relief and development agency.
“The purpose of my trip is two- pronged-it’s a farewell to my wife, because I’m still grieving her loss, as well as promoting the efforts of MCC and the tsunami disaster work that they’re doing (in Southeast Asia),” Koop said.
“The grief over there is compounded much higher than my own, and I would like to draw attention to that effort.”
Koop was in Hillsboro from Wednesday until Sunday. He spoke in various settings about the work of MCC.
Koop undertook his first cross-country excursion in 1974. Beginning in Germantown, Pa., he and riding companion Clyde Stutzman pedaled some 3,000 miles in 63 days to reach their destination in Bakersfield, Calif.
Along the way, the duo accepted 18 speaking engagements to promote the work of MCC.
The trip also gave Koop a chance to think about his future-which included a marriage proposal to a girl he’d known his whole life.
“That first ride was characterized by a realization about middle America, that I was going home to marry my childhood friend,” Koop said. “It was a girl I was destined to marry and I asked her to marry me even before I met my parents on the other end of the trip.”
The couple eventually raised two children and founded a landscaping business that today employs 13 people, including a supervisor and three foremen.
Koop said the couple planned to repeat his cross-country odyssey on his 44th birthday, but the trip was never realized.
“Now it’s an event I’m going to use to say farewell to her,” he said. “Of course, I would have preferred to have her with me.
“Every day is different. I don’t think I have a preoccupation with thinking about her, but I do feel her presence.”
Koop said he’s been an MCC volunteer for nearly 30 years in one capacity or another.
“MCC has 1,200 people placed around the world and in North America who perform deeds of passion in the name of Christ wherever they find the need,” he said.
“They’re very efficient at doing this kind of work; the organization has just a 12-percent administrative overhead, which is less than a customary meal tip at a restaurant.”
Although Koop is more than 30 years older on this trip than he was on the first one, the creature comforts of this attempt make the trip much more manageable. He is traveling with the support of his parents, who are driving a large recreational vehicle.
“I have a soft bed, I shower regularly and I have warm food each day,” he said. “The last time, we were camping and carrying 50 pounds of gear.
“I’m actually riding farther per day-100 miles per day average,” he said. “This trip is more enjoyable, believe me. Maturity has definitely taught me better ways of doing things.”
Koop planned an itinerary before starting the trip and, so far, has been right on schedule.
“I have 30 very predictable arrivals on this trip and I haven’t missed a meeting yet, thanks to my support group,” he said. “I’ve done 11 speaking engagements so far and traveled about 1,400 miles. So I’m about one-third done with the talks and one-half done with the mileage.”
Koop has pedaled as many as 138 miles in a day and as few as 60.
“To this point, Colorado was the most difficult-Wolf Creek Pass,” he said, shaking his head. “It was a 7 percent grade for nine miles at a whopping 41/2 mph. That is the killer of all remembrances.
“But that was the assent, and what you go up you must come down,” he said. “We camped on the Continental Divide and in the morning, with frost on the ground, I coasted to a 48.8 mph non-assisted ride.
“I can tell you about turns that were marked 35 mph that I took at 48 mph with a half inch of rubber planting on the asphalt.”
Kansas-and Hutchinson in particular-has been the most congenial to Koop thus far.
“I didn’t pay for a meal, I didn’t pay rent for my RV and I didn’t even pay for my haircut,” he said. “They heard my story and they wanted to take care of me.”
When Koop finally reaches his destination in the eastern United States, he’ll have been on the road for 58 days, averaging between 80 and 100 miles per day-and talked to a lot of folks about MCC.
“I want to bring attention to compassionate deeds done because of the love of God,” Koop said. “In a nutshell, this trip is about grief-both my own and from the tsunami.
“People can donate to the work of MCC and earmark it to ‘Cycle Tour’ and it will be credited to my effort-but I’m not out here with my hand out,” he said. “Money comes because I talk and I’m not really looking for a dollar amount.
“Whatever comes, comes.”
Koop’s journey can be followed on the Internet by visiting www.mcccycletour.com.