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On Thursday a group of bicyclists representing Carolina Pathfinders and their 2023 Bike for Life North Carolina Tour departed from the Roanoke Valley Seventh-day Adventist Church — the last leg of their Boone to Elizabeth City ride.

The annual ride has taken the Pathfinders, a group that is the Adventist equivalent to Boy and Girl Scouts, to different parts of the country as they learn teamwork and often field spiritual questions along the way.

Gerald New, who is from Haywood County and serves as the ride director, said since the ride began in 1999 the Pathfinders have only missed two years — one year due to COVID and another due to a change in personnel at the Carolina Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

Typically teens ride but this year there were three young adults who made the trek. It was at their behest that the Boone to Elizabeth City route was chosen, a ride that uses backroads.

The group of nine riders with support vehicles and personnel stopped along the way at Adventist churches in Boone, Wilkesboro and Roanoke Rapids and planned to stay at the Elizabeth City church as well.

They also stayed at First Christian Church in Danville and before departing for Roanoke Rapids stayed at Roxboro Baptist Church.

One of the objectives of the ride is learning teamwork, New said. “We wanted to train 12- and 13-year-olds on signals and break that down to achievable things. They have to be able to keep up with the group and during that time of training we’re teaching them how to ride with a group of cyclists, pace lines, what to eat, nutrition and how to exercise, how to dress.”

Once the ride is started the group assigns jobs. “One who started at 13 is the roadmaster now. We trained her how to load the trailer correctly so they’re developing leadership skills.”

New referred to Emory Kelley, one of the young adults who at 21 is leading the group. “He’s checking routes. We’re teaching them life skills, leadership, what you need to do to be a long distance bike rider.”

Along the way they meet people, many who ask the group to pray with them.

They hand out brochures to those who accept them, a small pamphlet which explains the purpose of the ride and provides resources for those in spiritual need.

The group departed Boone on Sunday before stopping in Wilkesboro — the shortest ride of the tour, New said.

The group arrived in Roanoke Rapids Wednesday afternoon.

New explained part of the program includes dealing with the challenges that come up. “Everyday they have challenges so they really get a good idea of how to handle challenges without having a temper tantrum. There’s always flat tires. We’ve had mechanical issues. We have some medical issues. We’re training them to handle those situations.”

Juan Chavez is from Chapel Hill and goes to church in Durham. This was his fifth ride. “I love it. I like the teamwork,” he said. “When we finish the ride it’s awesome. We’re working together as a team.”

The hills were Chavez’s biggest obstacle but New said he has progressed and on Wednesday was in the front group. 

Chavez said along the way the group prays with people and he even encountered a situation at a store where he bought groceries for a woman without money or a financial card.

That experience led them to meet another SDA member who invited them to spend some time at her house.

“I enjoy the worship that we have,” Chavez said. “In the past we’ve had music and seeing these people all over the place and praying with them that’s a part because we need to spread the gospel. Personally, fitness is one of the goals for me.”

New said each year is different. There have been as many as 42 riders for one of the Ohio rides while last year there were only six.

Kelley is a paramedic who recently moved from Winston-Salem to Hendersonville. “I did this once a few years ago when I was 16 and had an awesome time. This is the first year I’ve been able to come back and do it. I’m having a lot of fun.”

Throughout the ride Kelley said he is learning a lot about biking as well as learning about biking with a team.

The ride has also been a way to tell people about Carolina Pathfinders and that the group is riding to promote a healthy lifestyle. “We have little brochures we hand out that tell them a little about our church and about Pathfinders and the ministry it is. Coming from Boone, it’s been fun —  a lot of great scenery.”

Doris Tann of the Roanoke Valley church greeted the cyclists in the church’s fellowship hall. 

She was moved by the bikers winding down from their long Wednesday ride. “It is a Christian experience,” she said. “It is so overwhelming words cannot express and explain. This is something that’s been going on and I’m glad they made it around here to our Roanoke Rapids area and our Roanoke Valley Seventh-day Adventist Church.”

With the image of the three angels on the outside of the church, Tann said, “We are here for a purpose and a moment. I’m so glad that God chose us to show hospitality and love. I’m going to go away from here with an experience that’s something I can incorporate for us to start doing and to collaborate with them and reach out and just us coming together.”

Said Tann: “It is just awesome what they’re doing and God has really blessed them and we’re thankful they decided to choose our church and our area.”