OHIO: Bishop, friends pedal the Underground Railroad during 'Antiracism on Two Wheels' bike ride

July 9, 2007

Riding his bike home from General Convention last summer, Episcopal Diocese of Ohio Bishop Mark Hollingsworth Jr. thought it would be a good idea to start a new tradition.

He rode 208 miles from Columbus to Cleveland with 15 other riders and used that trip to raise money for the Bishop's Annual Appeal, specifically to pay for youth mission trips at home and abroad. That effort raised enough money to allow every interested young person in the diocese to participate in a mission trip this year.

This summer, from July 2 through July 6, Hollingsworth and 19 other bikers rode all or part of a 272 mile route from Xenia, Ohio, to Hudson, Ohio. The trip followed part of one of the established routes of the Underground Railroad, the network of people who helped fugitive slaves escape to the northern U.S. and Canada. The state of Ohio played a significant role in the Underground Railroad, moving runaway slaves from Kentucky to freedom in Canada.

The idea for the route came from the Rev. Kelly O'Connell, priest-in-charge at St. Mark's Episcopal Church, Toledo, and an avid cyclist. O'Connell knew that the Adventure Cycling Association had just completed a 2,058-mile route following the Underground Railroad from Mobile, Alabama, to Ontario.

Hollingsworth dubbed this summer's ride "Antiracism on Two Wheels." Riders ranged in age from 16 to 76.

The riders' starting point in Xenia was a stop on the Underground Railroad that lies three miles from Wilberforce University, the country's oldest private African-American university and home to the National African-American Museum and Culture Center. The group was treated to a presentation in story and song about Harriet Tubman, a woman born into slavery who later helped to free millions.

Planners of the trip contacted congregations close to significant historical sites along the Underground Railroad to host the riders. Parishioners provided food and housing, as well as information about known sites on the escape routes in their areas. In Oberlin, docents provided tours of historical buildings and memorials. The trip ended in Hudson, Ohio, home of abolitionist John Brown and site of at least 19 homes and buildings where runaway slaves were hid.

The trip was not only educational, but beautiful and fun, as well.

"We have the good fortune in Ohio of cycling through beautiful farm land and Amish country," said Hollingsworth. "Not only do these trips acquaint the riders with their diocese and its communicants in a more intimate way, but they also help weave more strongly the fabric of the church in its gifts of hospitality, given and received."

Plans for next year's trip, June 29 through July 4, are already underway, and Hollingsworth expects that participation in the annual event will continue to grow.

"It's my hope that we'll begin to attract riders from across the Episcopal Church," he said.

Next year's trip will cross the diocese starting in the flatlands of the northwest corner of the state. The starting point is Defiance, Ohio, named to honor the settlers' "defiance of the Indians." The ride will end in the rolling hills of the southeastern part of the diocese in the town of Alliance, so named because it was the merger of three smaller settlements. Thus the riders will bike "From Defiance to Alliance."

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