Passing On The Left

If you’ve ever been on a bike path, you’ve probably heard the call “Passing on your left!” moments before a bicyclist blasts past you as you try to make yourself as small as possible on the right side of the trail. Or perhaps you have been the biker that shouts the warning before swerving around some slower pedestrian or cyclist.

Maybe you have seen people attempt to get out of the way. Or watched someone just continue on their way without noticing, barely flinching as the bike flies past.

Proper bike etiquette says you should warn someone before passing on the left. Be that a shout or a bell or a horn. It’s also nice to see people out and about on the trail, moving over, waving acknowledgement, or smiling when one passes by.

I enjoy riding my bike.  So much so, that in a few short weeks, I will be joining the folks over at Bike the US for MS to pedal 3,785 miles across the country, from Virginia Beach to San Francisco.

And while I find joy in riding my bike, it’s not always sunshine and rainbows. I’m not a very fast rider. In fact, I’m on the slower side of the trail. Just as often as I give the shout before passing on the left, I have to move over to allow others to pass me.

My average speed is somewhere around “stop and smell the roses” and 13 mph. In fact, I think my quickest pace maxed out around 16 or 17 mph on the flats, where a lot of the more experienced riders in the area are topping out at 19-21 mph.

I looked at joining a biking group here in the Upstate, but one of the “qualifications” was an average speed of 17 mph. Yes, there are other groups that go at a slower pace, but those were reserved for children and senior citizens.

So, I putz along at my own pace and I still enjoy it.

One of the things that I love about biking is the same thing I once loved about running (before my joints started screaming at me about the impact). I love the feeling of being alone with my Father above, Abba.  The God Who Knows Me.

When I am biking, it is my time alone with God.

It started a couple years ago, when I would go biking in the early morning hours after working all night. Several members of my community group joined me from time to time. And it became a very intentional and prayerful event.

Now, when I bike, I feel closer to God.  I can get everything else out of my head, my body goes into auto-pedal, and it’s a beautiful moment to be in the presence of the Father.

In less than two weeks, I will be hitting the road and pedaling through the entire months of June and July. And I can’t be more excited (and nervous) about it!

And for a final quick update on fundraising: I have met my fundraising goals for the ride. If someone is still looking to donate, several of my teammates are still in the process of reaching their goals. If you are willing and able, please support them as well (as well as our segment and virtual riders)!

I do plan on updating the blog throughout the ride if I get the chance, but for more day to day updates, you can find them on my Instagram Story by following me at @skerr1932

Until next time, God Bless and PEACE

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Bike the US for MS

Several years ago, one of the ladies that I served with through AmeriCorps rode across the country on her bike. Throughout the year that followed, we worked side by side in the world of conservation and disaster response, but her stories of biking from the Pacific to Atlantic coast pulled at a desire to challenge myself, to commit to an adventure that was bigger than myself.

A year or so later, I purchased my first bike. And over the next two years, I biked sporadically whenever I could. And in the back of my mind, there was always that desire to go coast to coast.

Back while I was still in AmeriCorps, I started looking around at different bike rides. I knew I wanted to do the TransAm, from coast to coast, but I also didn’t want to try it solo and unsupported the first time through. I happened to come across the organization Bike the US for MS and realized that this was the group I would, eventually, ride with.

BUSMS LogoFor several years, I put it off because of the busyness of life. But that has all changed.

This summer I will set forth from Yorktown, Virginia after dipping a tire in the Atlantic Ocean and head West. Over the following 62 days, I will pedal 3,785 miles alongside of the rest of the TransAm crew towards San Francisco, California.

We, as a group, will be riding to raise awareness for Multiple Sclerosis (MS), an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks the sheaths of nerve cells of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). A person with MS can experience many different symptoms and no two patients will have the exact same symptoms. Some of the more common symptoms of MS are weakness, severe fatigue, impaired speech, numbness, blurred vision, and loss of muscle coordination.

I will personally be riding in honor of my sister, Katherine, who was diagnosed with MS several years ago. She continues to live with MS and fight each and every day, a symbol of strength for our family, both those connected to us by blood and those we have claimed through love.

I know that there are going to be days that suck, that hurt, that I will want to throw in the towel and say “nope,” but I know that every time it gets difficult, I will remember the warrior that is my sister and know that she has faced much worse. In those moments that challenge the soul (but more realistically physically and emotionally challenged), I will be able to find the strength because my sister has already proved that we can face anything, who has revealed her strength and courage through her fight with MS.

A couple weeks ago, while I was sitting in the Galley with some of the Stewies (Stewards who work in the dining facility here at McMurdo Research Station), one of them asked if I had ever done anything like this before. My response: “Nope,” with a huge grin on my face.

While I am slowly getting more confident in my biking abilities (still need to work on hills and mountain climbs), and there are parts of the adventure that terrify me (going down said mountains after the climbs), I know that I cannot do this adventure alone. I will have an amazing team of riders beside me (including Leads, support vehicles and drivers, and places to throw up a tent all organized) and my amazing group of family and friends supporting me.

Part of the adventure that is Bike the US for MS is that each rider raises funds to support not only the ride itself, but to support MS research and treatment clinics including UVA’s James Q Miller MS Clinic in Charlottesville, Virginia and to UCSF’s Weill Institute for Neurosciences and MS in San Francisco. The goal is for each rider to raise $1 for each mile that they ride.

I would love for each of you to partner with us as we pedal our way across the nation. If you are able and willing, I would appreciate any financial support you are willing to offer! You can go to my official fundraising page (click link here) to make a donation (I’m sure there are other ways you could get funds to me, but this is the easiest because I don’t have to handle the funds myself). If you are unable to support this adventure financially, I would encourage you to support us through your prayers and encouragement.

I’ll probably be posting daily updates either through Instagrams story feature (you can follow me at @skerr1932) both during training and the actual ride (I usually post art and random adventures).

When the World Goes Cold

The summer season is slowly coming to an end down here in the land of ice and snow. The weather is getting slightly cooler. The Polar Star (the USCG Icebreaker) has arrived and has begun to break apart the sea ice in front of the station. People have begun planning for their travel and return home once off the ice.

stk_3193 (edited)Oh, and penguins have arrived.

Some people are excited about getting back to a place where plants grow and it gets above the freezing mark. Others are about as happy about the prospect as a molting penguin.

Part of me wishes I could stay down here through the winter and into next year. Part of me doesn’t want to go back because I know how special this place has become for me.

Every day I get to witness the beauty of creation and the glory of the Father above in every facet of this place. Every day I wake up and get to explore with eyes full of wonder. I get the opportunity to go out and see things that most people will never witness.

stk_3194 (edited)And I’ve learned some things about the world and about myself in the process. I’ve learned that while this continent may be harsh, the people that come to this place are far from cold.

Sometimes, you do everything right and bad things still happen. And you cannot blame yourself for what could have been. You got to lift up your eyes and focus on being the best that you can be. To be there for others and to pour out love no matter what.

I learned that not everyone is going to like me, and that is okay. But no matter what people feel about me, I have still been called to love them unconditionally. My love for others will never change.

I’ve learned about independence from the opinions and expectations of others. The freedom of relying on the Lord above for strength to make it through the days. The comfort of the unknown and the mystery of creation.

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In a month I return from the lands of ice and snow. And while I look forward to returning next season, I will be glad to see the colors of life once again.

Sunshine, Christmas, and Ice

I find it kinda amusing that I keep on seeing posts on social media about the Winter Solstice and the joy of lengthening days and more daylight to come. And here I am, on the bottom end of the globe basking in endless sunshine. While all my friends have just experienced the longest night of the year, I will not see the sun set behind the horizon until the early morning hours of 20 Feb 2019.

It’s also fun to think about the fact that while the rest of my friends and family are enjoying Christmas Eve right about now, it is already Christmas morning here at McMurdo Research Station in Antarctica. And, to top it all off, it snowed last night and this morning, so we kinda have a white Christmas going on down here (ignore the fact that we almost always have snow but due to the 24 hours of sunlight, most of the fresh stuff has already melted).

STK_2735 (edited)Yesterday, we celebrated the holidays with a Christmas dinner of crab legs and lobster tails and all sorts of sweets and desserts. And for the first time this season, it felt like the holidays. Even if I’ve worked Sunday, Christmas Eve, and Christmas (today).

It’s definitely been a journey and a struggle these past couple weeks. It hasn’t been easy, as a community, dealing with the tragedy of loss that we faced together. It hasn’t been easy for some of our coworkers who have never spent this much time away from home. It hasn’t been easy as some of the only people working throughout the holidays.

But I still love it. There is something special about this place that reminds me of who I am. That reminds me of my Father in heaven who we celebrate and remember this day, when He came down to us as an infant, a sacrifice for our sins.

Even though we have all been working non-stop here in the land of ice and snow, I still smile because I know that all this that I do, from dispatching to creating art, answering phones to sharing love through actions and words, all of it is for the glory of my Lord and King. And when I walk through these frozen fields of ice and snow that surround us, I am reminded of His creation and the love He poured out in every detail that we get a chance to explore.

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Today we celebrate the simple fact that our Father in heaven sent down His own Son to become flesh and blood, fully human. He did this out of love to redeem us and to become the sacrifice that was required to bring to Himself.

So to this, I wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Coddiwomple

Every year around this time, I hear people talking about what the next year will bring. And in an effort to define what this will look like, many people choose a word, almost like New Years Resolution, based off their goals and how they wish to grow throughout the year to come.

I have never really been one to make New Year’s Resolutions or to try to make big changes at a specific time of the season. My goals tend to be more abstract, focusing on creativity and art, relationships and faith. Joy and love.

Last week, something strange occurred. A word jumped out at me and I fell in love with it. And I decided that it would be my word for 2019.

Unlike most words chosen, my word is not as abstract as others and describes how I want to walk through life, even if I don’t know the end result.

My word: Coddiwomple.

Coddiwomple: to travel in a purposeful manner towards a vague destination.

To go confidently, even if the exact end is not known. To move through life with faith, even if I don’t have everything figured out. To live fully, without looking back, to embrace the unknowns that God has placed before my feet.

I do not know where this year will take me, but I know I want to walk through it with confidence.

The Shadow on the Path

Two weeks ago, I hiked up to the top of Observation Hill overlooking McMurdo Research Station and the Ross Ice Shelf that extends out as far as the eye can see. Across the ice covered sound, the Royal Society Range stands proud, sentinels amongst the clouds standing guard in the distance.  Past the research station, the dark shape of Castle Rock stands contrasted against the slopes of Mt Erebus, whose steam covered peak rises like a crowned ruler over the whole of Ross Island.

On the top of Ob Hill stands a cross that can be seen from across the entire station below. Each morning as I walk from my dorm to the Galley in building 155, I lift my gaze to follow the winding trail that snakes its way up the hill to the wooden post and crossbeam that rises above the edge of the summit. It is a daily reminder of faith and beauty, but also the harshness of this place.

As I stood up on the top of the hill last week, I rested in the shadow of that cross.

I’ve always found comfort at the foot of the cross, be it here in the land of ice and snow, in churches and cathedrals around the world, or in the thoughts and prayers shared in silence with my Father above. Even in the shadows and the darkest of nights, His presence at the cross brings warmth and light to the soul.

Over the past week, I rest in that shadow once again.

A week ago, two coworkers passed away while performing preventative maintenance on a fire suppression system at a radio transmitter site in the area. Several days ago, we said God-speed as they started their journey back home.

As a child, I was afraid of the dark. But as I grew older, I found that the night held no less terrors than the light of day. My time as a dispatcher taught me that as well. Even here in Antarctica, where the sun will not set again until 20 Feb 2019, shadows fall across our paths.

In this life, shadows are not always physical darkness, but fears and doubts, sorrows and heartaches, pain and suffering.

I’ve lost friends and family before, to sickness and disease, accidents and acts of nature, but no matter how many times you experience a tragedy, it always hurts. It’s always going to hurt.  It’s how we know we are still alive.

That’s how we know that we are still capable of love.

Our faith in God is not defined by good and bad days, but the ability to love unconditionally through these events that shape our journey of life. To love when it would be easier to fly into anger and rage. To love when it hurts. When you don’t know if you have the strength to love any more. When you don’t want to love anymore.

The ability to love others unconditionally is what defines our relationship with God. To find the strength in Him to see the joy in the shadows and hope in the dark of night.

It is okay to feel sad, to shed tears, to question why, to be angry about things outside your control, but those feelings should never prevent us from loving fully. I know I’ve experienced all of those, even throughout this past week as this community of McMurdo Research Station has begun the process of grieving those lost to tragedy.

And as the procession passed to transport them back to their homes in the States, I turned to look up to Observation Hill to see that wooden cross silhouetted against the gray skies. And although the shadow of the hill fell upon those who had gathered to say farewell to our coworkers lost to tragedy, I knew that God would give us the strength to continue this journey.

In that shadow, I found peace and rest.

In the Land of Ice and Snow

Someone once told me that when you land in Antarctica, all you see is white snow for as far as the eye can see. I was told that it was a blinding, shapeless landscape where the horizon fades into nothingness. That no colors escaped the snow. And that the ice was cold.

Well, the truth is that Antarctica actually is cold. But not as cold as one would expect.  It’s a dry cold, so it could be single digit temperatures and still nice enough to wear a jacket. Or a sweater and a hat. Add some gloves and you’ll be good to go on a hike. If it’s windy, you may want an additional couple layers. Or you could just wear your Big Red and all your ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) gear and you’ll keep nice and toasty.

When we first arrived, the long days were continuing to grow longer. But when the sun dipped below the horizon, even for an hour or two, the temperatures plummeted and everything froze in the darkness. And then something beautiful happened a couple weeks ago.  The sun stopped setting.

The next time the sun sets on McMurdo Research Station on Ross Island, Antarctica will be near the end of February, as we all prepare to depart and go our separate ways. We will return to the States, different than when we left. Changed by the icy wind that continues to blow and the sun that never ceases to shine.

When I stepped off the C-17 and touched foot to snow, for a couple seconds, the bright glare of the light off the snow was blinding. On the plane, the light faded and the shadows gave relief to our eyes. After two weeks exploring the beauty that is Christchurch, we left the sights and sounds of the city and entered the unknown (some of us returned to what they have come to call home).

And through the bright white of the snow that surrounded Phoenix Airfield as we descended the steps of the aircraft and began our journey on the ice, our eyes were opened to the beauty that is this frozen landscape.

It’s not a stark white that spreads out as far as the eye can see, but a glimmer of colors that expose themselves in moments and glimpses. It is the blues and the grays of the snow drifts that creep their way across your path. It is the oranges and yellows that explode off the ice as sunlight reflects across its surface, exposing the dark lines of cracks and imperfections that stretch out in silence. It is the browns and dark outlines of volcanic rock that jut out from ground, exploding forth in mounds that tower over this place and contain a beautiful network or trails that lead you to vistas and memorials and hidden sights that you must seek out to find.

It is the vastness of the ice fields as far as the eye can see that draws forth a primal awe and wonder. It is the majesty of the distant mountain ranges that are half hidden in the mist and the clouds of the morning that draw you in to worship. It is the sound of the wind howling past your ears as its icy fingers caress exposed skin that is the song of worship that is this wilderness.

There are times when the blowing clouds of snow set in and the far off horizon vanishes beneath the white expanse of the unknown. When the banks of snow disappear into the distance and the forms that make up the landscape are hidden and lost to sight.

It is then, when the wilderness of this place is upon you, that it reminds you of how small you truly are. And it is then that worship becomes second nature, when your heart dances before creation, and each new sight reminds you of the love of a Lord that is in this place too.

I find myself smiling with joy in my time here, when everywhere I look reminds me of my God. Abba, my Father. I step outside my dorm each morning to see the memorial cross on top of Observation Hill and I am reminded of His sacrifice to be my Savior. I enter into the galley to witness the compassion and the companionship that is shared among friends and this community that is family and I am thankful that my Lord has allowed my path to cross each one here. I walk out onto the ice as I lead groups out to explore the pressure ridges and to witness the power of this place and I am reminded that even here, at the edge of the world, my King still reigns, just like the never ceasing light of the sun.

We often find ourselves surrounded by beauty. Be it here in the land of ice and snow. Or the mountains beneath the skies above. Or beside streams and trails that wind their way through the forests. In villages that emerge from the dust or cities that are filled with the swarm of humanity. If only we stop to notice what surrounds us.

When we stop to take it all in, we witness the glory of our God.