By SAM HOUSEHOLDER
THE GOSHEN NEWS
It started, as many of these things do, as a late-night dorm conversation.
A “pipe dream” Goshen College senior Michael Miller called it.
Opportunity, though, arrived and the three Goshen College seniors seized it: a chance to travel to South America and bicycle back to Indiana, a road trip of more than 10,000 miles.
The seniors, Miller, from Waterloo, Iowa, Levi Smucker, from Lancaster, Pa., and Abe Stucky, of Pittsburgh, Penn. and their fourth friend, Goshen native Matthew Helmuth, currently living in Oregon, decided to take the trip upon graduation Sunday from the college.
The group will travel to Paraguay Wednesday to take a three-week class called “History of Anabaptist Mennonites in South America.”
After the course is done, they will saddle up on their bikes on May 22 and start the 11-month journey back to the United States.
“The two kind of just clicked together,” Miller said. “That we could take this class and then bike the rest of the way back.”
The group has biked together before. Stucky and Smucker biked home to Pennsylvania before their sophomore year at college and along with four other friends they bicycled up to Michigan. The trio also took a trip to Chicago back in February as a warm up to their Latin America expedition.
The group has planned out their trip carefully, allowing more time when they cross the Andes mountain range and even planning two months in Ecuador to do internships and work studies.
Smucker will be doing an internship with an organization called MAP International, a Christian health organization that helps assist those living in poverty around the world, according to the organization’s website.
During that time, Stucky and Miller will be working with the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, helping organic farmers in exchange for food and shelter.
The trip, they said, developed out of an urge to learn and travel.
“Just the biggest thing about this trip is just learning,” Smucker said. “If there’s one thing, it’s learning, having an adventure, stepping out of our comfort zones.”
The bicycling element allows them to be more engaged and become immersed with the people and cultures they meet along the way.
“That’s one of the things I really like about bike touring, you’re forced to get to know people,” Miller said. Because you have to get to know your surroundings and even to find a place to sleep for the night, you have to ask around and often times people are really generous.”
Smucker said bike traveling has benefits because of the slow nature of the transportation, it forces the riders to “figuratively stop and smell the roses, by getting to know people,” he said.
The three agree that they want to learn more Spanish and to connect with Christians and Anabaptists along the way and learn more about how Anabaptists in Latin America live.
Anabaptist, according to the men, is the branch of Christianity which the Mennonite denomination is part of.
The three felt like post-graduation is the right time in their lives to tackle an extensive trip like this because of the flexibility they have with finishing school and not yet starting careers.
“Wanting to travel and see the world while we’re young and don’t have any obligations, that’s definitely a part of it,” Stucky said.
Part of the curriculum at Goshen College is a Study Service Term or SST, where students travel abroad for a semester of learning and service projects. None of the three did their SST in a Latin American country. Miller studied in Morocco, Stucky in China and Smucker is currently participating in the new domestic SST program by working with the local Latin residents.
“I’ve learned a lot more about the Latino presence in Goshen, that’s whet my appetite for this trip, to actually be immersed in that sort of culture,” Smucker said.
The graduates have a website, panamericacycle.wordpress.com for those interested in contacting them or just tracking their journey.
The SSTs, Stucky said, have helped them have a desire to be taken out of their comfort zone.
“Wanting to be in situations where you’re uncomfortable and then finding true meaning behind that,” Stucky said. “Being able to be comfortable in situations where we’re foreigners and we’re minorities.”
The group is still working to make contacts and arrange to meet people who can possibly assist them with housing along their route. The graduates have a website, panamericacycle.wordpress.com for those interested in contacting them or just tracking their journey.
The three expect a tireless experience that will be demanding, but incredibly rewarding, too.
“(It’s) learning something about yourself and learning about other ways of thinking and doing things,” Miller said.
That learning starts Wednesday.