FJV Richard Barry (Omak ’10-11) shares about his four month journey home from his JV year while biking across the country:
On a Sunday late last June, I was sitting in Omak’s mission church. During my JV year, I found the mission a good place for thought: old, quiet, and dark. Some nights, I’d walk over from the JV trailer to sit in the empty pews, light a votive candle, and let a problem untwist itself. I went to mass that Sunday with a similar intention: my JV year as a legal assistant for the Northwest Justice Project ended soon, and the next step felt heavy on my mind.
During the Liturgy of the Word, I took a break from the soul searching to listen to the priest read a passage from Luke, Jesus Sending out the Seventy-Two.
“Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals…Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you.”
I liked that reading; it reminded me of my time in JVC Northwest. Months ago, I’d signed up for a year of service without really knowing what I’d gotten into or how it would turn out. When I arrived in Omak though, I discovered a whole community of friends who aided, mentored, and sustained my year.
I wanted my post-JV move to follow that trajectory, a leap and a landing; taking a risk and seeking out the help that could see me through.
Eventually, all these thoughts crystallized into a trip. I would take a long trip home from Washington State to Washington DC, from trailer door to my parent’s front step, and I would do it on a bike. It would be an adventure, but a humbling experience with lots of help needed. It was exactly what I wanted: a test for myself and an exercise in providence.
Unfortunately, since the training wheels came off, I had not done much biking and had no idea what a bike tour entailed. But once the commitment came, so did the help. A friend in Omak assisted me in picking out a used bike and lent me his bike trailer. Other friends let me borrow a sleeping bag, a tent, and cooking gear. My co-workers even gave me a gift certificate to get the bike tuned up.
Before long, my JV year ended and I was on the road. I had thought it would take a few hundred miles to build up “road karma,” but even during my first week, my first day, I felt guided and blessed, receiving unexpected kindness and charity from strangers and the broader JV community, alike.
During my opening hours on the bike, guys in a fruit truck saw me struggling up the hills along the Columbia River and stopped to give me two ripe peaches. That night I was fed and sheltered by two FJVs who met while serving in Omak, got married, and have since stayed. A few days later in Spokane, while sleeping on the hospitable JV Lavan House couches, I ran into a Gonzaga Jesuit who had facilitated my final JV retreat. After he heard about my venture, he pulled an REI gift card from his wallet and handed it over to me to use toward biking shoes. On my way out of Spokane, I crossed paths on the Centennial Trail with a traveling priest from Omak, who gave me a final Omak hug to send me on my way. And a week later, I was in Missoula, Montana piling into a car with the “Zoo” JVs to spend Labor Day weekend in Glacier National Park.
Throughout the whole Northwest leg of my journey, I was ushered along under the JVC aegis, asking for help and receiving it tenfold. When I had moved beyond the known JVC Northwest bounds, my housemate from Omak, Jeana Greco, joined the tour to bike a few miles from Salt Lake City, Utah to Abilene, Texas. Our time together became a JV community road show. We lived simply, pitching our tent on the roadside, eating PB&Js, and add-water pasta. Every night, we gave thanks for another day done and our continued living. Like a JV community, we endured the hardships: bad weather, flat tires, cold nights—but reveled in the joys, like cruising downhill through Zion Canyon at sunset with hands swinging easy by our sides and everything rushing past in a soft, day’s-end orange.
Four months and four-thousand miles later, I made it home. The last, dim lit miles into my neighborhood were surreal. I felt like Rip Van Winkle waking up after a hundred years, everything around me and in me seemed changed. I had many trip memories going through my head, but the most prominent and remembered were those instances of help, those times when a stranger offered food or a place to stay. My trip was concluding, but without those transformative moments of good will and charity I wouldn’t have been able to do a single mile. Those are the moments that will preserve the trip forever in my memory, and it’s those moments that keep encouraging me to go a little further down the road.