What do rubbing noses with lions and being chased by elephants have to do with having morning classes at Juneau Adventist Christian School? Everything, if you're listening to an unexpected guest by the name of Gary Findlay, world cyclist.
I found him camped in a tent next to the door in our breezeway, trying to stay dry from the incessant rain. He knew that camping near churches (or a church school) would find him in the company of caring people, and that he would be safe, while he waited for his ferry that evening.
Over a cup of hot cider, Findlay explained the he was on the return of a cycling trip up the Alcan Highway, intending to complete the Haul Road to Prudhoe Bay. The nonstop rain had made trekking through the mud just a bit too much, and he was on the return side headed south to Washington state.
Recognizing an incredible "teachable moment," we hastily rearranged our class schedule, and right after worship, launched social studies, with our map study covering the globe, as he described his adventures over the last 14 years.
From British Columbia to Baja Mexico, through Central America and down the west coast of South America, through the Andes and down to the tip at Cape Horn, (yes - he did see penguins!) was one of his first travels. On this trip, he found his favorite place in the high plateaus of Bolivia, where the light gives gorgeous colors to the surroundings.
Another trip took him through Scandanavia, from the very northern tip of Norway (latitude almost the same as Point Barrow) though Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark, then on through many European countries. In addition, he later covered Turkey, Iran, Nepal and India, where he had a wreck with a motorcycle that kept him from cycling for four years.
Plans are to return there, after he first covers Australia and New Zealand, to see if he can find the spot where the accident occured.
His scariest trip with beasts was on the trip from South Africa up through the eastern countries of Africa, where he was chased by an angry bull elephant, who thought he was trying to annoy his mate and her calf. He was so close, he could have swatted the elephant's trunk!
Bike pedals flying, he thought for sure he was done, but for some reason, the pachyderm stopped, raised its trunk and shook its ears and quit the chase. Earlier on this trip, he had visited a chainlink-fenced preserve, and was fascinated by the lions up next to the fence. Findlay squatted down, looked the lion in the eye, and rubbed noses with him. The cat started to rub its head on the fence, so he reached in and scratched him behind the ears.
For all of us, we were curious what started his journey in cycling. He said that 14 years ago, he decided to sell everything except one home to come home to, and lighten his load to experience people and places first hand. He has found that most people are kinder than we give them credit for in other countries, even those that are considered our enemies, like Iran. He doesn't own a car, carries no cell phone or laptop, and has fun learning about new people and places, as well as their food. (Sheep brains was the strangest dish he had!)
As he left the school, he promised to send us an e-mail and some pictures from time to time when he reaches a place that he can do so. He left us with a sense of possibilities and appreciation of hard work, perseverance, other cultures and countries, as well as God's creatures.
Nickie Linder is a teacher and principal at Juneau Adventist Christian School.