By Woody Woodrick
ROCKY SPRINGS — A little history, a little fellowship and a lot of exercise.
Participants in the first Circuit Ride got all three Saturday on the 28-mile bicycle ride along the Natchez Trace Parkway. The event was an unofficial start of the 18th session of the Mississippi Annual Conference.
“We thought this was something we could contribute to the bishop’s initiative (on health and wellness),” said the Rev. Jim Biedenharn, who helped organize the event. “We tried to do it last year but got started too late. This year we got some support and it just sort of grew.”
Health and wellness is one of five initiatives adopted by the Annual Conference in 2005.
The event was designed for riders of all abilities. It started at the John Bell Williams Airport in Hinds County south of Clinton on the Natchez Trace. It finished at Rocky Springs United Methodist Church, part of a historic stopping point along the Trace. The 28-mile ride had two water stops along the way, and participants were encouraged to ride whatever distance they felt comfortable. All were invited to join a brief devotional time at Rocky Springs UMC, built in 1837 and the third-oldest Methodist building in Mississippi.
The ride was the first of two fitness-related events scheduled for this year’s conference. The other is a 5K run/walk planned for 6:30 a.m. Tuesday at Christ United Methodist Church in Jackson.
“The Circuit Ride on the Natchez Trace is a joyful way to relive our history while celebrating God's gift of health and strength,” said Bishop Hope Morgan Ward, who made the full ride along with her husband Mike Ward. “I am thankful for the adventuresome group who braved the June heat to make the first annual Circuit Ride a great success.”
About 25 riders took part, with about half going the full 28 miles. The route approximates that used by circuit-riding preachers during the early 1800s.
Joyce White of Jackson helped Biedenharn promote and administer the race, along with members of his Jackson church Epworth UMC. “Jim decided on the route, and I helped with the layout and telling the riders how to prepare,” said White, a member of Aldersgate UMC who bikes on a regular basis. “I gave them a few tips for having a safe ride.”
She also encouraged friends to start riding, and she said some did.
The ride was relatively safe. The only casualty was the Rev. James Milner of Jackson who fell and sustained scrapes and bruises, but was not believed to be seriously hurt.
In addition to the 25 riders, some 15 volunteers manned water stations and provided transportation for riders and their bicycles back to the start point.
Phillip Pardue, who attends Alta Woods, has been taking a spinning class at a health club. Spinning involves riding a stationary bike that simulates riding on a road. He said it was his third ride on his bike. “It was a great ride,” said Pardue. “There were some fast people up front.”
Pardue and others who finished first completed the course in a little over two hours.
Biedenharn said he hopes the ride sparks more than just an event as part of Annual Conference. “We’ve got a corps of riders who want to reach out and may do three or four rides a year,” he said.