Think Bibles and bikers are an unlikely combination? Not to this gang. For almost 15 years, a group of FHU Bible teachers, along with a few of their friends, have taken extended motorcycle tours.
The Band of Brothers (BoB) consists of charter members Mark Blackwelder and Kippy Myers and former Bible faculty Mark Hooper and David South. Other members are fellow Bible teacher Ralph Gilmore, IT head Greg Maples, former director of FHU campus security Rodney Weaver, and Doug Douthitt, an elder of the church in Joplin, Missouri. Richard Brumback III, also an FHU Bible teacher, is the newest member of the group. Alumnus and former MSYC Director Frank Bradford is among past members, too.
Although he might not agree, Blackwelder seems to be the leader of the pack. “The leader should be the most experienced, knowledgeable and talented of the group,” Myers said. “Although he encourages others of us to take the lead, the consensus is that he needs to be our fearless leader, and we appreciate his leadership,” Myers explained.
The group typically covers 3,000-4,000 miles over about a 10-day period each summer during what they call their "big trips.” Their longest trip extended to 4,500 miles. Their goal is to ride across the United States.
Bible and philosophy professor Ralph Gilmore took his first long ride with the group in 2010. They rode for nine days and covered five states: Tennessee, Missouri, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Colorado and then back home, of course. “I have little idea of what we saw,” Gilmore said. “My job was to follow tail lights.” He does, however, recall spending the night in Taos where, he said, “The bedbugs were so bad they could have carried the sheets off.”
This year’s trip circled Lake Michigan, going through Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky and then back home. They also crossed into Canada for a bit. The highlight for newcomer Brumback was stopping in St. Louis for a baseball game and getting to see Albert Pujols return to Busch Stadium for the first time in 10 years. Changing weather was something of an obstacle, however. “We drove through beautiful, sunny days, but also ended up riding in some serious rainstorms. Waterproof boots are very good at holding in water once it gets inside,” he said.
“Although I have ridden motorcycles my whole life, I had not been a part of a group ride like this before. There were days we rode well over 500 miles, and that takes a bit of getting used to!” Brumback said.
The BoB chooses each year’s destination based on states they haven’t visited, which is becoming a harder chore since some members have already ridden all of the continental states. Having chosen a general direction or destination (northeast or Yellowstone, for example), they “look for the twistiest and most scenic roads we can find along the way there and back,” Blackwelder said. “Sometimes we just make a giant loop to no place in particular, just because there are great roads we want to explore.”
“Think about it this way,” he said. “The roads you might hate to travel in your car because they are full of sharp turns and elevation changes; those are the ones we love the most!”
Although it is hard to choose a favorite, Blackwelder lists the Million Dollar Highway in Colorado and the roads in West Virginia. “The truth is,” he said, “as long as we can stay off the interstate and ride on roads that wind through the woods somewhere, we are thrilled.”
A trip to Mexico stands out to Myers. “It’s probably my favorite because we spent most of our time in my home state of Texas. The hill country has a severe, harsh, sort of beauty to it,” he said.
So, how does one become a “brother?” “I think that the bottom line is that a fellow must have a deep love for motorcycling and the patience to put up with multiple weird people for several days in a row,” Myers said.
Once in, members need to enjoy eating at BoB headquarters, aka Dairy Queen, and staying in “cheapo” motels, according to Myers. And a couple of other things: “You must be willing to wear BoB t-shirts on a regular basis and refrain from shaving,” he added.
As much as they enjoy the scenery and the thrill of the road, Blackwelder said, “The greatest part of it is being together. We get away from work and schedules and deadlines, and just relax. Out on the road we are not defined by our professional roles. We are just men enjoying something that we love, and we come home refreshed and ready to take on whatever challenges we might need to face next.”
“Riding with the Band of Brothers has been one of the most fulfilling experiences in my life,” Gilmore said.
“There are times when it's almost magical to me,” Myers said. “Such as riding all day with a group of guys until the sun is setting. And as we near our homes, one rider after another peels off and waves ‘so long for now,’ then another peels off, then another, and then you are left alone thinking about a great day of riding with men whom you love and admire, men who are all trying to help each other get to heaven. And thinking back on the day, you can't help but ‘enjoy the ride’ with a band of Christian brothers.”