Trek to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless rides through La Salle, Bureau counties

Pastor will stay in Peru overnight Monday

Pastor Chuck Monts pedaled his way cross-country in 1978 and decided to try it again at age 61, this time in a fundraiser for America’s oldest mission.

Monday, the Presbyterian minister coasted into St. John’s Lutheran Church in Peru, which agreed to put him and wife Deb up for the night and put their money the Bowery Mission rather than into a hotel – which isn’t to say Monts isn’t tempted to spring for a king bed and spa.

“I am tired,” Monts admitted after dismounting at St. John’s. “I’m tired every day and I don’t ever think I have enough to go anymore. We’ve been very thankful for the generosity for the generosity of churches that have let us sleep over.”

But don’t worry, he’ll finish the long ride. When he set out to make the coast-to-coast trek from Los Angeles to New York City, it was to raise funds for the mission founded in the 1870s. Though he’s now a part-time pastor at a Presbyterian congregation in Pennsylvania, he had once worked full-time at the Bowery Mission while working part-time at a congregation on Long Island.

Biking for The Bowery Mission, chronicled on Facebook, began at the Union Rescue Mission in L.A. on June 5. Barring a setback Monts will ride into the Bowery Mission on July 31.

Though he isn’t as spry as when he pedaled cross-country during the Carter presidency, Monts has successfully logged 90 miles per day – “My legs have held up” – and is pleased with the money coming in. As of Monday, he’d amassed $30,000 to support the Manhattan-based mission that provides daily food and resources to the hungry and homeless. (He raised $7,000 on his first fundraiser trek in ’78.)

“We’ve got a long way to go,” Monts said, acknowledging a lofty goal of $100,000. “When I’m biking I’m trying to figure out how to connect with more people.”

He’s already connected with some local supporters, however. When Monts mapped out his route he phoned churches in the vicinity and got St. John’s pastor, Tom Redig, to take the call. Redig readily agreed to provide dinner, laundry and a soft bed for Chuck and Deb, who’s tagging along.

Alicia Yuvan of Peru tagged along for part of the ride Monday. Yuvan is a member of St. John’s who thought it’d be fun to escort Monts into town despite a decidedly wet forecast.

“I took a morning bike ride and got soaked,” Yuvan said. “Then, I took a ride with Pastor Chuck and, it must have been God’s blessing, because we had no rain from Hennepin to Peru.”

Redig, however, said he wanted no part of any long bike ride.

“One of the questions I’m going to ask tonight is, ‘How do you stop your butt from hurting?’ ” Redig said, chuckling. “Because after about 10 miles, I’m ready to get off that bike.”

Redig had, however, been a competitive swimmer who knows exactly what fuel a high-performance athlete needs and planned to set his table accordingly.

“It’s all pasta today,” Redig said of the Monday night dinner plans. “Tomorrow we’ll give him some proteins. We’ll hand him an omelet or something and then kick him out the door and send him on his way.”

Monts said the trip has had some perils – he battled dehydration in the Mojave Desert – but also many unexpected delights. They’ve taken in spectacular sights included the little-visited Canyonlands National Park in Utah.

After he dismounts his bike for the last time in the Big Apple, he and Deb are headed to a little cabin in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania for what’s shaping up to be an extended stay.

“I don’t know how long it’s going to take for me to relax,” Monts said. “It’s going to be a while.”

Tom Collins

Tom Collins

Tom Collins covers criminal justice in La Salle County.