Riding for Insight And Understanding

By Barbara Wolcott
Photographs by Nadia Borowski Scott

An annual 12-Points Bike Ride lets Scout youth and family members in the Ventura County Council learn more about the meaning of the Scout Law while gaining a deeper appreciation of different religious faiths.

At 7 o'clock on a Saturday morning in February, the parking lot of St. Francis of Assisi Episcopal Church in Simi Valley, Calif., was crowded with bicycles and riders of all sizes and ages.

From a little girl on a pink 16-inch beginner's bicycle to older riders on titanium road racers and rugged mountain bikes, more than 500 Scouts, family members, and support riders were preparing to set out on the Ventura County Council's fifth annual 12-Points Bike Ride.

The ride of slightly more than 13 miles through the streets of Simi Valley and adjacent communities scheduled stops at nine houses of worship and three parks. At each location, a representative of one of 12 religious groups—including Christian, Jewish, Islamic, and other spiritual communities—would talk briefly about the significance of their religious beliefs. Each speaker would then relate those beliefs to one of the 12 points of the Scout Law (see sidebar "12 Points for Stopping and Learning" ).

Hosted by the council's Conejo Valley and Ronald Reagan Districts, the experience promotes religious tolerance, as participants learn about a broad spectrum of beliefs, and reinforces the 12 points of the Scout Law as guidelines for living.

A stop before starting

By 8 a.m. all bicycles had received required safety checks, and the riders were divided into two groups. The actual riding would have to wait, however, because the St. Francis of Assisi church was the first planned "stop."

The first group of about 250 riders entered St. Francis to hear the church's rector, the Rev. Steve J. Dean, address the first point of the Scout Law: "A Scout is trustworthy."

At the United Methodist Church, Scouts enter to hear a talk on "Obedient."

In his talk, he urged Scouts to give meaning to that point by being truthful and keeping promises in their daily lives. Living by the Scout Law helps a young person build "habits to take you into adulthood," he counseled.

At 8:20, as the first riders exited the church, the second 250 entered through another door and were ready by 8:25 to hear Father Dean repeat his presentation. The smooth transfer of groups was an early and well-coordinated example of the extraordinary planning by the event organizers.

While Father Dean was addressing his second audience, the first group of bicyclists set out on a 1.6-mile ride to the next stop, St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church. On this leg and for the rest of the day's ride, they were supported by an enthusiastic group of Venturers, older Boy Scouts, and adult volunteers (see sidebar "Planning a Ride for 500").

Some support members rode bicycles, helping younger riders from straying or falling behind. Others followed in vehicles or were stationed along the route to help any rider who became too tired to continue. (The few cyclists who required assistance were able to continue by car.)

Ponder and remember

At the remaining 11 stops each speaker left the riders with more observations and insights to ponder and remember.

For example, at Stop 4, Brother Delbert Steele of the Simi Valley California Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints discussed the meaning of Friendly.

Troop 718 brothers Tyler and Adam King compare notes as they study the hymnal at Trinity Lutheran.

"Scouting binds us together and involves us to be of service to others," he said, encouraging the Scouts to do so in a manner affable enough to "put a smile on someone's face."

Lunch was set for Rancho Simi Community Park, where the first riders arrived at 11:20. But before eating hot dogs and hamburgers that volunteers from two area church groups prepared, the riders listened to Imam Ahmed Patel, spiritual leader of the Islamic Center of Conejo Valley, discuss the Scout Law's sixth point, Kind.

"We are told we are custodians of the earth and must do good while here," Imam Patel said. "We must look out for each other and the earth. Put good things into a personal account and then see that it affects others to do the same." In the Scout Law, the word Kind "says I care and you matter to me. It is a state of mind."

Two stops later, at Simi Valley's Atherwood Park, the riders heard a representative of the Bahá'í Faith, a world religion with more than five million believers in more than 230 countries.

The Bahá'í Faith has no clergy and encourages members to take leadership in turn, so 12-year-old Girl Scout Vadi Eshmailzadeh talked to the group about Cheerful. She said her faith believes in unity and equality, and that the two are in harmony, like the wings of a bird. Both are necessary to fly.

She added that being cheerful is easy in good times, but the true sign of happiness is to be cheerful when things are difficult.

Trinity Lutheran's Bob McKinney addresses "Thrifty".

About 1.2 miles and nine minutes later, Trinity Lutheran Church's minister of education and youth, Bob McKinney, greeted the first group of riders. He discussed Thrifty, the ninth point of the Scout Law. One way a Scout demonstrates being thrifty is by using time, energy, and resources wisely, he pointed out. "The Scout Law is not just a list, it's a character builder; and [that's why] the words 'Eagle Scout' matter a great deal on a résumé."

Stop 10 was at the YMCA's park, where Rabbi Michele Paskow of Simi Valley's Congregation B'nai Emet talked about the meaning of Brave.

She told the Scouts that Jews have continued to exist for so long because they improvise, adapt, and overcome. And "To survive, one must have value," she said. "It is necessary to shift enough to survive and retain enough to matter, like the prism with many colors and diversity."

"Brave" in the Scout Law means when others are doing wrong, you stand up and be counted, she noted. "Be the better person and sanctify life at the same time by your actions."

The last leg

The next-to-last stop was the Church of the Living Christ, to hear a talk on the Scout Law's 12th and final point, Reverent.

By 5 o'clock the two groups were back at their starting point, St. Francis of Assisi Episcopal Church.

As they prepared to depart for home, some riders discussed the day's adventure.

"Of all the Scouting my two sons have done, there's never been an event like this," observed Troop 753 Scouter Care Butler. "It was the first time where [everyone could participate together] on a 'level playing field.' Wolf Cub Scouts were riding alongside Eagle Scouts."

Rabbi Michele Paskow talks about the Torah.

Butler marveled at the variety of persons the group met. "Throughout the day, I was moved by talking with so many different people. And that's what the event is all about—a perfect reflection of the Scouting movement, which includes so many diverse individuals."

She said a previous 12-points ride had helped her younger son, Camden, 15, to become a more critical thinker, reflective of others and their history.

"When we got home I told my husband that we had just participated in one of those 'mountaintop experiences.' Afterward, the conversations went on for so much longer, at mealtimes and even out doing errands when we passed the places we had visited on the rides and remembering what was said."

The 2006 ride was certain to have left similar impressions on most of the Scouts and family members who shared the daylong journey of insight and understanding.

Barbara Wolcott is a freelance writer who lives in San Luis Obispo, Calif.

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