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A cyclist's calling: Cross-country bike ride raises funds, spreads faith

BAXTER--Paul Shol was ready to sit down to a corn-on-the-cob feast in a Baxter park after a 90-mile journey by bicycle. And that was just Wednesday. The 29-year-old high school teacher was about 2,000 miles in to his cross-country trek when he ar...

Cyclist Paul Shol makes a stop at the Concordia College Cobber corn feed Wednesday in Baxter. He is giving away the book “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young along his route. (Kelly Humphrey, Brainerd Dispatch - Video)
Cyclist Paul Shol makes a stop at the Concordia College Cobber corn feed Wednesday in Baxter. He is giving away the book “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young along his route. (Kelly Humphrey, Brainerd Dispatch - Video)

BAXTER-Paul Shol was ready to sit down to a corn-on-the-cob feast in a Baxter park after a 90-mile journey by bicycle.

And that was just Wednesday. The 29-year-old high school teacher was about 2,000 miles in to his cross-country trek when he arrived in Baxter. He's endured head winds, a run-in with a field of sprinklers, a broken-down bicycle that forced him to hitchhike and a miscalculation that added 40 miles on top of his 100-mile route one day in Washington state. But Shol has a mission, and none of these obstacles have kept him from achieving it so far.

Business and individual sponsorship of his ride-which began in Florence, Ore., and will end in Bar Harbor, Maine-has garnered about $40,000 in donations for the Fargo-based nonprofit Legacy Children's Foundation. The organization is dedicated to assisting teens to succeed in school, build positive character and achieve a high school diploma. Shol said he's worked with the organization during his seven years as a high school math teacher at Fargo North High School and knew what good could be done with a funding boost.

"It's just a humongous support for those kids," Shol said. "I really believe in what they're doing. I think they make a difference for kids up there daily."

About a month after he began planning his trip, Shol said he felt a "tug at his heart" to do something for God with his journey. What came to mind was sharing a devotional book, which he said has been influential in his personal faith journey, with as many people as he could along the way. The book by Sarah Young is "Jesus Calling," a 365-day devotional Shol received as a gift from his great-aunt.

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"It has really meant a lot to me, and I think it means a lot to a lot of people the more I talk to people about it," Shol said. "Sarah Young has an amazing way to speak to people. She writes about scripture in her own message and it's fantastic."

His goal is to raise money along the way to order as many copies of the book as he can, which are shipped to communities Shol will stop in during his journey. So far, he's raised about $12,000 to purchase books for people.

"I've gotten about 1,000 books," Shol said. "I just love to think about 1,000 more people having those books. I know the U.S. is a big place and the world is a big place, but 1,000 more people is totally worth it to me. It's just the gift that keeps on giving. ... I'd love to see people pick up a book and then say, 'I'd love to support this.' It's my own personal ministry."

The Fergus Falls native passed through his hometown Tuesday night, where he's set to continue his teaching career this fall, before arriving in Baxter. Shol is also a 2009 Concordia College graduate and shared his message Wednesday with fellow Cobbers at one of its alumni corn feeds at Loren Thompson Park.

"I'm really excited to share particularly here, because we all have something in common," Shol said. "It's kind of like a little family there, at Concordia."

Although he still has another 2,000-plus miles to pedal, Shol is already thinking about other bicycle tours in his future to continue passing along the message of "Jesus Calling." He's hoping to end this ride with money in hand to fund books for a future ride.

"I think it'd be a blast to continue using some of my summer time as a teacher doing this," Shol said.

While thinking of how his journey can have a positive impact on others is top of mind, Shol said the solitude of his daily long-distance rides offers time to reflect and pray.

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"This trip has given me so much opportunity there, whether it's time on my bike alone-I mean, there's nobody else to talk to other than God, and so I do that a lot-or looking around and seeing God in nature," Shol said. "And then just the people I'm meeting. It's just amazing. All the opportunities to meet such great people and getting some God presence through them, too."

Visit www.facebook.com/paulslegacytour to follow along with Shol's daily rides eastward. To support Shol's effort financially, a check can be written to: First Lutheran Church, 619 Broadway N., Fargo, ND 58102. Write "Paul's Legacy Tour" in the memo.

Contact Shol via email at pmshol@cord.edu .

Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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