Day 16: When Strangers Become Family

Hi y’all!

Christina here! I truly cannot believe we are actually doing this thing! We have been biking for a little over over two weeks - it feels like a lifetime and that the hills may never end, but the girls at The Refuge Ranch are worth every thousand foot hill, every midnight Charley-horse, and every donated pizza. (Disclaimer: We have eaten pizza a lot - at this point we bleed marinara sauce. Don’t get me wrong, I love pizza. I am grateful for donated pizza. But man our bodies don’t particularly like pizza when we jump back on our bikes after lunch and climb hills. To whoever told me the pacific coast is all downhill - you, my friend, are very wrong.)

We woke up at Bullards Beach State Park and crawled out of our sleeping bags from our mansion of a tent. It was an exceptionally slow morning - a nice change from our up and at ‘em routine. We were greeted by the Berry family, our sweet campsite neighbors that we had met the night before, they handed us breakfast burritos cooked over their morning fire. Ray also came to our campsite to say one last goodbye before we continued down the coast. He brought us chocolate milk, biscuits and gravy and donuts! If there’s one thing I have learned on this trip is that these 10 girls can always eat. We talked further about The Refuge and our mission, explaining what we have planned for after the ride. All the while we hung out with the Berry’s four sweet kids plus Ray’s dog Blue. We all became 10 sweet big sisters to the Berry clan after half of their kids snug in and out of the van, called our loved one’s, and even served as dog handler’s to sweet big Blue. 


My favorite part of every morning is when the team gathers together to pray before we ride. Just like every other day we gathered, but today was different. Today we were gathered accompanied by a community of people we have met that have all found special places in our heart. We prayed for one another and said our goodbyes. These were hard goodbyes though, the kind that hurt because you both know you will never see one another again, but are overwhelmingly grateful that our paths crossed even for a few hours. 


The team had a whopping 27 mile ride to the most amazing host home where we met two angels Mary Jane Labelle and John Huttl. We were immediately greeted with hugs and welcomed into MJ’s beautiful home. We were escorted to the natural swimming hole in the back yard and told to relax. The team enjoyed the afternoon lounging on the sandy beach while John grilled chicken, hamburgers and hotdogs! Again, never surprised by the amount we can eat. I had the privilege to be MJ’s sous chef! We bonded over our love for red wine and cheese and made salads with fresh veggies from the garden. Oh and I can’t forget the chocolate cake! While the food cooked MJ took me on a tour on her gator cart through her property. With wine in hand she proceeded to show me her magical garden filled with various types of fruit and nut trees and baby Icelandic chickens running around. 

The team gathered for dinner and shared with John and MJ our passion for The Refuge filled with crazy stories from our ride so far. After dinner John took us on a tour around Port Orford and showed us his 200 acre lot where he is building his house! He is truly the kindest man who loves Mariah Carey! I personally didn’t get to spend a lot of time with John, but so many of my teammates have shared how much he impacted them. 

Today I felt known, loved and cared for. The people we meet along the coast are more than just generous passing strangers they have become family. It’s wild to think that a community of friends we have met in different cities that have different backgrounds and stories to share, but they all have caught onto our mission and have generously cared for us. Needless to say the ride would not exist without the generosity of others. The team is truly grateful for every donated meal, every donation and every conversation.

Thank you, again, Ray, The Berry Family, John and MJ. We are so incredibly blessed by you. 

Christina Van Essen