It was not the Tour de France so the leader wasn't wearing a yellow jacket but drivers waiting for a red light on Bell Blvd in Bayside still did a double take when two men in a seated position peddled up the lane preparing to make a left turn onto Union Turnpike. As they turned, curious motorists stretched they necks to read the sign "Hike and Bike for Life 1999" which was mounted to the back of their life cycle.
Sweating profusely and in need of water, cyclists Chris Slattery and Father Peter West (a Priest for Life from the Archdiocese of Newark) exited their bike Aug. 4 to pray 10 Hail Marys outside a doctor's office (at the corner of Bell Blvd. and Union Turnpike) where abortions are performed. The office, which is located adjacent to American Martyrs Church, ironically was the parish's rectory some years back.
The 112-mile trip commenced with a Mass at Immaculate Conception Church in Stapleton, S.I. on Aug. 1. Two tours one for hikers and the other for bikers were being conducted simultaneously through the five boroughs, visiting a total of 82 sites where abortions are performed. During the Brooklyn and Queens tour, the hikers and bikers visited 45 sites. The Tablet Caught up with the bikers at their first stop in Queens.
"We didn't even know about this place until Eleanor Ruder (director of Bridge to Life) told us about it," explained Slattery holding a map of Queens which highlights the walking and bike paths. "There are so many of these death sites located throughout the city some small like this place here, but because of time we can't even get to them all."
The Rhoades bike, which seats four, two peddlers and two passengers, had already gone 60 miles since crossing the Bronx and Queens border. With a full day of cycling ahead of them, the pro-life bikers spoke of one of the dilemmas they faced the night before. "We spent the night in the basement of the Sisters for Life convent in the Bronx, just over the Throgs Neck Bridge," Slattery explained. "We had no idea how we were going to get over the bridge (which doesn't have a bike lane). I told the sisters if you pray for us to find a way, I will come back and give you all a ride. "Just a little after morning rush hour, we pulled up to the toll both and the worker said, "Are you crazy? You can't bike across this bridge!" With that administrators of Bridges and Tolls came over to us offering us assistance. They placed our bike on a flatbed and drove us across the bridge. The nuns had found us a way!"
The purpose of the Hike and Bike for Life is to raise awareness and funds to aid pregnant teens and women in crisis. Both cyclists and walkers sold tee shirts and hats, solicited mile sponsors and flat donations to help them with their pro-life cause. "This is where my work takes me, so this is where I need to be - on the streets talking to people about this terrible act of abortion," said Father West. "Priests for Life are devoted to defending life, and we are always searching for new ways to do it more effectively. This tour is a way to be more vocal and active in protecting the unborn."
"We have seen and met some very interesting people and it's great to see how, they react when they see us peddling down the street," Slattery said. "When we rode through Harlem, the kids came running up to us, asking us what we are doing and can they have a ride. Some them jogged alongside us as we made way to various sites. It was great." The bikers and hikers have had their share of mishaps. For the bikers, a flat tire, and the hikers lost a walker, who was later found praying in a church. There have also been the extreme conditions with which to contend.
''The hills and roads can be very grueling but we just keep filling our bodies with lots of water," Slattery explained. "It's a great recreational way to draw attention to expectant mother care, so we don't mind the challenge." Bikers from St. Stanislaus, Greenpoint, and Chris Slattery will load their bikes in a trailer and drive to Niagara Falls, then bike back to Brooklyn, arriving Aug. 18.