A cloud-shrouded sun just peeked over horizon Friday morning as Larry Heyn sat tall in the saddle pedaling his way eastward out of Great Bend.
He and his bicycle hugged the U.S. 56 shoulder. The cool still of the morning was only broken by the hum of his tires on the asphalt, the rhythmic whirring of his pedal strokes, and the occasional birds chirping and cars whizzing past.
About 60 more miles remained before he reached his next stop in McPherson. His previous Kansas over-nights were in Dodge City and Kinsley.
“I love this time of day,” said Heyn, a 67-year-old retired medical device engineer, as he cranked away with a steady cadence. It is indeed peaceful.
But, it is not all about peace and quiet for the suburban Minneapolis, Minn., man. He is biking across America to raise awareness of child abuse, but more importantly, he invites everyone to take personal responsibility to eliminate it.
One could call this a calling for the casual cyclist-turned cross-county adventurer.
“I am not asking for donations for myself or any specific organization,” he said. “I’ve had a desire to bike across the United States for many years but it didn’t become a priority for me until I had a reason.”
That reason, to raise awareness of “child abuse in all its ugly forms and to invite people to take action to stop it,” came while watching a talk given by Dallin H. Oaks, a former Utah Supreme Court justice, entitled “Protect the Children.”
“That really shot through my heart,” he said. “That’s the main mission.”
Heyn embarked on this 3,200-mile self-financed journey from San Diego, Calif., to Washington, D.C., on April 7. With an average speed of 15 miles per hour and riding about 55 miles per day, he hopes to complete the trip in 12-14 weeks. He rides every day except Sundays and when the weather is very nasty.
Debi, his wife of 32 years, supports his ride. She follows along in the “sag wagon” (a used recreational vehicle hauling supplies, gear and other essentials). “There was no question she was going to come with me,” he said, adding it would be difficult to do it without her. She drives ahead, buys the groceries and cooks the meals.
They find campsites for the RV along the route. In all, they’ll pass through 12 states.
He typically mounts up and heads out around sunrise. “I want to beat the heat,” he said, adding he reaches his next destination by late morning.
For the first stretch of the trek, he said he’d been blessed with good riding conditions and tail winds. “It was like I had a guardian angel."
Then he hit Kansas. “It was back to reality,” he said of the stiff gusts that blasted him in the Sunflower State.
But, its about more than sweat, stiff quads and a sore posterior. It’s about more than mileage and pedal cadence.
“Once you have learned about child abuse in its many forms I hope you will feel compelled to do something to stop it,” he said. “Please don’t procrastinate.”
One may consider making a financial donation to an organization that combats child abuse. But, “what I would prefer though, is that you take personal action” and get involved, he said.
He’s already had people pitch in to build his website, make banners for the RV and produce logos for is project, all at no cost.
“Everyone I’ve talked to along the way knows somebody who was abused,” he said. “It’s so prevalent.”
According to Heyn’s Shield the Children website, during 2015, an estimated 683,000 children in the 50 States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico were determined to be victims of abuse or neglect. Nationally, 75.3 percent of victims experienced neglect and 17.2 percent were physically abused.
For 2015, an estimated 1,670 children died due to child abuse or neglect – a rate of 2.25 children per 100,000 in the national population.
Heyn has three children and five grandchildren. Since retiring six years ago, he has volunteered as a missionary for my church in Palmyra, N.Y., and Yellowknife, in the Northwest Territories of Canada.
Besides biking, he likes to do woodworking, genealogy, and playing with his grandchildren.
One can follow him on Facebook at Shield the Children or shieldthechildren.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.