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Working in Tandem: Couple Turns Service Term into Biking Adventure

Colin & Monica Bock

Abbotsford, B.C.—"Hey, did you see what’s parked out front?" the man in the store gestured in disbelief. As usual, the one-of-a-kind nine-foot (2.3 metre), 200 lb. (90 kg.) green-seated tandem bicycle was attracting the attention and questions of other shoppers and passers-by.

Owners Monica and Colin Bock have been getting the same reaction everywhere since April 13, when they began the adventure of their lives, a four-month long journey on a recumbent tandem bicycle.

The Bocks, members of First Mennonite Church in Winnipeg, finished a two and a half year Mennonite Voluntary Service (MVS) term in Tucson, Arizona at the end of March. (MVS is a partnership program of Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA). Instead of flying or driving back to Manitoba, they decided to choose a much less conventional method of travel: bicycling. Their custom-made rig is the result of 18 months of planning, designing and construction, and the hands-on help of many people.

For the Bocks, a long-term bicycling journey is a natural fit. Colin Bock, 31, an engineer by profession, has enjoyed biking as a hobby for years. His Tucson MVS assignment involved working with a program that helped young people earn bikes of their own through reconditioning old bikes from recycled parts.

Monica Bock, 27, a music graduate of Canadian Mennonite Bible College, worked with young people through a school fine arts program, and for an emergency home repair program. Both reflect how everything about the Tucson assignment just came together.

"I had felt a call and had a desire to do VS," explains Colin. "I kept putting it off to do more practical things. When Monica left CMBC, I could leave my job, and I decided it’s now or never! We had no kids, no pets, no house."

With the job placements in bicycles and music, the pull to Tucson seemed a perfect fit. Monica recalls that they said to each other, "This is too good to be true. It’s providentially orchestrated."

Monica appreciated the chance to apprentice alongside someone more experienced in her two jobs, and found it gave her a better idea of what she might want to do after she gets back. The school fine arts program has helped her see more clearly that she might want to explore a career in music ministry.

"Our jobs made it seem very worthwhile," says Colin. They would recommend voluntary service for anyone who is "open to different possibilities and change and adjusting your lifestyle."

The Bocks have found that voluntary service was such an enriching experience that they wanted to evaluate its impact on their lives. One reason for the bike trip was to process their experience before settling back down in Winnipeg. They even extended their service assignment by half a year in order to allow more time to plan and construct their tandem bike, and to finish in the spring so they could ride in the summer.

Colin, who had dreamed of a long-range biking trip for years, spent much time planning the design for their bike. He designed the bike so he could sit in front and steer, and placed Monica’s seat in back six inches higher than his to allow greater visibility for her. The rig is specially designed for their body weights, though it could accommodate a reversal of positions if necessary.

As with any dream, though, sometimes adjustments have to be made. One hundred miles out of Tucson, the Bocks faced the harsh reality of the Arizona desert and realized they could not ride so far in desert conditions. A kind highway patrolman came to their rescue with "water, Gatorade and no lecture." Though they had hoped to pedal the entire way, they hired a U-Haul trailer to take their bike to the California coast and continued from there.

The couple has been grateful for the kindness of many other people along the way. They remember the Arizona motel owner who let them camp on his property and then use a room shower the next morning; the woman in a cold, windy California state park who gave them free firewood; the bike shop owner in San Francisco who offered them space to park their rig in his already-crowded shop; the man in Washington who invited them to camp in his back yard when they had nowhere else to go.

When the Bocks entered British Columbia in late June, they were halfway through their 4,000 mile (6,400 km) trip, and well settled into their routine of biking during the day, pitching their tent at night, and cooking simple one-dish meals. Their bike is always a great conversation starter. One frequently asked question is "How far do you go in one day?" Their answer puts things in perspective: "We go as far in a day as you do [by car] in 45 minutes."

By late August or early September, the Bocks hope to arrive in Winnipeg. Plans for the future are uncertain. One question now is whether to think of getting ahead financially, or to work in the non-profit sector which may be more personally rewarding. As Colin acknowledges, "MVS made me think of where my priorities are. It was a wonderful time of exploration. When money’s not an issue, the work becomes fun."

The Bocks will have a few more weeks to explore those questions as they continue on their journey across western Canada. Interested readers can follow their progress by logging on to their website at