Mark Schultz is not just a famous Christian singer and songwriter; he is a biking fanatic, and he's proved it with his coast-to-coast bike tour.
The Platinum-selling artist just finished his Across America bike tour – starting in Newport Beach, Calif., and ending in Portsmouth, N.H. – on which he raised $250,000 for disadvantaged orphans and widows. The trip took exactly two months, and raised proceeds for the event's sponsor, the James Fund – a non-profit organization founded by Family Christian Stores to meet the needs of orphans and widows in distress.
After taking a week of rest after his long haul, the singer finally felt energized enough to tackle an interview with The Christian Post. In it, he reflected on what the tour meant to him and difficulties that arose on the path.
CP: First off, you have just finished your Across America bike tour to raise funds for in need widows and orphans on July 6. Specifically, how was the physical aspect of the ride? You covered some 3,500 miles, so were there specific points that were extremely difficult?
Schultz: Yeah, I think the first week I would say. Your body has to get used to riding everyday, you know, 80-100 miles a day, and it was just something I wasn't used to with my body. At some point in time, it finally clicks in your head that, 'All right, we're really doing this,' and your body goes, 'OK.' But it sure doesn't want to make that switch.
You know, another tough time was going across Missouri. Nobody told me that going across Missouri … is really like a roller coaster. There's not a flat road in Missouri. So that was a little bit tough. And I think the mountains and things in Arizona and in New Mexico [was difficult too].
It seems like the farther east we got, the better I felt. As a matter of fact, I had a day where I did 170 miles across Kansas, and I think it was 200 miles across the state of New York at one time.
CP: Looking back at the struggle to finish the tour, what was it that helped you overcome that, and are you glad that you attempted the feat that you did?
Schultz: Yeah, you know what? I think one of the biggest things was to have my crew with me. It felt so good not to be out there by myself, and on the day that I did 170 miles, every time I passed my crew, they were doing something stupid on the side of the road. At one point in time, the guy driving the bus was actually on top of the bus with his shirt off swinging and cheering me on as I was going across the hundred mile mark. And I just think you need to surround yourself with great people. It's just so important, so I think that was the biggest factor.
And then the James Fund, which I was riding for, helped out with some folks that work in orphanages in Mexico that I had met before on a missions trip. And they would set up encouragement videos that we would watch. On the days that were tough to ride, I'd get back on the bus, and would turn on the video player and watch a DVD of them saying, 'Hey, thank you for riding for us, and this is what you're doing for us by riding.'
CP: I'm kind of curious. I know that you were originally adopted as you grew up and that was a big part of why you wanted to do this fundraising tour. Could you explain how that has impacted you as you went along this ride?
Schultz: Yeah, you know, I was adopted when I was two weeks old, and I always tell people jokingly it was the hardest two weeks of my life with the paperwork and everything.
I ended up having the best parents in the world, and so at the end of the day, what I really wanted to come up with was … you know, on this trip I even got to deal with the Kansas Children's Service League which was the agency I was adopted from. When I went through Kansas, I got to visit some of the people who were there when I was being adopted from there. So I got to tell them thanks.
What I really wanted to accomplish on this was to give kids who are awaiting adoption the same opportunities that I've had by being adopted. I want them to realize there is a purpose for their lives, and that God doesn't make mistakes. There's a specific purpose for them, and I want them to help them get into a home where they can develop, you know, whatever they were meant to do.
CP: Besides the adoption agency in Kansas, are there any other stops on the trip that you felt were kind of significant for you or touched you in any way?
Schultz: Yeah, I would say that, number one, we stopped in a town called Eskridge, Kan., on the way. It was so small. There's only like three or four hundred people there. But we got a knock on our door at like 6 o'clock in the morning, and there was a lady named Mazie – M-a-z-i-e, I believe – and she had just made about three dozen cinnamon rolls for us. That was definitely nice.
Her story was that she had her own kids, and she wanted a swimming pool for the city. So she started collecting cans and tried to gather enough to build a swimming pool. At first, everyone laughed at her, but they saw how much money she was bringing in. People ended up giving her their cans and would bring it to her. Anyways, they were able to build a city pool with those cans, and they just kept bringing her cans because they didn't know what else to do with them. That pool is funded, year after year – the taxes, the people that work there, all the work that goes into the pool – is funded by the cans. And so I thought that was really cool. That was a cool story.
Another one was that people would ride with us from time to time, and there was a mom who brought her three sons; they were nine, ten, and twelve. They were from Poland; the boys had just been adopted from Poland a few years ago, and they had raised a few thousand dollars and came out to ride. They had made me a little outfit to wear, a jersey, and on the back of the jersey it said, 'Dare to do great things.'
Their whole thing was that they had been adopted from Poland, and they had a great experience. They wanted to help raise money so that their friends who were still waiting to be adopted in Poland would be able get benefits from them and they too would be adopted some day and have a similar life to how they had. I thought that was awesome that they were getting involved in that way.
CP: You had a video journal that you kept while you did your bike tour, and I saw that you ended up outlasting your tour bus. That must feel pretty good.
Schultz: Well, anytime you can outdo the bus on a cross country tour, you have got to feel good. I would have thought it would have been the other way around. Man, that felt pretty good, and I was just grateful to have a bus and still have some time to spread out.
We finished the tour a week ago, and our bus driver is now just coming back from the place we finished the tour. It's funny, because it's been about a week later and it was still in the shop. It's had to sit and get fixed, so hopefully he will be back here tomorrow with the bike and all the gear.
CP: Now, about your musical side – you have become one of the more notable Christian singers and songwriters today. How would you describe your experience as a Christian musician so far?
Schultz: I think it's been great. For me, I've never been much into the industry side of it, you know. I started out as a youth director of a church in Nashville, writing songs for the youth group and all that. That's where I really get my inspiration from, from the relationships I formed at church and just getting to watch what goes on there and how God works in those lives. So I guess my goal has always been to write real songs about real life that deal with real people, and that just helped so much by being a youth director and being involved with the church.
CP: OK, final question; What would you say is the best aspect of being able to be a professional Christian performer?
Schultz: Man, that's a good question. The best aspect for me, again, I think it's the relationships you get to have. You know, I also love that I can be able to write songs. To me – this is what I love to do in a nutshell – I love getting inspired and writing a song. Then, there's nothing better than taking that song and playing it to people for the first time. That for me is about the greatest gift, to see people's reactions, because that's truly where…you know, one guy told me one time that we could really take life and turn it into art. I hope that's why people want to hear my songs. They're not supposed to think, 'Oh, that's a really nice song,' but I hope that something really touches them deep inside and they go, 'Gosh, that's really helps me in my quest to become a better person.'