Aspen priest to pedal across America |

Aspen priest to pedal across America

Karl Herchenroeder
The Aspen Times
Starting June 1, Father John Hilton will embark on a 3,500-mile bike ride across America's northern-most highway, traveling from Anacortes, Washington to Bar Harbor, Maine.

Starting June 1, the Rev. John Hilton will embark on a 3,500-mile bike ride across America’s northern-most highway, traveling from Anacortes, Washington, to Bar Harbor, Maine.

Known in certain circles as “the pedaling priest,” St. Mary Catholic Church’s pastor will look to complete the trip in about eight weeks, pushing his Parlee Z-Zero about 90 miles a day while carrying around 14 pounds of gear. He’ll stay in motels along the way, reaching out to locals about the best roads to take.

Hilton, a Boulder native who turns 60 in August, admitted recently at The Aspen Times office that the longest trip he’s taken is a weeklong, 600-mile loop through Wyoming, Utah and Idaho. But if that trip was any indicator, Hilton is up for the challenge.

“That went really well,” Hilton said. “I loved it. I got to the last day, the seventh day, and didn’t want it to end.”

This summer’s trip, he said, will come with a certain amount of unknown, as he’s uncertain how his knees, back and body will hold up. Hilton wants to complete the trip as a personal challenge while also raising awareness for St. Mary Catholic Church. The organization currently is planning a $4 million renovation and $3.8 million expansion of its Main Street building. So far, the group has raised about $4 million toward the effort, which Hilton regarded as remarkable, given the small pool of donors. This summer, the church will expand its fundraising effort to the entire parish and Aspen community. Hilton hopes a conference center envisioned in the expansion will draw America’s best spiritual leaders to Aspen.

“Our goal is — along with some of the other congregations in town — making Aspen more and more a spiritual destination,” Hilton said. “How to be engaged in the world and what does it mean to live a moral life.”

The church is teaming with the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, a group that will assist in fundraising and bringing four annual workshops to Aspen. During each day of Hilton’s trip, the group plans to post the pastor’s reflections on its website, Spiritual, which has about 30,000 international subscribers.

Dan Burke, president and founder of the institute, said he met Hilton at the suggestion of a St. Mary staff member who also is a professor at the institute. Burke said the two of them hit it off right away.

“I really loved his vision,” said Burke, an award-winning author on Catholic spirituality, business strategy and technology. “He has a deep desire to serve the Aspen community well. … Aspen’s an amazing place with pretty interesting people. We’re excited about serving the community and interacting with Catholics and others who are interested in Catholic spirituality.”

Hilton’s route, as planned, will take him through: Sandpoint, Idaho; Kalispell, Montana; Glacier National Park; Minot, North Dakota; Duluth, Minnesota; Green Bay, Wisconsin; a ferry ride across Lake Michigan; Ontario, Canada; Niagara Falls; the Eerie Canal in New York; the Adirondacks; and finally Bar Harbor, Maine.