Area native venturing cross country on his bike

Bowman native Syd Sparks does not consider himself a hobby cyclist. The longest stretch of biking he has ever done was 20 miles. But that will change beginning May 7, as Sparks will begin a 2,425-mile journey from Washington to Wisconsin on his on his bicycle.

Stephen and Syd (RGB)
Stephen Roise (left) and Syd Sparks (right), will start their bike ride in Washington on May 7 and finish in Wisconsin on June 13.

By COLE BENZ | Herald Editor | cbenz@countrymedia.net

Bowman native Syd Sparks does not consider himself a hobby cyclist. The longest stretch of biking he has ever done was 20 miles. But that will change beginning May 7, as Sparks will begin a 2,425-mile journey from Washington to Wisconsin on his on his bicycle.

Sparks will embark on the excursion, Cabins for Kids, raising money and awareness for New Hope Uganda Ministries, an organization he has been part of since the end of his college years.

New Hope Uganda is an organization that aims to help orphaned or abandoned children. The group started with one facility, but it has since grown to include another and a campsite.

Sparks was born in Miles City, Mont., and grew up in Bowman. He graduated in 1998 from Bowman High School.

Like many high school students, Sparks participated in athletics and attended community events. After graduation, he sought the next step for his life. He attempted to enlist in the US Air Force, but his eyesight wasn’t “where it needed to be,” so he enrolled at Dickinson State University. He majored in education, and graduated with a degree in physical education and a minor in biology.

It was during his time at DSU that he was introduced to New Hope Uganda.

At that time, Sparks didn’t consider going into missionary work, and his connection to it was somewhat a coincidence.

“I didn’t have any idea that I’d be involved in mission work, or living overseas,” Sparks said.

Sparks became involved with a Bible study group and the leader happened to be the North American Director for New Hope Uganda and through that connection Sparks was told about the organization’s efforts in the African country.

During his junior year at DSU, a mission director returned to the United States and participated in Sparks’ the Bible study group, drumming up more conversations about the mission. After the school year was over, Sparks and a friend decided to go to Uganda for a month and see what it was like.

“It opened my eyes to a world I never knew existed,” Sparks said. “I saw things I had only seen in pictures.”

After his month was finished, Sparks didn’t know if he would return to Uganda, but thought that he would need to spend more time there if he ever did make plans to return. He had just started to form relationships when his visit came to an end.

“I thought that wasn’t enough for me,” Sparks said. “I wanted more.”

When he returned to the United States, Sparks assumed he would end up teaching — at the time he graduated he was interested in forest firefighting. He even applied to a crew and thought he was a shoo-in. He knew the crew boss and was given information on the proper channels to apply.

But then something happened, which Sparks considered to be Divine Intervention — his application was never received.

Another member of New Hope Uganda meanwhile returned to the States and had a conversation with Sparks about his desire to teach at the facility. With everything else falling through, Sparks didn’t have a reason to say no.

That led Sparks to Uganda as he signed a one-year commitment to teach. He spent a considerable amount of his time with the mission director and they talked about what the future might hold for the organization. As the discussion progressed, they started to discuss a new branch of the organization: a camp.

Outside of firefighting, Sparks said, he always held an interest in working and teaching in a camp-like setting.

After his one year commitment was finished in Uganda, Sparks applied and was accepted for a camp internship.

Part of that internship was to create a camp on paper. So the project he formulated was how he envisioned the new camp of New Hope Uganda would look.

He gave it to the mission director in 2007.

“When he read it and saw it he said, ‘It’s time, let’s do this,’” Sparks said. The camp project was then initiated.

The organization’s two centers focus on caring for the physical needs of orphans and abandoned children, while the camp focuses on direction for youth and helping them to develop the tools to become better humans. The hope, according to Sparks, is that they can solve the orphan problems, which lie at the root of the issue.

“We want them to grow up with an aim and a goal instead of wandering around as physical adults trying to figure out who they are and what they’re for,” Sparks said.

That is where the bicycle journey comes into play.

Sparks sought an out-of-the box way to raise some money. His idea was a 2,425 mile bicycle ride across a huge span of the country.

Sparks said he contemplated the idea for a while, but the issue was finding a companion to accompany him on the trek.

“I didn’t want to do it alone,” he said. It was mainly due to safety.

Just as Sparks started to let go of the idea, someone stepped in and rescued the journey.

Stephen Roise, a worker for New Hope Uganda, volunteered to ride with Sparks.

“I had almost given up on the idea because I couldn’t find anybody,” Sparks said.

That was last fall.

The plans have been rolling out since Roise decided to join him.

The long venture will begin May 7 as the duo depart from Bellingham, Wash. Their estimated date of arrival in Racine, Wisc., the ending point for the journey, is June 13.

The two hope to raise $166,000, or $69 per mile, enough funds to build 10 cabins and two shower houses.

Sparks has been in the United States since Thanksgiving and has been training for the voyage.

His training regiment is simple: Riding as much as he can. Sparks said he’s tallied 744 outdoor miles on his bicycle as of April 23.

During the journey, Sparks and Roise will have stretches as long as 110 miles and as short as the distance from Baker, Mont., to Bowman.

The two expect they will ride through southwest North Dakota at the end of May. They will be in Bowman on May 28, then will travel to Scranton and head north through New England to Dickinson.

While Sparks and Roise will be the only two riding the entire distance, Sparks said they will have people joining them for unspecified stretches. Sparks said if anyone wants to join them, even if it’s for a short distance, they are welcome.

Those interested in supporting Sparks and New Hope Uganda Ministries can simply hand him monetary donations while he’s on his journey, visit www.NewHopeUganda.org/donate, or send funds to New Hope Uganda Ministries, Post Office Box 154, Belle Fourche, SD 57717.

You can follow Sparks and Roise’s progress by visiting www.Facebook.com/musanacamps1.

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