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Colorado Priest Cycles Across the Country

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Woodeene Koenig-Bricker - published on 06/11/15

Fr. John Hilton's adventure has a dual purpose

On June 2, Father John Hilton, pastor of St. Mary Catholic Church in Aspen, Colorado, [began] a bike trip of approximately 3,510 miles from Anacortes, Washington, to Bar Harbor, Maine. (Daily updates here.) The trip, which is expected to take roughly six to seven weeks, has a dual purpose. 

First, Father Hilton’s adventure is intended to help spread awareness of “the great things God is doing at St. Mary’s.” One of these things is partnering with the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, to help create “a powerful place to grow in your relationship with Jesus Christ through dynamically orthodox conferences and seminars in service of the New Evangelization.”

The Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation is an online graduate theology program. Dan Burke, president and co-founder of the Avila Institute and founder of Spiritualdirection.com, stated that Father Hilton’s ride will help raise funds to build the first physical location for the institute. The plan is to build a pavilion on the St. Mary campus that will offer theological workshops and spiritual formation, not just for the parishioners, but also for the greater community that comes to the Aspen area to ski and take part in other recreational activities. Construction is slated to begin in 2017.

Father Hilton is energized by the opportunity to work with the Avila Institute. “People need to know that there is a place in Aspen for great Catholic formation for people of all ages; a place for powerful Catholic foundation,” he said. “The connection with the Avila Institute will create a great place to grow in faith.” 

The Aspen outreach is a logical extension of the work of the institute, Burke explained. “Catholics shouldn’t close themselves off from the world. We are to be in the world but not of the world. We aren’t driven by the moral values of the world, but our job is transform it,” he added. Aspen’s popularity as a vacation destination provides a unique opportunity to be a part of that transformation.

The second purpose for Father Hilton’s cross-country adventure is the fulfillment of a personal goal. Father Hilton has been biking for more than 20 years and particularly enjoys long-distance trips. Planning to average 90 miles a day over six to seven hours, Father Hilton will be riding a light-weight (14-pound) bike and carrying about 15 pounds of gear, including two sets of clothes, emergency gear and his Mass kit. 

“I’ve thought for years about doing a cross-country bike trip,” he said. “It is a goal for a lot of cyclists. Last year, I realized that it could be a way to serve the parish of St. Mary’s as well as a great way to promote the Avila Institute.”

His day will begin with a private Mass at 5:30 a.m., followed by an hour of prayer before setting out. He will be traveling solo for most of the trip and staying in motels, rather than camping. The route he is taking is called “The Northern Tier.” It begins at Puget Sound north of Seattle and crosses through Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and parts of Canada before ending at the Atlantic Ocean in Maine. Much of the road follows Highway 2, and keeps to secondary and back roads. On his blog, Father Hilton wrote that he will start with his back tire in the Pacific Ocean and end with his front tire in the Atlantic.

Father Hilton is a native Coloradan and one of nine children. He studied for four years at seminary in Denver and for five-and-a-half years in Rome. Ordained in 1982, he has served in various assignments in the Archdiocese of Denver and has been pastor of St. Mary’s for four years.

Although he is not the first priest to make the cross-country journey, Father Hilton, at age 60, is certainly an older one. He realizes that his long-distance trek will be a challenge but feels well prepared physically. Underlying his personal physical test is the desire to inspire others — not to long-distance biking, but to a closer union with Jesus. 

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