By Sasha Johns
Photos by Kathryn Bell & Contributed

No one would argue that a marriage of 61 years doesn’t deserve a nice trip to celebrate, but George and Judy Dudley didn’t spend theirs on any ordinary trip. They were on the road trip of a lifetime.

Road trips aren’t a new thing for this young-at-heart couple who calls Columbiana home. They spent years together on the road playing the bar circuit in a rock and roll band called the Farkles in the 1970s. Later as pastor and wife, they found themselves on the road sharing their faith. This last road trip, however, was not one that many couples who just turned 80 would have even considered attempting. George Dudley cycled from Key West, Florida, to Maine over the course of three months with Judy following by car as his logistical sidekick.

When George took up cycling in 2014, he found himself taking 200-mile rides with a friend and fellow cyclist. Judy would travel along by car as support, setting up campsites along the way. With each trip George’s itch to do something bigger grew, and by 2019, he was planning a trip of all trips to celebrate his 80th year of life.

The course from Key West to Maine would take several months and cover close to 2,000 miles, and his plan for it picked up even more strength when he saw the opportunity to benefit St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, which the couple has supported for years.

“Initially I thought the ride itself was a great challenge for me,” George says, “but then I thought that I’d really like it to be some kind of ministry.” They set a goal to raise $20,000 for the hospital and another $8,000 to cover fuel and campground fees for the trip, and they were pleased to see donations coming in before they even hit the road.

But then, days before they were to leave in March 2020, they learned Judy needed to have a lobe of her lung removed due to cancer. While this was an unnerving turn of events and an obviously unwelcomed delay, the Dudleys would very soon see it as providence when the entire country shut down to “flatten the curve” of COVID-19 on what would have been the same day he was to pedal off from his starting point in Key West.

Judy was back on her feet within three weeks, but the setback and the quarantine gave her a solid year to fully recover, and recover she did. “We couldn’t do anything about the quarantine. It just was what it was,” Judy says. “This was his trip, and he’s a planner, while I’m more of a go-with-the-flow person. I was ready to get on the road and help him do his thing.” So the Dudleys continued to plan and watch for the right time to execute George’s ambitious plan.

Cycling for the Son

Just over a year from the date they had originally planned to start, fully vaccinated and a little stir crazy, the Dudleys were ready to strike off again. On March 26 of this year, they found themselves in the middle of a spring break crowd near the large buoy marking the southernmost point in the United States. “The crowds were so big we couldn’t even get close to it to take a picture,” George says with a laugh as he tells the story. So they decided the picture wasn’t worth it, and George took off.

The Dudleys had raised over $13,000 for St. Jude before George even got to Florida, but once they got going, they would find that new acquaintances would not only buy them meals and bestow them with gas funds as they told their story, but they would also continue to raise money for St. Jude under their campaign, Cycling for the Son. Along the way, they made friends and found supporters at hotel breakfasts and in parking lots everywhere they went, and in the end, they gave more than $6,500 of the cash they raised for travel expenses to St. Jude too, bringing their eventual total to over $20,000.

George planned to cycle an average of 50 miles a day for five days a week, and he and Judy were going to use a camper for the overnight and weekend stops. But when it came time to reorganize, they changed tactics and decided to stay in hotels and with friends along the way. As they would soon learn, best-laid plans didn’t always work out, but much more often than not, such moments worked out for the better.

Twenty miles into his first day, George came upon a group of other cyclists and took a break with them. When they asked about his Cycling for the Son T-shirt, one friendly cyclist offered to help him with anything he and Judy needed when they arrived in her hometown a few days later.

As it turned out, the hotel that Judy had booked for their stay in that town had overbooked and no other hotels had provisions for them either. “But we had that lady’s number, and by the time I got there on my bike, Judy had called our new friend, and we had a home to stay in over the weekend,” George recalls. They ended up lodging with the couple and participating in Palm Sunday services with their host’s church. “It was the first in a long list of ‘God things’ that happened all along the trip,” George says.

Each day George documented each of those things in the leather journal his daughter gave him for the trip. His handwriting marks the moments they unexpectedly ran into the friends of their grandchildren, strangers paid for meals, they talked to other Christians at continental breakfasts and they got asked to speak in churches, and more.

Sixty-One Years of Support

George’s April journal entry marks his anticipation of entering the state of Georgia, and their anniversary.

“Fifty-five miles today GEORGIA ON MY MIND! Before getting started, I need to say ‘Praise God’ for my Judy! She is an amazing woman, friend, wife, encourager, supporter and witness for the Lord. Today is our 61st wedding anniversary, and here she is, driving the entire east coast of the U.S. mostly in 20-mile spurts. I could not have taken this adventure on without her complete commitment to a rather different three months. Thank you, Mrs. Honey! “

His entry goes on to detail the day and mentions the surprise of having their anniversary dinner paid for by an unknown diner who overheard the couple celebrating their journey together—another “God moment” for them.

At long last, on May 27, George left Machias, Maine, headed north to the small city of Calais where 45 miles later, his “Mrs. Honey” met him at the “Welcome to Calais” sign. With that, he’d finally met his last goal, and he and Judy celebrated with a quiet lunch of clam rolls, onion rings, and cold Sam Adams beers at a small nearby eatery called the Wickachee Dining Room.

In all, George pedaled 2,149 miles, and Judy drove 6,617 as she often went back and forth dropping him off and picking him up and met up with him about every 20 miles. While she was on her own, she was able to handle accommodations, or explore new areas, but sometimes she just waited. “I never mind waiting on him. It was his dream, and I was happy to be along for the ride,” she says.

George says he learned a lot on the ride and the long path leading up to it too: “Don’t give up. God has a purpose for every setback. Figure out what God wants you to do. It may seem insignificant to you, but it may not be for you. It may be for someone else.”

From George’s Journal

May 1, 2021
50 miles today

Realized that we had been on this journey for over a month. I’m overwhelmed with thanksgiving for what God is still doing in this world that seems to be turning upside-down. Thank you, Lord, for your bountiful blessings and revelations.