June 30, 2016
By Mike Killeen
A musician might practice a song hundreds of times before they perform it in concert.
George Maurer spent five days "practicing" in 2015 for his latest public performance.
Maurer, a 1988 graduate of Saint John's University and one of Minnesota's top pianists, composers and producers, begins his third annual bicycle tour to honor the memory of Carolyn Held July 5 in Reykjavik, Iceland. He and his tour partner Grant Brooks will head north to the port city of Akureyi, then follow the Icelandic coastline back to Reykjavik by Aug. 10.
Total mileage? About 1,500 miles over some of the most remote and challenging terrain in the world (NASA actually sent astronauts to Iceland to train for future moon expeditions in the 1960s).
Maurer decided in February 2015 that Iceland would be the site of his first bike tour outside the continental United States. In May 2015, he visited Iceland on a five-day scouting trip.
"We just wanted to get a feel for what we would be biking through," Maurer said. "You can watch as many YouTube videos as you want, but a look at that was a little precursor.
"I looked at New Zealand (as a possibility), and almost at the same time, I looked at Iceland," Maurer said. "I realized that Iceland was closer in climate to my Midwest Nordic roots, and it's a fascinating place because it straddles two tectonic plates, the Eurasian and the North American. The whole fact that there are volcanoes and glaciers, that it would be less touristy than New Zealand and it would be less expensive to go there and attempt this.
"But, it will be an adventure."
For Maurer, it's his third adventure raising funds for cancer research. He rode from Seattle to Boston in 2014 that duplicated a ride Carolyn Held made in 1988. His second tour, in 2015, went from San Francisco through the Nevada desert to Denver. Maurer raised $31,000 on those two rides for cancer research at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
Maurer first met Carolyn Held at a Central Minnesota TEC (Together Encountering Christ) retreat. Carolyn, who was married to Patrick Held '73, passed away due to cancer in October 2012.
"Pat is honored by all of us who get involved in what we're trying to do in memory of his wife, but also knows that we're using Carolyn as inspiration and encouraging other people to give to cancer research. But that's only one of the goals of this," Maurer said. "It's great to ask people to give and do that, but more than anything, these adventures inspire people to go out and see the world and do similar things. If they want to tie a charity to it, that's great.
"That's what Carolyn would have wanted people to do, too. You know, we talk about Saint John's, about a sense of place. (Former SJU President) Father Hilary Thimmesh coined that, and (former SJU President) Brother Dietrich Reinhart built upon that," Maurer said. "And, we all know what it means, at Saint John's and Saint Ben's, to have a sense of place — a place where we worship, a place where we protect the land, institutions that are not just only institutions of higher education and learning, but are monastic communities and ecumenical communities and artistic communities and all of those things our alums are known for," Maurer said.
"Really, our task on the road is to recreate and discover the sense of place of other places. So, to go across the Nevada dessert on a bicycle with a gallon and a half of water a day on board to keep me alive, I grew to really have a great appreciation and sense of place for the Nevada dessert, and doing it at 12 to 15 miles per hour, instead of blasting through at 85 miles per hour (in a car), or slipping over it in a plane. When you slow things down that much, you can't help but get a sense of place, because you have to turn to your powers of observation," he said.
"Who wouldn't want to discover a sense of other places? You just can't sit in your own place and be comfortable with knowing it."
Throughout the Icelandic tour, Maurer will be posting observations to his website with a link to his Facebook page. Brooks, a noted photographer, will be chronicling the trip with photos and videos.
The challenges are many. Besides the terrain, they'll battle wind and rain. Maurer has already purchased goggles for when the winds whip up fine, gritty volcanic ash.
Maurer wouldn't have it any other way.
"Having crossed the Nevada desert, I've been in those extreme environments. That makes Iceland not such a daunting, intimidating thing. That's the whole point about getting out and having these experiences, is the world becomes less daunting and scary," he said.