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Mary Richards: What a long, muddy, challenging bike ride taught me about the covenant path


Going through a tunnel along the Route of the Hiawatha trail in northern Idaho on July 6, 2020.

Credit: Richards family

I stood by my 9-year-old son, high in the mountains of northern Idaho, staring at the old railway trestle — or bridge — that stretched out in front of us, cutting across the space into the tall trees on the other side.

We were riding bikes with our extended family on the Route of the Hiawatha. It’s a 16-mile trail through many old train tunnels and across several trestles. The promise of adventure and family bonding lured us there, but the height of that first crossing nearly made my son turn back. He and I share a fear of heights. And those trestles were high up.

The bridges had protective gates and fences and barriers. But while the others saw a beautiful safe view of pine trees and rivers, my son’s brain and my pounding heart would not let us forget certain death. So I talked to him the whole time we rode over.

“We are staying on the path. We are right here on the trail in the middle,” I said. “We are safe. We are pedaling across safely. It is almost over. We made it!” Then in the tunnels, I kept up the same stream of encouragement: “It’s just dark for a little bit right now. Soon it will be over. We will get through it.”

And we did. And it got better. We got better at it. We changed as we kept going. The journey became easier and more joyful as we focused on the path in front of us and the people with us. 


Riding across a trestle, or railroad bridge, on the Route of the Hiawatha in northern Idaho on July 6, 2020.

Richards family

President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency, spoke about this in the October 2020 general conference — about how tribulations are temporary, but we are here on earth to be tested and prove ourselves faithful. The blessing, he said, will be a change in our natures (“Tested, Proved, and Polished”).

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles gave a talk in 2008 called, “Come What May and Love It.” It’s something his mother told him when he was young. He explained it is not smothering sadness under pretended happiness — it’s how we react to adversity that helps us grow and change.

President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, pointed out in his October 2020 general conference talk, “Be of Good Cheer,” how tribulation and challenges are the common experiences of mortality. With God’s help and our faithfulness and endurance, we will prevail. “Like the mortal life of which they are a part, all tribulations are temporary. In the controversies that preceded a disastrous war, United States President Abraham Lincoln wisely reminded his audience of the ancient wisdom that ‘this, too, shall pass away.’”

As I realized on the trail, a tunnel may be dark, a trestle may be long, but it will end. 

Different members of our extended family learned different lessons from the same ride. My 6-year-old niece was struggling on her bike and needed frequent breaks to rest. It wasn’t until an uncle checked the bike that he discovered her back brake had been rubbing against the tire for 12-plus miles.

“She had a problem that was making her experience much more difficult than she or anyone else was expecting,” her father said. “So frequently, people are dealing with challenges that we do not fully appreciate. To us, everything seems it should be fine.” He said this experience reminded him to not judge but to treat others with love and kindness — “for we do not know the struggles a person may be going through,” he explained.

A 7-year-old nephew crashed about two miles into the ride, and he was quite scraped and shaken. My sister-in-law later wrote this about the experience with her son: “He was quickly surrounded by loved ones who bandaged him up, encouraged him to get back on his bike and pedaled alongside him during the many miles that lay ahead,” she said. “I am incredibly grateful for loved ones that are there to help me back up when I have ‘crashed.’”

President Eyring said: “We must notice the tribulation of others and try to help. That will be especially hard when we are being sorely tested ourselves. But we will discover as we lift another’s burden, even a little, that our backs are strengthened and we sense a light in the darkness.”


A tunnel in northern Idaho is part of the Route of the Hiawatha, a former railroad line that has been turned into a bike trail.

Richards family

We are promised that as we "Hear Him," as we live worthily and press forward in faith, the Lord will direct us to safety, even when we cannot see the way. The Lord explained in Doctrine and Covenants section 58, “Ye cannot behold with your natural eyes, for the present time, the design of your God concerning those things which shall come hereafter, and the glory which shall follow after much tribulation. 

“For after much tribulation come the blessings.”

At the end of that long bike ride, I looked around at my exhausted yet exhilarated mud-splattered family and felt an increased testimony of the covenant path and eternal families. 

For as it says in Doctrine and Covenants 68:5-6, “Behold, this is the promise of the Lord unto you, O ye my servants. Wherefore, be of good cheer, and do not fear, for I the Lord am with you, and will stand by you; and ye shall bear record of me, even Jesus Christ, that I am the Son of the living God.”

— Mary Richards is a reporter for the Church News.

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