Bicyclist completes journey from Illinois to Dorchester

Leslie Jackson bicycled 1,305 miles from Illinois to his Dorchester home last month. The trek raised money for clean water projects. Photo courtesy Jackson family

Leslie Jackson, 66, completed a 1,305-mile bike ride from Joliet, IL to Dorchester last weekend to raise funds for Living Water International, a Christian non-profit dedicated to providing clean water solutions for those in countries suffering from drought and polluted water sources.

Jackson, who retired his job at the Pine Street Inn after over 25 years last February, decided to take his first long-distance bike trek to raise awareness and funds for Living Water whose mission to provide education and a means for clean water deeply moved Jackson.

Kathleen Wise, one of his daughters, said the family bolstered her father’s efforts along the way through word of mouth and social media, sharing his story with friends and strangers alike. Wise and her family held conference calls often with Jackson after he was done for the day, offering encouragement and support.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve seen him and with him riding by himself, we’re very happy and excited that he’s home and safe and that the trip was successful for him,” Wise said.

About four weeks before his journey, Reunion Christian Church, his congregation, sent ten members to Honduras to drill a well. The ambitious Jackson was torn.

“I wanted to go but I can’t do both!”

Jackson encountered many people who have “the spirit of being willing for the purpose of Christ to take a chance.”

While at a restaurant en route, six women who overheard Jackson tell his story to his waitress contributed $5 each to the fund as they left. It was moments such as that for which Jackson continues to be grateful and humbled.

“It’s something that people can sort of latch on to,” he said. “They want to help.”

“I really felt not only God’s presence [but] I felt like I was the wayward person, the sojourner on the road, and somebody would constantly keep coming to me and, not so much bandaging my wounds, but taking care of my needs,” Jackson explained.

During the near month-long journey that began on September 24, he had to seek out safe, warm housing every night. In that time, he only paid for three hotel rooms. Two of those nights, the cost was discounted after he simply shared his story.

“From now on, there’s going to be a special sensitivity for me to be that person to welcome people,” he said.

Plans to stop in to visit family and friends mixed with accepting the kindness of complete strangers and churches such as the United Church of Christ and the United Methodist Church. While veering off the usual route through Cleveland, Jackson stopped in Warren, OH where he and his wife Neelia lived for 17 years before moving to their Bailey St. residence in 1987. He also visited his hometown of New Castle, PA and checked in with former pastors to see how far their respective churches and communities have come along and to offer any help he could.

“Age is just something and I feel like as long as we continually have our abilities, then we should try to help each other and that’s really what I wanted to do.”

Read more about Jackson’s journey via his blog at http://lejspinning2boston.tumblr.com.