Thousands of bikers recently roared their way through small, picturesque towns for New Hampshire's 89th annual Bike Week.
Riders typically ride in intimidating packs, on loud bikes, wearing black leather.
Shane Sansoucie is one of those riders. He can look like one bad dude with his shaved head and linebacker build. But on Sundays, Sansoucie changes out of his leather for a more traditional Sabbath day outfit: jacket, shirt and tie.
He's got another title that's not biker. It's bishop.
Sansoucie began riding as a kid, when his father, who hated motorcycles, used them as leverage for high academic success. It worked. In the sixth grade, Sansoucie had his first motorized vehicle: an off-road Honda ATC, 110. He was hooked.
As a Mormon growing up in quiet Bedford, N.H., Sansoucie was used to being an anomaly. People knew he was different, but “I didn't try to hide what I was." A good kid who attended church and seminary, he was also the lead singer of a heavy metal band, covering songs from Christian metal band Striper.
At 18, Sansoucie began dating Danielle, a girl he'd known since they were 7, and they eventually married.
The young couple barely scraped by. With former dreams of becoming a pilot, Sansoucie instead worked 70 hours, six days a week as an iron worker. Tithing was a challenge.
"The bishop kept telling us to get back on track but we were still having a rough time," he said. They decided they would heed their bishop's advice and, to this day, have no idea how they survived. "The math didn't work. It still doesn't," Sansoucie adds.
They moved forward, albeit not always easily. Their third son, Owen, wasn't supposed to live. Doctors told them to consider termination. Sansoucie though, believes the boy's journey started well before he was born. It was a long pregnancy, but one filled with great faith and prayer. Owen was born with Down syndrome but is now a strong, healthy teenager.
“All the research doesn't make sense," Sansoucie said. "He was a miracle to begin with."
The whole family counts Owen as a great blessing. Sansoucie says, "To see life through his eyes where he doesn't judge anyone or have any expectations, doesn't think anyone could do him harm, really has taught us the unconditional love of the Savior, no matter what you do."
All four of Sansoucie’s children ride with their dad as soon as they can sit upright. Over the years there have been nine bikes: Two Kawasakis, three Hondas, a Suzuki and three Harleys. Currently, the ride of choice is a 2007 Harley Davidson Electraglide Ultra Classic FLHTCU.
Some bikes last a season, others for years. The fun for Sansoucie is finding a different and challenging new ride, especially when he can buy low and sell high. Then, he enthusiastically says, "You get paid to ride!"
Sansoucie's favorite family activity usually involves riding, Danielle being his favorite companion. He even bought her a bike for Mother's Day one year. She shook her head and said he was crazy. Sansoucie laughs, loving his wife's reaction.
Six years ago, Sansoucie received another shock — he was called to serve as bishop of his congregation, an unpaid ministry often lasting five to six years. It was humbling. "When you think about your bishop," he says, "he's your spiritual leader. I didn't think I could meet that expectation."
But both of Sansoucie's parents were service-oriented. That part came naturally. He began keeping the Book of Mormon on his desk at work, prompting many discussions.
Like any family with a father gone long hours at church and work, it wasn't seamless. Serving as bishop requires hours of time and late-night phone calls. It's dealing with broken families, unemployment, hospital visits and attending countless meetings. "It takes a toll and you miss a lot but I will say that the Lord provided me the way to serve," he said. This included a new job that afforded flexibility that his previous one didn't.
After six years, Sansoucie was released from his calling as bishop.
Will this give him more time to ride? He hopes so. He reminisces about a recent trip through upstate New York through the Adirondack Mountains. From Cooperstown up to Syracuse, along Lake Ontario, up to Lake Placid, he says it was "absolutely spectacular," and he's already planning more New England riding trips. "We really have the best of everything – mountains, farmland, ocean, just nice country riding."
These days, Sansoucie rides with and without members of his faith. And when it comes to occupations, there really are no norms. In his small riding group there is a master plumber, policeman, executive salesman, contractor and bio-chemist. "Sometimes people have a preconceived notion about what kind of person ... rides, but in the motorcycling community, there is none of that. You share a common love of the sport and no matter what you ride, from a Harley to a Honda, there is respect and admiration. The line is, ‘He rides, we are like brothers!’"
And that, perhaps, is where the intersection is. Like members of his church, riders come from all walks of life. "I will guarantee you that in almost no other place outside of the gospel, can you walk up to someone and start a conversation without worrying about prejudgments. Some of the nicest folks you will ever meet wear leather."
Of course, he's sometimes the odd man out. He keeps the Sabbath day holy, doesn't drink or smoke. He turns down coffee breaks and has no adorning tattoos. He gets the feeling that most don't know much about the Mormon faith, but "for the most part they respect that I believe in something and stand up for it."
Still, he says it's the members of the church who find his hobby so fascinating. He tells of being a young man and riding into the church parking lot on a 1967 Iron Head Custom Harley, a loud, bare-bones chopper you couldn't ignore. "Members who knew me were not surprised, but others were shocked at my choice of transportation!"
As much as he's evolved and grown, his love for the bike has not waned.
"It's the feeling you get as you glide along through the wind, flying while not leaving the ground. Carving through the corners of a back road with the wind in your face and the rumble of the V-twin pushing you forward is a feeling you don't get tired of."
A biker bishop. Not your typical Mormon?
He sums it up this way: "You can still love the gospel of Jesus Christ and ride a bike. In fact, you can do the Lord's work just a little bit faster!"
Amy Makechnie is a writer from New Hampshire. She hopes her next birthday gift is a pink Harley. She blogs at maisymak.blogspot.com.
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