Thursday, August 6, 2009

Flora, Illinois

It was surprisingly warm and muggy in the tent. I have no doubt that is in part due to the greater humidity coming from the lake 100 feet away from us and also the combined body heat of the two of us. It was warm enough that I could have slept without my sleeping bag. I was uncomfortably damp. I remember some sprinkles coming down on the tent cover overhead, either from the sky or dropping from the sparse canopy above. It was gentle.

I can't seem to sleep all night when I go camping. Tom was rustling around rather frequently and I was restless too. At one point, Tom was scratching in his sleep (probably his feet, he has some eczema that he scratches before bedtime), but he stopped after I simply said "Tom." Sleep was off and on all night and it wasn't good quality rest like when we stayed in homes, but it was what it was.

I woke up around 5am (on purpose; I had set my alarm) and went outside to pack, glad to be awake. It was cool and dark (not like night, though. Like the first light of dawn), but less damp outside the tent. In my sleepiness, I decided that my first priority lie in rearranging all the belongings I had because I stored the tent at the bottom of my bag and had to take everything out just to remove the tent. After contemplating the organization of my stuff, I rode my bicycle over to the camp's bathrooms because they were way too "far" to walk to. I completed my morning routine of washing my face and brushing my teeth and rode back to camp. On the ride back, I passed Carol's camper and noticed some signs of life coming from within, hearing the television and rustling inside. Carol was to provide us with breakfast, God bless her.

Tom woke up not long after I returned and emerged from the tent. We were on a mission to leave the grounds by about 7:30am since the campsite was so far from Carlyle's downtown and because we had to inflate our tires. I noticed my tires were looking flat (still with air, but certainly not the nice, round shape that is appropriate) the day before, but just continued, perhaps foolishly, for time's sake. That said, we had planned to start our day by inflating our tires at a nearby gas station.

We packed the tent and prepped our bikes and rode to breakfast. Carol brought out some cereal and apples and bananas at 7:00am and we chatted and enjoyed the morning. We were visited by a cardinal and two other birds who made their home under the pull-out leaf of Carol's camper. I had Cheerios and my apple and saved my banana for later.

And once again we were underway. The ride out of the park went very fast. I had plenty of energy and I felt like I knew what to expect. When we hit the first main road towards Carlyle we were slowed down by a headwind from the south, but at least the sun was out and covered the land with a golden glow. We passed up Wal-Mart (once again for time's sake) because I figured I could just use Tom's toothpaste, but stopped at the gas station as planned, filled the tires, and I went inside and happily found a small tube of toothpaste to purchase.

To be continued...

Friday, July 31, 2009

Carlyle, Illinois part 2

We were not on Highway 50 at all that day. Instead, we were on State Route 161, a road paralleling 50 to the south. The plan was to head north sometime since Carlyle was right off 50. When we rode into Bartelso we found a beautiful Catholic church called St. Cecilia and ate a snack.

It was overcast and cool (in a good way). I want to say I ate grapes, but the memory's shady. A man was working on lawn care and nearby a girl and her father were examining a tree in the courtyard. I walked around the church, finding it lovely. Since I was checking the map on my cell phone frequently that day, I pulled it out again and looked for directions to Carlyle... where would we turn north? My phone gave us unexpected and new directions taking a shortcut on Slant Rd., which chipped a little over three miles from our day's trip. We were going to stay on 161 until 127 and go north. I'm glad I happened to be checking the route as often as I was (on my phone) that day because our host was much further away than anticipated (seven extra miles). Anyways, enough with the logistics.

Slant Rd. was a beautiful short cut. The sun came out to greet us (for a ten minute respite from the overcast skies) and we were surprised by picturesque scenery here in the middle of nowhere. There were a couple houses and some fields (which might not sound all that exciting, but hey, beauty is in the eye of the beholder).

There was maybe one car on the whole stretch of road and everything was at peace. One house advertised some sort of fresh food products... I wish I could be more specific (I think there was goat cheese and some strawberries). Often times, I felt under pressure that I could not stop and do some exploring because Tom was with me and I believe I subconsciously knew that he was more of a destination sort of guy and I am a journey guy... that said, we did not take many pit stops along the way to just check out places. Just snap a picture and move on. I thought to myself that if I ever came back, I would go into that little store and try some of their food.

At the end of Slant Rd. we turned on 127 north and soon enough I could see a church steeple (barely seen in the distance in the photo below) and other tell tale signs of a city in the distance (increased traffic and something about the way the trees are clustered around a town).

I thought we were home free once we were in the city. Based on the directions from Carol (our host for that night) I thought we'd have maybe three more miles to go. The miles dragged on and it was another seven from the city to the campground at Eldon Hazlet State Park. I think it was because I wasn't expecting to ride that much further that I became slightly agitated (probably a little frustrated and impatient). I just wanted to be there already. We only traveled 62 miles that day, which is not too exhausting, but when a surprise like seven extra miles comes up, I tend to get a little impatient. That was another 45 minutes to ride. Not to mention, because of the time zone change in southern Indiana (it was close to 4 pm in Illinois, which means it was close to 5pm - closing time, if we were lucky it wasn't sooner - in Illinois) we had to stop for 30 minutes to make phone calls trying to arrange for a place to stay in Vincennes and Bedford, Indiana.

For Vincennes, I left messages with a voicemail, reached another church who told us they couldn't help, and spoke with the son of the pastor of the third and final church on our list. The church was Central Church of Christ and the boy's name was Benjamin. I quickly explained our situation to Ben and he told me he'd pass the message on to his father. Having exhausted the numbers for Vincennes, I started on the list of churches in Bedford and I left voicemail messages with the two churches. Next, I tried the number for St. Vincent de Paul's Catholic Church and I was forwarded by the secretary to Father Rick. Somehow, and I can't explain just how, but somehow, I felt right about St. Vincent de Paul's.

As we finally continued through the State Park, I felt like the land was strangely deserted and even a bit eerie. Maybe it was the lack of traffic going into the park or the weather (on the brink of sprinkling) or the scarcity of animal and insect movement or my dreading camping. Maybe it was just the unknown and exhaustion. It could be that I had just gotten off the phone with few leads, which may have left me feeling a little bit alone. Now I recall needing to make some purchases (such as toothpaste), but passing by a Wal-Mart thinking that I could easily return if necessary... that could have added to my somber mood (it soon became clear that a trip to Wal-Mart would not be easy given its distance from the park - roughly seven miles one way) because perhaps I felt isolated from humanity. No matter. We trudged on.

In truth, the park was pretty. There was water and trees and two herons. I saw a deer scamper through the woods later. Oddly enough, there weren't many mosquitoes. I'm not complaining about that. I rode tentatively forward, not knowing what was ahead. I was very concentrated on getting us safely to our destination for whatever reason.

Finally, we hit the campground parking lot. I felt a little more secure. After a minute of observing the campground map we rode to our host's home, a popup camper. Carol was waiting outside for us.

Carol was very focused (this was her workplace too and there was business to take care of getting us set up in an appropriate plot of land). I don't remember exchanging many pleasantries. I think she didn't quite know what to think of us guys on bicycles traveling across the country. She told us that Pastor Wagner spoke with the church about us and said we had a tent and so she thought she could help us. She paid for our land ($8) and gave us the "bicycle love offering" ($35) collected by the church. It was clear that she wanted to help us and even though she was not naturally outgoing, she welcomed us and loved us (whether she knows it or not) and I am very grateful for that. She said that she didn't know what we'd like to eat and that she didn't have much food, so she made us a beef and vegetable soup for supper. She sent us off to set up our tent and come back for supper afterwards.

I had to dig deep in my bags and disturb my spectacular packing job to get out the tent. This was the first and only time we'd use it, so I guess I can be glad that I brought the thing. With Tom's help it was up in no time. Camping is much more Tom's territory than mine. I believe Tom was expecting that we'd camp much more often than we did, hence he originally packed a camp stove (which we shipped back to Colorado after our stop in Topeka, KS). Tom was in his element. He was a mountain man in the flatland woods and I was a fish out of water. I could tell he could rough it more than I would ever want to. This place might have been heaven for Tom. I'm glad we only camped one night ;).

We ate supper with Carol and learned a bit about her. She's from the Apostolic church, but she has found a community she likes at the Church of God and she likes the pastor. Her husband and she used to travel with the camper from Carlyle to Florida during the different seasons, but now she does it alone. She has a lot of descendents (she's the first great great grandmother I've ever met!) and gets to do tours among them to visit everyone (she stays with each of her children for two weeks and moves to the next during the winter).

She seemed relegated or succumbed to a certain lot in life, doing what she could to keep busy, but not entirely happy either. Perhaps that had to do with her husband's passing. She had a strong commitment to her place as a member of the Apostolic denomination, but that confidence did not overflow into the rest of her being. I thought I sensed that something in her life was not at peace. Perhaps she struggled knowing if there was something more she ought to do with her life? She said she didn't know how to help us, but was doing what she could and I thank God for Carol's faithfulness. She was "taking it one day at a time" like so many people I'd met on the way, but this did not seem as reassuring or encouraging for her. She may just have a different personality than I have seen or it might have been this particular day. To me, however, she seemed to be lacking purpose. In any case, I hope that she has hope and joy and peace in her eternal life through Jesus Christ.

It was in the next few days that I decided I should be careful what I say about others and very careful trying to judge their hearts. I do not want to hurt anyone's feelings and maybe it is wrong to talk about people like this. Is this not personal? Is this not private? And yet, this is a part of my experience and how I perceive the people I meet. But, I have been very wrong about things before. Perhaps so long as I do not condemn people, but share my perceptions out of love... but maybe it is better if it is between me and them.

Among other things, I hiked around (is it called hiking if there are no hills?), looked out at the gorgeous lake, took a very uncomfortable shower*, saw a groundhog, journaled a tiny bit, and then went to bed early. Tom tried starting a fire with his flint and steel, but failed miserably (sorry, Tom!). If it's any consolation to Tom, we had a rough time starting it with the lighter that Carol lent us too because our wood was wet. Tom stayed outside and read at the picnic table that we chained our bikes to and I retreated early to the tent. This was his sort of place. Quiet.

We rode to Carlyle, Illinois on Tuesday, June 9, 2009.

To see more photos from my trip: add me as a friend on facebook -

*those showers were hot! I had enough less-hot water to rinse with in each of the three stalls before it became scalding about five seconds later. That said, I would rinse, lather, run to another stall, start to rinse, run to another stall, rinse again... ouch.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Carlyle, Illinois Part 1

Whenever I think of the city Carlyle, I hear it in Pastor Wagner's accent. I think that's because I ended up calling his church and reaching the voicemail so many times. I'm not so sure I can describe his pronunciation of Carlyle here, but it's very distinct. I never met the man, but my memories of him are very fond. I'm not sure I've ever had this particular attachment or gratitude for someone I've never met before.

My interactions with Pastor Wagner probably consisted of no more than 15-20 minutes of phone conversation, but it only took a minute before I knew he cared for and loved me and Tom without reservation. How can this be? He assured he would help us, he was patient in waiting to learn if we found help from another church in Carlyle (recall, I thought we might be helped by the Lutheran church, but they couldn't help), and he even held a special love offering for our bicycle trip, which collected $35 from his small congregation of less than 20 (I believe). He would have taken us in himself if not for being in and out of town and it being his wedding anniversary.

Before we left St. Louis (maybe on Sunday or Monday evening) I called him and he expressed interest in getting to meet me and Tom. It was more than a passing interest. No, I could tell by his tone that his desire to meet us was like that of estranged family members trying to see one another. If you could tell by someone's voice that they wanted to meet you and be in relationship with you that much, you would do almost anything to run to them and meet them at least halfway. Maybe I'm being a little melodramatic. I found out that he works in Centralia and it was sadly quite a bit out of our way. When he and I realized we couldn't meet we were both disappointed.

On to the details of the ride.

There was only one thing on the news that morning that I paid attention to: tornadoes. This time in the area of Shiloh, Illinois. Over the weekend, many tornadoes hit Colorado, my home state, and on Monday (the day before) a tornado struck right where we were supposed to be. The reporters were out in some suburbs sharing stories of the damage and of neighbors coming to help neighbors. I realized very quickly that this tornado-damaged neighborhood could potentially be on our path for the day so I asked Tom if we could ride through Shiloh. I hoped we could see the neighborhood in person (for interest sake*). Tom told me that it was not in the plans and truth be told I was a little disappointed I wouldn't be able to witness the damage in person. It didn't hit me until later that we could have been in the path of that very tornado had I not felt so gut-wrenchingly terrible about leaving St. Louis the day before.

Paul drove us and our bikes in his nice, big Yukon across the Mississippi river and into Illinois. Thank God that we had hosts with the capability of transporting us out of large cities, thereby avoiding Interstates and heavy traffic (and possibly dangerous neighborhoods).

Tom and I started our ride in Columbia, IL and rode east towards Belleville. We took a quick break there for snacks and I saw my first ever drive-in convenience store (that I can remember)... actually, I didn't think it was an operating drive-in, so as we were resting outside the window I felt guilty that I was slightly in the way of the white truck that drove in a big circle to make his way to buy cigarettes at the window.

We moved on. It was a cloudy morning and fairly cool. I started seeing more and more beautiful orange flowers on the side of the highway, which I later found out were Daylilies. That day, my mood was very "down to business." I was more focused on the logistics of ride that usual, but I was enjoying the ride tremendously. The weather was nice, but I considered the possibility of rain. Tom hadn't let us down with the route yet, but we were not on Highway 50 (which was straightforward) and so I was more vigilant in making sure we were not taking a longer route than necessary to Carlyle. Later, I even went as far as finally fixing (uninstalling and reinstalling) the Google Maps program on my phone that had been malfunctioning for several weeks.

So, it was amid perfectly pleasant conditions that we rode by a barn that was blasted by the tornado. It took me a minute to figure out why the building looked so un-normal and what these seemingly unnecessary vehicles were doing parking on the side of the road. Then, I was blown away. The barn was missing its roof and the house next door clearly had damage. Then there were the trees that were ripped in half. Then the fragments of building in the field across the street. On second thought, there's no way it took me the whole minute to piece all of that together. The cars were of neighbors coming to help clean up, no doubt. I was not expecting to see any of this since we were not riding in Shiloh.

It was around that time when I realized just how big a bullet we dodged. This is most likely the path we would have taken the day before... We stopped at a house a little later and I asked a woman there about the previous day's weather. They had golf ball-sized hail and the tornado tore through their timber lands.

I am blessed and I believe we were spared from grave danger.

*And now, I think I was in awe of the terrible power of tornadoes and wanted to see the damage, but I was not connected in emotion with those who were affected... I neither felt sympathy nor understood what they were really going through. My interest in seeing the damage was no more than just to have the experience of witnessing the effects of tornadoes.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

St. Louis, Missouri (Monday)

Monday morning I had mentally prepared myself to leave St. Louis. It was often hard to leave the safety and security of a loving home and leave once again to an unknown, uncertain future. Nonetheless, after two days of rest, I was physically and mentally prepped to hit the road. However, it turns out leaving that day was not to be.

It seems like we were checking the weather a lot those last couple days. We were looking at the weather radar and trying to track rain and lightning. We'd had a little rain on Sunday, but not as much as we expected. Colorado had five tornadoes on either Saturday or Sunday (I've told people it was Sunday, but maybe it was Saturday). I remember looking in awe at the pictures that some of my friends had taken. Tornadoes are scary. Actually, tornadoes were one of my only fears for this trip because I had a vivid dream about them before leaving. Fortunately, in my dream, me and my riding partner (was it Tom? I don't remember) escaped to a lake.

I ate breakfast. Eggs and sausage and toast with jam. Jane was so fantastic a servant to us.

The weather was dreary that morning. The sky grew darker and darker. It was hard to believe it was 7 or 8am because it was so dark. Tom woke up and joined us. I felt uneasy. He checked the weather and I checked the weather (on my phone) and we watched the TV for the weather. He seemed certain this wouldn't be too bad, that I was psyching myself out and that we just needed to go. His forecast called for low chance of rain for the rest of the day and I knew that Tom would not be hindered by weather like rain.

The odd thing is that I was ready to go when I woke up. I was packed, ate breakfast, and was ready to move, but a terrible feeling arose in my chest. I suddenly felt so nervous about leaving that my heart ached. I felt almost desperate that I should convince Tom not to leave. Mind you, the doom and gloom over our heads at that very moment, showering hail, rain, and lightning on the roof, surely contributed to my unease. Tom might have thought that I was just afraid to leave the comfort of the house... that a little rain was what I was nervous about, but I prefer to think I'm not a pansy. No, something inside me was churning and I did not feel comfortable leaving. I finally convinced Tom we should not go by saying we should listen to our hosts about whether or not to leave and then I sort of egged on Jane to say that we should stay. Now it seems to me I was a little underhanded, but I feared nothing less would convince Tom that we should stay.

My heartache disappeared the instant we committed to staying an extra day. The rain and hail stopped in an hour. The sun came out. But we were committed. I figured Tom would not be happy with me because I wanted to stay and the weather turned out so nice. I was a little disturbed that my bad feeling proved to be incorrect (or so it seemed). Nonetheless, Jane and Paul let us stay another day and I was determined to do something productive now that we had no choice but to stay (Paul would have give us a ride out of the city, but he was already at the church).

So, I started reading 1 Samuel on the recommendation of my Dad. Then both Tom and I looked at the anti-virus software on Jane's computer (trying to fix some errors). I took an 8-mile bike ride. I liked that time alone with God. I spent a lot of time just chatting with Jane, who was babysitting three (or was it four?) little girls.

That evening, Paul took Tom and me to the Lone Elk Park and we saw some wildlife (buffalo, elk, deer, wild turkeys). It was nice to spend that time with Paul. It was good, quality time in my book (even though I wouldn't necessarily consider this wildlife to be wild... it was more than a petting zoo, but less than natural). Before I forget, the first or second night we were there, Paul took us into his "Den of Death" (his den with several of the animals he's killed) and asked us what some certain objects were. I knew I had seen them before and I knew they came from an animal, but I had to dredge up a memory with my grandpa to get the answer: turkey beards! I was one of the few people to get that right and maybe that helped me build a slightly better rapport with Paul ;). Before going home, Paul dropped us off and Wal-Mart and I picked up some snacks (apple sauce, TLC granola bars, etc.), sunscreen lotion, and a bar of facial soap.

Back at the house, I looked at a map with Paul and Jane and this was after we had found out that Clay City (a two day-ride away) was not a viable option to find a host. I had made many phone calls, all dead ends. The final woman I spoke with suggested Flora (Illinois), a slightly larger city about 8 or 10 miles east. Tom and I were okay with Flora and before we even had the chance to make some phone calls, Paul remembered that he had a friend from his Bible school pastoring a church in Flora. Thus, Paul called "Billy" and after a bit of catching up (and Paul explaining our situation), Bill agreed to help us. Bill already had a lot on his plate as it turns out, with the sudden death of a member of their congregation and I could tell even during the phone conversation that it was not the easiest thing for Bill to do to take on another responsibility. Still, he took us on.

After some ice cream we all went to bed. We found out the next day that we dodge a big bullet by staying an extra day. Call it the Holy Spirit, call it a miracle, or call it coincidence, but we were spared from grave danger.

We took a third consecutive day of rest in St. Louis, Missouri on Monday, June 8, 2009.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

St. Louis, Missouri (Sunday)

Sunday. Day two of rest. I really enjoy going to our hosts' churches on Sunday because I get to spend more time with them and share more life with them. I had a blueberry muffin (which looked funny, but tasted great... Jane attributed the funny look to them being whole wheat) and oatmeal for breakfast.

Tom and I joined the college group Bible study before going to the service and I was very surprised at how many students were in attendence. The teacher was very talkative and was very strong in her conviction of the message she wanted to portray. Her illustrations proved her points well and I certainly identified with much of what she was saying (and a lot of it could be very useful if the listener really connects), but I still had an uneasyness about my time there. Again (like in Hill City), I think it was how she conveyed the message in her tone. I'm sad to say I can't provide a specific example, but it seemed a bit forceful to me... unnecessarily poignant. Or, perhaps I was uncomfortable because I felt like this was much more of a lecture than a seminar. That is, she had points that she wanted to reach, but wouldn't necessarily let conversation arrive at those points (albeit, we weren't the most talkative group. I like to have more time to think about a passage and its implications and through conversation arrive at new realizations). I did sometimes feel like we were being talked down to like children who've misbehaved (it seemed somehow condescending), not young adults seeking God together cooperatively. Now, I feel a little unnecessarily critical of her, but those were the vibes I felt during the lesson.

Maybe I'm thinking too much about this (I tend to do that, sorry). I didn't gain much from the lesson. Either the lesson was not for me (because I have already learned it) or it didn't have time to take hold or (I have to leave open this possible explanation) I was not receptive to the message because of the state of my own heart.

Getting back on track. Gateway Christian Church had great facilities and friendly, committed members. This was for me a very evident result of Paul's legacy of following Jesus Christ. Paul was starting a series on the Beatitudes. Since this was the 36th anniversary of his church, he spent this service sharing what blessings the church has had over the years (and showed a nice slide show of pictures through the years) and covering lessons learned. I took some notes on my phone. Here are some of his church's lessons (these are from my notes and are either paraphrases, summaries, or direct quotes):

"When it comes to God's will: It doesn't matter whether we can afford it, but whether God wants us to do this.

God doesn't need perfect circumstances for His miracles.

No disgrace in failing at great goals. It is only disgrace to have the fear to not make great goals.

He will always provide if we are doing His will.

'Never doubt in the dark what God has proven to be true in the light.'

'It is helpful, but it is not necessary to know and understand what God is doing and why. It is necessary to trust that He knows what He is doing.'

Sometimes He delivers us to the fire instead of from the fire. He has promised to always be with us through the valley, through the storm, through the fire."

We went out to eat lunch at a place called Zapatas (I think). I had the Mexican buffet. We were joined by their intern, Josh, and his girlfriend, Julie. Also there was Anna, a young lady we met in the college group, and Julie's sister. It was a pleasant lunch. Many thanks are in order for how Paul and Jane provided for me and Tom and for how we were welcomed by the others at the table.

At about 4 or 5 pm, Tom, Jane, and I arrived at the picnic. The kids were just finishing up their slip-n-slide with mustard and relish. Gross, but fun for a young boy. I played volleyball, my favorite sport (to participate in). Supper was fantastic. You really can't beat a church potluck. At the end, there were a couple testimonies and I was really touched to see how much Gateway meant to the couple of people who spoke about their experience at Gateway. It reminded me a lot of Bennington Bible Church in Kansas. Community. That's what I see making such impacts in their lives. I was also touched that Paul prayed for me and Tom before the whole congregation. That was so unexpected and so precious. I praise God for His children and the love they showed to me. I am really awestruck by their care and compassion... and for them it was second nature. They loved with such ease.

Before I went to bed I squared away plans for Monday. I was in touch with the Carlyle Church of God in Illinois. Pastor Wagner was one of the kindest people I spoke with and I'm sad I never got the chance to meet him. I remember thinking about his initiative in trying to help us. On the Katy trail Thursday and Friday, I spoke with him and a Lutheran church. I thought I'd be able to secure something with the Lutheran church because our conversation was so upbeat, so I told Pastor Wagner that I thought we'd be taken care of. The Lutheran Church ended up falling through, but Pastor Wagner made it clear that if the Lutheran Church couldn't help he would work something out for us. And that he did. He arranged for us to meet with a member of his congregation (Carol) at the Eldon Hazlet State Park campground at the Carlyle Reservoir. There, we could pitch our tent (plot paid for by Carol) and Carol would feed us supper and breakfast as well as give us some money collected for us at the Sunday service. I really couldn't believe that once again someone (and his church) would reach out to us like this. It really makes me want to cry each time I think about it. Pastor Wagner really hit the ball out of the park, even with my curveball pitch.

We took our second consecutive day of rest in St. Louis, Missouri on Sunday, June 7, 2009.

St. Louis, Missouri (Saturday)

I don't remember how I prepared for the day on Saturday morning. I probably woke up around 8am and had breakfast with Paul and Jane. Tom slept in for a while, I remember that. I also remember that breakfast was delicious each day we spent there. After breakfast, Tom and I packed some lunches and Paul and Jane were giving us a ride downtown by about 9:30am.

We arrived at the Gateway Arch early and bought our tickets to ride to the top. While we waited, we explored the museum (Museum of Westward Expansion) below the arch. I had the feeling that this journey brought us along our particular path for a reason. It was a strange sensation. That we would ride through just the right places (of historical significance) on our way east provided the opportunity to learn more about what the US is built on. How did the US become what it is today? I was traveling backwards in time from Denver, east and I got to observe the westward progress in reverse. Not only that, I took a critical and curious look at the figures of our history. These are figures that all Americans should know and that many revere. What made them great? Are they worthy to immitate? In what regards do I admire or respect them? In what ways do I not? I will tell you now, that I hold these men (and women) in no higher regard than the men they were... that is, I do not lose sight that these people did great things, but only through the strength, knowledge, and wisdom that was given to them by God.

We were in line for the arch in no time. Then we were in the tiny capsules (made with technology from the 1960's, if I remember correctly) that took us up to the top. What can I say about the Gateway Arch? It is certainly a feat of precise engineering. What a strange building, though. It was built in honor of St. Louis being the gateway to the west because that is where Lewis and Clark really kicked off their journey west. The view from inside was quite pretty from all sides. It was cool to be at the top, but it was no long-awaited dream fulfilled. I can say that I have done it, but it was not a lifetime achievement to be there. Maybe I just don't get impressed the way I used to... I suppose it could be that I've grown used to seeing skyscrapers and riding rollercoasters.

However, observing the arch from the outside was much more impressive. I remember gazing at the towering structure thinking this was something alien... like the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. And I was also waiting for a scene from the Stargate series to happen.

Tom and I also went to the Old Courthouse where the Dred Scott case took place. It was a museum in its own rights. There was so much history to absorb between this place and the museum under the arch that I got a headache trying to take in everything. I felt mentally tired very fast and I was ready to leave already. Still, I was in St. Louis, so I might as well see whatever else I could. We went to the old Union Station next. We walked around, sat down, and then got picked up. Before we left, we did get to try out the "whispering arch" where one person can stand about 20-30 feet away from another, whisper into the wall, and the person on the other end can hear as if standing right beside them.

Paul and Jane took us to a graduation party of a girl from their congregation (whose father happened to be another one they took in back in the 80's... Paul and Jane have a history of taking people in). It was good to talk with a couple of the kids around our age about our experience.

We went back home and the Rockies beat the Cardinals again. Supper was yummy. I am a slower eater than Paul, which is apparently a rarity ;)

We had a day of rest in St. Louis, Missouri on Saturday, June 6, 2009.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Inventorying my bags

Just in case you are interested in going on a trip like mine, here is a list of what I brought with me (some I sent home in Topeka and will account for later):

-Touring bicycle (road bike made from steel or titanium) with back rack, water bottle holders
-Sun glasses
-two large panniers (combined volume of 109 liters) with rain covers
-sleeping bag with black plastic bag for rain protection
-Leatherman (never used)
-2 pairs of triple-A batteries
-2 pairs of double-A batteries
-First aid kit
-4 water bottles (and an occasional gatorade or two)
-bungie net for strapping sleeping bag to bike
-2 Ace bandages for my knees
-Lights (small headlight, blinking tail light)
-notebook (for writing notes and contact info)
-solar/crank-powered flash light/radio with weather band (used through Kansas and maybe once after)
-sun screen lotion (2-3 bottles at a time for my arms, legs and 2 bottles for my face)
-two-man tent, tent footprint
-sleeping pad
-2 Shamwows (one large, one small, both used infrequently)
-cell phone

-shoes (biking shoes and walking shoes)
-3 pairs of biking socks, 2 normal socks
-2 pair of biking shorts
-2 pair of biking shirts
-2 t-shirts
-swim trunks
-warm-up pants
-long-sleeved Under Armor winter shirt
-wool longjohns
-2 pairs of underwear
-bandana/scarf (never used)

-one half roll of toilet paper (never used)
-one bar of Naptha (used twice)
-2 bars soap (one for body, one for face)
-shampoo (small bottle)
-body wash/shampoo (small bottle, got it in North Vernon)
-contact lenses (one case for each eye), 3 contact lens cases, 2 contact lens solution bottles, eye drops
-stick of deodorant
-2 nail clippers (fingers and toes)
-toothbrush and paste

Bike maintenance:
-two spare tubes
-two spare tires
-bike lock
-computer (small device to track mileage, speed)
-4 tire irons (dont ask)
-chain lube
-2 patch kits
-chain breaker

Food stuff (fluxuates):
-dried fruit (bananas, raisins, apricots)
-not dried fruit (whenever I could I brought apples and bananas)
-Electrolyte 'Stamina' packets (like Gatorade, but without the sugar)
-whatever lunch I could pack (usually consisting of at least one sandwich)

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Update 7/2

Hi everyone,

I cannot wait to catch you all up on each day's progress, but I must wait a while longer to do that (and I will, don't worry!). However, I do have some exciting, yet sad news to share. My journey on bicycle has come to an end.

Today, Tom and I rode from our hosts in Alexandria, VA to his grandparents' city, Rockville, MD. In particular, we ended at the UPS Store and shipped our trusty steeds of 45 days back home to Colorado. I was definitely a little apprehensive when I saw my bike - all taken apart and nonfunctional - ready to be packed. Hehe, I don't want to think I've become attached to an otherwise inanimate object, but it was almost like leaving behind a pet that your parents told you you couldn't have any more. I stole just one glance behind me as I walked away, so I'm not too bad, you see ;). I believe that because I've spent so much time on those two wheels (45 days and probably near 200 hours) and depended upon it for so much (1800 miles of travel) that I really didn't want to leave it behind. I need to adjust to the "normal," faster modes of transportation again.

So, my bicycle journey is over. But, my spiritual journey will never end, so long as I desire to continue. There are several reasons for ending bicycling before Buffalo, NY. I first realized that D.C. could be the end of bicycling last Sunday at Tom's Aunt and Uncle's house. Let me lay out the simple circumstances:

-Tom has family in the D.C. area that could take him to his family reunion in Buffalo.
-My father is in Philedelphia on business each week and I could stay with him at his hotel and leave from there.
-Tom has wanted to see his girlfriend in New Jersey since we started the trip (and we had intended to go there), so he could stay with me and my dad in Philly across the river if he wants.

Based on those factors, I knew that I could feasibly be finished here. Then I had to think about my spiritual journey. Is this what God wants? Am I supposed to go on? I could certainly go on. God will provide for me, I have no doubts or fears about that. But, do I need to go on? I felt nothing drawing me on to Buffalo. No feelings that I'd be missing out if I stopped early. If we went on, I would meet more people and we would be riding several more days and several more miles, but I can meet people and pursue God each day whether on a bicycle far from home or not. Now, being on bicycle far from home does provide a unique opportunity to open up about my faith that being at home in comfort does not. Will I go home and lose my motivation to pursue fellowship or opportunities to witness? Time will tell, but I hope I've learned enough from my experiences this summer to open up to strangers even in my home city. Being home will open different opportunities to serve people and share God's love and I must be aware of those possibilities and take advantage of them.

Sorry for the drawn out stream of consciousness. The distance of this trip is sufficient, the people I have met were fantastic (and I believe we were with just the right people and interacted with the right people all along), the experiences were meaningful, the country was beautiful, and God's lessons were pertinent to the state of my heart and place in my journey. My continued spiritual journey is not dependent on my being halfway across the country from home or using a bicycle to get around. Although, I believe everything about this trip was indicative of God's perfection and His intimate knowledge of my heart.

So, why is it sad that I am ending now? This all came very suddenly. I told Tom that I figured we could end here in D.C. that same Sunday night and by the morning I was decided. It was very abrupt and all other possibilities were discarded. I had absolutely no plan committed for how I would get home after arriving in Buffalo. I tossed around some ideas: plane, train, bus, car, motorcycle. I thought I might drive home and visit all the places I came through on the way here... hence not ending the journey until some time after July 15. Instead, what I will do is fly from Philly to Denver on July 9. That means I will not be able to see the wonderful people I love so much (and this was definitely a factor in my thought process as I decided what I should do now). That includes everyone I have met and supported me on this journey. They took me in (or prayed or followed my progress, sending me encouraging words), a stranger, and cared for me like family. I did not deserve their love, but they showered me with it. I cannot repay them for their kindness, hospitality, and generosity. I know that their motivation was pure, that is, out of love - without expectation of reward - that God may receive all the glory and praise.

I am committed to seeing my new family again. I do not know when and I do not know how. In the meantime, I will certainly be in contact with each of them as I continue this journey - no longer refered to as my "spirit journey," as though it ends after bicycling - which is called life. Does it need a better name? What is life? Life is in Jesus Christ. Life is a journey that never ends so long as you go with him. Live.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Update 6/27

Tom and I are in Rockville, MD tonight staying at his grandparents' Lutheran church. We've been on the C&O Canal Trail from Cumberland (we left 2 days ago) to Great Falls. The weather has been perfect and the path is reasonable. I got my second flat tire of the trip today, but I changed it and there's no harm done. My bike is in serious need of a washing.

I'm doing okay. I have enjoyed a lot of these last three days, but I've found myself in a strange mood as well... somehow irritable (in part because of food shortages), disappointed (because I wish I had more time to learn more of the history and slow down to read the signs), and occasionally upset with the circumstances (e.g. having problems with my bags falling off, some things Tom says that I probably read too much into, etc.). Nonetheless, I am alive and well and I am in God's tender care no matter what each moment brings. Right now I am content and glad to be where I am.

Monday, June 22, 2009

St. Louis, Missouri

Paul K. served us breakfast and we got to visit a little while longer.  He took us for a tour of the church and I discovered even more just how beautiful these old churches are (and how full of history).  In a chapel, we had a brief Bible study and took communion.  We finished packing and saw some people coming in the church (a secretary, a woman with the quilting club) as the sunshine started to fill the church with light.  It was a beautiful sunny morning.

We were already back on the road.  We did not get enough time there.  I would have loved to talk with Paul K. and Joe some more, but we were heading to St. Louis with about 40 miles of trail remaining.

We got back on the trail and the weather was perfect.  It would be hot later, but for then, it was nice and cool (with no wind) and the path was just right.  I knew there would be three vineyards on the way with wineries and I was determined to stop at one... even at 9am in the morning.  We missed the first couple of wineries and just enjoyed the ride.  A winery was not the priority, but I certainly would have loved to go to my first one ever (and we did find one later).

The trail was as the day before wonderful.  As opposed to later trails we would take, this one had an amber glow to it and I felt safe and comfortable as we cruised along.  I saw more wildlife and several bikers and hikers.  On one occasion, two hikers were walking opposite of us and a squirrel decided to slowly cross the path between them and us.  He just didn't move fast enough and although time seemed to momentarily freeze as I watched the squirrel crossing in front of me everything happened so fast I had no time to react.  I simply rode forward and the squirrel was done for.  My first road kill.  Probably.  Not that you need gory details, but I turned around after running him over and saw him try to sidle of the path, but he couldn't pick up his head.  I saw him manage to get off the path, but I hope some predator put him out of his misery or he somehow was healed.  Ah well.

We did finally run into a winery as we continued down the path.  We had to climb a steep, paved hill to get there, but I'm very glad we did.  It was the Sugar Creek Winery and the place was unbelievable.  The view of the expanse of land from the hilltop was breathtaking and it was hard to believe a cute little place like this existed out in Missouri... I would picture this kind of thing in California or maybe Italy, I don't know, I've never been out there, but Missouri?  I went inside the winery and tasted everything they had to offer.  I settled on getting the Cynthiana, which is a dry red wine from a native American grape.  Pretty good stuff.  I'm no connoisseur or I'd tell you more.  We stayed at the winery for a little more than an hour (for lunch).

Nothing much else to speak of as far as the ride goes.  It was serene.  So much scenery to take in.  Deer in the meadows with a creek flowing by was picture perfect, but I think my camera was dead.  We finished our ride at the St. Charles Family Arena (I think this is right).  Our host, Paul N. was to pick us up with his black Yukon so we could avoid city traffic.  He picked us up between 4 and 5 pm and we got a ride to his home in Kirkwood.

On the ride over, I learned that Paul comes from a family with a tradition in the ministry.  His parents were missionaries in Asia (China, Philippines, Thailand?) and during WWII when the Japanese had control of the Philippines, his parents and his siblings were locked in a prison, which is where Paul was born!  In prison.  All of his family survived, while many died of malnutrition.  His parents were able to minister to the fellow prisoners.  His parents never stopped, even after the end of the war.  That legacy of ministry was passed to Paul and now, all of Paul's boys (four of them) are ministers.  It is interesting how strong faith can be passed on intergenerationally (I guess that's probably not real a word).

Shortly after arriving, we found out when the church potluck/picnic to celebrate their 36th anniversary would be on Sunday (it would be in the evening).  I wanted to be there, so Jane graciously offered her home to us one more night!  Thus, we made plans for two days of rest.  We had a wonderful meal, which Paul's wife, Jane, prepared for us.  After supper, we relaxed (this was Friday night and on Saturday we would have a day of rest and sightseeing!) and watched the Rockies-Cardinals baseball game.  What an interesting coincidence that our two teams would be facing each other while we were in town!  The Rockies creamed the Cards (sorry, Paul and Jane and St. Louis ;) ).  I guess we brought good luck to the Rockies those four days we were there because they swept the four game series.

Before bed, I got to meet the summer intern for their church that they were hosting.  Josh is studying in Florida and is working with the youth program all summer.  It was great to make one more friend before bed.

To be continued... 

-The next day we went to downtown St. Louis to visit the Gateway Arch, the museum under the arch, the Old Courthouse, and Union Station.  We also crashed a graduation party Saturday.
-Sunday, we went to church (the 36th anniversary of the church and of Paul being pastor there!  What impeccable timing... I have a knack for finding celebrations) and the picnic/potluck
-Monday we were supposed to leave, but I was very uneasy about leaving that day.  For one, the rain and hail scared me.  So, we delayed the trip one more day.  The rain and hail stopped within one hour of starting, but it turned out there were tornados right on our path that day.  I'm glad we stayed the extra day.

We rode to St. Louis, Missouri on Friday, June 5, 2009.  We stayed for several days of rest.


Hey folks,

Tom and I are safe in Oakland, Maryland right now. I'm using a computer at the Garret County public library. I've gotten several states behind on my posts, but hopefully the most important details have remained either in my head or I've written them in my personal journal so I can recall them when I get the chance to catch up. I will probably start posting shorter entries just so you all know where I am at present and some details of our travels.

We are waiting for a phone call from our host tonight. Until then, we are sitting ducks. I really hope he doesn't back out on us.

The ride today was very difficult. We crossed a couple mountain ranges of the Appalachians. There were some several mile climbs (of grade 9%) and then some wonderful downhill times. When we arrived in Brookside, WV I stopped to get a picture of a "historic landmark" sign for an old stone tavern built in the early 1800s. There, a young woman walked up from the building with her bicycle in hand. Her name is Debbie, a freelance journalist, and she wound up asking where we were heading for the evening. When we told her we were going to Mountain Lake Park, she told us a really handy short cut that saved us 3 miles of riding and who knows what kind of mountains. Before she left us, she introduced us to her boyfriend, Brad, who was working on renovating the tavern (which is being made into a bar). He gave us a tour of the structure and some of the history.

We arrived in Oakland shortly before 5pm and we tried to call Pastor Chip (but didn't reach him, so left a message). At this point, we are awaiting his response and periodically trying to call again.

Thanks for your patience! If you are interested in where we are at any given time, you can also follow me on twitter (username kurtisgriess) or find me on facebook.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Washington, Missouri (part 2)

I don't like it. Not one bit. Something about what I wrote at the end of my last post does not feel right. I think I was trying to be insightful, but I am not sure I have ever succeeded in doing that on purpose. When it's me that's writing, I can see the flaws and I am disappointed with the outcome. And when I am writing not from my own thoughts, but from something that I feel... it makes a lot more sense. I know the difference.

Let me correct myself. I was not enjoying the ride for a brief stint that morning. Ultimately, I knew that something needed to change. When I returned to my deepest desires (to connect with God and be with Him), I knew I had to stop and adjust or my day would be miserable.

God has taught me something about my motivations and my foundations lately. In the end, if my purpose for doing something is apart from Him I don't feel right. As for foundations, if I am distracted by some new experience or idea (e.g. learning about a different faith practice) I must return to what holds me fast. Sometimes (or often it seems), my foundation is shaken at the places I never built. Here, I must evaluate an experience or idea from a position that is sturdy. What I am doing a lot on this journey is buttressing and fortifying my foundation.

Okay, back to my story. I met a lovely woman named Celia from Estes Park, Colorado while Tom and I took our lunch break (well, it was more like another snack, which turned out to do me more harm than good later as I was struggling to find energy to push on). I think we were at the Portage checkpoint (but, I'd have to verify with photos and a map). The trees opened up to the Missouri river there for one of the first full views I had of the water. Celia was following ("chasing" or "supporting") three bikers (one is a friend of hers) from coast-to-coast as they bicycled all the way across the country. She had a white truck with supplies and she met them at various points along the way. She parked and set up her chair under some cottonwoods and read a book and journaled. She had an aura of beauty surrounding her. She seemed at peace. I don't remember how I met her, but we exchanged stories before she took some pictures of Tom and me. I was back at the small shelter at the trail marker checkpoint about to get my bike set to leave again, when I heard a crack and quickly looked back to where Celia was sitting.

It all happened very quickly. I only saw the final four feet of the tree branch's fall. From my vantage point, it had either just hit the truck or the chair. My mind had little time to register what was going on before I realized Celia was now standing a couple feet away. "Did you see that?" I saw it, but I was still worried maybe she'd been hurt (despite the fact she was still standing). The branch fell right between her truck and her chair, not three feet apart. She got up when she heard a sound. All was fine, but I'd've had a heart attack if it was me.

We continued riding. We intersected paths with Celia one other time and also with Jack (from before in the morning). This time with Jack he had some questions about my spiritual journey and how we were getting along (e.g. how do we find a place to stay at night). I was surprised by his sudden interest and I addressed his questions as best I could before Tom and I passed him and his friend on the trail. I could sense he had more to ask, but we did not get the chance to speak more. A lost opportunity? I don't think so.

We reached Dutzow, MO at about 6:30pm. This is the latest we've ever arrived at our evening destination. I called Paul K. and he told me his friend Joe was going to meet us. I was expecting a bicycle escort to the city, but I was very grateful that Joe showed up during my call to Paul saying that he brought his car with his bike rack. I was exhausted, but still all too ready to ride the three miles to Washington if necessary (I occaisionally have the mentality that allows me to ignore the discomfort and push on in spite of them).

Joe had a lot of questions to ask me about my faith and my spirit journey. I'm not entirely sure what he wanted to know. I know that I couldn't have given him very good answers because I tend to be a slow thinker when asked deep questions and I didn't want to take too long to respond. I remember learning a great word from him: ecumenical. He told me he was an ecumenical type of guy. He was raised Catholic and currently attends St. Peter's United Church of Christ. He was pretty interesting and I didn't get nearly enough time to soak in our conversation. He rides bicycles on a track and used to train at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. Also, his first question to Tom and me was "do you like beer?"

We drove over the river and he pointed out the complete lack of shoulders that once caused him to have to be scraped off the road by an ambulence. I'm glad we avoided that after 77 miles of riding earlier in the day. Soon enough we were in Washington, unloading our things from his jeep outside the church. Paul K. joined us and helped carry things inside.

We all had supper together (some delish burgers with barbeque sauce, some mixed veggies, and some sweet pink whippy stuff I don't remember the name of). Paul told me he had the chance to read all of my blog and that he found that some of the material pertained to his message two weeks later on 2 Corinthians 5:6-17. He asked if he could use some of my words and experiences in his sermon (which he has sent to me by the time I am writing this). I obliged. Whatever does come of this journey, I am glad if good comes to more than just me.

What can I say about Paul? He was quick to accept me and Tom into his church (a relief considering earlier difficulties in Missouri). He was very thoughtful all the time. He weighed each statement of mine, which made me feel a little sheepish, as I certainly didn't think I had much of importance to share. That reminds me, before we went to bed, he asked us what the greatest lesson we've learned is. I really didn't have much of a good response. Once again. Trust me, I've been asked that question quite a lot and nothing popped into mind that I should share as my most important lesson while biking. And as of our last conversation (via telephone), I told Paul that because my journey started in January many of the biggest life changing lessons had been taught before my biking ever began. Indeed, what I might deem to be the greatest revelation is simply seeing there is more. And that lesson happened early on when God opened my eyes. Suddenly, everything I was missing became more clear. I couldn't grasp the "more" yet, but I saw it there for the taking.

Where was I? We went to Paul's son Aaron's baseball game and before leaving there, I met his wife Marcia and his daughter Gracie and finalized arrangements with our host in St. Louis (another Paul!). We also got the tour of Washington (which apparently has quite the nightlife) after leaving the game.

We rose fairly early to sunshine. Paul was out of his sleeping bag way before either of me or Tom. By the way, if it isn't clear by now, Paul spent the night with us in the youth room. That was definitely a first and I appreciate him doing that. I had my sleeping bag on some cushions borrowed from a nearby couch. I believe I woke before my alarm (as I had been most days of the journey thus far) and started preparing for the day. We all had breakfast together. Then Paul gave us a tour of the church. A beautiful building. On the tour, the organist was practicing as we walked in the sanctuary, we saw pictures of the development of the church, we saw urns containing ashes of deceased members, and then we walked to the chapel. In the chapel we had a short Bible study (on 2 Corinthians 5:6-17) and we partook of Holy Communion.

Though our time together was short, I sensed Paul's wisdom and his yearning for "more."

We rode to Washington, Missouri on Thursday, June 4, 2009.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Washington, Missouri (part 1)

I called Earl at about 7am and he told me he'd be at the hotel with Kathy in about thirty minutes. That gave me some time to prepare my bags. We went to a throwback restaurant called Oscar's. It had black and white photos of Jeff City from decades ago (I'm talking 50s and earlier). We had some scrumptious food and I just loved spending that time with Kathy and Earl. I was with family again.

Breakfast ended and we looked at some of the photos before stepping out the door. Then we were back in the hotel in no time, lugging our bikes and bags downstairs. And, after some strange navigation to get out of Jeff City, we found the Katy trail!

The Katy trail was a railroad track (MKT - Missouri Kansas Texas, I think) that was converted to a gravel path about ten years ago (don't hold me to that). It spans all of Missouri from west to east and follows the Missouri river through some amazing landscape and woods. We feared the Katy trail would be too rough on our road bike-thin tires, but it was a chance we were willing to take for what we heard about the scenery, the shade, the lack of highway traffic and noise, the protection from wind, and the more direct path to Washington.

The trail was not a letdown. Not in the least. But I'll tell you about that later. We met some bikers early and had some conversations. I spoke with Jack for about a half an hour and got to know him a bit - a man who works for parks and recreation where he lives in California, with two children (about my age), who does weeklong rides each summer with some of his friends from work. The oldest person in Jack's crew was over 70 years old! That's pretty neat. They were staying in B&Bs (bed and breakfasts) all along the Katy trail and they used rented bikes from St. Louis. When I shared some of my story with him, he glanced over the spiritual aspect and before too long we parted ways (we crossed paths again several times in the day). There was another couple of bicyclists we talked with. A man and his son. The father said that it was a great opportunity for him to connect with his son in a special time apart from a less-than-optimal atmosphere (apparently there were some arguments between the son and daughter of the family in which the father stepped in and thought his son may feel alienated).

Tom and I finally got to a place where I could make some phone calls. After the calls, I was riding behind Tom (which doesn't happen too often) and I was struggling to keep up. There may be a couple of factors that caused my being slow: Tom's bike was better suited for the trail (with slightly thicker wheels), my diet for the day probably had not consisted of enough carbohydrates (I had eaten some fruit, but no grains), and I think Tom was hauling. Tom and I knew we'd be on the trail for a long time. We had 77 miles to ride and it wasn't nice and highway-smooth. However, it didn't take much of trying to keep up with Tom that I felt so terrible I had to ask him to slow things down. I felt some kind of pain. It wasn't really physical, believe it or not, but mental or emotional. I was not enjoying the ride. If we slowed down a couple miles an hour (like the pace we kept when we were talking with the bikers earlier) I could soak in the scenery and appreciate the beauty of God's creation instead of straining myself and feeling rushed. I'm very thankful we stopped concerning ourselves with being in Washington by an earlier hour and just relaxed and took it all in.

Ultimately, I saw a handful of creatures that day. First, I saw red fox slinking into the woods. The next big animal was a deer that darted out from behind a bridge (which nearly scared me out of my skin). And there were a lot of smaller critters too. Squirrels, turtles, toads. Insects too (the mosquitos were on the attack any time you stopped more than 5 seconds in the shade). And birds would glide gracefully across the path right in front of me. I saw my first cardinals and really pretty blue birds called Indigo Buntings (I think that's the name... thanks, Joe).

The bluffs were amazing. Towering above us on the left. Sometimes I'd be focused on the trail and peer upwards in the direction of the trees to see 20-30 (sometimes more) feet above me were white, gray, and yellowish cliffs. And occaisionally, I would glimpse of the Missouri. It was a grand river... bigger than any I had seen since leaving Colorado. We saw no boats on the river (I was told the flow is too high right now), only the small mud brown waves flowing uninterupted at the center and lapping at the shore on the sides.

My imagination ran wild. I can only imagine what all this scenery would look like to a passerby riding a ferry or a boat as they rocked down the Missouri. Indeed, as I rode my bicycle and observed teenagers playing with switches and encountered a woman with a mystical (in a good way, I assure you) presence, I thought it was no wonder Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer were so popular. Well, Mark Twain had a lot to work with if he used this place for inspiration (well, he used the Mississippi, but same idea). I later wrote in note in my phone, "this is where fiction lives. Put down your book and just see for yourself."

Most of the day, I just enjoyed the adventure and the journey. But, I want to return to the pain I felt in the morning. I was hurting (not in the physical sense, not really) when we were rushing. God taught me something in that and here's what I later wrote:

"Live in each moment. We get so caught up in what we have to do that we don't take the time to realize the life we have."

I have been disconnected from reality at times (e.g. nearly all of my fall 2008 semester). I have been so caught up in a task that I forget just what it is that life is about. I lose sight of the importance of the big picture as I'm wrapped up in some menial, (and let's face it) sometimes meaningless tasks. However, I don't think life should only be enjoyed when you're unencumbered by responsibilities. I believe that in each moment we can have feeling and an awareness of life. That despite regretful circumstances and difficult times during the fulfillment of a responsibility we are not a slave to discomfort.

How do we enjoy life amidst monotony, pressure, or pain? I don't see why there shouldn't be a way. And that morning here is how I did: I stopped ("be still"), calmed my heart to find out what was bothering me, and I asked myself "why do I live?" I flocked back to the truth that is my foundation (which never fails to comfort me). My life is in Christ. My purpose defined, worries relieved, hope fulfilled, and struggles abated. So, we changed our pace because I realized there was more to that moment than what I was seeing. More than trying to keep up with Tom and simply travel the 77 miles. God was there in my midst. I just had to slow down and look around.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Jefferson City, Missouri (part 2)

I ran upstairs to gather Tom and head out of the hotel so we could go to the Salvation Army with David. Soon, we were in his green 4runner and driving the short distance to serve supper. I met some of the youth (a girl who had far too little sleep with only 11 hours, her friend, and April) and some adults who I would serve with.

I washed my hands in a large basin that had foot pedals to control the flow of water then I pulled on my disposable rubber gloves and got to work. Actually, it was mostly chatting for a while. Around 5:15pm we started serving the oncoming line. The people who came through are down on their luck and need a hand to get back on their feet. The Salvation Army gives them a place to live and food to eat for several months, but not too long (they are there to learn skills and they must seek employment while they are in the Salvation Army).

I got to eat supper after we were done serving (which didn't take long at all. Maybe 15-20 minutes. Tops). A nice gentleman (Glen) from the church spoke with me about the time in the limelight (my words, but it's the same concept) so to speak. He said that everyone has their time to shine and this was ours. His time was canoeing across Missouri in earlier days. He also told us about his band that he's played in for over 20 years. He is one of two of the original members remaining. He's a pretty neat guy. He also had some words regarding some new additions to the church (a big, expensive project expanding the building and a new, expensive organ). His point about the expenses was that these were gifts to the church from benefactors, but that if the church has been so greatly blessed it makes the church more responsible for using those blessings. I don't want to put words in Glen's mouth, but it was my impression that perhaps he felt the church had unfulfilled potential with all of the resources it now has. If the church had little to no discretion on how to spend the large money gifts I hope they use their new facilities to minister to the community in greater ways than before.

After supper, we drove to the church and had youth group. I gave a short testimony of sorts to the kids and their parents. Most of the teens seemed uninterested (except April), but I don't blame them. I might not have paid much attention when I was their age either. Ah well. Some of the parents expressed interest anyways. The rest of the time was spent covering the youth mission trip to St. Louis.

David drove me and Tom to the grocery store where we bought fruit and gatorade. Tom also got Mike and Ikes. He eats a lot more candy and drinks more pop than me, which, despite all the exercise, I don't think is a good decision. It's his choice and his finances.

On the ride back to Hotel DeVille, David shared a bit about his experience as both a youth pastor and the minister of a church nearby. He is fairly new as the youth pastor and is establishing a foundation of trust and commitment to build the program. He seems to enjoy his work, but does have a full plate between his two jobs. For that reason, it can be difficult to spend precious time with his daughter. It is an interesting balance we must choose in order to provide for our families and have time left to spend with them.

Before going to bed that night, I spoke on the phone with Kathy and had a long conversation in the lobby with one of the deskworkers (who converted to Judiasm to marry her husband). First, Kathy and I figured out what to do for breakfast in the morning. Next, she shared that she wanted me to keep in touch with her. She felt tied in to our journey. She told me that normally, a request like mine (or a request for money) would have been ignored. Her church has limited funds for assisting people that need help and that usually she would have just rejected a phone call like mine asking for help. However, something about my journey really connected with her. She told me about "listening to your gut" and feeling the flow. The words resonated within me and despite their relative informality, I felt she was saying something beautiful. In my mind, it seemed she was describing the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit had moved her to help us despite being something very out of the norm. Indeed, normally, she would not have given us a second thought because of the church's tight budget. Before I hung up, she said, "let God guide you because it can be more fun than you can imagine." And it has been. It has been beautiful, wonderful, and awesome.

There is hardship too. My heart is sometimes heavy, but God has not failed to lift those burdens in time.

My conversation with Ashley, the deskworker, ended in her saying that she respected what I am doing. She does not like judgement and hypocrisy she feels she receives from Christians. What can I say? I think that Christians should be loving and should know and live what they believe (or say they believe). I told her that she and I are God's creation and that God created us to love one another. I think it would be fantastic to seek after the truth with a person like Ashley. She was so open in our conversation and ready to explore for what is real. Unfortunately, I may not see her again and I don't know if she will be engaged in a conversation or situation in which she continues to explore her faith any time soon.

And shortly after that, I decided it would be best to go to bed. Breakfast was at about 7am the next morning.

We rode to Jefferson City, Missouri on Wednesday, June 3, 2009.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Jefferson City, Missouri (part 1)

Tom and I slept in Wednesday morning. It was 8am when we started moving, if I remember correctly. Jeff City is only 22 miles from California (MO). The weather was not particularly attractive. Overcast, with a chance for rain. I wore my underarmor to keep my upper body warm and after we arrived at Sonic for breakfast I added my longjohns for more warmth. I ate a sad excuse for a breakfast burrito, but it was food and I can't complain. I am grateful for the sustenance.

We had nice roads to Jeff City. It was really hilly and the landscape was rolling, covered in green everywhere. Occasionally, a yellow cliff would arise on the sides of the highway where someone had cut out rock to lay down the road. It never did rain, but the clouds put a damper on my mood. It was a somber ride. Strictly business. I realized the next day that my riding sometimes became more of a chore than a pleasure.

When we approached the "big" city (it was big compared to what we were used to, but only 40-50 thousand), the roads got a little hectic. The shoulder shrunk in places and cars raced by. No close calls, fortunately. I tuned out the traffic somehow. As I think about it now, I probably should have been more nervous. My heart shudders now as I recall how close to me those cars were and how fast they were moving. But hey, I survived. (And so did Tom, of course. I kept peeking back whenever I could to make sure he crossed on ramps and exits safely).

Kathy, our lovely host (that is, our new family for Jeff City), gave me directions to the First Christian Church at our stop in Syracuse the day before. Tom and I rode some steep hills to the Capitol and took a lot of pictures of the building and statues. I wish we had more time to soak it in. Very pretty and full of history (a lot of tributes to Jefferson and Lewis and Clark).

At last, we arrived at the church and were immediately greeted by Kathy. We put our bikes in the custodian's truck in the back of the church (Kathy arranged for the custodian to give us a ride in his truck to our hotel. Yes, hotel. We stayed in the Hotel DeVille thanks to the generosity of several people at the church, as I later found out from David, their youth pastor). We walked back upstairs and met a woman working in the office and David. We arrived in the city early (around 12:30pm) and beforehand, I was afraid we would not have much opportunity for fellowship (and I wasn't really sure where our meals would come from either). However, during conversation with David, Tom and I committed to helping serve supper at the Salvation Army (which Kathy did mention the day before on the phone) and to share our story with the youth group at their weekly meeting.

The custodian drove us to the Hotel DeVille and Kathy checked us in and waited for us in the lobby to take us out to lunch (at some point between meeting her in the church and driving to the hotel she offered to take us to McDonald's). After dropping off our gear, we joined Kathy downstairs and she helped us figure out how to solve our laundry situation (I needed to sign a liability waiver in case I injured myself operating the machines at the hotel and Kathy also gave me some money for detergent and the machines).

Before lunch, we drove to the post office to drop off the church's newsletters. There, we were able to share our story with three fellas in the office (which was a unique atmosphere... I would have loved to see how everything works). We shared with Jim, Rick, and Cedric. They all showed interest and support for our journey. Jim called his uncle near Washington, MO trying to help us find a place to stay and Rick and Cedric gave us some cash to help with food. I am not used to this kind of love. Even after weeks of receiving it from complete strangers. It is still so unexpected and I am forever grateful.

We left the post office and bought lunch in the drive-thru. Kathy then took us to her house to eat the meal. She warned us before going in that there is about a 10-year age difference between her husband and she and not to be surprised. Well, that doesn't really matter to me :). Her husband, Earl, was a delight. He has a great sense of humor (and Kathy has a great sense of patience ;)... kidding, kidding. I can tell they enjoy one another). We ate our lunch and visited and discussed routes to take. Several people had brought up the Katy trail to go east to St. Louis to avoid highway traffic and to enjoy scenery. By lunchtime, Tom and I had made the decision not to take the Katy trail because the gravel would be too rough for our tires.

We finished eating and Kathy offered to take us for a tour. Earl decided to join us and he drove. There are a lot of details in conversations that I lose between writing these blogs and when they occur. I need to try to keep up better. However, if my memory serves me correctly, here's a couple of really simple tidbits: Earl was involved in the Vietnam war and had worked as a painter for 20-some years and Kathy and he have several children between them (I want to say five and both have kids from past marriages). They were a very cute couple to observe. We saw some of the city and we drove out to the Katy trail. Tom and I thought at that time it was the right choice to avoid the gravel. Earl took us back to our hotel before too long so that we could settle in and be ready for David to pick us up for serving supper at the Salvation Army.

It was during that break that I made several phone calls to try to make arrangements for the following day. As I mentioned before, Jim (from the post office) tried to reach his uncle in Washington to get us a place to stay. Tom and I had planned to stay in Union because it was on the highway we were going to travel (that is, highway 50), but all three men we spoke with at the post office said that Washington was far more lovely a place. After checking out a map, we decided that Washington was not too far out of the way with a little re-routing, so we decided to call churches there.

I don't remember all the details of my calls, sadly. I remember speaking with the pastor of the First Assembly of God Church (named Paul) and he explained that he wanted to help, but that they had already used all their yearly beneficiary funds to help out people with their mortgages and electric bills. He went into great detail as to how the people of his congregation are having hard times. He said that a lot of folks who hadn't lost their jobs were being retained at only 2-3 days a week, which was just not enough to make it by. And I needed to hear that. In the first two days in Missouri, it was not clear to me the reasons why some churches had been unresponsive. No one that had denied us help had been courteous enough to go into the details of their situation like Paul did. I was really touched by his openness and his tender heart and I was glad to hear the story of the way his church is helping their community. Perhaps this story was common throughout Missouri.

Since he could not help us, he gave me the phone number of St. Peters United Church. I called and spoke with another Paul (Paul K.). Paul K. said he should be able to help us out (his church would be hosting a group of bicyclists riding for Habitat for Humanity in a week and he also had a friend in mind that might be able to take us in) and that he was interested in reading my blog. He told me he would call later to let us know where we would be staying, but that we would have a place in Washington. That was very welcome news. He also told us to take the Katy trail because it is a shorter distance than taking the highway, more scenic, and without the hassle of traffic. I told him my concerns about our tires and he told me that we would be fine. And after later throwing the idea out to Tom (who checked some info online) we made up our minds to take the Katy trail.

Next, I started working on the blog and facebook (uploading photos) and before I knew it, David was calling me to let me know he was outside the hotel.

To be continued... it's late (1:30 am). I guess that's what happens in a new timezone (yay Vincennes, IN).

Monday, June 8, 2009

California, Missouri (Discouragement Continues, but God Never Fails)

God is good. Whether I sleep in someone's home, a church, or my tent, that is God's provision. Whether I have a bed, a couch, or my sleeping bag, that is God's provision. Whether I have a home-cooked meal, KFC, or a granola bar, that is God's provision. Finally, whether I am able to fellowship with other Christians or have surface-level or even deep conversations with complete strangers I am blessed by God to be alive, for the air in my lungs, and the capacity of others' hearts to seek something more. To seek relationships, meaning, life.

I trust that every day, in some way, shape, or form, God will provide us the requisites for survival. In truth, I have been spoiled by the people we've met. There is always someone who has cared for us (by offering help or by just showing interest in our livelihood and our story). And each time, it has been a chance encounter. How random it is that I should talk with just the right person, or so it seems, in the end. Sometimes it takes a lot of time and effort before our paths cross. Other times it's almost like they are expecting us and are ready to humbly serve us before they even knew of us. What I'm trying to say is, no matter the circumstances, God is good. I should never fear.

As I mentioned before, I feel like I have been spoiled. In any given place, God's love pours out in abundance from the people who host us. These are spectacular people. Christians. And as I leave, because I have been sheltered from negativity, judgement, and evil, and because I have been greatly cared for, perhaps I expect that everyone will be as loving. In each city, I become accustomed to the kindness, generosity, and servanthood that I encounter, which I know I do not deserve. That said, each time I venture anew, I am awakened from the haven of security, peace, and love and the second I leave the doors of our hosts I am at the mercy of whoever crosses my path. Occaisionally, the result is negative. Most of the time, it has been positive.

Well, on to my story. The ride from Warrensburg was pleasant. Great weather, albeit a little muggy. Still, it was cool in the morning. Justin and Shamus saw us off and gave us directions back to highway 50. That morning I saw several things of interest while riding. Let me start with the B-2 bomber. We rode near Whiteman Air Force Base in Knob Noster (the launching point of the B-2 bombers) and we saw one of the paper thin, black aircrafts stealthily streaming by. Pretty sweet. I also noticed a transition in the type of road kill. Great. I saw several failed attempts at real-life frogger and even more turtles that will never see another turtle race.

Our first long stop was in La Monte. We stopped at a Casey's General Store (these are a common gas station/convenience store in Kansas and Missouri) to break and make phone calls. A million. I probably was on the phone for over an hour. This is where I became more discouraged by the churches we called). I met dead ends in California, MO because secretaries had to talk to ministers or they passed us on to call another church or two. It so happens they have a system in place in California to handle our kind of request. The churches share a ministerial fund and each month a different church or two is in charge of directing the use of those funds (so that each church shares the responsibility of helping people). We were referred to the church in charge for that month (the United Church of Christ). I remember we had to call back later because the secretary had to talk with the pastors (who were all in meetings) first.

Here is an important point, before I continue. Tom and I do not request money of anyone. We request a roof over our heads, which could be provided by a member of the congregation(via their home) or the church via their building (or if those are not possible, a yard somewhere to set up our tent). However, we have gratefully accepted the generosity of our hosts in whatever form they choose (which has included motels or even a hotel). The great thing about a home or a church is the fellowship opportunities we have with the people we meet (the stories I hear, the lessons I learn, our journeys crossing and lives impacting one another).

Despite the clarity I thought I conveyed in our unique situation, churches continually passed the buck or limited themselves to one or two possible solutions. I saw a box. Within its fine lines were requests for help. These requests had to fall under a familiar category (of migratory vagrant or missionaries asking for help, for example) and submitted within a specific time period. One repeated confusion of some churches we called in the first two days is which category we fall under (vagrants or missionaries). So, first, they needed more time to discuss. Most of the time, they decided we did not fall under either. I believe their typical response to a call for help similar to mine is to throw some money at the problem (get them money for food and put them in a motel). I was asking for a more relational, interactive solution (I wanted to meet some folks no matter where we stayed, share my story, and learn from them). In California, only one church was in charge of the funds a month at a time and later on that church's decision was that our cause was not within the box. In the end, they conveyed their solution: "sorry, we just can't help you." That said, I wrote a lot in my journal about my disappointment with how the church seemed to be handling our request. They did not seem to be able to think quick on their feet or think outside their box to solve our problem.

Sorry for the drama. This was a very long break from riding. It was frustrating.

Meanwhile, I also called churches in Chamois, our next day's stop (Tom liked the name so we were going to stop there, going out of our way a bit). That turned out to be a dead end as well because of the small size of the city. I talked with one pastor, but he could not help (but was helpful) and suggested staying in another, larger town (since there would be no full time staff available at the churches to take our calls). So, I quickly asked Tom if there was anything wrong with trying Jefferson City (Tom had planned out the route, so he knew what stops he picked and why. I thought it would be neat to see the capitol of Missouri anyways). He said that would be fine. A shorter trip, but fine (we'd make up for it the next day). So I made some phone calls there too. I probably only called three churches there. When I called the First Christian Church, I spoke with Kathy, who suggested I try calling the Presbyterian Church first, but then if nothing worked out told us to call her back. I was so sick of making phone calls, I have to admit, I never did try to call the Presbyterian Church.

We were back on the road. Finally. We stopped in Sedalia for lunch. Subway. Five dollar foot-long spicy italian. That's what I always get. Talked with some folks there. They confirmed that rain was forecasted for the afternoon (Shamus and Justin warned us that morning), so Tom and I headed out once again to try to beat the storm. I probably made a couple calls before leaving. Yeah, I'm sure you're as sick of hearing about them as I was making them.

Riding was freedom. The road shoulders were potholed and rough. Then non-existant in places (that may have been better because the road was actually smooth). Around 3 pm I decided to call back the United Church of Christ (the ones in charge of the ministerial fund), so Tom and I pulled off the side of the road. The secretary transferred me to the pastor, who said, as I mentioned before "I'm sorry, I just can't help you." (note: it didn't sound like he was sorry. That is, he didn't say it like he meant it).

I felt: "okay, I cannot be upset, God will provide, but how?" I responded, "That's okay, I understand." I brought up that we have a tent and I asked for anywhere we could set it up. He finally gave me the number for the City Hall.

I called City Hall. I explained my story to the woman who answered. She gave me the number of Parks and Recreation and also asked if we had tried St. Paul's Lutheran church. I had Tom remember one number and I remembered the other two because I didn't have a piece of paper. I called the Parks and Rec. first and left a message (I wanted to know if we could sleep in the park, perhaps under one of the shelters). Then I called the St. Paul's Lutheran church. Pastor Pete picked up (which was fortunate, he usually had the day off, but was there writing his book). He first mentioned the ministerial fund, but I quickly told him that the particular church offered no help. Then he asked me some questions to verify the validity of the purpose of the funds and offered to put us in a motel, take us to dinner with his wife, and give us two books he authored. Wow! Praise God! Thank you, Pastor Pete! He told us he had a meeting at 7pm (I think) and I told him we would "make haste!" I don't know where that came from, but there you go.

And make haste we did. It was scorching hot and there were some pretty killer hills, but we crushed them. Tom observed that we must've been pretty "amped." We stopped in Syracuse and I had a message from Kathy (in Jefferson City). I called her back and told her that I had not talked with the Presbyterian Church and she offered to help us when we stopped in the following day. God is good. Back on the road.

The storm was on our heels by Tipton. After Tipton, as I turned a bend, I thought, "it smells like rain." I looked in the thick woods to see if the source was within. And in ten seconds I was riding on wet pavement. We had just missed a shower that fell in front of us! We traveled in a pocket of dryness that last hour (one storm before us and one behind us). Pretty fortunate.

We arrived at the motel around 5pm and called Pastor Pete. We had a little time to settle in to the motel (which had been paid for when we arrived) and I showered before leaving for supper. He gave us two of his books before we drove off and explained a little about them. For supper, we had a buffet meal, which was fantastic. I ate to my heart's content and my taste buds' delight. Well, that's exaggerating, but it was good.

Pete was a brilliant guy. Conversation was interesting. He had a lot of knowledge to share and I wish I could have picked his brain longer. This man was an example of the pursuit of God through knowledge. He sought to learn just about all ways that others have explained and applied the Bible's teachings so that his sermons were not repeating those. Fascinating guy trying to dig deep into scripture to learn it all. His wife, Jan, was a very pleasant person to chat with too.

Pete and his wife dropped us off at our motel and said goodbye. Our time together was short, but he blessed us greatly.

We rode to California, Missouri on Tuesday, June 2, 2009.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Warrensburg, Missouri (part 2: The Start of My Discouragement by the Church)

God reminded me not to worry in Manhattan and then Wamego, Kansas about where I was staying the night. He would provide and he has never failed. That said, I did not have to seek much help in Kansas for my reassurance that we would be provided for. Typically, within two or three calls someone offered help. In Missouri, that all changed.

As of our first day of riding in Missouri, we had no places to stay for our entire trip in the state. This is because once again all our riding, followed by spending uninterrupted time in community, and then reading and writing occupied much more time than was required to make phone calls far in advance. That, and I am sole phone call maker. It is time consuming, but sorta necessary. Tom and I stopped before lunch and started making calls. I left messages when no one picked up. We had only written two phone numbers to try (because that was all that was needed in Kansas), but decided I better do a quick google search on my phone for more to call. I don't remember if I was able to reach anyone at that time, but I resolved to try again later.

Tom got his first flat of the trip shortly after a break in Pittsville. I was cruising and lost sight of him around a bend. When I get going I typically don't like to stop because I don't want to lose my groove. But after the hill I was climbing levelled off, I stopped. No Tom. I waited a couple minutes. Still no Tom. I turned my bike around and started walking the other direction. Soon enough I saw him riding up the hill. He had to stop to refill his flat tire by hand pump. We were cautious the rest of the way to Warrensburg, but the tire held.

Not having made any arrangements on approach to Warrensburg, I thought to myself while riding that perhaps we should try to stay in Knob Noster. Maybe we weren't meant to stay in Warrensburg since every single church we called was either unable to help or unavailable to answer the call. I distinctly remember a pastor telling me that he had to leave in five minutes and couldn't help. I also remember asking him if I should try to call the secretary (because in Kansas, if I had been able to talk with someone on the phone, we had found a place to stay) and see if she could help (personally, that is). However, the pastor, in a very negative and discouraging tone replied, "I don't see how that would help." As if to say, "don't try it, we don't have the time or the desire to help you." Other churches simply didn't know how to help us. They tried to figure out what system they had in place to help requests like mine. In my mind, and according to my experience, my request did not require a system, but either a kind stranger (which certainly can be hard to find on short notice) or a church or even a lawn to set up camp. I have three theories on this matter: either I did not convey our needs well, they did not want to help, or they did not know how to help. I was certainly a little discouraged after talking with four or churches and having no leads on where to sleep and though I was unafraid (I believed I would be safe no matter what), I really would appreciate a roof again.

I heard stories of Missouri being less than friendly to Bill (from Topeka) and in my eyes that started to become true for me and Tom as well. I was starting to see Missouri as an unwelcoming, inhospitable place, where the people do not care. But, of course, I should not use my unsuccessful interactions with the people from those churches as the blanket situtation of all Missouri. It was a tempting thought. To get a little angry with them for not appearing to have the slightest care... not even offering ideas as to where we could pitch tent. So, as I said, we even tried to find a place in Knob Noster ten miles east (at least there was a State Park there where we could perhaps camp). However, finally, both of the last two churches I called in Warrensburg helped (churches number 5 and 6). The time was near 5pm. The first church gave us the number of Northside Christian Church, which is ulitmately who we connected with.

I called Northside and spoke with the secretary (Julie) who gave us permission to camp outside their church. After dinner (KFC was less than appetizing, I must say, but it filled the void in my stomach) we rode to Northside. Before we picked the spot for our tent, I decided to talk with whoever I could find to ensure someone knew we'd be there. That's when I first met Shamus and Justin. Vacation Bible School (VBS) just ended for the day and they were actually about to come out and greet us.

The good news was that Justin knew we would be there and told Shamus (just before we met). I shook Shamus' hand first and he asked if we needed anything (I left Tom with the bikes at the back of the building where we expected to camp). I said, "we should be all right" and that we had just eaten, but that was before he mentioned showers. Oh yes, a shower would be nice. It had been a hot day and I felt grungy. And before long, he had shown me the kitchen (and said we could more or less help ourselves) and the bathroom with the showers. I was in awe at the hospitality. I was expecting a lonely night... full of time to be tempted to be bitter about some of my conversations with churches earlier in the day. That would not have been good and I know it.

Praise God for rescuing me from that opportunity to be resentful. And praise God for good men like Shamus and Justin. After Shamus offered me a shower, I thought that it couldn't hurt to ask if we could sleep indoors. And he accepted without hesitation. He wanted to know, of course, what time we'd be leaving in order to warn the appropriate people that there would be strangers sleeping in one of the rooms when they arrived (we were up well before then). Justin left while Shamus was showing me the church facilities and Shamus asked once more (after Tom and I brought our things in) if we needed anything. Not that we could think of.

Before the end of the night, I had the opportunity to meet Cliff (a retired gentleman who worked for a truck manufacturing company) who was at the church to investigate a leaky toilet. I don't think he found it, but I was glad to meet him and share stories and life with him. He walked away for a while and Justin returned. There with Justin was his daughter Hannah and two white plastic bags. They had brought us fruit, granola bars, and Gatorade! Wow! It is these unexpected acts of kindness that blow me out of the water every time... When Shamus showed me the kitchen earlier, the only thing I asked about was whether they had any fruit (because that was definitely lacking in our diet that day). So, I got to visit with Justin too. His daughter was adorable (five years old, starting kindergarden and tying shoes).

Later in the evening, Cliff returned to see how we were doing and showed me where they had a washing machine and dryer. I already hand washed my shorts and shirt with the bar of soap my Mom sent me with. Starts with an N. Nepthah or something? Anyways. The dryer was useful in the morning.

I woke up at 6 or 6:30am and started getting ready. I usually get up before Tom. I take longer to pack. By 8am, we were able to say farewell to both Justin and Shamus and hit the road again. Missouri wasn't so bad after all. Well, those fellas showed me just how great some of the people there are... even though I started out with some negative experiences and corresponding negative thoughts, these guys refreshed me and restored my positivity. God blessed me through them when I least expected it and I pray God blesses them (and their church) greatly and that they may continue to live in a way pleasing in his sight.

We rode to Warrensburg, Missouri on Monday, June 1, 2009.