We ate breakfast and visited. Becca gave me pain killers for my throat and wrapped my knee with some bandages (surprisingly, they held up the whole day despite the tape coming undone). We left their house sometime after 7am and conditions were wonderful for riding.
Our first big stop was Bird City about 15 miles away. We ate outside a diner and interacted with the congenial locals. Next we took a break at McDonald, Kansas 9.2 miles from Bird City. There was a nice rest stop and we took out the radio to listen to the Weather Band station. We checked the forecast the night before and we were expecting winds in the afternoon (hence trying to leave early each day).
Eventually we arrived in Atwood and ate our lunch outside the Sacred Heart Catholic Church. I started to make phone calls trying to prepare for th days ahead. I was particularly concerned about Hill City. We had not been able to speak with anyone there up to that point (and it was just a day's ride away!). I finally did connect with the Catholic Church there, but the father informed me he didn't think he could help (especially since it was Memorial Day and alumni weekend).
After I finished making calls, Tom and I were on our way. The hills started immediately. The first climb took forever and the sun was hot. We had 30 miles to Colby and we traversed hills, a several-mile long construction zone (which the workers kindly helped us navigate and travel safely through), and lots more farmland. At one of our breaks a man (working for the city or county, I believe) stopped in front of us and warned us there were two more big hills with bridges at the bottoms. It was good to have a heads up and a friend along the way. The hills might not have been a problem except that we were fighting winds all 30 miles from Atwood. At least the wind kept us cool.
It got cloudy near Colby. We finally saw the city and stopped by the traintracks to call Wynn. I first called Wynn while at InterVarsity's Chapter Camp a week before. She was the sweetest woman to talk to over the phone. A great listener and engaging. She did ask her church (First Presbyterian Church) the week before if anyone could provide us a place to stay and food to eat, but everyone in her congregation was too shocked by a vandalism incident (someone sprayed a fire extinguisher in their kid's church room the night before) to respond. She said that at the least we could stay at her house. When we spoke earlier in the day (during our break at McDonald) she told me we'd be staying with her parents (and that it'd be full house with lots of chaos... I love chaos :) ).
Wynn only lived a few blocks away from where we stopped and she met us outside her house. She invited us in, gave us water, and finished making meatballs for the spaghetti that night. We put our bikes in her husband Ray's truck and got a ride to her parents'. We were welcomed straight away by Don and Vera. A lot of the family was already there. Wynn's older brother Carl and his wife (Janet, I believe), Wynn's son Cody, and Wynn's sister-in-law, Nancy. It felt like home. I felt loved by Don and Vera right away. Soon enough, I felt treated like one of the family (and Don and Vera have a big one! Forty or so grand and great-grandchildren).
Don is in his mid-80's and Vera is in her early 80's. They were still moving pretty well. Don was a farmer and a spectacular handyman (and craftsman). He's had to slow a little because he has emphysema, kidney failure, and congestive heart failure. He's on oxygen, but he's chipper. He built so many things in his house I was astounded... and all great workmanship too (apparently he can also sew!). He eventually left his farm to his second son in 1984. Ater deciding the day after Christmas (if memory serves me right) to be done, they had moved into their current home by February. That is a hardworking man. Vera was so sweet and tender with me. She told me about her pop, that she had Polio as a baby (one leg - her right - was an inch shorter as a result and she had to wear a brace, so her dad wouldn't let her run around. That said, she only didn't run while in his sight ;) ), and she gave me the house tour. She convinced me to stay for elephant pancakes in the morning. Tom and I were going to leave early, but that would have meant Don and Vera would have to get up hours earlier than normal. I decided it was better to sleep in and not be a burden to them any more than necessary (and Tom agreed).
Don said he used to ride a bike five miles to pick up Vera from her house and take her back to his for dates before they were married. It was sure cute to see Vera's face when Don brought that up.
The house was full of artifacts, pictures, Christian trappings, and love. It took a little while, but soon I felt welcomed into the family by all. Cody (Wynn's son) cooked supper and cleaned. What a good son and grandson he is. I'm impressed by his accomplishments (3.8 GPA, class President, football player) and his ambition (to go to KU or KSU so he can run a business), but I was most impressed by his thoughtfulness towards his grandma.
More family arrived shortly before bed and they had six kids! Four foster care kids and two natural. What a great group of people. Of the new arrivals, the wife was Vera's granddaughter. Such a big family! I think Don and Vera must have done a great job to raise their crop right. So much of their offspring loves God and their lives demonstrate that.
There have been hard times too. Vera is a cancer surviver, but two of her daughters died in the last six years because of cancer. I don't know how they manage the heartache, but I expect it's got to do with a firm grounding in their faith and their love and trust in Jesus Christ.
It turns out my great grandpa Donnelson was born just west of Colby in Brewster. There are ties everywhere, but now, I feel like I have family in Colby.
We rode to Colby, Kansas on Friday, May 22, 2009.