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.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Warrensburg, Missouri (part 1: My Spiritual Distress Calmed)

Bill (in Topeka) had warned us about Missouri roads (with potholes and no shoulders) and hills. The ride out of the city was a little complicated, but safe. The hills were manageable. Eventually we hit highway 50 and started to make good time.

It's tough to dredge up memories from that ride... it was a while ago and I'm not sure how to describe my mood. God had taught me that my outlook on spiritual matters and the purpose of my journey was causing me distress. That was a cause of unease starting even before we left on the trip.

I had romantic or perhaps utopic expectations (or notions) for my journey. You read stories in the Bible about men who go on journeys and interact with God and their stories all seem so grand. I think that I had a deep-seated fear that I would slip up somehow. How would I know exactly what to do at each stop? I feared maybe I was doing something wrong at times. The Bible describes encounters with God and the movement of the Spirit and I was unsure about how exactly I was being instructed to act. I had made my mission statement, but have never known what I would learn. I defined my ideas for trying to connect with God, but what if I missed something important? I didn't really want my pursuit of God to be so structured and even though I've tried to make it structured (by reading the Bible at various break points or praying for a designated period of time) it certainly hasn't worked out the way I plan most of the time. And I think that's okay.

I am a perfectionist and a planner. God's been slowly chipping away at that part of my personality because some things are beyond my control, but I still have a slight tendency to want things to go perfectly according to plan. That said, I haven't planned out much at all for this trip, which may be a good thing from this perspective.

So, will my trip be just like those experiences I've read about in the Bible? It didn't seem to be going that way. Did that mean my mission was a failure or that I'm missing something? I don't think so. The Bible seems to make these stories spectacular. I hold these stories in high regard. Amazing events and miracles take place. There is little explanation in some parts as to how the "characters" react to said events and miracles (i.e. what are their feelings, how do they view God and what He's doing). Was God's purpose for them all drawn out in bold letters that were easy to follow step-by-step? God's instructions seem so clear in the Old Testament. God certainly isn't guiding me that way. That doesn't nullify my mission. Are the people I encounter and meet on the way coincidence or God-planned? I believe there has been a special connection between me and everyone I've met so far that I don't deem as mere coincidence.

In any case, I guess I've had little foundation for my interactions with God. Unfortunately, the Bible seems to often describe events and peoples' actions without describing their feelings and emotions during those connections to God's wonders. And so, I was expecting my journey to all make sense. It all seemed mapped out pretty well in the Bible. As a result, I was trying to be "hyper-spiritual." I wanted to be able to explain everything that happened from a spiritual perspective. That includes my exposure to the ideas of spiritual warfare, speaking in tongues, prophesying, and seeing spiritual beings (like angels and demons). Trying to explain those things to myself, to logically examine them, sort of hurt my brain and tore a little at my heart. Without being raised with those aspects of faith, I struggled, wondering if something was wrong with me if I didn't understand or practice them. Here are some words I wrote after God calmed my heart about those worries:

"I was afraid there was something I should be doing, but was not. How do I know what to do, what to think, what to believe everywhere I go? I am presented with new ideas and new experiences everywhere. I have so much to learn. When I encounter something new I don't always know how to react.

"Those new ideas can complicate things. My thoughts, my faith, whatnot. I will hold fast to my core. To love God with all my heart, soul, and mind and to love my neighbors as myself. I can do that with relative ease. I believe it and I live it. Then there is a confusion about specific practices, seeing spiritual things, etc. that I simply don't know what to do. I will do whatever God tells me to. I won't be afraid of judgement if I do not believe exactly what others believe. God will show me the truth if/when it is time.

"I fell prey to something my pastor Michael warned me about. I was trying to be hyper-spiritual. I was looking for a spiritual reason for everything. My imagination would run wild as a child when reading the Old Testament. Were those stories how I should be experiencing God now? My heart became pressed to find the source of my frustration. It lie in my confusion about spiritual things I could not see nor had any experience with that kept coming up. Am I doing something wrong if I don't know what to believe in regards to spiritual attacks or angels or demons or speaking in tongues or prophesying? I don't understand those things and it made me feel wrong not to understand.

"Well, God called me back to Him in the last couple of days (because I was struggling with those complicated ideas and torn away from the truths I know). He wanted me to understand that I interact with Him in a different way than anyone else. I am no one's carbon copy. God reveals Himself in different ways and gives different instruction to everyone. I simply go where He tells me and leave my preconceived notions and scared anticipation behind." (6/1 ~1:30pm)

I don't think it's hard to see God's work just about anywhere and I believe we can see His work if we open our eyes to it. Still, my version of seeking His activeness everywhere was both overcomplicated, confusing, and unbeneficial. In the end, I must hold to the foundations built in my heart, seek God's truth, not lose sight of the whole in the midst complicating factors, and trust God has me in hand.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Kansas City, Missouri

After taking our bags and bikes into Steve's appartment we headed to a BBQ place for dinner. It was called Pat's (I think) and it was owned by the same family as another nice BBQ joint, but wasn't as expensive. There's one benefit to staying with a local (or, well, someone who knows the area)! I ordered burnt ends, which fortunately weren't too burnt. The BBQ lived up to the hype. I'm not sure how good the meat really tasted because it was so loaded with barbeque sauce. During supper, Stephen some of his story with us (sort of a prodigal son-type story) about his success followed by bad choices and finally, the life he now has in Christ.

We went to an International House of Prayer church service (in a separate building from the 24-hour worship and prayer) around 6:30pm. I was very observant. I heard a lot about IHOP and I wanted to see what I could learn and experience that was new. There wasn't much different in the worship and the service was fairly difficult to pay attention to (especially after a big dinner!). There was a prayer in the beginning about abortion and (I think) Israel that everyone said together. I can't remember what the crowd all said, but I'm sure it's online somewhere. It was against abortion and for Jews to become Christian (if I remember correctly). I nodded on and off for about 20 minutes during the talk, but tried to stay awake. Eventually, I was stark awake as the speaker was talking about Israel. Actually, that's how he started the sermon too. I don't remember what he was saying at this point, but I wrote this down in my phone:

"Is this what we need to hear? Have I less faith if I don't think about the end times? How much should I concern myself with prophecy about the end times? Only as much as what Jesus says to. He told us to love. Why do we care (why do we worry) about what is to come? We do not know. Even the prophets could not know the time of the events to come. So what should we do? We should prepare our hearts and live in the Kingdom of Heaven."

After re-reading that, I think what stuck out to me was the preacher talking about fulfillment of the end times especially in terms of Israel and the middle east. Politics entered the arena a little bit, which always bothers me a little. Listen, I'm not worried about the fulfillment of the end times. They will come when they come and what will happen will happen without me trying to match up events to prophecy. All I can do is live as Jesus taught us and follow him. I have not given enough thought to Biblical prophesy yet and its importance to daily life. Nonetheless, this particular sermon was not edifying to me whatsoever. I will love the people of Israel as much as anyone else in the world.

I could have probably left sooner, as much good as the sermon did for me. Stephen came down from his security perch (he leads some security teams at IHOP) and drove us to the 24-hour worship building. He parked his truck in the back and lead us through the building to the regular entrance. I felt like I was on the "inside" being escorted by Stephen. There were a lot of people sitting and visiting outside. We went into the room and it was fairly unbusy. Still, there was a worship team of probably eight people on stage and maybe 10-15 people in the seats in the crowd. Again, I sat and observed. I tried to think about the words in the songs being sung and thought about the people worshipping up front. Were they able to connect with all the songs they sang for such an extended period of time? I couldn't connect (I was just not in the right state of heart), so we left pretty early. While we were sitting there, a piece of paper caught my eye. This paper had some ground rules about the worship room. You couldn't take your shoes off and you could only dance in designated places. Also, you could pace, but it couldn't interfere with people trying to get in and out of seats. I can understand the need for rules, but some of them seemed goofy or unnecessarily restrictive. I guess if something repeatedly (or often) interferes with others' abilities to worship it should be addressed. But I digress.

We left IHOP and went straight back to the appartment. Stephen addressed the ant problem (a recent infestation... it rained and they were coming in the cracks) with his spray as he had done before. Those ants were crawling everywhere. I hope it hasn't gotten worse. I ended up talking with Stephen about spiritual gifts because he had brought up prophesying earlier. It was useful for me to get a more full explanation of what he meant, instead of assuming I knew what he was talking about. He said that it is all meant for the encouragement of people. I sure don't know how it works (as with so many things spiritual), but I believe it happens. It's important not to lose sight of what spiritual gifts are intended for. Some of them are really outside my realm of understanding and experience, and thus I was frustrated as I encountered stories about them and tried to understand, but couldn't. Stephen said that he wants to know God's voice. He wants it to be so familiar to him that it's like picking up the phone (without caller ID) and being able to identify the caller just by voice.

I went to bed late trying to update my blog. I sacrifice some sleep, but I will appreciate it later as I am able to capture more memories in words.

Tom and I woke up around 7am and Stephen woke up at 7:30am. Steve left 10 minutes later and we were out the door shortly after. We had no plans for places to stay in Missouri, so we would be making a lot of calls that day trying to make arrangements. It turned out the first two days were our toughest to find any help at all, which was very, very discouraging.

We drove to Kansas City, Missouri on Sunday, May 31, 2009.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Shawnee, Kansas

Bill and two of his daughters droves us to (and through) Lawrence, Kansas after Tom and I were ready. It was probably after 1pm and we had some 30 miles to our destination that evening. Immediately after taking my bike out of the van I noticed my first flat tire of the trip. I guess it's fortunate I wasn't riding when it happened. Bill helped change and pump the tire and bid us farewell.

The first half of the scenery for our ride was gorgeous. We stopped in a park and ate some fruit (and I made a call or two, which is not preferred over reading scripture or catching up with Tom, but it's necessary). Eventually, the highway was four lane again and we hit some steep hills on approach to Shawnee. We took highway 7 south and navigated to Ja'Zan's neighborhood. I didn't call Ja'Zan to update her on our location or ETA, but she had expected us to arrive while she and her family were at a city-wide workday for their church (in conjunction with 10 or 11 other churches). That said, Ja'Zan told us to come in and make ourselves at home. What amazing trust! She later told me a couple things regarding that: "when it comes down to it, none of that stuff is really mine" and jokingly, "if you could have taken a TV with you on your bike, good for you!" On a more serious note, she said that she had just read the scripture about welcoming strangers because you don't know if you will be entertaining angels. Somehow, her soul was at peace with inviting us in.

It ended up that we did not arrive before they came back from their service in the city. Ja'Zan showered us with hospitality. She had welcome baskets and two rooms set for us! We ate some chicken and salads (one was the typical leafy kind and one was a concoction of fruit) for dinner that night (great work, Chuck!). Tom and I learned about the project they worked on during the day (furnishing and finishing some rooms at an old appartment complex where they are now helping people get back on their feet) and I shared my testimony (about the trip) with Ja'Zan. We got to meet two of their kids, Wyatt and Holly and learn about their lives. Ja'Zan also shared about her daughter, Ellie, who is off in California trying to get her book published (a fantasy-type book, I think) and adjust to life in a new environment. All in all, I thought they have a beautiful family and I was blown away by their example of openness and love to me and Tom. Ja'Zan also bought my some cough suppressant before bedtime. That has been useful. After my sore throat subsided (it started in St. Francis and improved by Bennington) a cough settled in, but it's getting better now!

We had pancakes for breakfast and we to the church service at 10am. The service was nice and I loved worship and seeing the programs they have for the kids there. Based on what Ja'Zan told me about their missions programs (that's what she does with the church) they are very strategic and have a well-coordinated effort to spread the kingdom (especially in Thailand, India, and South Africa). While at church, I couldn't help but think "what if everyone in the church came alive?" The guest pastor asked how many people had helped in the city-wide service day. A small portion of the church raised their hands. What if all these people had raised their hands? How marvelous would that be... That's not to say that they are not "alive," but if everyone was proactive in some way about spreading the kingdom and glory of God I cannot imagine the wonders that would result.

After church, Ja'Zan gave us a tour of Shawnee and the Shawnee Missions Park (which looked like a spectacular recreation spot). We had grilled cheese and ham for lunch and then hopped in the Expedition to go to the Missouri side of Kansas City. They took us through the Plaza and we got to see some of the city. It was beautiful.

We arrived at Stephen's appartment complex around 4pm. He was outside waiting. I didn't know what to expect (we'd gotten his number from a friend, John, from school). We said a too-soon-goodbye to our new family in Shawnee and went upstairs with Stephen. He is a 29 year-old from Georgia (with the accent to prove it). He was dressed in blue jeans and a white t-shirt, with aviator sunglasses, and a tattoo on his right arm. He looked like one cool dude. And his heart turned out to be a tender one. He was very cool and collected and had a lot to share about his walk with the Lord.

We rode to Shawnee, Kansas on Saturday, May 30, 2009.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Topeka, Kansas

I went to bed the night before somewhat believing that we'd be okay the next couple days. That night I had my third big pang of fear so far this trip. The first occurred the night before I left, when the difficulty of this journey was made more clear (because I would start the first day sleep deprived and saying goodbye to my family was too fast). The second occurred before leaving for Cope as the desolation between Byers and St. Francis was described in horrific detail (well, it wasn't as bad as I pictured it based on conversations). The third time was due to the uncertainty about the big city (Kansas City), which was accentuated by the falling through of arrangements for a place to stay there. Nonetheless, I tried reassuring myself that I was in God's hands and all would be okay. Before I fell asleep I thought about God's provision for all His creatures (e.g. the birds) and thus how much more He would provide for me and Tom.

Before we rode, it felt appropriate to pray. I was aware of Tom's fear at that point too. I prayed aloud and we left. Tom and I spent a lot more time on breaks than usual on the way to Topeka. I guess for that reason, it was a blessing the roads were flat and we had a tailwind all day. We averaged over 15 mph and only had maybe four hours in the saddle. We took the route out of Manhattan that Zach advised and got on highway 24.

There were a few bad hills early and traffic was heavy (which was foreign at that point because we'd been so isolated for so long). We stopped at a closed gas station and made calls. We snacked. We left. Our next stop was Wamego. I turned on my phone after we went inside the McDonalds. This was when I started to ask Tom about his spiritual mission for the trip. My fears that I was in this alone, that I was seeking God and Tom was not, were made foolish. I need to stop assuming things and getting worked up about those things I really don't know. Tom is quiet and not easy to read. If I want to know something, I need to not beat around the bush and just ask.

I was just starting to get some meat out of the conversation when I received a phone call! It was Ja'Zan in Shawnee, Kansas returning a call from that morning. Praise God! She was so excited to welcome us into her life and her home. Simply amazing. She gave us directions to her home and told us to make ourselves at home when we arrived (she was expecting us to beat her there since there was a big city-wide service project going on that Saturday that her family participated in). Unfortunately, I got to business right after talking with Ja'Zan instead of continuing the conversation with Tom. I called the only church we had reached prior to that day in Topeka, the Faith Family Life Center. Dean (from Cope) recommended we call that church because of a connection he had to the pastor there. I spoke with the pastor (Phil) while in Junction City the day before and I received no indication at that time whether they would be able to help. When I called again in Wamego, the secretary, Vicki, answered warmly and said that they had found someone to take care of us for the evening. In a matter of minutes, any residual fear from the night before was blown away. How great is our God!

We took two hours for lunch in Wamego instead of the usual one trying to make phone calls to the upcoming cities' churches. There was nothing new. We left and made good time. Our next big stop was in St. Mary's, where we were going to relax in a park and make... you guessed it, more phone calls (you see, we really were trying to give as much advanced notice as possible. It just hasn't worked out according to our plans). As I was taking some pictures of historical artifacts in the park, a man approached Tom and asked him what we were doing. Tom's response was that we are riding to the east coast on a spiritual journey! I was so impressed that Tom was straightforward in telling this man about the spiritual side of our mission when just a couple days before I hadn't believed in Tom's commitment to the spiritual mission at all.

So, we met Karl. I got to learn about Karl's sons and his interest in biking. I learned about his job and his men's ministry at church. It was awesome to share our story with him and to hear about his walk with the Lord. Our common interest in living in a relationship with Christ should bring Christians (even strangers) closer together like this all the time. I felt encouraged by Karl. Karl prayed for us and even helped Tom on the route planning (as I made more phone calls, der). Before we parted ways, I asked Karl if there was anything we could pray for him for. And he did share some things he's going through that we could pray for. On the next leg of the ride, I remember being full of joy and wonder at God's amazing ways of bringing people together. In my rejoicing, it was easy to pray for Karl and for others I have met on this journey.

Time flies when you're having fun. We reached Topeka. It was a scorcher (up to 92 degrees?). No worries, I drank a lot of water. Topeka was scary riding. The highway was fast and furious with cars. I'm glad we didn't get hit. We went north on Topeka Blvd and found the church. After going inside we sat and waited with Vicki and a young man named Jamon (and his three nieces) as arrangements for the evening fell into place. The first family Tom and I were supposed to stay with ended up having to cancel. So, Jamon's mom was going to take us in (but she lived all the way back in Wamego). Jamon's mom was going to feed us dinner, however. Vicki made a phone call to some people, ultimately choosing to call Bill and Michelle. She knew that Bill had experience bicycling and thought it would be a good fit. Bill agreed to have us (and it didn't seem to take much convincing).

Bill drove to the church and waited for us to finish our dinner (chicken and salad, yum!) before taking us and our bikes to his home. What an interesting home! The first thing I noticed was his son, Solomon, playing with his BB gun in the backyard (it looked like a young boy's dream - a place for adventure and imagination) and a really cute black puppy. We brought the bikes in the yard and took our bags in the house. Bill's wife Michelle did not seem phased at all by our presence even though she couldn't have known for long that we'd be staying there. This house looked like... uh, I don't even know how to describe it. Maybe eclectic. It was free from rules. There was creativity bouncing off the walls. The atmosphere was relaxed and cool.

Tom and I took showers and Bill drove us and two of his daughters (Isabelle and Arynne) to the worship service at church. It was a good experience. I was drowsy (so the message did not stick with me extremely well), there's no denying that. That makes the passage about the spirit being willing, but the body being weak (Matthew 26:41) so much more real to me. Bill played a soprano sax on the stage and that was sweet. Afterwards, several of those in attendance prayed for me and Tom. God has used those such prayers as such great encouragement for me on this journey.

We stayed up a while that night just hanging out. The family definitely had a special relationship. They were not your typical family... they were just so open and playful with one another. It was a lot of fun. Bill and Michelle have definitely instilled many great values in the lives of these youngsters. Bill gave me and Tom a lot of advice on our upcoming travels. He shared some of his stories (he's ridden great distances across this country about six times) and encouraged us to buy new tires in the morning (which we did, thanks to him driving us to the shop and waiting for us to get ready) and lose some weight (from our packs, that is). Bill also volunteered to ship the unnecessary gear (he had us take a gander at our loads and think about whether we really needed some of it) back to my parent's house. The time we spent there was invaluable. We tuned our bikes up and got some great advice and new parts (the tires and a little valve converting piece for pumping our tires). I don't know how things have worked out so well for me and Tom. In regards to the people we've met, the safety we've had, and lack of major issues.

One thing that Michelle suggested is that I look into is the Messianic Jew explanations of the New Testament and Jesus. She said it can shed new light on a lot of different passages that meant something very different in context than what we have interpreted them as. It should be interesting. I will definitely keep it in mind.

Before we left the house in the morning, the youngest daughter, Isabelle, annointed us and Michelle prayed for us. Bill drove us to Lawrence (halfway from Topeka to Kansas City) to save us some time since we went shopping for the spare tires and were far behind schedule.

We rode to Topeka, Kansas on Friday, May 29, 2009.

Manhattan, Kansas

I was refreshed after Bennington. It was well with my soul. For a day I forgot any concerns I had at all and just enjoyed the ride. It was a beautiful one. Everything seemed to be lightened by splendor and majesty. It was like a painting. Picture perfect everywhere. The sun was shining and the colors of everything so brilliant and clear.

We rode 40 miles to Junction City before lunch. It was by no means very difficult. I think my muscles have developed since week one. I took the day breath-by-breath enjoying God's glorious creation. Tom and I stopped in the park at 6th St. and Washington (in Junction City) and relaxed for an hour. I could not have enjoyed the day more.

We continued north from the park into Ft. Riley. My grandpa was stationed there in 1956-57 and my Aunt Karen was born in Junction City. I have never been on a military base and I really had no idea what to expect. Some folks in Bennington warned us that we might not have access to the base because of increased security after 9-11. So, I called in advance and made sure it was permissable. Fortunately, we were able to enter after showing our state IDs. The base was beautiful and the people were buzzing around. It was sort of utopic from my perspective. Some people in a dog park, military personnel driving past us (each appeared to be on a quest or mission - even if that be just going home), families with their kids on playgrounds... everything was peaceful and serene. The army helicopter flying overhead didn't disturb the scene either. Everything seemed in its place.

When we made it through the base, we entered construction and traffic like we hadn't experienced since Denver. That should have been nerve-wracking, but I ignored the danger and pressed on. Traffic got even worse when we were inside Manhattan. We got honked at (in an aggressive, not playful manner) for the first time since Denver and there were no bike lanes or shoulders. We pulled over and called Teresa (my friend Jeff's girlfriend who just graduated from Kansas State) who gave us directions to campus and later to her house. We struggled for a while to get there, but arrived around 4:30 pm and settled in waiting for her roommate Zach to come home from work (he does research at his school regarding his major, animal sciences).

Zach was very hospitable. He's the youngest host we've had at 22 and he took great care of us. It was good to learn about him, his school, and his family's farm. We went out to eat at Pat's Barbeque, which was one of the more Manhattan-y places in town (you know, a place that is distinct in the city, not a franchise) according to his girlfriend. He bought us fried pickles as the appetizer and later at home he gave us access to his fridge (which Tom couldn't make use of because it was mostly full of beer and margarita mix ;) ). Zach was super friendly and I was glad to have met him.

The only thing I regret now is that I believe I short-changed Zach. Not in a financial sense, although he certainly gave me and Tom more than could be expected in that realm too. What I mean is, I did not engage him in any kind of spiritual conversation. I was afraid to breech the subject because I thought it might be awkward. Well, for crying out loud, I told him about a fairly personal (and awkward) health problem my youngest brother was having at the time. If that wasn't too much to bring up, why should a spiritual topic be. I don't know if he knows why we were riding our bikes across the country. I could have asked him how he was doing with his faith or if he needed any prayer. I will call him ASAP and tell him I'm sorry I wasn't open about that part of my trip with him and see what happens from there. I shouldn't be afraid to declare what I believe and why I live each day even if it might be awkward.

Zach bid us farewell and left for work early in the morning. Tom and I left late. I had to try to make phone calls to try and find a place to stay in Topeka and Kansas City. At that point we had no place to stay in the upcoming days. No plans whatsoever. We thought we'd have a place to stay in Kansas City for sure because a girl from church has parents there, but that sadly fell through (by the way, please don't worry about it Libbey. It was beyond your control and God still provided for us!). The night before, I felt a pang of fear about not having anywhere to stay in a big city. I did not want to get caught in the wrong part of town at the wrong time of day. Tom and I decided to try and stop in Shawnee, Kansas for Saturday night and Lee's Summit, Missouri the next night, so I got some phone numbers and we tried calling them in the morning. I left a lot of messages. I guess churches weren't really open that early. We were ready to leave around 9:30 am.

We rode to Manhattan, Kansas on Thursday, May 28, 2009.

Note: Did you know that Kansas is the number one producer of wheat in the US? I didn't. Thanks, Zach!

Bennington, Kansas pt. 2

As I rode today, I realized that I did not do the Bennington Bible Church community enough justice in my last post. Here's some more:

Without reservation Carolyn loved me and Tom. There were no questions asked and we were accepted in their church. Her support for my mission reaffirmed in me the importance of this journey, even if I did not really have a clue what I was doing. She is definitely one of the sweetest women I have ever met.

What set Bennington Bible Church apart? Why did it feel different? I think it was the immediate acceptance of me, a stranger, and the care that everyone I met had about my life. It was outstanding. Not only did they love me, but they loved the Lord and I could see that in their commitment to reading scripture, praying, and worship. Their community (the contingent I saw anyways) was a beautiful sight to behold in their pursuit of growing relationships with God.

A comment that was made after Carolyn, Pat, Tom, and I had pizza for dinner was that "this is what being Christian is all about." About fellowshiping, loving one another, and loving God. It was an awesome time.

On our last morning there, Becca and Pat made us breakfast. They woke up early (I wanna say food was being cooked by 6:30 am) and served us. I wanted to get a picture with Pat in it too, but she politely declined on account of not being ready. I had a sudden urge (maybe a moment later) to tell both Pat and Becca that they might not have been "presentable" for a photo op, but they were certainly beautiful in God's eyes exactly as they were that moment (and they were beautiful to me too :) ).