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.