Whenever I think of the city Carlyle, I hear it in Pastor Wagner's accent. I think that's because I ended up calling his church and reaching the voicemail so many times. I'm not so sure I can describe his pronunciation of Carlyle here, but it's very distinct. I never met the man, but my memories of him are very fond. I'm not sure I've ever had this particular attachment or gratitude for someone I've never met before.
My interactions with Pastor Wagner probably consisted of no more than 15-20 minutes of phone conversation, but it only took a minute before I knew he cared for and loved me and Tom without reservation. How can this be? He assured he would help us, he was patient in waiting to learn if we found help from another church in Carlyle (recall, I thought we might be helped by the Lutheran church, but they couldn't help), and he even held a special love offering for our bicycle trip, which collected $35 from his small congregation of less than 20 (I believe). He would have taken us in himself if not for being in and out of town and it being his wedding anniversary.
Before we left St. Louis (maybe on Sunday or Monday evening) I called him and he expressed interest in getting to meet me and Tom. It was more than a passing interest. No, I could tell by his tone that his desire to meet us was like that of estranged family members trying to see one another. If you could tell by someone's voice that they wanted to meet you and be in relationship with you that much, you would do almost anything to run to them and meet them at least halfway. Maybe I'm being a little melodramatic. I found out that he works in Centralia and it was sadly quite a bit out of our way. When he and I realized we couldn't meet we were both disappointed.
On to the details of the ride.
There was only one thing on the news that morning that I paid attention to: tornadoes. This time in the area of Shiloh, Illinois. Over the weekend, many tornadoes hit Colorado, my home state, and on Monday (the day before) a tornado struck right where we were supposed to be. The reporters were out in some suburbs sharing stories of the damage and of neighbors coming to help neighbors. I realized very quickly that this tornado-damaged neighborhood could potentially be on our path for the day so I asked Tom if we could ride through Shiloh. I hoped we could see the neighborhood in person (for interest sake*). Tom told me that it was not in the plans and truth be told I was a little disappointed I wouldn't be able to witness the damage in person. It didn't hit me until later that we could have been in the path of that very tornado had I not felt so gut-wrenchingly terrible about leaving St. Louis the day before.
Paul drove us and our bikes in his nice, big Yukon across the Mississippi river and into Illinois. Thank God that we had hosts with the capability of transporting us out of large cities, thereby avoiding Interstates and heavy traffic (and possibly dangerous neighborhoods).
Tom and I started our ride in Columbia, IL and rode east towards Belleville. We took a quick break there for snacks and I saw my first ever drive-in convenience store (that I can remember)... actually, I didn't think it was an operating drive-in, so as we were resting outside the window I felt guilty that I was slightly in the way of the white truck that drove in a big circle to make his way to buy cigarettes at the window.
We moved on. It was a cloudy morning and fairly cool. I started seeing more and more beautiful orange flowers on the side of the highway, which I later found out were Daylilies. That day, my mood was very "down to business." I was more focused on the logistics of ride that usual, but I was enjoying the ride tremendously. The weather was nice, but I considered the possibility of rain. Tom hadn't let us down with the route yet, but we were not on Highway 50 (which was straightforward) and so I was more vigilant in making sure we were not taking a longer route than necessary to Carlyle. Later, I even went as far as finally fixing (uninstalling and reinstalling) the Google Maps program on my phone that had been malfunctioning for several weeks.
So, it was amid perfectly pleasant conditions that we rode by a barn that was blasted by the tornado. It took me a minute to figure out why the building looked so un-normal and what these seemingly unnecessary vehicles were doing parking on the side of the road. Then, I was blown away. The barn was missing its roof and the house next door clearly had damage. Then there were the trees that were ripped in half. Then the fragments of building in the field across the street. On second thought, there's no way it took me the whole minute to piece all of that together. The cars were of neighbors coming to help clean up, no doubt. I was not expecting to see any of this since we were not riding in Shiloh.
It was around that time when I realized just how big a bullet we dodged. This is most likely the path we would have taken the day before... We stopped at a house a little later and I asked a woman there about the previous day's weather. They had golf ball-sized hail and the tornado tore through their timber lands.
I am blessed and I believe we were spared from grave danger.
*And now, I think I was in awe of the terrible power of tornadoes and wanted to see the damage, but I was not connected in emotion with those who were affected... I neither felt sympathy nor understood what they were really going through. My interest in seeing the damage was no more than just to have the experience of witnessing the effects of tornadoes.