Friday, November 19, 2010
Isaac and Lacey left for work the next morning after coffee, and I hit the road for the last time. I was blessed with a beautiful day to end on: sun shining, light breeze, and more blazing hills to gaze at (kinda dangerous at times though, because you don't want to watch the road..... minor issue). I rode around some small mountains, through shedding forests on a back country road. I was singing “Country Roads” by John Denver as I wound through the countryside. It was all new landscape to me until I hit Dardanelle, and it was almost just like any other day on the trip, except I knew I was almost home. I took my time, and tried not to count the miles, just keeping my head in the clouds and scaring cows as I rode by.
When I hit Dardanelle, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of surreality. I had thought of this day since I had started the trip, the day I would make it home, if that day came. And here it was. I had a handful of miles left till the trek was complete, was over, and I knew those miles like I know the feel of a soccer ball beneath my feet. Just instinct, just natural. A sequence of roads and turns that I had made a hundred times, probably more, except now it was extraordinary, to me at least. The commonplace colliding with the momentous. It felt so weird, an unusual homecoming, that I had awaited for over 3 thousand miles. I had made it. It was hard to swallow.
I ended by going up Sheppard Drive, which made a great final hill to end the trip on. I'll just say it's steep, and mildly long. It was an apt consummation of the trip – one final push to the finish; I felt like I earned the respite of home. I rolled into my driveway (another weird feeling), greeted by my parents, and my brother and sister-in-law. My brother turned on the car stereo to blast the Rocky Theme Song, which still makes me laugh, thinking about. I had made it, and made it in time – by Thanksgiving, to see my family. I was home, by the grace of God.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
In the morning, I crawled out of my tent and the dugout to find a handful of pickup trucks parked around the baseball fields. My first thought: “Those definitely weren't there last night. Nope.” But for some reason, I couldn't see or hear a single person. Strange, I thought. A little creepy too. As I was packing up, and trying to not be seen. A man walked around the corner, and jumped a little when he saw me. He invited me into the concession stand to get warm, to my surprise. After I packed up, I took him up on the offer. There were just four guys hanging out inside. They were the groundskeepers, and apparently none of them saw my tent when they drove up. Go figure.
Anyway, I just chatted with them about the weather, sports, faith, and life in general for several hours. They were so generous. They even convinced me to take some of their candy bars, and bought me some biscuits and gravy for breakfast. One of the guys even offered to drive me to Booneville, my next stop on my trip, but I declined. Before I left, we prayed together, which was encouraging and uplifting. Towards the end of the trip, I began to realize that even though I had little to give anyone, especially the people that helped me out, I could always pray with them and for them. I have found that, somehow, you can connect with a person on another level when you pray together. It's a small, yet powerful way to love someone, and simultaneously you are uplifted yourself in the process. I don't why it has taken me so long to realize this, but now, whenever I remember and have the opportunity, I love praying with whoever I meet on the road. It's the least, and at the same time the most, that I can do for someone.
I rode on, under gray skies, into Arkansas. Crossing the state line energized me to press on, being so close to home and the finish of the trip. The route to Booneville was incredible! There were plenty of tough hills, but I loved the challenge of them. And the view at the top of each crest was impeccable! Cows dotting the sloping valleys, surrounded by strings of auburn hills. Ahh! Beautiful countryside, and I knew I was getting closer to home! I arrived in Booneville after dark, and started asking around for places to camp. Randomly, as I was stopped at a traffic light downtown, a guy and his friends walked up and asked where I was going. So, I asked him for a place to stay. He told me about the city lake a few miles north where I could camp. I thanked him, and hoped I could find something closer. As I was about to leave, his friend came back and asked me my name again. He offered to let me camp out at his house, just a few blocks away! I wouldn't have to ride a couple miles through the hills, and I might get to hang out with these guys. I quickly took him up on the offer.
I end up hanging out with him (his name's Isaac), his wife, and their friends. They even built me a bonfire by my tent in the backyard – my first bonfire of the trip, on my last night! It was great! I hung out with them, and heard part of their stories. They're both from Booneville, and he works with a company that employs workers with disabilities doing manufacturing jobs. Random (or maybe not), because that has been an interest of mine for the past year. I don't know how much to read into it, but it was insightful at the very least to talk to him.
I slept in the backyard with their two German Shepherds and an electric blanket they let me borrow. Ironic, camping with an electric blanket and an extension cord running inside, but it kept me warm! Thanks a bunch Isaac and Lacey!
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
The next morning, at the park next to the rodeo grounds, I met a couple who lived in Wilburton. They just walked up and asked where I was going. So, we started chatting about life, and why the heck I was doing what I was doing. We talked a little about guidance, and how God directs our lives, which I am still trying to figure out. They encouraged me and gave me some advice – to pray for God to close doors, to shut opportunities that aren't His will. I'm still chewing on it, and how God hasn't closed doors in the past even upon my asking. At any rate, I prayed with them, and was encouraged by their faith and their spirit. They also told me of the fairgrounds in Poteau where I could camp the next night.
I rode on to Poteau that night, taking the afternoon to do some fishing. I was unsuccessful, again, but I got to see Lake Wister, take a sweet ride through the hills, and enjoy nature. I'm telling you guys, the world's beautiful out there. It's been so nice to slow down, and see it, and really try to just observe it without any clutter going through my mind. And it's lovely, the small things that we overlook everyday. Since coming back to Russellville, I notice the scenery so much more than before. And they say that the movie Avatar makes the real earth look bad. C'mon!
I found a church in the town of Wister that was still open, since it was Wednesday night after all. I asked the pastor if I could camp out on their lawn for the night, and I was very optimistic about it, since churches had been real helpful in the past. But, he politely turned me away, to my surprise, so I rode on. I found the fairgrounds in Poteau, and threw up my tent in a baseball dugout for the night to escape the wind. I figured no one would care, since baseball season was over. The dugout proved to be amazing, and the perfect size for all of my stuff, as the wind picked up throughout the night.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
The next day I rode to McAlester under beautiful skies. As I went through Oklahoma, I saw some amazing fall colors in the rolling hills. It was starting to feel more and more like home, like Arkansas, with little hills that were starting to get steeper, and trees everywhere. I had expected that the colors would be all gone by the time I rode through, but I went through at the tail end of the change in colors. The hills were dazzling in the collection of colors: greens, blazing oranges and yellows, and many hills covered in a warm auburn red. It was definitely starting to feel like home.
I made it to McAlester early, and I decided to waste time for a while. When I started trying to find a place to stay, the cops in McAlester told me that there was nowhere in town to stay. I decided to go to next town over, Krebs, only a couple miles away. It was a small town, so I thought my chances of them letting me stay there were good. When I asked the guy at the gas station, though, he called up dispatch, who told him that I couldn't camp in Krebs either. I was thinking about just throwing up my tent anyway, and being discreet. However, a lady, named Angel, overheard my small plight, and she said she could drive me to a state park. Before she did though, she asked me if I was going to murder her or not. Valid question, I suppose, all things considered. I guess my reassuring was convincing, because she did give me a lift to Wilburton, 20 miles away, and actually told me to camp at the rodeo grounds, and make sure I wasn't seen by the cops. So, I hopped a fence, found some cover, and hoped that the coyotes I heard wouldn't find me, or the cops. And I woke up the next morning, and no one gave me any grief. That night, though, her name struck me, and it got me wondering.... Who knows, huh?
Monday, November 15, 2010
Monday, I left Whitesboro, TX, where the Carpenters live, and headed on. I realized that morning that I would make it home by Friday, and that I didn't have any long, tough rides to endure before getting there. So, I ended up leaving around 1 PM, mostly out of laziness and overconfidence. Maybe not the greatest idea, since I still had 60 miles to go that day......
I fought the wind through Sherman, up into Oklahoma all the way to the town of Caddo. Not much to say, except that once the sun set, raindrops started coming down, and they were a little cold. I was just hoping to make it to Caddo before I got soaked in freezing rain. I got to Caddo. It never rained.
I slept in the park there, after the lady at the gas station called and made sure it was okay. I fell asleep reading in my tent, and a little later a loud thumping and a flashlight on my tent woke me up. I heard, “Caddo police” and starting freaking out. I crawled out, and two officers were standing there. As I just woke up, and I was still trying to figure out what was going on, I was freaking out. My heart was racing, and I was nervously stumbling over my words. They actually just wanted to see if I was okay. The younger one looked at me and asked me why I was doing this, as if I were crazy. I laughed and stumbled through an answer. After they left, I thought it funny when I realized my pulse was through the roof, over nothing. After that I went back to sleep.
Sunday, November 14, 2010
Well, the next day was Sunday, which had been my day off during the trip, the one day a week to chill and kick it, and after the previous night, I was rather ready for it. Maybe more than a little bit. Unfortunately, though, because I had gotten to my campsite so late the night before (around 1 AM ish) and because I had to bike back into town to get to church, I ended up waking up early, and not getting a whole lot of sleep. Whatever. It is what it is.
So, I went by a church that I had seen the night before in Gainesville, a church called Grand Avenue Baptist Church. And thankfully, I got there before the service started. So, I chilled for a little bit outside, and then joined them for the service. It was definitely more traditional than I'm used to, and smaller than I expected, but there was a definite sense of life and sincerity there, which I think is much more important in a congregation than immaculate presentation or impressive numbers.
Afterward, I had a chance to meet a number of people from the church. The pastor bought me lunch at his restaurant – sweet, yeah? A pastor, AND a restauranteur, among other things. I was impressed. Even more impressive, he spoke truth from pulpit, which can sometimes be amiss in church. Anyway, great guy, Bill Black.
That afternoon, I hung out with their youth pastor, Josh Carpenter, a man who is several years younger than me, and yet a youth pastor. I was again impressed, especially with his maturity. We got to talking about our adventures, our plans for life, and so on. We talked about our travels to various places, and I was pumped to find another guy who has a passion to see new things, to adventure. I also tried to convince him to take a bike trip (you should do it, Josh!).
His folks let me stay with them that night, and I was able to connect with them – John and Suzanne. Their whole family loves adventure! John and I talked for hours about how enamored we are with John Eldredge and with pursuing adventure. It's easy to converse with someone for hours when you agree on a lot of things. They encouraged me significantly in my bike trip and my plans for life. And they blessed me with a place to stay that night. Thanks so much, you guys!
Saturday, November 13, 2010
On Saturday, I left Wichita Falls early in the morning. They kick everyone out of the homeless shelter at 5:30 in the morning. Man! That was easily the earliest that I had woken up on the trip. But, I guess it was good to get an early start to the day. I hit the road at around dawn, although I stopped on the outside of the city to get some food.
The day was beautiful, but it felt long. Very long. I made it about halfway, and I just wanted to sleep. No more biking. And I caved. I found a park and passed out on a bench for an hour. It felt heavenly, like everything was all right. But then I had to keep riding....
I rolled into Gainesville, TX well after dark that night, and started asking around for a place to camp out. I ended up going to the McDonald's in town to get warm for a while, and I ran into a few policemen. I started chatting with one of them, who actually worked in a neighboring town. He was super helpful. He asked the police from Gainesville where I could stay, and they flat out denied permission to camp out anywhere in town, effectively saying that I'd have to go to another town to find a place to stay. Not very comforting when you have to bike to the next town. Kinda irritating, to be honest. There has to be somewhere in town where I can put up a tent. But the first cop was at least sympathetic, and bought me dinner at McDonald's! Another act of kindness that I in no way deserved, from a complete stranger. My irritation abated.
He told me that the best place to stay would be a rest area off of the interstate a few miles up the road. I was kind of irked that the only option for me was miles out of town, but when that's all you have..... I started riding up the interstate, looking for a rest area, and I kept riding and riding. I was so tired, but the 5 miles I rode felt like 20, and I lost my patience real quick. But I found it, and then I realized that I had to walk my bike across the four lanes of interstate to get there – another little thing making my night just that much longer.
When I finally get to the rest area, I find a spot to camp out, and have dinner (it's midnight by this point). As I'm unpacking, a security guard walks up and asks what I'm doing. I explain my situation, and in a very matter-of-fact voice tells me that I can't pitch a tent there. What?! I was getting right out angry. The police had sent me there, who I'm sure meant well, and I now I can't even stay there? The security guard told me that I could lay out my sleeping back and sleep outside, just without a tent. State law, apparently. So, all the truckers could park there and sleep for the night, but a person on a bike couldn't put up his tent? He apologized, and I could tell he was just doing his job, no personal animosity towards me. Still, I was ticked off.
After eating dinner and stewing in my anger, I took my tent and gear to the other side of the frontage road, hoping I was out of sight, and camped by the road. Honestly, I slightly hoped that the security guard would give me trouble, just so I could give him a piece of my mind. Which I know isn't right, but I was tired and fed up. But I slept well, thankfully.