Sunday, June 11, 2006

DAY ONE - The beginning

I knew that parking my bike, loaded trailer in tow, outside the front door of the airport was bound to raise some eyebrows. Add to that the fact that I am donned in a chartreuse skin tight bike jersey, itty bitty socks and a fanny pack and voila, I’m the weirdest thing anyone’s seen all day.

I arrived in Newport News, Virginia just in time. The receipt for the car I had rented had a 3:30 PM delivery time. After hoofing it all day, skipping lunch and cutting corners on bathroom breaks, I topped off the tank and pulled into the airport at 3:15. This would allow me a whopping fifteen minutes to unload and pack every earthly belonging that would sustain me for the next four months before pedaling off into the horizon. I decided to go in and plead for mercy.

Once I explained my situation, the amused and friendly gentlemen said, “take all the time you need. Even though it says 3:30, you’ve paid for the full day.” If I had a dollar for every time I’ve felt a false sense of urgency, I wouldn’t have had to sell so many t-shirts to help finance this trip. So now I’ve got all this time on my hands, and some final moments to savor fossil fuel powered transportation.

So where did I go? How did I utilize my precious car time; the last spin of the wheel and rev of the engine for four whole months? Considering that the purpose of my journey is to learn about and promote the preservation of America’s farms, I went to the most unlikely place imaginable; Wal-Mart. A lot of people have said a lot of things about Wal-Mart so it seems silly for me to chime in. So here it goes. Wal-Mart replaces identity with convenience. But this story isn’t about Wal-Mart so I won’t qualify that statement.

What I will say is that this Wal-Mart had a massage chair located next to an electrical outlet which allowed me to charge my laptop and record a few thoughts before picking up bananas, batteries and oatmeal.

I returned to the airport, excited to shed myself of all gas guzzling, over-complicated machinery. I unloaded my gear, loaded my bike, put on my blindingly bright clothing, and proceeded to park the contraption outside the airport’s main doors. I was bristling with excitement. As I exited the airport I noticed one of the airport attendants who was collecting baggage carts glancing at my setup with a grin in his eyes. As he strode past he said, “It looks like your fixin’ to go on an adventure.”

“As a matter of fact, I’m about to ride this thing from here to Oregon,” I replied. That stopped him in his tracks. “You don’t mean it….well isn’t that something.” We were both grinning at that point. I hadn’t even gone two feet on my bicycle and I was about to have my first encounter.

The gentleman was an older black man, very thin, a little bit hunched, with a glow in his face and eyes. Everything about him radiated kindness, warmth and respect. “That is just fantastic,” he said. I told him that I was visiting farms as I went and trying to learn and tell their stories. For whatever reason, it touched him that I would set out on such a thing. We had not exchanged more than a few sentences when he asked me, “Do you know the Lord?”

Before I go on with this story let me pause. There was a time in my life when such a question would have irritated me. Religion is a funny thing, it can either bring people together or drive them apart. On this day, it brought two together. I answered, “Well, that’s what this trip is all about.”

We shook hands and William Baker, age 62 told me his story. The story started with a sentence I’ll never forget. “I run marathons. I’ve run five marathons in the last five years.” William had run for long distances as long as he could remember. He never knew why he liked to get out and run like that, but it was something that he could do, so he did it. Then in 2001, right after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, William decided that he wanted to do something to help the families of those affected. But what could he contribute? He didn’t have very much money.

Then he realized that his particular God-given talent was to run long distances. He wanted to use that gift for a purpose. So he signed up for a marathon and called the editor of a local newspaper and explained to him his passion to run this race for others. The newspaper ran an advertisement asking people to donate one dollar for each mile of the race to the families of 9/11.

He was 57 years old at the time. Since then he’s run all of over the country, in Illinois, Miami, and New York and he’s planning to run again this year. The last race he ran to support the victims of hurricane Katrina. William was living his dream. In his words, he felt the Lord calling him to do this work. We exchanged a lifetime of hopes and dreams in about five minutes.

I was amazed by this man. And he was amazed by me. There we were, two people who were trying to do something important with our lives. I was alive inside. William prayed for me right there on the sidewalk in front of the main entrance to Newport News airport.

I hugged the man. “I’m so glad we met, this was meant to happen,” I said. “This has been an encouragement to me,” he replied. I felt the same. I knew that there would be many difficult days ahead and this man’s encouragement and support would be a reminder to me of why I’m doing this. Total strangers, and yet at the deepest level of our souls we understood each other.

I rode off down the road. My trip has officially begun.

This entry was posted on 6/11/2006 2:15 PM

  • 6/12/2006 12:35 PM Anonymous wrote:
    My little heart leapeth for joy!

  • 6/12/2006 5:16 PM g wrote:
    This story made me smile. Thank you.

    Sounds like you've already started to find what you're looking for.

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