Big Ride 22
Springfield to St. Louis
There are no coincidences, but I will get to that in a minute.
The morning in Springfield was cool and clear, perfect for riding, and I was in the saddle and on the road by 0800. The streets of the city were very quiet this early on a Sunday.
They are crazy about old Honest Abe here. His home is here, as is his presidential library, and, of course, his tomb, but there are dozens of other things here that bear his name as well. There’s a Lincoln everything here.
I got a bit tickled yesterday while visiting Abe’s tomb. It is very impressive, and it is full of small statues of him in various seasons of his life. They are all very well done too, and the crypt itself is very somber. But they have a big, bronze bust of his face outside the tomb that apparently people rub the nose of, I guess for good luck or something. There was a sign nearby asking visitors not to do it, as a part of the apparently continuing COVID 19 nonsense. Are they worried that they will give Abe the bug? Of that Abe will give it
At any rate, I abstained from rubbing Abe’s nose, after all, I don’t really think he was all that lucky anyway.
On my run so far, I have met some nice people already. There was Jon at CC Motorsports in Clarkesville who got my bike running right again, and young Mr. Lopez at Verizon who got me communicating and navigating again, and the guys in Dwight at the Texaco station there who gave me the lowdown on the place.
I gave each of those guys in Dwight a card and one of them told me that in all the years he has been hanging out there, he has never had someone give him a card saying that they were riding a motorcycle for God. Well, he has now.
There was a guy from a local VFW standing in the middle of the road passing out little poppies for Memorial Day. I took one and thanked him for his service. He looked my vest over and thanked me for mine.
As I continued to ride through the Illinois countryside, I started to mull over the whole Route 66 thing. The route can be a real challenge. There are at least two versions of the route as it has been moved a couple of times from when it started in the 1920’s until it was decommissioned in the 1970’s. Some of the older pavement exists right next to the newer versions and the original in many cases is not much wider than a modern golf cart path. The route can be a standard two-lane country road, or a double-lane divided highway, and in some places, interstate highway. I have an app that helps me navigate it and it has been absolutely indispensable.
As I traveled through the farms of Illinois, the route was often in bad shape, beating up my bike and rattling my fillings. I found that through most of the run from Springfield to St. Louis, the route paralleled the interstate as a frontage farm road with ruts and bumps and potholes and patches. It became aggravating to have my chit-lins jostled trying to do 45 mph when less than 20 yards away I could have been doing 70.
So, I decided to use my app to zero in on the things I wanted to see, and then used the interstate in-between. It saved me time and wear and tear on both the bike and my spine.
The Shell station in Mt. Olive and the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge were really the two best sights on the ride today.
The Chain of Rocks Bridge crosses the Mississippi just north of St. Louis and one can see the city from there. It's about a mile long bridge and I walked it from the Illinois end to the Missouri end, and back.
There’s something else about the route, too. I think that if one is from Europe or some other place outside the US, then a trip across America can be a real eye-opener, as the route shows the good, bad, and ugly of America. But if one is from here in the US, then there are few things (at least, so far) that are really out of the ordinary enough to justify this ride being rated as a must-do over other routes (like US 50, which I did a couple of years ago, and which is fully commissioned and therefore maintained and “alive”). I guess the point is that the allure of R66 is to see America, but it is an America that really no longer exists, and one can only be excited for so long about yet another abandoned café, or motor court, or lot full of rusting cars, or neon sign that no-longer lights to advertise something that is no longer there.
I’m looking forward to getting further west, where there is more natural beauty.
So, the whole idea of this Big Ride stuff is to take something that I really enjoy and find a way to honor God with it. I try to tell folks about my faith in a casual way, and to let them know I am trying to help some folks who are persecuted for being Christians. The riding is fun, and it’s neat to see our beautiful country, but the very best part is all the great people I get to meet along the way.
I got to Saint Louis about three and checked in to the beautiful Magnolia Hotel (I got a monster deal), and was showered and out on the street by four. I hoofed it over to Maggie’s and grabbed a seat at the bar and ordered a pint and their shepherd’s pie. The fellow sitting next to me asked me how it was and we struck up a conversation. I like to sit at the bar because it lends itself to this kind of thing, and today the strategy worked again – big time.
Steve was sitting next to me, wearing a Flori-bama ball cap. That should have been a clue that he was cool. But beyond cool, Steve turned out to be one of the most interesting people I have met in a long time.
He is a biker and is riding his bike from San Diego (where I am heading), eastward. He is retired and does a lot of riding. His parents met during World War Two, as they were both in the service at the time. His mom was (now get this) the personal secretary to General of the Army Omar Bradley. When he inherited their home, he found all her steno pads full of shorthand (a couple of hundred of them) in a box in the attic. I would have loved to have known what those pads could have told us all about Bradley, Eisenhower, Patton, Montgomery, and others. His dad helped to build the US Air Force Academy. Steve was destined to attend the academy himself, but “punched” and dropped out. He took the $300 in cash that he had to his name and bought a bus ticket to as far eastward as the money would take him – Chicago.
He told me that in Chicago he became proficient at washing dishes and mopping floors for meals, and was no stranger to sleeping in cafes, bus stations, cars, and behind dumpsters.
He eventually did go back home and got a degree but his vocation isn’t something many find much about in the halls of academia. He spent 27 years as a professional white water rafting river guide in central and South America.
Oh, and he has been to about 30 Jimmy Buffett concerts.
Steve was interested in what I was doing and we talked about the fact that while he has helped a few folks in different ways in his life (which I thought was pretty hooah itself), he feels he is not the type to find meaning in life by simply writing a check. He wants to get his hands dirty.
I thought that with his heart for service, his independence, and his lack of aversion to “roughing it” that he would be a perfect candidate for mission work overseas, and I urged him to look into it very seriously. There are SO many ways in which a person can help if one can commit to doing so, and SO many people around the world who so desperately need that help. There are almost a billion people in the world who don’t even have clean water to drink. Think about that a minute. There are also lots of people suffering from diseases and illnesses that we could help treat. There is no end to the opportunity to make a difference. That is the kind of thing that brings one a real sense of meaning in one’s life, too.
We didn’t hit the faith thing too hard, although where I was coming from had to be fairly obvious. I just encouraged Steve to look into it. Sometimes when folks go and do, the Spirit can move them to hear the calling for the rest, when it’s time.
So, in that half-hour or hour long conversation, maybe a person’s life changed, and maybe that change will change the life of others. Maybe that one little conversation was all this trip was supposed to be about.
Think it is silly? Think about this. When I was thirteen, my friend Mike casually invited me to come to a youth retreat. I became a Christian because of that. When I was eighteen, my coach Doug asked me what my plan was for after high school. I didn’t have a plan. So that afternoon he gave me one, and signed me up for the infantry. I had a 32-year career because of that. About 15 years ago I got an invitation to a birthday party, where I met the love of my life. A few years back I was counseling a client, and she confided in me that before coming to therapy, she had made up her mind in her desperation that if it didn't work, she was going to take her own life - but that because of our sessions she had regained the desire to live - and to live her "best life."
Sometimes – surely most times – we have no idea the effect we may have on others. But what if we all took the time to care about other people and just tried to make a difference? How different would our world be if we did that?
That's what I am trying to do in my own very imperfect way.