Saturday, August 22, 2009

August 12, 2009
Sebree to Fordsville, Kentucky
Weather: “Zis Vedda is fantastic, or?”
60 miles
Where we stayed: Fordsville First Baptist Church

Today was another day full of transitions. Feeling confident that Julia and I would stick together for a while, we decided that Dad was ready to go home. I was sure going to be sad to see him go, but I knew he couldn’t stick around forever, or my mom might disown the both of us.

It took all morning to take all the gear out of the car and repack the bike. It had been exactly a month to the day since we got the news about Jay. Likewise, it had been a month since I had ridden my bike fully loaded.

Anyone who has ever seen it knows how much I hate packing. I guess I’m pretty fastidious about certain things: Everything has to have a specific place, and I don’t like things to be out of order. When I pack to travel, it requires that everything becomes disorganized in order to become organized once again. I find this infinitely stressful. It’s sick, I know…but I’m working on it.

Dad knows how much I struggle through transitions like that, and so he did his very best to help me sort through all the junk in the van. About 3 hours later (I’m embarrassed to admit that it took that long) I finally had Blue Bear back to his old self--fully loaded and organized, and heavy as all get out.

After such a stressful morning, a good solid “last supper” at the local hole in the wall diner was necessary to ease the separation anxiety all three of us were feeling.

As we ate, CNN hummed in the background, and we tried to explain to Julia why people were shouting at each other in health care town hall meetings.

With a meatball sub in my belly, we finally said goodbye to Dad. I thought Julia might cry, she was so sad to see him go. I was a little sad, too, but was more focused on how glad I was to have had the opportunity to share this precious time with him, how lucky I am to have parents who support my every endeavor, and also how soon I plan to see him again.

On our own now, Julia and I hit the road out of Sebree at about noon. Our first major pit stop was at a little gas station that sold root beer floats as a fundraiser for Relay for Life. Julia had never tasted root beer, and certainly had never thought to pour soda over ice cream. I thoroughly enjoyed giving her a first taste of such a classic treat.

As the day rolled on, our first major conversation had to do with the American flag that I was flying off my bike once again. This was the first time she had seen it.

There is a really big culture gap on the flag issue: In Germany, it isn’t common at all to fly the German flag outside of even public buildings---and certainly not in front of one’s home. Julia is a political organizer at her university, hosting speakers who were a part of the anti-Nazi resistance movement during the Hitler era. In her words, “We are making anti-fascistic politics all the time. For me, it is not an option to have the German Flag. Never, ever, EVER!”

I understand where she’s coming from. When one doesn’t feel good about their national history, or their current leaders, it can be confusing to separate those negative feelings from a general love of country. During the last decade or so, I found it very difficult to be identified as an American abroad, because I was in such disagreement with what our government was doing.

But as I explained to Julia, this trip has awakened a patriotism in me that I didn’t even know I had. To paraphrase a famous American, we are so much more alike than our politics make it seem. I have found so much more in common than I ever thought possible with Bible-thumpin’ Southern Baptist preachers, with outdoor adventurers from the Pacific Northwest, and with teenage hobos hitch-hiking across the country.

So when I put an American flag on my bike, I realized that as a symbol ,it will mean a great many different things to each person that sees it. But to me, it carries a whole multitude of meanings: I am grateful for the opportunities that being an American has provided me. I feel a tremendous love for the people who inhabit our borders (be they immigrant, citizen, alien, or any other), and I feel a great responsibility to use the gifts I’ve been given for the greater good and betterment of our nation.

Just as I concluded delivering this lofty meditation to Julia, we happened to cycle past a little cottage with a bald man sitting on the front porch, petting his bull dog. Flying from either side of his porch steps were two flags: The stars and bars of the Confederacy, and a blood red flag with a white star and “KKK” in black block letters.

Lawn mowing was a major theme for the day. We must have passed nearly 50 people riding their John Deere tractors in their front yards. Must have been the first day of nice weather in a while.

We reached Whitesville, Kentucky around 4 pm, and sat in a gas station for about an hour, trying to decide where to end for the day. Dad was still driving home, so I had to play mission control for a little while, calling campsites and hotels looking for someone to host us.

During that hour of making phone calls, I learned a little more about Julia. She’s only budgeted $5 a day for this trip, and is morally opposed to the idea of paying to pitch her tent anywhere. I don’t have loads of money either, but I have had many a generous friend/donor/relative help me out with this trip financially, and I started out with a budget of $27 per day.

And when you’ve decided to travel with someone, you can’t just offer to pay for everything, no big deal. It makes for uncomfortable decision making when I would rather just pay a few bucks to be safe and relatively comfortable, and Julia would rather just find a hidden dark corner of the woods and hope no one finds us there.

I tend to be a little more cautious, maybe overly so, with our bear run in and all the beginning of the trip. Maybe I should have taken it as a clue when I met her sleeping on a city park bench!

All our calls to find free lodging were unsuccessful, so we decided just to ride on and figure it out later.

At about 5:30, we arrived in Fordsville, the last real town for a good long while. We first stopped at the firehouse, hoping to camp in their yard, but no one was there.

Just a block or two up the road, we saw cars gathering at the First Baptist Church. It seemed like the place to be at 6:00 on a Wednesday, and so we rolled on over.

We were greeted enthusiastically by several of the church leaders, who welcomed us inside without hesitation. They showed us the restrooms, giving us a chance to clean up a bit.

At about 6:05, we peeked our heads into the sanctuary, expecting to join the congregation in Wednesday evening worship.

Instead, we found ourselves sitting in on the last few minutes of a business meeting (ice cream social, special music, and a new rocking chair for the nursery), followed by a prayer meeting for the church community and ministries.

We followed along as they talked through the prayer list---both sides of a typed page---while the pastor asked the church leaders questions. “Does anybody know how so-and-so’s cancer treatments are going?” “Is so-and-so eating again in the rest home?”

After going through the whole list point by point, it was divided up into categories, and five or six people were asked to pray for a category.

We prayed for each church ministry, for individual soldiers in Iraq, for the US senators from Kentucky “and all our government leaders who have lost sight of You, Lord, and the values upon which this great nation was founded.” They even prayed for Julia and I:

“I don’t know who our two young guests are, Dear Heavenly Father, but bless them on their journey, Dear Heavenly Father. Keep them safe, Dear Heavenly Father, whatever their mission may be, I don’t know, Dear Heavenly Father. But guide them and let them feel your hand on their backs, Dear Heavenly Father, pushing them in the direction of service to you, Dear Heavenly Father.”

I was amazed at how many people on the prayer list had “Cancer” listed next to their name. Later, a church member joked that Fordsville must sit on a Uranium mine or something.

Being that it was our first full day in Kentucky, it took me a while to adjust my ear to the southern twang, which started up immediately after we crossed the Ohio River.

After the service, person after person came up to make sure we knew just how welcome we were, and how happy they were that we had stopped by. Then, Wendell and Mary Ann Freer approached us with an invitation to dinner, and a chance to do laundry if we should need to. Our clothes were clean from the night before in Sebree, but we sure as heck wouldn’t turn down an invitation to a meal.

We thanked the pastor and then loaded up into the Freer’s car for the quick drive to the Diner. The ladies were both pleasantly surprised that I took the time to open the car doors for them. Chivalry ain’t dead, ya know!

When we sat down, the waitress squeaked with glee, “Oh my Goodness, STRANGERS! That’s so exciting!”

On Wendell’s recommendation, I ordered the spaghetti special. Julia asked if there was a vegetarian pasta option, but the waitress said there was far too much meat in the pasta sauce for her to pick each piece out by hand.

As an alternative, Wendell suggested that she dish up some plain pasta mixed with ranch dressing. His grandson really likes that. Julia opted for a Chef Salad with no bacon and no ham instead.

Wendell offered a blessing on our meal, and then while Julia and I ate, he and Mary Anne sipped Cokes and told us story after story about moving to Brazil to work for Firestone tires back in the 50’s, just a month after they were married. They had both been teachers later in life, and had both grown up there in Kentucky, though Mary Ann was really a city gal from Louisville.

Wendell said the biggest reason he wanted to take us out to dinner, other than Christian charity of course, was because the German people had been so good to him when he was stationed there after the war.

Halfway through our meal, a church member named Joy joined us for a minute or two of good conversation. Before he left, he told us about an organization he’s a part of called “Basterds for Christ” (Spelled with an “E”, a Basterd is a motorcyclist. I had to look it up, so don’t worry if you didn’t know.) He told us that his group would like to treat us to breakfast in the morning, and told us the best place to go for an AM bite.

After Joy left, and just after I had wiped my spaghetti plate clean with my garlic bread, a thud behind me sent a gasp through the diner. A middle-aged woman wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and slippers had stood up at a table behind us, and promptly collapsed face-first onto the floor.

I fumbled for my phone for just a minute before calling 911, as several other folks did the same.

A man in a red t-shirt seemed to take control of the situation right away. As I talked to the dispatcher, he gave instructions to a few folks and had the lady rolled onto her back. She was breathing, and mouthing a few words, and then began to sob.

The man in the red shirt took the woman’s hand and began to pray, asking God to heal her body, and give her strength to find God’s love. Several other diners in the immediate vicinity laid hands on the woman as the man prayed.

Wendell and Mary Anne wanted to be out of the way before the paramedics came, and so they settled the check and we left, just as flashing red lights came over the crest of the hill.

The Freers took us back to their home just outside of town. In their living room, Wendell was sorting through boxes of slides from his military tour of Europe. He offered to show Julia slides of Germany, but it was getting late.

They gave us their card, and two Gideon New Testaments for the road, before driving us back into town to the church. We said thank you and goodnight to our new friends, and then Wendell locked us into the church. He assured us that in case their was an emergency, the door would break away if we pushed hard. At least that’s what I thought he said. (Turns out, it was just a normal door.)

Julia hasn’t spent much time in churches, and found things like the immersion-style Baptismal to be quite strange, and possibly sinister. I did my best to explain things, but we grew too tired and fell asleep on our sleeping rolls in the church nursery, next to the new rocking chair.

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