We knew when we set out on this adventure that problems and hardships would arise. We knew some circumstances would push our boundaries of comfort. That is the point: to grow and push ourselves. As we outlined our objectives for this journey, I expected that the outcomes to the challenges would be added grit to our soft first-world, middle-class existence, and that we would be forced to dig deep to fix our problems independently and resourcefully. Yes, we said we aspire to outgrow our habitual attempts of self-reliance, but that was only in the context of God and religion, NOT other people…. I am generally reluctant to ask others for help and am hyper-paranoid about being an imposition. It never occurred to me that other people would so willingly, joyfully, and generously come to our aid in trying moments.
We left our last Warm Showers host for what we expected to be a pretty humdrum day of biking. The previous day of riding over a snowy, compromised-visibility pass in frigid temperatures put riding conditions into perspective– the overcast day that was nominally warmer with a direct 16 mph headwind produced little complaint. We hoped to find a picnic spot for lunch out of the wind, but upon realizing no such place was going to materialize we pulled over on the side of the road and assembled our sandwiches. As we ate a car pulled up and an 80-year old gentleman (with the energy of a 20-year old—seriously, think of Robin Williams in terms of the speed with which he thinks, speaks, and moves) approached us and asked to take our picture for the Indiana Prairie Farmer magazine. He moved a mile a minute as we slowly processed and responded to his request. He then handed us two blessing cards, one for each bike, and told us to keep them with us so our guardian angels will watch over us and pray for our safety. And as quickly as he arrived, he left. We finished our lunch and continued on our way. The headwind was still in full effect, we were on a road with minimal shoulder that had an abrupt drop at its edge, and we were all a bit slow to warm up after our lunch break. As we (Team Eleanor) picked up speed again we noticed that Team Frank was unexpectedly far behind us. We pulled over to wait for them to catch up. We couldn’t figure out what was taking them so long, and then it became obvious that they were walking Frank. Not good. As they approached us we could see the cartoon-like wobble of Frank’s front wheel. Old Man accidently rode off the shoulder, to the demise of his front wheel. Crap. We were still 9 miles from our destination, along a less than desirable road for pulling over, let alone walking a beast of a bike for 9 miles with kids in tow. We were even further from a bike shop that could fix or replace the wheel. An all too common script that plays out for us in such circumstances is: Old Man and I being impatient and/or exasperated with each other, while the kids negatively contribute to the moment of stress in their oblivion to the situation. But not today. The kids played hand-clapping games while Old Man tried to figure out how to fix a rather profoundly broken wheel. I asked if we should call for roadside assistance, he sighed in indecision, agreed to entertain the idea, then went back to trying to straighten the wheel. Within seconds of this exchange, the same car from before pulled up, and that same fast moving man came out and asked if we had a place to stay that night. He went into a long explanation of his location, the terrain, and the amenities, not noticing that the Old Man was holding a bike wheel in his hand and Frank was dismantled on the side of the road. I told the gentleman that while we greatly appreciated the offer, we would not be able to take him up on it because we have a broken wheel. He looked around, saw our state of disrepair, and said in the very next breath, “Oh, well, we need to get a truck and drive you then. This is no place to be doing a bike repair. You can do it in my garage. Okay. Let me go figure out a truck and I’ll be back.” And then he was gone in a flash. Again. Really??? Was he really going to rally the troops for our rescue? I began to cry in disbelief and relief. I had spent the day’s ride thus far reflecting on how blessed we have been by strangers (earlier post), but this was over the top. We were roadside for quite a while, the kids stayed joyfully occupied (no bickering!), Old Man managed the stress and anxiety of the situation really well while he continued his work on the wheel, and I supervised the kids while holding up Eleanor. After a stretch of time had passed the kids began to ask if that guy was going to come back. Eventually, I began to wonder myself. I didn’t doubt his good intentions, but we hadn’t exchanged cell numbers, names, or anything. Maybe something else came up for him or he hadn’t been able to coordinate a truck like he hoped. I relayed these thoughts to Old Man as he had just gotten the wheel straight enough to [hopefully] ride the last 9 miles to our day’s destination and within seconds a catering van and full-size pick-up truck arrived on the scene. At this point I think a movie soundtrack should be playing in the background—things were moving at a fast clip. All hands were on deck and everyone was packing up our roadside repair shop, loading the bikes, trailers, bags, and kids into the two vehicles. We drove back to the gentleman’s residence (his cousin’s house, for whom he is house and pet-sitting), and then drove back to the caterer’s to switch back vehicles and pick up dinner.
Come to find out, the older man, Mr. C, had driven to Dillon to go to a hardware store and when he was driving back saw us eating our lunch and stopped for our picture. After he left us, someone called him asking him to go back to Dillon to pick up something else and he did. On his second return from Dillon he saw us roadside again, so pulled over to offer us accommodation without any awareness of our stranded state. His timing was amazing. He then drove all the way back to his town (17 miles away), asked the local caterer to borrow her van for this rescue mission (to which she replied, “They’re still roadside?! Nobody else has picked them up?!”—he clarified her disbelief being due to Montana’s Silk Road culture), then went down to the real estate office to ask a woman he knew whose husband had a truck if he could help us. The husband was at work and took off without hesitation, and the two men drove separate vehicles to us 17 miles away. WOW! I don’t know what other words to say or write to convey my awe of this systematic perfection: timing, place, and people. Every time we thank Mr. C, he deflects our gratitude and tells us to thank Jesus instead, and that all he is doing is paying forward the blessings he has received in his life. The pick up truck driver was incredibly humble and would not let us buy him dinner or dessert to thank him, and seemed genuinely happy just to help us—complete strangers.
You can believe that this is all random chance and luck, or you can believe it is all God, or you can believe it is God working through the random. I do not know all of the hows or whys in this situation, but I have no doubt that God was involved. The timing of everything is too incredible. Similarly, this period of need for us can be viewed as a streak of bad luck (with both weather and mechanical problems precipitating this needy-taking chapter), or it can be viewed as a blessing that is teaching us to outgrow our habitual attempts at self-reliance and see the goodness in our fellow humans and trust more in God’s generous provisions through them.