But Now When I Look Back (Day Fifty-One)
It was the perfect way to end a rest day; sitting by the river, watching the sun go down, live blues in the background, families finishing their day together. For the first time since I could remember, it was perfectly pleasant outside, and the breeze would come and go, bringing with it the storied smell of salt water. It couldn’t have been any better for the purpose getting geared up or the next push. I thought a lot about what we’ve done so far, and with that as a backdrop, I was able to imagine some opportunities about the road ahead.
The people of Kentucky have really opened themselves up, and I found myself learning a lot about them. I’ve been a fan since I found myself sitting amongst them at a basketball game – last year’s Final Four in Houston, to be exact – and they had reached out with a spirit of accommodation that’s seldom seen. I’ll get to see a few of those same people in just a few days, and I couldn’t be happier about it.
We got back on the road in Sebree, KY, and began what was supposed to be a 71 mile course. Pretty sure that we were both happy to be back on the road, despite a very productive and refreshing two day break. Unlike the last break in St Louis, this one was about re-gearing as opposed to non-stop engagements. It was helpful, as we both needed it. That said, the road was calling us, so off we went. It was a great course; lots of hills and turns. Some of the grades were pretty steep; it was not uncommon to look down at our Garmins and see that we were climbing 10-15% inclines and it was nonstop. Not a lot of flat stretches, but, again, it was good to get the work. I found it to be a relatively taxing course, all in all, but not one that was going to be tough to finish; just one that you had to respect. ‘You have to prove it to her every day’, must have gone through my head about fifty times, as Kevin and I constantly remind ourselves. ‘Her’ is America, and Coach Groh told us that after the toughest day we’d ever had, so I looked back upon that with perspective.
Turns out that ‘locust’ isn’t just a street in Philadelphia; the locusts here in Kentucky are louder than a jackhammer, although much more pleasant. They dominate the air on these rural roads, especially those lined with any kind of heavy foliage. Makes it feel like they could pull you away if you wandered waded into the grass just a bit. It’s a pretty amazing sound, and I’m pretty sure that I’ll miss it when it’s gone. I’ll always associate it with a cloaking humidity and lots of green scenes.
Fifty-one had us taking a lot of turns along the way; we twisted through country neighborhoods, rural in that the houses were set hundreds of yards apart, yet I got the feeling that everyone knew each other and that they would describe themselves as neighbors. Often there were enormous corn fields that bordered them, and also, smaller fields with crops grown for family use. America…proving it every day!
Two canine incidents got the hearts pumping on Fifty-One; one of them had us coming up around a corner when this dog sort of just appeared at our sides. We started pedaling as hard as we could, but there was a new complication: a huge white ‘dually’ pickup was suddenly on our left, headed the same direction as us and hugging the shoulder, as a responsible driver would, given the curves of the road. I tell my kids that, in life, sometimes our choices are ‘ick’ and ‘yuck’ and that you have to try to make the best choice that you have. In this case, the choices were ‘nip’ and ‘truck’ so we just pedaled harder and harder, knowing that the answer is never ‘truck’. I was a little bit ahead of Mince, and I heard him laughing as we pulled away, but not before hearing some anxiety and hearing the dog snapping at his legs. But…we had escaped again, and on our own. The second canine was a different story. We were coming up a hill, and a knarly cattle dog was coming towards us, running downhill. He also had the advantage of being on his raised property, so he had an embankment to look down on us as he gained speed. Basically, there would be no outrunning the dog this time. Every law of physics was working against us, and it was almost going to turn into a ‘Budweiser’ call (ditch the bike hastily, and in this case get ready to defend yourself against a biting dog). But…miraculously, he just stopped. Just stopped, dead in his tracks and stared at us as we rode on by. I don’t know why, but that’s what he did, and we got away with one that time.
We noticed that things didn’t look as we’d thought they should, and realized that we’d missed a turn. Kevin and I had gotten to talking mostly about lacrosse, I think, and we’d not even realized our mistake until we’d added another 6 miles to our course. But, we accepted the consequences together and would later finish strong as a team.
Our last SAG stop was one that I will never forget. We pulled into the town of Fordsville to find Papa Bear and Mama Bear parked in front of a small deli called Nini’s. We were actually going to stop, and had been scheduled to stop ten miles earlier, but Mince and I waved the SAG crew on and, feeling strong, wanted to get more miles in. So, on we went, and fate pulled us to Nini’s. Mama Bear told me that there was a bathroom inside, and I wanted to just wash up before eating some of Papa Bear’s sandwiches. So, I went in and found a jet of AC as I came in the door. A woman was working along with two girls, and it was immediately clear that this was a family place. She immediately told me that the best place to stand was a few feet back, and a few feet to the left, in order to get the full blast of AC.
I felt a little embarrassed to get the help, as we weren’t going to order anything; we’d brought our own food with us, after all. She sensed this and urged me to enjoy their hospitality anyway, citing my red face and soaked shirt, as well as her air conditioning. True hospitality, and with no motivation other than performing an act of kindness to another human being. She asked me where we were going, and I told her about our cross-country journey to raise money and awareness for Families of the Fallen. She smiled when she told me that she knew a thing or two about that, and then introduced herself. Her name was Evelyn, which is a name that means a ton to me personally. She goes by Gene, though, and she is the widow of Darrell Sheldon, a USAF MSGT who was killed as a result of a helicopter crash in Vietnam. She spoke with confidence and kindness, and she was quick to tell me that we were doing a great thing. I went and got Kevin and the crew so that they could hear her story as well. She shared that, when Darrell died, she was suddenly left to raise three young kids on her own. What really struck me, though, was her strength. She wanted to primarily talk about how well all of her kids were doing, and how proud she was of their careers and also her fourteen grandkids. We visited with her and enjoyed hearing her story; it’s one I’ll never forget. As a parting question, I asked her what advice she would give to another young mother in the same position as she’d found herself in the 70’s. In other words, what was the secret to her success? She’s said that being available for her kids was the key, abd having support from the community greatly helps in being able to do that. Her smile when she said it spoke volumes about who she was.
Evelyn ‘Gene’ Sheldon, thank you so much for sharing your story, and giving us a reason to pedal on. It will come in handy very soon, I’m sure!
For the Families of the Fallen…To the Limit!
Care Creates Community,