After the 93 miles of biking on Saturday, I slept like the proverbial rock, finally stirring awake at 5:55 a.m. Todd, our trip leader, was starting to get breakfast together – oatmeal banana pancakes (bikers need carbs), sausage, coffee and juice. The pancake recipe came from cyclist Dan Schmatz, a native St. Louisan who became famous in the Tour de Missouri for crashing when he hit an armadillo. (The pancakes were fabulous, by the way.)
At each meal, Todd led us in devotions. All of our devotions had been centered on one verse – I Peter 3:15: “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (New International Version). Sunday morning, Todd put the verse in the context of Todd Beamer, one of the heroes of United Flight 93 who brought the terrorists down in a Pennsylvania field on Sept. 11, 2001. He read the eulogy given by Todd’s father at his son’s funeral. More than one of us wiped away tears as we listened.
We packed everything up and headed out for the bridge over the Missouri to return to the Katy Trail. The plan was to travel together across the bridge, and then bike as the spirit moved us on the trail. We had gone approximately 100 yards when a pedal came off one bike. Another 50 feet and BOOM – a tire blew (loud enough to bring some residents out of their houses). As we circled the street, another rider had a minor crash. We decided we were getting all the bad stuff out of the way early.
Back on the trail, we were riding toward the Treloar station, about 20 miles away and the first rest stop. This section of trail and the 10 miles after it afforded the occasional spectacular view of the Missouri River, corn field after corn field (interspersed by soybeans) and the tree-arched trailway. It was also what cyclists call a false flat – the trail looked flat, but it was actual an incline eastward, a long incline, like 16 miles of incline, rising with the bluffs of the river.
Most of the Katy Trail runs through woods and rural areas, and so the opportunity to see wildlife is ever present. One of the cyclists hit a groundhog. I sighted one deer, three very aggressive brown squirrels, scores of bluebirds, a bunch of rabbits – and Mr. Snake. Fortunately, Mr. Snake was moving faster than I was riding, and he slithered quickly about two feet in front of me across the trail. I don’t know what kind he was; I didn’t hang around long enough to find out. He was coming from some standing water on the right side of the trail. He was dark-colored. I was out of there.
We stopped for lunch at Dutzow. We were joined by a cyclist named John who was riding a recumbent bike from Astoria, Oregon to Yorktown, Virginia this summer. He'd already covered 2800 miles. We'd met him at the campsite Friday night in New Franklin and kept running into him. (He left Dutzow a good 30 minutes before we did; I passed him later near Augusta.)
This lunch was special -- our last meal together and our final devotion time. Todd asked each of us to give a reason for Christ’s hope in us, and it was humbling to listen to 13 men do that. Then we each prayed for the man on our right, and that was even more humbling. It was one of the best moments of a trip that was chock full of best moments.
From Dutzow, we headed to Augusta (another center of Missouri wines) and Defiance, close to the final home of Daniel Boone. The closer we got to the St. Louis metropolitan area, the more crowded the trail became. A short break in Defiance for water and a Hershey bar, and I was off – the final 17 miles.
Two miles later, I approached the bridge over the Little Femme Osage Creek and saw that it was half-closed – only one lane open and a barricade of two-by-fours on the closed side. I’d been careful to watch my handlebars the whole trip – those on my hybrid bike are wider than the handlebars on my road bike, and I’m usually on the road bike.
I biked on to the bridge, and had made it about halfway when my handlebar caught part of the barricade. It flipped me forward, and down I came on my left side. And I came down hard. With the bike on top of me. My first thought was, “I am seriously hurt.” I struggled into a sitting position, pushing the bike off of me. The bike looked okay, but the mirror was broken and the chain had popped off. I struggled to my feet and walked the bike off the bridge. I stood there shaking, determined not to throw up or faint (both were becoming distinct possibilities). Then I noticed the blood dripping down my left leg. My left shoulder hurt, and I felt like I had scraped my right arm and leg as well. “Okay,” I thought, “I need to let someone know, in case I keel over down the side of the trail.” I found my laminated card with our cell numbers, and called Todd, letting him know I'd crashed. He offered to cycle down to where I was, but I said I thought I could make it. Of course, when you’re 15 miles shy of completing a 160-mile trip, you know you’re going to finish, even if they have to pull you in on a rope. It's a guy thing. A dumb guy thing.
I fixed the chain, got back up on the bike, and slowly pedaled to the Weldon Spring station, where I used toilet paper in the bathroom to clean up the blood. Then I biked on, and did manage to complete the last part of the trip. Dave, the assistant trip leader, checked me at the Green Bottom Station, but I was actually beginning to feel pretty good, although I did say a prayer of thanks when I rolled into the parking lot at St. Charles. I got off the bike, and immediately discovered I felt better on the bike. Everything was starting to hurt. I changed to shorts and a t-shirt in the RV, and found multiple scrapes on both legs and my left shoulder, and a nasty looking bruise on my upper thigh. And my left side still hurts today. But it's OK as long as I don't cough, hiccup, laugh, stand up, reach for anything with my left arm or pick up anything on the floor.
As serious as it could have been, it didn’t take away my enjoyment of the trip. I loved doing this trip. I liked being with other men from our church, doing something slightly crazy like this (all bikers are at least slightly crazy). I liked getting to know them in a way I never could on Sunday mornings or at deacon meetings. I think all of us felt the same way.
So Paul, Jim, Deno, Dennis, John, Ron, Nate, Bill, Bryan and Ben – thanks for a great time together.
Todd and Dave – more than anything else, you demonstrated servants’ hearts this weekend. Thank you for all you did, and thank you for the example you gave us.
This was special.
UPDATE: John Hamer, one of our number, took some photos, including Mr. Snake's identical twin brother. http://www.flickr.com/photos/hamerii/sets/