John described Dallas as the personification of a soul sustained in grace.
It was very early on a Saturday morning when my friend pulled up, his bike perched atop his car. It was early, but I was awake and excited. We hoisted my bike up next to his, fastened it down and ventured forth. The long car ride gave us plenty of time to talk. Mostly it gave my friend time to talk – about his rather odd and soul-damaging parents.
We were the first to arrive at the campground on the northern border of Vermont. We weren’t positive we were in the right place, but we pitched our tents and called it a night. The others arrived as we slept. All strangers, all eager to embark on a six day bike ride ride that would slice through Vermont from top to bottom.
The course was difficult and the week was hot – with temperatures in the 100’s. After riding alongside Lake Champlain for most of the morning on the first day, our route finally intersected it at a nice grassy park. The others rested under shade trees, but I rode my bike right to the end of the dock and jumped in. So what if I would be riding wet. Figured I’d be my own swamp cooler. It was HOT. My friend eventually joined me – after first removing his shirt, because men can do that, even in the midst of strangers.
A sudden and severe thunderstorm on day three – one that had our bikes hydroplaning the last two miles to that night’s campground, was both scary and welcome. Should we take shelter in the forest or just go for it? We went for it. The rain felt good but it brought no lasting relief. The air was just as hot, heavy and steamy after the storm as before.
Day four involved a climb of 3,400 feet – 1,500 to 1,600 up Brandon Gap alone. Brandon Gap was steep at the very top. Very, very steep. So steep that my pedaling ground to a halt. My friend advised me to walk my heavy, not-state-of-the-art bike the last little bit. No way. I was determined to earn my guzzle of Gatorade at the top. But it was too steep for me to get going from a halt. So he got off his bike and gave me a running start. Thanks to him, I arrived at the summit to the cheers of the others.
Day five may have been the hottest of the week, and I have never handled extreme heat or extreme cold well. The last five or so miles of that day’s ride were through shadeless fields. Our destination was in sight but the heat had taken its toll and I was feeling very weak and nauseated. “Just a bit further,” I told myself as I tried to keep my bike from toppling over. I was too weak to talk, but my friend saw my pale face. As soon as we arrived at the campground he ushered me to a shade tree next to a river where he wetted his bandana and put it on my head. I sat there sipping from my newly refilled water bottle. A friend in need is a friend indeed.
Intertwined with the physical challenges was a lot of laughter, quiet early morning devotions, heartwarming conversations with new friends, a carton or two of Ben & Jerry’s with many spoons passed and shared at country store rest stops and pleasant evenings with my friend visiting my tent to read to me. He liked to read aloud, and l liked to listen to the sound of the words through his English accent.
It was a feel-good vacation. My first bike trip.
Shortly after the trip ended, one of the couples – two very experienced riders – sent us all a chart of the daily and total elevation gains – the miles we had ridden each day, the feet of climb and the climb/mile. Handwritten at the bottom of my chart was a personal note:
Congratulations on biking every mile of such a difficult course. We hope your success will be an encouragement for you to attempt another adventure in the future. Your pleasant disposition despite the conditions (heat and hills) was very inspirational.
You may think that the need for a push and the heat-stroke would have knocked me off my friend’s biking buddy list. But not so. The following summer he invited me to join him on a tandem mountain bike trip through the Canadian Rockies.
And a few days after we returned from Vermont he called to say he wanted to pitch his tent in the grassy yard just outside my condo. Because being near me was somehow soothing.
Which brings me back to the third full sentence on the 82nd page of the Soul Keeping Study Guide:
“John described Dallas as the personification of a soul sustained in grace.”
The page went on to say that a soul sustained in grace is a healing presence.
And that reminded me of Vermont.
In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Connect the Dots.”