A Very Special Fourth of July
This past weekend David and I crossed off a couple items from our bucket list. We took a train for the first time, stayed in a Bed and Breakfast for the first time, and biked from Pittsburgh to Washington D.C. along the Great Allegheny Passage and the C&O Towpath. We covered 350 miles in 3.5 days. It was an amazing, scenic journey that I can’t wait to tell you about. But first, a side story.
Isn’t it amazing how the world (God) conspires for things to work out exactly as they are supposed to? Even if it’s not what you planned? Have you ever had that overwhelming feeling of peace when the pieces all fall together?
The first day of our trip was the worst. We had planned to ride 130 miles that day. I did everything wrong. I got four hours of sleep. I didn’t take a break for 40 miles. I gave in to my initial excitement and let myself get hungry and thirsty. Any endurance athlete will tell you that if you feel those feelings, it’s already too late. You can’t recover. At mile 45, I hit a mud patch and flipped over my handle bars, jarring all of my muscles. I delayed lunch, because I wanted to hit 70 miles first. At mile 65, I bonked. HARD. The closest town (for real food and lunch) was still 15 miles away. I quickly lost that initial happy feeling (ok, that feeling checked out a long time ago..). It took an eternity to cover each mile.
Sitting at the restaurant in Ohiopyle (mile 80), David and I discussed our options. Could I go any further? Maybe I wasn’t ready for this, maybe we should stay here tonight and bike back to Pittsburgh in the morning. But, we already had paid for places to stay all weekend. We already paid for our train tickets. We had talked about this trip for years. The reason I bought the bike I did (a cyclocross bike) 6 years ago was to do this exact ride. We have a bike trip planned to Scandanavia in August. If I can’t make this……I felt awful, body and soul.
But I couldn’t quit. I couldn’t imagine returning home the next day, and having to explain to myself and others why we didn’t make it. I knew that letting myself down would eat away at my self-confidence in the months to come. I had to keep fighting. After eating and drinking a quart-size mason jar of Coca-Cola (a life-giving substance at that point in the day), I knew I could make it another 20 miles, but not 50. We called around to B&Bs and found one 18 miles down the trail. We cancelled at the other and they didn’t charge us. Wow, Alleluia!
From The Warrior of the Light by Paulo Coelho:
When he wins a battle, the Warrior celebrates.
The victory has cost him anxious moments, nights racked with doubt, endless days of waiting. Since ancient times, celebrating a triumph has been part of the ritual of life itself. Celebration is a rite of passage.
His companions see the Warrior of the Light’s joy and think: “Why is he doing that? He might be disappointed in his next battle. He might draw down on himself the wrath of his enemy.”
But the Warrior knows why he is celebrating. He is savoring the best gift that victory can bring: confidence.
He celebrates yesterday’s victory in order to gain more strength for tomorrow’s battle.
As soon as we pulled into the Hanna House, that feeling of peace washed over me. I knew we were supposed to be there. I knew that we were to continue on, but staying here specifically was why all the bad happened earlier. We were meant to stop short. The place was beautiful and peaceful, a fixed-up farm house with all the charm and reading nooks you can muster. Frances, the owner, had decorated for the fourth of July.
Her story really moved me. Although I noticed the portraits, medals, and other commemorative items, I couldn’t bring myself to say something until Frances and I were alone at breakfast the next morning. “I’m really sorry for your loss. I noticed the items commemorating, your son?” Yes, it was her son. Her son was killed by a sniper in Iraq the day after his nineteenth birthday. Both born in ’86, her son and I are the same age. It’s just difficult for me to think about.
She said joining the Army was all that he ever wanted to do, growing up. It was his dream. They had moved from Staten Island to the farm not long before he left. He had told her, “Mom, don’t lose the farm. I’ll be back in 5 years.” He loved the place. Frances said that she never intended on starting the inn, but after her husband passed away a few years ago she really needed the money. ” I just can’t give it up. I see my son everywhere here…” I asked if he was buried close by or… “at Arlington. He’s buried at Arlington.” I had hoped so. After giving many tours of DC, Arlington National Cemetery has taken a special place in my heart.
“You must be a very proud Mom,” I said.
“Yes, yes I am.”
The morning of July 5th took on a different meaning. As we pressed forward on the bikes, we passed several commemorative benches, decorated for the 4th of July. There was one for another young man of 19. There was certainly much to think about and to be thankful for that second day.
I was so thankful to God for giving me the grace to continue, for bringing me to the Hanna House, for Frances, for my health, for my husband, and especially that day for my country and the men and women who do their best to keep it safe.