Warmshowers.org, which pairs cyclists with host families. Typically a cyclist calls me when they get into town and I give them directions to our house. This time, I was near downtown, about to pick my son up from Spanish class when John called. I asked him where he was at. "The corner of 6th and High street" he replied in his Australian/British accent.
The funny thing was, I was also at the corner of 6th and High. I looked around.
"Are you wearing a neon green vest?" I asked, pretty sure that the guy with the heavily-laden bike trailer might just be my guest. I waved.
John waved back and I walked over to meet him. Not only did I instantly like him, but as we heaved his 50-pound trailer into the back of my mini-van, my dogs Sophie and Callie, normally quite wary of strangers (especially ones with helmets and neon green vests) took to him immediately as well. Callie climbed right up into his lap as he got in the van, and Sophie set aside her usual period of wary growling and barking to cozy right up to him. This latter I chalk up to the fact that as an Australian Shepherd/Australian Cattle Dog mix, she was very partial to his accent.
Trans-America Bicycle Trail (established in our bicentennial year of 1976), we get a fair number of folks in the summer who are doing the Cross-America route. They are all interesting, adventurous, and fun people as you might guess. But some of them are just really special and you hate to see them go. John Smallwood was definitely one of those.
As he says on his website, BicycleAcrossAmerica.org, he is "determined to make a difference" by raising money for Maison Chance, an organization that provides housing, health care, educational and vocational training for orphans, street children, disadvantaged and physically handicapped people in Vietnam. And he's doing this by riding across the country, solo. He became involved with Maison Chance while cycling in Vietnam, and I enjoyed hearing his stories about the people he'd bet there whose lives had been greatly changed by this organization. You can read more about the work they do here in his description and there is a link to donate on his main website. You can also send PayPal using their email address, email@example.com .
Although our household was deep in its usual craziness (I was juggling kids, dogs, chickens, laundry, and heading out to teach my Karate Conditioning class while John was here), he just rolled with the punches as our guest. The next morning, I took the opportunity to ride out of town with him and see him launched on his continuing journey across the country. You don't know how hard it was to turn back!! Some day, I would love to just keep going, pedaling across this large and beautiful land of ours.
More than anything, John inspired me in so many ways. For one thing, if I had to guess his age, I'd probably put him somewhere around 50. So I was quite surprised when he said 66! If we could all look so fit in our mid-sixties!! That's testimony to a cycling lifestyle for sure. And he said he'd only taken up cycling a few years back, which is pretty amazing really. When you add in his dedication to using his bicycle journey to help others, you can see why I thought you all would like to be as inspired as I was in hearing his story.
There's really no excuse not to get out there and live our lives to the fullest. As I watched John roll away down the road toward the East Coast, Thoreau's quote came to my mind:
Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you've imagined.
Somewhere out there on the open road, John Smallwood is doing just that.