At 5 mph, time and the asphalt move very slowly. It gives me tremendous flexibility for many things. Thoughts about everything from childhood to my next flag, to food choices from my tray on the buggy, to drink choices (mainly gatorade and gatorade) and the views to the left and the views to the right. It is like being in a very slow car but with the heater on and blowing in your face some days. So today I focused on my encounters with people over the last few weeks and my encounters, however short-lived they may be, with the character of the towns I pass through.
Take Mendota, IL for example, it is the Sweet Corn Capital of the World. Ottawa, IL was the site of the first Lincoln/Douglas Debates. Streator, IL at one time was the countries largest producer of glass and birthplace of the scientist who discovered Pluto. Pontiac, IL is home to the Livingston County War Museum, an absolute must see display of mannequins and memorabilia. Pontiac is also famous for Route 66 which passes through town and 20 painted murals that adorn the walls of the older buildings. In Saunemin a cabin is being restored that was home to Albert D.J. Cashier a local civil war veteran who was born Jenny Hodger in Ireland. You see Jenny lived as a man and enlisted as a man and fought as a man. Her identity was not known for many years for the military never conducted physicals back in those days. Jenny marched thousands of miles and fought at Vicksburg and it was because of her service and the friends she made who rallied behind her, that she was able to keep her veteran pension the military tried to take because of identity fraud. Well then…..sleepy communities with secrets.
My encounters with people continue to climb. One day a few weeks ago I had just left Mechanicsville, IA when a car pulls up behind me. A couple walks up. The had lost their son, Army Staff Sergeant Donald Griffith Jr. in 2005. They had seen something on the news, followed flags, found me and just wanted to say thank you.
A couple stands along the road..I don’t recognize them at first then I see the smiles and hear the voices. They are old Army friends from Germany that I had not seen in 29 years. They had seen something on TV and followed the beacon and found me.
He stands at the corner of a gravel road, I think the sun is reflecting of a mailbox but is actually his head, now bald. I recognize the voice and when he runs the familiar gait I chased and passed many times 35 years ago. He was my old cross country nemesis from High School. With all due respects he did dust me a few times. Again, a chance newspaper article and he found me on the road.
This morning a truck pulls over. Approaching, I notice the Vet Plate. He is a small man and all smiles with a firm handshake. His shirt reads “Home of the Brave, Land of the Free”. He is from Ransom, IL. We chat a bit and then before he leaves he literally gives me the shirt off his back and drives away into the cool morning without it.
Thats what the days have become. Meetings with people continue to climb.
I never know who is reading. I never know who is watching. I never know who is around the corner. Thats what life is like on the road. The element of surprise. It is something that can’t be choreographed or planned. It happens. So between the towns I pass through and these encounters that lift me, my days are pretty exciting…..