heat, headwinds and an evening with an exorcist
Cycling in America: biking through Missouri and
26 July 2009
Total kilometers cycled: 58,635
Specific country info available here.
After a grueling day of ups and downs through the foothills of Missouri's Ozark Mountains, we rolled up to a quiet farmhouse. A petite brunette with sparkling eyes followed by a bouncy 5-year-old hurried out to greet us. After introductions I motioned to the Bread and Wine Ministries signboard in front of the adjoining building, "So, this is your church," I ventured. "Oh, yes, I'm the pastor and a trained exorcist, too." Pastor Sharon gave us a warm smile, Eric let out a little gasp of surprise and I managed a polite, "Is that so?"
You never know whose house you'll end up at when you couchsurf. Traveling has helped us to become more open-minded. We didn't bolt when we heard the word EXORCIST. If you're like most people, disturbing images of demonic possession from movies like Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist are what pop into your mind when you hear the word exorcist. In fact, exorcists are surprisingly mainstream. The Anglican church (the official church of England) has a trained exorcist assigned to each of its diocese. Even the Catholic Church practices the ministry of exorcism. In 1999 the Vatican went as far as issuing guidelines for driving out demons.
But I can assure you that in the conservative Methodist church in which I grew up, nobody talked about casting out the devil and the freeing of possessed spirits. Eric and I have spent time surrounded by saffron robed monks in Buddhist communities, done yoga and participated in chanting while staying in Hindu Ashrams and enjoyed unbelievable hospitality in Muslim Mosques. Why not give the exorcist a chance? We may not agree with everyone's religious views, but feel it's best to at least hear someone out.
Sharon (the exorcist) shared her story with us. She talked of seeing angels, of having a direct link to God, of being able to drive out evil. She didn't strike me as an off-kilter quack. I found her warm, energetic and immensely interesting to chat with. Her son Hunter was celebrating his third birthday and we were invited to take part in the festivities. There were balloons, ice cream and cake and the usual shouts of glee as gifts were unwrapped. Basically your average, everyday all-American birthday party. Mom just happens to be an exorcist.
riding across america
The colorful cast of characters we've encountered has made up for some lackluster landscapes and dangerous road conditions as we ride across the central part of America. Missouri was a never-ending succession of steep hills and fast descents. On one particularly perilous stretch of road, a Wal-Mart semi-truck attempting to pass a slow-moving farm vehicle and me--an even slower moving cyclist-- almost came head on with another 18-wheeler moving goods in the opposite direction. Wanting to avoid being turned into road kill, I swerved onto the gravel and slid into a ditch. Eric threw up his arms in typical French fashion and went off on a harangue, "C'est pas possible! Ils sont fous, ces Américains." He then insisted that we hop on a truck in order to avoid being flattened like one of the many turtles, dogs and cats whose remains we regularly see splattered across the tarmac. I wasn't entirely in agreement (What will people think? Maybe another cyclist will see us. We're turning into wimps.), but after a little coaxing gave in. We stuck out our thumbs and waited. The cars and trucks whizzed by without even a glance in our direction. After spending 40 minutes under the baking sun, we gave up on hitchhiking, tightened up our helmets and forged on. Some things just aren't meant to be.
a morale booster
Just when we thought our legs were about to give out from the Ozark Hills torture treatment, we hit Kansas. And headwinds. And to top it all off, heat. The kind that comes in waves and makes the tarmac melt and stick to your tires. We slogged on through tiny two-horse towns with boarded up shops and tidy white-washed churches. We were in the heart of the bible-belt, and as one local women put it, "If they're atheists round here, they better keep themselves pretty well hid." Not far from Wichita, we were scouting around for a place to camp and met up with Bud and Marcella. They offered us a spot on their farm to pitch our tent, then decided we should move into the shed because a storm was brewing and after thinking it over a bit, came to the conclusion that we'd sleep much better on the queen-sized bed in their spare room. Before we knew it, Bud was scrubbing potatoes, putting hamburgers on the grill and tossing up a fresh garden salad and Marcella had a load of our smelly laundry in the machine. An hour earlier, I'd been whining about the roads, the wind and my swollen eyelid (something had stung me)--even going so far as to fantasize about having a job in a cubicle. I don't know if it's angels, or karma or some powerful prayers, but it never ceases to amaze me how the right people come into our lives just when we need them most.
it's all about people
As we ride across the hot, barren country of the Great Plains, it becomes ever more apparent to me how much the people we meet have made this trip what it is. The friendly woman out walking her dogs past the rodeo grounds in Abbyville (population 128) who sees us camping and invites us over to her place to take a shower. The tough old farmer who spots us bouncing along a gravel road and pulls over in his pick up to ask if we're lost. The volunteer fire fighters who regularly offer hospitality to touring cyclists. The random individuals who honk and wave and give us a smile and a thumbs up as they pass. And of course all our hosts from couchsurfing and warm showers who go out of their way to make our tour comfortable. We would have given up long ago without the encouragement of those we have met on the road.
reaching the rockies
We're almost halfway through our more than 6,000 kilometer ride across the USA.The snow-capped peaks of the Rockies lie ahead. In a few days we'll leave the heat and headwinds of the prairies behind and begin the long climb to crest the Continental Divide at Hoosier Pass, elevation 11,542 feet (3,514 meters). Current weather conditions in that part of Colorado are 55 degrees Fahrenheit (13 Celsius) and thunderstorms. We'll be in for a big climate change. Time to pull out the wool socks and rain gear.
check out more photos from our trip
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