Lost and Found in Louisiana
It was day 44 of my 58-day cross country bike trip and I had had it. Two days earlier someone had bombed the Boston Marathon. Although everyone I knew who had been at the finish line was safe, I hated being 1200 miles away, somewhere in Louisiana. Of the 28 women on our tour I was one of the slowest riders, and thus almost always rode alone. I was tired of being one of the last women to our motel, and especially tired of fighting with the balky front brake connection on my expensive bike. I wanted to go home.
We have a saying in our house when things get difficult, a saying from my husband’s days as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam. So I wasn’t surprised when I called looking for sympathy Jim told me to fly the mission.
That day we were to bike 88 miles. Although it would be hot, it would not be hilly. I was sure I could bike every mile.
For most of the first 30 miles I was in the lead. Confident I would continue to be part of the pack, I stopped to use an ATM. Leaving the bank parking lot I made a crucial mistake, and turned right instead of left. After a couple of miles I discovered I was alone. No one in front of me, no one catching up. I was lost in Louisiana.
The smart thing would have been to turn around and correct an obvious mistake. But this was not the first time the printed directions on our guide sheet had been wrong. Usually there were further back roads than the ones we biked on and taking them would eventually lead to the intended route. I pedaled on.
After about eight miles I arrived at a dilapidated looking store with a sign outside indicating it sold fishing equipment. I got off my bike and hobbled into the store, hoping to ask for directions to my intended route.
The store’s inside was equally shabby looking. Along its walls, blackened from age and cigarette smoke, were a vast array of everything an angler might need. To my right was a refrigerator case filled with cold drinks. To my left, in the front of the store, was a worn wooden counter, and behind it sat a young man who looked like he should have been in school. In the back, four men, dressed like they’d just come out of a bayou sat smoking and talking. When they looked up to see who had come into the store, they saw a middle aged, overweight, hot and sweaty woman dressed in biking shorts and a “Go Army” biking shirt, wearing a gray helmet, covered in yellow reflective tape, on her head. Not necessarily a pretty sight.
With sinking heart and sagging body I listened as the boy behind the counter examined my maps, read my directions and told me there was no short-cut. I had to return to the intersection where I’d made my mistake.
Hot and thirsty, and brimming with a mix of frustration and self pity, I retrieved a large bottle of orange juice from one of the shop’s coolers. Before I could pay, the young man behind the counter told me it was on the house and wished me luck. Thanking him profusely, I turned to leave.
Standing between the door and me was a young black woman dressed in a bright pink business suit. She was taller than me and wore her black hair curled under in a smooth pageboy.
After saying a polite hello, I started to walk past her and out of the store. I expected nothing more than a similar greeting or maybe just a smile. Instead, she spoke to me making a statement I will never forget. “Excuse me for stopping you, but God told me you were in trouble, and I should pray for you.”
God wanted her to pray for me, this stranger in her peculiar outfit? In the middle of a run- down convenience store? Although I was both surprised and grateful. I thought about thanking her then declining her offer. But I didn’t. If this lovely young woman wanted to pray for me, who was I to turn her down? I was not on some holy mission, I was simply kicking a very large item out of my bucket and off my list.
How had God told her how lost I felt, and not entirely because I’d made a wrong turn?
She asked for permission to touch me and I demurred. I didn’t fear her touch, I simply felt if she held onto me I would throw my arms around her and begin to cry, ruining her business suit in the process. But touching my helmet would be fine. So there we stood, between the cooler case and the front door while she placed her hand on my helmet and fervently asked God to be with me, to give me the courage and the strength to get to my destination. A sense of peace, and with it an acceptance that I could persevere despite my mistake, washed over me. I returned to my bike after thanking her profusely. This beautiful young woman. This messenger from God in a hot pink suit.