Near-disaster gives sisters a taste of generosity

  • Evie and Norma in front of the Kitty Hawk bicycle shop.

    Evie and Norma in front of the Kitty Hawk bicycle shop.

  • Norma after her wipeout, icing her leg.

    Norma after her wipeout, icing her leg.

  • Tim stuffing food into our packs.

    Tim stuffing food into our packs.

  • Evie and Norma at the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse at the top of the cape.

    Evie and Norma at the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse at the top of the cape.

Published: 10/12/2009 12:03 AM

As Paul Harvey would say, "And now the rest of the story."

Last week Norma and I were debating what to do. Should we continue cycling in the mountains of New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware? Should we rent a car and avoid having to ride through New York City and Philadelphia? Should we conserve our funds and only cycle the ocean routes?

And that's when the decision was taken out of our hands.

Ahead, hidden in the shadows of an underpass, the blacktop shoulder dissolved into soft cinders. I had chosen to ride on the road whereas Norma elected to stay on the shoulder. In the blink of an eye she went down. I was some distance ahead when I became aware I had lost sight of her in my mirror.

I stopped and waited, and waited and waited. Then I called her cell phone. After three tries she answered in a pained voice.

I cycled back. Her right leg was dripping blood from multiple abrasions. The inside of her knee was already starting to swell where the bar end shifters had dug into the soft muscle, and her knee was rapidly turning lovely shades of black and blue.

Now, the question was not should we continue to ride, it was how would we get to the Allentown airport that was an hour away by auto? We went back to the hotel we had stayed the evening before, dripping blood and tales of woe. It was a pitiful sight to behold. So pitiful that the manager, Olana, volunteered to drive us when she got off work.

When we cycled the Lewis and Clark trail in 2004 Avis generously supplied a vehicle free of charge for our drive back to Arlington Heights. This time, we not looking for a free ride; we just wanted to keep our loyalty with the one and only company that sponsored us.

Avis treated us like VIPs, securing a vehicle large enough to hold our bikes and gear. What a treat having four wheels instead of two! And look at how fast we can go!

We jumped ahead to Norfolk, Va., around 400 miles, and headed for the least inexpensive motel we could find.

When we arrived it was quite obvious that we were the minority here! That evening we were "dining" at a fast-food restaurant. In the booth next to us were two burly police officers. Every so often their walkie talkies would crackle with what was going down. "Woman in yellow dress selling drugs," or "High speed chase ..." etc.

Our brother Don says "That to us, danger is just an adventure." Well this might be pushing the envelope a bit too far. In actuality the two days we stayed at the hotel we discovered some of the kindest, most interesting, sincere and curious, fun people on the trip to date.

And that's what this trip is all about because it certainly isn't the ride. In the thousands and thousands of miles Norma and I have traveled by bicycle we can honestly say that this trip is the least enjoyable of them all. This trip is about the people.

I recently received an e-mail from a Daily Herald reader. She told us that after having read my journals she called the Daily Herald to "Thank them for publishing such interesting and GOOD news."

After three days of rest Norma was good to go. The way we figured, when you have a knee replacement, physical therapy is riding a stationary bike, so, she is getting freebie therapy by riding her bike. You go, Girl!

Two days later we were scurrying to catch the ferry to take us to the Outer Banks and that's where we met "Road Angles" Lauren and Tim Hagen, of Williamsburg, Va. Tim was so excited to see two women bicycle touring that he jumped out of his van, grabbed some ice cold water, thrust it into our hands and then much to our surprise, he opened our panniers and stuffed food into them!

In 1999 Tim completed a 4,000 mile bicycle tour in Europe: "I know what it's like to do what you're doing."

At the same time, Lauren called her best friend, Lauren Fields who lives in Beaufort, N.C. "Lauren will take you in, give you a bed and feed you too." Norma and I never turn down free.

We exchanged phone numbers as the ferry was pulling in, with the promise to call the Fields when we arrived in Beaufort.

Ten miles down the road we stopped at a fruit market.

"You're here! We've been waiting for you," exclaimed the cashier. The Hagens had bought a bottle of wine with instructions to give it to us. Unbelievable kindness still abounds in people today.

The most unwelcome welcome lady was in Kitty Hawk on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

"What do you want? It's closing time!" It had to have been obvious to her that we were bicycling. We were wearing our finest, slinkiest, cycling jerseys with spiffy bike helmets sill on our sweaty heads.

If only she would have told us that if we would just go over one block we would not have had to ride a very nerve-racking, four-lane highway at rush hour with nonexistent shoulders or sidewalks.

Those six miles we cycled to the campground put so much gray into our hair we had to color it the next day!

On the flip side of being unkind, the next day we went to the local bike shop. We needed some adjustments done to our bikes. When we went to pay we were told "Today, for touring bicycle ladies, there is no charge."

We loved riding the Outer Banks. We toured the Wright Brothers monument, many of the famous lighthouses, watched wind surfers and kite surfers, had great tail winds, pitched our tent on sand dunes and were instantly introduced to sand fleas! By morning our feet and legs were covered with red spots that made us look like we had the measles!

And we cannot forget the mosquitoes that were as large as dragonflys. If we wouldn't have been zipped up in our tent I'm sure we would not have had any blood left in our bodies by morning! Motels were looking more and more favorable to us!

We called Lauren and her husband, the Rev. Mike Fields, when we arrived in Beaufort. They welcomed the "Dit Dots" into their home - someone who is just passing through.

A "Ding Bat" - which is what they were - are people who have recently moved into Beaufort, who don't yet know the ins and outs of the community. Well, I just don't know if I could refer to my pastor as a ding bat!

That evening we accompanied them to a church supper at a beach house overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. As the last dish was washed, dried and put away, the choir gathered in the parlor and proceeded to practice for their Christmas concert.

As the evening progressed their voices increased in intensity filling the parlor until the walls could no longer contain the joyful sounds. Music seeped through the closed windows, doors and cracks in the walls, spilling out over the sand dunes until it mingled with the rolling, frothy waves lifting the music to the heavens. It was magical.

Our hearts were so thankful for all of the acts of kindness we've been receiving, but nothing can compare to this next tale of unselfish generosity.

Heavy rains drove us into a motel for two days. The only motel we could afford was located on the outskirts of Surf City, N.C. The room was so small that when we got our bikes inside we almost had to crawl over them to get into bed.

Taking them in and out of the room was out of the question so we hoofed it every time we went to town. We'd don our rain gear and attempt to reach the restaurant without looking too much like drowned rats.

The morning of the second day our neighbors offered to drive us. We must have been a pitiful sight indeed! Or smelly, because later that morning she knocked on our door and offered to do our laundry.

That evening we were invited to share their meager meal of hot dogs on bread, chips and Pepsi. Through the course of conversation we learned they were celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary. He was out of work because of an injury on the job and was attempting to get disability. She was a manager of a grocery store.

But that's not all. The next morning we met for breakfast at a local, inexpensive, greasy spoon. When we went to pay our bill they had already paid for it.

Go figure. Those that have it keep it unto themselves, and those who barely get by are willing to share with others whatever they may have. God bless them.

And to all of the Daily Herald readers who sent Norma a birthday e-mail, a huge Thank You. She was quite taken that so many perfect strangers would take the time out of their busy day to wish her Happy Birthday.

Happy Trails, Evie