It’s around 9:30 AM and I am stopping at the Cream City Cafe in Ferndale for a warm beverage.
I park my bicycle outside and as I walk to the counter located in the back of the restaurant to place my order, I pass by a large table full of older folks in an animated conversation. I remind myself of the old advice, “Be the first one to say Hello,” and so I open up a smile and say “Good morning.” We immediately engage in a conversation. They want to know where I am from and where I am heading to.
When I mention that I am Brazilian, Anna tells me of her Portuguese origins. Her family came from the Azores Islands and she tells me that there was quite a large number of Portuguese immigrants coming to the area. I tell her that I lived in a city in Brazil that was originally populated by immigrants from the Azores Islands. We exchange some words in Portuguese and she tells me about family members that she lost contact with but that she would like to see again.
We have a lovely conversation about Portugal, Brazil, the US, and how life puts us on different paths… how we get to know new people and lose contact with other folks.
As I leave, I reflect about the quote that some people are in our lives just for a season, but everyone is in our lives for a reason.
We are all students and teachers for one another, and we all are put in situations where we can learn and teach. We just need to Pay Attention and Be Alert. So I remind myself, “Piero… Pay attention! Be alert!”
I ask myself, “Why did I have this encounter? What lesson did I have to learn, or be reminded of? What lesson did I have to teach?”
Well, my plan today is to bike from Eureka to the Burlington Campground in the Avenue of the Giants. Maps indicate that this will be a 50 mile ride with some hills. An early-morning start should give me more than enough time to get there before sunset.
As I leave the Motel 6 where I spent the night, I begin to look for a place down the road for breakfast… this old body of mine needs some fuel. Fifteen minutes later I spot a McD, not usually my choice for any meal, but I don’t have the luxury of being picky. Today, time takes priority over healthy nutrition. Fast food, here I go!
I park my bike against the glass window, and while I am removing my helmet and gloves, I see these two guys — who I guess are in their early thirties — inside. They look at me, my outfit, my bike, the load I am carrying, and I imagine that they may be thinking, “Here’s another guy biking down the coast.” They smile and nod their heads in approval, and I, too, smile and nod back at them.
I get my breakfast tray and choose to sit close to them. We exchange smiles and I start a conversation. “Hi guys. How are you this morning? Do you guys bike?” They smile back at me, but don’t say anything.
“Well, that’s strange,” I think to myself.
“Where are you heading to this morning?” I make a second attempt. One of them looks at me, and raises his finger. I interpret his sign as if he is saying, “Wait a second. Just give me some time and I’ll answer you.” He then looks up, as if he is searching for words up in the ceiling, and tells me, slowly and with difficulty, “We are heading to a swimming competition.” He is clearly making a huge effort to communicate… “We compete in the Special Olympics,” he continues.
“Now I get it!” I say to myself.
Through broken words and phrases they tell me that they are waiting for a van that will be picking them up to take them to where the meet will take place. We talk some more. They tell me that they bike as well, and I tell them a little bit about my biking adventure. I am not in a hurry anymore. One of them shows me his calves and pointing at them says, “See? I am a biker too.”
We exchange goodbyes. I wish them good luck in the competition, and they continue to smile as I leave… pure smiles that stay with me.
I pedal just enough to get out of their sight and then I start crying. Tears run down my face. I just cry. I can’t control my emotions. I am bawling.
I reflect that eating, speaking, walking… all the most ordinary things, those that come so easy to me, and that I can do without thinking, are so difficult to them.
How grateful I am that I have met them, the greatest teachers. They bring out the best in me: compassion, understanding, generosity, patience and gratitude. They remind me how fortunate I am, how much I have, and my responsibility to not waste, but put to good use the gifts that were given to me.
God puts individuals in our lives and calls us to help them. I believe that when we accept this calling we grow and become better human beings. I don’t believe, as the loud voice in our culture tries to make us believe, that I am here to do only what is best for me, and that if everyone does only what is best for them without concern for others, then everyone will be better off. The experience of the years has given me some knowledge now, and I came to believe that I am here to do what is best for those of us who need the most. I am not proud when I catch myself practicing the ‘it’s each man for himself’ ideology. I am definitely a better man when I choose to be my brother’s and my sister’s keeper.
I stop and think about my friend Karen Bossert to whom we — One Planet United — awarded the first OPU Humanitarian of the Year award. I think about how she dedicated herself to take care of others and the many individuals with disabilities that she introduced to us, and how these encounters have made our lives richer and better.
I think about Anne McGlone Burke, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, and all the other many men and women who, through the Special Olympics, created opportunities not only for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, but also for those who care for them, to become better human beings.
I think about my intellectual and physical health, and my journey on this bike, and this fantastic opportunity I am blessed with to learn more about life and myself. How grateful I am! Thank you, my teachers! Life is good… and became better after meeting you.
Text # 1 – from Steve – “Just got done watching show on TV about wine and cheese, filmed in Arcata, CA.”
Text # 2 – from Steve – “Not wine, beer and cheese.”
Text # 3 – from Steve – “They were at a restaurant called Avalon.”
Steve sent me these messages about the TV program he saw. Before leaving Arcata that morning I asked several people where the Avalon was and they told me that it wasn’t in Arcata, but in Eureka. So, when I arrived in Eureka, I located the Avalon.
Tim came to have dinner with me and I told him the story. He agreed to check the Avalon out.
We ordered wine and cheese and it was a pleasure again to spend time with Tim.
It was early evening and we were the only ones in the restaurant. There was very little noise. We could talk without having to raise our voices, and we also were able to clearly listen to the music coming from the piano. It was very enjoyable.
Tim was very kind and insisted to pay for everything. I thanked him for his kindness.
My text to Steve – “Just enjoyed some wine and cheese at the Avalon in Eureka with my friend Tim listening to good piano playing. Life is good!”
Reply from Steve – “Enjoy, because regular life SUCKS.”
I am planning to meet Tim in Eureka today. That’s the only plan I have.
I really don’t have plans for the rest of this trip. The only thing I know is that I have to be in Lake Tahoe on the 24th for the wedding. I also know that some day between today and the 24th I will have to ship the bike back to Florida. That’s it. I am open to whatever may come.
I leave Arcata and soon a much younger and stronger guy is biking by my side. He slows down to match my speed, and asks, “Are you touring?”
“Yes, I am.”
“You are the man!” he tells me with a smile of admiration.
Josh is riding a super light road bike. He tells me that he commutes daily by bike from Arcata where he lives to Eureka where he works. “12 miles each way,” he says.
We talk for a few minutes about his desire to do some bike touring and then Josh says, “Sorry, I need to go. I have to get to work,” and he takes off. It amazes me, over and over again, how some people can make bikes go that fast. In a few minutes he is out of my sight. Amazing.
I get to Eureka, stop at AAA to ask some questions. They give me good advice and a bunch of maps. I make some calls, and finally I bike to the Motel 6 where I’m gonna spend the night.
Later I meet Francois and Max from Paris who are biking from San Diego to Vancouver. I ask them where they are coming from and they tell me that they are coming from the campground on the Avenue of the Giants. I ask them how far is it and Max looks at the odometer and tells me, with his French accent, “77 kilometers.” I tell them that maybe I’ll go to that campground tomorrow.
Taylor told me to follow her and she took me to her house. She lives with Mackenzie and Jenny, two beautiful young women.
Jenny offered me a slice of a delicious banana bread and a refreshing glass of water, and I told them about my journey. I showed them my blog and we watched together the trailer of the movie The Way .
They told me that they are considering biking down the Oregon Coast in the future, so I showed them the maps I have been using, and told them to check the Adventure Cycling website.
I told them about my son’s birthday and a few moments later Mateus was receiving his Happy B-day picture card… directly from Arcata, OR to Cambridge, MA, in a few seconds, thanks to the marvel of wireless telecommunications.
I told the girls that it was time for me to continue my journey to Eureka, where I was planning to spend the night, and the girls said, “No, don’t go there. Stay in Arcata. It is better and much safer.”
“OK, if the girls are telling me to stay in Arcata, that’s what I am going to do,” I said to myself. I have been paying attention to what people have been telling me. These have been my guardian angels, and when they speak, I listen and obey.
They told me where the hotels were located and suggested the APD – Arcata Pizza and Deli as the place to eat.
We hugged, wished each other a happy life, and said goodbye.
Later that evening I went to APD. Alone at my table, I raised a glass of the legendary Boonville Beer and, with gratitude in my heart, silently renewed my wishes of happy lives for the girls.
Yes… Connecting. Making friends. Being generous. Having fun… this is what makes life meaningful.