"How are you?" I ask squishing up my face because I know how hot it is in that truck. And boring.
"No, how are you?", he asks back.
I was fine. It's hot, but I'm riding and thinking a lot which helps to pass the time and I just wait to see the white truck up in the distance. He'll see me coming from down the road and I'll see the driver's side door swing open, water jug ready in hand.
"What do you need? Here's some water. It's so hot. It's too hot."
Walter won't put the air conditioning on in the truck because he says it isn't fair. He drives up 2 or 3 miles and waits. For 156 days now he has driven the truck up 2 to 3 miles and waited for Sojourner and I to approach.
I can remember hot summer days as a little girl when I would have to wait in the car while one of my parents ran in somewhere for something and I hated it. I don't think there are many things much worse than waiting in a hot car on a hot day...all day. Yesterday we started the ride just as the sun was coming up and we ended the ride just as the sun was setting.
We have been in this heat for so very long now. The sun roasted me like a rotisserie chicken yesterday, sauntering slowly through the sky as it circled my body. First cooking my right side, then my front, my left side, and then my back. Ne'er a cloud to block it's fury.
But I have this little girl dream in me that keeps me going. The dreamer, I suppose.
But he...he is the giver.
This wasn't his dream. This wasn't his goal or his passion. He had never even been on a horse but maybe once as a child. And this ride is not one ounce easier for me than it is for him. And in fact, I never ever talk on the phone, he does. He does all of the talking, planning, navigating, packs, cooks, cleans, massages me, walks and walks in the same heat we are in, sits hours upon hours in a ridiculously hot truck, loves Soj, and all the while always makes me laugh.
When I feel like I am just at the very end of my strength I can daydream back to watching that imaginary horse outside of the car window and tell myself, "You're doing it now. Keep going."
Walter doesn't have that dream to keep him going through these slow, hot days that seem to never end. What he has is a heart that never waivers and the will of a lion. He has taught me as much on this trip as anything or anyone else has. He has taught me what it is to truly give of yourself.
We didn't end up finding a camp stove at the outlet store. It was still more money than I wanted to spend so we just bought some gas for Walter's tiny little pocket rocket cooker. I still wanted a camp stove, but we figured we would look around at thrift stores when we come across them and see if we could find a better deal. Maybe we would get lucky.
"Did you ever find a camp stove?" a man called out of his truck window as he drove by.
"No!", I yelled back from the side of the road, "we just bought some gas."
"Well, I have a stove here for you."
Walter and I looked at each other and smiled in disbelief as the man pulled his truck in behind us.
The man was named Jeff. We had met him and his wife, Mariah, on the road the day before riding into Ozark. They said it wasn't all that often that you see a girl walking down that street with a horse so they came over to see what was going on.
Mariah said she had always wanted to ride across the country on a horse and told us all of the best places to go in town from swimming to food. We told the couple the arena we were planing on staying at that night and when we went back to the arena later in the evening to feed Soj they were there working out one of their horses.
We were actually heading to the arena to bring Soj around the corner to Patty and Bobby's house where we ended up staying and taking a rest day. There was a rodeo sort of thing going on at the arena so Patty invited us to stay with them instead. We ended up playing cards with her and her daughter and just had the most wonderful visit...
So, we were going to get Soj to bring him over to Patty and Bobby's and ran into Mariah and Jeff again. They had picked us a couple of Tupperware containers absolutely packed full of cherry tomatoes and blackberries. I was so happy (I ate tons of them yesterday). We visited with them for a minute, admired Mariah's beautiful horse, and then said our goodbyes....until yesterday morning.
There was Jeff with a dual burner cook stove and to go with it he bought 2 gas canisters and 2 lighters. It all happened so quickly. One second he was there on the side of the road asking from his truck window if we found a cook stove (and I don't even remember when I mentioned that we were trying to find a cook stove!), then he was standing there with one in hand outstretched to us, and then just like that he was gone with a big smile and a wave, wishing us safe travels.
In the quick interaction he had mentioned that both Mariah's parents had died and that it was their camp stove. I didn't have time to ask what happened or anything, but Mariah, if you're reading this, I can't thank you both enough. I am sure your parents cooked many a wonderful meal on that stove and we will be sure to keep that going! We will think of you all every time we use it and always be reminded of the kindness and generosity that is in this world thanks to people like you. Thank you so much to you both. You are the essence of this ride and you are the spirit behind every smile.
It was just what Walter and I needed, too. We were sitting on the side of the road giving Soj a little grass break and I was sipping on gas station coffee. It was maybe around 8:30 in the morning and I was very tired. Walter had gone to get me a coffee because I was desperate for anything to wake me up a little bit. So the tail gate was down and we were sitting on it talking about how tired we were and just how hard this has all been the last 6 weeks or so battling the constant heat. Then Jeff came along and put the fire back in our step. Sometimes that's all it takes, a kind soul to come lift you up and get you back on the road.
When we got to our next stop here at Vicki and Tom Durham's house in Ava we were greeted by a man from the Lion's club holding a big bag with dinner in it. We were down at the barn with Soj at that time. We thanked him and found more presents up at the house from the Chamber of Commerce. I felt pretty overwhelmed. In fact, it nearly knocked me to my knees. Walter and I just couldn't believe it. They left us baskets full of tons of fresh picked garden veggies and fruit, different kinds of drinks, Burt's Bees chap sticks, water jugs, SUNSCREEN!!, an Ava Bears t-shirt, and these cards...oh, these cards....
Tom and Vicki had also prepared a delicious dinner and cake for dessert which we scarfed down with hot tea. We are taking a rest day with them today. This has been a big week riding 150 miles. The days we ride are so long that it allows for more rest days which has actually worked out really well for us because we have more time to visit a bit. On the ride days, whether it be 20 or 35 miles, I'm tired and pretty much go to sleep, but this allows for more play time and we're still conquering lots of miles.
So I sit here now content with a cup of hot coffee (yeah, I've been drinking it a little more lately, but still only a few times a week) and I am thinking about what a gift this has all been.
I had a dream a long time ago and I never let it go. Why? Why does a little girl want to get on a horse and ride across the country? I don't know, but I wanted it. I wanted it at 5 years old and now I'm in it. But the most amazing part has not been the actual dream, it's been the people that made it possible.
You don't have to ride your horse across America to see the love and generosity that is available here and that's the most beautiful part. It's here for all of us at every second, no matter what we're doing.
I've learned that the best gift to give the giver is to let them give and take forward the wholeness they have left you with. Sometimes a desire to be polite will cause you to shake your head and decline a persons generosity, but there is no feeling that is more contagious and filling than receiving a selfless gift, aside from perhaps giving it.
Sojourner is a portal into people's hearts. He tramples through whatever barriers we humans build around ourselves to protect us from one another. I suppose that is the gift from the animal to us, to put us at ease, to teach us to trust because they so fully put every ounce of their trust into us.
And they forgive. They don't hold onto old memories that keep them from moving forward. They drop them and sometimes it may take a little while, but their desire is always to trust, to believe again in their human friends even if once they were wronged. There is no ego and there is no grudge. If fear is placed in them they will try with all of their might to let it go if you ask them to.
Sometimes it can feel like so many of us are behind closed curtains with our guns drawn, but it's just not the case. People trust and love to give and are here for every single one of us at almost every corner, on almost every doorstep, and for as long as I live, no matter what calamity I may come across or stones may be thrown at my bones I will never be convinced otherwise. Not after this experience. There is just so much good out here.
Walter, Soj, and I have been given so much from food to time to money to stories to smiles to beds to even just room on the road so we can safely pass and a friendly wave. In return I try to tell this story as best I can that shows that life is worth living, not for any magical reasons or grand purposes, but because we have an incredible ability to give to one another, to express love.
And to the givers of this world, thank you. A girl can dream and dream until her heart explodes but without the help of a giver, it will always be a sparkling dream in the distance, something looked at but never lived. But you make things possible and you will always fill this world with what it needs most...Hope.
Thank you, my Scalt.