All we hear about, it seems, are the bad people; drug dealers, suicide bombers, bank robbers, and murderers. By watching the nightly news or reading the morning paper, one would get the impression that our world is filled with bad people; people who would happily mug or rape or kill us.
Many individuals respond by creating fortresses to live in. They arm themselves heavily, install home security systems to monitor their house 24/7, and monitor the feedback through a cell phone they carry on their hip.
I have to wonder if that is all necessary. Our experiences traveling on our bicycles have shown us another side of our vast world – a kinder, gentler side where people are kind and generous and more than happy to give us a helping hand.
When we first pedaled out of our driveway with our children in tow so many years ago we knew we would find adventure. As we rode around our country on something resembling a rolling wagon train, we knew we would see a side of America most people miss. And yet, all the random acts of kindness people showed us astounded us. Each and every time someone reached out his hand and offered us help, we were humbled. And those experiences were not few and far between.
Take, for example, the couple in New Jersey who rescued us from the pouring rain. It had been a long day of cycling in the rain, but thoughts of the warm, dry surroundings of a friend’s house in Manhattan kept us going. Late in the afternoon, we pulled up to the ferry dock, only to discover the last ferry of the day left in 30 minutes from a pier five miles away. We took off like a herd of stampeding buffalo.
While stopped at a stop light, a black car pulled up alongside me, its window rolled down, and a face emerged. “Where are you headed?” the woman asked.
“We’re trying to make the ferry! And it leaves in 30 minutes!” I replied as I took off through the red light.
Pedaling like mad through the torrential downpour, I crested the top of the second hill and readied myself for the final push to the ferry. The same black car pulled up beside me. The window came down and the face appeared “You aren’t going to make it,” she announced. “The ferry leaves in two minutes. There is no way.”
My face fell and my shoulders sagged. I looked around at my dismal surroundings. Rain fell from the sky … puddles filled the road … we were soaked to the core, along with all our gear. This was about as bad as it gets.
“Do you know where a hotel is?” I asked.
“The nearest hotel is about ten miles away. And it costs around $250 per night,” the woman told me.
Life just doesn’t get any lower than that. We were stuck in the pouring rain with our precious children in the middle of a massive urban sprawl. No place to pitch our tent … no hotels … nothing but rain and more rain. What kind of parent was I to subject my darling boys to conditions like this?
“Would you like to stay with us tonight?” she asked. “We live just a couple miles from here.”
Once again, Road Angels had reached out and added magic to our journey.
Or maybe I should tell the story of the total stranger in Portland who handed us the keys to her house. “Go on in and make yourselves at home,” she instructed us. “I’ll be there in a few hours.” And she didn’t even know our names. Or perhaps the doctor in San Luis Obispo who pulled up alongside us as we pedaled into town and asked, “Would you like to spend the night at my home tonight?”
Each and every time complete strangers go out of their way to make our lives brighter our faith in mankind grows. Our children are seeing the good; the way people were meant to be. It may be something small like stopping on the road to give us tomatoes or oranges or water, or it may be something bigger like leaving caches of Gatorade over the next 200 km, but each example of kindness teaches our children the value of giving.
They have been on the receiving end so many times and I have no doubt they have learned an important lesson in giving. Indeed, Davy told me, “When I grow up I am always going to keep Gatorade in my car so I can give it to bicyclists. And I’m going to have an extra room in my house so people traveling by bike can stay there.” And I have no doubt he will.
Those little acts of kindness – a cold Pepsi on a hot summer day, a shower when we’ve gone too many days without one, or refilling our empty water bottles during those long stretches of nothing – are like little rays of sunshine. They lift us out of the doldrums and put a new perspective on our day. And they show us, in no uncertain terms, that people on our planet are not as portrayed on the nightly news.