Shortly after joining the Share board a few years ago I was on a business trip up in Anchorage. One evening I decided to indulge in a little fast food so I headed to the local McDonald’s. When I was walking in I noticed a man in a wheelchair outside but didn’t give it much thought. After eating and reading the paper I walked outside to go back to my hotel. The man was still sitting there. I knew he was homeless and likely hungry so I asked him if he’d eaten. He hadn’t so I gave him a few dollars and told him to get something to eat. And then I asked him if he had a place to sleep that night. He told me he didn’t and I knew that a spring storm was coming in that evening. I walked inside and asked one of the counter people if she knew of a shelter in town and she told me about one near downtown. I got the address and directions and walked outside. “Let’s get you to the shelter, have you stayed there before?” He told me he had stayed there but that it was likely full given the approaching weather. I told him to not worry about that. I helped him into my rental car and loaded his wheelchair in the trunk. The drive to the shelter was about twenty five minutes and perhaps one of the most enlightening experiences of my life. I’d always kept my distance, never fully engaged with homelessness. Until then.
On the way to the shelter this man recounted how he’d been a “sloper” working on the Alaska pipeline and fairly successful. A six figure income had provided a good living. And then he was injured. His back was a wreck. Multiple surgeries had made it worse to the point where he was unable to work. Circumstances let him slip through the cracks and into homelessness. This was a man not unlike myself except that a series of events lead to living on the streets. I learned more in twenty five minutes about homelessness than I had in my previous fifty years. It opened my eyes and validated why I had joined Share.
When we got to the shelter I helped get him checked in. As I was preparing to leave he looked at me, reached for my hand and said simply – “Thank you.” It wasn’t so much what he said but how he said it. The look in his eyes spoke volumes. This man was genuinely grateful that someone had reached out to him. A simple gesture had made a difference. I walked out to my car and sobbed for several minutes before gathering myself enough to be able to drive.
Fast forward to the summer of 2010…..
There’s a 120 mile stretch of nothing between Lander and Rawlins in Wyoming. I had been laid out with a bout of food poisoning for a couple of days (Note to all cyclists: don’t eat the Thai food in Lander, Wyoming) and knew there wasn’t much in the way of goods and services for that stretch. I rolled out of Lander in stifling heat and muscles with no store of glycogen. There was a nice little climb that got my attention and further reduced my already sapped energy level. My goal had been to make it to this little wide spot in the road about halfway to Rawlins but realized there was no way I’d make it that far. About 30 miles in I was sitting on the side of the road with 5 empty water bottles and only 1 left to make it 30 miles. Not good. A couple stopped and gave me enough cold water out of their cooler to replenish my empty bottles and up the hill I continued, sometimes walking my bike and trailer. A simple gesture….
I’d heard about this little place called Sweetwater Station which was a Pony Express stop and now home to the Mormon Handcart Visitors Center and decided to stop there and try and camp for the night. When I got there I was drained, totally and utterly exhausted. And I didn’t have any food save for one Power Bar. I had left Lander with very little food thinking I’d by okay and top off at the halfway point. Stupid, stupid move. Anyway, when I got to the visitors center there was about 200 LDS having a retreat. They allowed me to camp for the night and not just that, they fed me. And I mean they fed me. These folks let me pitch my tent on their property, take a shower, use their facilities and fed me copious amounts of food. The next morning when I woke up there was fruit and granola bars sitting on the picnic table next to my tent. A simple yet profound gesture……
I rode on toward Rawlins but was still drained physically. About 35 miles outside of Rawlins there’s a lone service station at the junction of two roads. I stopped there and was very nearly at the end of my rope. I’d bonked. For the uninitiated bonking means you have no gas left in the tank. Nada, nothing. I knew there was no way I’d make it to Rawlins. What were my alternatives? I decided to hitch a ride into Rawlins. Normally I wouldn’t do that given my stubborn nature but really, I simply was, for the first time in my life as an athlete…….spent. A young guy pulled up in a pickup truck to get some gas, explained my situation and asked him if he was headed for Rawlins. He told me he was going in the opposite direction so I told him I’d just sit out by the road and put my thumb out. I knew eventually someone would come by. There wasn’t much traffic, it was pretty much nonexistent. A couple of times I climbed on my bike and got about 50 feet. That was it. A car went by and then another. And then I saw a pickup truck coming down the road. It was that young man. He’d gotten about ten miles down the road and turned around and came back. As it turned out, he had just returned from Iraq and he was heading home to his girlfriend. What he said as we ambled toward Rawlins was this – “I knew you were in trouble and hoped that if I ever needed it someone would help so decided to turn around.” Let me tell you, this was a Godsend. A simple yet profound gesture……
It doesn’t take much to make a difference in someone’s life. Sometimes it’s the most simple of gestures that can have the most profound effect. The staff at Share do this every single day. Our community is fortunate to have these people working daily to help the homeless and hungry.