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The Ghost of Tom Joad

August 23, 2011

This moved me to tears. Let it move you too. My brother, Eric, wrote the post below after meeting an old couple on a desolate road in the middle of the desert.

Eric is pedaling (as part of a team of 5 cyclists with a support crew of 2 adults & 1 preschooler) 8,840 miles around the perimeter of the USA in order to raise awareness and funds for clean water solutions around the globe.
Their name: h2o ride
Their vision: to raise enough $$ to provide clean water for 1 person for a generation for every mile they ride, that’s $20 per mile. Yes, a mere $20 will provide clean water for a person for a generation, so give if you’re lead, because every little bit counts.

The h2o Ride

The Ghost of Tom Joad

The New Mexican section of the ride has been a pretty amazing few days.  Tuesday’s ride from Ft. Sumner to the town of Willard on was surreal.   After a “second breakfast” stop in the collection of mostly crumbling buildings known as Yeso, the terrain opened up in to a vast rolling grassland.  From the tops of the hills we could see the road stretch out in a straight line to the horizon.  Winds were picking up from a slightly favorable south direction which made the going a little easier.
New Mexico Highway - Michael Way

About ten miles outside of Vaughn, I spotted someone headed east on foot.  As I approached I could see that it was a man pushing a woman in a wheelchair.  Except for the Yeso post office, there were no services or shelter to speak of  for 45 miles in the direction they were heading.  Dumbfounded, I slowed and crossed the road to see if they needed anything.  They appeared to be in their late 60s as the man’s white windblown hair contrasted his sun-darkened deep wrinkled face.  I first asked if they needed any food or water.  The man replied they had some food and two jugs of water so they were ok on supplies.  I introduced myself and found that the woman’s name was Judith, but I missed the man’s name because I was trying to think of a tactful way to ask just what they were doing out here crossing the rolling plains of New Mexico on foot.  I don’t remember exactly how the exchange went, but they shared that they were flat broke except they “had just collected their check,” and were headed with everything they owned to Arkansas where they had family.

As the rest of the group rolled by, I told them we were headed to Willard from Ft. Sumner and Judith mentioned there wasn’t much in Willard except a cantina.  We had plans to camp out on that cantina patio or maybe stay in an old church if the vague details from our contact there could be worked out.  They asked if there was a motel in Ft. Sumner and I told them I spotted one on the edge of town on our way out that morning, but that we slept in St. John’s Episcopal Church and if they asked someone in town to get in touch with Mary, the caretaker there, she might be willing to let them stay there if they told her we met out on the road.  I blurted all of this out in a lame attempt to meet their needs in some way.   It was the best I could do, and it felt like nothing.  I told them I wished I could give them a ride or do more for them and the man replied “Well, God will send us someone.”  I hope he did because that stretch of US 60 is the most desolate highway I’ve ever seen and the late morning heat and sun were oppressive.  We wished each other safe travels and as I clipped in and rolled down the hill I turned to see the old man taking large labored steps as he pushed Judith up one of the countless hills that lay ahead of them.

I caught back up to the group and filled them in on my conversation with these folks as I was still trying to make sense of the situation.  I had just met two desperate people struggling in a stark landscape and couldn’t really do a thing to help them.  Or maybe I could, but I didn’t.  Our fully supported, “challenging,” high on our horse bike ride around the US with matching jerseys and GPS tracking seems a joke compared to these peoples’ genuine struggle to cross this country to be with their family.  On the climb out of Vaughn, I startled a small herd of pronghorn on the right side of the road and began to match their pace.  With Judith and her husband in mind, I stomped on the pedals and didn’t look back.  There were fifty miles of deserted New Mexico highway left on the day for me to get a taste of the authentic suffering that keeps you humble and I didn’t want to waste any of it.   I reached the cantina in Willard in time to take shelter from a desert thunderstorm and then used the rain water to wash the sunscreen and sweat off my skin and the salt of my evaporated tears off my lenses.

via the H20 Ride

Posted on July 3, 2011 by  in blog

Aside from pedaling 50-100 miles per day with the team, Eric is also the team bicycle repairman & trained emergency response guy for those inevitable crashes, injuries, & health issues. Please keep him in your prayers as he continues on this journey of strength, sweat, responsibility, and sheer willpower through the middle of November.  To find out if they will be riding through/near your town check their route here.
Please take the time to watch this 2.5 minute video (featuring ERIC!) about their vision and share it with your friends!

The h2o August Alliance from h2o ride on Vimeo.

Our ride supports the work of Living Water International. We are raising $20 for each mile we ride. Our goal is $176,800 – enough money to bring clean water to 8,840 people for a generation.

Give Clean Water

This button brings you to Living Water’s site to make the payment. Give $20 for each mile you want to “buy”.

If you would prefer to make a donation using a check, use these details:

  • make the check out to: Living Water International
  • in the memo line write: h2o Ride
  • and mail the check to:

Living Water International
PO Box 35496
Houston TX 77235-5496

If you need help giving or would like an alternative method, visit LWI’s Giving page.

We deeply appreciate your support of our mission. Giving water saves lives, shares truth, and empowers development in communities across the globe.

One Comment leave one →
  1. August 25, 2011 11:59 AM

    Thanks for writing your thoughts, Eric. The fellow’s probably right that someone (w/ vehicle) would see and help–we all hope:)

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