The past few days felt like little progress after many miles. We had meandered along the coast and traveled back roads. The zig-zagging was accumulating less efficient miles. We enjoy those rides, but it was just beginning to feel like we needed to make more headway. With tomorrow being Sunday, we decided to get another early start to maximize our quality riding time and to ride the main road, which was a more direct northern route than our bicycling maps were suggesting. Besides, it was Saturday, so the usual weekday traffic would be sleeping in.
So off we went, just after 7:00 am, cycling up US Route 17 out of Wilmington. Although beach-goers and golfers were out early, traffic was clearly thin and the four-laned, divided highway allowed us plenty of space. A gentle tailwind was an added bonus. We had chewed up over fifty miles before our noontime lunch stop just outside of Jacksonville, North Carolina. Wow–is our country large–or perhaps our own little worlds small. I had never heard of Jacksonville, North Carolina–I was only familiar with the larger Jacksonville we had visited earlier in our trip. North Carolina’s version wasn’t quite that large, but it was large nonetheless, with a population of 67,000. We had cycled around one of the predominant marine bases in the country, Camp Le Jeune, and this city bordered it. Riding alongside, indeed around, this base for miles reminds us of the sacrifice others make to enable Americans to enjoy our lives and freedom. Debbie and I would like to salute all of the men and women who serve in the military to protect our country.
We reached a confusing crossroads as we approached Jacksonville. Our bicycle maps were clearly out of date or just plain wrong. Regardless, the right turn described on the map placed us on a highway where bicycles were prohibited. The left turn appeared to lead us right into the city of Jacksonville. We had just experienced travel through a city without the aid of our bicycle maps. If this was the wrong way, we didn’t relish a repeat of this experience. We were on our own with this decision. As we approached the actual fork, instinct urged the left hand turn. Soon thereafter, we were comforted to learn that we were still on the bicycle map route. A swift passage through Saturday’s nearly vacant streets brought us to a shopping area just in time for a rest stop.
After an enjoyable and reinvigorating lunch break, we knew we had more good miles within. There was more zig-zagging ahead on the bicycle maps, so we decided to go the direct route again, but finish the day on less traveled roads. We were very pleased with our last stretch, which gave much-needed relief from what had become stressful riding on a busy road as the day wore on.
Nine miles out of town, we heard the first rumble in the distance. We had noticed, indeed been thankful for, some cloud activity overhead and far ahead, since midday. We were thankful because some cloud cover softened the effects of the heat wave. But, at the same time, we have become familiar enough with these summertime weather patterns to know that one should be close to cover when the dark cloud mass and heat reach the boiling point.
Sometimes, in life, circumstances occur that are so unusual and so perfectly timed that little doubt remains that God has intervened. Debbie and I experienced one such moment today. As we approached New Bern, an impending storm was providing more warnings that time was of the essence. We had decided to wait until we arrived in town before booking an overnight stay. We were planning a much-needed rest day on Sunday–and we always like to have the appropriate location for a Sunday church service and ample restaurants.
So, as the sky grew ever darker and the thunder rumbles louder and more frequent, we parked roadside to recheck the gps. What ensued were several phone calls to chain motels belonging to rewards programs, which has been our custom. We experienced sticker shock on room prices. Some motels were located a mile away, but most seemed to be over three miles away in another direction. One such phone call even resulted in a no-answer. How can motels do business if they don’t even pick up their phone?
We decided to travel to the motels that were over three miles away because they seemed more plentiful. If we didn’t find less expensive accommodations, we could always book a room in one of the more expensive ones and reassess our options in the morning. So, off we went, under even more ominous and imminent looking storm clouds. Within a half mile, we came to a major interchange–major in terms of long bridges over massive expanses of water over what we learned to be the Neuse River Basin. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be cycling back over these if we needed to backtrack. As our gps was urging us toward one of two large bridges, we noticed a motel immediately to our left. The name looked familiar because it had come up on our gps as the first listing. I told Debbie, “Let’s give this one a shot.” It was an attractive establishment with a familiar restaurant by its side. So we called the front desk and were pleased to receive a substantially lower price quote–and they had the necessary breakfast to refuel our start on Monday morning. With the sky growing blacker yet, our decision became easier. We rode our bicycles a short distance and checked in. Moments later, the skies let loose. A long, electrifying storm ensued. We, of course, had escaped it.
Isn’t it interesting how sometimes the choices we are given, those God provides for us, are right in front of us. Yet, we sometimes have difficulty recognizing them, even when dark clouds loom. By His grace, God takes us by the hand and leads us. This motel is located within walking distance of the historic downtown region, which hosts several churches. The other motels indicated there were no churches within walking distance. And the room is just perfect.
Remain open to the possibilities that God places right before you. Heed them well, for they may just be heaven-sent blessings in subtle packaging. Sometimes the pace of life and distractions make them hard to recognize, but look for them always. You won’t want to let His blessings slip through your hands.