Small gesture feels huge to a weary traveler
I’d spent the night in a mom-and-pop motel in Murdo, S.D. — $29 for a queen-sized bed, a shower with too little hot water, and three staticky channels on a black and white television.
After six rainy hours on a motorcycle, it seemed like the Hilton.
I knew from the sound on the roof what I was going to find, even before I pulled the curtains back the next morning: the parking lot in front of the motel was one big puddle, there was standing water on my motorcycle seat and it was still raining.
And I didn’t have a choice; I’d spend another day riding in the rain.
I debated putting on my last dry clothes, then slipped back into yesterday’s wet jeans, wet jacket and wet boots. Anything I wore would be plastered to my skin within minutes anyway.
I was 398 miles from home.
Welcome to Minnesota
The rain was little more than a nuisance for the first half of the ride, but that changed abruptly once I passed the big sign that said "Welcome To Minnesota."
I had just ridden under an overpass that could have provided some shelter when the skies opened and I was battered by rain that was being pushed sideways by a cold north wind.
I crept through the downpour for another half hour until, though the fogged face shield of my helmet, I saw another overpass across the highway in the distance.
I needed to get out of the rain, even if it was only for a few minutes.
I signaled that I was going to pull off the road, and swung the motorcycle in front of a camper that had also taken refuge under the overpass.
For the first time in a couple of hours I was out of the rain, but it wasn’t much of an improvement: the wind was being funneled under the bridge, and it felt even colder than it had on the road.
The rain started falling more heavily, and the wind was blowing spray into my shelter.
I fought with my riding boots and dumped water out of each of them.
And that’s when I saw the girl.
She had stepped out of the camper and was walking toward me.
She was holding a bottle of Coke in her hand.
"Hi" she said. "We thought you might like something to drink. Would you like to come sit in the camper until the rain stops?"
My mind was suffering from road fatigue, and I imagined deranged killers luring unsuspecting motorcyclists out of the rain with Coke. But I was also miserable enough to risk it.
"Yeah, I’d like that."
We walked back to the camper and climbed inside.
The rest of the family was sitting around a small built-in table … mom, dad and a brother who must have been about 12. The girl who’d come to my rescue was about 16.
A small space heater gave the camper the same warm, dusty smell the furnace makes when it runs for the first time each fall, and I felt better than I had for a long time … maybe days.
Mom explained that they’d pulled under the overpass because their camper had a leaky roof.
Dad said "Nasty day for a ride." I explained that I’d passed "nasty" somewhere around the Corn Palace.
Little brother said "You have a cool motorcycle!"
The girl offered me another Coke. I didn’t realize that I’d finished the first one; I accepted.
We sat in the camper for the next hour, and I learned that they were square dancers who were returning to Wisconsin from a convention in South Dakota.
We talked about square dancing, journalism, the weather and a dozen other topics — travelers whose paths just happened to cross under a bridge somewhere along I-90.
It was comfortable in a lot of ways.
The rain finally faded to a drizzle, and I was still three hours from home. They were six.
I thanked them for their hospitality and we wished each other safe travels.
And somewhere around Fairmont I realized that I’d been whistling "I’d like to teach the world to sing…"
All because of the kindness of strangers.
It’s the real thing.