The team reached the city limits of Bloomington near mid-afternoon. Approaching an intersection, they hovered on the grassy incline at the side of the road, careful to stay out of traffic. With the light green, they continued onward to make it across the road before the signal changed. Before reaching the pavement, a small, red car heading down the road came to a sudden halt next to them, still lingering mostly in the street due to the absence of a shoulder.
The doors opened simultaneously on either side and an older man and woman exited in unison. Visibly distraught, the man urgently rounded the car, approaching Tim at the front of the pack.
“Will you please pray for my grandson?” the man asked, his eyes an inch shy of the bill of his ball cap. His wife followed behind him dabbing with a tissue at the corner of her eye behind her sunglasses.
The cool, spring breeze blew softly, contrasting the hot, Indiana sunshine. The excitement level continued to grow as the team of horses clip-clopped past the sign for Covington, only several miles ahead. Looking back on the unfolding of their journey, Tim smiled at his former naiveté—having planned to reach their hometown by the first winter and then see their journey completed after a total of eleven months. Nearly two years later, here they were, finally crossing over into the familiar territory of their childhood stomping grounds.
“Thanks for calling, Ryan,” Tim spoke, cell phone to his ear. “We’re excited for you and Hannah… Okay… Love you too… Bye.” He hung up the phone and slipped it back inside the front pocket of his plaid, long-sleeved button-up.
“Hannah just got a job offer in Indianapolis,” he told Lynn.
“Really?” she answered, intrigued.
“Yep. They’re moving in three weeks,” he concluded. She pondered the news.
“Will we make it to Memphis before then?” she asked.
“Doubtful,” he replied, pausing a few moments. “Maybe that’s our confirmation that we’re not supposed to go to Memphis.” He looked over at her, watching for her reaction. They exchanged a glance and both waited on the other to speak. “There is no reason for us to go,” Tim said, finally.
They journeyed on through the heart of Missouri, traveling alongside highway 54 heading towards the state capitol. It was nearing the middle of the afternoon, overcast, and a bit chilly on this autumn day. Trotting along, something caught Lynn’s eye at the top of the tree line a few hundred yards ahead of them. A faded billboard peeked out through the branches.
“Oh, Lake of the Ozarks!” Lynn exclaimed. “Can we go down there?” she appealed to her husband.
Tim looked up at the billboard and shook his head. “No one is going to let us go down by the lake with five horses,” he stated without looking back at her. “There will be tourists everywhere. I hardly think they would welcome a procession like ours.”
As the horsemen caravan entered the quaint, tiny town at the border of Missouri, a rumble sounded from Tim’s stomach. Lifting his wrist, his watch read 4:12. The horses trotted past the faded wooded sign beneath a cluster of trees to the left.
“Welcome to Seneca.”
This place seemed as good as any to wind down for the night. There were only a few scattered shops along the street and up ahead they could see where the town ended in less than a half mile. They approached an old railroad track that appeared to run straight through the middle of the town, the pavement elevating at a slight incline at the junction. Standing at the bottom of the incline near the asphalt were five teenage boys, puffs of smoke rising from each one.
The sound of the rolling cart approached his cell for what seemed like hours, stopping at 30-second intervals for each inmate to make a haphazard selection. He hadn’t accepted a book yet in his few weeks at the penitentiary, but a sense of solace beckoned to him today from the squeaky wheels. The cart came into view in front of his entrance and Tim glanced up at the scruffy attendant, his hand on his hip, belly hanging out of his blue button-up uniform. With no words exchanged, Tim rose from his bed and slowly walked the few steps between them. The unorganized cart was picked over. Having never been much of a reader, he moved uncertainly from title to title. The bottom shelf held only five books: The Catcher in the Rye, and four copies of Holy Bible.
Staring at those titles, the world seemed so far away. Those last few weeks contained the most intense loneliness he had ever experienced in all of his 36 years of life. All his failures, his accomplishments, his desires—separated from him by concrete walls and barbed wire. The defeat within his spirit left a humbling resolve for whatever lay in front of him, and right now what lay in front of him was this tattered hardback, blue Bible. He grabbed the one out front and the cart rolled out of sight. Nestling back into his bunk, the book fell open and he began to read. Returning the book an hour later, Tim climbed into bed and ruminated on the words he had just ingested. A feeling of fresh life coursed through him and tears filled his eyes. He knew the resounding echo in his spirit could only come from God, the One he hadn’t spoken to in years, but was now speaking to him.
The dust cloud extended hundreds of yards out in front of them, like a lingering jet stream hovering just above ground. A rusted, old pickup truck rounded the high sand dune next to them and within seconds was pulling up next to the traveling caravan. The window rolled down and a curly-headed thirtysomething stuck his face out, the sun reflecting off his Aviator sunglasses.
“Nice pack string! Where you guys going?” he hollered above the loud rumble of the engine.
“We’re crossing America,” Tim yelled back. The kid didn’t miss a beat.
“What for?” he continued to holler, seemingly unaware that he could turn off the motor to have a conversation at a decent decibel level.
“We’re missionaries. We’re asking people to pray for the nation.” Tim got a little louder at the end to be sure he was heard.
The sound of forks clanking against porcelain overtook the tiny mobile home kitchen. Tim added more pepper to his ribeye and pulled his chair a little closer to the table, clearing his throat.
“Cindy, what would it be like crossing the desert up to Elko?” he inquired, lifting a bite of steak to his lips. Lynn glanced at him in between passing the cottage cheese to Cindy and receiving the sweet potatoes from Leif.
“Do you mean in a vehicle?” asked Cindy. “Or are you talking you three on horses?” She held Tim’s gaze across the table while taking a sip of her sweet tea. Tim put the chewed bite of steak in his cheek to give an intelligible response.
“Horses,” he responded, resuming his chewing.
The high noon sun beat down on the pack string with a blaze of August heat. Nearing the edge of the Redwoods the trees were beginning to scatter farther apart now providing less amounts of shade. Tim’s green, plaid shirt clung to his back in a pool of sweat. The crew looked forward to every patch of shade on one of the hottest days of the California summer. It was the eighth day of the journey and the group had become used to the camping routine, enjoying the brilliant night sky in the middle of the forest near a bubbling brook of water.
In a staggered line, Lynn rode between the two men. Her saddle soreness beginning to wear off, each day her body settled into a comfortable riding regimen a bit quicker than the previous day. The two pack horses on her string ambled along, adjusting to the hefty weight of all the canned goods she had insisted on bringing with them. She glanced over her shoulder at the nearest horse, Toby, his front leg muscles bulging out with every step, convincing herself that he was perfectly fine bearing it up, yet knowing she had probably gone a little overboard.
Amidst the hoof-clopping of the horseshoes on the rocks, a loud, shrill screech came from Tim’s front pants pocket, startling Cher in the saddle beneath him.
The train tracks seemed to stretch on endlessly ahead as Tim led the pack string onward. The Redwoods towered high above them, keeping them from direct sun exposure. The cool, woodsy breeze felt more like October than the usual August, dry heat they were accustomed to in Bakersfield. Like a traveling safari, the caravan stayed true to the old, rundown train tracks. The clear path ahead of them provided a longer stretch of smoother travel than the unsteady terrain that surrounded them on both sides.
The crew rounded the bend and came to the third train trestle in four hours. It was only the second day of their horseback journey, but Tim’s patience was wearing thin with all the detours around these trestles.
He sighed out his annoyance. Approaching the entrance to the trestle, he pulled slightly on the reins, bringing his horse, Cher, to a slowing stop. The metal frame of the bridge stretched nearly one hundred yards to the end, towering over enlarged rocks and bushy trees nearly thirty feet below. Tim scanned the railroad ties, examining their condition. Each tie lay close together and appeared sturdy and fairly new.
“Okay,” he said aloud. “Let’s go. We’re crossing this one.”
Lynn stood at the window, pensively watching Tim work Sonny in the round pen as the setting sun cast its golden rays across her upper body. The sudden contrast of the sun’s heat with the chill of the living room sent a shiver down her spine and goosebumps up her arms. There were fewer glorious sights to her than a man with a horse. She bit her lip as the stud loped in circles around her husband, the whip in his right hand and the lead rope in the other.
“You’re going to get on that horse.”
The phrase was smooth and clear within her spirit with the gentle stillness of divine peace. A soft smile spread across her face as she settled into the comfort of His voice, even in a thought that would utterly terrify her in the flesh. Ever since breaking her neck in a car accident several years prior, she could hardly manage to hold a lead rope without a blanket of horror swarming her as vivid images of Christopher Reeves pummeled her mind. She settled deeper into the embrace of the Holy Spirit’s grace for this moment. Each thought of hesitance that rose up was calmly subdued, like a large mighty hand in the face of all apprehension.
Fear has no grip on me. I am courageous. Lord, give me strength.