respectMy excitement riding into Eureka, California, was off the charts. I was meeting up with my niece, Sarah, and would finally have someone else to ride with on this long trip of mine. I passed a few well-wishers holding signs saying things like “Welcome Bike Lady” to “Biker Girls Rock”. I hadn’t gotten this kind of reception in quite a while, so it was kind of uplifting to know that there were still people out there who saw me as a positive force and not some nutcase bent on doing the impossible.

Sarah had phoned me about five miles back and gave me her location. She had flown into Eureka the night before and had gone to a local bike shop, Henderson Center Bicycles, this morning to pick up her new bike gear. She had informed me that the shop wanted to do a free servicing on my bike to ensure that it was in good working order.

As I approached Henderson Center Bicycles, Sarah was out front wearing her new helmet and sunglasses, waving profusely. I’d never seen her quite this excited, well except maybe when candy was available to her. Then her eyes would light up like the Fourth of July, but this excitement wasn’t about candy. I figured it was about the opportunity to see this country like one’s never seen it before.

To my surprise, Sarah was super excited to see me. It had been several years since I had last seen her. She couldn’t believe how much weight I had lost, though I thought it was just a few pounds since I tend to still overeat wherever I dine. I also knew that I was not her favorite aunt. That title went to my sister, but here was Sarah running towards me with outstretched arms.

She screams, “Aunt Betsy, I’m so glad to see you!”

I give her a big hug and a kiss and tell her “the same back to you.” We head inside where I’m greeted by the owner. He tells me what they want to do for me, and soon, a staff worker is rolling my bike gear to the back workroom.

The owner takes this time to ask if there were any biking supplies I needed. He shows me a lot of the new gear they are now carrying as he tries to convince me that biking shorts would help me a lot. I can’t imagine myself in a pair of spandex shorts, so I politely declined his offer.

He continues to talk non-stop about the different riding groups Henderson’s supports. I kept thinking, “Mister, I just want to get to the RV park and take a long hot shower”, but I knew I needed to give the man the respect he deserved. After all, they were tuning up my bike for nothing.

And then I hear him change course and I find myself totally enamored with what he was saying. He was telling us about the different places we should check out in Eureka, particularly the Carson Mansion. This was the home of William M. Carson who started building this gorgeous Victorian mansion during the slow times of the logging season so his employees would have work to do so they could continue earning a paycheck.

Mr. Carson was known for treating his employees with a lot of respect and concern. He paid them decent wages, made sure they weren’t over worked, and fed them well. In return, he had the respect of every one of his employees, and he grew to be respected in the entire community.

He shared his wealth with the community as he donated to several charities that helped those less fortunate people in town. When he died, it was discovered that his will had 116 beneficiaries in it to include company employees along with local churches, and other local agencies.

I soon found myself wondering if maybe this business owner was a little bit like Mr. Carson. It was clear that his staff was into their jobs, and it seemed like this owner had everyone’s best interest at heart. He never once tried to get me to buy anything. He merely showed me what they had available.

I don’t know if it was out of guilt or if the Lord had touched upon me, but I found myself buying a new and improved bike helmet, some biking gloves, and even some biking shoes that seemed to fit into the pedal straps better than my big old clunky walking shoes. He tries one more time to convince me to buy those biking shorts, but I drew the line there. Sarah fails too, at convincing me that I had lost enough weight to fit into these skin-tight garments.

The bike techs finish tuning my bike and Sarah and I are on our way. We get checked into the Shoreline RV Park where we discovered was truly just for RVs, but they were nice enough to allow us to pitch our tent and spend the night there. They explain that they were all behind my ride and respected me for all that I was doing for people.

I was taken aback by their comments, and found myself asking what exactly it was they thought I was doing to help people. What they say comes as a shock to me. They tell me that there had been several stories out on the internet about the woman riding her bike across the United States, and how couch potatoes were finally getting off the couch and doing something to improve their lives. One man wrote that his doctor was amazed at the change in his overall health. He had been on the fast track to dying of a heart attack at age 40, but since he started riding a bike around the town he lives in, his cholesterol was well below 200 and his blood pressure was back to normal.

The desk clerk says, “You saved his life, you know, just like you have saved the lives of many others who have talked about how their depression had improved, one couple finally found something they could do together and it saved their marriage, and the number of schools that have posters of you in their gyms has increased by 50%.”

I found myself getting choked up, not realizing how one middle-aged woman on some crazy bike trip could affect so many people. Tears started streaming down my face as I thank the clerk for her kind words and generosity.

She says back to me, “It’s my pleasure to be able to say I met that woman riding her bike across this country of ours. Good luck to you and your daughter.”

I smile and say, “Thanks, but she’s my niece, and a very special one at that.”

As Sarah and I set-up camp, we talk a lot about how she and I could continue to make a difference in people’s lives. She explains that was the very reason her boss sent her on this mission trip.
“Aunt Betsy,” Sarah says, “You have always been so good at respecting all people even though your attitude is sometimes a bit harsh.”

I smile, knowing that I was known for speaking my mind and not being walked over. Sarah and I had not always seen eye to eye, but I always loved and respected her as I did the rest of my family.
Once we had camp set-up, we venture out to get some groceries for tonight’s meal and to see that grand Carson Mansion. We come back from this excursion with a true meaning of what respect means. It seemed like everywhere we went someone was talking about Mr. Carson as if he were still alive. Maybe he is in spiritual sort of way since his generosity helped so many people, churches, and agencies in this town. What he did way back when is still producing positive results today.

Makes me know that having a little respect for our fellow human beings can deliver a lifetime of good. I knew that Sarah’s and my bike trip was truly a God driven event, one in which we needed to spread His word through our daily actions. I went to bed that night thanking God for all He’s given me, especially my niece.

And in my real world, treating people with respect is a huge part of what Catholic Charities does with every one of their clients and donors. And in return, we are respected by our clients and donors. We have weathered some harsh economic times through the grace of our donors, and we’ve been able to lend a hand up to several people on the brink of total economic disaster.

May we all be like William M. Carson for that’s EXACTLY what God wants us to act like. God bless you all and lets’ keep going the distance.


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