Years ago, my wife and I lived in Aplington, Iowa. I was the pastor of a small town church. This time I was just passing through on my way to see my kids in South Dakota on June 16th, 2014. I was on my first day of a motorcycle trip from Illinois to California. As I approached Spencer, Iowa, all I could think about was that about 27 years ago we named our new Scottish Terrier, Spencer after the name we found on the map.
The weather was changing as I approached. I put on my rain gear and battled a pretty strong wind from the south. As I got to Spencer, it was dark and raining. I filled up with gas and looked a weather radar on a gas station tv on the north end of town.
I turned back to the A & W to sit for a bit. After about an hour, I checked my phone and it looked like the heavy stuff had moved north of highway 18. That seemed to give me a window of opportunity. So, I quickly loaded up and moved out. The road was wet, but clear. As I got about 5 miles out of town, the wind shifted. It now was moving out of the north. And it was strong.
Gusts were blowing me into the oncoming lane. Occasionally, it just about lifted me out of the seat. It was about then, that I regretted losing those 65 pounds. I looked for a wise place to pull off. Although some might think it was too late for wisdom. There were a few farms, but I really wasn’t ready to be an uninvited guest. One more big gust and then rain began to fall. I had to stop.
To the right, I saw a red steel building with an awning on it. I turned to the right, into the wind and into the deepest gravel I had ever seen. I got all 900 pounds of motorcycle down the driveway and moved it close to the building. The rain really began to fall. I parked the bike in the gravel and jumped under the awning.
The wind was so strong, I was sure it was going to knock my motorcycle off the stand. So, I went back out to try and move it. Everytime I tried to go forward or backward, the bike sunk deeper into the gravel, until the gravel was holding it up without the kickstand. It wasn’t going anywhere. “I think we have another problem,” I said to myself.
It was about this time that I heard a loud bang. I looked up and saw huge pieces of ice falling from the sky. I grabbed my helmet and thought of the potential newspaper headline, “Motorcycle Riding Pastor, Killed by Hail.” I put on the helmet and hid back under the awning, just hoping the cover would hold. (see the video:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n2f2IK8vEoE) The hail bounced off the building and all around the bike. But no strikes! It was at this point, I knew I was going to need some help. After the hail stopped, I tried to flag down a couple of cars, to no avail. Finally, I gave in and called 911.
The dispatcher asked where I was. I looked around for some indication and then I saw it, “The Shrimp Shed.” I said the words haltingly, thinking maybe I had been transported to Louisianna. No, it was the Shrimp Shed, and it was Iowa.
It was on this phone call, my love for Iowa returned. The operator explained that it was a busy night and since I was safe, they would call back when someone was on the way. Just a few minutes later I got the call. Someone would be here soon. He showed up just as the downpour started again. We loaded my bags into his car. His name was Dan Heissel. He was off-duty, but decided to come out and rescue me.
On our ride to a hotel, he asked what my plan was. After getting dry and warm, I figured I would call a tow truck in the morning to help me get my bike free from the gravel and on my way. He encouraged me to call dispatch in the morning and have an officer take me out. And then he gave me the dispatch number and his own personal cell number. He assured that if an officer couldn’t take me out, he would be happy to come over and help. “Wow, I love Iowa, I thought.”
I slept as long as I could and about 6am, I finally called dispatch. A young officer went out to look at the bike and then came to the hotel and picked me up. His name was Spencer. “Well, that fits,” I thought.
At the hotel, I had been talking a 79 year old Harley guy from Wisconsin, named Brad. When officer Spencer showed up, Brad asked if the two of us would be able to get the bike out without help. Spencer looked a little worried about that prospect. And Brad jumped in his car and followed us out the Shrimp Shed.
There the bike stood, just like I left it the night before. I put the key in and it started right up. The three of us grabbed the 900 pound monster and together we pushed and pulled to break it free of the gravel. I got it loaded up and said good-bye to my new friends. I stopped for breakfast a few miles away and there the mayor gave me some advice on which roads were open.
As I travelled north toward I-90, I got a text. I stopped to look at it. It was Dan! He had driven by the Shrimp Shed to check on things and saw that I was on my way. He wished me safe travels. It is true that God puts people in your way to help you out. But it is also true that it takes people willing to be part of what He wants to do. In Iowa, I found a few of those people. Officer Spencer, Dan and Brad (from Wisconsin) are why I love Iowa again.