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Journal Entry # 09
The Tornado Run
Published July 2, 2004 - (Catching up fast!)
The welcome sign as we entered Kansas was bright blue with a sunflower painted in the corner (picture 01). It gave the first-time visitor a sense of friendliness and a real feeling of welcome. And after all the potholes and uneven pavement we survived in Oklahoma, the smooth black asphalt was a relief to both our shocks and our rear ends. The sun was shining and the humidity low as we made our way towards Emporia, our first night's stop in Kansas. Along the way a truck driver hailed us on our CB radios and gave us suggestions for the most scenic routes. And once we arrived in Emporia, a couple of local bikers helped us find some delicious, authentic Mexican cuisine. Kansas was definitely looking much better than all the disparaging stories I'd heard. And then, just after dinner, the sirens started to wail - Tornado sirens.
The constant cry of those sirens lasted most of the night, matching the change from clear skies to ominous clouds and strong winds as the storms rolled in and out. We watched from inside our hotel room as the bike covers shook violently with each new gust of wind. And when darkness came, the sirens sounded louder and seemed even more urgent in their warning. By morning, I wasn't much of a believer in that bright, friendly 'Welcome To Kansas' sign anymore.
But the morning came sunny and clear, making our ride to Washington, Kansas a very pleasant one. We took a slight detour on our way so that I could take my photo in the Kansas town that bears my name: Blaine, Kansas. We also enjoyed a rest stop at a small roadside park where Max & Bailey had their first encounter with cows. Although the cows paid him no mind, Bailey was insistent in showing them that he was INDEED the bigger dog. If only I'd had a video camera to record it all. Though, I don't know that the video would have been that good because we were laughing uncontrollably at the sight. (pictures 02-04)
We were heading to Washington, Kansas to meet with KSDS, one of our charity partners that provide Assistance and Guide Dogs to individuals around the country. As part of that visit, we were to meet the Blackhawks Motorcycle Club from Marysville, KS in Randolph, just around the corner from the town of Blaine (has a nice ring, doesn't it?) and our cow-laden park.
The Blackhawks MC were waiting for us as we pulled into the prearranged meeting spot and then escorted Max & Bailey the 60 miles through Marysville and into Washington. KSDS had planned a wonderful community event with live music and food provided by the local Lions Club. We had a chance to visit with the KSDS staff, volunteers, clients and many members of the local community. But all the while, the clouds were beginning to thicken and thunder was rumbling in the distance. (picture 05-09)
Now, I may not be the sharpest tack in the box, but I was beginning to see a pattern. And sure enough, more severe storms came through a little later that evening. By the time the sun came out the next morning, an entire Nebraska town to the north of us had been destroyed. The pictures on the morning news were shocking to us. To the locals, it was business as usual.
Speaking of locals, I'd like to take a slight diversion in the story right about here. During our stay in Washington, we had the honor of staying with a KSDS volunteer and client, Phyllis, and her story is too amazing to overlook. Phyllis lives with Muscular Sclerosis (MS) and is partnered with Justice, a black lab Assistance Dog provided by KSDS. That part of the story isn't that unusual, but then you don't yet know the rest of the story.
Phyllis told us that she spent several bed-ridden years fighting MS and that at one point she only had the use of one arm. Her condition deteriorated so badly during that time that her nurses had given up on any chance of her having any recovery and had begun the process of placing her in an institution. About that time, and for no known reason, Phyllis began to regain the feeling and use of her limbs. Slowly, and with the help of many years of physical therapy, Phyllis fought back against MS, determined to walk again.
Today, Phyllis walks with the use of a leg brace for her left leg, speaks to groups around the country about her battle with MS and her service dogs, a Golden Retriever and now Justice, her new black lab from KSDS. She has an unbelievably positive outlook on life and left Janet and me full of inspiration and respect. Even Bailey seemed impressed - he and Justice appeared to have a little love affair going on during our stay; he's such a charmer, that Bailey.
And now I'll end this diversion with even more shocking news. Phyllis shared her upcoming plans with us - she's planning to walk across America to raise America's awareness about MS. You can bet I'll be there to support her from the time she takes the first steps until she take her final steps of that journey.
After two days of events with KSDS in Washington, we began heading east again. And the tornadoes followed us all the way to the east coast. Every day, we would saddle up early in the morning so we could be tucked in before the storms arrived in the late afternoon. We dodged tornadoes in Kansas City. We had a visit with KSDS puppy raisers (picture 10) cut short as we were chased out of Lawrence, KS by severe thunderstorms. Day after day, the sirens screeched their warning, the lightening lit up the skies and the windows shook as though they would break under the pressure. In Salem, Illinois - as an example - the wind registered 80 mph and threw quarter-inch hail at the windows while we huddled inside.
For the first time on our journey, we declined a school request in Indiana because we felt it was more important to remove the dogs and ourselves from the cycle of bad weather. And each day we traveled east, our decisions were confirmed as town after town had homes destroyed, families devastated as they cleaned up the remains of their personal belongings. Our hearts broke for them as we watched from our rolling roadside seats.
One of those towns was Borden, Indiana. Janet and I had gotten up early, skipping the news, to get on the road. We stopped for gas at a small gas station and food store. The folks we talked with were very friendly and several made unsolicited donations to support Max & Bailey's ride. By the time we drove away thirty minutes later, there was an additional $50 in the Hogs For Dogs donation bin.
What we didn't know until ten minutes later was that the town, whose citizens had just donated $50, had lost many of their homes in tornadoes just the night before (picture 15-17). We drove through one community where the homes had been built at the base of a tree-covered hill. The hill and the trees rose several hundred feet above the homes. But after the tornadoes, many homes had been blown off their foundations with the debris thrown up the hill and into the trees. Again, our hearts broke.
Then came the floods. All the rain from the severe weather had finally made its way to the rivers. The rivers then swelled over their banks causing us detour after detour until we could find our way around French Lick, Indiana. Everywhere we turned, it seemed, the roads were hidden below a foot or more of water. As if these people hadn't had enough, now their homes were being threatened by flood. What a mess.
The daily weather pattern finally broke when we arrived in Huntington, West Virginia, but none of us will soon forget the trip from Kansas through Missouri, southern Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky. It was literally a race against the elements. We were in rain gear almost every day. In some cases, we were very scared and huddled against interior walls. So, it was with more than a little emotion that we shook hands and exchanged hugs with our welcoming party in Fayetteville, WV that had come to join us for the West Virginia to Charlottesville, VA part of our ride.
Led by Executive Board Member and web designer, Jay Schwantes (aka Muthuh - picture 20), we relaxed for several days. But then, I'll let him tell you that story because he's a much better storyteller than I. And, he's agreed to share it with you here on the Hogs For Dogs website.
Until then, we hope you'll continue to check in on us. If you're looking for a way to kill time between this journal entry and the next, may I suggest you visit our online company store? Or, perhaps you'd prefer to make a donation. All are great ways to pass the time and to make a difference in the lives of so many Americans, people like Phyllis from Washington, Kansas. Her nurses may have given up on her before, but I'm hoping you won't make that same choice.
Max, Bailey and the entire Hogs For Dogs team thank you for your support. You can help us make a difference for millions of people with disabilities by making a donation today.
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