The Frightening Day I met an Angel on the Side of the Road
Sweat dripped into my eyes, stinging, as I forced my tired legs to push the pedals of my bike forward. I was on the final stretch of the first morning of a 3-day bike tour with my church youth group. The hot desert highway in eastern Washington was proving harder than I'd expected, but I knew I'd soon reach the top of the long hill I was working on, and I was looking forward to the descent.
Carl, just ahead, was already at the top. Giving me a thumbs up, he smiled. "You're almost there!" I returned his smile and watched as he disappeared down the other side. Now it was my turn. Carl had taken on this hill once before this morning. Earlier, he'd turned around, coming back to ride with me after noticing I was falling behind. Far behind.
Now, we were the only ones around on this isolated stretch of road. My gratitude for his thoughtfulness mingled with embarrassment at the necessity of it. A scrawny thirteen-year-old, I'd petitioned those in charge to allow me to tackle the challenge of this bike tour with the older kids, promising I could keep up. I didn't want them to regret their decision.
I sped down the incline, relishing the feeling of the wind rushing past me as I coasted down the middle of the lane. Loose gravel covered the shoulder of the road where I should have been, so I avoided it. It felt like the safer option, mostly because I'd seen very few cars pass by that morning. Then I heard the sound of a loud semi coming from behind me, honking.
I pulled hard on my brakes, trying to slow down as I moved over to the shoulder. I couldn't slow down fast enough. The thin tires of my bike bounced over the gravel as I lost control. I felt myself flying over the handlebars and through the air until I landed with a thud on the pavement. In a daze, I looked around, assessing the damage. It was bad. There was a lot of blood, mostly coming from my arm, which had now merged with the much of the roadside gravel. The truck was already gone.
At the bottom of the hill, Carl had seen everything as he waited. For the second time that morning, he turned around and came back for me, riding his bike back up the hill he'd just come down. When he reached me, he took in the situation and decided the best thing would be for him to race ahead and get help (this was before the days of cell phones).
Alone, once again, I leaned against the guardrail, taking off my helmet as I settled in for the wait. Seeing divots in the plastic shell, the only barrier that had been between my skull and the road was sobering. Panic started to creep in as the realization of how vulnerable I was, began to dawn on me. I knew I was injured, badly, but I didn't feel any physical pain. What I felt was an intense terror at being alone on the side of the road. That's when I prayed, "God, I don't want to be alone right now."
As soon as I prayed, a blue mini-van drove by, turned around, and pulled over to the shoulder near me. I watched as a short Asian man opened the driver's door, got out, and walked toward me. "It looks like you need some help," said the man.
"My friend went to get some help," I answered. "We're doing a bike tour, and our support van should be somewhere close ahead. He went to find it."
"I have some Snapple in the van. Would you like some?"
"Yes, please," I'd run out of water earlier.
As the man walked back to his van to get the drink, I felt myself relax. When he returned, he sat with me and waited as I gulped down the cold liquid. That's all. We were both quiet. I'm not sure how long we sat there, but I wasn't scared anymore. His presence was the most reassuring gift I could have asked for at that moment. And then I realized I had asked for it when I'd prayed.
"It looks like your help has arrived," he finally said, pointing toward the white van coming toward us slowly. I looked up to see the familiar face of my youth pastor, Stan and his friend, Mike, as they parked on the side of the road next to my mangled bicycle.
"Thank you so much for waiting with me," I said to the man. But he was gone, as was his blue mini-van. Surprised, I tried to make sense of how he'd disappeared so quickly, but my thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of Stan and Mike. They had lots of questions about my injuries, and I tried to answer, but I was still in a daze. I wanted them to know about the man who gave me the Snapple. He must have taken the empty Snapple bottle back when I finished it because I no longer had it.
"Did you see the man with the blue min-van?" I asked.
"No, what man?" asked Stan.
"He waited with me. I wanted to say thank you," I answered. Stan and Mike were more concerned about helping me get into their vehicle so they could take me to the hospital, and they ignored my questions about the man.
Later, at the hospital, I learned I didn't have any broken bones, but I'd need a lot of stitches. I'd be okay. I'd even finish out the rest of the 3-day bike tour. It became a point of pride for me, and I insisted.
That was many years ago, and since then, I've often wondered if that man who met me on the side of the road was an angel. Whether he was an angel or not, I'll never know for sure, but he was undoubtedly an answer to my prayer.
He wasn't the only miracle that day. I was far behind the other cyclists before the crash. If Carl hadn't have come back to ride with me and encourage me, he wouldn't have seen me wipe out, and he wouldn't have been there to go for help.
I believe in miracles, and I think God often uses people to help carry them out for those in need, which is what happened to me the day of the bike accident.