Weather was far from my thoughts as I rolled down a small hill onto the enormous Mississippi floodplain. After two months on the road, I’d finally met two cyclists who were also riding the TransAm trail. Last night we had decided to ride together for a couple days. *It's not like with Nate*, I assured myself. *You rode with him because you were scared to be alone. You're over that with Jeff and Wyeth—you just like their company.* It was true. I couldn't remember when I'd laughed as much as I had at last night's dinner. These guys were fun—not like Nate with his proselytizing and mean jokes.
We stopped for lunch at a small ball field on Grimsby Road, and ate cheese and bread on the bleachers. That was when we idly took note of the raindrops and the sky, which was slightly more overcast than it had been in the morning.
"It's only drizzling," said Wyeth. We weren't worried—after all, we were experienced cycletourists who had already ridden over a thousand miles. We put our bikes under a tree and kept eating and talking and laughing. We paid no heed to the darkening sky straight ahead.
It wasn’t until we were about to mount our bicycles that Jeff exclaimed, “Look at that sky!” For the first time, my eyes focused on the horizon; and for the first time I was worried. In the last few minutes, the sky had turned angrier than I'd ever seen a sky. Billowing black clouds were rushing towards us, and even as we watched they formed a sort of tunnel overhead. Behind us to the east were the last remaining patches of blue. To the west was a solid gray wall of water moving closer and closer over the floodplain. One of us wondered if it was tornado season. Someone else suggested that we get going—now.
Within ten seconds the plan was put into action, and we raced down the road, funneled toward the storm by strong winds. We saw a dot that was a building way ahead, but it was too far to reach in time. As we resigned ourselves to getting completely soaked and possibly whisked away by a tornado, we continued to pump as fast as we could, surrounded by the pale, eerie light of the oncoming storm.
Then it got really quiet. We knew we were in for it, and Jeff said, “Look now! You don’t see something like this every day.” We looked, since we couldn’t help it, feeling extremely small.
Two seconds later, a pick-up truck pulled over beside us. An older woman leaned out the window and said unnecessarily, “It’s gonna storm!” We nodded. “Y'all need shelter quick,” she continued, “or y'all are gonna get reeeeeal wet! Mah house is raht around that bend, yella with pink trim—get goin'! I’m headin’ to church, but if you trust me, I’ll trust you. Make yorselves at home." The drizzle was full-fledged rain now, and I wiped my glasses to see our savior more clearly. Her eyes surveyed us sharply, but kindly.
"Thanks!" we chorused, not asking any questions. We started to pedal toward heaven awaiting us around the bend at a yellow house with pink trim.
"The key's between the screen and the door," the lady yelled after us. "And there's bananas on top o’ the fridge. My name's Ruby Dallas. And oh!" she fairly screamed into the howl of the wind, "Y'all kin do my dishes if you feel like it! Stay the night if you need to!” The noise of her pick-up as she drove off was drowned out by the intense drumming of raindrops on our helmets.
I pedaled faster than I could ever remember pedaling, two inches behind Jeff's rear wheel, straight into the wall of black clouds. We rounded the bend, saw the house—and then, about thirty seconds before we reached the door, the storm hit in earnest. The water slammed into us with force, huge balls of water that made it easy to believe that some malevolent God was pouring out his fury in the form of raindrops over the Mississippi.
We reached the porch gasping and completely drenched. And then, while the storm raged for another hour, we lazed on a couch with playing cards and a newspaper. Wyeth and I did the dishes.
Less than two hours later, the sky in the west was clear and bright and we rolled along the flood plain and wondered whether it had all been a dream. Our clothes were still damp, though, and we knew we'd be forever indebted to a small woman named Ruby who had told three total strangers, “If you trust me, I’ll trust you.”