“The most I can do for my friend is simply be his friend.” —Henry David ThoreauI recently reunited with one of my previous high school students, Doug Finch. We had not seen each other in some 30 years, but we have stayed connected through social media. Doug is a biker, a Harley guy, and one of the most big-hearted young men you’d ever hope to have as a friend.
In January of last year he lost a good friend, another “Doug,” Doug Butcher. He describes his friend as “one of the kindest human beings I will ever know. He lived with the glass half full, his eyes wide open, and a smile on his face. He was a mentor to many, always extending a helping hand and a kind word of advice or encouragement.”
The two Dougs had planned a cross-county bike ride together, but the ride never happened. So Doug Finch decided to honor his friend by riding solo. He wanted to help his friend’s family and let them know the gifts of love their Doug left behind.
He embarked on his journey this past summer. His ride spanned nine states, and he logged 4,702 miles. He hoped to raise a dollar a mile as he shared the story of his good friend to strangers, friends, and family he encountered along the way. His message: “Life is about the journey, not the destination. Appreciate life, talk to strangers, make new friends, just make someone’s day with a smile or a wave.” It’s what his friend would have done if he had been riding beside him.
And ride, he did—mud soaked rides through monsoons and flash floods. Enduring scorching desert heat, freezing coastal rain and fog, hail, and strong winds! A few nights were spent with family and friends. A comfortable bed after enjoying a great steak dinner with friends Mark and Jill. Scott, who served up his famous fish tacos and a good night’s rest. An old friend Bob, who offered up a warm bed, and Phil, whose cabin provided comfort for this weary traveler.
But most nights were spent in Kampgrounds of America (KOA) campgrounds along his route. It was here where he shared the rich memories of his good buddy, where he experienced the kind spirit of total strangers, even teaching a few valuable lessons to the new friends he met along the way.
Too many encounters to chronicle, Doug recalled some memorable characters. Seventy-seven-year-old Zachery who had logged 80 miles a day on a road trip riding a pedal bike! Les, who said he lived in “an old farts’ home” with no TV, cell phone, or credit cards. Thomas, a “genuine young man with a warm smile” who tended bar and cleaned tables but was also an artist and musician. Melissa, who ran a food trailer and served Doug a great chicken sandwich along with a nice donation. And Alfred, who donated $20, the last bill in his wallet.
Throughout his journey, Doug experienced the kindness of many strangers. One chilly evening, camping “neighbors” Jake, Mel, Lauren, and Adam invited him to join them around their cozy campfire. AJ, a fellow camper, rendered aid by pumping up a flat tire, giving Doug his cell number, and calling later to check on him. Chris and Shane, total strangers, repaired his bike’s wheel bearings. And one night at a campground near Glacier National Park, a guy named Grady took pity on Doug, cold and wet as he was. He traded Doug’s campsite for a room at a “Motel 8,” giving him a full refund for his previously booked campsite.
While Doug learned much about the kindness of strangers, they learned from his as well. Campers Lina, Sal, and their grandchildren Lucas and Kaitlin came to realize that “you can’t judge a book by its cover.” When Doug pulled into their KOA campground, Lina later admitted that she immediately stereotyped him as “a bad guy.” After all, this big guy was dressed all in leather, was sporting many tattoos, and was riding a very intimidating Harley! Of course, once they met him, they too came to know this kind, gentle soul, departing the following day as friends.
Meeting up with family and friends along the way made the days pass quickly. Visits with his sisters and their families, and special time spent with his father, gave him much to look forward to as he cruised through those long days and weeks. Catching up with his old high school friend Jamie, and spending a few hours with me and my husband, son Chris, and granddaughter Mia, brought smiles (and even a few tears upon departure).
When he embarked on his journey, Doug’s goal was to raise a dollar for every mile traveled. But because of his friendly nature and his willingness to make new friends, coupled with his tenacity and determination, he more than doubled his goal, raising more than $10,000 for his friend’s family!
Vincent Van Gogh described friendship in these words: “Close friends are truly life’s treasures. … They are there to guide and support us, to share our laughter and our tears. Their presence reminds us that we are never really alone.” There is little doubt that the two Dougs traveled together on this journey. And there is little doubt that everyone they encountered was enriched because of it.