If you’ve never been to British Columbia, I highly recommend it. I first experienced the territory in the countryside of Dawson Creek on the 9th of July. Dad and I had gone a few thousand miles by this point and every night before, we’d camped. However, we thought we’d try our hand at Couch Surfing. Our Couch Surf soon became one of our many seemingly endless beautiful experiences, as we sat on the veranda eating a hefty home cooked meal, talking and laughing about Canadian and American contrasts and where our adventure had taken us thus far. Our host, Cynthia, had certainly done this before; in fact, she was expecting over 20 cyclists from Texas on their way to Alaska the night following our stay. She was a real gem.
Dad and I awoke the next morning well rested from the swallowing leather couches. Following our final “thank you and farewell,” we headed to Dawson Creek for some breakfast and coffee at a regional donut shop where a few locals gathered on what I assumed to be a daily basis. We listened and chuckled as they bantered with their heavy Northern accents and clearly customary profanities. After a light and satisfying breakfast we mounted our Suzukis and headed towards the sign reading, “You are now entering the world famous Alaska Highway.”
Cynthia had told us about a campsite on the Alaska Highway which, according to her, we couldn’t afford to miss. Liard River Hot Springs still exists as one of our most favorite places along the highway. As we approached the campsite entrance we noticed the always disheartening “FULL” sign. However, we had to at least try. We pulled up to the compact cabin midway through the entrance, dismounted our bikes, and were welcomed by the sweetest smile of the lovely attendant, Michelle. We asked her if they were really full and she warmly informed us someone had just cancelled and we were more than welcome to stay. After constructing our campsite we headed to the hot springs. On our way we met a solo motorcyclist named Greg from Edmonton. He, like every other Canadian we’d met so far, had a natural kindness about him. We talked with Greg for a few minutes as he drank his Jack Daniels infused Coca-Cola and smoked his Canadian cigarettes. The following morning we’d share some of our campfire coffee with him and continue talking about our prospective routes and stops along our way to the Final Frontier. Coincidentally we ran into Greg two more times along our way to Alaska, once in Whitehorse and once in Dawson City. The same evening we met Greg we met a wonderful couple from California. Bear and Stephanie were on their way home from Alaska and they had already been gone a whole month. They were driving two 1980 Honda Trans Alps and had such an evident zeal for life and adventure. Bear wore a thick beard and worked in a recording studio while Stephanie had a petite figure and loved creating. At one point we were all talking about bears and Bear mentioned he’d heard a friend say, “Bears are just like people, there’s just a few psychopaths.” We ended the evening soaking in the hot springs and talking to the staff. They all fell in love with dad and his evident affection for me and this beautiful adventure he’d so perfectly planned.
Over the next few days we continued on the Alaska Highway and gained a small glimpse of the monstrous size of Canada. We went through Whitehorse and continued through the Yukon territory up to Dawson City. On our way, we met another rider named Doug from Idaho. Doug had done the trip before so we invited him to ride along with us and he happily obliged. Dawson City, having formerly been a gold rush town, was as lively as ever. Throughout the whole city there is only one paved road and a vast majority of the buildings were frozen in time, feeling an awful lot like the Wild Wild West… due North. We’d stayed in our first hotel in Dawson City for the sake of showering and doing some laundry and we’d heard a lot of good information about the city, so we thought it’d be a good place to stop. At one of the theaters we enjoyed a British entertainer, and visited a Greek restaurant for dinner. As the evening was winding down for us I headed outside to take some photos. While walking down the outside staircase of our hotel I heard a raspy voice yell, “Hey!” I looked over and there stood a slightly intoxicated Greg from Edmonton. I went down to say hello and he insisted on bringing me and Dad out for a beer. I thought to myself, “I mean… we are in Canada,” as I headed back up the stairs to inform Dad of the extended offer. I told him the news and he looked up from the map he was studying and said, “Greg? Again? Sure, let’s go.” We went to the Midnight Sun and sat with Greg and two other friends he’d made along his way. In America they have a lot of signs at liquor stores and gas stations that read, “If you look under 50 or so, we’ll ask for identification.” In Canada it should read, “If you look under 10 we’ll ask for some identification.” We sat and talked for awhile as we listened to a local band called The Klondike Sons. Dawson City was lovely.
The next morning we took off on The Top of the World Highway and crossed the border into the 49th State. We passed through Chicken and split off with Doug in Tok and a few hours later we arrived in Fairbanks, reunited with Mom. We spent the next week or so with Mom in Healy, spent some time in Denali and met all of the diverse and foreign co-workers at Black Diamond. Alaska is as beautiful as you’d imagine. It was nice to see what Mom had fallen so in love with.
We left for home on the 20th of July. Just when I thought we’d seen all the beautiful scenes we could, something new would appear. We walked on the Matanuska Glacier and drove through more and more mountains. There were a few cold and rainy days on our way back, making home seem incredibly appetizing. We spent the evening of one of our longest days in a small, oriental-themed hotel in Haines Junction. It was by no means a Marriott, but it kept us dry. The following day we were met with more cold rain and we traveled a few hundred more miles until we arrived at an extremely overpriced restaurant/hotel operated by a former jade saleswoman and her family. It wasn’t a campsite, but it was another good place to stay dry. As the evening began winding down Dad and I stepped outside to smoke our pipes and talk like we did around the campfire, every night before. While we sat and smoked, another kind Canadian man approached us and we all talked for quite a time. We introduced ourselves and exchanged names and when he heard me say, “Micah” he said, “Mmm, like the prophet. We need more prophets these days.” This remark launched us into one of the most treasured conversations of the trip. We spoke with Randy for at least an hour about Jesus and the current state of the Church and books we’ve read and what we need to do better as Christians and how we need to love more. We ended the evening praying for one another and it turned a fairly cold and dreary day into one of the most beautiful involvements of the whole trip.
The next morning we woke up and headed towards the Cassiar Highway. The Cassiar is a beautiful highway, enhanced with endless forests and mountain ranges and breathtaking reflective lakes. I remember at one point we stopped at an abandoned gas station to grab a snack out of our collection and out of nowhere came a hungry horse, with his heart and mind set on helping us finish our granola bars. We shared a few bites and then mounted our much faster horse alternatives. The Cassiar Highway, like many others in the North Country, is filled with curves. We were on this road for quite some time, and for the first time in days the sky was clear and the air carried an oddly warm briskness in it; no rain. Turn after turn the mountains continued and the trees enveloped me on every side with their never ending green as the lakes captured photos of their own, staring back at the mountainous models. From this point on all I remember is the beauty.
Dad had been leading the way when he rounded a corner and noticed an empty rearview. He clicked on the radio, “You coming man?” At this point he thought I had probably stopped for a photo, but asked, “Micah? You taking a picture? … Micah?” Dad said he felt something in his stomach at this point, enough to make him turn around. He rounded the corner once more, this time northward, and there he saw me, in the ditch, apart from the machine I’d been so near for the past two weeks.
I woke up in Vancouver with a fairly hazy view of reality. I was told I had broken my back and was paralyzed. Folks often ask me what it was like when I first heard those words and if denial appeared, but truth be told, I was on a large amount of physically and mentally numbing medications and there was no shocking realization of my newfound condition. The fact I couldn’t move or feel anything below my mid-chest quickly became my new reality, because, well I couldn’t move or feel anything below my mid-chest. I spent about two weeks in Vancouver and underwent two surgeries, one on my spine and another on my left collar bone. I had also broken a number of ribs and had a collapsed lung. The first week or so from the day of my accident on is nowhere to be found in my memory. In reality, it’s probably best I can’t fully remember the accident. I imagine it was rather traumatic.
While in Vancouver I began getting a small glimpse of all Papa was doing. A man I once worked for in Oskaloosa had some old college friends in Vancouver who so graciously opened their home to my family, offering them a place to stay and a new friendship. Along with this, my pastor from Ottumwa, Iowa flew up and just so happened to know a fellow pastor in Vancouver who is actually responsible for introducing my pastor to the wonderfully overwhelming love of Jesus. This Vancouver pastor and his wife joined in prayer and support and offered another new and beautiful friendship. One of the many experiences of their kindness came when my mom asked for some type of artwork to make the hospital room feel a little more welcoming. They came the next day with a whole wall’s worth of art painted by members of their congregation in the past, as a way to worship. This was all just a glimpse. Along with the support we received in person, a good friend of mine created a page on the social media site we all know so well called, Pray for Micah. From this point on it seemed as though the news of my accident spread much like a disease. The first day of the page’s inception it received over 700 likes.
On the 6th of August, my birthday, I was flown to Craig rehab hospital in Denver, Colorado. After arriving at Craig they took a number of X-Rays and did their best to get more and more familiar with my condition. They discovered the screws used in my first back surgery were a little too long and almost piercing my lung cavity. So they made an executive decision to re-do my surgery. This, along with my broken collarbone, set my rehabilitation schedule back a little farther than we had hoped, but all was well and once I healed up a little more I began my more aggressive rehab and started getting more and more use to my new normal.
Craig was incredible. Throughout my time there my family and I grew very close to the staff and other patients and made lifelong friends. My parents were there the whole time and I cannot explain how much I appreciate the two of them. When I first arrived at Craig I had a mid-thirties roommate who had broken his back in a four wheeling accident. Every night my dad would sit by my side until we were ready to go to sleep and pray with me and throughout every day he was next to me. At one point my roommate’s mother came to me and my dad and said, “He would never tell you this, but he told me he’s thankful for you and your dad, because you’ve shown him what it means to be a good dad.” Dad and I began crying when we heard this. It was just another small glimpse at the good Papa was bringing from this all.
Since the accident, I’ve cried two times while alone. Once, I cried when we first arrived home; because, as they told us, the first few weeks home would be the hardest emotionally. Adjusting back to life outside of the hospital is a wild experience. Arriving home, where nothing has changed, while in the midst of a drastic change in yourself, is a shaky thing. However, the first time I cried, it had nothing to do with sadness. I was still in Craig at the time, but I had taken some time to talk to one of my sisters on the phone. She pointed out to me the fact I was literally being sustained by prayer. We ended the conversation shortly thereafter and I couldn’t shake this sense of overwhelming joy from swallowing up every ounce of my being. I broke down in tears at the realization of Papa’s provision. God had taken such good care of me and made this whole happening so incredibly easy. Being paralyzed is a drag, but God, my Papa, does something outside of the flesh and carnal things, and with His perfect artistic creativity, He can take a dirty, torn, presumably worthless canvas and create an art beyond our comprehension, a masterpiece of beautiful redemption.
The amount I’ve learned in the past year is beyond me. I’ve learned to dress myself while lying down. I’ve learned how to sit up without a working abdomen. I’ve learned how to drive a car without feet and I’ve learned how to use a catheter, I can’t feel it. I’ve learned to make folks uncomfortable when I’m making light of the situation. I’ve learned how to tip over a wheelchair and hop the lower part of my body quite a distance. I’ve also learned folks are automatically more kind to you if you’re in a wheelchair. That’s a benefit, just like the parking.
I can confidently say the most important and radiant thing I’ve learned this past year is something I’d already known, but received an increased understanding of through the adventure of paralysis. I have found the love of God is folly. I call God Papa, because I have received only a glimpse of His love for me, His kid.
Galatians 4:6-7 says, “Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.”
To love the way Papa does is foolish. To forgive without hindrance and love without conditions while being so often avoided is stupid (to us humans.) It is absolute foolishness to love the way He does; the most beautiful foolishness. Brennan Manning said, “Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.”
I understand now, more than ever, I am a beloved son of God. This means so much! This means I am a citizen of Heaven and a pilgrim, an heir! Brennan also used to talk about how he thinks when we get to Heaven Jesus is going to ask us if we really believed He loved us. I’m paralyzed and by the world’s standards I have every right to hate my circumstances, anyone who helped me get here, and, most of all, myself. However, I understand my identity as God’s kid and the beautiful truth — I am loved. God is not some far off, distant rule maker, forcing me to do what He wants. Rather, He is a loving Papa with a furious affection for all his kids, with tenderness in His eyes and arms longing to embrace. He has been so good to me and I am so excited and expectant for what’s in store. One day I’ll walk again and I’m confident it could happen this side of eternity, but it may happen the next. Regardless, I know I will run to the arms of my Papa one day and He will grasp me with a love so fierce. Until that day I’m lost in the warmth of His embrace. I’m just a pilgrim son.
I like to thing of how much time, collectively, I’ve spent in a car throughout my life. I can confidently say it’s been well over a year. This song is beautiful and reminds me of my childhood and life so far.
- Martin Luther King Jr.
- The Spell of the Yukon by Robert Service