Our destination: Moore, Okla., a green, tree-filled city raked by a killer tornado on May 20.
I pulled a U-Haul trailer full of new and used running shoes, all donated by the awesome folks in the Colorado Springs running community. Shawn drove ahead, leading the way as we rocked it across southeastern Colorado and cruised down tornado alley in Oklahoma.
Gus Thompson, owner of the OK Runner store in Norman, Okla., next door to Moore, was there to greet us as we finished the 11-hour drive. Gus had set up the Moore Tornado Shoe Fund Drive. He was amazed - but very grateful - that a running community so far from his home would gather and donate 500 pair (maybe more) of shoes.
Moore is Shawn’s hometown and he had some nervous moments on Monday as the tornado scraped the city. He didn't learn until Wednesday that his family and many friends were safe.
Shawn had called on Tuesday and explained his plans to make a quick trip south to help where needed. He mentioned that OK Runner was accepting shoes and we quickly formed a plan to alert Colorado Springs runners of the need. Within two hours we had our first 70 pair.
From that point it was "game on" for the Oklahoma Road Trip. All of the Colorado Springs-area stores eagerly agreed to serve as drop points for used shoe donations, which flowed in for three days. I thought we could fit all the shoes in my Toyota 4-Runner. That idea was short lived as I gathered three full loads by Thursday and more on Friday.
Gus had arranged for the shoes to be washed at a local cleaners and the first big load was drying as we arrived. He explained that the shoes would be distributed to school students first, and then to adults, then to anyone who needed them.
We also collected about $600 before we left Colorado Springs. One family donated $300. After renting the trailer, rigging up a hitch and buying gasoline, we had enough remaining to contribute $100 to the cause.
Moore was in full recovery mode Saturday afternoon. An army of Red Cross volunteers had set up emergency shelters. Hot meals were being served (I could smell the barbecue as we drove by), and tornado victims received assistance with things like insurance paperwork, cell phone service, mental health services, transportation, clean clothes ... you name it.
We drove by the tornado path and saw the destruction firsthand. We didn't stop, and we stayed clear of the devastated areas. The English language lacks adjectives that describe the work of a big tornado.
Shawn’s life-long friends helped us unload the trailer, then his dad bought dinner for everybody … Tex-Mex, Oklahoma style. Afterward, we found an inexpensive hotel and I slept the sleep of a baby.
On Sunday morning, Shawn and I shook hands and he helped me find my way out of the Oklahoma City area (a tangle of 4-lane Interstate and secondary highways.) He stayed behind in Norman to help where he could and said he planned to visit OK Runner to assist with shoe fitting.
With the 4-Runner pointed for home, I rolled across the oil fields of central Oklahoma, the Texas Panhandle's irrigated farm land, and the immense grasslands of northern New Mexico.
The drive provided plenty of time for contemplating community. I'm so entrenched here in Colorado Springs that I forget there are other cities like ours blessed with strong and caring people. We all have so much in common. Whether we’re helping tornado victims, fighting forest fires, or grinding through our day-to-day routines, we work and play, live and love and try to do the right thing.