Mr. Shepard was another one of those people who greatly influenced my life. As I was entering into my mid-teens he took over the job of being the leader for the Royal Ambassadors at the church. The Royal Ambassadors was an organization that paralleled the Boy Scouts somewhat except that it was a church program that was mission oriented.
We worked on skills to earn badges and we worked on projects to help the neighborhood and to be representatives of the church in the neighborhood. Mr. Shepard was always coming up with great ideas for us to work on. We helped elderly people with yard work and we helped do maintenance on the church. That was only fair because a lot of the maintenance that was needed in the church was caused by us to begin with.
He took us on float trips and on hikes through nature trails. His whole philosophy, I believe, was that even though we had a rather dubious reputation in the church, there was some good in us. He wanted to help bring out that good and show members of not only the church but also the neighborhood that we were pretty good kids. He helped us to know that we could do good things and that people would respond to those things.
When we started out he had four of us in his group. If you have been reading the blog over a period of time then you have been introduced to all of us. There was Scott, who melted the Rolling Stones album and challenged the bull, Larry was part of the group, he had been in traction and was my basketball bud, and there was Ronnie, he was the dreamer, a young man filled with promise and ideals and met almost everyone of them. Ronnie and I were the closest of all of us. We were almost like blood brothers. Then there was myself of course, the witty one who tried to do good but just had too much of a wild sense of humor to keep being good for very long.
One summer Mr. Shepard came up with the idea to ride our bicycles about a quarter of the way across the state and back in one weekend. This sounded exciting to us. The idea was that we would get people in the church and in the neighborhood to pledge money for each mile we rode across the state and turn the money over to the church for one of the mission offerings.
The trip would be to Whiteman Air Force Base about sixty miles from the church. The round trip would be one hundred and twenty miles on bicycles. This seemed like a long way but Mr. Shepard convinced us that we could do it. He would be riding a bike along with us. We would camp in the state park outside of Whiteman on Saturday night and ride home on Sunday. We were ready for this adventure and even when Mr. Shepard laid down the ground rules for the trip, it didn't deter us from wanting to go.
We began getting the pledges which were pretty easy to get. I think a lot of the people thought it would be worth the offering if it would get us out of the church for one Sunday. We also had to start outfitting the bikes in preparation for the long ride. We put water bottles on the bikes. We put pouches on the bikes to carry healthy snacks that would not make us sick. We put reflectors all over the bikes in case it was dark by the time we reached Whiteman. And we had to choose some comfortable clothes to wear.
Clothes were not that much of a problem. We stuck with jeans instead of shorts because of rocks, bugs, and bike chains. We all had sneakers that we wore and as light of a t-shirt as we could find. Hats were also in demand and I had one of my favorite hats ready to wear. A friend of my sister's dad worked for the Budweiser plant and had given me a red beachcomber hat with a Bud patch on the side of it. This was my hat. It was comfortable and provided shade all around my head. Scott did not wear a hat but the rest of us did.
I went to bed early the Friday night before the trip. I already had my bike packed and ready to go. My clothes were laid out and sleep did not come easy that night. The next morning I got up before dawn and got ready to go. I felt good. The last thing I put on was my Bud hat and I took off to meet the guys at the church. I stopped by Ronnie's house to get him and we rode up to the church together. Everyone was there when we arrived including parents, who were hoping this wouldn't be the last they saw of us I am sure.
Mr. Shepard looked at me as I rode up. He looked like he was thinking and then he came out with it. He told me I couldn't wear the hat on the trip. Why? Because it had a Budweiser patch on it. It would not send out the message we wanted to send out if we were advertising beer. I was stunned. I was shocked. I guess I could go home and get another hat but I wanted to wear this one. It was Scott who came up with the idea. He calmly walked over and asked me to see the hat. I Gave it to him and as he grabbed it his pocket knife came flying out of his pants with his other hand. He slid the knife under the patch and dissected it and removed it. Problem solved. Mr. Shepard was good with that even though the hat had faded enough that you could still make out the Bud logo in dark red on the side of the hat.
And so we all mounted our bikes and told our parents goodbye and began the ride to the highway that would take us to Whiteman. It was the beginning of a long tiresome couple of days.