Slept late. It was great not having to pack up and leave, as I did most mornings. I walked into town and had breakfast at the Two Medicine Grill. Then I walked back and took a nap. Before noon I headed toward St Mary’s and Glacier National Park, and the “Going – to – the – Sun Road” which cuts across the park. On the way there were signs saying: Road construction: motorcycles should take alternate route. I slowed the bike, looked around and said: what alternate route? So I went ahead. There were about 5 sections where the road had eroded or was being repaired. Loose rocks and gravel. It wasn’t too bad. Then there were some nice twisty roads which were enjoyable being able to lean into the curves. I was about 30 miles from the Canadian border. Finally, I made it into the park and rode along St Mary’s lake. The mountains loomed high behind them and were riddled with snow. I’ll try and attach a photo. The scent of the fir trees was amazing. The road was only open for about 15 miles because they were still plowing the snow from the road. So, I probably missed the best of the park. And while it was spectacular I thought about places that I had ridden through that were even more so: parts of Yosemite with my buddy El Jefe and the road from Canmore, Alberta to Banff to the Saskatchewan River Crossing with my friend Kevin.
According to a recent USA Today article: “The park’s glaciers are estimated at 7,000 years old and “peaked,” the USGS (United States Geological Survey) said, in the mid-1800s during the “Little Ice Age.” In 1850, the park had an estimated 150 glaciers. Since that time, its lost about 85% of its ice area and now has less than 30 glaciers.” It’s predicted that by the year 2030 there will be no more glaciers in the park. I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether you believe in climate change or not.
I gassed up Big Red and packed before I went to bed. As I fell asleep I kept thinking: Where in the hell will Divine Providence take me tomorrow? Come to think of it: Where will It take you?
I can’t ride anymore. I need a break. But first I have a strange story to tell you. Got a minute or two?
On Day 7, in my quest for opening myself to guidance from Divine Providence on this trip I wrote in this blog: “If someone mentions a place I should visit, I must go there.” As soon as I wrote that I thought, well, maybe not “must”, maybe I just consider going there. But then I got to Bishop, California and Rusty’s Saloon and an old codger, when he heard my story, said: “What you need to do is go to Glacier Park. It’s beautiful man. Way better than Yellowstone.” I thought to myself: Okay, here may be an omen, a sign – I should go to Glacier Park!
When I got back to my motel I Googled how far it was to Glacier Park. 1100 miles! It wasn’t on the way to anywhere! No way was I going there! Not to mention that the guy in the bar told me he was known by his initials: EZ. Divine Providence would not speak to me through a guy named EZ!
Well, we’ll see. Maybe Providence just wants me to head in that direction and then he/she will send me somewhere else? So I headed toward Glacier and hoped I’d be directed somewhere else along the way.
Well, I wasn’t and here I am. Glacier National Park. And I have no clue as to why I’m here.
I felt really fatigued this morning when I headed out and when I got here and saw this beautiful cabin I knew I’d spend another night here. So that’s how things stand. I’m here.
Tomorrow, I hope to take it easy and go on the “Going – to – the – Sun Road” which cuts across the park. Safe riding to you.
“In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing. We lived at the junction of great trout rivers in western Montana, and our father was a Presbyterian minister and a fly fisherman who tied his own flies and taught others. He told us about Christ’s disciples being fishermen, and we were left to assume, as my brother and I did, that all first-class fishermen on the Sea of Galilee were fly fishermen and that John, the favorite, was a dry-fly fisherman.”
So begins Norman Maclean’s novella “A River Runs Through It.”
I was thinking a lot about that book as I rode through the beautiful landscape of Montana. Mountains- some still snow covered, rolling hills, green fields, spruce and fir trees and a glistening, sparkling river snaking its way with me along the road. It was magnificent.
I landed reasonably early at another Motel 6 in Butte’s uptown. Time enough to wash my clothes, do a little research on Butte, and then head out to walk a little of the uptown section.
I knew the town had a sizable population that defined itself as Irish but I was shocked to read that in the 2010 Census it was named as the most Irish American city in the country with 23.6% of the population identifying their roots as Irish. Apparently, they came over during the years 1845 -1855 when Ireland was experiencing its famine years and went to work in the mines.
This immigration went a large way to explain why there were so many shamrocks around and Irish named bars. I chose to go down to Maloney’s, one of the oldest, founded in 1871. It was easily identifiable outside as having a big green and white stripped awning and a glowing shamrock embedded in the concrete at the entrance. Inside was a long bar and no tables, with a juke box, and some electronic gaming machines along the wall. The tap had many of the usual beers, along with Guinness, and Irish Death, and a Haybag HefeWeizen which I enjoyed. There were the usual shamrocks, maps and flags of Ireland but then it became more Montana – like. The walls were adorned with beer signs, antlers, a boar’s head and a moose head. Cans of Lucky Lager sat on a shelf. A rifle with a scope hung over the bar.
But it was the people that I enjoyed the most. The friendliest and strangest I’d met so far on this trip. Four women were giggling and playing the longest pool game I’d ever seen. A guy watching them said when they finished: “I don’t think you’ll have time for another. The bar closes in four hours.” He introduced himself to me and spoke of living in Arizona and riding his motorcycle down there. But he moved back home because he loved it here. He was running a bar down the street and said: “Welcome to Butte, Monk.”. (My road name.) Then there were three wacky people, two women and a man, who sat beside me, said hello and introduced themselves. The man was from Minnesota, and one of the women said she was from Fargo. The two women started elongating their words striking some attempt to be funny and sound like they had a Midwest accent. They were constantly joking and soon confessed that they were just making stuff up. Then we had a bit more of an honest conversation, at least I think so. They welcomed me to Butte too and left after a while. Then there were others and the bartender and a man beside me named Kevin who kept muttering: “Oh Jesus, Oh Jesus”.
Oh Jesus indeed.
Today is the writer Walker Percy’s birthday. He would have been 101. He’d be my favorite writer of recent times. I was thinking about a couple of quotes from his book “Love in the Ruins”.
“Why did God make women so beautiful and man with such a loving heart?” And
“I believe in God and the whole business but I love women best, music and science next, whiskey next, God fourth, and my fellowman hardly at all. A man, wrote John, who says he believes in God and does not keep his commandments is a liar. If John is right, then I am a liar. Nevertheless, I still believe.”
This morning I sat at a McDonalds getting a quick breakfast. I watched as across the street in front of a gas station a man was sitting on a box with a sign for the passing cars. Nobody seemed to be stopping. What thoughts occur to you right now?
I decided that after I filled up Big Red I’d give him a few bucks. No big deal. Maybe you have some opinions about this action?
As I was filling up I could hear the man talking and I listened closely. No, he wasn’t talking like a schizophrenic, though that wouldn’t have mattered, instead it sounded like he was muttering prayers and blessing on each car passing by. I went over and talked with him. His sign announced that he was veteran and that he was looking for work. He told me how he had been in the army down in Columbus, Georgia in the 70’s and told me a few stories. He had grown up in Illinois but preferred living here. The Mormons, he said, really help the people here; not so much the Catholics and the Protestants. They do good work other places, just not so much here. We talked about the VA medical care he has received and his dislike of Obamacare. He said he had too many physical problems to work regularly but that he could do odd jobs. He smiled. He was overweight, his face was tanned and he was missing a few teeth.
I told him that I thought I had heard him praying aloud. He said he liked praying and blessing folks that passed by. He had a lot of time on his hands and he enjoyed it.
Had many people been stopping and giving him some money or talking with him?
“Naw”, he looked down and shook his head. We talked a bit more , then shook hands and I wished him well.
No bible I’ve ever read says anything about judging people before you help them. Mother Teresa used to say that if you’re judging people you can’t be busy loving them.
And isn’t this what the whole religious business is about? Finding ways to translate the words we profess, like loving others, our enemies, the poor, not judging, into a reality? That’s what I struggle with because I’m sure as hell not doing it right.
His name was Brian. Bless you Brian.
I started the morning grabbing a McDonalds takeaway and hurrying down to the Harley Davidson (HD) dealer to get an oil change. I try and change the oil about every 3-5,000 miles. The folks there were very friendly, had no one waiting, and I was out within an hour. 96 Bucks ($)! But that’s typical. Everyone knows that HD stands for ‘hundred dollars’ because you’ll spend at least that every time you walk into a Harley shop.
I continued on I-80 until I reached the town of Wells and decided to head north on Highway 93 toward Idaho. Last time I was in Idaho was in 1981. I had been staying with friends in Seattle and decided to hop a train and hitchhike home. I remember going through Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado. But that’s a story for another time.
Today, I had beautiful blue skies and more of the same terrain all the way to Wells. When I made it to Idaho the first thing I noticed was how flat it was. Almost like Kansas. Next, I noticed a succession of folks being stopped by Idaho state police. Then the land grew more fertile and verdant, with the long arm irrigation systems spraying water into the air. Then there were waterways and rivers, canyons.
I don’t try and conjure it up (that would be cheating) but always within a few short miles on the bike out in the country, a feeling of thankfulness and gratitude overcomes me. I thank God that I am alive, that I have this motorcycle, time and money and that I’m healthy enough for the ride. Then I thank God for family and friends, and pray for them, and their individual struggles. The list gets long, but hey, I’ve got a lot of time. Then I return to just looking out at the scenery as it goes past, and I find myself smiling. Even when times are tough, there is so much to be thankful for. And thank you for reading this and following along on my journey.
Surprise winds were the main thing that bothered me yesterday. You’ll be riding along, admiring the blue sky, watching the cloud shadows cover the land when – Wham! – a gust comes out of nowhere and blows you half way across the road. It pays to ride in the middle.
It was also a bit chillier in the afternoon than I expected. I like to ride with as little on as possible. Okay, let me rephrase that. I always ride with my special, thick riding trousers but I change what I wear on my chest. Today, I had a Harley tee shirt on, a long sleeve shirt over that, a leather vest and my thick gauntlet gloves. But still I found myself looking down the interstate to the places where the cloud shadows weren’t covering the road. This feeling of coldness was self-inflicted. I just didn’t want to stop for the final 120 miles to put my leather jacket on. This morning as I write it’s in the mid 30’s so I’ll be wearing the jacket today.
The terrain yesterday remained the same from my earlier report for the rest of the ride. Except, for a grass with a plum color to it that reminded me of the heather I’d seen on the mountains and grasslands in Ireland.
I had planned to head north when I got to Winnemucca but something told me to just keep going down I 80. So I did. Though I didn’t know where I was going, I was making good time. The speed limit was 80 mph and my trusty 2004 Harley Road King Classic Road beautifully. I was going to say ‘swimmingly’ but does anyone say that anymore?
I should mention a few things about my bike. If you don’t like bike talk then you might want to look away now. But come back and I’ll wrap this entry up!
2004 Harley Road King Classic FLHRCI. It’s Lava red and decked out in chrome.
Naked, just out of the shower, it weighs 710 pounds. (Which is why you never want to drop it! Nor see it naked, in a shower.)
The basic specs are:
• Engine Type: Four-stroke, 88 ci, 1442 cc, air-cooled, V-Twin
• Bore and Stroke: 3.75 inches x 4 inches
• Compression ratio: 8.9:1
• Valve Train: OHV, four valves, two valves per cylinder
• Induction: Fuel injected
• Ignition: Electric
• Transmission: Five-speed manual; Standard heel-toe shifter
• Final Drive: Belt
• Fuel Capacity: 5 gallons
• Estimated Fuel Economy: 37/46 mpg city/highway, which has been pretty accurate.
• Brakes (Front): 11.5 in. (292 mm) dual front disc
• Brakes (Rear): 11.5 in. (292 mm) disc
Chrome fender and seat emblems
Wire laced wheels
Vibration-isolated, Black and Chrome Twin Cam 88® Engine
Air-adjustable rear touring suspension
Electronic cruise control
Finally, it has Screemin Eagle Stage 1, 2 and 3 upgrades resulting in:
Custom ported air intake, a Power Commander custom tuned on a dyno, a geared oil – pump not one that’s chain driven, non-warping lifter rods, pistons re-ringed and polished, piston pots polished, all cables changed out to stainless outers, high performance cam culminating with @90 HP at the rear wheel.
She currently has over 95, 000 miles (152500 km) on her.
To me she’s just Big Red.
So I made it to a Super 8 in Elko and got a room for $40. I had a chat with my daughter on the phone and then went to check out the night life. I had a beer at Good Time Charlie’s which was clearly very much a biker bar.
I gathered this information astutely and stealthily when a woman at the table near me said: “This place is usually filled with bikers but they’re all over in Winnemucca at the rally.” It was a nice dive with friendly folks.
Then I went down a few blocks to the Stray Dog Pub and enjoyed a beer there. I could have gone to one of the many casinos but I’m not a casino sort of guy.
I found out there’s a Harley dealer in town and I thought I’d stop by this morning and see if they could squeeze in an oil change for Big Red before we head off to…well, wherever we’re going.
I’m not sure how I got here. I wasn’t heading this direction when I left this morning. I had planned to go north and ended up instead heading east through Reno to where I am now in Winnemucca. I passed through wide open vistas, various shades of brown and dotted with sage brush and distant green trees. There were high desert plains with rugged snow trickled mountains in the distance. I watched whirling dirt devils rise and disperse. Dark cloud shadows covered the hills and low lands. The 16th annual Run-A-Mucca Motorcycle Rally is on this weekend but I’m not much into rallies. I’ve been thinking all morning about the meaning of religion in my life, how my perspective has changed and continues to change. What has sacred meaning to us, anyway?
Bishop was getting ready for its annual Mule Days Celebration and folks were swelling into town so it was time for me to hit the dusty trail. The road started climbing as we ascended the Sierra Nevada and the scenery began to change. There was still the light green sagebrush but now there were more pinyin pines and junipers. I passed the road to Tioga Pass, which was closed, due to snowfall. This was the road my buddy El Jefe and I took years ago when we visited Yosemite. Highway 395 crosses five mountain passes, including Deadman Summit, at 8,036 feet (2,449 m) in altitude and Conway Summit at 8,138 feet (2,480 m), the highest point along US 395. Mono lake came into view and I snapped a picture of Big Red from above it. Snowy mountains accompanied me as I rode the entire distance.
It reminded me of a Zen poem. I forget who wrote it.
In spring hundreds of flowers,
In summer, refreshing breeze.
In autumn, harvest moon,
In winter, snowflakes accompany you.
If useless things do not hang in your mind,
Every season is a good season.
Part of this trip is about letting go of the useless things that hang in my mind, and focusing instead on gratitude.
I was growing weary and having a hard time concentrating so I decided to find a place to rest. I pulled off the road at a rest stop and lay down under a cottonwood tree and took a nap. I slept for a while until I heard a sound from above. It was a woodpecker pecking on a dead branch above me. Time to get up.
I rode down into Carson City, Nevada and stopped at a Starbucks for some coffee to wake me up. I decided to bunk for the night at a Motel 6.
Where am I going next? I don’t know. It’s a weird feeling waking up in the morning and not knowing where you’re heading. To not plan something and instead head out and just trust. For now, I’m just enjoying the road and being a saddle tramp.
Leaving El Segundo was sad; saying goodbye to my amazing son Colin. I love that boy.
The only thing that saved me on the hot interstate through LA was the California law about “white lining” where you can ride on the white line between cars. It beats being stuck in a traffic jam with an overheating engine and temper. The ride between cars is exciting and scary at the same time.
I took I 405 to 5 and then 14, the antelope valley freeway, which is essentially a ride through the Mojave Desert. You pass amazing ochre-colored rock formations, and dark green and jade colored bushes, as you head past Edwards Air Force Base up towards the beginning of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Desolate but beautiful. Then Big Red and I hit highway 395 and headed north.
We passed Manzanar State Park north of Lone Pine, the location of an internment account, where for three years during World War II 1000’s of Japanese Americans were forced to relocate.
The town of Independence came upon us. I had considered staying at Ray’s Den, a place I’ve stayed at twice before, but something told me to keep moving. The beautiful snow-capped Eastern Sierra mountains were on my left and the road to Death Valley on my right, between Mt Whitney, the highest summit in the contiguous United States with an elevation of 14,505 feet (4,421 m) and Badwater Basin in Death Valley at 282 feet (86 m) below sea level.
I stopped at McDonalds because I was thirsty, and also because the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile was parked across the street! Now there’s some excitement for you!
I ended up in the town of Bishop, Ca. and checked in at the Mountain View Motel. It was a short walk from there down to the Mountain Rambler Microbrewery and Rusty’s Saloon, where I spent the evening talking to locals, hearing their life stories and watching the beginnings of a few amorous adventures. I’m in no hurry.
My own path is unfolding as I ride. There’s no map to direct me. It’s a new road that I can only discover by riding and trusting. Krishnamurti said: “This other road is not on the map, nor can it ever be put on any map. Every map is a map of the wrong road, the old road.”
I was filled with sadness heading out this morning. My eyes were burning. I didn’t want to say goodbye to my kids, Colin and Hannah, and Hannah’s husband Bill. They live so far away. I’d already been feeling sad what with the recent bomb in Manchester and the sudden death of a friend back home. But it’s time to leave.
This is the part of my journey that I’m leaving up to divine providence, so I have no destination in mind. I hope to be guided in my choice of direction by clear omens, hunches and uncertain feelings of certainty. However, it’s one thing to trust that the old signs and portents will appear and it’s another to find oneself stuck at an intersection in the middle of Anywhere, USA and having no clear inclination, or even funny feeling as to which way to go.
In one of my novels, Hope Bats Last, I address just such a possibility and come up with this guidance for the protagonist:
Always head away from bad weather, unless some omen tells me otherwise. When I don’t know which way to go, go left and then right the next time, and then left… If I must choose between two towns and can’t, choose the one that starts with the earliest letter in the alphabet. Trust the journey.
I’ve added a few since:
Don’t book any motels in advance because you don’t know where you’re going.
When you have a choice of motels and feel no preference, choose the one with a number in its name. If there’s more that one, pick the motel with the highest number. If there are no numbers pick the one whose name comes first alphabetically.
Talk to anyone who wants to talk with you for as long as they want to talk.
Don’t avoid homeless people; they could be Elijah the prophet in disguise.
If someone mentions a place I should visit, I must go there.
If I have a funny feeling about something, I should listen to it.
What can go wrong?