I’m home back in Rome, Georgia now. This completes the record of my fourth trip across the USA and Canada. (On this blog there are the three other records of my trips). Every year I think: That’s enough, I’m too old for this auld rigmarole. But something always compels me to put the kickstand up and take off. This year was different in that I tried to let Divine Providence, God, Fate -whatever you want to call it (him, her) – guide me in where to go and when to stop. Consequently, I went to some strange places and met some unusual people. The problem with trusting Divine Providence (as with most religious interpretations) is discernment. How do I know for sure that what I’m thinking or experiencing is a message, an omen, a sign, or simply something I’m imagining? I have no earthly idea. All I can figure out is that we try and cultivate an attitude of loving-kindness and good intentions, open ourselves to every situation, trust what happens, put our kickstands up and head out. And then, hold on to your hat!
I am very grateful for the places that I went and especially for the people I met. People like Dwaine, Nancy and Dale. The writer Emerson said: “… the highest compliment, man ever receives from heaven, is the sending to him its disguised and discredited angels.” I met a lot of disguised angels on this trip and I’m a better man for it.
The writer Novalis said that “philosophy is, strictly speaking a homesickness.” It is the wish to feel at home in whatever environment you are in. That seems to be what drives me. It’s to try and understand the world, other people, and consequently myself, as I ride through it. There are other ways of doing this, other paths, but this seems to be mine.
Thanks for riding along! I hope you enjoyed it. I’ll probably take a few short trips this summer so stay tuned. Until then, ride safely and gratefully, on whatever road you are on.
I checked into a nice motel in Maggie Valley, with screen doors and rocking chairs out front. The owners were busy with other tasks and the interaction was brief and all business. Not like my earlier reaction with Dale that I wrote about in part one. I couldn’t get him out of my mind especially the gratitude he expressed for simply being alive. Despite being troubled by the relentless ghosts of his PTSD, the loss of his friends and marriage, he was still thankful, still felt blessed. He reminded me of the woman Nancy I wrote about in my Day 15 blog from Deadwood from South Dakota. 80 years old and homeless, trusting God and feeling blessed.
So anyway, it got me thinking a lot about gratitude. I decided to go get a drink a Boojum Brewery in Waynesville, North Carolina and explore this idea of gratitude. On the way there I nearly dropped the bike. It was my stupid mistake in mishandling the controls on a hill, while holding my phone in my right hand and being in neutral. The bike kept slipping back and I struggled to keep her upright. I finally got her in gear and headed out. I kept thinking: Don’t relax your guard when you’re on the home stretch. One of my best buddies had a terrible accident after a long ride when he was just pulling into the driveway of where he was staying. You have to be vigilant on a motorcycle.
Fortunately, the beer at Boojum was terrific. I decided to do an experiment on gratitude. While sitting at the bar I got to talking with some of the others there. After sharing and joking around I began to ask each one what they were grateful for. The bartender had moved here from Statesboro, Georgia to work on a graduate degree in sustainability. He was grateful for the program, his girlfriend and that he got to look at that mountain behind us as he worked. (We were on the outside deck). Another guy, from Texas, who told me he had recently turned 60 years old, tinted windows for a living. He was grateful for the drumming circles he played in and the good women he had known. An attractive middle-age nurse beside me told me that she was grateful that she can make everyone feel better. I bet she was probably a very good nurse but she didn’t seem too interested in me and that wasn’t making me feel better! Her mother, on the other side of her, added that her daughter had been nurse of the year. She was thankful for her children. She and her daughter were thinking of heading to the Elk Club that evening for karaoke. They didn’t invite me to come and, of course, that didn’t make me feel better either. Someone surprised me and asked me what I was thankful for. I said the first thing that came into my mind, which was “my children”. But I have so much more. I try and give thanks for things each day. It puts me in a better mood. What are you thankful for?
I didn’t stay long at Boojum and rode back to the motel where I sat and rocked in one of the rocking chairs, smoked a cigar and did a lot of thinking.
Technically, it was an easy ride. The route was clear, the sky was Carolina blue and Big Red was doing her happy thing. Then I got hungry and decided to stop at a Wendy’s this time. I pulled off the exit and saw a man walking with a sign beside the road. I passed him and went up to the restaurant. The place was crowded so it took a while before I got my food. Because Big Red’s carries my luggage bag and laptop I always sit so I can keep an eye on her. After I had just gotten my food I watched as the man with the sign sat down a short distance away from my bike. I kept glancing at him. It didn’t look like he was going to mess with the bike. When I finished I walked over to him and asked him how he was doing.
He sat there and told me a long story about his life, how he’d just gotten out of the military, had come home and his wife of 20 years had filed for divorce and wouldn’t let him in the house because she was afraid of him, because he had PTSD. He suddenly didn’t have anywhere to go. The VA (Veteran’s Hospital) would take him but all they wanted to do was put him in a bed and drug him. He was trying to get back to where he grew up in Montana. He said he had stopped at a nearby church. When the pastor came to the door he asked if there was any work he could do for a peanut butter sandwich. He claimed the pastor asked him if he was on drugs or had been drinking. He asked the pastor to show him in the Bible where Jesus had asked that question, or any question like that had been asked before help was given. He just wanted to know could he do some work for a peanut butter sandwich. The minister closed the door on him. Later, while he was walking down the road, probably just before I had seen him, the police showed up and asked him had he been at the church. He explained that he had been, that he was just trying to do some work for some food. He said a police man threw a napkin down on the ground and said: Pick that up. He did and the policeman said: Here’s a dollar. Go get yourself something and then get out of town.
So he walked over here and bought himself a can of iced tea. He said the people in the store didn’t want him panhandling so he sat way over here. (in the hot sun). Come the first of the month he’d get some money put into his account. (It was June 1oth.)
He told me that some people come up to him and say: Thanks for your service. He said why do they thank me. I’m just doing a regular 9-5 job and getting paid for it like everyone else. The people that should get thanked are the ones that died over there. And he started to cry. They were the friends I had and they’re not coming back. He mentioned the various places that he had been stationed and started to choke up. Then he showed me where he had had surgery on both of his ankles because of an explosion. He said he had been born again, quoted a Bible verse and took a card out of his wallet that had reminders of important verses. He said he took it out and looked at it often when he needed it. He said he was thankful; that he felt blessed. It could be worse. I could be lying in a ditch or been killed like those boys who are never coming back. Then he started to stutter. I don’t like talking about it. I’ve been lucky. I’m very thankful.
We talked a bit more and then it was time to leave. Though he never once asked, I gave him some money. He looked at it. Are you sure? I nodded. Thanks man. He hugged me. We shook hands and I introduced myself.
He said: “I’m Dale. Bless you. I’ll pray for you and your family.”
“Thanks, I need every prayer I can get. I’ll pray for you too.”
So, what do you think? Was he genuine or did he con me? Who knows? I don’t know and frankly I don’t care. Maybe he was one of the Lamed Vav; one of the 36 hidden and humble saints the very continuation of the world rests upon? (You can search my blog for more references I’ve made to them). Maybe he was Elijah the prophet? According to an old Hasidic story Elijah often comes to us in disguise: someone ill mannered, a poor person, a beggar. And woe to us if we judge this person harshly and withhold assistance!
Maybe he was an angel? Hebrews says: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” (Heb. 13:4).
To be honest, I don’t know. I’m quick to judge others at times on very superficial things and I have to catch myself. Mother Teresa said that if we’re busy judging people we can’t be busy loving them. Which is more important?
All I know for sure is that I cried the rest of the way to Maggie Valley.
Today was a fun day, for the most part. My friend Marge followed me over to the Harley dealer where I showed the leak. Harley dealers always try to squeeze in riders who are in transit and these guys did as well. Marge and I explored the store and she found a nice Harley shirt that I bought for her to thank her for all her help. Now she’ll be ready to hang out at the biker bars! After getting my bike up on the rack the technician showed me where he thought it was leaking from. The infamous shifter shaft seal! (A part I had had fixed twice before). Apparently, it wasn’t a big leak as all the fluids were normal. I showed him another leak which I was worried about and it looked like it was coming from the primary cover. He said: “I’ll just change the gasket.” And he did so in about one minute. They offered to wash her and in about 15 minutes I was back on the road. The bill was about 56 bucks. Thank you Harley Davidson of Knoxville, Clinton Highway!
Marge then took me over to the Great Smokey Mountains and showed me some of her favorite places. We walked a little by a stream, inhaled the fresh air and the glorious scent of the fir trees. We watched fly fishermen plying the waters. The beauty of the straight-line back and forth casting.
We drove back to Knoxville and ate at an excellent Thai restaurant. Then it was back to her house for more catching up on the weird things that had happened to us since we’d last met. Tomorrow, Maggie Valley.
Every morning I take a walk around the bike to make sure everything’s okay and nothing’s leaking. Then I take a walk around myself to ensure the same thing. I was fine but there was a wet spot under the bike, directly underneath the screw for the primary cover. Dang. I felt certain (from experience) that it wasn’t dangerous at this point. Harley’s are known to mark their territories. But I still wanted to get it looked at.
But let me back up. A few days before this I just happened to be visiting a Harley Dealer along my route and got to talking to a nice biker called Phil. While talking he said: You know where me and the wife like to go? (I was thinking: Please don’t tell me. Please don’t tell me!)
“Maggie Valley.” He said and told me all about it.
“And Asheville’s just next door.”
So later I was thinking: Okay, Maggie Valley, and Asheville. Well, Knoxville’s on the way and it’s got to have a Harley dealer. I could go visit my friend Marge there and get the bike checked out. If it was okay I could continue on my trip. If not, it wasn’t too far to go to get back home to Rome, Georgia. So I called my friend Marge and asked if I could come visit and she said she was happy to have me come. Marge taught with me at Dalton State but retired a few years ago and settled in Knoxville. She’d invited me over a few times before and I’d been wanting to visit, so we worked it out. Now, the next challenge was to figure out how to get to Knoxville from Louisville. There’s the interstate, of course, but I was tired of it and it was tired of me. So yesterday when I was getting ready to leave I stopped at, you guessed it, McDonald’s for breakfast. Another biker came up to talk with me. He was riding a Honda Goldwing and was headed to Florida. “You know what road you ought to take if you want to head to Knoxville?”
“What?” I asked worriedly.
“Highway 127. Take 127.”
I checked it on the map and it looked alright. I’d take some back roads to get to it. And then, after a while, I’d switch to highway 27. And so that’s what I did. Late in the afternoon I started to get a hankering for something to eat. I didn’t want the usual fare, but something different. I saw a sign for a Cracker Barrel restaurant and immediately thought: I want chicken and dumplings! (I haven’t had them in years.) And so that’s what I did. Was Divine Providence, by way of my gut, leading me to Cracker Barrel for some mystery to be revealed – like whatever happened to Brad’s wife who got fired from the restaurant? I still don’t know the answer to that but the chicken and dumplings were good. To make the meal more rounded nutritionally I had cheese grits, mashed potatoes and cornbread. You have to eat well on the road. Now, I was ready for the last leg of the road to Knoxville.
One last gas fill-up before I left. At the station a guy on a Moto Guzzi (An Italian bike) Stelvio 1200 NTX came up to me. I complemented him on his ride. You don’t see many Guzzis on the road. He proceeded to tell me about buying it from Florida, flying up to get it in Ohio and now riding it home. Then he talked about other bikes he had owned, some racing he had done and how he had lived in Holland for many years. I could hardly get a word in edgewise, which was okay because I like to just listen to other people’s stories. I was just hoping he wasn’t going to suggest a place I ought to visit. He told me that I should be happy that I hadn’t taken the interstate because there was an accident and it was backed up. He had to put his emergency blinkers on and ride down the shoulder for a long distance to get out of it. (People don’t understand that most bikes are air cooled and can overheat in traffic). I told him I had to do that in Nevada once when the temperature was over 110.
We wished each other well and I hit the road.
I finally found my friend Marge’s new home and we hugged, had a beer, chatted for a few hours and then I crashed. For some reason I wasn’t hungry. Tomorrow, on to the Harley Dealer!
The last two days I have stuck to the back roads. Highway 47 and then 150. It has been good for my soul to be on the old blue highways. Rusty red barns, grain silos, water towers with the names of the towns on them, red wing blackbirds, small towns with courthouses in the center square, rich, black agricultural fields – first no seedlings, then small plants, then larger growth the farther I headed south. My old pappy used to say: “knee high by the fourth of July” and at the rate we’re going our corn should have no problems reaching that goal.
I’ve been much more relaxed the last two days through just letting go, assuming that wherever I am is the right place for me to be. Find the road you think is the right one and just go with it. And hold onto your hat. What more can you do after you pray and open yourself, but trust? The poet Rilke once said:
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
Embrace the uncertainty.
In our life we can have periods of long stability and happiness and then, all of a sudden, something happens and we’re thrown off balance. Nothing’s permanent. Another Rilke quote comes to mind:
“Were it possible for us to see further than our knowledge reaches, and yet a little way beyond the outworks of our divinings, perhaps we would endure our sadnesses with greater confidence than our joys. For they are the moments when something new has entered into us, something unknown; our feelings grow mute in shy perplexity, everything in us withdraws, a stillness comes, and the new, which no one knows, stands in the midst of it and is silent.”
Respect the silence. Embrace each moment and ride safely my friends.
I felt really fatigued when I left La Crosse yesterday. Was it the late, last night talking with the man who was marrying the woman from Columbia he met on the Internet? Was it the fact that I had been on the road for 19 days? Was it a sense of interstate induced alienation that I was feeling? Had Divine Providence/ the Tao abandoned me? Regardless, I wasn’t sure which way to go. No inclinations – no funny feelings – no strange notions – no omens. I just felt sure I didn’t want to ride the roads around Chicago. Too bumpy and too chaotic. But where to head? East? South? I rode south just to get away from routes that would lead to Chicago, but I stopped a lot. About every 50 miles. Doughnut. Slice of Pizza. Ice cream. (That ice cream was really good!) When I stopped the last time, I was toying with just heading farther south and trying to get maybe another 100 miles under my belt. But as I relaxed (with that really excellent ice cream!) I realized that my problem was that I was not trusting the ride, the road, Divine Providence. And I needed to relax, let go and just trust. To not push the river. I booked a room at a nearby motel. And like other divinely inspired travelers I washed clothes, watched TV and went to sleep.
I stopped at McDonalds to get a drink. Only a dollar and you get free internet access. Two kids were sitting outside; one was jumping around excitedly. While I was taking my helmet off I watched as he threw some stones at a store window. He was about four years old. I walked over to him and he said: “When I called you old did that hurt your feelings?”
I laughed and said ‘no’ and added ‘don’t throw the stones’.
His sister, who looked around nine said: “I told him that people don’t like to be called ‘old’.”
I said I didn’t mind. “Where are your parents?”
“Inside. It was too cold for me.” Then she smiled: “We’re going camping in 3 days and we get to take our two dogs and they’re wild!”
I went inside thinking: Great place to leave your kids. At the exit from the drive through.
The roads entering Minnesota were bumpy for miles. It reminded me of the time I was riding on Route 66 near El Reno and was bounced around on the old Portland cement concrete from the 1930’s. Neither were much fun.
Minnesota and Wisconsin were filled with green agricultural fields, wind farms and sadly, dead deer by the side of the road. In South Dakota and Montana I had seen hundreds of them in fields but none on the road.
Memories of Minnesota and Wisconsin came flooding back. I had lived for two years in Fargo/Moorhead while teaching at Concordia College. Then I spent another four years in Fond du Lac, teaching at another College, Marian. Good times, the best being when my daughter Hannah was born.
I stayed at Welch’s motel in La Crosse, Wisconsin for 39$ plus tax. The reception area had a sculpture and a poem about guardian angels. A few days back I had ridden past a Guardian Angel Catholic Church in Power, Montana. I hope and pray they’re riding with me.
In La Crosse I went to Del’s Bar and the bartender, a woman named Sammy, told me to try a New Glarus Spotted Cow beer. I did and it was delicious. Then I found out that all the New Glarus beers are only available in Wisconsin. Which reminds me, why is it okay for the plural of beer to be beers when the plural of deer isn’t allowed to be deers?
I spent most of the evening listening to a poor young man’s story of trying to find love. He had been living with a woman for years, helped raise her children and the woman suddenly had an aneurysm and died. He was nearly crying as he told me how he had to fight for custody for the children from the father who had abandoned them and how hard it was being a single parent. Then his face transformed and he was smiling as he told me about how, through the internet, he had met a woman from Columbia. They had seen each other a number of times and he had traveled to her country and met her family. And now they were to be married! He was so excited.
Who knows where love is hiding? Whether you have to go looking for it or whether it just shows up at your door. I met my ex-wife, who was from Ireland, while I was walking down the street in Hong Kong, where I was teaching one summer. Love at first sight for me but she took a lot of convincing.
Love comes and goes. It’s a long ride. Ride it safely,
I headed south on Hwy 240 and got to the Badlands where a cute park ranger took my cash. I was about to ask her if there was a Mr. Park Ranger but I’m too old for that old rigmarole. Besides, look at me.
Here’s a photo of one area in the park.
The park has “sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles, and spires blended with the largest undisturbed mixed grass prairie in the United States.” (Wikipedia). The beauty of the layered colors got to me – tan, orange, limestone colored, the immensity of the place, as well as the silence of the wind blowing across the prairie. I saw grazing buffalo, vigilant prairie dogs and wandering bighorn sheep.
Leaving the park I caught up with scenic highway 44, which was scenic and also bumpy, offering what was tantamount to free Heimlich maneuvers every ten yards. I drove back up to I 90 and found it much smoother. I rode it until I needed gas and after crossing the wide beautiful Missouri river I exited at the town of Chamberlain. While there, I went, of course, to McDonalds. While I was having a coffee, I heard a guy playing the flute and walked over to him. He stopped and handed me the flute. He told me he had made it, described its features and pointed to the inlaid crushed turquoise. “That’s what took me the most time. It’s a pentatonic scale in the key of F.” He told me that his grandfather taught him how to make them but that his children didn’t want to learn. I thanked him for letting me see it and that it was beautiful. I could tell he was proud of it. He should be. I drifted back to the table and listened more to the dulcet, warbling tones of his flute. The sound of the Native American flute is so soothing and ethereal.
I had only 136 miles to go to Sioux Falls and a full tank of gas. The speed limit was 80 and I cruised at that speed, forgetting how much gas Big Red drank at high speeds. At about 115 miles I realized I wasn’t going to make it. I cut my speed to 75 and started looking for gas. No Luck. My warning light came on. Then I went down to 70mph and then 65. Still no gas. Finally, after about five more miles I spotted a sign and coasted down the long exit. I managed to get her over to the nearest station without her conking out. I filled her up and then asked the clerk about the bar across the street – Big J’s Roadhouse. She said the food was very good. So Big Red and I moseyed on over and got some fries and a nice Bell’s lager. The waitress kept calling me “sweetheart”. I don’t mind that. In Georgia I get called ‘honey’, ‘darling’, and ‘sugar’. I like it. Last night, the male bartender kept calling me ‘Captain’ in what I assume was a response to my rugged and commanding bearing. Or maybe he was thinking of Captain Crunch?
I had a wonderful breakfast at the 1899 Inn and then rode down to Starbucks for some coffee and to write my blog. I kept looking for Nancy (see yesterday’s blog) but I didn’t spot her anywhere. As I sipped on my coffee and wrote, I noticed the sky was darkening. I checked the radar on my phone and it showed a big storm coming. I looked out the window again and the rain started pouring. Since I had nowhere to go and no time to be there I decided to wait it out. I keep realizing things while I’m on this trip. I was thinking about how I was tempted to say that it was “a bad day”, but where does that idea come from? It means I must have a mental construct of what a good day is and a bad one. Once again, where does that come from? Why do I label one day as good and another as bad? Aren’t all days equally beautiful if you don’t have any expectations? So much stress comes from expectations. We believe that things must be a certain way and get upset when they’re not. There’s certainly something beautiful in watching and feeling a thunderstorm, if we look and just accept things as they are. The temperature began dropping as well. The day before it was in the 90’s and today it had dropped to the low 60’s.
After 2 hours the rain cleared and I thought I’d head out. With it being colder I decided to put on my leather jacket. The only problem was that the jacket was strapped on the bike and the outside of the jacket was soaked. It was as heavy as an anchor. I put it on anyway and then put my rain jacket on top. I didn’t get far before the rain came back, puddling the road and accompanied by a wind that looked, and felt, like it was lost and in a hurry to get somewhere. This resulted in me being blown around on the interstate, and the wind trying to steal my helmet again. What’s so special about my helmet that it’s dead set on yanking it off?
I managed to ride about 98 miles and got off at Wall, South Dakota, home of the famous Wall Drug Store. I decided to find a place there. The lowest price was a Super 8. I hunkered down there, except for a brief spell at Wall Drug and the Badlands Grill and Saloon. In its own way, it was a beautiful day.