Day 22: Louisville to Knoxville, Tennessee – 250 miles; Bike’s Leaking; Blue Highways Again; Other Bikers; Please No More Advice; Tips for Healthy Eating on the Road; Old Friends.

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!

Days 20-21: Janesville, Wisconsin to Louisville, Kentucky; 406 Miles; Blue Highways; Riding with Rilke; Trusting the Road.

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.

Day 19: 6095 Trip Miles; La Crosse, Wisconsin to Janesville; Interstate Induced Anomie; Fatigue; Where is Divine Providence/the Tao Hiding?; Chicago Road Phobia; Trusting the Ride.

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.

Day 18: Sioux Falls to La Crosse, Wisconsin; Old Man; Kids; Memories; New Glarus Beer; Beers- Deers?; Looking for Love; 310 miles.

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,

Day 17: Wall, South Dakota to Sioux Falls; Badlands; Harley Has 98,000 Miles on Her; Free Heimlich Maneuvers; Native American Flute played at McDonalds; Nearly Out of Gas.

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?

Day 16: Thunder, Lightning, Rain, Gusty Winds; 98 miles; Deadwood to Wall, South Dakota.

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.

Day 15: Billings, Montana to Deadwood; Over 5000 Trip Miles; Searching for Omens; Aces and Eights; Dropped Bike – Igor to the Rescue; My Evening on the Bench with Nancy, a Person Who is Homeless.

When I woke up yesterday I wasn’t exactly sure where I was heading. Then I remembered that when I was in Mahoneys Irish Bar in Butte they had a strange framed picture on the wall. It contained five playing cards, a hole card (not turned over) a pair of Aces and a pair of Eights – known as the Dead Man’s Hand. You probably have heard the story but it’s the hand Wild Bill Hickok was holding when he was shot in the back in the Number 10 Saloon in Deadwood, South Dakota. So, I thought, why not go to Deadwood?
As you can expect, I didn’t take the straightest route here but I arrived, almost safely, at my lodging, which was a magnificent bed and breakfast called the 1899 Inn. I say ‘almost safely’ because the house was on a hill and despite successfully parking the bike it fell over when I was taking my luggage off. Poor Big Red~! It was painful just looking at her. Now, remember that Big Red weighs over 700 pounds. Despite trying, and I have managed it before but not at this angle, she would hardly budge. I looked around. Don’t worry, someone will come along to help, I said to myself. I was getting ready to walk into the inn when a young woman came out and said: “You’re not the first one and you won’t be the last.” She introduced herself as the proprietor of the Inn. “I’ve got someone coming to help.”
A few moments later a really strong looking blond haired young man came across the street. “This is Igor.” She said. “He’s from Russia.” Igor looked at the bike, bending his head to examine the bike from different angles. I was just about to start the “how bout you grab her here, and I’ll grab her there and we’ll…” when he leaned over and lifted her back onto her kick stand, without any help from me. Thank you Igor! I started Big Red up, angled her better and parked her again. And don’t you worry she was just fine. Her safety bars protected her.
Later, I walked the half mile down to Deadwood and after looking at all the bars, stores and casinos, I settled on revisiting Number 10. I say ‘revisiting’ because I was here in Deadwood once before, three years ago. See:
The sawdust was on the floor as I remembered it and up near the ceiling was the chair Wild Bill was in when he was shot. I had a pint of Oskar Blues Mama’s Little Yella Pils and watched what was happening. The band was setting up and I decided to call my daughter for a chat. While I was talking to her an older (about 80 years old), somewhat bedraggled, woman walked in and looked around. I told my daughter about her and said: “I’ll probably end up talking with her.”
The music started, the woman disappeared and some woman named Wendy asked me to dance. It was “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” so how could I resist? After a while, I went outside and sat on a bench and watched the people going by. A few minutes later Nancy, the older woman, came and sat next to me and we began to talk. And talk. For over an hour. It was one of the most rewarding conversations I’ve had on this trip. I learned all about her life. No kids, two marriages, came from Winston Salem, NC. Liked living here, traveling between Spearfish and Deadwood. (About 15 miles). People were so nice to her. Always treated her well. She said she didn’t drink or smoke. She told me about how she felt about God, that He would take care of her. “Always has. No sense worrying. Something always turns up. Life is good.” I agreed. I found out she wrote poems and a guy who recognized her sat with us for a few minutes and read one she’d sent him. Better than anything I could write. We talked more and she asked could she say a prayer for me. She didn’t have to ask twice. I’m a boy that always appreciates somebody praying over me. I need all the help I can get. God knows it!
It was getting close to midnight and I had to go and walk up that big hill to the inn. That’s if I could find it 9both the hill and the Inn!). We said goodbye and I thanked her for talking with me. She thanked me. I asked her where she was going to sleep and she said: “Right on this bench. The bar’s open till 3am. They’ll look after me. Everybody is so nice.”
This is where I write one of those ‘this just goes to show you’ lines. How about the old standby ‘you can’t always judge a book by its cover’? Sometimes you just have to take a chance and talk to someone who looks a little strange. After all, Nancy did. And I’m thankful.

Day 14 Continued; Valier, Montana; Thanks for the 74 views that I got yesterday on my blog; If You Don’t Know Where You’re Going, How Can You Ever be Lost? Divine Providence Comes to me on the Road.

I left off writing yesterday after some man I met at a McDonalds suggested I go to Valier, Montana. It was only 25 minutes away (from the direction I was heading.). I had to go.
I got to the one gas station in town and asked the bubbly man behind the counter what there was to see in Valier.
“Depends what you’re looking for.”
“I heard there’s a nice lake.” And so he gave me directions to Lake Frances. I went to the lake, partly down a gravel road with a sign announcing: Bear Country. I parked at the point and watched a woman backing a trailer with a boat in it into the water. On another small boat a man with a hat kept yanking the rope on an engine trying to start it. Then it would die out and he’d start again. A cacophony of bird cries came from a small island. That was about it. No bears. So much for that sign.
I got back on the bike and rode to Great Falls and stopped at a Harley dealer to buy a T shirt. Then down the road a ways to Starbucks. A woman sat down and a table across from mine. She was a chubby woman with short hair, flat comfortable shoes and rumpled clothes. I could see she had legal papers that looked like a court order. Yellow sticky notes fell out of a file and she had a yellow legal pad with writing on it. She was mumbling occasionally to herself. Had to be a social worker. If I could see her car I could confirm it.
The thing about having no destination makes certain words irrelevant. How can you make a wrong turn? How can you be lost? How can you be late? Why rush? There’s no such thing as making up for lost time. How can you really make a detour? Makes you think about the expectations and demands we put on ourselves. I mean, I know we have to work, have family obligations and all that but what about the other times when we feel we have to be so busy? Setting goals, racing around. Why do we devalue certain moments? Hurrying down the road to what we think will be a better moment and feeling that we just have to quickly get through this one. Like the desert is boring? All moments are precious. Turn off the radio, the TV and cd’s, put down the phone, find and invest yourself in the beauty of each moment. It’s not coming back.
Thanks to all of you that are reading this blog! I had 74 views yesterday.
By the way, Divine Providence, in my humble understanding, is only allowed to come to me in the moment, on the road. Thank you for the suggestions to go here and there. If I did all of them I wouldn’t get anywhere. But maybe that’s the point.

Some photos from Glacier National.

Day 14: Billings, Montana; Tried to Give Divine Providence the Day off; You Know Where You Ought to Go?

I planned a route towards Billings. I wrote the highway numbers on a yellow sticky sheet that I keep in the see-through bag on my gas tank. This time I would follow directions. Maybe give Divine Providence the day off. Well, I went about 20 miles and saw a road to the left and instead of going the way I had planned, I thought: That road looks interesting and so I went that way.
It turned out to be a great choice and I got to see the huge landscape of the snowy mountains in my side mirrors.
I stopped at McDonald’s in Cutbank, “Where the Rockies meet the Plains”. Going inside I found the usual group of retired people who always seem to congregate at this fast food places. Cheap food, senior coffee and conversations with people your age. It’s great. I’m looking forward to it. It cuts down on the feelings of social isolation. I overhear them talking about their medical problems – strokes and heart attacks, and laughing and joking. One calls me aside and talks to me about his years racing motocross all over the country and Canada. He talked about his wrecks and his injuries – how he broke his back twice, has had surgery on his shoulders -and can’t hold his bike up anymore. (It weighs 700 lbs, like mine.) He told me about his victories. We chatted for a while and my food came and I went to sit in the back.
A few minutes later a man came in, dark tanned skin, black hair, carrying a bag. I smiled and said hello and he asked me for a few bucks to get a hamburger. One of the principles of this trip is to give money to anyone who asks so I gave him some cash. He said “thanks’ and asked if he could sit down. I welcomed him to. And then I heard his story and here are the bits I can remember…
His wife of 22 years had a stroke and was put into the hospital. His son told him he had to pull the plug on her. He did, but he felt like he had killed her. He went and talked to his priest who told him that he had released her from suffering, but he still felt guilty sometimes and had dreams about her. He said he owned a cabin, next to a stream with trout. His grandfather told him that the end of the world was coming and technology would fail and people would try and take things from him. He said he was not worried. He had been in the Army and had lots of weapons, rifles, ammunition, grenades, C4. Besides, he said, he believed that if you treat people with respect they will respond that way. I treat people with respect.He said. You do too. I asked you and you gave to me. You will be rewarded 10 times. Then he talked about being on Highway 66 and sleeping out and that it was a ghost town. When he left he said he spread tobacco on the ground. He explained that Indians believed that if you spread tobacco on the ground it will keep the devil from the restless spirits. Where are you heading? He asked.
I said Billings and then I thought to myself: Please, please don’t suggest I go somewhere!
“You know where you ought to go?” He said.
I rubbed my head. “No.”
“Valier, it’s just down the road past the airport. Gotta nice lake. Lot’s of bikers go there.”
We talked longer and then he thanked me, wished me a safe ride and left.
What could I do but turn around and drive to Valier, Montana?
Divine Providence never takes a day off.
That trip, and the rest of the day, I’ll have to report on tomorrow. I’m too tired.
Good night.

Day 13: Took it Easy; Rough Roads; Glaciers and Snow Covered Mountains; Divine Providence.

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?