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?

Day 12: Butte, Montana to Glacier National Park, Montana -245 miles; Exhausted; Divine Providence; Wanna Hear a Strange Story?

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.

Day 11: Butte, Montana -254 miles; Trip Miles – 3947; A River Runs Throw It; Maloney’s Bar; The Irish in Butte.

“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.

Day 11: Pocatello to Dubois, Idaho – 100 miles (so far); Happy Birthday Walker Percy; Man with a Sign on the Corner; Brian; Blessings.

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.

Day 10, Part One: Total Trip Miles – 3697; Bike Mileage – 96,158 Miles; Elko to Pocatello, Idaho – 275 miles; Oil Change at Gold Dust Harley; Beautiful Blue Skies; Gratitude.

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.

Day 9 Continued: Winnemucca to Elko, Nevada – 318 miles; 2004 Road King Classic; Good Time Charlies.

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
Wide whitewalls
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.

Day 9: Winnemucca, Nevada; Run-A-Mucca Motorcycle Rally; Dust Devils; Cloud Shadows; Thinking Time.

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?