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.
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 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.
I’ll keep this short and sweet. Leaving yesterday from Barstow, I started out by having to fix the bike’s windscreen which had blown loose in the heavy winds. Riding, the winds were rough but manageable. I did about 35 miles before stopping at Victorville, California. It was in this city four years ago that the bike broke down, beginning the saga of the stuck shifter shaft and the leaking shifter shaft seal. (I kid you not! Try and say that 3 times really fast.) El Jefe and I had to put up overnight to have the bike repaired.
This time I stopped to get coffee at Starbucks and then did a quick walk through of the Harley shop.
Leaving, the sky was cerulean and I could see the San Bernardino mountains with low lying wispy clouds at its base, and snow at its crest. About 5 minutes later the temperature had dropped, it was cold, and I was riding through the clouds going over the summit at around 5000 feet. I could hardly see anything, it was so thick.
Then I hit the labyrinth of interstates and freeways that is LA. Nightmare. Not much sense using the heavy occupancy lane if a guy gets on your tail doing 80 mph. I kept consulting my hand- written notes (attached to a small see through bag on my gas tank) and somehow managed to find the routes to my son’s apartment in El Segundo. Wow, was I happy to see him, and my daughter who stopped by later! I needed those hugs! Thank God.
Now, I’ll be here in California for a while and will probably take a break from writing in the blog until I have a few more adventures to retell. Thanks for riding along with me. Stay tuned.