Day Seventeen: Chillicothe, Missouri to Springfield, Missouri – 239 Miles Plus 89 Miles Trying to Get Over a Flooded River; The Whims of Divine Providence.

Yesterday, the Weather Channel showed a wall of rain and thunderstorms blocking my way east. No problem, I thought, I’ll just head south. Hwy 65 south looked good, so I headed out on it from Chillicothe. I managed about 20 miles before there was a barricade and a sign saying: road closed due to flooding. The Missouri River had overflowed its banks. I checked my map and figured there was another road across to the east. Took that road for 10 miles until I saw the road closed ahead sign. I checked my map. If I went back to where I had just been and headed west, I could catch another route across the river. I stopped at a McDonalds and took a break. When I was leaving an older woman offered suggestions as to how I could get across. It involved going to the town square and taking highway E, then to make a left on W and a right on K – she had already lost me. Then she added the fateful, dooming words: “You can’t miss it.” I’m guaranteed to not find something when anyone says those words to me. But I tried it anyway. This is what I ran into.

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Every time I started to get frustrated, I remembered that I had turned my route over to Divine Providence and so maybe I was supposed to go this way. True or not, it calmed me down and helped me just enjoy the journey without expectations.

Finally, I headed north and then west and found my road which I took across the swollen Missouri. I set my sights on Springfield, Missouri where I spent the evening catching up on the sports news and contemplating the whims of Divine Providence.

Day Ten: Heading Thataway; Abandonment to Divine Providence; Hwy 395 California; Sierra Nevada Mountains; Ask Rocinante; Bishop, Ca. 267 miles.

Since this is my fourth round trip to California and back to Georgia over the years I’ve hit all the roads I’ve wanted to – mainly the blue highways. I love the Pacific Coast Highway, but I have a soft spot for US. Hwy 395, mainly because of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  Here’s a picture of what you can see for mile after mile. Takes my breath away.

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Mount Whitney, at 14,494 feet (1448 meters) is the highest in the lower 48 states, but there are also 12 other peaks over 14,000 feet along this road.  I just glance at the mountains as I ride and can’t help but smile. I’ve written about my journeys on this road in earlier blogs. If the mountains are too high for you, you can head east over to Death Valley and Badwater Basin, where it sits at 282 ft/ 86 m below sea level.

I am leaving my direction and roads up to Divine Providence, or God or the Tao, whatever term you want to use. I’ve done this before and you can read about it in previous blogs. Weird to set off in the morning and not know where you’re going. You rely on hunches, words from people you run into, various signs and portents. Sometimes I just ask Big Red, my Harley, which way I should go. I know this sounds a bit quixotic but what the hell. I figure its kind of like what Don Quixote did when he asked his horse Rocinante:

He now came to a road branching in four directions, and immediately he was reminded of those cross-roads where knights-errant used to stop to consider which road they should take. In imitation of them he halted for a while, and after having deeply considered it, he gave Rocinante his head, submitting his own will to that of his hack…

 

Day Four: Elk City, Oklahoma to Tucumcari, New Mexico (286 miles – 1296 trip total); Route 66; No Baby Yet; Lovingkindness, Three Dogs; Amarillo.

The day started out windy, with gusts striking up from the southwest. I can handle rain and heat, I’m not great with cold, but I hate random wind gusts and crosswinds; the kind that blow you across a lane of highway and then blow you back. Winds that try to yank your helmet off.

The countryside changed too as Big Red and I slowly moved from verdant crop fields to scrub brush, grazing cattle, and rolling prairies, with distant mesas on the horizon.  We moved from Oklahoma to the Texas Panhandle and into Amarillo. The interstate crosses over a huge area of freight trains. And, if you want you can stop at the Big Texan Steak Ranch, where if you can eat a 72 ounce steak in one hour it’s free. Yeah, good luck with that. Leaving Amarillo on I-40 you pass the Cadillac Ranch where 10 caddies are half- buried, nose down into the ground. Some call it art. They were buried there in 1974 and you can walk out to them from the highway. Next, were the enormous stockyards. The winds died down and the speed limit picked up to 75 mph.

I found a McDonalds and stopped. McDonalds get a bad rap but I have found them everywhere to be a gathering area for locals who meet regularly, sip their coffee at an unhurried pace, and share stories. They are a place of fellowship and support. The regulars know all the staff and they, in turn, look after them. I spoke with a harried cashier and asked her: “How are you doing today?” She looked at me, rolled her eyes and said: “I got a new dog yesterday. Kept me up all night. I wasn’t supposed to work today but they called me in and I am so tired. My brain is not functioning. You want any cream and sweetener with that coffee?”

Later, I ran into a woman with a dog who was hovering around a truck stop. She looked like she was trying to catch a ride. I found myself closing down emotionally, limiting my conversation. Why? What was I afraid of? She wasn’t going to ask me for a ride. If she wanted money I was happy to give her some. I wasn’t showing lovingkindness to strangers and I knew it. “Ever ride in the mountains?” She asked. “Some.” I replied. She continued. “I’m from the mountains of North Carolina. Ever hear of Tail of the Dragon?” I stared at her and noticed how straight and white her teeth were, but her trouser legs were stained. “A few times. It’s a very challenging ride.” (318 curves in 11 miles). She smiled. “Last time I was up in those mountains at home, they were so beautiful, I cried.” Then she turned away to forage in her pack for something. I cranked the bike up and when she looked up I wished her safe travels.

Cruising at 75 mph really sucked the gas out of my tank and twice I almost ran out. For a number of miles I shifted down to 60 and took it easy. I coasted into one gas station and filled Big Red up with 5.2 gallons of gas – she holds 5.

Eventually, I made it to Tucumcari, and found a motel. Later I ate supper at Del’s restaurant. Waiting at the cash register to pay my bill I saw these two older ladies (okay- a few years older than me.) both wearing the same red shirts. One was really cute. They had matching tee shirts they were buying that said Route 66. “Those are nice colors.” I said. The cute one turned toward me and said: “We’ve been friends ever since we were children. Across the street from each other. We’re traveling together up to Yellowstone and then going to Minnesota for my granddaughter’s graduation. Then we’re heading back to Florida.” She smiled and then saddened. “It’s been rough since Packie died.” She paused. “He was my dog.” I smiled tightly and nodded and then as they were leaving I said: “I expect to see both of you wearing those shirts next time I see y’all.” They giggled, wished me a safe trip and scrambled out. Another man jumped ahead of me and paid and when I left the two women were waiting in their mini van for me, smiled and yelled across the parking lot. I waved. They took off while I got ready to ride. They rode past the restaurant, yelled, waved and honked. I headed out, back to the motel.

 

Day 23: Knoxville, Tennessee; Leak Fixed; Smokey Mountains; Thai food.

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.

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 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 2: Little Rock, Arkansas to Amarillo, Texas: 610 miles: Beautiful Ride

Whate’er its mission, the soft breeze can come
To none more grateful than to me; escaped
From the vast city, where I long had pined
A discontented sojourner: now free…
Wordworth

Writing in Tucumcari, New Mexico, now and reflecting on Day 2. My first stop yesterday was at the Harley Dealer in Toad Suck, Arkansas. Just had to buy a tee shirt with the name on it! There was a beautiful, misty blue sky in the morning. Black eyed susans and glossy golden buttercups on the roadside, along with blue and purple flowers. There were blooming mimosa’s with their pink ballerina flowers. Rivers were full and high, lowlands flooded. I saw a 35 mph sign up to its neck in brown water. Folks out on their boat fishing.
There were so many drivers passing me or crossing into my lane talking on the phone or texting. Don’t do this folks. It’s really dangerous and you can wait. Stay in the present. Enjoy where you are. Cultivate silence instead.
Blaise Pascal said in 1654:
All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.
Consider this from PRI
A new study found people are terrible at sitting alone with their thoughts. How about you?
Science Friday
July 19, 2014 · 5:00 PM EDT
By Adam Wernick
“A recent study in the journal Science found that many people choose to self-administer an electrical shock rather than sit quietly in a room alone with their thoughts. It was conducted by
Erin Westgate, a PhD student in psychology at the University of Virginia,
The researchers brought people into their lab and told them they were going to be asked to sit alone in an empty room for ten to twenty minutes. They took everything away from them — cell phones, watches, iPods, whatever. Next, they showed the participants some random pictures. Finally, they pointed out a nearby button, which, when pressed, would give them an electrical shock.
Westgate says they had each participant press the button, “just for practice,” and then asked them how unpleasant it was and whether they’d pay money not to be shocked again. The participants said the shock was unpleasant and, yes, they would pay money to avoid being shocked again.
The researchers then asked the test subjects to sit and entertain themselves with their own thoughts for ten to twenty minutes. There were only two rules: they weren’t allowed to get out of the chair and they couldn’t fall asleep. They encouraged the participants to enjoy themselves with pleasant thoughts. And oh, yes: if you’d like to receive an electric shock again, go ahead and press the button.
Westgate says the research team had debated this aspect of the study. It was ridiculous, some thought, to think that people would choose to shock themselves. They were astounded by the results.
“They’d already told us they didn’t like the shock. They’d already told us they’d pay not to receive a shock again,” says Westgate, with bemusement. “So we weren’t really expecting that people would do that. But at the end of the study, we found that about 70 percent of the men and 25 percent of the women chose to shock themselves during that twelve minutes, instead of just sitting there and entertaining themselves with their thoughts.”
“Now the big question is, ‘Why would someone do this?’” she says. “Why is it so hard to entertain ourselves with our thoughts that we’re willing to turn to almost anything, it seems, to avoid it?””
So how about you?
Not everyone riding a motorcycle rides in silence. We’ve heard the loud stereos booming. Some can use their phones or talk to their passengers through a system in their helmets. I just prefer the silence.
It was a beautiful, care free ride until I hit Oklahoma City when I-40 went from three lanes to one. Road construction, though there was no one around constructing the road. So it sat deconstructed. Stop and go traffic. For a biker that means: pull the clutch and shift into first, drive a few yards, shift into neutral and coast until you get to the stopped car in front of you. Put your foot down and wait. Repeat and repeat and repeat. The experience is even more enhanced by having a hot engine between your legs. Further down two other lanes from other highways merged into ours, slowing us even more.
At dusk I finally made it to Amarillo but couldn’t find my motel. It took me about 15 minutes of circling around, hitting a deep pothole and worrying I’d busted the tire, until I found the place. Cheap but nice enough. $36 including tax. I gave thanks for having enjoyed and survived the ride. I climbed into the bed and enjoyed the silence. And fell asleep.

Dead Battery, Running Out of Gas (petrol), Getting Soaked Equals: Practicing for My Cross-Country Trip

It’s been a tough month, riding the 90-mile round trip to work, on Big Red, my 2004 Harley Road King Classic. The bike wasn’t the problem though, it was me. If you’ve read some of my stories from the last few years you’ll know that I’m one biker who makes a lot of mistakes. It’s not unique to my motorcycling either because I make a lot of mistakes in pretty much every area of my life. At least I’m consistent. So, it came as no real surprise to me when I left my lights on and had to get a couple of guys to push me, which didn’t work and then I had to get a car to jump me off. I ran out of gas two times, and yes, Big Red does have a warning light, and I was watching it, but she died on me. Each time though I managed to shake the bike left and right enough to get some gas flowing so I could ride and then coast into the gas stations.  Running out of gas on the Trans-Canada Highway last summer should have taught me a lesson, but I’m a slow learner. I also forgot to bring my rain trousers and so I got soaked a few times. I’ve decided to just call it all” “Practicing for my Trip”.  The only thing I haven’t practiced is getting lost, but then I don’t really need any practice with that. I’m an expert. This year I’m heading to California for my daughter’s graduation from university. When I leave California, I’m going to leave my next destinations up to Divine Providence, which has at least one thing going for it: you can’t get lost if you don’t know where you’re heading. I’ve gotten the bike all spruced up in preparation. She’s just shy of having 92,000 miles on her so she needs tender loving care. I got all the oils in the bike changed, two brand spanking new whitewalls and I replaced my windscreen, so she’s ready to go.

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And hula girl is properly installed. Doesn’t she look good for a 13 year old bike!
I’ve been practicing too. I’ve been eating granola bars and beef sticks and dining at some sketchy restaurants. I also bought a new Saddlemen S3500 Deluxe sissy bar bag to hold all my belongings and a Nikon Coolpix P900 camera so I can get good photos of the graduation and the trip. To top it off I bought 10 nice Acid Kuba Kuba cigars to put in my travel humidor for the trip. I like to smoke a good cigar when I’ve achieved something or when Big Red’s broken down and I need to Zen out and think.

We head out on May 12th. Last year we rode from Georgia to Alaska and then down the west coast along the Pacific Coast Highway to Los Angeles. After that we headed home. You can read my previous blog entries if you want to see how that trip shaped up. As Hazel the maid from TV used to say: “It was a real doozy.”

This year, after California, I don’t know where I’ll end up. When you abandon yourself to Divine Providence and Fate you can’t pick and choose your destinations. So, stay tuned.