I think we’ve reached the last of the cold mornings. When I took off to ride to my job the other day at 7 am it was 42 degrees (5 degrees Celsius) and when I returned it was 80 degrees (26 Celsius). It’s as if winter hasn’t wanted to let go, that it’s shouting “put up your dukes” to Spring. They fight it out with rain and tornadoes, swollen rivers, blustery winds, and thunderstorms. It’s as if winter has no memory of all the seasons before, despite the shouting blooming all around trying to get its attention. There are the dogwood trees, and red buds, cherry trees, magnolias, and azaleas. How can winter not notice the garlands of purple wisteria draped among the trees? The yellow buttercups in the field with the romping chestnut roan and the leaning shack with the bright red door?
Winter is a slow learner, like me. I ride the same stretch of Interstate 75 for twenty miles to work and keep forgetting the pothole in the right of the middle lane near Resaca. Bam! I always think I’ve probably blown a tire or damaged my rim. Other times, I forget to charge my heated gloves for the morning ride.
I’m excited now and counting down the days (May 12th) until I head off on my cross-country trip to LA. Researching possible places to stop along the way, where I might stay in LA, has my head spinning. I think Big Red (my 2004 Harley Road King), and I will just leave it up to Divine Providence – The Tao. I’ll do some road whispering while I ride. And, thinking of the hot days ahead of me, the heat lines rising off the baking roads in Texas, I’ll probably miss winter.
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 felt really fatigued when I left La Crosse yesterday. Was it the late, last night talking with the man who was marrying the woman from Columbia he met on the Internet? Was it the fact that I had been on the road for 19 days? Was it a sense of interstate induced alienation that I was feeling? Had Divine Providence/ the Tao abandoned me? Regardless, I wasn’t sure which way to go. No inclinations – no funny feelings – no strange notions – no omens. I just felt sure I didn’t want to ride the roads around Chicago. Too bumpy and too chaotic. But where to head? East? South? I rode south just to get away from routes that would lead to Chicago, but I stopped a lot. About every 50 miles. Doughnut. Slice of Pizza. Ice cream. (That ice cream was really good!) When I stopped the last time, I was toying with just heading farther south and trying to get maybe another 100 miles under my belt. But as I relaxed (with that really excellent ice cream!) I realized that my problem was that I was not trusting the ride, the road, Divine Providence. And I needed to relax, let go and just trust. To not push the river. I booked a room at a nearby motel. And like other divinely inspired travelers I washed clothes, watched TV and went to sleep.
I 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.
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.
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?
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.
I was filled with sadness heading out this morning. My eyes were burning. I didn’t want to say goodbye to my kids, Colin and Hannah, and Hannah’s husband Bill. They live so far away. I’d already been feeling sad what with the recent bomb in Manchester and the sudden death of a friend back home. But it’s time to leave.
This is the part of my journey that I’m leaving up to divine providence, so I have no destination in mind. I hope to be guided in my choice of direction by clear omens, hunches and uncertain feelings of certainty. However, it’s one thing to trust that the old signs and portents will appear and it’s another to find oneself stuck at an intersection in the middle of Anywhere, USA and having no clear inclination, or even funny feeling as to which way to go.
In one of my novels, Hope Bats Last, I address just such a possibility and come up with this guidance for the protagonist:
Always head away from bad weather, unless some omen tells me otherwise. When I don’t know which way to go, go left and then right the next time, and then left… If I must choose between two towns and can’t, choose the one that starts with the earliest letter in the alphabet. Trust the journey.
I’ve added a few since:
Don’t book any motels in advance because you don’t know where you’re going.
When you have a choice of motels and feel no preference, choose the one with a number in its name. If there’s more that one, pick the motel with the highest number. If there are no numbers pick the one whose name comes first alphabetically.
Talk to anyone who wants to talk with you for as long as they want to talk.
Don’t avoid homeless people; they could be Elijah the prophet in disguise.
If someone mentions a place I should visit, I must go there.
If I have a funny feeling about something, I should listen to it.
What can go wrong?
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.
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.
I’m back safely in Rome, Georgia again. I did over 1100 miles on the bike and paid my usual financial offerings to the altars at the Harley dealers. But back to where I left off in the previous entry. Well first of all, I did get down to the Hog’s Breath Saloon in Destin the other night as I had hoped. The beer, a local lager, was delicious, the music great and I watched some very “happy” women dancing. As we say in the south: It was a hoot! The next day I drove 2 hours nursing poor, leaking, Big Red to Dothan to the Harley dealer because they had the part that I needed to fix the bike. I had arranged again to meet my friend Kelly there. One of the seductions with “Trusting your Journey” is thinking that your journey is always about you. Don’t flatter yourself! Sometimes your journey is intended for others. In this case because my friend was meeting me at the Harley dealer she ended up running into an old friend she hadn’t seen in quite a while and it enabled them to have a bit of “closure” in their relationship. So maybe that’s what this was all about? Or it could be about me getting to see my friend again and having more oysters, this time at Dothan’s Hunt’s Oyster Bar.
Divine providence works in mysterious ways. Frankly, I don’t have a clue. All I’ve been able to figure out with this life is that you try and do your best, treat everyone you meet, without exception, with respect and lovingkindness and just trust that things will work out for the best. As I mentioned in the previous blog, you have to “surrender your mind and ego to the realm of “unknowingness”. I hate that. Sometimes you get motorcycle breakdowns, sometimes you help other friends to reunite and sometimes, if you’re lucky, you get oysters.