Day 24 Continued; Maggie Valley, North Carolina; Nearly Dropped the Bike; Boojum Brewery; Gratitude

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.

Day 24 Part One: Knoxville to Maggie Valley, N.C.; It Should Have Been an Easy Ride; Dale; Gratitude; Angels.

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.

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.

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 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 7: Following Signs, Omens and Portents; A Practical Guide for the Clueless.

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?

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.

Cross Country Motorcycle Trip Four! Abandonment to Divine Providence.

On May 12, the Lord willing and the Creek don’t rise, Big Red, my 2004 Harley Road King Classic, and I’ll be heading out on another cross country trip. My first primary destination will be Los Angeles where I’ll be attending my daughter’s college graduation. After that, all bets are off.

In my motorcycle novel, Hope Bats Last, the protagonist talks about abandoning himself to fate, to divine providence and seeing where he ends up. So when I leave LA, instead of having a route planned I’m going to try and listen to the signs and portents and discern my direction. Signs might come through a suggestion of a passerby at a convenience store, a dream, a detour, maybe just a feeling that I should take that road. No, not that road, that road.

You can put whatever name you want on where that mysterious guidance comes from. Is it Fate? Destiny? The Universe speaking? Is it the Tao? Wu wei? Is it the Zen Buddhist idea of living in the present? Is it Hegel’s the infinite unfolding of itself? Or is it God (as you may believe)?

The best description I ever heard of this process comes from Jean-Pierre de Caussade’s, an eighteenth century French Jesuit priest and writer, who folks believe wrote the book, Abandonment to Divine Providence.

“In the state of abandonment the only rule is the duty of the present moment. In this the soul is light as a feather, liquid as water, simple as a child, active as a ball in receiving and following all the inspirations of grace. Such souls have no more consistence and rigidity than molten metal. As this takes any form according to the mould into which it is poured, so these souls are pliant and easily receptive of any form that God chooses to give them. In a word, their disposition resembles the atmosphere, which is affected by every breeze; or water, which flows into any shaped vessel exactly filling every crevice. They are before God like a perfectly woven fabric with a clear surface; and neither think, nor seek to know what God will be pleased to trace thereon, because they have confidence in Him, they abandon themselves to Him, and, entirely absorbed by their duty, they think not of themselves, nor of what may be necessary for them, nor of how to obtain it.”

It’s kind of a mixture of Kerouac’s Dharma Bums and mystical Christianity, but on a motorcycle.

I’ll keep you posted.

Day 35: Peoria to Paducah; 315 miles; Total Miles So Far: 8763 (14, 102 km); Follow Your Dreams.

I left Peoria around 11 this morning. So hard to say goodbye to my great friend Kathy who had made the days there so wonderful. Last night we went to the Peoria Brewing Company, which was great fun. We tried a few of their beers, had some pizza and lost badly in the Hawaiian Trivia Night Quiz. (See photo). Yesterday I also had to visit the Harley deal in Peoria. Routine maintenance for the most part. Big Red needed a new back tire and, apparently, the rear brake pads needed to be replaced. $386, before tax, on the tire. And $73.70 for the brake job. That’s the way things roll with a Harley. I had planned in my budget around $1000 in repairs for the trip and so far we’re under that at around $900 – but that’s for 8000 miles, so I’m happy with that. (Knock on wood).

I hope to make it back to Rome, Georgia tomorrow. My phone tells me I have about 340 miles to go. That will put me over 9000 miles for this trip. Wow. I wasn’t sure I could do it, old man and all, and with all the medical problems I have. Don’t ever talk yourself out of your dreams! One step, one day, at a time. You can do it. WP_20160629_19_19_01_Pro