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.
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.
3 Days before Leaving; Do You Believe in Fate? Destiny?
In 3 days I’ll hit the road again. I kind of know where I’m going and I kinda don’t. I’m hoping to stop in Lindsborg, Kansas to see an old friend of mine that I hadn’t seen in over twenty years. Lindsborg’s nickname is Little Sweden USA because it was founded by Swedish Immigrants and the language and traditions continue there to this day. It also was also the location of my first college teaching post at Bethany College and I really enjoyed it. My second stop will be in Peoria to visit with a woman Facebook friend that I had met, in person, at the beginning of my trip. Some mysteries need to be cleared up there. When I left Georgia on May 9th I hadn’t planned to stop at either of these places on the way back. That’s the way I think fate/destiny works. But you have to trust it, go with it.
What do you think about fate or destiny? Call it whatever you want to – God’s will, the Tao, the Universe, Synchronicity, Yuanfen? Have things happened in your life that seem as though they were meant to have happened? People you met, maybe married. Schools you went to. Books that came to you at certain times of your life? Events that somehow changed the trajectory of your life?
Were these just coincidences? And are coincidences, as some would say, just God’s way of remaining anonymous.
And where does free will fit into all of this? What does it mean to “follow your heart”? What does it mean to “trust”? To let go? We worry so much about what the future might bring; which path we should take.
Tough questions. Some Christians believe that all will be well if we seek first the Kingdom. Taoist, Buddhist and Stoic suggest “going with the flow” but not in some apathetic, hippy way. The poet Rilke has this advice for us who are struggling with our innermost questions. 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.
Where will I ride? What roads will I take? Will I make it to these destinations or will others suddenly appear and beckon me? And what about you?
The sky was overcast, leaden colored when I started out. It was cool but became decidedly colder. I managed about 53 miles before I stopped and had coffee at Dale’s Family Restaurant in Hot Springs. The temperature on one of those bank signs said: 49 degrees. I hadn’t really prepared that well for riding in such cold temperature. While the newer bikes have heated grips on the handlebars my 2004 Harley Road King (aka Big Red) doesn’t. I have heated gloves which last about an hour. After coffee I was back on the bike, the batteries on the gloves were dead and I was freezing. Nothing to do but keep going. I managed another 31 miles to Custer, pried my grip bent hands off the handlebars and sought more coffee. This time I found an old bank which had been converted into a coffee shop, called, surprisingly, The Bank Coffee House. I had a great Americano coffee and kind people that they were, they let me charge the batteries on my gloves.
Then back on the bike, the sun was out and it was warmer now. About 20 miles down the highway I spotted the Black Hills Miner Brewing Company. The folks back at Old Havana Cigar Bar in Rome Georgia would never forgive me if I didn’t stop. I went into the brewery tap room. Here’s a quote from their website: “In 1876, the Black Hills gold rush was in full swing. Most settlers during this time, including Brewmaster Sandi Vojta’s family, were European immigrants bringing heritage and culture from the Old World. People brought and shared food, wine, ingredients, recipes and of course, beer.
During this time, brewers were making beer for the miners. Train cars would come in and deliver special ingredients that were shipped over from Europe to make beer. Beer was instrumental to the Black Hills mining community and because of this important and informative time, owners Matt Keck and Sandi Vojta decided to pay homage to the early settlers and miners of Black Hills with the name Miner Brewing Company.”
I chatted with the staff especially one young, vivacious, blond-haired young woman who told me her life history, which was interesting. While I was there a man brought in a box of flasks/growlers (64 ounce), which he started unpacking. They had the name and logo of the brewery on it and I bought the first one! I asked for a discount since I was buying the first one. “Sorry”. Name on the wall or a plaque somewhere? “No.” Had to try anyway. While sipping on my Pilsner 02, a man came in and gave his business card to the blond waitress. She blushed and giggled. “That’s the second time this week some guy has asked me to call him.” Bless her heart.
I had them fill my growler with Pilsner, asked for directions to Mount Rushmore, tucked the growler in the saddlebag and hopped back on Big Red. I stopped by the side of the road to take pictures of Mount Rushmore, the sculpted heads of 4 presidents. Someone pulled up behind me, hopped out of the car and said: “Hey look there’s some carvings on the mountain behind Big Red!” (ha ha!). Next, I rode down some beautiful twisting, curving roads through the Black Hills. Signs announced: “Warning big horn sheep crossing”. The Harley rode beautifully leaning into the curves with balance and poise. A good Tao ride. I finally made it into Deadwood, got a place at Cadillac Jacks Casino, showered and walked the half mile into town.
I wanted to go see Number 10, the saloon where Wild Bill Hickok had been killed while playing poker. He was holding a pair of aces and eights, which has come to be known as “the dead man’s hand”. I walked into the rustic old saloon, which had sawdust on the floor, and ambled up to the bar. I slapped a twenty on the counter and said with a sorta mean looking grin: “I’ll have some rotgut whiskey.” The huge bartender just stared at me and crossed his arms. I said: “Okay, um, how about that Boulevard Wheat you have on tap?” He nodded and poured me a glass. He was a tall, huge guy with red hair. I said to him: “Hey, it’s funny, but my motorcycle’s name is Big Red!” He just stared at me, didn’t seem to get the joke and I figured that explaining would probably only get me in more trouble. I will say that the bartender and I got to be better friends as the evening wore on and eventually he even gave me a “buyback”, a drink on the house. Why don’t they start this tradition at Old Havana in Rome! Come on Perry, Kenneth, Cary, Elliot?
I pulled up a stool at the bar. Behind me, high on the wall was, purportedly, the chair Wild Bill was in when he was shot. Remembering my friend Marlin’s advice of not having my back to the door I turned a bit on my stool so I could keep a wary eye on the people coming in. I was just sipping my beer, trying not to cause any more trouble and these two women sat down and started talking with me. They were in town to surprise a woman (niece and friend) who was just turning 21 and was getting married. She was getting married nearby and was in town to celebrate turning 21 (the legal age for drinking in the USA). Apparently, she didn’t know that these two (and others) were waiting at the bar to surprise her.
So we chatted and eventually she came and I got to meet her and her fiancé and the rest of the family, including the grandfather, named Gene! That’s my real name, though I have many aliases. “Dutch” is my road name. I spent about two hours talking with them and it was great. A funny, loving, down to earth family, filled with great warmth and South Dakotan hospitality.
Eventually, I had to leave. I said good night to the bartender, who waved and cracked a smile and I ambled back to the casino/ hotel.
I even spent a little time in the casino on the slot machines. I wanted to win some money for a lady friend who needs it, back in Rome. I pledged that if I won any money I would give it to her. Well, needless to say with those one-armed bandits I didn’t win anything. In fact, now my lady friend owes me ten bucks for trying!