Conversations Worth Having

The awesome music fest I attended in the Ozarks lead to me meeting many cool people. There were many people with interesting stories to tell. One story that my mind keeps going back to this morning is the story of Tina.

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Before I even met Tina I had observed her. I had saw her play the guitar real well at the start of my first evening in the Ozarks. She was rather lithe, and when I saw her from a distance I thought she was a young woman. I got the impression that she had of a lot of energy, and she walked with an air of confidence. She wore a jean jacket the same color blue as her jeans, and she had on a baseball cap on, which obscured her face in the dimming dawn light.

When I was introduced to her I got to see I was wrong about her age. As I shook her hand I saw that she had the attractive weathered face of a woman whose hay day was in 1970’s. Once close up I could feel the confidence she exuded. I was introduced to her and another woman by my my friend Toni.

Tina had jumped up from her spot, where she was seated on the ground, when I reached to shake her hand. I had to ask her name twice because I hadn’t heard it correctly the first time. Toni announced that I was traveling around the country, and Tina jumped in with a grin, “I did that,” she jutted out the thumb on her right hand and said “with my thumb.”

Tina was one of the first people to volunteer their tale of adventure and I was so excited to hear it. The excitement went beyond the mere adventure, it extended to my interest in her as a female.

Let me tell you Tina’s story.

Tina had been living in New Orleans before she took off (or that’s what I heard, she told me she had lived in a few different places). She felt the need to find something else when she was in her late twenties. With twenty dollars in her pocket she decided to stick out her thumb by the edge of the road and travel the U.S. by herself. She was picked up by truckers mostly. She carried a bed roll and slept where she could. She told me that she took off with twenty dollars in hr pocket and ended the trip with the same bill. I asked what she did for food and she told me that she ate a lot of truck stop food, because the truckers who picked her up fed her. Without prompting she told me that when sitting in the cab of the truck she would bring up the words sister, and aunt, and mother, “keeping it family friendly” she told me.

Tina told me that the first time she realized that the world just is and is nothing more came the first night she had to sleep on the road. A trucker had picked her up, and when he dropped her off it was late in the evening. He had dropped Tina off on the edge of the road and she was exhausted. It was dark, so Tina just walked off the road, beyond the ditch and into a group of trees. She laid out her bedroll and went to sleep. Tina wasn’t without fear when she did this. She was very aware that she was near the road and that anyone could walk past and see her. She wasn’t fearless, she was just tired. She said she woke up in the morning in one piece, laying exactly where she had laid the night before, and something in her perceptions had changed. She got up, picked up her bedroll, and went about her adventure with the knowledge that the world is what it is. At this point she asked how I was traveling and I told her about the motorcycle, the camping and the couch surfing.

She responded to that, “when I took off I thought, it feels like, absolute freedom. Independence on the open road you know, but that isn’t how it is. Sure when I’m standing with my thumb out I’m the one in control, but the moment I was in the cab of that vehicle I had given up my control to something higher, and I was just along for the ride. Now on a motorcycle, on a motorcycle that’s different. ” She was right.

I told her about my first night camping. The false bravado I had put out to the external world, but how on the inside I had experienced that first needle of terror when the wind rustled a leaf right outside my tent. I told her about the kindness of strangers, and how at that very moment my bike was sitting in Toni’s garage, in need of work, while I was at the festival. Tina nodded. She admitted it was the same, but not the same.

“I have been thinking of it as a trustfall with the universe,” I told her. A big grin turned the corners of her mouth. In the silence that followed I decided to ask her the question that her gender brought to mind. I told her about everyone questioning my solo journey. I told her that her comments about keeping discussions with strangers, especially men, as family friendly as a possible was spot on. I told her I knew that I would have to interact with men and women differently when I took off because I wasn’t naive, but still, “is that right? I mean, from a feminist standpoint it just makes a person want to get pissed off. It makes me feel like punching every sterotype in the face.”

Tina gave me her big grin again, and then her face took on a serious expression. She sort of straightened up, and I saw the young twinkle in her eye change a tiny bit. “What finally changed me, and the way I viewed it, was the moment I realized that the cat was what it was and I couldn’t, and wouldn’t want to, change it, and the same with the dog. The dog is what it is, and the way the cat and dog interact will always be, that is something we,” she said we while waving her finger at me and then herself, “cannot change no matter how much we want to. You see when I was doing this there were women who were setting up communes and living away from society with the sole idea that they hated men. Some of them they even hated women like me who didn’t hate men.” She paused for a brief second and tilted her head a little bit as though she were trying to recapture a thought. She started again with a bit more certainty in her voice,  “I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to figure out how not to do that. You know, realizing that people are just people, and then just changing the conversation. It’s easier. So, that’s what I did.”

I nodded my head and told her that was exactly it. Her grin came back, and so did mine.

I haven’t talked about gender on this blog all that much (or at least not as much as I think about it), but I have come to conclude that it has played a large role in the adventure. Well, not relly gender per say, but appearance and the stereotypes that come with. I tryed to toss the topic of gender out of my bag as I took off on Little Wing. I didn’t want the discussion of my gender to weigh down my commitments, I just wanted it left behind in one of the many boxes of stuff I left in Minnesota. But no matter what I did, or where I went, the discussion was there. It was like Dad always told me, “no matter where you go there you are,” and he was right. No matter where I go my physical makeup and superficial appearance make the topic of being a female a discussion point. Because it is a constant topic it has been a constant on my mind, but I have been unsure how to talk about it.

Now, though, as I said, I have come to embrace it as a large part of the whole trip. It is one of the only constants I have had, and for that reason  I have come to love it. Yesterday I stopped at a truck stop to have a small bite to eat. I parked my motorcycle out front and went inside, tank bag, helmet and water bottle in tow. I sat down at booth with some chicken and hot sauce. When I finished up I went back outside to Little Wing. I hung up my helmet on the handlebars, and started to stuff my water bottle in my panniers. As I did so I looked up to see an older African American woman standing on the sidewalk looking at me.

“Do you ride that?” She asked.

“I do,” I answered.

She paused and I knew what she was thinking,  but I let her ponder over it for a second until she figured out exactly how to say it. I was rewarded with blunt honesty, “I thought it was a man riding it.”

I was so glad I let her finish up the thought because the words were so great. The honesty, reality, and lack of waffeling around the issue was quite beautiful.  “Most people do,” I said with a grin. “I’ve got to change the stereotype somehow.”

And that’s the truth, right?

As Dad always used to tell me,  “it’s a man’s world. It doesn’t mean it’s right, it doesn’t mean that’s how it’s supposed to be, but that’s how it is.” The teachings of Dad had me well aware of the dichotomy between equality and the way our country goes about its daily business. People are different. The way a person perceives gender is based on the individual. A person can chose to not buy into sterotypes. I can be me with no regard to gender, but being aware that others may not interact with me with the same mindset is healthy. For some people what I’m doing is strange, out of the norm. It is something that warrants extra conversation. I have been asked the question “by yourself?” more times then I can count. I have been reminded by well meaning people that the world isn’t friendly to women and that there are many ‘weirdos’ out ‘there’ to watch out for. 

Just because I see the world differently, just because I know I am smarter than to fall into a den of ‘wierdos,’ and that being by myself isn’t anything but awesome, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be proud that I am bending others perceptions of reality.

Tina took off on her adventure to change her reality. She wasn’t trying to change those truckers reality, she wasn’t trying to change mine, and she wasn’t trying to change the world. Her goal was to change her own world. To finish Tina’s story, a trucker dropped her off in Arkansas and she fell in love with the place. She saw it as the place she wanted to live, and so she set forth on making that happen. Her reality changed, and her world has become something different. I met Tina, and now, regardless of what it was she was or wasn’t trying to do, she has changed a bit of my reality. I heard the words of a woman who has been the change. I heard her answers to key questions and now she has become a part of my answer. She had nothing to prove, and yet, without realizing it, she proved something to me.

It is what it is. We can not train the cat or the dog, we can only work with them. What we can do is change the conversation. People will say that I should watch out and be careful based on who they are as people, and this means my very actions have changed the conversation. People are who they are, the world is what it is.

This conversation is the right one to be having there is no need to change it.

Let’s talk.

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Put On The Kid Gloves For The Delicate Stuff

A short ride in hard rain in the morning is not the best way to start the day, in my opinion.

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After a half hour of bone chilling rain riding this morning I stopped to feul up at a gas station. It wasn’t the most welcoming of stations, but I had to utilize the facilities and flex feeling back into my fingers. I was excitated to see that the bathroom had a hand dryer in it, a great way to warm up my drenched leather gloves I thought. It was an automated dryer, like the sink, and — like the sink — it also only spit out cool stuff. The water in the sink had been no help in warming my fingers back to life, and neither was the hand dryer. It blew out a cool breeze; a spit of air, a tickle of wind. It was completely useless. I walked out of the bathroom still chilled, holding sopping gloves. I had saw a microwave when I walked in, and I had a genius idea, or so I thought. I asked the lady at the counter if I could use the microwave to heat up my gloves as I tossed them down in front of her, on the laminated lottery ticket advert that graced the countertop. She gave me an odd look and appeared to be stifling a laugh, “I guessss so.”

I put the gloves in the microwave for one minute and thirty seconds. I stood watching the TV that had news flashing across and glancing at the old farmers sitting at the only table. I heard them mutter about the gal with the bright yellow (rain) pants — that’d be me. The microwave dinged and I opened the door to reveal my steaming gloves. It was only then that I remembered that leather shrunk when dried rapidly. Since I had just basically boiled my gloves I couldn’t use my hands to shape them for another thirty seconds unless I wanted to burn myself. “Heat ’em up and eat ’em for breakfast,” I heard from the corner where the old farmers sat, laughter following. I wanted to glare at them or make a snarky remark back but I was rather embarassed about my leather shrinking situation so I opted for not drawing attention to myself. After much struggling I did get the gloves on but I’m not sure they will ever be the same again.

This is why I dislike riding in the rain.

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Campfires and music, could a person ask for more?

I went to the Ozarks when it was raining, but I was fortunate to be a passenger while Little Wing stayed dry in a garage. I had landed safely in Little Rock, Arkansas in time to discover I had carburetor issues. My hosts in Little Rock were wonderful and let me leave my bike in their garage over the weekend so we could continue our weekend plans. Without knowing me they had invited me to a music festival in the Ozarks, and, without knowing them, I accepted. I’m so glad I did. Little Wing missed out though. I left him Thursday and came back on Sunday. I gave myself a fresh start and decided to do the carburetor cleaning in the morning.

The carburetor issue actually became apparent before arriving in Little Rock. I had diagnosed the problem at another garage, while being hosted by other strangers in Ada Oklahoma. Right after I wrote my last blog I became the grateful recipient of conversation and kindness from strangers.

A very nice, very friendly, coffeeshop with good Wifi and a great peach-ginger loose leaf tea was where I found myself in Ada. As I sat a young woman started up conversation with me after seeing my helmet. She had saw Little Wing outside and put one and one together. We got to talking and one thing lead to another. It turns out Ada, Oklahome is home to a state college and I just happened upon the perfect coffeeshop if I was looking for college students. I wasn’t, but it was actually perfect, because after hearing my story the students wanted to help, and they did. That night I was given a bed to sleep in the extra bedroom of a sweet family I had just met. I was also invited to free skate at the local roller rink with a group of the students — something I don’t think I could ever turn down.

That night, after skating, falling, and having a blast, I discovered the carburetor problem. I realized that Little Wing’s idle issues were being caused by something more than the elevation changes I had been blaming. Fuel mixture problems had been occuring since Nevada, something I had — as I said — attributed to elevation changes. My hands were constantly adjusting the fuel mixture screw, and on most days that worked, on some it was worse than others, things I should have taken as signs. That evening, Little Wing refused to go unless I held the throttle open. In order to keeping from stalling I had to hold the throttle open even when stopped. I finally figured that something was wrong.

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It was great fortune that I had stopped at that coffeeshop and made friends because the next morning I needed a place to work on Little Wing. The wonderful people, whose guest room I holed up in, also had a garage. It was raining outside that morning, and I was so very grateful that I had a place inside of a building to tear apart the bike. Had I camped, as originally planned, I would have been trying to figure out how to safely tear apart a carburetor at a campsite while avoiding losing the, inevitable, dropped piece. The universe had my back on that one.

By the time I had finished the work the skys had cleared enough to eliminate the rain, and all that was left behind were the friendly, puffy, clouds that compliment the sun so well.
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It looked like I was riding through clouds on the way from Georgia to Arkansas. It was up one hill down the next; the treetops brushing the sky and the clouds holding close proximity. When I looked up I saw clouds, when I looked down I saw road, only one reasonable explanation, Eastern Georgia was the cloud state. And then, like that, I was in Arkansas, and then I was riding in clouds. The moisture made fog, and the fog stuck close to the road. As I rode up on it I saw a cloud covering the hilltops while the trees dipped their trunks in the fluffy white stuff. It was mere seconds and I was in it. Cloud all around, the hazy precip blocking out the sun. It made circles around me the way smoke does when the wind pushes it.

The ride out of Eastern Georgia and into Arkansas is one of my favorites of the trip.

It got dark before I got to Little Rock, and those charming clouds turned into daunting fog that obscured my headlight and seemed to make everyone else’s blinding. I arrived exhauseted in Little Rock, with a fine running motorcycle. I got off the Little Wing, met my amazing hosts, Fred and Toni, and hit the sack. I had dreams of doing an oil change in the morning before taking off to the Ozarks.

Let me explain the purpose of the oil change for anyone who may not know. A leaky carburator leaks gasoline. In my case it was due to grit in the fuel that had gotten into the fuel line and clogged things up. When fuel leaks out of the carburetor bowl it goes into the carburetor overflow tube and leaks onto the ground to prevent the flooding of the engine. I had been riding with this overflow problem for more than two weeks which meant that the fuel probably overflowed way more than what the tube could release, and a good assumption is some of the excess fuel mixed in with the oil, which isn’t good. The oil change would empty out this bad oil and replace it with fresh stuff.

So, in the morning, I did just that. I woke up, greeted my smiling hosts, and then went to the autoshop Fred had suggested.

I change my own oil but it is very nice to have a place to dispose of it. There us akso a good chance that if a person smiles real nice, and is very polite, the mechanics might loan out a funnel and rag, and maybe even an extra container to catch the oil. Being a good person really pays off when it comes to oil changes on the road.

The oil change went smooth, it usually does. I thanked the guys, gave them my bad oil and took off. And that’s when the problems struck. Little Wing stalled out on me again, several times actually. I got back to Fred and Toni’s, relayed the news, and we determined I would leave Little Wing behind on my way to the great music festival in the Ozarks with plans to fix it Monday, when I got back.

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Fred and I went for a walk through a cedar glade after the rain. The plants were fascinating all around Arkansas, and -- as you might have noticed -- I got a lot of pictures of them.

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The Ozarks are gorgeous. Actually, Arkansas is gorgeous. Last post I talked about the trees in Oklahoma, I didn’t even know what Arkansas had to offer. A few observations:

1) Arkansas has ticks. Ew. I am not pleased with this reality.

2) In Little Rock there are many houses built with little rocks, and actually this is true for much of the state, and they aren’t really that little. The stones in Arkansas are quite lovable (and livable).

3) Arkansas is the home of the animated church signs. Most all churches had an electric sign with constant flashing messages, like a bank sign, but with messages from God.. or something.

4) Arkansas is the closest I have found to Minnesota with out going over, except on the hills and stuff, thats a little going over.

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A great design concept done by an old builder. This house resides on the grounds where the festival was held.

I stopped by the local Little Rock community radio station last night after finishing up work on Little Wing. After fully tearing apart, and recleaning, the carburetor (this time with carb cleaner rather than fuel), and adding an inline fuel filter to prevent future work, I thought it was time for a relaxing adventure that would double as a test drive. I arrived at the old house that contained the radio station and was met by a couple of DJs, one on his way out, the other getting ready to go on. RJ the DJ was getting ready to go live and he invited me to hang around. I met Carly, a young woman who co-hosts the show with RJ, who showed up after I did. I was invited to pull a chair up to the Mic come first break, and so I got an opportunity to go live. As I sat around chatting with these folks we were joined by someone else walking through the door. Three guitar cases, shoulder length brown curls paired with a full face beard, and a pair of rose colored glasses, adorned this newcomer. He was a musician coming in for an interview. Turns out I walked in on the perfect day, the universe steered me well again. The man was a great musician with palpable talent. His name is Brian Nahlen and I was pleased to snag a CD. I can’t wait to share it with my local station back in Northern Minnesota.

A great sign of the things to come on The Blues Highway as I make my way North, I like to think. So far I have been exposed to some pretty great music and I wasn’t even on the iconic Highway 61 yet. The people have also been awesome, but that’s nothing new, really

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Stay tuned for next post where Little Wing and Diamond tell all about their exploits in Memphis. And keep an eye out for that that universe, it has some pretty good adventures up it’s sleeve that its not telling you about.

Hanging Out In An OK Sort Of Way

Oklahoma City. What does that bring to mind? For me, not much. I am too young. But with prodding and reminders and I can be brought back to my high school history lesson and I can recall something about Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols causing the deaths of 168 people and injuring at least 600 others. April 19, 1995. I had just turned two.

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I spent the weekend catching up on much needed rest. I have been needing sleep for days now. My camping as been done haphazardly, to say it nicely, and because of this my sleep has been restless and in need of work. I worked on it a lot this weekend. I was surrounded by (almost) wilderness in the  Lake Meredith National Recreation Area. I wasn’t more than ten minutes away from the nearest town and when I hiked the highest hill I could see the trailer park nearby, but I didn’t let that effect me. I dreamed it was wilderness, and while I slept It really felt as such. Since I spent atleast 28 of the 40 hours there sleeping, I did a great job of dreaming that I was in the middle of nowhere.

When I wasnt sleeping I was up and hiking, but that was intermittent between the wind and rainstorms. Actually, there was only one rainstorm which occurred the first night I was there, Saturday. I had hit the sack the moment my tent was set up and didn’t even bother to make dinner that night. I slept through most of the rainstorm, woke up at 8:00 pm to look at the setting sun, and then went right back to sleep. It felt wonderful.

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I slept in the next morning as my tent was buffeted by the giant Texas winds, and gargantuan Texas tumbleweeds (everything is bigger in Texas). Eventually, around eleven the wind died and I wandered outside. I had woke up about 10:30 and ate a little snack and read a bit. When I wandered outside, fully defended from the wind and 50° temps by my layers of clothing, I heard the hills calling my name. The birds chirped a good morning greeting and I made my way to the lake. I was grateful for the excuse of cold, because the lake didn’t look welcoming. It looked muddy and unappealing, but there was no way I was donning a swimsuit that day anyway.

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The lake was created by a dam set up on the Canadian River to provide water from the bigger cities around the area, one of them being Amarillo , TX, you may have heard of it. The spot had been home to old flint mines, used by the Natives of the area before the Europeans had come and dominated it. Now there are pieces of flint scattered all around the area, and I kept stopping to admire these rocks, which could almost be mistaken for Lake Superior Agates, if not for the informational phamplet telling me otherwise that I had picked up at the ranger station.

By 12:30 I was back in my sleeping bag after a tough hike up some of the steep hills, and a searingly cold journey across the tops of said hills while the wind had a field day with my uncovered face. I slept for a good long time, woke up hungry,and rode into town for some real food, hot and everything.

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When I got back to camp the sun was out and the bone chilling day had turned into a balmy 70° day. I heard the hills calling to me again, and the birds sang their sweet songs as I took my energy to higher elevations again. I was no longer tired or hungry,  and the earth had rewarded me with the most gorgeous weather I could imagine, it was time to enjoy it. I hiked, I danced, I sat and I meditated. And when all that was done, I sat down at a campfire I built and read, and made some campfire food. Life doesn’t get much better, does it?

Texas wasn’t my favorite state in the world, but it surely was peaceful. It was also fast. I went 80 mph almost all the way through it, and since I was in the Northern half that got me through in no time at all. I was going 80, and then — quite abruptly — I was in Oklahoma and the speed limit was 65.

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Oklahoma, it’s a nice state. It looks quite similar to Minnesota except with more hills. But the trees are all the same height, and there are a lot of them. The grass is green, the world is green, and it all smells like the world is growing. The air is moist and there are puddles and roadkill on the side of the road. Though I have observed two dead armadillos among the road kill, and that is a bit different than Minnesotan roadkill.  Also, there aren’t coffeeshops everywhere around here. They are hidden and hard to get to. In their place there are donut shops and Sonics.

There are some good murals here as well. During my drive into Oklahoma City I got to see some pretty ones. I am impressed.

People here speak with Oklahoman accents, the way I imagined Texans would sound. It is a strange new world for a girl from Minnesota, but, I’m officially back in the Midwest.

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There was a police car and a couple of other vehicles stopped on the side of the Interstate. I moved over to the left lane to give them space, and saw that one of the vehicles had a horse trailer and man with a cowboy hat was leading a horse out of the trailer. What happened? Did the cowboy get into a fender-bender? Was the horse alright? I strained my neck and slowed down more. I got a good look as other cars sped up to pass me on the left. There was a red Range Rover parked off the road, on the other side of the guardrail, pointed in the opposite direction of traffic flow, and the police officer stood on the side of the road, his hands on hips. I turkey necked it, and when I could finally see beyond the guardrail I saw three black cows standing alongside a fence. Not the inside of the fence either. Lined up like miscreants, the three black bovines stood looking at the cop with his hands on hips, and they appeared to cower. And that is all I saw of that saga. I can only imagine the cowboy with the horse trailer was going to put the cows in their place, and the driver of the Range Rover was probably going to help while the police officer over saw. Reminds a person of where they are; I’m cleary not in Minnesota.

Last night I went to see the Oklahoma City National Memorial. The 20th anniversary of the bombing happened on Sunday. I wonder how someone could of done that.

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I imagine that they weren’t too wise as far as the world is concerned. Maybe the boy’s that did it hadn’t traveled and saw how good the world could be. Maybe they hadn’t learned to value life because they hadn’t lived enough of it. Or maybe it was just mental illness. Who know? Not me.

I look at the world and I see so much good stuff. Yesterday though, I saw tears. I don’t cry much, you know. I usually keep my emotions locked up, I’m not sure where at. I have found them since I found out about my gramps, but I still don’t cry much. The fence in front of the monument is filled with memorabilia from the victims of the bombing. There were stuffed animals, tshirst, poems, and photographs. There were keychains and bracelets and clear signs that these items once belonged to living beings. Chokes a person up.

I’m off to Arkansas today. Who knows if I will make it there. I have friend of a friend that I haven’t met yet who lives their. This friend has invited me to a festival  in the Ozark hills at a pepper smoking farm. I think I shall go, we will see.

As a wise twenty-one year old just told me while sitting in a rarely-spotted, Oklahoman,  coffeeshop, “the most meaningful answers don’t come easy.”

I think I can handle that.

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Looking At Maps And Weather Forecasts

Tentative plan:

To start, today, I am going to wait ’til Tucumcari, NM stops feeling like a frigid icebox,  and then I am going to the autoparts store for some oil.  After the errands are run, and the chores are done, I am heading to a place called Meredith Lake National Recreation Area in Texas. The Lake promises free camping in a gorgeous spot, what more could a gal ask for? Especially after the chilly night of camping I spent here, on the side of a county road, last night. New Mexico does not appear to offer cheap, or free, camping.

Since it will be raining in Oklahoma City tomorrow I will spend two nights in Meredith, resting my bones and enjoying my own company, maybe swimming, but definitely hiking, yayyy!

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I’m not particularly interested in going to Oklahoma City, but whichever route I take will have me riding past it on my way to Arkansas.

Arkansas. I’m pretty excited for that, because I’m planning om getting on Highway 61, and taking the Great River Road all the way up to the great place that is Itasca State Park, MN.

I have always wanted to take Highway 61 for many reasons, one of them being the great Bob Dylan and his glorification of it,  but then there is Mark Twain and the Mississippi lore he espoused — I wont be on a steam boat, or a raft, but a motorcycle is sooo much better. Plus, Memphis is on it. Plus it is called The Blues Highway,  and if you know me at all you know that I adore the blues.

I also am digging the low elevations and warmer weather that may welcome me there, as well as the scenery,  which seems more promising then the East side of Colorodo and West side of Nebraska.

What do you think dear readers? Any opinions? Anybody want to join me?

As soon as I finish this cup of tea Little Wing and I will be heading out. 

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(Photo Credit: Chuck Brown -- California)

(Thank Goodness) It’s All Downhill From Here

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”
– Ernest Hemingway

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The wind is up and it is spurring the tumbleweeds on. They roll across the trail — historic Route 66 — and they catch me on the knee. Going 70 mph I can feel a small sting when it makes contact, nothing that will leave a mark though. Up ahead I see a dust storm and I wonder if it is planning on making its way to the road, but it doesn’t. Dust storms and tumbleweeds, this is everything I imagined the West to be.

I spent a few days in Las Vegas. They were good days, days generally are in my life, but they weren’t great. The three days that I found myself hanging at the Vegas hotel I was working. On Saturday I went on a long car ride through Lake Mead Recreation Area with my pal, Dan. He was the engineer that was having the conference in Las Vegas in the first place. The other days were filled with researching, and writing, applications and proposals for art related stuff.

Another couple of my friends were in Vegas too. They had been introduced to me earlier this fall through Dan, and I had stayed the night at their place when I was in Laramie, WY (which I write about here). They are another couple of smart engineers. The gals name is Andrea, and when she found out I was in Vegas we made plans to have breakfast. Saturday morning, before taking off on the roadtrip Dan had planned, I ate a large breakfast at a Casino Buffet. Andrea drove me along the strip to get to our destination, so I had the opportunity to see it during the daytime. We discussed travel plans and the routes I should take. When Andrea dropped me off at the hotel, after an overly large meal, I met up with an eager Dan who had a plan. We would aim for Hoover Dam first and then hit up Lake Mead.

Dan had a rental car so it was no fuss to get over there. The route out to the dam was beautiful, and then there was the dam itself.

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The South side.


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The North side.

Hoover Dam is an awesome feat of engineering. It is a gigantic piece of work that makes one wonder “how’d they do that.” Since I was walking around with an engineer the question of how is exactly where the conversation wandered to. Dan pointed out all the things he had found interesting from past visits to the monument, and I looked. We found new things of interest too. One thing Dan pointed out were the fish wayyy below, swimming near the surface of the water. He told ne they were there, but Iwas first to spot them. Due to some mineral that wad around the area the water was green. Where the water was turned up by the turbines it was a bright emerald color. There were ducks in the emerald water, enjoying the leisurely swim of water fowl.

After an awe inspiring stop at the man made marvel that had completely changed the landscape Dan and I move onto Lake Mead National Recreation Area. This move was due in part to the fact that we had seen everything we thought we could, but it was also due to a lack of forthought on both our parts to wear shorts or pack water. As true motorcycle riders we know how to pack light.. at least that is the excuse I’m giving.

We needed water and sustenance so we first made our way back to Boulder, NV and then out to Lake Mead.

I think I have found my favorite park. The area was breathtaking. An ever changing scene. The landscape changes in color and texture from dip to crest of the hills and mountains that make up the area. The landscape was spattered with growth and wildflowers gave the already-intense colors the perfect accent.

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Dan and I stopped several times to examine the soil. One of the stops put us on ground that had a red hue. It was flakey, like a biscuit, but when dampened became more like sticky clay. I assume, but – like I say – I’m no scientist, it was red clay. At this same spot we also found an old can. A Bahrs beercan to be exact. I found many beautiful flowers. I got photographs of the flowers and picked up the beer can.

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At one point we saw a gravel road off to the West. Being a good biker, and mature adult, Dan decided to test the rental cars potential on rough terrain. I was along for the ride, plus it wasn’t my name on the rental agreement, so in the interest of science I thought it’d be alright to see what the little Nissan could do to. The sign on the road said something about ore mines road, yet I was still baffled when I saw holes in the mountains. Dan had been too focused to notice the signs, so he wasn’t sure either. We saw a cave-like hole at road level and stopped to check it out.

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It was an old mine. It was a dark cavernous expanse. One could look into it and see just a little way, but it looked straight out of any good mining movie I had ever seen, they got it right.

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The mine was short. Only about three and half foot tall. It looked like the makings of clusterphobia to me. The sign beside it told us not to go in, an order I didn’t mind obeying. We walked back towards the car, me photographing and pointing out every pretty flower to a disinterested Dan. I started in on giving him crap for his lack of interest in the refined when I saw a new purple color sparkle at me. It clearly wasn’t a flower. I bent down to pick up the bit of glass and saw that it was, instead,a rock. I showed Dan. He didn’t immediately perk up when I told him, but he did when he looked at it. He told me it was amethyst Better than an old beer can, let me tell you.

We explored a bit further down the road. Dan realized, rightly so, that the road was too much for the small car at this point, and so we turned around. On our way out I pointed out the first sign I had saw and Dan read it aloud. It was a place thet welcomed jewel explorers to come and search out stones. I would have never thought of myself as a jewel explorer before. A new title for the resume, Diamond the Diamond Miner (diamond, amythist, its all the same).

Lake Mead was all that and a bag of popcorn. After we had thoroughly explored we headed back to Vegas. It was the night I would walk the strip.

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A living satue. One of my favorite things I saw on the strip. It was hard to see many things because there were sooo many people.

It was an interesting walk. Lots of lights, lots of people. It was a huge shock after spending the day so peacefully exploring nature. There was a point where a human dressed as a big cartoon character cut in front of Dan and I (and all the people trailing us) and proceeded to slow down traffic to a crawl. The character was a giant snowman. I slowly grew bitter at that white fluffy creature with the huge smile. I get clusterphobic around lots of people and smells. I was crowded in and annoyed, and that was as much as I could handle of the strip. Our last stop was the Bellagio and we got to watch the water show that they do with the fountains, that was pretty cool.

Leaving Vegas – my place of work – was refreshing, and I’m looking forward to the last two weeks of my trip, camping out and enjoying the ride.

The first night out of Vegas wound me up in Kaibab National Forest. There was a predicted temperature of 20°. At an elevation of 6000 some feet, and with the unique privilege of being nestled below the tallest peak in Arizona, Humphrey’s Peak (some 11,000 feet), it was no wonder why. What did make me wonder is why I wasn’t just forking out the $50 to stay in a crappy hotel room. Well, that wasn’t a hard answer, I’m poor, and I’m tough. I’m from Minnesota, 20° in a tent should be nothing. I wasn’t exactly correct, it wasn’t nothing, but it was doable. A large part of the credit goes to the reflective blanket given to me by my friends in San Leandro, CA. They told me it was an invaluable item to have and when they found out I didn’t have one, they went and purchased one. It was a gift that got stored in my commitments up until last night. I unfolded it and used it for the first time, what a genius invention. I was toasty most all of the night except when I stretched my feet out because the blanket didn’t reach that far. I thought it was too short, but I woke up in the morning to find that I had pulled it too far over my head.

The West is so hot and cold.

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My pictures of the Canyon turned out nothing like the photos I have seen, but the views really were. It was gorgeous.

The next day was spent at the Canyon. It lead to a long day of riding and so a late night of setting up camp. I had stopped at a Navajo art stand to get pictures of the Little Colorodo River Gorge. The stand interested me as much as the scenery did. I looked at all the beautiful hand made trinkets from all different Navajo artists. I really wanted to purchase something for my sister, but I new that my cash funds were low low. I had only been looking at the tables set up outside, but when I had saw all that I went inside. The music that I had been hearing was a mix of pow wow tunes, and it made the perfect soundtrack. Inside I was greeted by a beautiful Navajo woman creating jewlery. I smiled at her and got a lovely smile back. “Where are you traveling from?”

“Minnesota.”

“Wow,” she said. I asked about the jewelry, she asked about my trip. I asked the cost of the earrings and she asked me where to next. I told her and asked her about the best way to get there.

“It’s going to snow in Flagstaff tomorrow.” At 11,000 foot elevation that wasn’t surprising. The kind woman told me that I could camp anywhere along the road, but I should keep an eye out for the wind. I liked her a lot so I bought a bracelet and a beautiful pair of earrings (as long as I was splurging…). She told me to have a safe journey, and for some reason I felt quite spiritual when I mounted Little Wing and rode off.

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There is no way to fully capture the color I saw on a camera.

The day continued like that, spirtual and all. It could have been the varying 40° to 50° temps depending on the varying elevation, or it coukd have been the scenery (I ♡ AZ), but it felt like a real journey. I kept my eye out for a place to camp, but because if the wind I rode until dark. There wasn’t a good place to pull off. Finally I saw a rundown gas station with a sign promising RV Camping. I pulled off and asked the attendant inside. He said “No, we don’t do that anymore.”

“Do you know a place a person could pitch a tent around here then?”

“Oh yeah,” he responded, “anywhere behind the building there. Actually, lots of people just set up a tent by the picnic tables, but it might be windy.”

Arizona is a drastic change from Cali with all of its fair-game camping opportunities. I pitched my tent, and was happy to get off the back of Little Wing and to my warm sleeping bag.

It just so happens that I am reading this book by Tony Hillerman called Listening Woman. It is set in a large part in Tuba City and Mexican Water. The Navajo Nation the book refers to is the same one I rode through from the Grand Canyon on my way to the Four Corners Monument. I spent the night behind the Mexican Water trading post, did laundry at there laundromat come morning, and ate biscuits and gravy at the restaraunt. I couldn’t of asked for a better spot. The long ride was worth it.

I went to sleep with a dog barking at me, and I woke up to see a litter of puppies hanging out behind the gas station where I had pitched my tent, only about 100 foot away. I assumethe puppies were there for at least a vew weeks, but it was an interesting phenomena. As I took my tent down I was approached by an older male dog, I assume he was the father. He followed me around alot, never barking, so it wasn’t the same dog I had heard the night before. I think his gal was more vocal than he.

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As I was leaving the gas station after refilling my tank and Little Wing’s, a native man leaned out of his window and asked about the engine. He gave me a big smile when I told him I was from Minnesota. We talked a bit, and as he pulled of he said, “Have a safe journey.”

Have a safe journey such a great way of saying it. I hopped on Little Wing and made my way East, thirty miles, to Four Corners Monument.

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The storm clouds on the East, and the clear sky to the West.

I rode towards a storm and hoped I wouldn’t hit it. It was in the mountains South of me as I made the turn North to get to the spot where four states meet.

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I got an obligatory picture and stared in awe at this neat wonder. It took five dollars to view the monument because it actually belongs to the Navajo Nation, something I find quite interesting and apropos.. something about the Natives of America tying the country together, or something like that. As I got back on Little Wing I was approached by another Native man. He asked the typical questions, whre was I from, where was I going, why and how long. I showed him my map and shoerd him where I was going, and asked how he would get through New Mexico. as he started to answer a green car pulled up on our left, right behind him.

“Wait, hold up, where are you going?” asked another Native man, poking his head and outstretched arm out the passenger window. I answered the typical questions I had just gone over with the first man. “Alone?” The passenger asked.

“No,” said the first man, “I’m going with her now,” and he mimicked hopping on the back. He and the passenger were clearly old friends.

“You know what? I am jealous,” said the passenger. “Straight up jealous. Have a safe trip, peace,” he said making the V sign out of the window with his hand as his driver started to drive on.

“What, now?” the first Native man asked as the car took off. He pointed at the map. I told him what I was thinking and he gave me a rundown of what he would do. He asked if I would start up Little Wing so he could hear him. I did, despite the embarrassing problem I was having with the idle from all the rapid changes in elevation. “You need to chop the pipe,” he sqid in response to Little Wings quite thump thump thump.

I explained to him about the engine, and that fascinated him. We talked and when it came time for him to go he left me with a hand shake, “safe journey,” he told me.

“You too,” I said.

Journey.

Arizona gives a person a feeling of pride. I feel so blessed to be a part of this beautiful land. It is hard to believe that these extensive landscapes can be real. Reds, greens, pinks and aquas, the scenes run the gambit. The canyon, and surrounding areas have the unique quality of looking like a desert but also having a lot of green growth. I’m no scientist, but I would say that’s due to the high elevation. The people are also my favorite. I never met people that were so quick to get sincere with a starnger. They have a lot to say, and they say it well. I assumeit is the Navajo culture or something, but I haven’t once yet got the feeling that the people are talking to my appearance. I feel they are addressing my actions and way of living, which is an oddity in my ‘journey’ thus far.

I left Arizona. I made it to Utah, Colorado and New Mexico. Well, the borders anyway. I actually did enter Colorado and rode about thirty miles to avoid that rainstorm storm I was talking about. My state count is at fourteen (fifteen if I count Utah, but I won’t.. yet).

I thought I’d be half way up the East Coast by now when I left in September. Thre was a flaw in that plan, I don’t plan. I don’t want to plan. I want to be where I am and enjoy the heck out of it. Even if it is 50° and windy and my hands are freezing.

(On a separate note, I don’t think my hands will ever be hydrated again.)

It is all about the journey and I don’t have much left on this one. Despite the cold, despite the wind, despite the dwindling of resources I am facing, I am keeping a happy attitude and making the most of what I see. People I meet out of the blue want to make the most of the journey than I do too. Camping, riding, camping, and riding, exactly what I set out to do. The people along the way really put it into perspective don’t they?

My conclusion? This is everything I imagined the West to be.

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Is there anything better to wake up to? Bed head and and all. And that view of New Mexican Rockies ain't too bad either.

Stars, Cars, And Traveling Far

Curve, woooosh. Curve woosh. Stop Ahead, clutch coastt, wisshhh. Stop. Silence. Putt, putt, putt. Look left. Right. Straight ahead. There, in the silince, the wispy fluffy seed of some aspiring parent plant floats across the road, peacful, serene. Silence. Except for putt, putt, putt. Left, right – again. Wait for the jeep on the left to pass. Peace, putt, putt, putt, peace. The Jeep passes, the driver gives a respectful wave. I nod, putt, putt, brahhpppp. Little Wing is flying.

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Eavesdropping on a conversation involving Little Wing. Three other riders (of sportbikes), all men, were checking out the stickers on my windshield, one says “he’s done some serious riding.”

Damn straight I have, but ‘he’s’ a she friends, and super proud to be busting stereotypes.

The morning I left Oceanside was filled with last minute packing and some nerves. The question of whether I could handle Little Wing fully loaded was sitting heavily on my mind. I ignored it as best as I could, but that didn’t make it go away. I did the regular tire pressure and oil checks that are typical. I tested the lights and made sure the tie-downs were all correct. On one of my trips out to the garage with an armload of commitments I was met by a plastic bag setting on my seat. A grocery bag that was about half the size of my duffel. I picked it up and peaked inside. There, neatly arranged, was lettuce, strawberries and mulberries, all freashly picked and labled with The Blue Heron Label of Andrea’s farm. I set it aside and got about my business. When I went back inside I brought the bag to Andrea and asked her about it. We determined that it had been left by the men. The men that work her farm and barely speak my language. We communicate with smiles and one word greetings. They had filled a care package for me knowing that I was leaving. After spending so much time at Andrea’s, enjoying the amazing goodies that grow from her soil, I felt that was totally unnecessary. And for that very reason, the shear lack of necessity, I was extremely touched. Even so, the bag was too much. I packed the lettuce with a couple avocados that Andrea had got from the neighbor, and some ham leftover from Easter dinner. I consolodated some of the strawberries into a box with half of the fresh, sweet, mulberries. And that’s all I could take. I snacked on as much of the fruit as I could before leaving the rest behind with Andrea.

The produce wasn’t the only gift I recieved from the beings on the farm. Those baby hummingbirds that I wrote about in the last blog have been growing, and growing. Since the day I first spotted them Andrea and I har been pointing them out to every honored guest who stepped foot on the property. I had been monitoring them daily and taking as many pictures as I could (a dangerous proposition if the moma was anywhere in the vicinity). On the day I was to leave Andrea decided she would get a picture with me standing beside them. We figured that I would just peak my head into the bougainvillea beside them and smile pretty. In doing this I knocked the branch their nest was on and, to my great suprise, there was an explosion and fluttering of wings as the little hummers flew the nest. I felt one brush my glassses as it flew past, and it was like a shock to my system. All my nerves came out at once and I no longer felt any nervousness about Little Wing. That little humming bird knocked some sense into me.

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The hummingbirds the day before we all took off

I went on a ride before Easter; a a ride to the Pacific Ocean. I had strict directions from Dad to give it a hug and kiss from him, so I was at least going to try. I rode to Oceanside with the same confidence that is always waiting for me on Little Wing. I went back to the same place I parked the last I was there, and I took off my coat to prepare for a walk.

In one of the trips I made back to Minnesota when I was in  the Midwest I made sure to grab my flip flops. Two things I had forgotten, or purposely left behind, were my flips flops and a hat with a bill. Those are two things I have longed for here in California. I picked up both items and made sure to bring them back on the airplane. Walks on the beach are not meant for tennis shoes.

I put on my flipflops, locked up my coat, and headed out, adorned in my t-shirt, rolled up jeans, sandals and camera. Off I went to the water. It was time to give my love to that great body of water that hugs our West Coast. The last time I was on the pier in Oceanside (which I wrote about here) it was pretty calm. It was still winter in California, and the people in these parts don’t like to wander to the ocean in winter. Now that it is spring it is close enough to summer – one can almost taset it on the salty, 80°, air – that everyone and their aunt is out exploring the pier right now. I saw many pelicans the last time I was at the pier, but this time I saw only two. All the people had scared all but the two mangiest off to quieter areas of the world, or at least that was my guess. The beach was full of people in swim attire, sun bathing or reading under umbrellas. The surfers appeared to have followed the pelicans lead, for I only saw two of them as well. I walked the rocks that went under the pier. A lovely climbing session that got my feet perfectly marinated with the salt water before I went to walk the gritty salt and sand off, up above on the pier. The pier was packed, almost shoulder to shoulder, but I walked the length anyhow. There were many people fishing off the side, and I was fortunate to be looking in the right direction when a fisherwoman pulled in her line with a healthy fish flopping from the hook.

My walk led me off the pier and back into downtown Oceanside. I didn’t know where I was going or why I was walking, but those are the best kind of walks, aren’t they? A few blocks past Little Wing I found The Surf Museum, a museum I kept meaning to check out, but always seemed to forget when I was in the vicinity. The universe clearly willed that to be the destination of the walk. I went inside and started by checking out the gift shop. I’m not a surfer so most of the goodies they sold didn’t seem to strike my fancy. I walked instead to the ticket desk and found out that admission was five dollars. I don’t have a lot of dollars but I also don’t have a lot of experiences either. I tossed the five dollars down in exchange for another memory. The museum was quite small. The building it was in was just a revamped store front. Fortunately surfboards are flat so there was a lot to look at. I can’t say I remember much of what I read, but the history of surfing and the development of different surfboards were all laid out, and it was quite interesting. The parts I found the most interesting were the different surf related art.  One of my favorite pieces is here:

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Downtown Oceanside is a very artsy place. Besides The Surf Museum I got to see other nice places. Mainly the Oceanside library. The library is a work of art in itself, and in the courtyard where the doors from city building are there is a lovely piece of art. The lighting wasn’t great at the timewhen I took a picture, but I could still tell how magnificent it was. I hope that I will get the chance to see it glinting in the morning sunlight one off these days.

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There was also a place called Artist Alley which I walked. It didn’t boast much on the day I walked through, but I did get the chance to see it on First Friday when all the artist had their art on display open for public viewing.

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I know I have said it before, but even at the risk of sounding redundant, I shall say it again, riding is the best meditation I have experienced. The morose feelings I have been experiencing slowly dissapate with every mile. My smile comes back, I seem to find it somewhere, floating on the breeze.

My new favorite stretch of road that I’ve found is a small, unoccupied road, between Mecca, CA and Joshua Tree National Park. An empty road and a gorgeous view make for a great adventure.
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Yesterday I went to Joshua Tree National Park. It has been a life long dream for me. I remember when I was seven seeing a picture of a Joshua Tree in a calender and thinking it looked exactly like something out of a Dr, Seuss book (or Star Wars). I asked Dad about it and he told my sister and I that they were real trees (in actual reality they are Yuccas, but that was something that would have gone right over my small head) and there was only one part of the world they grew in, the South West. He told us there was a park dedicated to them, and from that day on I knew I wanted to go there. I told Dad “one day I will go see them.”

And he said, “do it.” So I did, yesterday.

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How amazing is it to have a dream recognized? Riding in on my motorcycle is exactly the way I would have imagined it as a kid too. If it wasn’t a horse it had to be a motorcycle. It was breathtaking on a motorcycle. I was exhausted from staying up the night before in the Anza-Borrego State Recreation Area, but I still enjoyed it.

The ride in Anza-Borrego was also pretty amazing. Very desert like, but still intense. I rode Little Wing successfully in sand with out tipping and I felt awesome. Over the last three days I have rode on either sand or gravel for a total of about ten miles, and I haven’t dumped the bike once. I attribute it to those little hummers for correcting my ways and ridding me of nerves.

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A picture I painted for Andrea.

Inorder to camp to ride through sand. I rode 1 1/2 miles through sand to find a lovely patch of desert to sleep on. When I first got to Anza-Borrego I was shocked camping was free. I figured I should double check before setting up. I saw a man walking three chihuahuas heading in my direction. I raised my voice so he could hear me and asked about the campsite. “Whatt?” He said.

I repeated the question as he got closer, his miniature canines leading the way. “Oh yeah,” he said. “Free for now. A few years from now probably not, but for now yes.”

The man spoke with a bit of a Mexican accent. He had a darker complexion so I figured Latino. I kneeled down to pet his dogs and we got to talking. He told me the dogs names and then introduced himself “Obi,” he said.

“Diamond,” I said. “Tobi?” I asked.

“No, O-bee,” he said, “like Obi-Wan Kenobi.” And the Star Wars saga continued. This was the start of a good night and four new friendships.

Obi invited me to join him, his three chihuahuas, and the three other dudes he was camping with, his brother and nephews.

Something I have neglected to mention is that Anza-Borrego is an off roading mecca. For anyone who has ever enjoyed getting dusty on some dunes or tearing up the pits it is a dream come true. Some of my neighboring campers were kids with dirtbikes. A wee little boy and a girl who was about three foot tall, along with an older sister. They were falling down and getting up, and having an overall blast.

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This was the way all my neighbors were. I was the only one on a street bike, and there was a good reason for that. I went over to say ‘hi’ to the little children and meet the cool humans that must have been their parents. They were cool humans, and so were the kids. I asked about them and the dad explained that both him and his wife had grown up riding and enjoyed it so they wanted ro give the same opportunity to their children. I congratulated them on how cool they were and what I got back was some return praise.

The message I have been getting over and over again over the last few days has been that me, a female, riding alone across the world, setting up my own tent and living my own life is something admirable. I shared that admiration with the dad of the girls and told him it was great that he had his girls out riding along with his son, who, right about the same time I was talking to his dad, managed to flip the minature ATV over. In an attempt to show off the small kid had been whipping shitties – turning donuts – and he made one too tight. He managed to get the 80 cc fourwheeler completely upside down. The 40 lb kid then got up, helmet, boots, and positive outlook on life all still intact. I was interested to see that there was an oil leak that occurred due to the tipping. It was a Honda engine, and I was curious how that happened. After further examination the dad concluded it was probably gaskets, and I would agree. The young man was no worse for wear, and any bruises he had were probably immediately cured by the amount of attention and hugging older sisters paid them.

After visiting with the family of riders I wandered over to see what Obi was up to.

Since I have been in the desert I have been reminded quite frequently of the Star Wars movies. Maybe it is all this talk about this new one coming out, or maybe its simply that the desert brings back thoughts of Tatoine. The clear nights filled with stars feel otherworldy. The plant life here looks so foreign (sort of more Star Trekkian than Star Warrioran really). It could be the serendepitous meeting of people named Obi after a day filled with universal thoughts, spurred on by the sighting of a large telescope while riding through the mountains of Southern California.

On the morning that I was making my way to Anza-Borrego I was given instructions on how to take the most beautiful route there. Andrea had told me about a route that would lead me on twisting ride up to the top of a mountain, and then back down to the less twisting, more trafficked, road. I took the road, with no real knowledge of what it would lead me to other than a good ride.

At the top, where I had the option to turn and head back to the road I wanted to be on, or there was another option to continue to the dead end at the top of the mountain. The sign made promises of an observatory. I had been to an observatory on The Sunday Morning Ride that I took with the group of riders in the Bay Area. It had been cool and the view from it had been fantastic. I had nowhere to be, going to the top of the mountain sounded great to me.

At the top I was shocked to find promises of a museum and gift shop, what was this? Turns out it was the Palomar Observatory, “a center of astronomical research owned and operated by the California Institute of Technology.”

What a fascinating find.

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As I was coming out of this well hidden gem, new knowledge right on the surface of my cranium, I was approached by a man in his late fifties. He wore a Led Zeppelin shirt (I liked him for this right away) and a flannel over it. He had white hair and a rugged face, with an eypatch over the left eye. He was a piece of art by himself. He walked towards me, getting my attention with a “well hello,” and as he did so a woman appeared from behind the old Dodge van that they belonged to.

I smiled and gave a “hello” back. He wasn’t shy, Bill was his name, and the woman coming out from behind the van, I found out was his wife, Bev. They spoke to me about what I was doing and where I was coming from and they expressed admiration for me doing the adventure by myself. Bill told me his wife was nervous about him going on motorcycle trips alone, and she wasn’t into it, so when he didn’t have a riding buddy he usually didn’t go. He said that now that they had bot seen me heading to the desert by myself he might actually toss the sleeping bag on the back of his 1952 Harley Davidson and take off the next time he got the urge. He told me he had a 1952 V-twin with a kickstart and 1951 Panhead with a kickstart. He prefers the 1952 because the brakes are harder to operate on the Panhead, especially with a missing eye. He exchanged life stories with me and I foumd out he had lost his eye at age thirteen and that he was an engineer by trade. He new all about the large telescope that was in the observatory and gave me some very scientific explanations about it that I had trouble retaining (I had enough trouble remembering the motorcycle mumbo-jumbo, and – of course – that’s what I save most of my brain space for). It is amazing the people one meets.

The people one meets, that reminds me of Obi. Let me finish the story So I went over to visit with him and the rest of the boys – four legged and two legged both. He invited me to share in the meal his brother was making, but I had already ate the avocado, ham and lettuce that Andrea had packed for me. Very near that same time the girl riders came over from the first campsite with a plate of food. Their parents had asked them to offer me some dinner. On the plate they carried with them I saw an apple rolling around. I had to turn them down because I had already turned down Obi’s offer. It was sweet that the parents thought of me when making dinner. It reminded me of earlier that morning with the bag of produce at Andrea’s. The girls left with smiles to take the food back. Obi and his brother discussed travel and adventure with me. It was suggested that I watch Then Came Bronson, something I have never seen. Apparently my journey was very reminiscent if it in Obi’s mind. Obi was the proud owner of a Ford GP, a rare Jeep built by Ford during World War II. Obi’s brother had a Polaris RZR. Mixed among these great off-roader vehicles were different ATVs and a dirtbike, mostly used by the nephews. It was clear that all these dudes were serious riders. The night went on, a fire was built, and the nephews finally came out of slumber to join us. They had been sleeping since I’d arrived, tuckered out from a day of riding around the desert. I never caught the age, but the older of the two, Christopher, had been Army. He had also worked as a truck driver for a stint and had words to exchange about travel and his favorite states. Both men were young, I would guess near to my age. Later in the evening it was suggested that I go for a ride in the Polaris RZR to the Gas Domes, a curious place that has bubbling mud. Something to do with the way the crust has stretched in that area making for an easy escape for excess heat released by the magma in the earth’s core. What it looks like is a bunch of mucky puddles filled with breathing frogs; something straight out of Star Wars.

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The night ride on the RZR, was, in one word, awesome. I didn’t know that deserts could look that amazing, but Obi’s brother’s/ Christopher’s dad’s had some petty intense lights set up on the RZR so we got a clear picture of the view all around. And, boy, did that Christopher know how to drive. 40 mph at night, over rutted, sandy terrain. The tight curves around dunes didn’t bother him at all. At first I was I was pretty scared, but eventually I settled, realizing I was in experienced hands. It was a marvel. Another thing I found was that the suspension on RZR is a work of art. I have never traveled sand that fast and that well on anything and I am coming to realize I need to start off roading.

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The moon that I watched off the RZR

They knew of my plans to take off in the morning to go to Joshua Tree National Park. We discussed camping and I told them that I was disappointed that JTNP didn’t have free sites. “Free sites?” Obi’s brother asked, “I know a free site.” He went on to tell me about the Giant Rock. A national treasure among alien hunters. A place sorrunded by gable and myth, a must see. The Giant Rock is a hiant rock. It is the largest free standing rock, at keast in North America. It is thought to have been placed by aliens in the spot in which it stands. Is that true? I guess I don’t know. Wjat I do know is that according to Obi’s brother there was free camping aroundthe rock. My plans were set. After I got done looking at the beauty of millions of Joshua Trees I would head to the Giant Rock to set up camp.

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One of the grafittied buildings off the Salton Sea.

The next day I rode around the East side of the Salton Sea to get to JTNP. The Salton Sea is very lovely but disappointingly there wasn’t a way to visit the beach without paying, from what I found. Also, the Salton sea is slightly deserted. I read that there was a place called Bombay Beach and my plan was to get gas there, except, there wasn’t a gas station. I stopped to ask a lady if there really was no gas. She confirmed.

“Where’s the closest gas station?” I asked.

“18 miles South or 31 miles to the North.”

I had only about 15 miles left in my tank according to my math. I cursed, and she asked if I needed gas, I told her yes. She told me she would sell me some. I ended up spending the last ten dollar bill in my wallet, leaving me cashless, but I got two gallons of gas. I folowed her to a home where she lead me and Little Wing to the garage. I watched her open the door and get the fuel cannister. Looking past her I saw a beautiful maroon car, circa 60 something. “Porsche?” I asked, my mouth dropping open.

“Karmann Ghia. My son did all the body work. It is like brand new. I’m trying to sell it.”

If only I could have bought that instead of the gas. She sold me the gas and asked where I was off to. I told her of my plans to go see Joshua Tree National Park. She asked if I knew the back way, and that’s how I found out about my favorite stretch of road from Mecca into JTNP.

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After getting through JTNP I went off to find the great rock, and boy was that a trek. Forty miles to the West of the park according to my GPS. I was backtracking but I needed to sleep, so I did it. The GPS lead me to a dirt road labeled Giant Rock Road, where I got to test my sand riding skills again. I was about three miles down the road before I realized that I didn’t want to camp there. The road was to messy and the homes to sketchy and the force was pushing me in the opposite direction. I turned around. What to do now. On the three miles back I trumped up my half ass plan to head to Las Vegas where I’m currently sitting contemplating a beer and listening to crappy music over loud speakers.

Las Vegas: ” lit in screaming neon and blasting music. It is something out of the bar scene in Star Wars.” A quote from the the same fine man that invited me here. Another serendepitous reference to Star Wars. My motorcycle fixing buddy Dan is a radio engineer, and currently radio engineers from all across the United States are gathered here, in the city that never sleeps, I bet you didn’t even know.

I have always claimed that I would never come here, but that changed when I knew it was free. Sharing a room with a radio engineer at a conference is like being by oneself, thus far anyway. I am looking forward to walking the strip and finally getting the whole Star Wars experience. I got to ride into the city of lights last night, at about midnight. The ride in took me way out of my way because I had already gone out of my way to find the Giant Rock. The ride was about an hour longer than it should have been. It was cold to. I guess ‘they’ weren’t kidding when ‘they’ said deserts got cold at night. I rode through patches of warm and real cool. There was a point that I neared the top of the pass coming into Nevada and I could see my breath in my helmet.

Nevada. I’m out of Cali. That puts the count at twelve states, not quite what I imagined when I left, but it the adventure hasn’t been anything like I imagined and that is a a great thing.

I was riding into Nevade, when I stopped to get gas about ninety miles out of Vegas, I met a kind family. I had left Little Wing parked at the pump while I went inside to use the bathroom. I bought some sugared up Snapple tea to keep me awake and when I left the store to consume it I realized I should park the bike somewhere other than in front of the pump. I set my helmet, tank bag, and the tea down at a table and started walking to Little Wing. I realized what I had done and where I was and turned around to gather my stuff, not wanting it to be lifted at a strange gas station in California this late in the evening. There was a girl about my age and an older woman – who I assumed was her mother – sitting at the table near where I set my stuff. I asked if they would watch it and the said of, course.

After parking Little Wing I went to sit and down with my sugar drink. I thanked the women, and that lead to a great conversation. They asked where I was from and when I told them Minnesota the young girl – Vanessa was her name – told me she had lived there for awhile and loved it. I told her I had lived in California for awhile and loved it. Her mom spoke with a rich, Mexican, accent they were the sweetest people I had met all day. We talked for forty-five minutes, and I barely felt the time move. The dad sat down with them and we went back through introductions, and rehashed my life story. They live somewhere near L.A. and as we parted the mom made sure Vanessa and I exchanged numbers for when I came back to California. I told Vanessa to hit me up when she came back to Minnesota and I would give her a tour.

The mother had told me that someone was watching over me. She told me that someone had sent the angels to fly over me, because how else had I made it since September. I’m not sure if the reason I believed her was because of what a truly endearing person she was, but I know she thought she was right. She didn’t come off as pushing the thought, she was just very certain in the fact that I was blessed. I thanked her for that.

Snapple tea always comes with a fun fact on the cap and I always wait to read it til I have finished the drink. After the mom had told me about the beings watching out over me I read,

“The peach was the first fruit to be eaten on the moon.”

What does it all mean, really? Aliens or angels? Am I blessed with God looking out for me or just meeting amazing people mixed with serendipty? Is the universe setting it all up for me or is this just how it works?

I’m not sure, but I do know that I’m not really in a Star Wars movie, and neither is any of the stuff I seen yesterday. All the incredible things I’ve done and seen, they are all right here, right now. And because I’m going around dooing and seeing I am the recipient of admiration. I guess I didn’t realize how incredibleit all was until I went away and came back. Look at the moon, the stars. Look at the earth, the sea and the Joshua Tree .. I just rhymed.

I don’t know. All I know is real life is getting in the way of my fantasy.

It is absolutely incredible.

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This Isn’t An April Fools Post (April Fools! Gotcha.)

Being a grown adult I am more than willing to let my older sister book my flights for me. She is a genius when it comes to finding deals so I don’t mind. My sister told me that my flight would take off 3 pm Tuesday and arrive 8 am Wednesday. The last flight I was on was an alll night flight so this sounded accurate enough. I planned how to get to the airport and I let Andrea, my friend in Oceanside, know; arrival plans were made accordingly. Grandma and I took off early for the airport yesterday morning. I knew she had things to do today and I don’t mind waiting in an airport for a couple hours. On the way to the airport we got to discussing the itinerary I had printed off at the library the day before. She asked about my stopovers and I told her there was just the one, in Dallas. This puzzled her “why is the flight so long then?”

“I’m not sure” I told her. I was driving so I said she could get the itinerary out of my purse if she wanted to look. She pulled it out and gave it a perusal.  There was silence for a few minutes and then Grandma asked me again what time arrival was. “8 am Wednesday,” I answered.

She said, “No.” She told me, “8 pm Tuesday.” This time it was my turn to say no. I turned my head away from the wheel and looked over at the paper she was holding up for me to see. She pointed at the time of arrival and I saw that she was, indeed, correct.

I don’t know if my sister was intentionally looking to play me like an April Fool, but she certainly did. For five days now I have been looking forward and dreading the overnight flight I was going to have to get back to Little Wing. Being a wisened adult I didn’t even feel it necessary to double check the itinerary before make plans. April Fool.

Regardless of this correction and bruise to my ego I was pleased that I didn’t,  in fact, have to hang around airports all night. That bruise on my ego had atleast eight hours in a comfortable bed to heal up.

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I mentioned in a previous post (here) that my motorcycle jacket was not in working order. I had come to find that he zipper had suffered more damge than I had thougt when I went down in Oceanside, CA a few months ago (which I mention here). Well, I knew that wouldn’t fly when I got back to Little Wing, I would need a working jacket for safeties sake. I took it to the leather shop in Aberdeen, SD and asked what they could do to fix it.

My jacket is a mesh jacket. It was the  smallest, cheapest, most comfortable, jacket I could find when I went on my hunt for riding gear. For all those reasons it turned out to not be the best jacket on the market. If I were to get a new jacket I would, first off, look for one with a metal zipper. The jacket has served me well, taken hard falls, and manged to get up for more, but the zippers have all caused me problems.

When I asked the leather shop what the charge would be for something like that, sewing a metal zipper on a mesh jacket, they gave me a quote of at least fifty dollars. I felt goosebumps raise, but I tried not to give away my reaction. I thought there was no way I was going to pay that, but I knew saying that aloud would insult the kind leatherworkers and make future business a pain. I saw the rack of leathers they had and made my way over to it. One of the leather workers followed me over and invited me to try them on. I looked at the leather coats they had, checked sizes  and even found a few I could try on, but there wasn’t a one that fit. Plus, how could I possibly afford one of these coats? I got up the nerve to ask the price and the leatherworker told me that all coats ranged from forty-five to fifty dollars since they were all used.

So either buy a metal zipper or buy a new coat. Hmmm, what should a girl do? I couldn’t afford either option but I figured it would be worth it to buy a new jacket if they ever got one in my size so for the next two weeks I stopped in every time I was near the shop. These visits were fruitless, but I kept hope alive.

I reported back to my grandma what I had found out about my coat. She suggested trying the tarp and canvas shop that was in town. That sounded like a good idea, but it was a suggestion that seemed impossible to act upon because I forgot it everytime I ended up back in Aberdeen. Then one day Grandma invited me along to run errands and by some bit of random recall I remembered to bring my riding jacket and ask Grandma to show me where the tarp and canvas shop was. She was happy to comply and so that morning I found myself at a little old garage that was labeled with the word tarp and canvas. We walked in and were welcomed by a near empty shop and silence. I looked around for someone who might be employed there and able to assist. I finally spotted a face peaking out from behind a sewing machine and when we made eye contact, the stout man that belonged to the face said “hello.”

Grandma and I responded in kind and I waited a bit longer for him to say more. Since it didn’t seem as though he would I took it upon myself to start our business transaction. I walked towards him and, as I did so, I saw that the item that he was sewing on was an industrial-sized tarp draped across an industrial-sized table. As I made my way closer I started explaining the issue with jacket I held in my hands. I told him where I had taken it so far, why I had taken it, and the quote I had been given. On hearing fifty dollars I saw the first hint of emotion on the stoic face I was addressing as his eyebrow rose.

He stood up. “Let me take a look,” he said as reached for the coat. I let loose and let him have it. He moved over to another part of the industrial-sized workbench and picked up a tool. I attempted looking over his shoulder, but even as short as he was I was still shorter. I shuffled over to his other side, hoping I could see better there. I was just stretching my neck around to get a look around his right side when he turned and handed me my riding jacket. “Try that.”

I saw that he held in his right hand a pair of pliers. I asked as I tossed the coat on, “what did you do?”

“I tightened the zipper up. Sometimes they just get a little loose.”

I tried zipping the jacket and to my pleasure it actually zipped. I reached for my purse to pay him something and he told me no. He informed me that he was currently closing the shop and so was finishing backorders. He wouldn’t be in bussiness much longer and he was happy to help me no cost. I realized I had got there just in the nick of time. The leather workers didn’t tell me the jacket was a simple fix and if it weren’t for the tarp and canvas guy I would have been out at least fifty dollars. My eternal gratitude goes out to the stoic man with the plyers. Needless to say, my day was made.

My day was made again Monday, the day before I took off for California. Grandma and I had errands to run, one of them being the printing out of my itinerary at the Aberdeen Public Library. We took off earlier than usual to get all the stuff done. I was sure that Grandma had her reasons for getting started sooner than later, so, though curious, I didn’t bother to ask. After I finished up printing out, but not reading, the itinerary at the library Grandma said “we have time for another stop.”

“Another stop?” I asked. Grandma responded with a coy grin and so I just left it at that. Grandma’s suprises are usually good ones.

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We ended up at the old Central High School. The same school that Dad and all his siblings attended. A beautiful, historic, building that has been retired from its old duties of being a school. It was adopted as a city building, and one of the largest rooms on first floor has become an art gallery that is host to different exhibits through out the year. The current exhibit is a collection of work from talented prison inmates across the state. This is the exhibit Grandma knew I wanted to see.

The idea is to promote self therapy with artistic expression, something I am in huge favor of. One of the goals is to lower the recitivism rate, which is a huge problem all across the country. Here’s the article from the Aberdeen News. I was touched by this exhibit and even more touched that Grandma knew it was important enough to me that she wanted to make sure I got there before I flew to California.

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I painted this watercolor for grandma.

So, I flew to California. I am here now. I got here last night, around 8:20 pm, right around the time my itinerary had predicted. I was welcomed by the busy busyness of San Diego Airport and a long wait at Baggage Check for my, small (unnecessarily, but required), checked bag. Then I walked out to the sidewalk where a sea of vehicles parked along the curb, and the first lane of traffic. I knew Andrea was waiting for me. She had called me and told me that she was going to drive around the block once to appease the security who was clearly getting antsy. When she told me this I was holding my spot in front of Baggage Check, waiting for the motor to start up and deliver my bag. I knew when I got the bag she would be out there. I looked toward the conflagration of vehicles. I saw a old truck with the letters T O Y O T A printed on the back. It was small enough.. and who else in California had a short cab Toyota truck and drove that they drove around regularly? The truck was stopped in the first lane since all the curb spots were taken up with hugging, crying, people who had left their luggage on the sit sidewalkas they made their emotions known. I made my way swiftly, tossing my blue duffle full of commitments over my shoulder to save wear from the strap on my filmy shirt, like I had seen the old army guys with their huge military packs do in the movies. I half feared Andrea would take off on me, I was sure she hadn’t seen me. I tossed the duffel into the bed of the truck and I saw her start as I reached for the doorhandle. A huge grin spread across her face when she saw me in the door frame, “Sweetie!” I heard as I got in. I let go of my coat and purse for the first time. Our hour drive to the organic farm was started.

We filled the cab of the truck with conversation as we made our way. There was so much to discuss, so much that had happened in both our lives since the first time she made a trip to the San Diego airport on my behalf. I watched her switch the vent from cool to cooler and turn up the fan, and at that moment I knew I wasn’t in the Midwest anymore.

How strange to be so far away from where I was twenty-four hours ago. I am physically and mentally in a different place. Is that good or bad? I think it is what it is. I’m here NOW. I picked a flower today, a pretty one that had petals that faded from yellow into white, like an inverse sunshine, and when I did I came up with a new motto:

Now is good. If now isn’t good then pick a flower and stick your nose in it.

Not quite Tich Naht Han, but getting there. The cheesieness, though clear to me now, was not apparent in the moment. I felt great. I was questioning what next, what if, should’s, could’s and but’s; you know, all the useless stuff. I realized that, wow, here I was. Here now. I was in California. Reunited with Little Wing, walking in paradise, sweating in the heat. What about later mattered so much that I should miss now? I looked down at my flower, stuck it up to my nose, and inhaled deeply. Breathe Diamond, breathe. Smiles flourish on a good breath.

Andrea and I arrived back to Blue Heron Farm around 9:30 pm, and the first thing I noticed as I opened the truck door – and set my first foot out onto the closest thing I have found to Shangri-la since ever – was the smell. The perfume, the aroma, the redolence, the spice, the bouquet, the scent of the blooms clung to me and entered my lungs as I inhaled deeply. Life was meant to be lived with plants and good smells, that is all there is to it, and my soul has been enriched since yesterday as I have been reminded of one of the things I love the most with travel, breathing deeply.

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The farm.

I went for a ride today. I was welcomed by three new packages piled with the commitments I had left behind. In one was a GPS wrapped in changing chuck and topped off with a bumper sticker to add to my windshield. The inside joke associated with the packaging made me smile, but the GPS inside made my dreamer start dreaming as I thought of all the places I wouldn’t get lost now. Another package had an oil filter and the final part for Little Wing’s rear breaks, a spring that I was very happy to put on and find much more effective than the last.

I have come to know the benifit of keeping a blog. When I opened the box of parts and found an oil filter I wondered, did I change the oil? Is this for the next oil change in 3000 miles or is it for now? My stressed out thinker finally remembered that all that info is archived on a website created just for this type of ponderance. And the verdict is… I changed the oil about a thousand miles ago so I’m good for now.

The third box, whuch is actually the first one I opened, held the pair of pants I had ordered just before heading to South Dakota. A pair of Sliders. A kevlar reinforced pair of jeans that are designed specifically for the next time I go down, but dude, I’m not planning that. Anyway, now that I have new pricey jeans I new I had to try them out and I decided to use that as a great excuse to take Little Wing for a spin (as though I needed an excuse).

I was amazed to find that I rode well. I had not forgotten everything I had learned, on the contrary, I appeared to remember it, like riding a bike. I started off slow, one of the reasons being the new spring I had put on the back brakes, I wasn’t sure if everything was right, but it actually turned out the back brakes worked better than they had in months. The other reason for starting slow was the nerves. I had this small worry that I had forgotten what to do, and, like I said, that was a unfounded. One thing that I noticed was my confidence. It seemed to come back to me the moment I slipped my riding boots on, but it only increased the more distance I covered. I felt the swagger as I parked the bike and took off my helmet, and I remembered the true feeling of independence that I only have come to know through art and – on a much larger scale – through adventure. Sorrow and being back with family had made the independence hard to see. It was covered by the newness of the reasons for being back in South Dakota. I knew it was there, but I wasn’t sure which emotions to move around to look for it. Like a discarded t-shirt at the bottom of the stack, independence was tucked deep below the million other feelings that were being tossed about.

Now here it is, my feeling of independence. I can breathe it in when I inhale deeply. I can walk around wearing it, and best of all, it can keep me comfortable on the back of Little Wing.

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I found this bird in a nest today. It didn't move a wink when I moved the branch around to get a picture. I think it was under the impression it was invisible.

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The first ride in a month and a half took me to the store In Fallbrook, CA. I had a mission other than testing my new jeans. I needed two ingredients at the grocery store for a batch of cookies. Sugar and butter, two things Andrea didn’t have on hand. I wanted to make her, and all the neat people that come to the farm, the same cookies my Grandma had made me when I was in South Dakota. Grandma had come across a recipe in a knitters magazine, and decided she wanted to try it. We mixed them up together in the warmth of the kitchen. We talked about things, and listened to the radio, and baked. And when we were done we had some of the best cookies I have ever had. I am still unsure if it was the recipe or my grandmother, but something made those cookies special. They are a ginger slash spice cookie and they make a house smell like a cozy blanket when one inhales deeply. When the boys, Grandpa Larry and Dad, came in we handed them each one, and instantly we were met with smiles. Dad doesn’t always like cookies, he liked these. I knew that I had to share them with Andrea. So I went to the grocery store and picked up the ingredients.

Grandma had packed me three of the ginger slash spice cookies to take on the plane, from our last batch we had made together. I ate one in the Sioux Falls Airport while people watching and typing. I started conversation with a young gal who was siting by the power tower when I moved over towards her to charge my battery. I never caught her name, but I found out we were going to be on all the same flights since she was flying to San Diego to see her fiancé. We stood by each other in the Dallas-Fortworth Airport as I ate my second cookie, and I found out she was twenty years old, and that when people didn’t reciprocate her smile she liked to stare at them with a huge cheshire grin on her face, because “why not?” I liked her. I found out she was going to college for early childhood education in South Dakota, but she was originally from Iowa. While we talked, and I ate my cookie, I people watched.

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Louie, the father of all the lambs I watched enter the world this spring. Cocky bugger.

There are so many people in this world, all doing different things, and don’t you just wonder what those things are? Where is that person going? Where are they coming from? Why? The truth is I probably won’t see them again, but the beauty is I have seen them once. I have seen their face, and maybe, for a brief moment, they saw mine. They were a part of the enormous world that is inside my head, and I got a chance to be in their’s. I find that amazing.

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Could they get cuter?

I ate the last ginger slash spice cookie this morning before setting off on Little Wing for sugar and butter. Atter I picked up the ingredients I brough Little Wing back to Andrea’s garage and I baked. I inhaled the smell that came from South Dakota, and when i stepped out for a walk later and inhaled the smell of a flower, I wondered what was the difference?

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The smell of California has welcomed me back, but I have brought with me the smell of the Midwest. The taste of fresh citrus this morning was as sweet as the taste of the ginger slash spice cookie I finished off from Grandma’s care package this morning. I am here, I was there. I smell different smells, I see different faces. I talk to different people and taste different tastes, but its all the same. It all makes up independence. It makes me.

Sometimes it makes me an April Fool.

Now is good. If now isn’t good then pick a flower and stick your nose in it.

Happy first of the month to you!