Playing In The Dirt.. And With Hammers.. And With Wrenches

The sun splashed itself around today, practicing its shine for the warmer days that are coming. It has been raining since I arrived in Minnesota, with only a few sunny days popping up jere and there. I have tried to take the opportunity to get outside on every nice day. When a person gets out into the garden things can get done fast, that might be the thing I love the most. Working in the garden is a joy. As of right now I am just weeding, but it is joyful nonetheless.

It hasn’t been all rain and sunshine, though. On May 18th it snowed here.

It wasn’t a real snow because it melted as it touched the warm surfaces that awaited it here on the ground, but it was a snow. Fluffy white flakes floating down in front of my picture window. The way the snowflakes fell to the ground varied throughout the day. The winds would shift and the flakes would pelt rather than float, then they would go back to meandering. I felt better about still weeding the garden rather than planting already when the snow began to fall. A cool excuse for how slow things are moving along.

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See that? That's snow.

On May 18th, while I watched the snow come down from the warm confines of my cabin, I built a shelf. I didn’t know what else to do and I knew I needed a shelf. I haven’t ever built a shelf, so this was a new, and foreign, thing for me. The dude I’m renting from has a pile of scrap wood which he has given me permission to plunder, so I utilized some of the pile in the building of said shelf. I started by knocking nails out of the some scrap plywood that had once made a cupboard. I found two nice pieces of almost equal size I would use. The pile was also home to some scrap two by fours, that’s only problem was having been excess in avery nice project. They were about two and half foot long so that was the decided height of the shelf. I chose four of these scraps, and then I dug out some various scraps to use for attaching my plywood and my legs.

I sat in my rocking chair, contemplating this pile which I had scattered out in front of me. I got up to stoke the fire many times, and I drank two cups of tea before moving forward on the shelf. Meanwhile, outside,  the snow continued to fall and melt, so there was no reason not to turn to building on the shelf. After much consideration I did just that. It was a lesson in humilty, and a good reminder of trigonometry and high school woodshop, which I had last taken in 8th grade. I was pleased when at the completion of four hours I had a finished shelf  that stood on its own. One of the most valuable lessons I learned was that the more nails a person pounds the better wood holds together, so, I did that.

The shelf was set up, and then I set to organizing my records and putting them on the shelf. The record player was put on the shelf, as was my newly acquired toolbox. My shelf was the perfect fixture for the corner.

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The shelf had a wonky leg. I wasn’t sure what I had done to make the leg so crooked, but it appeared to hold up so I ignored it, until May 19th, when I woke up to see that my records and shelf were leaning to the one side, leaning more than just the quaint lean that they had been doing before. It looked as though it was all going to collapse. I decided to prop it up with brick and wood, that didn’t work. I realized that the problem was deeper than just the leg. I looked futher, and diagnosed this curious lean on the top piece of plywood which I had nailed to the legs unevenly. I removed the record player and newly acquired toolbox off the shelf, pryed up the top piece of wood, and then renailed it. The shelf has stood straight ever since. I am very pleased.

That was my project a few days ago, I have been eyeing it up ever since, but I have moved onto other things. Like today, it was sunny. The sun showed that precipitation whats for and I got to enjoy a pleasent 65° in the garden with my gardening companion.

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Lady Gray is the dude-I'm-renting-from's cat, but I sort of like her too. She follows me everywhere, and brings ticks with her wherever she goes. I like her anyways.

I pulled weeds to my hearts content. I also removed Little Wing’s back tire in preparation for the tire changing I am going to perform Saturday with the help of my motorcycle fixing buddy, Dan. I had asked my neighbor if he would help me put the bike up on blocks so I could do the removal. I asked him last night and he had said yes. After deep consideration, though, I realized that was actually unnecessary. In fact, having help with getting the bike propped might actually have been more trouble than it was worth,  unless I had more than just one extra set of biceps. I opted instead for my wits.

I built a ramp off my front steps, got the jack out of the bed of Ol’ Smokey, set up some stable boards, amd rode Little Wing up onto the ramp. I jacked Little Wing up just enough to have the back tire hang in mid air, and then I set to taking off the tire. This was where things got tougher, though and I realized I would need help. I couldn’t get the axle nut off by myself. I needed an extra hand to hold the wrench on the other side of the axle to prevent it from turning as I broke the nut loose. I waited for my neighbor to get up and at ’em.

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When he was up and about we made short work of it. After he went off to work and stuff I set to actually taking the tire off. An easily accomplished mission, and now I am all ready for tire changing. Ready and eager. I can’t wait to ride again.

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The view out my front door until I get the new tire on Little Wing.

While working on the tire I saw my first Minnesota hummingbird of the year. I was very excited by this. I have seen many hummingbirds this year, but none here in my home state. California had soo many, and I saw hummingbirds in Oklahoma and Missouri as well, but there is nothing that says “spring in Minnesota” like the buzzing of a hummingbird. I also saw many woodticks — which is really no suprise — and three mosquitos. I was very disappointed to see mosquitoes. It froze last night so they shouldn’t be out yet. It is what it is, though. Besides which, I smacked and killed all three of them.

While working in the garden I got my first sunburn of the year. Wait, excuse me, first Minnesota sunburn of the year. I was hot today. I mean, seriously complaining hot. Like had-to-take-a-break hot, it was awesome.

After a hot day in the sun I came back to my cabin, turned on the record player, sat in my rocking chair, and contemplated my shelf.

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Home, Home Again

“Home, home again, I like to be here when I can. When I come home cold and tired, it’s good to warm my bones beside the fire.”
– Pink Floyd, Time

It was Sunday, my head hurt. My head had been aching since two days before, since I arrived back In Northern Minnesota. I harsh ache that turned into a dull pain, almost imperceptible unless I reminded myself of it. I had grown so used to this foreign pain that I barely registered it. I unstrapped the bungee straps that held my tent to the old, modified,  grill rack that served as an extension of Little Wing’s storage capacity. The rain was coming down slow and lazy, finding purchase on my sweater, and soaking into the fabric, making contact with my skin. The chill of the rain combined with the headache were leaving me a slight bit uncomfortable, but it was nothing compared to the odd feeling that kept growing as I unstrapped the chords holding my portable home to the vehicle I had called home for eight months.

“What are you doing?! What if you have to , leave fast?” My racing brain questioned my motives. It took me a second to remind myself that I wouldn’t have to leave fast, I was home. My brain remembered almost immediately, but the queasy spot in my stomach didn’t seem comforted. I got a good hold of the tent under one arm, the bungee straps dangling from my opposing hand, and I made my way to the door of the place I am parking for a bit; my new home.

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I have so much in my head. I have stories galore. I am used to being asked “where are you going to?” Now I’m asked, “where was the favorite place you went?” It is a culture shift for sure. I have thoughts, I have growth, I have the whole world running through my head, and here I am, trying to fit into the space of a one room cabin.

I got into Minnesota and stopped down in Southern Minnesota to hang out with my friend, Judy. That’s where I left off in the last blog. I entered the state tired, cold and sore, and Judy was able to help with all that. I spent two nights there, the second night she gave me the spa treatment, and I soaked in a tub filled with epsom salt. Baths have been few and far betwwen in the last many months and it was exactly what my body called for. The next day I remounted Little Wing and drove the ninety miles North to Dad’s.

It was a cool ride, forty degrees most of the way. The sky was dark with clouds, and ten miles from home I stopped to put on my banana yellow rain pants. By the time I got to Dad’s  the sky looked like it was clearing up. I had planned to have lunch with Dad. I have a great  bottle of hot sauce from my friend in Arkansas which is all I had when it came to making lunch. With that key ingredient I settled on burritos. I told Dad to get the Rice and Beans ready and I would  bring the rest. I had stopped in Cambridge, MN to pick up an onion and a bag of tortilla wraps. I packed them on the Little Wing and I made the rest of theride to Dad’s, stopping omly once more, to put on those banana yellow rain pants.

Lunch lasted three and a half hours. I missed Dad. I was so glad to see him. We had great burritos, and discussed important things over his coffee and my tea. While we stood chatting the sky only cleared up more. When I finally hopped on Little Wing I had to put my banana yellow rain pants back where the came from, strapped down on the back of the tent, strapped to the grill rack that was mounted on the back of Little Wing.

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I knew I had a purpose to where I was going,  I was headed home to Bemidji. One of my close friends was celebrating her 40th birthday and I had been invited. I saw no reason not to make that my destination for when I got home, so I did. The ride from Dad’s to Bemidji is two hours at the highest speed, more like two and a half at a sane speed. The ride seemed so short because it was so beautiful. It was home. Little Wing had been on this exact route more than once before,  an odd reality when one thinks about where else we’ve been, experienceing new places for the first time.

Life is odd. I got back to Minnesota Friday night,and Saturday morning I was greeted with the prediction of snow. I had just left my Dad’s, the place my truck was parked. The truck is the vehicle that I would need if it were to snow. I could have lived without going anywhere for the next week, but I had already made plans to meet up with three different persons about three art different jobs, and all those meetings were scheduled for the day’s with the most predicted precipitation. This meant I had to get my truck. I called around and asked anyone if they could help. I got a reply from one of my closest friends. A woman that I met only a couple years ago, but who loves to have existential discussions as much as I do. We clicked straight away. She is as off the wall as I am, and sometimes we talk so crazy that one of us will apologize,  and the other one will just respond with a smile, because we have had the same thoughts in the past  that we were just  to shy to voice. Eccentric is as eccentric does (whatever that means). Chanel is this wonderful woman’s name, and she stepped up immediately when she new I needed help. I had other friends offer to help, but Chanel was ready to get my truck that evening, so I took her up on her offer of kindness. I rode Little Wing out to her place and then she followed me to the cabin I am now making home in.

I noticed that my rear tire is practically wore through on Little Wing. It was new in California so it is about time it gets replaced. It was a good thing I made plans to get that truck because that tire looks like it could barely go another sixty miles before I would be riding on chords. My next purchase is a new tire,  until then Little Wing is parked. A weird thought.

Anyway, Chanel and I went to go get the truck. Two and a half hours to Dad’s. We arrived in style, carring gifts of transmission fluid and brake fluid, which Dad directed me to get for in Ol Smokey (that’s my trucks name, for many reasons. One – I love Smokey and the Bandit, two – my truck isn’t against smoking. In fact, sometimes it smokes like a chimney, but what do you expect? It is 1992 Ford Ranger. Don’t judge).  I knew all about checking the fluids in my truck, but since my friend Chanel was standing there I didn’t yell at Dad when he started teloing me how and what I should do. I let his patronizing go, and, as always, he didn’t even seem to notice what he was doing. I just smiled and nodded as he told me how to do the things I had done a million times.

Life was good my truck was running, Chanel and I were on our way, me and Ol Smokey taking the lead and her following in her van. We stopped at a gas station to use the facilities. We got out of our separate vehicles in high spirits, carrying on a jovial conversation. We went inside, did our bussiness, exited the restroom, laughing about some dumb joke, when Chanel went silent. I turned to look at her. She was feeling her pockets and patting her coat. “I did something dumb,” she said,”I did something real dumb.”

I would soon find out that she had locked her keys in her car. I would then drive her two and a half hours back to Bemidji. I arrived home tired. Ol Smokey joined Little Wing in the driveway, and I walk into my meager little cabin.

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A cabin with no running water, woodheat, and a composting toilet. A cabin with many windows that look out over trees and swamp. A cabin with a loft for a bed and only enough room for me. A cabin which has my home written all over it. I entered it about midnight and I decided to unpack. I turned on the radio, Saturday night tunes on my local station, Northern Community Radio, are fantastic,. I started a fire, and I set to making home look like home. I went to bed early Sunday morning, around 1:30 am or so. I woke up bright and early, around 6:30 am or so. Around 7:00 am or so I got a call from Chanel. We had agreed the night before that she would get her extra key from home and then I would drive her back to her van.  So, on very little sleep, that’s what we did.

Getting my truck was a day and a half of tedious driving, but I am happy to have it. Driving Ol Smokey while Little Wing remains parked is an odd feeling,  though. It seems unreal after eight months and five days, 23 states, and nearly 15,000 miles. Four oil changes, and, now, three tires. It is time to stop counting now. That part if the adventure is over, I’m on to to the next one.

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The conversations in my life have shifted. I am learning how to talk about things differently.  I am learning how much I have grown by the different interactions I am now having with the same people I have already known. I am walking through this life more confidently, and, as I told a friend the other day, I finally feel like the responsible adult I always thought I should be, and honestly, it wasn’t that hard.

The headache was spurred on by a combination of all these changes, I believe. A good day of rearranging my cabin, and exploring this new adventure that is my latest residence, left my head feeling clear. Yesterday I drove to Grand Rapids to meet with old to friends,  and load up my truck with stuff to take home. I am going to Dad’s to pick up my record player and music collection today, because that will make my cabin really feel like home.

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The Great River (Of Sadness) Rode

“Spend the afternoon. You can’t take it with you.”
-Annie Dillard

I was told recently that home will draw a person like a magnet, I believe that’s true, especially after these last few days.

I am on my way home now. I feel the adventure changing into something else. I’m not sure what, but that doesn’t seem to make a difference.

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I’m not sure if it is a magnet that’s drawing me home or grief that’s chasing me there. Over the last few of days I have pondered that often. I left my family in St. Louis on May 5th, and had a whirlwind ride to Hannibal, Missouri where I enjoyed the Mark Twain museum and the various historic buildings they have preserved in his honor. Norman Rockwell had a part in Mark Twain’s celebrity when he did the illustrations for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, so I got to see the art of two my favorite people in Hannibal. Norman and Mark both hold special places in my heart.

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The day before I left for Hannibal was May The Fourth, an important day in every nerds life. I remember learning about the day from my best friend back in high school. She is a fellow Nerd,  who believed the sun revolved around Yoda, and set on Han Solo. Actually I’m not entirely sure that’s true (Amanda, were you in love with Han Solo too?)

I was witness to my young cousins finding out about the holiday for the first time. I was also witness to them playing badminton for the first time just the day before, when a friend of their’s showed up with two sets of rackets and a couple of shuttlecocks, which I, instead, called birdies. After their homework was done on May 4th we went outside and played another game of badminton. My cousins are nine and ten, very bright and very athletic. They enjoy sports like basketbal, and baseball; you know, all the games that involve running and hand eye coordination, two things I try to avoid doing at the same time. As I have come to learn in my short life, little boys have a lot of excess energy to run off. My cousins are constantly inviting me to join them in running or playing off this energy, which I have to refuse inorder to avoid those two aforementioned things, as well as any unwanted embarrassment that would undoubtedly befall me. I do not want to risk losing the title of ‘cool’ that has been silently bestowed upon me by my ownership of Little Wing, my abecedarian knowledge of engines, and my handiwork with  a pen and a paintbrush. Badminton though, that’s a different story. Give me a racket and a feathered bouncing ball any day. I can make those two things work, and if I can’t I will at least have fun trying.

The boys and I had a blast, and we were joined by their dad — my uncle — which only added to the fun. He was full of good tips on how to play better because he actually gets sports, and so he was able to direct all us whipper snappers on how to up our game.

After Badminton we had a wonderful dinner of Kuku Wa Kupaka, which is the Swahili way of saying coconut chicken. My aunt is originally from Zanzibar and so she knows these things. She has a head full of wonderful recipes and words, both of which the boys and I got a sample of that evening.

Later on that evening I found out that while I was out playing badminton with my cousins, my other aunt was back in South Dakota holding my Grandpa’s hand as he passed away. May The Fourth now holds a totally different meaning for me.

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I planned to leave on May 5th before I had even found out about Grandpa Norm. After finding out I was uncertain of what to do, so I just carried on with the already formed plans. My GPS had broken in St. Louis on the day I had went to see the free art museum. This is the third or fourth time I have had a broken Garmin on my hands, and my plan was just to live with it. How lost could I get on the way back to Minnesota? When I repeated those words to my aunt and uncle they decided that I should get a new one. They looked into deals and found one at the local mall. They decided that before I took off on May 5th they would get it for me. So on May 5th my aunt had Little Wing and I follow her and her van to the mall so she could treat me to a GPS. The mall opened at 10:00 am, and so did the electronics store we were going to, purportedly. In all actuality, it didn’t.

My aunt and I walked around the mall for an hour before the electronics store finally turned on its lights and opened its gate. We had purchased refreshments while we waited — Aunt Brenda a hot chocolate and me a hot tea —  and talked a bit. When the store opened up we were pleased to find that they still had the GPS they had posted online. I wasn’t pleased, however, to find it wouldn’t fit the mount that was already superglued to Little Wing’s windshield. Serendipty, the Universe, or maybe just the electronics store had our back though, because they had a used Garmin in their box of old GPS’ along with thecheap offbrandwe were looking for. It was a newer Garmin than I already had, and it would fit the standard Garmin mount Little Wing already held tight.

My aunt was kind enough to buy it for me, and I was ever so grateful. It would turn out that that gratitude would extend for the next few days as I got lost and got unlost by way of the GPS. I bid her ado with a big hug and Little Wing and I were off, on our way back home, by way off Hannibal Missouri.

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I traveled The Great River Road, my head filled with twirling, convoluted, warring emotions. Grandpa Norm weighed heavily on my mind, as he has sinvce I learned thay he was dying in February. During my ride back to Minnesota I felt frustrated and uncertain, as though there wasn’t an answer in the universe that would suffice. My mind felt stable enough to be capped of with a helmet and brought along as a passenger for the ride on Little Wing, but I may have been wrong. Every bug that found its end spattered mercilessly on my visor warranted a gutteral utterance of curse words. The frustration was neatly buried beneath my wide eyes that were being filled with the surrounding  beauty,  but it wasn’t buried deep enough. I thought if I just rode faster through the views of blooming wildflowers, and buding trees, if I just looked at the river more and observed the flying spring birds that the frustration would cease, but it didn’t. I would find that the frustration was misdiagnosed sadness, and I was treating it wrong.

That day, after seeing Hannibal, I decided to ride another 140 miles to a campsite. It was 5:00 pm, I had time before the sunset. I had found a free campsite online and chose that as my destination. A long ride through varied country back roads and stretches of interstate wound me up at the place I wnated to be, with no campsite in sight. The ride had been a complicated ride chosen by my new GPS, apparently it was the fastest route, but it was akso the most confusing. It took me way East to bring me back West. It was a caused a bit of extra frustration too. The air was filled with fog, and though it didn’t rain I could see the road was damp from where it had earlier. The road where the “campsite” was supposed to be was a nice paved driveway. A driveway built at a steep incline leading to a very fancy house. I got halfway up and saw that it was not going to take me to a place to pitch my tent so I tried to turn around. The road was wet, I was on a steep incline trying to push around a a three hundred-some pound bike, so, inevitably, I dropped it. Little Wing proved a pain in the back to get righted again, but I did it. A few sore muscles later, a stop at McDonald’s to ask for directions and order dinner, and a few miles later and I was back on the road, destined for a new campsite. It was dark now. I had a place in mind that the McDonald’s employees had told me about. I entered it into my new GPS, and I was on my way.

My muscles ached from riding and picking up Little Wing on that incline. My mind ached from a long day of long thoughts. I wanted to go to sleep. It was dark, as I said, and when my GPS told me to turn I turned on the first road I saw. I realized right away it was wrong. The center of the road was old, broken up, pavement humped up in the center. Bordering it on both sides was mud and gravel, but it was lower than the pavement so when I decided to turn around it meant I had to get off the pavement. As tired as I was, and as dark as it was with trees on either side blocking the light, I shouldn’t have tried to turn around, but I wasn’t sure what was at the other end of the sketchy road so I trued anyway. Once again, Little Wing bit the dust.

I stood over the bike, utterly exhausted. The emotions were raw by this point and my body wanted to collapse. I resorted to swearing — loudly. I pushed on Little Wing to get him up, but the bike was caught on the rut on one side of the pavement. He was in a ditch of wet dirt and as such did not feel like moving, and my body did not feel like moving him. I felt the tears well up as I strained my arms and legs over and over again, trying to push him up. I took off all the gear and tossed it off to the side. I took a drink of water, I thought rationally. I looked through the trees and saw, for the first time, the lights of a home at the end of the road I was on. I questioned myself, should I have just rode up the road and turned around? I tamped those thoughts down before they brought back the tears and I straightened myself up to go ask for help. I walked up the uneven road, and over the hill,  to a big house. I saw most of the lights were on. I climbed up the porch steps. The first thing I noticed were the pallets of plants packaged and new, as though from a greenhouse. The next thing I saw were the rows of cheap beer can lined up beside the plants. A quick scan of the premises revealed more disposed cans. The Red Toyota truck in the parking spot, with its shiny front grill, seemed to turn menacing as I tried to avoid counting the cans. I looked into the house and saw that it was gutted. More cans were scattered on the floor inside, and I questioned what I was going to do next, but I did it anyway.

Knock, knock, knock. No answer.

I looked around again, “they can’t be bad people,” I thought, “look at all those plants.”

Knock. Knock. Knock. I rapped more firmly this time. I heard noises, like someone moving quickly inside the house. I felt my stomach tie in knots. I reconsidered the thought about the plants, but instead of turning tail I said, very loudly, “He-llow?” No response. I heard more muffled shuffling. Idecides it was timeto turn tail.

I turned around and practically ran back to Little Wing.

I got back to Little Wing, heart practically jumping out of my mouth.  Thump. Thump. Thump. I gave it my all and pushed Little Wing up in one fell swoop. I started packing my belonging back on the bike. I heard the door from the top of the hill bang shut and I heard a low voice say something loud in the yard. Words that sounded triumphant filled the silent space and echoched around in my helmet as I shoved it on my head. I wasn’t sure why that male-like voice sounded so pleased, but I wasn’t sticking around to find out. Jacket unzipped, gloves in pocket, I started Little Wing and took off as fast as I dared on the uneven patch of refuse that served as a road.

The campsite turned out to be only a quarter of a mile down on the opposite side of tge road. The address I typed into my new GPS must have been inaccurate. I found a good campsite that belonged to the Corp Of Engineers and payed the ten dollars to stay that night. The camp hosts were lovely people. The man, his name was Frances, even stood by, holding the flashlight, as I set up my tent. It was almost 10:30 pm when I settled into my sleeping bag, and my tired body fell asleep immediately. My mind must of continued with out my body though because it woke me up twice before morning. Once a t 1:45 am and once at 5:00 am.

I woke up in the morning knowing I was going back to Minnesota. My spirits were high, and only heightened when I recalled what I had been told the night before about the free shower that the campsite offered. Ten dollars and a free shower? That is one of the better deals I have found.

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I took The Great River Road back to Minnesota.

Turns out Highway 61 is only The Great River Road sometimes. Other wise it is just a great road that’s ten or more miles away from the river, and sometimes it’s not even a Great road it is just a road, and sometimes it’s a dumb freeway, so that is something new I now know.

The Great River Road I took brought me through Wisconsin. I started in Illinois, got on 61 in Iowa, and took an exit onto Hwy 35 which runs along the Mississippi and then up along the St Croix. It took me a lot longer than I wanted to get back to  my home state, but I did it. I got here yesterday, and the ride back was gorgeous.

Home seemed to call to me. It was a ride through rains one of the way and I rode the last hour and half soaked because I hadn’t stopped to put on my rain gear when the rain had started. I knew I had my friend Judy waiting for me though, along with a warm bed, hot meal, and nice shower. I also knew I was close enough to home to be considered home free.

I’m back in Minnesota. Little Wing is back in Minnesota. It was a long ride through 23 different states. I have come back to Minnesota with a head full of knowledge, wonder and awe. I have a head filled with questions about the universe but I also have some answers. It feels like another reality though because I don’t have my Grandpa.

I will be back to me home HOME soon, which means another adventure, which is just really a continuation of the one I have been on. It is all life,  really.

Today it was raining so Judy and I traveled around this area, which is just North of Minneapolis, in her car. We went to a sculpture park, a beautiful area store filled with gorgeous jewlery, and we had the best Pulled Pork sandwich I could ever dream of. We have also shared great conversation which is helping to answer some of the long awaited questions I have held.

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Home, it is beckoning. For what reason I’m not sure. I sobbed for the first time in years on May The Fourth, and I have heard that sound sorround me in my helmet on The Great River Road. The tears are waiting in the wings and like to make random appearances regardless of the cues from my brain. The joy is also here though. I feel the pull of the magnet as it Little Wing crawls along, and all I can think is “Northern Minnesota.”

Today I smelt the swampy smell of home. The spring rain of Minnesota carrying with it the smell of peat, leaf buds, and damp pollen. I have been a few places in the last few months, and I have not smelt the smell once. My nose has caught wiffs of scents that were similar, but I’m not sure anything truly  compares to spring in the swampland of Minnesota.

Little Wing and I are back in Minnesota.. for now.

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It’ll Beale Alright. What Do We Have To Louis? Take Off Your Boots And Stay Awhile

I left Little Rock, Arkansas in a rain storm. I was thirty miles out of the city when the rainstorm stopped and turned into overcast skies. I got to Memphis about two hours later, my feet still wet from the water that entered in at the seams. I squelched my way over to the restaurant that my hosts in Little Rock had arranged for me to have lunch at.

Fred, the Pepper Smoker, and his wife Toni are owners of a piece of land,  and a smoke shack where Fred smokes peppers. Smoking peppers is an ancient tradition in other cultures, it is a way of drying, qukckly, peppers that might otherwise mold if left to dry in the sun. The process leaves the peppers smelling smoky and with a smoky taste that is hard to beat. They are not to be ate raw, but they can be used in cooking, or as potpourri if a person wants a delicious smoke aroma filling their guests olfactory senses. It can also be used in the making of hot sauce, which is another of Fred’s specialties. Fred’s peppers are very good, and he finds a good market with restaurants. The place that I went for lunch In Memphis was one from the list of customers he has.

McEwans in Memphis is a great little restaurant that isn’t too far of Intersate 40. I parked in a parking garage (parking in Memphis is hard to find and expensive), and attempted to get my fingers unthawed enought to unzip my jacket. My tank bag and helmet in tow I  made my way out of the parking ramp and down to the restaurant, which was right around the corner. I entered into a hip looking place, brick visible on the inside, and ornate woodwork giving the impression of an original Memphis building, which it very well might have been. The walls were displaying bright paintings that lit up the place with their color. I stopped in front of the matredee podium and looked around at the varying customers. Most of them were dressed in suits or suit like equivalents for the working ladies. It is a lunch place, only open 11:00 to 2:00, so I figured that the other customers had come for their lunch break. If I had been a less confident person I may have felt out of place in my jeans, tshirt, and squelching rugged boots.  The matredee came forward and greeted me, and I gave him the secret message that Fred told me to give. The matredee told me thay had been waiting for me, he showed me my table. It was mere seconds before a server came to help me.

The service was fast, the food was great, and I loved the atmosphere. I felt quite posh sitting in the joint, even despite my wet wool socks that were bunching. I made my way to the bathroom were I used the facilities and adjusted my feet a bit. It had been a long day already and I hadn’t even started. My gratitude for the hot food set before me was aimed at my previous hosts, and after a good look around Memphis I knew I would be thanking them again for the room I would be sleeping in which they had treated me to.

Memphis was, in my very humble opinion, a bust. I expected much more than I got, which was just a few postcards, and expensive parking spots. I went to Beale Street where the best stuff is at, and I found it unwelcoming. I left McEwans after drinking quite a few liquids so by the time I got to Beale Street I needed a bathroom. I parked in the parking garage and made my way down to the street in search of some sort of facility in which to find relief. I approached a man who stood in front of a bar, another matredee of sorts. I asked him if I could use the bathroom and he replied “not unless you are buying something, hunny.”

I smiled real sweet and asked “really?” The man was not budging on his position. He told me no and called me hunny again, so I moved along, a giddy in my step. I stopped at a neat shop with records and postcards and asked an older lady behind the counter if she knew of a place I could go. She gave me a smile and a great response, telling me I couldn’t go there but if I moved down a couple storefronts there would be a place. I hustled along, making a mental note to come back to that shop to buy my postcards from that kind lady.

The kind demonor of the lady at the record store seemed to be a rarity on Beale Street. People who worked there worked there, and they weren’t all that friendly. The people visiting were tourists with enough money to buy the expensive drinks being sold at the bars, and they weren’t all about smiling at the strange girl walking around. As I expected, music was everywhere. There was a blues band playing loudly in the courtyard of a bar which I could watch from the gate, but when I walked two bussinesses down, my ears were met by the pop music coming from another bar. I could hear blues here and there, but the majority was new pop. I believe if music doesn’t have music behind it, if it is all about words covering an unoriginal beat, then it ain’t music. Thats why I love the blues so much. Blues, jazz, and good ‘ol jam music are all about the instruments, and if a vocal is tossed in it is absolutely fantastic. Now all that being said, I felt as though Beale Street was leaning on its Blues heritage to draw a crowd, but drowning it out in order to keep the crowd. The young people coming out of this pop-playing bar didn’t seem to mind the tunage at all. I walked on.

I was sad to find that this place of music, and art, a place that had a hand in the beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement, didn’t have any art. I saw one mural.

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It was in the middle of a central gathering place that had a group of African American musicians setting up for a show later in the day. There was a lot of space for art all over the blank brick walls, but from what I saw there was only one mural.  There was a Civil Rights museum right nearby, and had I checked it out I may have felt differently, but I left feeling like a place of black empowerment had become a white persons drinking dream.

I went back to that smiling lady at the record store and bought postcards from her. I walked towards the park that runs along the Mississippi at the end of Beale Street. I was met by a man who introduced himself as Kevin. He was African American, and he was friendly, asking me how I was and then asking where I was going. I had no reason to lie to the man so I gave him a vague answer about going to the park. He told me that he and his two daughters loved the park and he told me what he thought I should check out. I spoke with him about this and when there was a short break in the conversation he asked me if I had any change to spare. I did. I reached into my pocket and pulled out two quartes and handed them to him. He told me he had to feed his two daughters, and, didn’t I, “Diamond, have a little more?” I told him no. And Kevin told me, “I’m looking for two dollars.” Again I told him no. He smiled I wished him a a good day and continued my walk to the park. I got there to find it was closed off, probably for construction.

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The parking garage I parked in is down the street, you can make it out in this image. This is on of the famous joints on Beale Street, and it is the same place I was turned down for the restroom.

I walked by Kevin again on my way back to the parking garage and Little Wing. I asked him if he had any more luck and he told me “No Diamond, I haven’t.”

I could relate.

I left Memphis with a bad taste in my mouth. One day I will probably go back, and one day I will see the cool bits, but the best part was my stop at McEwans and then meeting the lady at the record store, and then Kevin.

My next step after that was to go to Clarkdale, Mississippi. A place that was an old birthplace of the blues and was filled with it to this day.. according to the internet. This was where my hosts in Little Rock had set me up with a room at. It was 70 miles south of Memphis so it wouldn’t take long to get there. I was looking forward to touring a town that had BLUES Blues and maybe even listening to some before hitting the sack. I rode Highway 61 down to Clarkesdale without bit of a an odd feeling in my stomach. I attributed it to the Memphis visit and rode on. I took the exit in to Clarksdale and the feeling only increased.

61 had taken me through lots of farmland. There weren’t many houses, but there were some. Entering Clarksdale I got to see the start of residential area, and I was met by ramshackle. The city was full of graffiti. I figured downtown must be better because that’s where I was staying, and the internet had advertised it so well. Downtown did not live up to my expectations, it did a great job at disappointing. The buildings that had once looked like nice businesses had windows broken out. Half finished graffiti was everywhere. The place was a dump. I got to the Blues club that my room was supposed to be situated over and noticed that it looked closed. I parked beside two nice limos on a cracked up parking lot. The fancy, clean limos looked out of place beside the club with its graffiti, and the uncared for parking lot. The feeling in the pit of my stomach had grown immensely.

I ended up leaving Clarkesdale and going to a sweet little Bed and Breakfast in Tunica, Mississippi that my frinds in Little Rock found after I called them. Tunica is halfway between Clarksdale and Memphis. Clarksdale, I found out, was a town filled with violence, a place a person doesn’t want to hang out when night comes around; or at least that’s what the kind couple that owned the B&B in Tunica told me. Tunica, on the other hand, was a place of peace and wealth. Something that had become a reality in the 1990’s after the development of the casinos that surrounded the little burb.

In driving through Clarksdale had observed only the faces of African Americans, it appeared that I was the only Caucasian.

It has been hard to figure out how to articulate what has been going through my head since the ride in and out of Memphis, that’s why I haven’t wrote about it yet. This is a heavy topic and something I know of a bit from living around reservations in Minnesota, but something I feel I know nothing of when driving through the Delta.

Here in St. Louis, where I am now staying with my Aunt, Uncle, and two sweet cousins, I got the opportunity to see Ferguson, Missouri. Unless a person has been living under a rock we all know about the small area to the North of the infamous St. Louis Arch. Right before I took off on Little Wing in September news was filled with images, and words, about the whole thing. As I made my way across the country I would stop at varying places and get an update on the happenings by way of the news. This racial strife thing is always an issue, it seems.

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Some graffiti in Ferguson.

My aunt took me on a tour through Ferguson in her van after we dropped the boys off at school. I saw a nice looking neighborhood that looked like a lot like the rest of the St. Louis neighborhoods I had seen. The difference was the fenced off sites that contained burned rubble, and the graffiti covered plywood that patched up the windows of empty looking businesses. Meanwhile, as I sat in the passenger seat ogling the destruction, people went around their daily lives, carrying shopping bags, and walking with their children. I even saw people fueling up their nice, 2015, vehicles at gas stations, while the sun shone down and glistened off the nice lawns that graced the front of sweet brick homes. It was a normal place, with normal people, something I hadn’t seen on the news.

What do I make of all this? Good question, I don’t know. I took off on this trip searching for answers as to what the world was all about. What is the world all about? Good friggin’ question.

I rode through the Mississippi and I felt out of place. I don’t feel out of place often. Around really nice neighborhoods filled with lots of money I get that feeling, but not in poor neighborhoods. Apparently there is a difference between poor and poverty.

How does the world justify the extreme dichotomy between the people who made Beale Street what it was and the privileged people who now attend it? Why is Clarksdale — an old home of the blues, only 70 miles south of Memphis — filled with violence and negativity while Tunica has been saved by the casinos? Before the 1990’s, when Tunica was rescued from itself, it “was one of the most impoverished places in the United States, semi-famous for the particularly deprived neighborhood known as Sugar Ditch Alley, named for the open sewer located there.” (Source: Wikipedia)

I have no clue what to make of this, but in my humble opinion Ferguson, Missouri is not the only place with problems. The problem, I feel, is racial strife. Even in Clarksdale wher the populayion is a majority black, why is that? Why is this impoverished town so segregated? It felt ignored. It felt like white people rode in on motorcycles, saw the population, and decided to leave the town without spending a nickel. I could leave. I had the means to get out of the town. I was being treated by two wonderfiul indviduals to a nice place to sleep that night, I had options. What do the young people, who grew up in the town, who might feel out of place there, what do they do when night comes around?  What are their options?

This exploration may have lead to more questions than answers, to be honest. Even so, I’m glad I have done it. The questions will nag on my mind like the squelching boot, that holds up my sopping wool sock, bothers my foot.  I would rather have the wet boot making me uncomfortable in the cool rain than no boot at all. I am happy to have my mind racing with uncomfortable questions and thoughts. I don’t mind that it is constantly being bombarded with new observations that lead to new ponderances. I would rather be out riding in the uncomfortable climate, than staying at home, feet comfortably propped, waiting for the news to tell me their answers. Eventually my boot will dry, and my sock will be only a stiff reminder of the rain I faced earlier. I can take off the boot and change the sock.

I arrived in Tunica, Mississippi, ready to rest and have a quiet night to myself. The owners were very nice, and it turns out they are art lovers, so we had a great discussion. I called Fred and Toni in Little Rock and thanked them for everything. I knew the next day I would be in St. Louis, visiting my family, but that evening I was ready to soak in a nice tub, to warm my bones and my racing mind.

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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.

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.