Pictures and links to follow.
“The mountains are calling, and I must go.” -John Muir
September 14, 2016, Sacred Mysteries Bookstore, Livingston, MT
I’m sitting in a small room in an old building with a high ceiling, surrounded by books and pictures of deities, saints and mystics from all the traditions. The creaky, sienna-colored, peeling paint wood floor I slept on was hard, even with my new sleeping bag and pad. So I’m sore and groggy — trying to wake up without Folgers in my cup. There’s some traffic noise from the street and the hum of the mini-fridge and something else I can’t identify. I notice a large black, green and red sheet with cuneiform writing and the Hindu elephant god, Ganesh: the remover of obstacles. Last night when I arrived, the spiritual class being held recited a prayer to Archangel Michael titled “Traveling Protection.” Apparently, I’ve come to the right place.
How I Got Here
“The trick is to tick things off your bucket list without kicking said bucket.” -A Dude Abikes
On August 28th, I set out on a 23-day vacation, the first one in several years and probably the longest I’ve ever had. I had the paid time off to use or lose and some rent savings from living in my tiny Harry Potteresque room under the stairs. Plus, I lacked visiting only five of the 50 states, and my younger brother who is named Michael and travels for work, has been here. Once that I learned a friend moved to Moorhead, Minnesota (across the river from Fargo, North Dakota) and there was an Amtrak train from Fargo to Glacier Park, plus that 2016 is the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, the wheels were in motion.
So I decided I would fly to Fargo, train to Montana, take buses, camp, use the free homestay services Couchsurfing.com and WarmShowers.org and of course, rent bikes along the way, and fly home for $39 on Frontier Airlines (the luggage costs more than the ticket). But there was a glitch: there are no buses to Yellowstone National Park, except the outrageously-priced tours from places like Bozeman. And there I was, stuck in a place where the wild elk literally come into the campground, crap everywhere and at night make a piercing sound called bugling, since it’s the rut, mating season. The night after a scary walk down the hill from Mammoth Hot Springs, with their green eyes staring at me, and having already taken the Yellowstone in a Day tour with Xanterra, plus with the passes closed due to snow and others due to fire, I could not make it to the Tetons, I decided: it was time to decamp.
One of the pairs of camp hosts offered me a ride, but then ditched me and left early. But three magical hitch hikes later, I’m in Livingston, killing time before a ride I was offered in response to an ad I put on Craigslist which will take me to my 49th state, South Dakota. Alaska will be the last of them. That’s another trip, hopefully with my bro.
Hitchhiking Purifies the Soul
“It seems to me that I’ve always relied on the kindness of strangers.” -Blanche DuBois, A Streetcar Named Desire
Before this trip I hitchhiked a total of one time in my life: in college on my “drop-off” experience, where we each had to survive a day and a half with five dollars, a roll of Life Savers, and our wits. It was in a red sports car, the thirteenth vehicle I’d stuck my thumb out at, somewhere in central Massachusetts. The driver was a guy, not Christie Brinkley in Vacation. I recall the feeling of utter desperation at not being picked up and then triumphant exhilaration when he stopped. The same hatred of all humanity passing me by turning to sheer joy happened the nine times I’ve hitched on this trip. Yesterday it was my camp neighbors Houston and his mother Diane who took me to the park exit on their way to the Boiling River, which I had been in (or next to, where it meets the Gardiner River, on my hitch into the park), then Kevin, the world-traveled park service electrician, and finally Matthew, a painter of both houses and art who knew the owner of this bookstore, Dave, who graciously offered to let me stay overnight. There’s nothing like being stranded and essentially homeless — with cold and bears waiting — to getting a ride to make you go back to loving everyone.
So Far, So Good: No Gaping Maws of Grizzly Bears
“Life is a grand adventure, or nothing at all.” -Helen Keller
The trip is winding down, and for the most part it has been far better than I imagined. The word travel in English comes from the French travail (to work), and it certainly has been that. Pulling an all-nighter to pack after my 60-mile ride in the 1400miles.com Austin Community Ride on August 27th (more on that in another post, perhaps). Staying up to not miss the train. Unpacking, packing, camping, biking and hiking in the rain, cold, wind and heat, on unfamiliar roads, with loose cattle, cars and trucks screaming by. Etc. Seeing bears, but them not seeing me. No wrecks, tickets, or major injury or illness. Sure, no breakfast tacos either, but one must forge on.
Where to Next?
“Fortune favors the bold.” -Unknown
If all goes to plan and Steve from Craigslist picks me up [Update: he did, and we had a great ride), next will be Mount Rushmore, South Dakota and Devil’s Tower, Wyoming. I’ll stay with Ryan and Kasi from Couchsurfing. I hope to bike to both monuments and get two more stickers and stamps in my National Park Passport. Then there will be one last night of camping in Buffalo, Wyoming, a day-long bus ride to Denver, Colorado, a stay-over with Shirley, and my flight home. At that point I’ll start compiling photos, videos (including some shot with a GoPro) and more blog entries to record some of the highlights of this trip. There are far too many moments to record; the experience is way more important. But I want to share what I can.
For me, just getting here has been an epic adventure. Meeting some great people, seeing some wild life in their natural habitat, and a part of the country that’s always eluded me. In a way, it’s spectacular and amazing. In another, it’s just life, still me, with a smaller version of my stuff (thank you George Carlin), in a different place. The Buddha taught that one way to peace is to remain equanimous. But personal hero and comic genius Gene Wilder died on this trip. The presidential campaign continues to bring out the worst of America. The 40-hour a week j-o-b awaits my return. There will be visits with family and friends, the holidays, chores, errands, the new TV season, and of course biking my 100 miles a week (at least til the end of the year). Re-entering regular life will be challenging.
I’m grateful for all the support I’ve had in person and from afar. It’s quite humbling, actually. But there’s nothing like being in the grandeur of nature to make one feel simultaneously insignificant and at home and at peace with yourself and the planet. This land is your land, this land is my land. If you haven’t I hope you get to see some of this part of the wild, even a little bit as I have, for yourself someday. It’s really quite vast, lovely and amazing. Meanwhile, maybe my reports will be of interest, so I hope you’ll check back, and even register, subscribe, comment, like, re-post, etc.
“No matter where you go, there you are.” -Buckaroo Banzai
A Dude Abikes