Saturday, September 4, 2010

Dammed Up and Handicapped

Squatting on the church lawn Thursday night was a mixed emotional bag. In terms of beauty and softness, it was the best place I'd stayed yet. I situated the tent in a place where I wouldn't be easily spotted from the road, and reconciled myself to the reality of my situation, but the realization that I was doing something that many people might mistake as an act of outright nonconformity had me squirming a good bit of the night. My experiences with Jerry only heightened the horror by which I imagined myself through the eyes of neighbors as they peeked between slates in the venetian blinds to see me audaciously planted on the church lawn. As if this weren't bad enough, and perhaps to remind me of the Bible, storms of the type Noah might have encountered moved through the area that night. The pink and orange lightning peppered the sky for hours before they actually came. I managed to sleep about three hours.

Of note:  one time, after awakening from one of my "naps" that night, just as I opened my eyes, exactly above my tent, exactly in my line of sight, a shooting star zipped right in front of me. I thought, "I should make a wish," and I said, "May I have a good journey." But I immediately thought after that that this shooting star was not about a wish, but a kind of sign that my wishes, for going out to California, were about to come true. Not long after, the silent lightning started. The orange, undulating clouds moved in.

The next morning, my tent was soaked and it took an extra amount of time to pack everything up. I shuttled all my stuff to the entrance of the church, under the overhang, packed it up and ate a little breakfast. I really didn't want to ride into the countryside with the clouds still hanging so dark and solemn in the sky. I could easily find cover in an urban area, but not out among the corn and soy. I looked west and saw bright blue skies and pedaled off.

It was a morning marked by wrong turns and a lot of wasted effort, going up hills so steep they required walking my bike. I'd get to the top before realizing I went the wrong way, turn around, coast down to the place of maldirection, and be plagued once again with doubt as to whether I was going the right way. After finally get on the right road, it started drizzling. So much exertion had me drinking a lot of water so that I had nearly depleted my water supply, so I looked forward to getting to Rapidan, Minnesota so I could get water in the stores I expected to be there. As it turns out, Rapidan is well past it's glory days and all the stores in town, and the city school, are boarded up. I had to stop at a private residence refill my water bottles. They told me that the town I was headed to was like Rapidan, and advised that I go to Lake Crystal instead.

Two miles down the road to Lake Crystal, I came upon Rapidan Dam, where there is a park with picnic shelters and water fountains. It was a great place to stop, rest, and spread my things out to dry. Not long after I stopped, serious rain arrived. I stood wondering how I really felt about continuing across a countryside where I could never really predict if towns would have places where I could get supplies.

I hung around at Rapidan Dam Park for quite some time, thinking and pondering, even eating lunch at the nearby Dam Store. After lunch, a bus from a handicapped, mentally challenged group home came so a group of its residents could get pie at the Dam Store (their renowned for their "homemade" pies).

I stood there thinking, "I'm at a dam waiting for the rain to stop, and here are people who are handicapped. It seems that "blocked" or "impeded" is the message I'm getting." It was like a kind of epiphany and in that moment, I understood that heading across the country on a bike to get to California, while certainly a noble and courageous effort, is something that will take months to complete, if I even complete it at all--and then what? Over the next months, while travelling, I wouldn't save money because food was more expensive bought in quantities for carrying in a backpack. While out there on the road, I wasn't either in California or writing, which seems to go against what my life should be right now.

I decided in that moment to return to the Twin Cities, not really sure what I'd do when I got there. Over the past couple of days, it's clarified and I believe I will find a way out to California that will get me there more quickly. This trip was important for many reasons, but it was never intended to last longer than it has. It was time to come back.

Coming back has been, perhaps, the most difficult thing to do--even more than going forward. I've really wrestled with it, fearing that I may just be giving up, fearing that others would judge me a quitter. But following intuition means following it during such times and doing what it hints at, so I have stuck it out, and all along the road today I have seen dozens of moths and butterflies--an omen I received a few weeks ago which seemed to indicate that big changes are coming.

I don't know what will happen when I get to the Twin Cities, but I believe the Universe is guiding me there, and as with every day and night of this journey, I know I can trust her to do what's best for me.

Homeless Gypsy

My great challenge yet came on Thursday night. After meeting my new artist friends at the University in Mankato and the eighty-year-old psychic healer at Cub, I was confronted with the reality that I had no easily identifiable place to pitch a tent that night. Let me reframe that: from the perspective of someone who is used to sleeping in places with the permission of owners or stewards, I had few options. From the perspective of a homeless person, there were plenty.

As I was leaving the University earlier, I'd spotted a church with a huge, moved lawn and a labyrinth of spruce pines. As I passed it, I thought it would be a great place to camp. So, I went back there and scouted it out. Yes indeed, I could pitch a tent there, but since no one was around to ask permission, I had to face the fact that staying there would be as a squatter, a homeless Gypsy. With few other options, since I picture myself as a more a Yuppie type than a homeless person, I conceded that this is what I needed to do. My choice was aided by the banner in front of the church, which read, "All Welcome." As I knocked on the front door, I also saw that they had Buddhist and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meeting there, and figured I could always tell the pastor, "I'm riding my bike across the country on a shamanic journey," and he'd understand and be cool with it.

The problem arose with what to do until it was dark. Squatting on private land requires a certain finesse, as explained by Jerry, a homeless guy I co-loitered with for about 30 minutes in front of Cub Foods while waiting for it to get dark. "I pitch my tent at about 11," he said with a craggy voice to rival Joe Cocker, "and take it down about 5." This was the most coherent sentence I got from the guy. Most of his speech was something like the following:  "Yeah, he told me that he so I didn't know but there was the other one so I figured..."

Jerry eventually got angry at me and left Cub Foods in a huff. I'd evidently offended him. In a discussion about my playing the guitar, I insinuated that the most important reason for wanting it with me was that I enjoy playing it. "That's not the reason you should have it with you," he said with no small measure of piss and venom, his scratchy vocal chords ratcheting the sounds. "People give you money if you play an instrument, you dumbass." I was happy to see Jerry mount his bike and pedal away, but in his absence, I was certain people now viewed my loitering in front of Cub Foods as a certain sign of my inclusion with Jerry as among the homeless creeps of the world.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Finding My Tribe

There’s a weird smell in Mankato, Minnesota—a cross between burning tires and apple pie hangs in the air—suggesting industry, sure, but more—something more deeply rooted, probably not good, probably poisoning the inhabitants, who wonder years later how the hell they got ball cancer. It was as if I’d gone through a portal that ripped me away and transported me to Ohio.

Finding a place to eat lunch was at the top of my list, but there truly seemed to be no parks in Mankato. I finally settled for going to the University, but getting there required riding my bike up a long incline, which I was able to do, so I walked it and found my legs in knots by the time I got to the top. Finding a place to sit and eat became the next challenge as I rode around on top of the hill on which the University if perched. I found a spot in a garden-like area in front of one of the buildings. There was a kind of horseshoe walk lined with oaks, maples, and various varieties of flowers. The maples in the center are already foretelling the approach of Autumn in the fiery hue of orange erupting in their leaves.

From my place on one of the wooden benches, I could see a young woman across the horseshoe with a giant pad, a palate, and a collection of brushes. I thought how cool it was that she had the guts to sit in such a public place and paint. I’d done so while painting caricatures at Valleyfair a number of summers ago, but I had to as a part of the business. A certain reluctance in me to bother people I don’t know typically holds me back from doing what I want, which in this case was going over to see what she was painting and talking to her about it.
Later, some people were standing near a guy at a bench not far from me. I overheard one of the young women say, “We’re just going around seeing what everyone else is doing.” It was then that I realized there were a number of people sitting around this place painting. I overruled my general reluctance to bother people I don’t know and went over to talk to them. It turns out, this was a watercolor painting class and the teacher had sent them out to this place to paint. In reward for pushing myself beyond my comfort zone, I met three lovely and very talented painters. We stood around chatting for a while, and one was even able to give me directions to find a grocery store when I left the University.

When I left that morning, I had no idea where I was headed. I’d learned to begin trusting the Universe to direct me, and here I could see I was led to people I might call “my tribe,” aspiring artists, and one was also a writer. We shared many of the same values. It was encouraging to see them using their artistic abilities and I was able to talk some of my values in striking off on this crazy journey. It was a confirmation that the Universe takes us to places that help us become whom we know we need to be.

Later that afternoon, I found the Cub Foods and inside discovered they had a place where you could sit and eat. A girlfriend from years ago and I used to go to groceries instead of restaurants to save money. I always found it fun and exciting to have the entire store to choose from, finding those items I most wanted, and sitting down to eat them. It felt sad to leave my new friends at the University, but this dining opportunity at Cub cheered me up.

While eating, I struck up a conversation with an eighty-year-old touch healer. She has a gift of being able to use touch to help people relax and feel at peace. She discovered her gift late in life and was telling me she knew she’d live to be older than one hundred because she had to make up for the time she lost earlier in her life as she lived by more conventional ideology. We talked for some time, finding we shared much in common in how we see the world. She said it was such a joy to meet someone like me because there just weren’t that many people around with whom you could talk about such things without them getting all “German Lutheran on you.” Again, I was greatly encouraged and fascinated to see these “chance meetings” that were so encouraging, especially after the first few really difficult days of my trip.

I entrusted my way to the Universe that morning, uncertain where it would lead, and I could see how each “wrong turn,” each seemingly “insignificant” decision lead me to these two very enriching experiences with people it was a great pleasure and joy to meet. I sat in Cub Foods for a bit after the touch healer left to write my thoughts and got choked up as I thought about it and put it all together. It was a moment of learning for me.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010


August 30 -- I woke up feeling pretty down, discouraged, and fearful. It's nothing new really--same old stuff:   worrying about bills, society's opinion of me, and whether all of this has been a big mistake. I tried pacing, but kept stirring up mosquitoes, so I sat at the picnic table. I sat there and just said, "Please help me. I don't know what to do." I soon had the word "trust" going through my mind:  I need to trust the process, trust the universe, trust my instincts. It was one of those moments when you know your prayer has been answered.

Later in the afternoon, I spent a few hours at the library in Waterville, Minnesota. The place was about ready to close, so I packed up all my gear (not an easy task since I have to unpack and repack my pack to get the computer in and out). I had about five minutes left, so I perused the shelves, not wanting to leave the air conditioning and go into the putrid humidity outside.

I found a book full of stories of people working as I have been to live soulful lives. I just opened the book to see where it landed and it opened to a girl asking to have a birthday party with all of her friends. I wasn't too interested, so I looked at the table of contents and saw a story entitled "Trust" and turned to it. It was the very story the book had fallen open to. A girl, for her birthday, asked the creator for snow (it was July in Arizona) and for all her friends to come to her party.

Her parents asked her if she was disappointed when her prayer wasn't answered. She said, "It was answered. He said 'no.'" The whole point being that trusting the Universe or the Creator or whatever means that any outcome is an answer. Ultimately, the writer argues that whatever the Universe does, or is doing, it's in our best interest, that even sadness, fear, and hopelessness can be forces that help us in ways we might not currently understand.

August 31 -- Storms moved into the area early this morning. I put my shoes on and got out to baton down the hatches. I got back into the sweltering tent, waiting for the coming judgment. It started raining with the familiar pelting sounds surrounding me. Almost immediately, I felt a drop on my leg. This seemed strange, so I used my other foot to feel the spot. I felt four slimy feet launch from my leg and a slithery body land on my hand. I nearly freaked. Once I got the flashlight on, I saw the tiny toad sitting on top of my sleeping bag. In my haste to get the rain fly in place, I left the screen unzipped and this little guy made his way into my sleeping space--about the same capacity as a coffin. I freaked. I don't mind toads out in the yard, but I don't want to share such a small space with one.

I tried using the flashlight to scare the toad toward the screen so I could get him to jump out. This jittery little bugger wanted rather to jump toward the light and the hand holding it. After 5 steamy minutes of this in the sauna-like tent with my glasses fogging up on me, I finally got him near the screen. All he had to do was jump out. But he wouldn't. He would go any direction but the one he was supposed to. So, yet again, I'd be left coaxing him toward the unzipped screen. He jumped into my hat. He slithered under the sleeping bag. He jumped right at my face. "You stupid dumb ass," I cried out. "Why don't you jump right there--one inch away, you idiot!"

Right at the moment, I got a clear picture of my life. I've been like this toad, following survival mode and not expecting that the "big guy" up there is actually trying to help me. I think the Universe has made so much possible for me, but I still cling to fear, worry, and desperation. It's gotten better over the years, but I know that I still often fret over things that don't really count. How many times has the way been opened for me, but because of my fears, I jump this way or that, not the way that would take me where I need to go? Well, this toad was obtuse, so I finally grabbed a sock and used it to seize this fellow and toss him out into the rain. I hope the Universe doesn't have to do that with me!

Going forward means trusting that whatever happens is the best to happen. If that means bankruptcy, shame, and failure, then that's what it means. More practically for this trip, if it means sleeping in a ditch by the side of the road, getting lost, or not knowing where to look for help, then that is the situation and I need to understand that perhaps this is the "easy" way. Hopefully these things won't happen, but this perspective gives me a frame through which to understand my circumstances. I am heading out into the rain, though it may be a way that, under my current understanding, seems scary or overwhelming.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Into the Mighty Wind

August 28 -- Windburned, Sun scorched, Tired, Sore. Salt crusts on my face and arms. I feel greasy from sunscreen and exertion. The wind feels like a curse. At times I have to get off the bike and walk, and my feet are getting sore as well. I sit on the grass in front of a Superamerica eating my lunch. I suppose I've now completed my first 12 miles. I'd hoped to make 40 today, but I don't think it's going to happen. Coming up out of the Minnesota River valley, is brutal enough, but into a head wind blowing a steady 30-40 mph, it is killing me. I'd hoped to get down to Faribault, so I could take the bike trail that leads to Mankato. There are camping sites along the path. But I can't see making it that far. That means finding a place along the way to camp along side of the road. It makes me nervous to think of it.

Many people have greeted me. A man in a Model A Ford honked as he went past. I waved. He waved. It was as if, together, we represented an older spirit of America--he driving one of history's greatest machines; me striking off west with only what I can carry. Many people have greeted me and shown great enthusiasm for my endeavor.

After hours of riding along country roads, I finally found a truck stop off of I-35 at the Northfield exit. I ran out of water. I thought, for some reason, that I'd be going through towns, but as it turns out, only prairie. Miles and miles of PRAIRIE. I was really starting to worry about water, so I stopped at a couple of houses, but was too embarrassed to go to the door to ask for water. I worry too much about this:  how people perceive me. I happened upon a Lutheran Church, where the cleaning crew was cleaning. I saw cars in the lot, so I went in and drank a gallon from the water fountain and refilled my bottle. I told the people of my trip. They were amazed and astounded, wished me good luck. I wished they would invite me to sleep in there air conditioned youth room with over-sized couches, a large screen TV, and carpeted floor.

I now sit at the truck stop, in the air conditioning. I was out of water again, so I bought two liters, Water is heavy, and I'm so tired I can hardly see straight. I haven't found a place to bed down for the night, so I have to go out now. The sun is setting and it'll be dark soon.

After leaving the truck stop, I tried two places near a cornfield, but was nearly eaten alive by mosquitoes. The grass was too high to pitch a tent. I rode another two miles down the road and was about to knock on a door to ask if I could sleep on their lawn. Then I spotted a boat ramp going down to a lake. A little exploring, and I found a nice, secluded spot along a trail next to the lake. I was able to bathe in the water and get a good night's sleep.

August 29 -- I really wonder what my life is all about. While riding, I don't get much chance to think because most of the effort is put into pedaling into this crazy wind. I wonder if I am somehow "going against the spirit." I sit under a picnic shelter near a lake and wonder where this is leading. I feel pretty discouraged, especially as I think of how much further I have to go. I lay my head down on the picnic table and cry for a few minutes because I feel such despair for where my life is headed. I don't understand this. I've done everything I know to follow my bliss, but it seems only ever to lead to things like this, to dead ends and difficult trips that seem fraught with challenges. I worry that people think I'm crazy, or worse, not willing to work. It's so difficult to explain. I'm just following my heart, but it has become such a long road. I'm tired, my butt hurts, and I wonder where I'm going to sleep tonight.