"The world does not reward honesty and independence, it rewards obedience and service. It’s a world of concentrated power, and those who have power are not going to reward people who question that power."-Chomsky

"The trouble with self-delusion, either in a person or a society, is that reality doesn't care what anybody believes, or what story they put out. Reality doesn't "spin." Reality does not have a self-image problem. Reality does not yield its workings to self-esteem management." -J.H. Kunstler

"You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows."-Dylan

Saturday, August 29, 2009

8/29/09: The Canadian Express: Bozeman, Butte, & Boise

Considering its beginning and end, this was one of those monumental days.

I was lazily unrushed after waking up, tinkering around taking pictures of everything from my nest to an inchworm that had found refuge on my water bottle. I've seemed to learn to tune in to my senses, and when I suddenly felt an urgency to pack up, get coffee, and out to the ramp, that's exactly what I did although, after five hours of nothingness the night before, I had no logical reason to be in a rush.

Saturday, however, was NOT Friday.

I was at the exit ramp no more than five minutes when Don stopped in front of me. This was the first time I can recall a car doing this. The second thing I noticed was that this fancy van had Ontario plates. These were both good signs. He had obviously picked up hitchers before, had a smile painted on his face, and I have had phenomenal success with foreign rides dating back to Florian (German) and Eric (French) in '08.

I instantly knew I was going to like Don. He was an original 60's hippie and on his way from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario to Nevada for Burning Man; a pilgrimage he made every year. There are two Sault Ste. Marie's. One in the upper peninsula of Michigan, and the other directly across the border. This gave us the immediate connection of familiarity, since I had visited Sault Ste. Marie, MI. When Don asked why I was going to Bozeman (my sign), I replied, "Because it's on the way to Boise." His reply changed the entire complexity of my immediate future. He too was going to Boise to meet friends, then continuing on to The Burn... and I was welcome to ride along the entire way if I liked. He had been driving a long time, and simply wanted some conversation to help pass the time. Billings to Boise? In one ride? Holy Shit.

The offer was incredible, but I still wanted to try to connect with Michele in Butte first, if I could. I was in no hurry to get to Boise because no one knew I was coming, and I had no idea when I would ever be back to Montana. I sent an immediate text and email to Michele, hoping she happened to get to the Continental Divide to get cell service by the time we were to Butte, a couple hundred miles away. If I heard nothing from Michele by then, I'd be contacting my sister, Lynette, to tell her that if she was around we could finally meet each other face-to-face for the first time! I had not set a time for my arrival, not knowing myself when I would get there, and hadn't talked to her in a couple months. She simply had no idea where I was.

The ride thru Bozeman to Butte was one of the best to date. Don and I chatted about everything from history, to politics and sociology, to spirituality and conspiracy theory. He was an extremely intelligent, insightful, and aware individual, and it seemed that we always had something to add to the other. I was particularly interested in his political views, since he was Canadian, and was intrigued that he had extensively studied Roman history and viewed the US as running the same road. He found the entire health care "reform" debate laughable, and the opposition to socialized medicine as a simple case of special interest trying to keep control of the coffers. Being Canadian, however, he seemed convinced that government was the answer to most problems, which of course, with me in the car, led to healthy debate! The more I have discussed these topics, the more convinced I am that the best solution for this country, right now (in lieu of a clean swep of all politicos) is the neutering of government, and limiting its influence to as great a degree as possible.

Don was also a musician, and claimed to have been in a rather successful local band, The Pavement Artists, in Sault Ste. Marie. We also shared an acquaintance there: City Commissioner Ray Bauer, who was once in radio and the man who hired me at WRKR in Kalamazoo. We had a very nice discussion on music, and I don't believe there was a lull of more than a minute.

Around Bozeman, Montana becomes Montana. The Rocky Mountains come into view, the climbs become steep, and the views incredible as you approach Butte and its statue of Mary watching over the small city. Don stopped at a Flying J south of Butte as both a pit stop, and a favor to me to give Michele a few more minutes to get my messages. We got snacks and coffee, and stretched for about 45-minutes before accepting fate and moving south toward Idaho, and VERY familiar grounds along our new road: I-15.

I soon received a call from Lynette thru our sister, Shelly, and let her know that we planned to be in her backyard in just a few hours. I hated that I was giving such short notice, but she and her husband seemed happy to (finally) have me. I quickly thanked God, and as we crossed into Idaho, Don and I had resumed our chatathon.

Idaho Falls came and went, and soon I saw familiar sights. My 2008 route had taken me across southern Idaho, and as we passed through Pocatello I began to point to significant spots that I had enjoyed so much... although at the time, I sometimes didn't realize it! "There was the spot where Z had picked me up... I crossed the Snake River here... I slept there." Pretty soon, as dusk approached, we happened to gas up at the Flying J that made them my favorite truck stop: Jerome/Twin Falls. The spot where Jack dropped me off. This was, obviously, quite cool for me and I came to realize how much I had enjoyed Idaho, and the unexpected nostalgia last year's trip had generated! I was very glad we did this in the daylight.

Around 10pm, with Don fading, we were entering Boise in an intense, but dry, lightning storm. Don and I found the spot where Lynette had asked us to meet her, and after grabbing a shitty, expensive espresso all that was left to do was wait for the moment when I would finally meet the last of the still "unknown" sisters...

Friday, August 28, 2009

8/28/09: Billings, MT

I was amused with myself as Friday began.

It was not so much with myself generally as much as remembering the impatience that a year ago was such an annoyance. As fun as it is for me to watch others, I often get as much entertainment from my own quirks. The fact that I was starting the day still unconcerned with when I would leave Glendive stood in stark contrast a not-so-distant past!

I was happy to settle in for the long haul and take advantage of the idle time to bring the still behind blog further up to date. Cars, trucks...and cops...continued passing by smiling and waving. Friendly folks these Northerners! I returned the greetings, while continuing to type away for a couple of hours, until I looked over surprised to see an early 90's Chevy Cavalier stopping. John & Monica were driving from Glendive to Billings to replace the seat belts their dog had mangled. They were involved in a serious conversation about their daughter, so for the first hour on I-94 I happily edited posts while watching the Montana landscape slowly become more rugged. Further west, the terrain began to remind me more of Wyoming and Colorado, and much less of Kansas & Nebraska. It seems silly considering I had only been away from them for ten days, but I was really looking forward to seeing mountains again!

John and Monica were a nice couple. Their daughter was apparently about to be released from jail, and John was chugging Busch non-alcoholic beer. At first, I thought it was actual beer and immediately thought about Doug, and the ride into Wyoming last spring. Monica quickly pointed out that it was n/a beer while John told of how he had been sober since January, when his drinking had nearly killed him. Alcohol abuse had triggered acute liver problems, and he had been helicoptered from Glendive to Billings when his liver failed. He then echoed Lonnie's sentiment, that only when someone's truly ready will an addiction have a hope to be truly cured. For him, no "treatment" program would have worked, and he knew it. He needed the extreme threat of losing his life in order to stop. Unfortunately, some never get there, and in the meantime spend barrels of money looking for the Magic Addiction Bullet; the external cure that slays their demons for them. The similarities between John and Dennis were obvious, although I didn't mention it to John. I spent awhile thinking about how Dennis and John's stories, so similar on some levels, ended so differently.

I was happy for John, and there was a certain aire about him that indicated he was happy about it too! He and Monica were fun to watch, and if you were judge them on first impressions and appearances, you would miss something quite special. They were still happy and grateful to be with each other after years of marriage. Playful. Like kids. I wondered if the sight of death in the room had made them appreciate what they had and perhaps allowed them to enjoy life just a bit more. I never asked, although if I were to see them again I would. They were heartwarming to watch for three hours.

With Billings, I-94 was ending, and I was reunited with my old friend I-90. We traded warm goodbyes, and I immediately began to initiate plans that had been on hold due to uncertainty. Michele and I had originally met thru this blog, and we had exchanged a couple of emails via Facebook. She struck me as someone I'd enjoy chatting with, and I loved the idea of meeting someone who had contacted me by randomly finding my webpage. That was how I had met Chris after all! This ultimately led to an invitation to alert her if I was near Great Falls or Helena so we could meet. My southerly course change complicated things, as had a rare case of Geographic Ignorance, but Michele said that if I could get to Bozeman before she left to cabin sit, she'd motor down to say hi. I had about three hours to at least get started on that 100-miles, so I made up a sign, and scampered over to the I-90 ramp with an uncommon of sense of urgency. We traded text messages over the next few hours and after she extended her deadline from 6 to 8pm, I cautiosly hoped that this would work. It didn't. With 8:00 came the realization that I would be spending the night in Billings. We both expressed disappointment, and went about our lives with a promise to get in touch if I were near Bozeman or Butte.

After twice dismissing an annoying, drunk panhandler who appeared to both want to be friends and live forever under the I-90 overpass, I'd had enough of Friday. I made my way to the closer truck stop, bought cheap McDonald's as a treat, and began to write and drink coffee as my phone charged. I chatted with some truckers, watched people come & go from the casino, and politely refused yet another offer of food.

As midnight approached, I had yet to scout sleeping accommodations, but had little trouble finding a spot behind the trucks concealed nicely by a short fence. I had a nice chat with Chris, rehashing recent events and learning that he intended to finally set off from Denver for Seattle, sans Penney and Robert, on Monday. We both chuckled at how ironic it would be if we found ourselves in the same spot sometime soon, since our trajectories both seemed to be directed toward the same general part of the country...

An editor would call that foreshadowing.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

8/27/09: Glendive, MT

My nest behind the hotel in Sidney was tenuous, but suitable. It offered barely enough concealment from the bridge, and was precariously close to the hotel parking lot as well as what looked to be an open field that held someone's horses. I've learned that when I am in a spot like this, I typically only half-sleep. Then, at first light I am immediately up and out to minimize my chances of being seen, so Thursday morning I was negotiating the tall grass and gullies by 6:30, as soon as there was enough light to see.

I instantly crossed the road for gas station coffee, which the cashier would not let me pay for after seeing the pack. I was still quietly shaking my head in amazement as I set up next to the busy morning traffic hoping for a ride the 50-miles south to I-94. Tracey made sure I didn't wait long. He and Justin were on their way to work in Glendive and, after a quick 15-minute wait, I was assured of my reunion with the same I-94 I had considered back in Fargo.

Tracey looked to be in his early 50's, while Justin was a young pup of about 22. They were insulation installers on a long commute from Fairview to Glendive. Justin said little, other than to comment on something Tracey would say, but that was fine. Justin reminded me of an apprentice under Tracey's tutelage. Tracey liked to talk and was interesting to listen to. He was quite cosmopolitan; well versed in all things Montana and plainly had a firm grasp on the skills needed to survive. He was fiercely proud of his military service years before, and had a special dislike for politicians, businessmen, and of course, Californians. This was beginning to develop into an unexpected theme. It was apparent that Montanans are intensely protective and proud of their part of the world; God's Country, as Tracey called it more than once. He and many others resented wealthy, liberal Californians migrating to Montana just to gobble up cheap land for development and the Californication of Montana's politics.

Tracey dropped me off at a dingy, yet strangely elaborate, Sinclair truck stop about 1/4 mile from I-94. I had slept with my boots on, in case I needed to bug out so, combined with my foot being wet from last night's encounter with hidden caverns, I could feel the telltale signs of developing trench foot. Off came the shoes and socks in favor of the slip-ons, and in to the diner went Todd for an 8am omelet and some writing.

The weather continued to be ideal, so by 10 I had relocated next to the road as the updating continued. I was flying a sign for Billings, just in case, but was content to just relax and write. By noon, I had finished the blog posts and had returned inside to inquire about a payphone to upload them. Apparently, the manager of this shithole took exception to my presence, making it clear that once my call was finished, I was expected to vacate the "exclusive" truckers lounge. Their idea of luxury is apparently,a tiny TV tuned to Fox News and two fewer flies than the men's room.

Naturally, I sat down, next to the one working payphone, and re-edited the posts. Not that they needed it, but to be antagonistic. Mr. Happy walked by several times to check on me, saying nothing in response to my inviting glares, and after the posts were finally sent I resolved to take my meager coffee & food money to the Conoco station, which was much closer to the freeway anyhow. As I left, I bellowed an inappropriately loud, insincere, obnoxious, "Thaaaaanks!" while noticing that this fat, squat little "Lounge Nazi" was working hard... on his Yahoo Fantasy Baseball team! I almost suggested that perhaps his time would be better spent plunging the backed up, fly-infested toilets. I was not a fan of this greasy, swarthy, little troll. Have I gotten that point across? Sometimes I understate...

Soon enough, I was at the much friendlier Conoco station, and then at I-94's ramp hoping to get toward Billings, 225 miles west. Tracey had dropped me at the truck stop because of my commentary on ID checks, and there was a Montana Highway Patrol outpost located literally a stone's throw from the exit. But, ultimately I decided that it may work in my favor. Actually planting myself beneath their noses, the last place a fugitive would inhabit, might keep them away from me AND encourage people to stop. As the afternoon turned to evening, I can only assume I was correct. Several officers drove by offering only friendly waves rather than suspicious interest.

Afternoon became evening, and as evening became night I found a perfect spot to camp in tall grass, behind small trees, and next to a fence 30' from the ramp. I had a nice, long, philosophical chat with Leslie under a star filled sky with satellites and shooting stars sailing by. Despite the fact I had only gone 50-miles and gotten one ride, I felt a calm contentment. I was fine being exactly where I was, and had a quiet confidence that things were exactly as they should be.

What a difference a year makes...

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

8/26/09: Sidney, Montana

Hopping into the truck with Rob, I thought this odd day would return to normal. I would be corrected.

Rob, predictably, worked in the oil fields as a tester and was on his way home, an hour away in eastern Montana. There was some confusion at first, as I asked him if he was going as far as I-94. He said that he was but I learned after we had already left Williston that he was going only as far as Sidney, 50- miles short of Glendive and I-94. A little improvisation is good for the soul, and he spoke highly of Sidney. I even had visions of taking a day to patronize the library and upload pictures, congratulating myself on finally making it to Montana.

Rob's route out of North Dakota was perfect. We passed the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers, and historic Fts. Union and Buford. I had considered venturing down this way on foot if the situation presented itself in order to satisfy my Lewis & Clark curiosity. The fates had given me the best of both worlds: proximity and a ride. Rob and I chatted about his work and my travels the entire way, but there was nothing extraordinary about it.

Passing into Montana was a nice feeling. This state been a thorn in my brain for over a year, since deciding against coming north from Pocatello, ID last July. Now, as we slid thru Fairview and approached Sidney, I was glowing in the idea that I was about to tend to unfinished business... and cross nearly the whole damn thing. I had been hearing stories about its beauty for a long time. Now, I would see for myself.

Coming in from the north, Rob dropped me at an Exxon station toward the south end of Sidney with a warm handshake and wishing me luck. He was quite boastful of his fellow Montanans, and seemed quite certain I'd be in Glendive soon. Despite still running on next to no sleep, I had long since tapped into sustained adrenaline and began looking for places to hitch, so as to try take advantage of the remaining daylight. I settled on a spot adjacent to another gas station, next to the road, and in front of a small strip mall. The traffic was brisk, and I noticed that young people were actually cruising! On a Wednesday evening! I liked Sidney immediately.

My first indication that Sidney would continue the oddities seen in Williston was the the abundance of curious, friendly looks. It was obvious that Sidney had not had many passers-thru donning backpacks. I was quite the curiosity, particularly to a truckload of young girls who repeatedly drove by yelling. It reminded me of the cafe scene in Easy Rider, without the ensuing bludgeoning in the woods... I hoped.

The spontaneous acts of kindness crossed state lines with me. After half an hour, I turned around to see a man carrying a bag of McDonald's he'd picked up for me. He said he was sorry he wasn't going anywhere, had "been there" and figured I could use a meal. Then, shortly before the sun had set a young girl of about 17 walked all the way across the parking lot then, without saying a word, handed me $10. When I asked, "What's this for?" she just smiled and said, "Take it easy, dude." It's one thing for middle aged people to do this, but this especially touched and impressed me, considering it came from her. I am still kicking myself for not giving these people my cards with the website address, so they all could know just how astounded I was. In my surprise, it never even occurred to me.

As in Williston, rides did not accompany the gifts. So as the sun fell, I had to think about places to sleep. I noticed a police car occasioning by through the evening, but she had not bothered me... until I took my first two steps toward finding a nest. I was a bit taken aback by this particular cop. She was in her early 20's, and easily the most attractive lawdog I'd ever seen. However, I had to conceal a chuckle as I thought, "I wonder if she'd perform at my bachelor party in that uniform!" Sexist? Maybe. But, I would pay good money for that! Anyhow, apparently someone had seen the girl give me money, and made a complaint that they thought I was "soliciting work," which is illegal in Montana. When I explained why I was there, where I'd come from, and where I was headed, it was obvious that I wasn't interested in finding gainful employment, but she still asked for my ID. I diplomatically asked her what she thought of this arbitrary invasion of privacy, since by her own clear admission I was breaking no laws. She responded that it was Montana procedure to run the ID of everyone law enforcement comes in contact with. I found that laughable, but she was serious. I also found it amusing that she had never heard the phrase "papers please." Hearing that, I concluded that this pretty, well intentioned young lady may actually be better suited to a profession in the exotic entertainment field, rather than law enforcement. There are fewer ethical questions, and at least mindlessly following dictation (no pun intended) while performing a lap dance is an asset (again), and probably more lucrative!

Madame Law did give me some very good information on where to camp. She said that I could nest nearly anywhere off private land, as long as no one saw me & complained. The fine folks of Sidney were apparently freaked out by drifters, after having to endure a mentally ill vagabond who had hung around a bit too long. Understanding this, I assured her that no one would see me and I would be on my way at the first opportunity.

Keeping my word about not being seen was easier said than done, and nearly cost me a leg. I executed my misdirection technique, which entails walking one direction, then backtracking the opposite way to throw off anyone who sees me and is interested in my whereabouts. This is especially useful in populated areas. It was completely dark, and as I was backtracking beneath a bridge along a small stream, I learned the hard way that Montana has the same small gullies as New Mexico. But, here they're hidden beneath vegetation! I first discovered this after suddenly finding myself on my belly with my pack driving my face into the dirt. I was then reminded, again, when I found my left leg in a 3ft. ditch submersed to the knee in water. Lovely!

Once I found a decent spot behind a hotel, I didn't move. Not even to pee...

8/26: Williston, ND- Unexplained Generosity

The notion of a couple hours of sleep was absurd. Traffic and an early morning damp chill conspired to keep me awake for all but 30- minutes. Before the sun was up, I was back at my spot, on a curb between WalMart and the truckstop. I hoped to catch a ride with someone on their way to work, or getting an early start on their way west into Montana.

As the morning progressed, I settled in to a relaxed, fatigued routine and managed to catch a few energizing winks as traffic rolled by. Astoundingly, I shunned the habitual coffee trips, despite the lack of sleep, after drinking what seemed like gallons the night before. It also became painfully apparent that the "other shoe" I was expecting had indeed dropped. Williston was going be home for a while!

The weather was beautiful, with sun and temps climbing into the low 90's as I resigned myself to fate. I strapped on the headphones, worked on the sunburn, and watched with curiosity the odd looking machinery going to and from the oil fields. I believe a year ago this would have bothered me. But now, I noticed a once- rare patience as I mentally snapped back to Devils Tower, and the resulting ride with Leslie and Bonnie. With time to sit came time to reflect on how every time I had been "stuck," things had, in the end, worked out perfectly. As if scripted. My Center of the Universe philosophy, that sometimes things need to develop elsewhere, echoed in my mind and helped me to just enjoy the day. And then, almost immediately and as if on cue, something remarkable began to happen; something that had never happened before. People began spontaneously handing me money as they passed by.

I was dumbfounded. To be clear, it was completely, absolutely unsolicited. The sign I was flying said "Montana." At first, the frequency made me VERY uncomfortable. People had on occasion offered money, but it was a very rare thing and NEVER from anyone I had not spoken with first. Suddenly, there was a stretch of 3 out of 4 cars silently handing me five and ten dollar bills, then wishing me luck. I wasn't sure how to handle it. Then, I remembered the Indian from the night before and when I myself had given money to Harry. I couldn't explain what was unexpectedly compelling people to give me cash any more than I could explain those who have stopped because "something just told them to." I wasn't about to tinker with karma or fate. I could only conclude that maybe it was this mysterious cycle coming back to me; my time to receive. This idea naturally transitioned to, and added a new layer on top of, the Dennis- triggered idea of Karmic Give and Take. Seeing it transpire right before my eyes was remarkable, and gave me plenty to ponder as the afternoon quietly passed and a couple more gave money.

Incidentally, the out- of- the- way, spontaneous generosity of people was not limited to money. A retired couple from Raleigh, North Carolina spotted me from the parking lot, and walked over offering lunch inside their fifth wheel. It was perfectly timed; I was forgetting to eat again! They wanted to give me a ride too, but were delivering someone's truck to Boise and didn't feel right about it.

I found it richly ironic that people were giving me cash, but no rides! And, it that it would appear on the surface that, as dinner time approached, I was having a lazy, uneventful day. One of the odd things about this life, however, is that oftentimes the days with the least movement offer the most reward. It took me forever to accept, but it's generally a case of keeping your eyes open and mind tuned to receive the quiet, yet powerful lessons life can provide in seemingly mundane ways. Once you find that frequency, the peace it can provide is incredible.

With rush hour and a dramatic increase in the Halliburton trucks, came the acceptance that, for whatever reason, I was about to have my first full day ever without a ride. As though someone was toying with me, at precisely that time along came Rob. He was on his way home from work and this bizarre day would continue in Montana...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

8/25/09: Crossing North Dakota

The Prairie Fire helped. I slept like a stone and woke up early Tuesday feeling energized and still ecstatic that Manitoba was right up the road.

I found coffee and a bench where I could charge my phone and again get my bearings. As I prepared to head west on US-2, I was mostly unfamiliar with this part of the country although I had HEARD of Minot and Williston. I saw on the map that I would eventually pass thru the towns of Michigan and Devil's Lake on the way toward Montana, and chuckled at the fun I could have with my Michigan Facebookers. I'll admit it: I'm an ass sometimes!

I didn't know what to expect of US-2 as I walked to the well- placed light pole next to the busy divided highway. I drew up and hung my sign for Minot, and then began to update the website figuring I could get a lot done if rides were scarce. I'd have no problem just killing the day here. This was a nice spot and I thought that perhaps I would pay for yesterday's 300-mile sprint.

Apparently my road credit was still good. After less than an hour, I heard a man yelling from a semi behind me asking where I was going. When I yelled, "Minot!" he waved me over to the truck and I was again on my way. This time, surprisingly, in my third semi.

Lonnie was from Minnesota, looked to be somewhere in his late 40's, was driving all the way to Minot, then south to Bismarck the next morning. He had been driving the same route for years, and was on his way first to Devil's Lake to make two dropoffs then to Minot for the night. Initially, it seemed as though this would be one of the quieter rides ever. He was engrossed in his XM's Old Time Radio Drama channel, and that was fine with me. I love that stuff too, and it would give me an opportunity to finish my updates and have a quick text chat with Leslie, whom I had been chatting with periodically since Sunday. The ride all the way to Devil's Lake was pretty mundane, but things changed quickly once we resumed toward Minot.

Lonnie and I shared many personality traits! Our conversations began in earnest when I told him about how I had refused to kneel before Skippy, my last radio boss. He loved that, and began to tell stories of how he had repeatedly challenged and confronted supposed authority throughout his adult life, and had quit jobs rather than perform professional fellatio. This sent us down my familiar path: sociology and politics. He was perhaps more of an anarchist than even I am. Lonnie hated everything about governmental interference, was apparently prepared for any sort of social upheaval, and seemed convinced it was coming. He also loved to bitch about politicians of all kinds and, of course, this made the last of this leg fly by!

Toward the end of the ride, Lonnie showed a great degree of respect for what I was doing, and why. He too was disgusted by media and convinced that the world is nothing like the picture portrayed nightly on television. When we pulled into the dingy truckstop in Minot, 220 miles from where we started, I again had a new friend.

Minot had a much different feel than the towns further east. It appeared that I had arrived in a dirty, industrial town that may not be quite as hospitable as the others I had recently seen. I was now in what Joel had termed "West River," the area west of the Missouri River that was much more blue collar than the east. Lonnie had told me that the majority of the many trucks on the road were on their way to the western part of North Dakota. There had been a bit of an oil boom, which contributed to N. Dakota being nearly untouched by the economic "crisis" and having the lowest unemployment rate in the country. He also gave me a piece of advice about my route, saying that if I continued on US-2 to avoid the Ft. Peck Indian Reservation. Apparently, whites weren't well received in this, as he described it, violent swath of land.

After 300 miles on Monday, and 220 in this one ride already on Tuesday, I was quite certain things were going to slow down. The other shoe HAD to drop, regardless of the traffic, right? Wrong. I had just gotten coffee, made my "Williston" sign, and had yet to even sit down when a young guy filling his Jeep Cherokee waved me over and invited me along. Will was driving from his home in Minnesota to Williston, where he worked in an oil field. He made the 300+ mile commute often and liked to have company. As we set off again on US-2, it dawned on me that three of my four rides had been from Minnesota and that they had all stopped more out of habit than pity. Will was no exception. He said he had just talked to his wife and that he had not mentioned picking me up because she hates him picking up hitchers. At first, it seemed that Will was just a quiet oil worker, but as we began to get comfortable with each other he proved to be, while soft-spoken and deliberate, a keen observer, extremely intelligent, and very insightful.

The first thing I noticed was his disdain for environmentalists. He had grown up near Duluth and told how environmental activists had contributed to the decimation of the ore industry in northern Minnesota. Lonnie had made similar remarks on the way to Minot, and now Will immediately echoed the sentiment that liberals, while a severe minority in the region, were raising legislative havoc because they were coming in from places like California, and Californicating. They were mobilized. I found the similar tones in consecutive conversations ironic, but not shocking. It also further cemented my feeling that there is going to be a conservative backlash that will blindside progressives.

Mind you, neither Lonnie nor Will had any love for George Bush or Ronald Reagan; they both hated all politicians. Yet, they were disgusted by the short sighted, blind, often destructive idealism that comes from living a life of abstraction. The ore industry was one example, but Will recounted a half-dozen other examples of how liberal activists had tried (and failed) to enact ridiculous legislation that would have simply crippled other elements of the economy; creating more problems than solutions.

One example Will gave was horses. There was apparently an attempt to legislate how much an owner could WORK a horse on any given day! Four hours! Beyond that, the animal rights activists wanted to dictate how, to whom, and I believe how often, an owner could sell a horse. When a horse went lame, they would then demand, through legislation, the horse be taken to a vet to be "humanely disposed of," costing something like $250.

Think about this for a second: if you can't sell a horse, yet can't feed it, what are you going to do? If this same horse is sick, you surely can't afford $250 to have it put it down. When you're prohibited from using a $1 bullet, your only alternatives are to let it starve or release it into the wild... to starve... which would surely throw PETA into a self-righteous tizzy over a situation that they themselves created via ill-conceived legislation. To reiterate, thankfully none of these proposed ideas went anywhere, but you can see where their minds are. And where they are not.

I'm not able to recall all the details, and am sure I'm not doing it justice, but this was the crux of the conversation on his annoyance with short sighted liberalism. Another example he provided was that in the oil fields, workers are prohibited, under threat of heavy fines, to disturb ANY bird nest on ANY piece of equipment where eggs or chicks are present. He then told a story of how they were forced to shut down a rig completely because a species of bird in the area of the rig had, as he put it, "stopped fucking." I wonder, do PETA members also bitch about the price of gas?

I am no fan of the oil industry and if you believe I'm defending them, you're either a tree hugger, or missing my point. Or, perhaps I'm not being clear. That happens. Idealism has its place, but when it's guided by those refusing to leave books, statistical studies, or think tanks; refusing to leave their Bubbles of Theoretical Abstraction, it's doomed. When its engine is driven by the economic elite or trust fund babies, who have little idea what it's like to struggle to feed a family and have never experienced poverty beyond documentaries or a sheltered charity adventure trip, it's doomed. When those who drive an ideology believe that a college indoctrination program alone has made them "wise," it's doomed and destined to fall prey to the aforementioned conservative backlash that I guarantee you is brewing just beneath the surface.

It's easy to tout high ideals when you have a security blanket and nothing tangible to lose by telling others how they must live. There is a reason that most conservative minded people (nothing to do with Republicanism) come from the lower income brackets. When the job that could be lost due to activist or governmental influence is yours, and your children could go hungry as a result, you tend to care less about "birds fucking." History has shown that this makes even libertarian minded independents susceptible to the influence of whack jobs like Limbaugh & Palin because politicians are professional exploiters of emotion. And what's their alternative? There is no other alternative. Liberals seem to think that the sword with which they vanquished John McCain, disgust, cannot be turned on them. Get back to me in a few years; the next cycle is going to make the Bush years look like Camelot.

Chris McCandless has been a hot topic because of the trip to Carthage, and it's interesting to note that people in Alaska view him as a complete douchebag; an arrogant fool who had no idea what he was getting into and deserved his fate. I have never gotten past that he came from a wealthy background, and had to know in the back of his mind that wealth was waiting for him when he decided to unplug from this adopted lifestyle. If you have the safety net of family wealth waiting when you return, you are likely on nothing more than a fucking field trip under the guise of living noble, pretentious ideals; imposing your "fierce moral code." I wonder, if McCandless' father had been an oil worker put out of work by "birds not fucking," rather than a NASA engineer, would he would have thought twice about burning his money? Would he have sent his trust fund off to OXFAM to be gobbled up by the bureaucracy?

Was that a rant? I think not. Not quite. No alert required.

Will and I plainly hit it off well, and I was sure to tell him how I appreciated his glimpse around the corner at another side. It was nice to get perspective from someone who was fair and had a clear understanding of the different factors, and repercussions, involved. Conversations like these with Will and Lonnie reminded me a great deal of my chats with Eric while maintaining foreclosed houses around Denver, and further nudged me toward the conclusion that governmental legislation is not the answer to these abstract ethical questions- and that I LOVE the people up here!

Will dropped me on the far east end of Williston at what he described as the best truckstop in town. It was teeming with oil related traffic, and had a 24-hour restaurant where I could treat myself to a bottomless cup of coffee while I continued to update. As I walked in, a man of native descent got up from dinner with his family and offered to buy me dinner. I was a bit taken aback by both the gesture, and the look of empathy on his face. He seemed deeply concerned and I immediately wondered, "Do I smell like pee?"

I thanked him and accepted because I had not had a full meal in quite a while. A mushroom swiss burger sounded damn good indeed! Moments after I sat down and ordered, when he went to pay his bill, I stepped over to say thanks again and shake his hand. When I did, he handed me $10... on top of my food. When I responded with a puzzled look, he told me that his brother had been a hitchhiker...and had been hit by a car. This was his way of honoring him. I wasn't going to take that away from him out of arrogance or fake pride. Did I need the money? Not really. And it obviously meant a great deal for him to do this. I didn't realize it, but this was only the beginning.  A theme was set for my time in Williston and beyond.

I settled in to the booth and spent the next several hours drinking coffee, writing, and chatting with the waitresses and drunk customers who came in after their bar closed. A quick peek showed that there was next to no place to hide, so I resolved to stay awake as long as I could and be productive. Several pots of coffee later, I was on the edge of overdosing on caffeine and exhausted. I wandered across the adjacent Walmart parking lot and found some high grass in which to nap for an hour or two until the sun came up.

At least I was guaranteed an early start on what turned out to be a bizarre Wednesday...

Monday, August 24, 2009

8/24/09: Grand Forks, ND- Joel, Don, & Howard

Awaking relatively early because of the lake of concealment, I took some time at nearby gas station to have some coffee, look over the atlas to get my bearings, and begin plotting a general course. I would be "actually" hitching an interstate, now I-29, for the first time since last August.

It didn't take long to get moving. After a brief wait, I found myself on the way north to Watertown with Steve, a 40- something, professional looking grade school gym teacher. At first, he was quite reserved, but as is usually the case, we found quite a bit to talk about when I feebly attempted to explain why I was out there. Steve had taken a western hitching trip years before, had run out of money in N. California, and had stopped to pick apples with migrants; he got it. There was then yet another nice political/social conversation and before I knew it Steve was dropping me at the extravagant truck stop in Watertown.

I had run into one of the common "professional hitchers" during my stint in Sioux Falls the night before, and there was another in Watertown. He was panhandling and had apparently raised enough to get a cheap hotel and avoid the rumored rain. He was overly friendly, and immediately offered me the floor of his no doubt luxurious accommodations, but I didn't trust him and wanted to keep going anyhow, since it was by now just barely afternoon.

I got a good indication of my immediate future when Howard stopped after 45-minutes. He was around 50, and had a memorable red tattoo of Charlie Brown's Woodstock character on his neck, among many others. He looked like he had experienced some history, and raised Hell doing it! Howard had intended to head the 30-miles east from Watertown into Minnesota, but took the interstate instead when he spotted me. I'm still always amazed that people will turn around, or alter plans for me.

Howard was an interesting study in contrasts. He had indeed found a great deal of trouble in his youth with drugs and alcohol. He had gotten it together however, and was now involved with his church, even going on a relief mission to Haiti. The way he spoke of religion resonated with me and, again, reminded me of Randleman. He despised "loaded" charity and before the Haiti trip had told the church he would NOT be recruiting new Christians while there. His philosophy was that only once you help feed, clothe, and shelter people, are minds truly opened to these abstract ideas. That generated an enormous amount of instant respect from me. He went further by sharing that once there, he had repeatedly left the frightened church members behind at camp and actually gotten out alone to get to know the people while he was there. One anecdote he told was about how he was being approached by a group of young Haitian men carrying machetes. Initially thinking the worse, he had his own "Vern Moment"; they were returning from work in the sugar fields, and wanted to say hello.

Howard was now in the process figuring out a way to open a dive shop in Haiti. He wants to transfer tourist money directly to the people who need it, eliminating the middle (charity) man. Howard was one of the most well rounded people I have met, hitching or otherwise. He had experienced things most of us can only imagine, mostly self-inflicted, but came out the other side as a conscientious, pragmatic, grounded human being with a developed sense of clarity that I wish I had. I also wish he had Internet, because I would have loved to stay in touch with him.

Howard's exit happened to be US-12 in Summit, SD at an old Sinclair truck stop that looks completely out of date. After some coffee and a brief dodging of raindrops, I was visited at the ramp by the first cop on this part of the trip. He was just checking up on me, and didn't bother running my ID after asking a few questions, and making sure I knew I was fine as long as there were no complaints. Why can't they all be like that?

There was little traffic at this spot, so I prepared myself for the fact that this may be an Idaho kind of wait. I even began to scout places to sleep, but after 90-minutes a young man in a big pickup stopped.

Joel was an organic farmer from near Wood, SD and on his way to Grand Forks, ND on business. My sign read "Fargo" because I had yet to decide how far north to go, and knew I-94 ran thru there if I decided to turn west. Almost as soon as I was packed in the truck, Joel offered a ride all the way to US-2 in Grand Forks, if I wanted it. Without much thought that was that. I would be in Grand Forks that night making another big left turn. And, this would be the furthest I had ever hitched in a day that didn't involve truckers!

Joel was the perfect followup to Howard. He had recently crashed a huge piece of farm equipment into an overpass, and had made all the Dakota TV news channels in the process! He was on his way to Grand Forks to look at replacements, and was possibly going into Canada if they weren't suitable. He told some remarkable stories about life in rural South Dakota, reminding me of the old west in the process. For example, when a young man had gone missing in the dead of winter, he had gone up in a plane as part of a search party. It turned into a recovery effort when they found the body. He told how it was 60-miles to the nearest grocery store, and 100 to the closest Walmart making self sufficiency a necessity.

Law enforcement and other state services are apparently of little use to them. They handle trouble themselves and work together in times of need. For example, everyone he knows is a "volunteer firefighter" and they rely primarily on themselves to plow their roads in winter. Many people share disdain for government interference, but Joel and his neighbors seemed to go beyond that. They appear to have found a way to simply marginalize it by eliminating the need for, and dependence on, the Daddy State. I was getting the confirmation that this was, as expected, the predominate theme in this part of the country. And I, as expected, liked it.

Joel had told me of another farmer he knew of up toward Buxton, ND that he described as a kind of McGyver character. As Joel described him, Don Dufner had build some sort of a famous Frankentractor: three huge tractors combined and customized into one huge machine. Joel told how Don would take this beast to tractor pulls, and dominate. He also explained how he was a whiz at restoring antique John Deeres, and had barns full of antiquated farm equipment. Shortly after crossing into North Dakota and passing Fargo, Joel suddenly asked if I wanted to stop by unannounced and see for myself. In a flash, we
were flying down narrow North Dakota farm roads in search of Frankentractor's Lair! Joel hadn't seen Don in a couple of years, and wasn't sure he would even remember him. This reminded me of the old days in Hillsdale, and I was curious to see how Don would react to this unexpected evening call from two perfect strangers, and to hopefully see his barn full of toys.

Joel did not exaggerate. Don did not disappoint.

Don Dufner is a very young, affable 71. He still works his nearly 10,000 acres full time, and speaks with that slow, northern Minnesota accent. Despite the fact he was still working in the fields when we arrived and didn't remember Joel at all, he happily welcomed us in and took us straight into the barn where his monstrosity was caged. I am not generally impressed with monster trucks or tractors, but this thing was fucking incredible, especially considering he had done ALL the custom work himself and it looked to be off the John Deere assembly line. Joel reiterated that there was You Tube video of Don in action, and after climbing inside and taking a quick look at his collection of tractors that went all the way back to the Depression, I saw on his wall more than 300 tractor pull trophies.

While the craftsmanship was obviously impressive, listening to him talk was nearly as much so. Don was an old- school farmer who loved tradition and could do anything with any equipment. As Joel pointed out later, this is a guy whose tutorship would be priceless. When we left Don's, I was beaming. That was something out of Charles Kuralt, and I was quite happy to have seen that small piece of hidden North Dakota.

We passed a sign for Winnipeg, Manitoba just before we arrived in Grand Forks and it blew my mind that we were barely 100-miles from this Canadian city. It put into contrast just how far north I had come. US-2 had been a route I had had my eye on forever and now I was climbing out actually on it and thinking that even if I wanted to I couldn't go much further north! And oh!, I thought about it!

Joel had turned out to be one of my more interesting rides, and I was again sad to see him move on. The last three days had been a flurry of interesting people and experiences and after scouting out both truck stops at the intersection of I-29 and US-2, I decided to slip into the bar located at one to celebrate. After everything, this day still wasn't over!

I "planned" (HA!) to have a solitary beer and relax before wandering around back to find the night's nest. Before long however, I was involved in a conversation about music, sociology, and American/Canadian politics with "Fish," a big jolly, trucker from Winnipeg. One beer turned into four, and my happy little stay at this blue collar truck stop bar ended with a Prairie Fire, courtesy of Fish. A Prairie Fire consists of tequila, Tabasco sauce... and one hell of a buzz! Not long after that, I was wobbling toward the back of the truck stop then walking headlong through tall prairie grass. I was at full drunken gallup when I met a wire fence that was exactly waist high. The backpack made me top heavy so, before I knew what was happening, I was tumbling over the fence head first! I expected to bust a shoulder or an arm because of the weight landing on me, but found the landing to be surprisingly soft thanks to the tall grass.

As I lay there laughing at my own idiocy, I summized that if it was soft enough to fall in, it was good enough to sleep in. For once, I didn't waste an hour looking for the ideal spot; I had literally fallen into it.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

8/23/09: Sioux Falls, SD

When Leslie confided to me at the Cabaret that she was seriously considering joining me for a week or so I was stunned; it came out of nowhere. At first, I thought she may be just batting around abstract fun-thoughts, but the look on her face quickly showed how serious she was. Immediately she began running down a laundry list of things she needed to do and, judging by the detail, she had been putting much thought into it. I was flattered by the trust. Considering that she had known me a scant 24-hours and would trust me enough to wander off to parts unknown was touching.

In the moment, I was excited for her. Through the conversations we'd had there had been an obvious budding connection, although I was clueless to where it was going. It began to seem to me that my simple presence and the exchanging of ideas had stirred something lurking just beneath her surface. To my recollection, I had not implied that my particular path was the one for her, but as we began to discuss the details, it became apparent that Brian's concept of mirroring had again been doing its silent work.

That now-frequently mentioned concept of synchronicity, serendipity as she prefers to call it, now came front and center. It was plain to both of us that there was something at play here. I could only assume that this was an instance where I was playing a supporting role in Leslie's drama. My feeling was that I was there to serve a purpose; not influence this particular decision one way or another regardless of my wants. All I could do was lay out a welcome mat, offer perspective, and answer questions.

Things felt decidedly different as we made sandwiches on the hood of the car outside the Cabaret. Events were now in an uncertain, exciting state of flux. We talked more, and I reiterated that I thought it would be great for her to tag along, but it was up to her. I loved that she was even considering it, and that she had the courage to explore the idea. In fact, I believe she would have agreed to go right then, but the problem was, understandably, going to be her family!

The road to Brookings and I-29 was quiet as Leslie re-immersed herself in thought trying to piece everything together. Bonnie wanted to get to Madison, Wisconsin to see a friend that night, so I told Leslie if she decided to come, I could ride along and we could both leave from Madison for a quick Wisconsin Wander. I liked the idea of adding Wisconsin and Minnesota to my list anyhow, and it would be relatively easy to pick up where I left off when she returned home. However, I needed to know by the time we reached Brookings about an hour later. If she went home, going any further with them would take me south, toward western Iowa. Not my intended direction!

Brookings arrived, and as we fueled up Leslie walked off talking on the phone. I began to scout the area for places to sleep, just in case this was it for me, and found the BP station quite suitable. All that was left was the verdict.

When she returned, Leslie said that she didn't think there was any way she could do this. She knew it was her decision to make in the end, but had enough respect for her mother not to. It's understandable for a mom to be a bit leery of her daughter spontaneously running off to travel--with a guy she picked up on the side of the road!

With that, things laid out nicely. We continued to talk about a reunion of sorts for the end of the year and I rode along to Sioux City anyhow, just to hang out another 45-minutes with my new friends. As we sped toward the reunion with I-90, it occurred to me that I would be talking about them in the same way I do the other stars of my travels. This had been two of the more incredible days to date, not to mention rides!

I was sad to be pulling in to the Flying J on the north end of Sioux Falls. The 30-or-so hours I had spent with them felt more like a week because of all that had happened, and that spoke volumes. We had as a group managed to hit Brian's "Flow." Leslie and Bonnie loaded me up with extra food and bug spray, we hugged, and they drove off toward their meetup in Madison. It was an empty feeling standing alone in the parking lot after all that had transpired. I immediately began the process of decompressing, adjusting to a new situation, and realizing I now had to formulate a plan. This Flying J, while nice, was not conducive to stealth camping. It was best to get moving.

After gathering my wits, I drew up a sign for Brookings; exactly where I had just come from. Not 20-minutes later, I was in the pickup with Patrick. He was a no-nonsense kind of guy who professed to hate talking politics. He hated it, until he figured out we had similar "fuck em all" views toward politicians! Then, that was all he wanted to talk about! A great way to get me going again.

Patrick dropped me at the same BP station that we were at just a couple hours earlier. It was getting late and I'd had a long day, so before long I was scouring the bushes between the northbound exit ramp and I-29. I was quickly discovering that I would need to adjust to the scarce vegetation of the plains! I settled beneath a bush in a spot that offered barely any concealment at all, and was soon falling asleep with the thought that this had been a day that I would never forget.

8/23/09: A Pilgrimage to Carthage, SD

We got an early jump on Sunday thanks to Mother Nature. Thunder woke me from a light sleep and, rather than continue sleeping and break camp in the impending rain, we chose to hit the road at 6am. Before running into Leslie & Bonnie, my intentions had been to go south from Spearfish to Deadwood, then further south thru the Black Hills and toward The Badlands. After hatching this little plan, I learned from Shelly that our father planned to be in the Hills at about the same time then on his way to Arizona. I loved the coincidence, but made no effort to connect with him in favor of leaving it to chance. How things have changed in 2- months! Bypassing Deadwood killed that possibility, but with no regrets. I have done enough. Plus, leaving the Black Hills unseen would give me something to see later.

Back on I-90 and thru Sturgis, we stopped off in Rapid City for Leslie to pick up buffalo meat for her mother as a thank you gesture for the use of her car. I already felt good vibes from South Dakota, and they got better. As we would ask about places that were open on an early Sunday morning, it seemed everyone was eager to help.

Further east past The Badlands, we all settled in for the long ride across South Dakota and the conversations continued. It's rare to ride with someone and have so much in common. None of the conversation was forced, or worse: bogged down by uncomfortable silence. Some rides reach this point after 10- minutes!

Our chats were at times intense, and always three- sided. Bonnie continued to show herself as someone who is passionate about making a difference with her life, and on a quest to find the best means to that end. As we debated the merits of different ways to proceed, I naturally encouraged an avoidance of institution.

Whenever organized charity is invoked, my mind snaps back to my volunteer trip to New Orleans in 2005 following Katrina. This was the beginning of my personal exodus from Kamp Liberal. I saw the corruption and resulting ineffectiveness of organizations like the Red Cross, while at the same time seeing first hand the cancerous infestation of personal, dogma- driven agenda into relief work. Rather than concentrating on the task at hand, many (not all) of these "Progressives" were chiefly interested in pounding their chests in self- righteousness; proclaiming themselves noble carriers of the Evolutionary Torch. "I'm volunteering in New Orleans AND I'm a vegetarian (lesbian, socialist, PETA member, Democrat, environmentalist, pot head...) too!" It was repulsive, and a harsh lesson in how factionalism will manipulate any situation to promote dogma and further agenda. The Red Cross is The National Charity, and has exploited our sympathies borne out of tragedies like 9/11 & Katrina.

This is not out of humanity, but to turn a profit while in turn offering little tangible help. Don't believe me? Turn off the TV and go see for yourself. No one I talked to anywhere near New Orleans in the weeks following Katrina had any respect for FEMA or the Red Cross, despite the propaganda.

I continued to express my belief that the way to have the greatest effect is as an individual; quit talking and see with your own eyes where you can help. If you want to get involved, writing a check is literally the very least you can do. It usually offers only the illusion of help; a substitute for actual involvement. "Charity" is oftentimes big business, and donated money is used to grease its machine; a blatant oxymoron.

With this as our soundtrack, our goal was Mitchell, home of the Corn Palace and a small town where we would begin plotting our route north to Carthage and Chris McCandless' bar. We stopped for a quick, impromptu bath in what turned out to be a lake apparently created by damming the Missouri River. Then, it seemed that we each retreated into our own thoughts, listening to music and watching the countryside. Leslie in particular seemed deep in thought, and I would occasionally catch her intently looking at me in the mirror. I wasn't sure what she was thinking, but would find out in Carthage.

Carthage is barely a town, with a grand total of something like 187 people. When we stopped for pictures at the city limit sign, there was a sense of accomplishment. I had conceptualized coming here for a beer well before leaving in 2008, and here I was.

The Cabaret was featured in Into the Wild, and Sean Penn had brought the cast and crew to South Dakota to film. McCandless was picked up by a local, Wayne Westerburg, while hitching in the area and found work on his farm. They became good friends, and McCandless spent a significant amount of time here, even returning to earn money prior to his fatal trip to Alaska in 1992. My draw to Carthage had never been clear, beyond thinking it would be neat to have a beer as a sort of toast to his memory.

The Cabaret is exactly as it's seen in the movie, and by far the busiest place it town! Walking in, the first thing that struck me was how they embrace the media- created tether to Chris McCandless. I was curious rather the locals would resent Into the Wild Pilgrims, but the first thing seen is a sign for a beer special called "The Into the Wild!" Inside, it's a typical dark, small town bar except that it's quite nice, clean, and frequented by older folks on Sunday afternoons. It struck us as a place that is probably packed on weekends; the only place to go!

We settled in and ordered our $1.50 beers, and I periodically found myself lost in the realization that I was seeing, and on some level had experienced, a few of the same things as McCandless. Life on the road has had its priceless rewards; Leslie & Bonnie were an at- the- table reminder of this! Also, I could see how McCandless could become attached to this isolated little town and its friendly people. It seemed there was no bullshit to be found, just real, friendly, authentic people.

I quickly snooped around the Cabaret's empty nooks and crannies, taking it all in. There were pictures of Vince Vaughan, Sean Penn, and Emile Hirsh posing from various locations around the bar as well as original memorabilia from "Alex" McCandless including a newspaper article. I decided against buying the Cabaret's Into the Wild t- shirt, but seeing it answered my question about how they felt about their most famous patron. He was drawing people, like me, from afar and making them money. I believe Bonnie asked a very poignant question: How would he feel about that?

Our stay in Carthage was brief, just long enough to drink a few cheap beers and ultimately discover part of what Leslie was pondering through the South Dakota farmland.

She wanted to come with me...

Saturday, August 22, 2009

8/22/09: Spearfish, SD- Leslie & Bonnie

Things were odd as I awoke Saturday morning to a very different Lori than was on display the night before. She was quietly subdued as she and Chris made breakfast and coffee while I repacked. We had some small talk as I ate their delicious potato & egg concoction, and soon I was waving goodbye and heading for a shower. I told them I'd stop back that night if I was still there, and was prepared to accept their offer of a ride to Rapid City if I hadn't left by Sunday.

A member of KOA's Golf Kart Militia noticed my pack, and gave me a brief, sKornful inkwisition about where I had slept, thinking I had hijacked a tent sight. Nothing came of it, but it did set the tone for the remainder of my stay. It was time to leave, and I had a distinct feeling that things were about to change.

I spent a few hours relaxing outside the Trading Post before learning that there was a restaurant a half mile up the road; one I had failed noticing when Harry dropped me off. That was all that was needed to push me down the road. I had no idea what exactly I was doing, I just knew it was time.

A quick 15-minutes later, I found myself at the intersection of Route 24 looking at the restaurant. I had gotten water before leaving, so I planned to sit at the corner just to see what happened. As I was crossing the road, a small SUV passed me with a pretty young woman hanging half way out the window flashing me the thumbs-up. When I returned the gesture and smiled, they unexpectedly pulled over and my new friend-in-thumb asked me if I needed a ride. A simple "Yeah!" later she had hopped out, and I was finally on my way toward Sundance.

I had to laugh. I had sat at Devils Tower for 72- hours with nothing. After 15-minutes walking, on nothing more than intuition, I was off. The pattern was still intact, but at the time, had no idea as to the extent. As I settled in, all I could see ahead was a half-hour hop back to I-90.

The thumb-flashing passenger was a Leslie. She was a short 21- year old who, even at first sight, flowed with raw energy. And, she was absolutely stunning. She has the looks that steals your breath for a moment. Leslie is the last kind of ride you expect to get, but as it turns out, there is nothing ordinary about her.

Driving the car was Bonnie. She struck me at first as the typical Santa Fe/Boulder progressive. Bonnie would hate the idea, but her general ideology was written all over her in pretty simple language. What I've called "being different-just like everyone else." I would learn later that, while accurate on a base level, it was an unfair assessment to make in a split second. She had a lot going on beyond typical, dictated agenda.

Leslie and Bonnie are from Chicago and were on their way home from an abbreviated road trip. They had intended to go all the way to Montana, but things had come up and Bonnie needed to be back by Monday. One of the first things we talked about was how we all had common spiritual views. There was an excellent, instant rapport, and as I told them more about my travels they invited me along to Spearfish as they tried to find a microbrewery they were told about. I was none too sad to be leaving Wyoming, especially like this! This ride had all the early indications of something remarkable, and I again laughed. I had cautiously felt it coming.

The conversations continued uninterrupted into South Dakota, and the energy in the truck was addicting. Bonnie was familiar with Chris McCandless, and when I mentioned I was considering going to Carthage SD to have a beer at the bar featured in Into the Wild, my original hop to Sundance, then skip to Spearfish suddenly jumped into a pilgrimage across South Dakota.

When we pulled into the Crow Peak Brewery in Spearfish, I had permagrin. My mind's eye traveled back to Devils Tower, and I could see the perfect progression of events laid out as though they were planned. Some say that the elderly sometimes say they same things when looking back over their lives. All coincidence? Ha!

Our pit stop at Crow Peak quickly became a night out. Leslie challenged a couple to a chugging contest while, at the same time talking the bartender into offering a t-shirt to the winner. Quite persuasive, this Leslie! I figured my shady past would be of some benefit here, so I signed up as a ringer to ensure Leslie got her shirt. It was the least I could do, after all! It was no contest. I won easily. Leslie: happy. Life: good.

Dean was one of the non- participating bystanders and had taken the picture of the contest for me. He and his wife were from Wisconsin, and the three of us were soon chatting politics and sociology. It was an excellent conversation, and I was beginning to realize how much I was going to enjoy these Northerners. Relatively speaking, there seemed to be an abundance of common sense borne from living life, rather than just reading about it then later simply swapping spit in a self-labeled Salon. Theme alert!

Obviously, continuing on toward Carthage Saturday night was out of the question. To add a perfect exclamation point to the day, our bartender actually offered to let us camp AT the brewery! We didn't even need to re-park.

Bonnie and I sat up for quite a while chatting about philosophy and metaphysics before going to bed. It was then that I realized that she herself was on quite a quest. Bonnie has passion for real change, but seemed at first to think it's an institutional issue rather than individual; that the solutions are "out there." (See the Dragon Parable) She seemed to be slightly hindered by ideological dogma, but also had the Splinter in the Mind that leads, inevitably, to critical/original questioning. This way, your organic ideas are accessorized by philosophy. Most people, even those who call themselves highly educated, are vice versa. Thus, recyclers of others thoughts. Parrots. Authentic, self-awareness is not an easy process, but Bonnie has begun it. She would periodically tune-in as we chatted, and when she did, she would shine.

I was exhausted by the time I climbed into the bivy. Leslie set the alarm early; all of South Dakota and Carthage lie ahead for Sunday. A least in theory...