Confessions of a Cayce Doctor
“In the travel ... may come
the greater material, mental and spiritual advancement
–– IF the ideals of the spiritual natures are held in same.”
§ Without either Ginger or me realizing it, 123 Main Street became something of a community center in Lavina. A community within a community. A place to gather together, a hub for ideas and activities, the home for Friday Forums and other events. Some of those spread to or from the Rocky Mountain Garage which I had purchased and painted and cleaned up just a year ahead of Ginger's appearance.
I latterly had been tinkering with the idea of taking a Rocky Mountain Medicine Show on the road. But while I dearly loved leading workshops, whether I made money or not, I had numerous hints to get off the road and conserve my resources. When that brainstorm dissolved, I decided, “Why not a Rocky Mountain Remedy Shop?”
The first inkling was to do a shop in nearby Roundup. But like Raymond who got the urge to buy his hotel with no money at hand, I was drawn toward the County Garage when the owners (Charlotte and George Ainslie) hinted “it might be for sale.” I proceeded to buy the garage with the help of my father and aunt. Dad was always generous, all I had to do was ask. And my Aunt Elizabeth recently had offered to give me money to add an addition to the little house I rented. Yes, rented. So when the garage came up, she quickly contributed.
The initial cost was $10,000, almost the same as Raymond’s hotel. The building was in better shape in many ways than the hotel. But my Rocky Mountain Remedy Shop project was practically stillborn when the State Building Inspector appeared in the fall of 1997 and enumerated a list of deficiencies which needed to be remedied and would require much greater capital.
Instead, the building became the site of occasional celebrations along with continued general warehouse duties which brought in a little income. The first “occasion” was my 50th birthday party: Red White and Blue and 50 Too in which Ginger and Bibi participated via a song the two taped and mailed to be played at the event. Red White and Blue became the theme of annual celebrations for a few years just as it had become the color scheme for the Rocky Mountain Garage. §
When I took on the old County Garage, there was much to be done. Not approaching the job that Raymond Barry tackled at the Hotel, but a fair share in itself. Clearing and moving out junk, cleaning decades of dust and soot. I wire-brushed practically ever interior brick. While most of the county garage was brick – interior and exterior, there were wooden beams and floors and interior walls. As well as doors, large and small. When I took possession, the exterior garage doors were mostly painted gray with some red trim suiting the fire department which once used part of the building.
I immediately decided that a color change was in order. It didn’t take me long to decide that Red White and Blue would be a good combination for such a building. I had long kept a flag waving in front of my current abode and no one would dare complain about Red White and Blue. But, it wasn’t that simple. I started in between clean-up projects to paint the front doors and wooden trim. There was a catch and a bit of learning. I drove to the Roundup hardware store and picked out a Poppy Red which they quickly mixed.
When I took the bucket of paint back to brighten up one of the garage doors, I found it was hardly Red at all. But, a brash shade of pink – HOT PINK at that. The store wouldn’t take it back. I learned that REAL RED “has to mixed at the factory.”
For a time, the Rocky Mountain Garage was quite dramatically Pink White and Blue. Charlotte Ainslie, then at the Slayton Mercantile, was pleased that her old building was being spiffed up. But, she also figured I must have gotten “that Hot Pink paint on sale.” I had to tell her the story.
The county garage originally had been an automotive livery and car dealership. The south half of the building was a huge one-story garage with an added workshop in the rear. The north half was two stories with two separate sections at ground level which had done some garage duties and contained the fire department at one time. The two sides of the building were not really separated. A row of iron beams held up the second floor south-facing wall and allowed for wide and easy access from side to side.
The upstairs was for many years the Lavina Opera House. That’s right, Opera House. That’s what they had called it. Not too many people can make the statement: “I owned an opera house.” How lucky can a guy get!
The Opera House was the best part of the whole structure and offered possibilities or imaginings of renewal. The imagination and energy were there, if not the finances. The Opera House had hosted vaudevilles and civic meetings, school plays and programs for many of its early years. Names and autographs of performers and shows were visible in various nooks and crannies, particularly on the wings of the small stage at west end. Later on, movies came along to make for a Show House into the 50s and 60s.
Many locals recalled roller skating and watching basketball games being played in the second floor arena. That was really hard for a modern eye to believe since the ceiling –12 foot – didn’t allow much room for even a lob pass or a long arching shot. With a hoop at ten feet, the players must have caromed a few balls off the ceiling from time to time. The floor length was a little over 50 feet. That was tape-measured in front of me by an old-timer with the local family name of Lewis. One day, he hailed me from below and climbed up the ladder – the only access to the second floor at the time. (Mr. Kinerk referred to the Opera House as the Walled Off Astoria.) The exterior fire escape had long come down (or ironically burned down) and the interior stairs had disappeared to make room for fire department vehicles or school buses.
Lewis had to get the measurements so he could give his grandkids details about the place where used to play ball. Half court basketball was in vogue – or at least acceptable – in those days. A single back board for a basketball hoop was still in place next to the projection booth when I took ownership of the building. Large Nixon and Agnew full-face campaign posters were still hanging on the walls which suggested the Old Opera House was active into the 70s. I have kicked myself more than a few times for not saving those items. Instead, I rolled them up and set them afire. In those days, I was definitely not a fan of Richard Milhouse Nixon. Even less so of Agnew.
Sad to say, the Opera House had been torn apart bit by bit. Furnishings, props and anything that wasn’t nailed down had disappeared. Even, the hard wood floors had been mostly stripped by the county roads crew to build workshop tables. A wood stove that heated the chamber remained but was soon claimed for regular use by a neighbor.
Little remained except a small stage and the remnants of a motion picture projection booth. There were, however, sets of old-fashioned wooden fold-up-and-down seats leaning here and there. Six seats to a set. They must have been beauties in their day. They brought memories of similar ones which graced one school or another that I attended when I was young. The chairs were quite falling apart, but I manage to disassemble them and reconstruct a number of sets for eventual use below.
Even, the tin ceiling went away. Raymond Barry convinced me that the ceiling tiles would get more use in the hotel. A deal was made. The old opera house became more and more a shell, although I had all good intentions of putting it back together once it was cleaned to the bone. I did get the roof repaired, the interior walls painted, and windows replaced. A start. Just a start.
My cleanup and paintup in the old opera house was pretty quiet unless I got volunteer help from Main Street grade schoolers which became the Deconstruction Crew. Two or three would beg to “help out.” But, one was often more “help” than I could manage. Supervision often took more energy than the work which the youngster/s generated. Nonetheless, Kade and Jed and a few others got involved for a hour or two at a time. They got paid in treats at the Mercantile.
Most days, I was all alone in my projects. Sometimes, I would be tucked up in the rafters of the opera house oblivious to the rest of the world. But, you never know what the next moment will bring. One afternoon when I was upstairs slowly tearing out lath and plaster from the ceiling of the front end lobby, I heard some commotion below on the street. I got down from my perch and stuck my head out one of the several front windows. No one was on the street. Which was not unusual. The Main Street, although part of Highway #3, was often empty of vehicles and usually of people.
I took a break before preparing to climb back into the rafters and to my project. Before long, there was more chatter outside. I mumbled out something and got a “Yoohoo,” from down below. Then, I yelled out, “Who’s there?”
“Yoohoo! It’s Avon calling.” It had to be Raymond.
When my 50th birthday neared, a friend suggested celebrating the event at the Rocky Mountain Garage. A great idea and opportunity for potential talent to appear before friends and neighbors. Along the way I decided to proclaim myself the MC (one way to become master of something), sing a song and do a recitation. I prodded and cajoled and coaxed until I had a lineup to join me. Mother and daughter Bredings from Harlowton started the show singing The Rose. Jeanne from Roundup did a poetry reading. Best friend Jane and her friend Sharon Rose from Billings sang “God Bless America” and “Wonderful World.”
Two guitarists did individual pieces. Another Rose played an acoustic medley and Brandon Lund did his electric version of “The Star Spangled Banner” à la Jimi Hendrix. Ten-year-old Charles Horton gave us all a boost, most especially the emcee, by playing “Happy Birthday” on his saxophone. I assisted him by holding the music while he played.
Ian Elliot and Jon Coxwell, friends from Billings with whom I had worked at the Babcock Theater a few years earlier, appeared and hogged the stage for quite some time. I thought they would never stop. They roasted and roasted and roasted me. They finally backed off the stage after singing and strumming “Stompin’ on Your Heart” and “Good Night, Irene.”
Jim Kinerk did a comedy routine which got him the Entertainer of the Year award for 1998. Jim told us that he had “always wanted to do standup comedy, but was afraid people would tell him to sit down and shut up.”
The festivities were topped off with a pot luck dinner. But not before I closed the show with the Golden Valley Address (after Abe Lincoln) and my rendition of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” I had practiced the tune for weeks while walking my dogs on the country roads. The audience picked up the chorus thanks to friend Jane and the song went over pretty well. Good enough for me to get invited to do a reprise at the fundamentalist church over in Ryegate.
The Golden Valley Address“Two score and ten years ago, my father and mother brought forth on this continent a new manchild, conceived largely in lust, but eventually dedicated to the proposition that all are created as eternal, evolving souls.
“Today, fifty years hence, you and I are engaged in our own internal civil wars . . . testing whether any of us, however dedicated . . . can fully mature.
“We are met on the stage of our present struggles and opportunities – planet Earth. Whether we know it or not, we have come collectively to dedicate this planet toward its higher calling. But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate . . . we cannot consecrate . . . we cannot hallow this planet Earth. The Great Ones, living and dead, who have led the way before us have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.
“Yet, it is for us in bodies, today, to be dedicated to the unfinished work begun by the Great Ones of all times and places. Let us increase our devotion, our willingness to share and to serve . . . and to highly resolve that this people, shall have a new birth of responsibility to our nation and our planet . . . and to simply but truly love our God and our neighbors as ourselves. ”
Uncle Sam and Lady LibertyOne of the recurring and sometimes rejuvenating – for the older folks – events in a rural town is the All School Reunion. Many rural public schools in my part of the world take a weekend – usually around Independence Day – out every five or ten years to get graduating classes back together as well as “show and tell” school improvements and promote their town. The Lavina Reunion Committee set the All School event for the grand American holiday weekend in the year 2000. The Committee reserved the Rocky Mountain Garage for the All School Dance on Saturday the 1st. To top things off, Mayor Scott Jensen let out the word that there would be a parade on Sunday the 2nd to liven up the town and school celebrations.
Well, that was too good an opportunity for a Yankee Doodle Boy like me to pass up. So, I set to work planning for the parade. My Toyota pickup was long past ready to go, having been spray-painted over basic white with Blue on the hood and Red on the doors.
I next recruited human help for the Garage’s Red White and Blue entry. Ginger got elected to be Lady Liberty. She went about getting a costume made in tarnished copper (turquoise) lamé. The hard work was making a complementing crown to fit over Ginger’s recently shorn head. She had buzzed the hair off my own pate not long before. One good buzz prompted another. Actually, Ginger looked smilier and brighter and happier with just a half inch of dark hair on the top of her head.
It wasn’t too hard to get Jim Kinerk involved as the pickup driver. The McKeever brothers accepted jobs as flag bearers. And we were set to join in the festivities meeting with other entries lining up on Cemetery Road a few minutes before 11 am.
On the Mayor’s cue, the County Sheriff’s crew (two vehicles) blocked off Highway 12 north and south of town – about 5 blocks. And, we were off. Kinerk pulled the truck into line. The McKeever boys followed, one with the Bennington flag and the other with a modern version of Old Glory. Lady Liberty, waving the Betsy Ross, joined Uncle Sam a few steps behind the favorite Red White and Blue mobile.
For all I know, our modest “float” may have been the hit of the parade. Usual fare in such events include entries from returning school classes, vintage cars, old tractors, fire trucks, ambulances, and odd extras. The whole process went off smoothly while the entries passed quickly down the street/highway. About as many people viewed the parade from the sidewalk as marched down the avenue. Semis, trucks and cars were backed up for some blocks while we made a turn off the route and circled in front of the school. By the time we hit the highway again, the tail end of the caravan had passed from the main route allowing us to march back up to Cemetery Road.
Surely, the audience enjoyed the moment. Such are rare in small bergs and worth viewing and photographing. The Red White and Blue crew enjoyed their march past the Adams Hotel, US Post Office, Rocky Mountain Garage, Slayton Mercantile, Lavina Crossing Cafe, American Legion log cabin, old Tea House and City Park.
I didn’t just enjoy the episode. I got juiced. Just a couple days out from the parade – maybe it was the 4th, Jim and Ginger and I stretched our legs for another walk. This time up East Red Hill Road. I was still in the mood and wore my Uncle Sam hat to hang onto some of the flavor left over from the parade event.
Ginger must have been hyped a bit because she was not one – at the time – to go for long walks. In any case, we had trekked up the gravel country road for some good distance talking about this, that and the other thing. Then out of my mouth came words something like, “You know, I been a lot of places, seen a lot of things and walked a lot of miles. I sure would like to take a LONG walk. Like maybe to New York. Yeah, New York sounds like a long walk.”
Kinerk was silent. He had had enough of his own adventures. But, Ginger piped up. “If you go, I want to come along.” Fancy that!
A Shoeless HorseThen, guess what happened just two or three days later. One of those amazing, synchronistic events in life occurred. Ginger and I were fixing to walk out the south facing door of the Tea House to attend to some chore or business. While she was closing up, I peeked out the sun porch windows and saw Coach Grammens leading a fellow and his big horse down the side street. I could tell it was a stallion because the critter stopped to relieve himself on Grammens’s back lawn. The trio proceeded down the road. By the time Ginger was out the door, Grammens was returning alone to his house. I had to ask, “Who was that? What’s the story?”
Allen said something like, “It’s a fellow on a mission. Walking across the country. His horse threw a shoe. He needed some help, so I took him down to the Browns.”
The Browns – David and Janie – and four mostly grown children lived just three blocks west and on the edge of town. David, our wannabe farmer-rancher, kept things together most of the time as a master plumber. Janie kept the family together and numbers of others acting as substitute teacher, weekly Bible class (for kids) leader, and general Good Samaritan. The Browns had lots of acres for horses and hay and miscellaneous uses. So, the shoeless stallion had a good spot to hole up for a time.
Ginger and I were intrigued by the brief tale that the coach told us. So, we marched down the road and met the traveler and horse owner, Domenico Magistrale. Wherever the Browns were at the time, the olive-skinned, straw-hatted Magistrale seemed quite at home tending to his horse. He soon unrolled the story in brief of his walk of many thousands of miles across two continents, his mission, his horse’s needs and his own. He didn’t spell out the latter, but they became clear and Lavina’s citizenry were obliging. The Browns corralled his stallion, Zorro. Ginger and I housed Domenico for the weekend and Lester Krause, farrier when needed, took care of Zorro’s shoeless hoof.
Mr. Magistrale’s visit became an instructive few days – for us. I question if it was so for our guest. Ginger and I got to hear Domenico’s tale a number of times and to gather some sense of the rest of the story which he left unsaid.
Domenico was a 60-year-old Italian-born American based in Long Island City, New York. He let out that his mission was to help bring the Americas – North, Central and South – together. He was intending to speak and write about world peace and cooperation after his final miles passing through Canada en route to Washington, DC, was complete. It sounded even then like a tall task, possibly bordering on a self-serving dream.
His odyssey encompassed 22 years and eventually over 20,000 miles – with a long break in the middle. “This is for the unification of the Americas, Magistrale said of his trans-American trek. People are a great treasure. We should share the beautiful things of the world that were given to us freely. To believe something is to achieve something. I leave it all to nature, God and the people I meet along the way. I have no fear.” (quoted from internet news articles)
Magistrale also had no money, or wanted people to think that to be the case. And they pitched in. Still, the word got around that he managed to find money for beer at the Mercantile on more than one occasion during his Lavina stay.
Newspaper articles about his trip suggest that he went through a score of shoes on the recent stretch of his adventure. One wonders if people along the route provided him footwear as well as food and lodging. “They've got to be soft, leather shoes.” He hoped to find a shoe manufacturer to keep him shod on the road, but that apparently never happened.
Domenico found giving people to provide quite freely for him and his horse. He clearly thought he was deserving. “When somebody turns me down, they send me to a better place. A traveler like myself is a messenger of God.”
It didn’t take me long to get the – I think accurate – picture that his horse was not just his companion and pack animal. Actually, Zorro had but a few pounds to carry and Domenico never rode him. The creature was his meal ticket. Few people would deny such a beautiful specimen fodder and water. And if so for the animal, then its master certainly had to be treated somewhat equally.
Zorro’s ostensible job was to carry his violin, sleeping bag, camera, journal and personal effects and allow his master other more human chores and pursuits. Domenico intimated that he took his time slowly covering territory. “A lot of people go fast, and they miss everything in life. When you go slow, you make friends. The world is very small. I can show you. I’m walking through it.”
Mr. Magistrale carried his violin “to amuse people,” which he did one barbecue night at the Browns. He picked up violin and bow and produced a few short tunes which delighted everyone. Christine Brown had previously played some credible numbers on the family upright piano. But, a foreign-born violinist “performing” in Lavina was practically unheard of, at least in recent history. Magistrale made a hit in Lavina, at least with the folks who saw him but briefly while he was “onstage.”
Domenico admitted that people all along the way made his trip possible and were to be the subject of Magistrale’s to-be-documented travels. “Every day, people help me, little by little,” he said. “I receive $20 or $30, and with this – I can walk.”
At various venues in Lavina, Domenico told how he began his journey in 1978 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, with a horse called Ruby. If I remember right he walked to the southern tip of Argentina then turned back to the north. But, Ruby was killed in an accident in Panama. After a 20-year hiatus, Magistrale resumed his journey in Panama in 1999 with Zorro, a former racehorse, walking at his side.
Domenico featured himself as a historian, philosopher and linguist and claimed to speak, read and write five languages. His favorite philosopher was the Italian Dante Alighieri. Magistrale also claimed to “study everything along the way, and I meet a lot of beautiful people.” But Ginger and I found it quite revealing that during his entire stay with us, he never asked either of us the least probing question about what we were doing in Lavina, how we came to the town, or anything about our own interests and aspirations.
Mr. Magistrale told one reporter that, “I don’t miss anything. My home is under the skies.” Another writer apparently caught wind of little told parts of his story which Domenico laughed off, “having recently been dubbed a lovologist: ‘Women are what I call my “muses,” my inspiration,’ he said.”
Domenico reported that he had authored four books including one of poetry. The only one I could find on the Internet was a volume in Spanish called La naturaleza, Ruby y yo or Nature, Ruby and I, which apparently was written about the first half of his American travels with Ruby.
Domenico had grand dreams that further writings on his travels could be turned into an opera about world unification. “I'm hoping to intrigue Pavarotti, Domingo, Bocelli and Carreras,” he said. “It doesn't matter if it's a humorous opera. They will hear from me, especially Pavarotti and Bocelli.”
As of the date of this writing, there is nothing to report on Magistrale’s impressive journey beyond my own recollections and a few snippets quoted from newspaper articles in The Mail Tribune, The Tracy Press, and The Idaho Spokesman-Review [AP]. News articles cease after his appearance in Idaho. No one in Lavina ever heard a word from him after his visit. Magistrale didn’t ask for names or addresses when he and Zorro headed down the road to spend more days under the skies and nights tended by generous fellow citizens.
What can be happily reported is that I took Mr. Magistrale’s visit as a sign and an affirmation that my idea to walk to New York was on target. How often does such a thing happen? A man walking through Lavina, MT, heading home to New York City.
It has been quite common over the years for Harley Davidson bikers to caravan through the area every year en route to the huge annual cycle rally in Sturgis, SD. Other bikers pased through during the summer, usually just stopping for coffee or a meal. Then, there were bicycling groups passing through the area most every summer. Sometimes, they camped in the City Park. Others, they just took rest stops. The always slim, sleek, tightly clad riders did not slow down much, but kept to pretty close schedules. I would go over and visit, sometimes, to find out whence and whither they were traveling, and learn about their cause which was usually for some disease-oriented organization. They most always seemed to be having a great experience. How much they were taking in the scenery and how much they touched base with the locals was another question.
Mr. Magistrale was the only solo walker to pass through Lavina in my days in the little berg. Such was hardly a common occurrence. Magistrale was not only walking across country (and continents), but he was also heading back to his staging area – if not home – in Long Island City (considered the westernmost neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City).
Furthermore, Domenico passed through our fair town within days of our Red White and Blue parade. And it was just hours since my Uncle Sam-ish exclamation, “I sure would like to take a LONG walk. Like maybe to New York.”
Metro Lavina and the Big AppleSo, New York City became the direction of a long walk intended for a year hence in 2001. The brainstorm simply followed a pattern which had been unfolding over time: A habit of walking being more common and comfortable than any other form of locomotion. A 6-month taste of New York City. A growing affinity for symbols of the USA and Old Glory in her many forms. As well as a propensity to display them whenever possible.
The previous summer, Ginger and I had put together another version of the Red White and Blue celebration. One Red White and Blue event begged for another. The first was clearly a success. Why not another?
The 1999 version was a two-day event with New York Night followed by Red White and Blue and Lady Liberty Too. To get ready for the event, Ginger commissioned ever-ready Rose Wise to paint an 8X8 bust of the Copper Queen of New York Harbor. Phil Horton, Jim Kinerk and others helped hoist the painting to the roof the Rocky Mountain Garage whence Phil nailed it tight to the south-facing wall of the old Opera House. Anyone with observing eyes driving or walking north on Highway 12 through Lavina couldn’t help but see the Great Lady peering down over the micropolis.That was so at least until the garage changed hands and the new owner did some work on the roof of the building.
To give the 1999 festivities an extra New York flavor, we scheduled the event around the visit of our NYC friend Audrey Shapiro to the Northern Paradise. We also got Audrey to prep her vocal cords to sing some NY tunes with us onstage at the RM Garage. I have the Playbill for New York Night in front of me.
I made myself Master of Ceremonies again as there weren’t many other choices. I also started the program with a show-and-tell about my six-month stay in New York City. I called it Red White and Borscht. Borscht because of the beet soup I learned to make long ago (most everybody likes it) and because of the Jewish-oriented Borscht Belt in the Catskills of upstate New York which nurtured many talents from the 20s to the 60s who became famous entertainers.
Ginger followed with some brief family reminiscences. These were topped off with “Politically incorrect songs my grandfather taught me.” They included “Dan McCarthy Owned a Brick Yard,” “Clarence Fitzgerald Sweet Evening Breeze Primrose,” and “In the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.” I couldn’t pry any lyrics of the first two from Ginger at this distant date. She says, “They were naughty songs.” But you could have fooled me.
Ginger was very bright and very funny. She claims she doesn’t like to be onstage, but handled the task with real hutzpah. I had to pester her for weeks to get her onboard. Audrey in the cast and helping create New York Night made the difference. Ginger knew she had extra moral support. Audrey joined the two of us onstage for a medley from West Side Story. The centerpiece of which was ”Officer Krupke.” She followed reading a story she had done called “Twisted.” It was a New York sort of thing.
I did some my own fill-in stories about New York and coerced Chris Crowther to read a PSA on the dangers of Toast. A Big City Sing-Along followed. Then, there was long-distance taped music from New York. Bibi and a friend sang and strummed guitar with Frank Zappa’s tune called “Movin’ to Montana.” They had recorded their contribution and mailed a cassette for play at the Garage. Ginger and I closed the evening with “Home on the Range” and got the audience to join in refrain. New York Refreshments followed.
Despite her reticence to perform, Ginger was beaming and really enjoyed herself on New York Night. It was harder to get her in front of the larger crowd on Sunday. But once she got planted onstage, the words came out and the stories and songs hit the bull right in the eye.
That reminds me of her time going out one day with Lester Krause to shoot some sort of gun. She claimed she hit the bull’s eye on the first attempt. Ginger also went over to the Browns on another day during branding time. She came back with a big yarn of castrating the calves Basque style. “While they held that critter down, I made a slit between its legs and doused it with a little Jack Daniels after I had a slug. I then leaned over him, squeezed his balls out the incision, and bit them right off.” It was a good story she ought to have told at one of the celebrations.
In any case, the people in the seats loved hearing about New York from a real New Yorker or two. Ginger’s anecdotes about her beloved Grandpa Jack, whom she knew as Chitch, brought the big city a little closer to Lavina. As did her sweet and sentimental songs from long ago.
Sunday’s Red White and Blue and Lady Liberty Too was a bigger success than the previous night because of a bigger crowd, potluck meal and more participation. The first night was basically Ginger, Audrey and I.
Sunday, we reprised bits and songs from the previous night and then brought local talent up for review. It was not all local, some was close to loco. Jim Kinerk received the Entertainer of the Year Award for 1998 which manifested as a plaque with a painting (by his devoted fan and friend, Rose Wise) of the comedian himself. He followed his standup routine of the previous year with a brief but very visual impersonation of a fried egg. You had to see it to ...
Jim then brought to the stage the comedian of the day, 7-year-old Harrison Cooper, who read some of his favorite jokes to the delight of the audience. Grandmother Rose Wise was tickled to see Harrison in his first public performance. She also was thrilled when Ginger presented Rose with a bouquet of roses in thanks for the bust she painted of the Lady Liberty.
The Burnside sisters sang “Desperado” for us, Brandon Lund played two mean numbers on his electric guitar, and our own County Commissioner Joan Krause played a couple of her favorite tunes on the harmonica. They were impressively good enough to get her the Entertainer of the Year Award for 1999. It is amazing the music a good harmonic player can get out of that tiny instrument. Ginger, Audrey and Sarah Horton wound things down with some drumming and close to the Earth music. We closed with another sing-along and a retreat to the potluck trough.
Along with other events, the 1999 Celebration set the tone for further activities in coming days. The 2000 event became Red White and Blue and Ethnic Too featuring an excellent barbershop quartet from Billings, Mario the plumber telling Native American stories, and Diane McVeda racing through a creditable but very brief banjo number. She struggled with stage fright and barely forced herself in front of the audience.
The second half of the program was provided by our new horse trainer and musician in residence, Mr. Mike Beck. A superb professional in both arenas, Mike Beck sang his own poignant songs, picked away grandly on the guitar and told some great stories of the West, cowboys and their favorite horses. He was an immediate hit and performed on later occasions at the Rocky Mountain Garage. After a few years, he turned back to his roots in California. He still plays music, now with the Bohemian Saints, and works with horses around the country and the world. Known for spot-on solo acoustic performances in the US and Europe, Mike follows in the footsteps of two of his heros, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot and Ian Tyson. Two of his songs (“In Old California” and “Don’t Tell Me”) were listed in the “13 Best Cowboy Songs of All Time” in the April, 2009 issue of Western Horseman. I recommend his “Mariposa Winds” album.
Looking back, it seems that all the Red White and Blue celebrations helped draw me consciously and unconsciously to walk across the United States of America. The initial plan was to make ready for the jaunt within the year of the brainstorm. That would have been the summer of 2001.
I was reading about cross-country walkers and thinking about a traveling-man future as the winter of 2001 rolled around. I was also fretting a bit as many in the west were over Y2K. I had bought into the scare along with Kinerk and many others. The new year came and went without a glitch. The real Y2K event – to my thinking – came in September of the following year.
I had my own “event” however early in the year. It was mid winter 2001 in Montana, a mild one as is common. That Montana winters are often so is a guarded secret. I was planning the long summer walk to New York City, intending to get things in order in the spring for a June departure.
To bring things together for narrative purposes, I remind the reader that I had adopted a logo for myself. The American flag with but one star in the blue canton and with that star covered partially by a gold heart was first painted on the wall of The Rocky Mountain Garage. Then, the symbol became the focus of a quilt I sewed with help which was used as a backdrop for stage performances at the Garage. Interestingly with each new iteration of the logo, the heart got progressively larger until it bulged out beyond the limits of the star.
My Y2K “event” began early February of 2001. Interestingly, it developed after a “painful” confrontation at one of our Friday Forums. A social worker who worked in Billings spoke to a small group on a now-forgotten topic. In the midst of the discussion, her husband jumped into the fray and started promoting a project of his own. When he pushed on telling how he could read people and tell them how to get their lives in order – seeming to focus on me in particular, I got up on haunches and was ready to do battle. We both were Roberts and former soldiers.
The Forum ended on a very sour note and it seems that the “event” continued within hours with a diffuse, nagging heaviness in my chest. There was no pain, but it gnawed and gnawed on me. The focus of the discomfort started on the right side of my chest and slowly expanded to the whole region. It wouldn’t go away regardless of what I did or didn’t do. If I rested, it was present. If I worked, it was still there. It didn’t interfere with activity, but it was like a big sore thumb which I was always aware of.
The only “therapies” I used were rest, work, and hot baths. “Use what is at hand.” For many years, my habit has been to “tough out” practically all ailments and injuries that have become my lot. I have been fortunate to have a thick hide. I also have had jobs and living situations which allowed me to rest, recuperate and let nature do its own work when I became injured, ill or out of sorts. Would that more people had similar circumstances.
The heaviness and discomfort persisted. The only other problem which crept into my awareness was a growing sense of unease when around groups or crowds of people. I felt things closing in on me. It was a good time to be outside which made me a little more comfortable.
Going to the Lavina Crossing Cafe was sometimes a problem. Going into the Big City and visiting Walmart was a real trauma. It seemed that during that time I experienced to some degree the kinds of discomfort of which Jim Kinerk used to complain. Not claustrophobia, but just ill-ease and anxiety around people. Some people might have called it agoraphobia.
Spring arrived and I was no better, but I got focused with wishful thinking on Easter. Reading the stories from the Bible and other texts, I convinced myself that I was going to be “resurrected” from my ills with Easter.
Nothing happened until Sunday when I was invited to the home of the Browns to join in an Easter get-together and meal. The bad feelings soon appeared, I couldn’t eat, I became afraid that I would pass out and fall into the food. Worse than that, I eventually thought, “I’m gonna die.” It was a horrible, scary, no good, very bad feeling.
I got up from the table with the intention of walking home, but I only got as far as the couch. The Browns and the Hortons came to my rescue trying to help. “What can we do?” they asked, while Phil gave me a nitroglycerine tablet. I cooperated and took it.
“Call Ginger.” Ginger was at the time visiting her family in New York. Janie got Ginger on the phone. I asked her to come back and sit with me. If I was going to die, I didn’t want to be alone. So, Ginger checked with the airlines. To get her ticket changed without extra cost required a physician’s report. (It probably would have been cheaper to pay the extra fare instead of going through a medical consultation.) For the first time in twenty years, I took myself to a physician. Actually, Janie Brown drove me to the small hospital clinic in nearby Roundup.
The foreign-born physician was attentive and accommodating. I told him my story. He did a quick exam and suggested blood tests and an EKG. I asked him what he might find in blood work. We settled on an EKG which was “normal.” Everything was “normal,” except how I was feeling. The doctor recommended having a stress test at a cardiology clinic in the Big City. I thanked him and left with a note for the airlines. But, I wasn’t about to go near a Big City hospital. No telling what they might find or imagine me having. No knives, please. Besides, I had no insurance and was paying out of my pocket.
At the same time, my father back home in South Dakota was having his own chest problem. Months earlier, his physician had told him, “You probably have a hiatal hernia Take these pills. Come back, if you need.” Well, he had need. My 89-year-old parent had progressive symptoms. At almost exactly the same moment I was having my Easter ills, Dad’s problem got worse and he was admitted to the local hospital. He had fluid in his chest which they drained. My brother called and told me about my father. Despite my own ills, I decided I needed to go help out. I didn’t feel up to driving 650 miles, so I intended to take the bus. But, that didn’t seem to be a much better choice. Ginger volunteered to take me home. I slept in the back of her van during much of the trip.
We pulled into the hometown just as my brother arrived at my father’s apartment house with Dad in tow. Ginger stayed a day or two while I took up residence as chief caregiver. It was clear by then that my father had cancer and was entering his last days. Nonetheless, we had to go through the motions and take him to appointments and pass him through another hospital admission for biopsy which confirmed a malignant lung tumor.
My own discomfort was little changed wherever and worsened in crowds and inside the clinic and hospital. I recall helping my father keep steady on his feet while he had another chest Xray at the clinic. I feared that I might pass out and get run to the Emergency Room with scary results.
I was with Dad during all but a few hours of the last five weeks of his life. It was a trying but somehow magical experience. Strangely it took 52 years for me to realize how similar father and son were. I cared for him like a parent cares for a child. Fed him, bathed him, shaved him. Along with Dad’s chest problem, he developed weakness and diminished sensation in his legs. So, it was difficult for him to navigate. When he needed to move from one place to another, we seemed to “dance across the room.”
Eventually, he stopped eating and went to sleep for most of three days. He died in his favorite easy chair. His body was buried with military rites at the town cemetery next to mother’s grave after a church service where most of the family members spoke in remembrance of him.
Ginger returned for the funeral and drove me back to Montana. By then, I was a bit better. Unexpectedly just a fortnight after Dad died, my chest discomfort disappeared. It “moved south,” transformed into pain in my right hip. It was like a figure 7 of energy was passing very, very slowly through my body. However uncomfortable the hip pain was, I was relieved and thankful. “I’m not gonna die.”
While the chest problem lasted four months, the hip pain covered five more. Then, voila! Both were gone. No worse for the wear. But, I wouldn’t want to go through it again. No, siree, Bob. It had been, metaphorically, like giving birth. Nine months. To something? Well, the new me. Maybe with a bigger heart!
While I was on the mend after my most difficult moments, I decided to see if some readings might shed light on my recent struggles. I enjoyed my consultation with an astrologer in Helena, MT, but the most memorable came with my telling him that I hadn't had a full time, permanent job in 20 years. He stood up and applauded.
A psychic reading over the phone with Pat in Dallas gave me only a little more to ponder. On asking about my relationship with my father, she responded, “You two have been together before. Once you were soldiers together. In another life, I see you meditating together in a monastery.” Well, those observations seemed right on target.
Father Albert and Son Robert had both in the Army twice in the present era and experienced bouts of hepatitis while in service. We both had frozen our feet at one time or another. Both were meditative types, wore glasses, had large noses. Of the three sons, I looked most like Dad.
When I went on to ask about any previous experience in Montana, Pat said something like, “I see you crossing the prairie, driving cattle into Wyoming.” Well, I snickered about the possibility of me being a cattleman for many years. But, later developments suggested that Pat might have caught more of the truth than I dared imagine at the time.
A few months after my father died, Ginger made the difficult but necessary decision to move back to New York. She was a duck out of water in Little Old Lavina. Her talents, energies and interests were not suited to such a tiny place. Beyond that, Ginger was prone to inertia getting into a rut and finding it hard to get out. From time to time, she would slam the door to the bedroom after hanging a sign on it saying, “Keep out.” She might have added, “I’m not budging until I’m ready.”
Ginger moaned and groaned about the Bible Belters and the rough cowboy mentality. Had she been involved more in her own interests, she likely would not have noticed the discomforts so much. But, rural Montana was for the time a place to rest and repair a bit from past traumas. And also to recognize her roots, remember the importance of her family ties, and better understand her connections to the East. You can take a woman out of the city, but it’s hard to take the city out of her.
In August, she returned with her daughter to Civilization. A quiet departure. She left friends behind, but would keep in touch with numbers of them. Still, many of those were transients like herself and had already passed through the Lavina. Or would before long.
There were moments of sadness and nostalgia developing as a hurry-up version of the Red White and Blue Celebration was held in the Rocky Mountain Garage on July 29, 2001. The intention was to honor the Hortons who were heading back to Texas. Better opportunities in teacher salaries and benefits – for Kaye – were the major draw. Phil could fit in most anywhere and find or make work.
Mr. Kinerk emceed the program telling a few of his favorite jokes (some repeats) and introducing performers. The crowd was a bit thinner, some of the entertainers didn’t show at the last moment, and the air was a bit heavy it seemed with people leaving town. Lester Krause played some flute and saxophone pieces. Steve McVeda told stories as did Lee Burroughs and Mario Kojetin. A thank-you tribute to the Hortons was offered by Dave Brown. The day finished with a singalong and another potluck.
I can’t let the moment go away without recalling a brief conversation during the potluck. It was purely a male confab. It was all middle-aged gents, except for Steven Brown who, although graduated from high school, hadn’t spread his wings yet. Living at home, he helped around the Brown compound and assisted his father on a variety of plumbing contracts. Somehow, the talk got around to me and medicine. I had to say that, “I gave it up because I didn’t believe in it, anymore.”
Steven is usually reserved and very quiet, always proper and knows his place. But, that comment got his attention and he had to speak up. “Yeah, I know what you mean. I don’t believe in plumbing, anymore.”
9-1-1I still believe in small town living, as tricky as it can be at times. Nothing is perfect in this material world. I do not believe that human beings were meant to live in crowded, congested and confined metropolises. They are not comforting, natural places to hang your hat. Good places to visit maybe, but not the best for long term residence. Such arrangements may provide for bigger and glitzier activities, but are definitely harder on bodies and souls. Big population centers may push and force us toward growth much like a hothouse environment for a plant. But, human growth and maturity usually develops best over years and decades and lifetimes.
The modern world has shunned Nature, cropped and pruned it, clear cut and covered it in concrete and asphalt, plastic and steel. No wonder the crust of the Earth rumbles and erupts, creates tornado and hurricane and typhoon vortices from time to time – seemingly more often now than in the fading past. Similar sorts of energies naturally boil and bubble “behind the scenes” in big cities and urban areas.
While humanity has made amazing scientific and technical advancements in the past century or so, those changes have been disruptive above and below the surface for so many people. On the other hand, rural environment can be therapeutic in itself for such stresses. That is not to say that country people don’t get sick. Every BODY gets sick from time to time. The odds and chances and “opportunities” to become ill are much increased in the Big City environ. And, the world has lots of big cities in the present day. When thousands live in one population center over decades, the side effects of such living cannot help but mount. Common sense suggests that stagnant air, standing water, and refused soil may be good for bugs and rats but not for humans.
In the not too distant past, a common medical recommendation for host of ills was a change of location, a retreat from the city to another clime, a trip to the seaside, a time away from the crowd. The well-to-do had that option especially when prompted by their medical practitioner. Doctors didn’t have lots of options then. They still really don’t have many more reasonable ones. Potions have been replaced by pills. And patients are all too accepting of surgical interventions. Especially those with surgery consciousnesses. How often would merely some time off from work and regular obligations, fresh air, space and sunshine suffice to alleviate discomforts and ills.
The times and the systems we have developed most often do not allow or even imagine such possibilities. Pills and knives are much more direct and readily available, if not more rational and user friendly. Besides people and physicians are in ever greater hurries to attend to problems. But, most problems are only partially amenable to medicines and operations. They are inevitably addressed again and again over time. And, every pill and every surgery has side effects if not complications.
Living in closer proximity to the natural world and with a keener sense of nature’s seasonal rhythms and inherent wisdom is surely a wise general prescription for modern ills. Fresh air and freedom from pollution, space and sunshine, proximity to running water, and a modest pace to life are healing and rejuvenating in themselves.
I am reminded of a taste of small town living which sometimes Texan Phil Horton passed on to Ginger and me. It was a video of the stage play called Greater Tuna. Greater Tuna is a hilarious tale of the comings and goings in the third smallest town in Texas. The whole scenario involving over twenty characters is performed by two actors, Jaston Williams and Joe Sears. Greater Tuna pokes big holes at Southern attitudes, but also portrays the goodness and warmth inherent in small town living. The play was so well received that it has been followed by three sequels
Greater Tuna is one of those things you have to see to “tune into” – or not. Ginger and I watched it repeatedly and eventually passed on our reverence for the comedies to others. Interestingly when we once shared it with New York friends, they DIDN’T GET IT. Maybe you just had to live in a small town or near one to GET IT. We got caught up in the doings of RR and Didi Snavely, the Reverend Spikes and Sheriff Givens. Radio commentators Arles Struvie and Thurston Wheelis introduce them in various ways through their Station OKKK. Ginger and I were so taken by Tuna that we momentarily thought of performing the play in our tiny Montana town. Although it was not quite the third smallest.
Another idea (mine) came up to create our own scenario using characters from our own little berg. I had the title for it: Metro Lavina. Metro Lavina never made it to the stage. At least not yet. However, the idea did get some mileage, so to speak. You see about the time that Greater Tuna was impressing us with gales of laughter, I came to the conclusion that Lavina needed a more substantial Welcome sign. There were two small and aging particle-board signs at either end of town that the 4H had placed years ago. They were fading and sometimes overgrown by borrow pit weeds and thus almost beyond notice. The state had its own nondescript green highway signs telling travelers what place they were quickly passing through. But, they gave the name of the town only.
So, I prepared a 4X8 sign (using my painting skills again) which said, “Welcome to Metro Lavina.” I then recruited Ein Cooley to help me place the sign across Railroad Avenue from the old Adams Hotel. We dug holes, planted posts, and nailed the sign for the all the passing world to see. A few people noticed. “Always keep ‘em wondering,” has been one of my recurring mottoes. School kids came by and asked, “What does Metro mean?” So, a few youngsters learned a new word.
Rose Wise grabbed me one day and said quite sincerely and forcefully, “You can’t call this Metro Lavina. We have no high rises in this town.”
Well, we certainly didn’t have any thing which topped two stories. I should have given her a nudge and said, “Can’t you see the joke.” Regardless, it was an attempt to say “Welcome,” get drivers to slow down, and tell foreigners what berg was passing before their eyes.
Graffiti quickly appeared around the edges of the sign which was okay with me. The signage was short lived, however much attention it did or did not get. It was not long before Deputy Sheriff Bob appeared and told me emphatically, “You don’t have a permit for that sign. You will have to take it down.” I should have known better. I wasn’t about to make applications for permissions and go through government paperwork. So, the sign soon came tumbling down.
Life always has its fits and starts, even in a small town in remote America. You never know what tomorrow will bring. It was fall 2001. My birthday was not far off, but no celebration was planned. A Jim Kinerk sponsored barrel party was the event for the day. Our summer Red White and Blue event, such as it was, had become history. The Hortons had relocated to Texas in July. Ginger had headed back to New York City in August.
As fall came near, I made my fairly regular morning jaunts to the countryside. Mr. Kinerk was usually not up early enough for a walk at that time of day. Sometimes, he and I covered ground in the afternoons. But, our faithful friends Little Bear and Leo were always ready to go. Most of the time we headed north. So as not disturb Mr. Harmon, I threw the pups in the back of the truck and we drove a mile or two or three up the road. After which we dismounted and took to walking.
Little Bear, the elder dog, kept pretty close to me while Leo roamed freely along the borrow pits or on the other side of the fences. Most of time, we had East Red Hill Road all to ourselves. We might see no one during an hour’s walk. Other times, a few pickups would pass us going one way or the other.
One particular morning, we saw Bill Lehfeldt coming down the road towards us. He usually waved and cruised by. Occasionally, he stopped for a brief visit. Bill, the aging sheep man, was still active keeping his hand in the family business which was spread between at least two operations. Mr. Lehfeldt slowed to a halt. But, he had more on his mind than a friendly Hello.
“Good morning. Did you hear the news?” I hadn’t. I wasn’t a TV watcher, or radio listener, and the computer had not been turned on.
“The Twin Towers in New York City have been attacked. Some kind of terrorists are on the loose. Maybe in Washington, DC, too. It’s kind of scary.”
It was a shocker, to be sure. One of those happenings that one never forgets where he or she was standing when the word arrives. Bill and I didn’t talk too long. The dogs and I turned on our heels, cutting the morning excursion short. Immediately on returning to 123 Main Street, I knocked on the door to Kinerk’s camper. Jim had only just dragged himself out of the rack around ten o’clock, a few minutes before I appeared. I quickly spilled Bill Lehfeldt’s news. Jim turned on his satellite TV and we watched coverage of the attack off and on the rest of the day. That evening, Jim told me, “I believe this disaster is the beginning of the end of civilization as we know it. I feel it’s the first battle in the War of Armageddon.”
Recently, Kinerk had gone a little overboard on Y2K. So, I let the comment pass. I have never been too keen about the Mayan calendar prophecies, end-of-the-world scenarios, or Armageddon thinking. Jim had been deeply invested in more ways than one in preparing for the coming Apocalypse. For Y2K, he loaded up on gold and silver, a trove of canned goods, and an extra gun or two. He told me more than a few times that civilization was on the verge of dramatic and traumatic turmoil. “It will never be the same. We may not even recognize what we see. It will be so different than we are used to.”
The Y2K computer glitch was not The Event to start things off. But, “Big Change is coming.” I do agree that Big Change is coming, but none of the proposed scenarios will likely hit the expected mark. I wondered more than once whether the Apocalypse that Kinerk saw coming was more inside himself than in the outer world. There were hints in the early summer of 2001 when Mr. Kinerk put together a Spam and Eggs dinner for friends and neighbors. The Spam was part of his Y2K stash. He decided since the expected calamity had not occurred, he could safely reduce some of the weight he was carrying in van and trailer. So, a party was made from his largesse. Even though some of the participants were not too keen on Spam in any form. It was however another unique community occasion in Lavina.
Over coming months, Mr. K. found the further necessity of unloading some of the bullion he had also collected for Y2K exigencies. He sadly admitted that, “I bought too high and am selling at a loss. A common experience for me.” JFK seemed resigned to his repeated near misses, losses, and sometimes seeming failures. Maybe he was too resigned. “If at first you don’t succeed, don’t even think about trying again.”
Well, Armageddon appeared close at hand to Mr. K. And 911 was surely a wakeup call. But, a lot of us woke up long enough to turn the alarm off and go back to sleep. Still, what is a person to do? Most everyone went on with life pretty much the same. Except for airlines and insurance companies and security businesses. Of course, the armed forces got pressed into extra, recurring and prolonged assignments. The media became preoccupied with the World Trade Center attack in particular and Terrorism in general.
Benefits and expressions of good wishes for victims of the disaster were sent out from every way-station from California to New York and Washington. The Lavina Volunteer Fire Department had its own fundraiser that fall with Mike Beck and his band playing for a good-sized crowd at the Rocky Mountain Garage. The program had been arranged long before the attacks on the East Coast. But, it took on a patriotic twist because of the recent occurrence and Mr. Beck and Band were called upon to offer up “God Bless America” at one point.
Proceeds were originally intended to support our Fire Department. But because of the timing, some small donation thereof went across the country to FDNY. Well, the thought was kind and generous as were similar ones made by Lavina schoolchildren and many others around the country. But, really! Did the Protective Services of big and rich Gotham City need a few bucks from small town donors? What little monies which were gathered together and forwarded to appropriate organizations were mere drops in the bucket compared to financial resources to which Albany and New York City and Washington have access. Or so I thought and continue to think.
There were numbers of ways to consider the 911 disasters. You have heard some of them in the past. Most are meant to show sympathy and support for those who have lost friends, family and property in those events. There other ways to look at 911, but discretion suggests leaving them unspoken.
The media blitz secondary to the Attack on America faded slowly over the coming weeks and months. Washington, DC, assumed the mission to take on the evildoers wherever and whenever they could be located. The War on Terror began and persists to this day in so many guises.
I received the following email from a “radical” friend a few years out from 911. You might want to reflect on it for a while and from more than one angle. “McN. I just heard that 100,000 people die every year in this country from doctors/hospitals mistakes. About 40,000 die in auto accidents. 50,000 American soldiers died in Vietnam over what, 10 years? 6,000 Americans died in war in Iraq. 3,000 died from terrorists on 9-11. But for some reason we are the most afraid, and spend a lot of money on fighting, terrorists. Even though they actually kill the fewest number of people, at least in this country. I think the media blows that all out of proportion. Have a good terror free day, unless you go to the hospital. (just kidding) JB”
One of the effects of the 911 incident was to unleash Steve Habener on the terrorists. Steve, the sewer man, cemetery man, park man, and the town’s literally biggest chicken hawk, was always outspoken. You knew where he stood on most things or could find out easily by just asking. He neither pulled punches nor let sympathies and sensibilities get in the way of his mouth.
Within hours of the demolition of the World Trade Center, Habener decided he had to make a visible statement in Metro Lavina. He got a can of spray paint and began expressing his anger and rage on the panels and tailgate of his yellow pickup truck. I only remember the most visible and legible rebuke to the enemy. On the tailgate, he sprayed out in flaming red, “Nuke the ragheads until they glow.”
That was just the first step of his propaganda effort. He wanted high visibilityand thus parked his truck in front of City Park so highway travelers as well as locals would have regular view of his effort at world notoriety. The word of Mr. Habener’s singular media moment got around quickly. Sheriff Floyd Fisher came over from Ryegate to see Steve’s handy work. Then, he very quickly tracked the miscreant down. Fisher told Habener, “You get that piece of machinery off the highway and out of my sight or I will personally throw you in jail.”
Undoubtedly, Steve had a few words to say. But, he proceeded to remove his pickup from highway prominence. He may have even covered up some of his “artwork.” It wasn’t long before I got more of the story from the horse’s mouth. “I had half a notion to take Floyd up on his offer and add to my statement. But, I decided against it. I have studied up on these things. And I knew that if I got thrown in jail, I would have had to pay per diem expenses. There is no ‘free ride’ at the Golden Valley County lockup. You have to pay for your keep. Besides, the wife would have had a conniption fit. So at least I got a little anger out of my system. I may have to sign up for the counter-terrorism unit. Want to join me?”
Other fallout from the event passed around. Pat Pettit said she ordered that “Lavina International Airport” be closed to all traffic – foreign and domestic. Ha, ha! The high school kids were ready to sign up for Uncle Sam’s foreign legion, but the government had plenty recruits and the youngsters had a whole school year to get through.
As 911 faded slowly into history, I moved more steadily and matter-of-fact-ly into my own mission of walking across the country. Getting things in order for being away from the house, garage, and town for months. Mapping out a tentative route. Thinking about the reason-to-be for the trip. Collecting travel gear – tent, sleeping bag, backpack. Toning up my body, especially my legs by boosting the miles I walked each day.
A Step, A Mile, A DayHighway 12 was for a long time one of my favorite routes to travel between my new Montana residence and my old South Dakota home town. So, I sketched out a potential route to keep me on that road until the Twin Cities of Minnesota. From there, I imagined cutting down towards Chicago and thence to New York City.
It strangely took quite a while to come up with a focus for the walk across the country. Other than, “It was the thing to do. The idea just busted out of my mouth. And I got confirmation of the plan in days.”
For a time, I thought about looking for a sponsor. But, a sponsor for what? Why would any one sponsor a loner walking the country from Little Lavina to the Big Apple? I contacted one Billings newspaper about the idea, but my pitch was surely flat. So, I mulled over things. In retrospect, it seems like I was really slow on the uptake.
Finally, it hit me. It was obvious. The writing, so to speak, had been on the wall – the wall of the Rocky Mountain Garage – for a long time, some years even. Duh! Why couldn’t I see what had been in front of my face? I long had possessed my symbol-logo and, in the aftermath of 911, all the more reason for “taking such a step.” More correctly, “lots of steps” across the USA.
The flag!!! I had the flag, which I eventually named Fannie, to accompany me on the long trip across America. An American flag with a single Star and Heart in the blue canton. With that revelation, I could proceed with even more confidence. I would be a Red White and Blue trekker, carrying my own symbol of American solidarity – and more.
The idea became obvious, but it didn’t turn out easy to make a simple flag. I purchased Red White Blue and Gold nylon in Billings. And then set to work. Alas, I soon found out that regular nylon frays regularly and miserably. (Rip stop nylon next time.) Cutting it didn’t work any way I tried. So, I spent many hours using a woodburning tool instead of scissors to “cut” lengths of fabric for the flags. I got the Red and White stripes machine sewn together and then added the Blue canton. The single White star followed on both sides and was topped off with a Golden Heart appliqued with an iron. Actually, I made three such flags. One 3X5 flag for the walk. And two smaller versions. One for my aunt Elizabeth who helped me purchase the RM Garage and the other for Ginger in New York City. The sewing project was a lot of work.
I had my personal banner for the trip. Still, I thought I might like a little more company than a relatively inanimate piece of cloth on a stick for the long walk. Leo, my second “love pup” was recruited to travel with Fannie and me. Little Bear was old – 11 – and slowing down. A black terrier with a short stride, she lagged even in our limited walks. Swimming was a different matter. She would paddle out after sticks throw in pond or lake until my armed got tired. But, I wasn’t expecting to spend much time in water on the journey. I knew Little Bear would not want to join the crusade. But, I figured Leo would be happy to come along.
Leo had joined the 123 Main Street household a year or so back. Little Bear had remained when Ginger returned to the Big City. A handsome multi-colored retriever, Leo was an energetic 5-year-old. He had been raised on the Brown Ranch down the road. Even though he had always been a very active canine, he generally stayed close to his mother, Russkie, down at the Browns. But, that changed when Russkie died.
Phil Horton accidentally shot and killed Russkie somewhere along the way. That left Leo all alone. He eventually strayed down to Main Street more and more frequently. Leo soon joined Little Bear and me for walks. Before long, he was a regular member of the household. The Browns hardly noticed his departure when I asked if he could move down the street. They had all kinds of animals to deal with – horses and cows, geese and cats.
Leo and the Bear did well together. They weren’t quite buddies, but they co-existed quite comfortably. I only remember one squabble over food. Like many pairs of creatures, they seemed merely to need to know who was who and what was what. They didn’t get into each other’s way, were loyal to me and loved to go out and walk the countryside. We became a threesome.
I eventually put together a photo book with poetry support to honor the two. It was called Lions and Tigers and Bears. Three copies are extant. The story begins this way:
You can see Lions and Bears at night in the Sky.
You can see Lions and Bears from Rome to Shanghai.
You can see Lions and Bears on heralds and flags.
You can see Lions and Bears when cartoonists wag.
You can see Lions and Bears on TV at home.
You can see Lions and Bears in storybook tomes.
Or in big city zoos, but that’s no real news.
Now, come along with me, can you guess what you’ll see?
Since Little Bear wasn’t going for the walk, she also didn’t need to stretch her legs as much or as far as Leo and I. The three of us went out each morning, but just Leo and I returned for longer jaunts in the afternoons. Leo was happy with that. Little Bear didn’t mind being left alone in the pm.
Leo and I covered five or so miles a day. Actually, Leo did a lot more than that. I just kept my feet moving down the road, whichever we followed: East Red Hill, Emory, Belmont, Cushman, Buffalo Trail, etc. While I took the direct route with easily estimable miles, Leo played and chased and wandered off the road and the beaten path. He rarely ran out of sight. Even if he did, the hound would reappear shortly. He knew where his bread was buttered, who cooked and ladled out his food for him twice a day.
Of prime importance was a home for Little Bear during our extended excursion. I had to find someone with whom Little Bear would be comfortable. There was an obvious spot, one where Little Bear often hung out with her cat friends. But, that was not to be. Instead, Mr. Fred Russian appeared in the latter days of my preparations and answered my wonderments about a home for the Bear. Fred lived out in the Bundy and wandered around town with his scruffy old dog Lucky on occasion. We took up conversation. I showed him the Rocky Mountain Garage. We talked about some possible projects we could work on when I got back from my journey. Before long he volunteered to take care of Little Bear in my absence.
That was a big relief. The Bear was settled, or would be. I made arrangements for Grandma Jan Burnside to check on the house and gave her my old Red White and Blue truck in exchange. At the time, I had two vehicles. Phil Horton made me a deal on his old K Car. So, one vehicle sitting idle for six months seemed more than enough. I turned off the telephone and electricity and made sure my credit card was in hand.
Townspeople knew of my intentions to depart in early June, even though I kept most of them wondering in one way or another. As usual, Janie Brown came up with a contribution to the journey ahead of time. She had a get-together at the Brown Ranch and invited people to come and send me off at the same time they could say Hello to the Hortons who were back for the summer. Cakes and chocolate dipped strawberries and punch were in order as well-wishers wrote notes of encouragement for me to carry with down the road. I still have them.
Since 11 was a big number the previous year and would be for some years hence, I decided that Leo and I should venture out on June 11. Maybe we would arrive on November 11, Armistice Day. The 11th was a Monday, a good starting day. Although it had been a bit chilly some of the preceding days.
I stirred myself and the pups up a bit early. Not too early, because I am rarely an early riser. Everything for the trip had been packed up more or less for days. The three of us drove out to Mr. Russian’s place to Little Bear’s temporary quarters. They were not the finest, but adequate for Fred and his dog and then Little Bear. Fred lived on the edge of the Bundy in a trailer parked down in a draw. It was hidden from the road, so that you had to be looking closely to find it giving the impression that Fred was an out-and-out hermit. But, he was kind and gentle to Lucky, and Little Bear seemed accepting of the arrangement. I left her with her blanket and Teddy Bear (Bear’s Bear) as well as a substantial supply of dog food. Then, we said Goodbyes.
Leo and I drove back to Lavina leaving my Red White and Blue truck with Grandma Jan. The young pup and I saddled up and we were off. Actually, we both did saddle up. I figured Leo should shoulder part of gear. So, I had gotten him a saddle bag outfit. His responsibility was carrying water and an extra pair of footwear for me. He didn’t seem to mind at least at the start of our jaunt.
The first footsteps to our intended destination were made just after ten am. Since we were traveling highway most of the time, I had to keep Leo leashed. I didn’t want him hurt on the journey. He wasn’t keen on the situation, but didn’t complain too much.
We made a quick stop at Boe’s FastGo Gas Station before turning east on Highway 12. The Boes knew what we were up to and Lois kindly handed me a phone card with good wishes for our journey. I used and re-used it to keep in touch in all directions of the compass. That was a generous and maybe auspicious start for the two travelers.
Much of Highway 12 to the East was narrow road with little shoulder. So, we had to keep close watch on traffic. But then like most days, traffic was light and we would encounter a few dozen cars in an hour’s time. The sun was shining intermittently. It wasn’t hot and thank goodness it wasn’t cold. Spring was pushing into summer and everything was GREEN and would stay that way for several weeks. Lord willing.
We knew the first few miles of the road quite closely from walking it on occasion. The rest of the way to Roundup, I had almost memorized from frequent drives there for groceries or hardware on numerous occasions. But, this time it was different as we saw everything up close and personal. We took a moderate pace and watched the scenery change ever so slowly before us. Quite differently than a 60 mph drive. We took our hikes in stretches of four to five miles. Then, it was break time. We looked for a wider spot in the road; a turnout, an intersection, a gravel dump, or the like. Then, Leo could get out from under his pack, run and sniff and explore for a half hour or so. I could do the same and sometimes did. But most often, I took my boots and socks off. Drank some water, leaned against a tree – if there was one in sight, and rested back thinking about how big a project we had taken on.
I came gradually to the confident conclusion that, “We can do this. It’s just a step at a time, a mile at a time, a day at a time.” The journey of a thousand miles starts with one step. And, we had already taken that one. Yehaa! Figuring around 2200 steps to the mile and about 2200 miles to destination, we only had about 4,840,000 steps to be done. Well, we had about 11,000 of those behind us as of our first break. We were in good shape. It seemed.
Actually, Leo had at least two times as many pawsteps ahead of him since he had four instead of two limbs to walk, and shorter strides to boot. And that didn’t count his wide detours when we were able to get off the highway shoulder. But then, Leo wasn’t counting. Sometimes, mental abilities are not quite so useful as they are stacked up to be.
We walked the highway until we hit the old railroad right-of-way a few miles to the east. That allowed me to let Leo roam a bit. But as he was carrying saddle bags, that did not always work for the best when a rabbit crossed his path. Still, we walked and wandered, soaked in the nature, and made mileage at a reasonable pace. The first day also saw us take extra breaks to get things right.
One of things to get right was walking apparel. For the first few days, I traded between running shoes and hiking boots. While I had put on lots of miles in preparation for the journey, no practice hikes ever surpassed much more than ten miles in a day. Those excursions were mostly on gravel road. When it came to doing the real thing, the hiking boots clearly felt better than the running shoes. One day down the road, I decided the latter were neither worth me wearing nor Leo having to carry them. So, I placed them on a couple of fence posts for decorative purposes.
As the sun moved closer to the western horizon, we were getting within striking distance of Roundup when I decided we should call it day. We had walked 18 miles or so. The time was ripe for dog and me to make our first camp. You might be surprised, but that 6-11-02 camp-out was my very first solo – Leo doesn’t count – experience in that vein. I had joined in rare camping ventures, a weekend here or there, with friends over the years. When we were young, brother and I spent a night or two to river fishing with my father. I had been on military maneuvers in the USA and Europe. And I had “camped out” with F Battery 15th Artillery for three months in Vietnam. But, I had never done a campout on my own.
That night, I found a relatively flat spot between the old railroad bed and a stand of bushes. I pulled out my bivy – yeah, bivy – and set it up for use. Then, I laid out a pad and threw in the sleeping bag. Bivy is short for bivouac (sack) and is a small, lightweight, waterproof shelter; an alternative to a tent. The bivy was just big enough for me and room for gear, and the dog on one occasion.
Leo had long been unsaddled. He milled and played around. He was happy to be unencumbered. But, he didn’t go far. This was a new experience for him as well as me. The dog got some dry food and a biscuit or two. His ration was not quite as tasty as back at 123 Main where he generally got a scrap bone from the local meat cutter or some human leftovers on top of his regular meal. I had granola bars, a little fruit and some nuts. And water, and water.
Some nights, we did well and others not so. It depended on the elements most often, or the critters, or the traffic. That night like many others, it took some time to get used to things. But eventually sleep overtook whatever held the soul attached to the body. Regardless of whether the sleep was good or long, I was ready to go when the sun came up. I have found that to be uniformly the case in my various outdoor experiences. It sure seems that ambient energy – vitality – whatever you might call it – flows more freely in the open air and unobstructed spaces.
Most of us enjoy the comfort of a bed and four solid walls. But, there is surely something missing in our modern common experience. For one thing, the four squarish walls are not at all natural. The Indian chief Black Elk decried the loss of the circle, hoop and tepee at the hands of white men who put him and his kin into boxes and reservations. That arrangement also pulled them more and more away from the natural world, the elements, and the vitalizing universe.
I gradually discovered that a bivy was hardly a tepee and even a plain old tent would have been a better choice. The realization took some time to creep in. If the wind was blowing or the sky was raining, it was adequate to keep the weather and the rains out. But if otherwise, then problems seemed to develop. When it rained, I/we kept dry inside the bivy. If it didn’t and the wind was minimal, it rained – so to speak – in the little space during the night. Either way, there were many mornings when I had to let the bivy dry in the sun – inside or out – prior to hitting the road again. The interior “rain” came from my humid respirations when the wind didn’t blow. It was a bit of a surprise, but I might have known better. One lesson learned early on.
We saddled up again. Leo was never keen on it, but he submitted to his master. We covered the last miles to Roundup in time for our second break at the convenience mart on the west end of town. We had cooled our jets across the street at a little roadside park for just a few minutes when Fred Russian pulled in to gas up his pickup. A pleasant surprise for both of us. Little Bear and his dog Lucky were in the bed of the truck and looked out at us.
We quickly headed across the highway to greet our peers. It was touching, sad, and funny all at the same time. Leo recognized Little Bear. He also knew about truck beds and had ridden in more than a few. Usually he was quite nimble at leaping into the back of a pickup. He made a running jump to try to join his fellow canines. Alas, saddle bags full of water held him back. Fred’s truck was also higher off the ground than mine. I had to express my condolences to Leo, “Sorry, buddy. We’re just getting started. You will see Little Bear again in a few months.”
Fred and I talked briefly. He had a chance to repeat his wishes for our safe journey. And, I got to say Goodbye to the Bear again. Before long, Leo and I made a couple of social calls at the homes of Roundup friends. A few more familiar faces before heading into relatively unknown territory.
The travelers moved on. Our socializing kept our mileage to a modest distance comparable to our first round. By the end of the day as we were looking for a place to camp out, when a red-bearded fellow in coveralls pulled off the side of the road and jumped out. His accent gave me a hint as we started a conversation. George offered me a beer and told me that I was skirting the Kilby Butte Hutterite Colony.
I thanked him for the offer, but said I would be satisfied if he could tell me where in the area it would be okay to camp. “Oh, you can pitch your tent anywhere along here. No one will bother you.”
Hutterite colonies are Montana’s version of the Amish. They trace their roots to the Radical Reformation of the 16th century. Named for their founder Jakob Hutter, they live in community, speak German (and English) and are pacific. Because of their pacifism, they spent hundreds of years in odyssey through many countries. Almost extinct by the 19th century, the Hutterites found a new home in North America. Over the last 125 years, their population has grown from 400 to over 40,000. They work largely in agriculture and mainly reside in Canada, the Dakotas, and Montana, with several over their colonies located in the center of the state where Lavina stands.
George and I talked for a time about his relatively new colony. Once a community has grown to a population of over 100, it generally spawns a daughter group. George’s was one of those recent expansions. I was surprised when he told me that their children go to public school in Roundup. Usually, the Hutterites arrange for the public school to come to the colony to help keep the youngsters down on the farm and some distance from Gentile ways.
I didn’t visit too long with George. Without a beer in my hand, it became a little awkward. And, the sun was going down. I might have asked more questions and gotten more answers. I didn’t even get his last name. However, that thought reminds me of the time a few years back when I visited the Rosedale Hutterite colony in South Dakota. I had the idea to start a bakery – a whole grain bakery. So, I thought the Hutterites would be the obvious people to get information about that sort of a project.
I drove out to the colony and found my way to a grain elevator. I got into conversation with the boss, a middle-aged man who introduced himself as John Wipf. We talked for a time. I told him my idea. I was disappointed to find out that they no longer milled their own grain. They sent it off to be processed. I found out later, when he took me for an afternoon break to a communal dining room, that they didn’t even make whole grain bread. The breads that were laid out were white and so were the sticky buns and cinnamon rolls. So, there went my idea about learning about whole grain processing and baking.
I learned another thing which seems quite obvious now. While John and I were talking at the elevator, two younger fellows came in. Before long, I introduced myself to them and asked their names. It was Peter and Thomas. But, I wanted to know full names. It was Peter Wipf and Thomas Wipf, of course. Everyone was a Wipf. People needn’t worry about remembering last names on Hutterite colonies. There are sometimes just two or three and not many more. The Wipfs were definitely in control of that Hutterite colony.
Facing WestLeo and I made camp, so to speak. It was never more involved than finding a flat place to set up the bivy and roll out my sleeping bag. At Kilby Butte, we parked next to a stand of cottonwood trees and an irrigation ditch. Leo was happy to be free of his saddle bags and to have free run of the area. We munched on what was in our stash and watched the sun fade into the West. It was a windy night, so the bivy worked just fine. No rain inside or out.
The morning came soon enough and I began a routine which I kept on most succeeding days of the travels to the East. I “religiously” followed a little pattern on rising each day. If necessary, I did it in my head while walking down the highway. I made recognition of the trinity of energies within myself and in the midst of all things. I remembered my own favorite American Trinity of Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln as well as a family trio – my father, mother, and aunt Senie. All three of my close relatives were deceased. Even though they might have thought the Walk idea harebrained, they would have been praying for me nonetheless. I also revived my connection with people in Lavina, along the way, and at the end of the route in New York. I gave thanks to the sustaining physical world around me and the hidden elements in their midst.
I picked up from there as I went along the path ahead working with metaphysical ideas. Through thinking and re-thinking them during the walk, I not only had a grand outer journey but also inner exercises. There were more than the obvious dimensions to my travels.
I can only guess about Leo’s take on his travels, although I was not paying as much attention as might have at the time. He was a very good companion and friend. He accepted his lot, but not joyfully. It took a fortnight and longer for that to sink in. It should have been quite clear early on, but I was not quite tuned into that direction.
Each morning, I rolled up the bivy and replaced items in my backpack. After a quick brunch, we both saddled up. Whenever I put Leo’s bag on, he was pointing West. That was a big hint. But, it took a long time for his master to catch on.
Day three, we made a bit of a find in the hamlet of Musselshell. We had to detour about a mile off Highway 12 to check out the town of about sixty people. There wasn’t much to note except a largely unused old schoolhouse and the Musselshell Mercantile and Saddle Shop. I visited with Donnie Tomlin, the apprentice saddlemaker, and took some photos while he worked. I got a drink and found something for Leo to nibble on. We made it almost to Melstone that evening and camped on the edge of Murnion property. We were just about to rise in the morning when the owner cruised by. He didn’t stop. We just packed up and continued on.
Within those few days, the dog and I were getting used to 20 miles – or almost. The weather was congenial. No rain outside the tent, yet. Not too hot in the day, not too cold at night. But, blisters were beginning to disturb the human walker. The dog was not complaining, but he wasn’t smiling a whole lot.
Leo’s food ration was just dry dog chow with a morsel of human food added here and there. He was hardly suffering, but I knew he was wishing we were back “camping” nightly at 123 Main Street. There were some bonuses for the dog along the way. We encountered the Musselshell River many times. But often we could not access it for one reason or another. After Roundup, the irrigation ditch system appeared close to our path and Leo was happy to wade, paddle and swim in the flowing water when occasion arose.
I was glad for Leo to have some fun and too shift out of travel mode. The ditch provided extra reasons for breaks. It slowed our pace, but we had no real deadlines. I didn’t jump in with him. But, I did take my boots and socks off and cool my feet. I made one exception to that policy after we passed through Melstone. We rounded a curve on the right-of-way. Tucked away from highway view was a wide stretch of ditch which had been laid on concrete for some reason. It almost looked like a big swimming pool.
I unsaddled Leo and let him splash in. Then, I said to myself, “Why don’t you join him. It looks clean. It will be refreshing. And the whole area is hidden from the highway.”
So, I replied to myself, “I think that’s a good idea.” I didn’t just take my boots. Rather, I stripped naked and wandered out into the “pool.” I watched Leo cavorting and having a big time. Wetting himself, bouncing around and then freeing himself from the water to wiggle and shake off the excess. Before long he was back in the ditch.
My intentions were for only a short rinse. And it was so. But, the joint dip in the ditch was made even briefer. Out of nowhere, a truck rolled up over a small hill, around a corner, and right past the two of us. The owner stared a bit and then moved on.
Well, that was a clue for me to remove myself from the ditch and get dressed. I suppose that my whole body was blushing. Then before long, we were back on dry land and our visitor appeared sans truck. I explained our presence and introduced ourselves. He did the same. It was Mr. Bud Hjelvik at our service. “I’m the local ditch rider. Don’t mind me. Stay here as long as you want.”
A ditch rider’s job is a seasonal one. He keeps close tabs on of water flowing into and out of the irrigation ditch in the summer. Property owners along the way with water rights are allocated specific amounts of flow into their land. The ditch rider makes sure they get what they are allotted and no more.
Leo got his photo taken with our ditch rider friend. And I had a cordial conversation with Bud. I found out a few things about him. The main one being that he was brother-n-law to Lois Boe at the gas station back in Lavina. I also learned that he had been doing some musical work – sing-alongs in the area. “Great idea,” I thought. Bud’s main occupation was farming-ranching along the Musselshell Valley.
Bud made our week (he sent the word back to Lavina that we had passed Melstone) and was quite the best thing “to write home about.” I thought about him numerous times over the years and always asked Lois when I see her, “How’s Bud?” On a later walkabout, I looked Bud up and had a jolly old visit. He had aged and was dealing with a shoulder injury for which I procured him some personalized physical therapy. I followed his improvements by telephone for a time.
Saying goodbyes to Mr. Hjelvik, we trundled farther down the road, ditch and right-of-way. If I remember rightly, that day was the first time we got offered a ride. Leo probably would have been glad to accept, but I wasn’t ready. I was fully intending to walk every mile of the way to the Statue of Liberty excepting watery obstructions. I imagined my mission was to carry Fannie the Flag all those miles. By Melstone, I had the flag flying from time to time. Weather and wind permitting. But, I felt a need to keep close tabs on Leo as we were often not far from travelers flying by on the highway. Farther down the road, Fannie flew more and more frequently.
Leo and I saw the sun pass to the west with no obvious place to camp. Eventually, I decided to turn south down a dirt county road. We walked a mile or so and found an abandoned homestead. The place was more than a little eerie, not quite a KOA to spend a night. It was warm enough to just lay out under the stars with sleeping bag and pad. Perfect quiet, stars in the sky and just a bit of a breeze made for an awesome night for man and beast. Going to bed early was a good idea because the solstice was just a few days off. Nights were short, days were long. Which I usually like.
But, sleep time was shortened too. That didn’t seem to matter much as we were surely absorbing energy from the earth, the air, and the sun with nothing in between to deflect their life-giving offerings. That said, my toes were not seeing much sun and were in definite need of some relief. Fortunately, that wasn’t far off. I figured that we would stop in Ingomar. Just a day away, as we continued on toward the outpost of Sumatra which is some sort of high spot (elevation wise) on the prairie. It was supposedly all downhill to the Mississippi from there.
The dog and I hit Sumatra right at noon. We passed through at an apparently auspicious moment, magically encountering Ves and Heidi Clifton. While they lived in Roundup, they were visiting family in the village of Sumatra. We were quite lucky since Sumatra at the time was composed of the Clifton household and the Post Office. Ves and Heidi hosted us for lunch and libation, our first real meal since starting the expedition. Leo got some bones. Lucky guy.
Sumatra was once a busy Milwaukee Railroad town. But, most of it burned to the ground at some point in history. Hard to believe, but the Cliftons told me that they had hosted a reunion not long past and 500 people showed up. I had him repeat, “500 people in Sumatra.”
We thanked the Cliftons again and again, and moseyed around the corner and onto the old railroad right-of-way heading for Ingomar. Ingomar is tiny, but Sumatra is presently microscopic. Theoretically, peeling off from the highway for a while was a good idea. But, it turned out not to be the best choice. We could often see the highway from the right-of-way as we navigated. We only encountered one truck heading the opposite direction on an old little-used country road which side-swiped the railroad bed for a piece. The abandoned right-of-way had been stripped of not just rails but numerous bridges, small and large. That caused us to have to go down into and climb out of numerous valleys, draws, rivulets and assorted detours. Our progress was slowed considerably. By that time, my feet were not only tired but my blisters had their own blisters.
Leo didn’t mind at all. He was free of the leash and could wander at his own pace. The “detours” gave us more breaks as well. Even though Ingomar was only 12 miles by map from Sumatra, we didn’t make it there until late afternoon. But, we were in luck again. Immediately on entering town from the railroad angle, we ran into Eric Erickson. He was a recurring presence and help to us, giving us useful information and acting like a good neighbor. He also seemed to be everywhere and doing practically everywhere. Like Lavina’s Phil Horton. Eric helped me a number of times and reminded me that there are kind and helpful people at every turn.
We quickly made ourselves comfortable at the Jersey Lilly. Actually, Leo wasn’t allowed in. But, he made friends with another dog, a Husky, who trailed Eric around. After my first taste of Jersey Lilly beans and a few confabs with waitresses, Leo and I parked ourselves at the Bunk and Biscuit for three nights and two days. The Bunk and Biscuit was Ingomar’s version of a Bed and Breakfast. The building was the town’s old schoolhouse, a pretty good-sized one compared to what remained of Ingomar. I decided that tiny Ingomar was a neat place to visit and stayed a couple nights at the B & B on my 2013 excursion.
The Bunk and Biscuit had been cleaned up and partitioned on the inside to create a hostel sort of venue. There were three or four large bays and two or three smaller rooms which had but a few bunks. Leo and I chose one of the latter. There also was a day room with chairs and couches, magazines and books spread out for common use. Of course, there were bathrooms and showers.
The Bunk and Biscuit - Needed some paint, probably still does
Traffic was minimal in the summer, but apparently more active with hunting season in the fall. Ingomar hunting season stretched into odd direction because of varmints. Twosomes and groups came from distances and out of state to shoot gophers and prairie dogs which were common and unwanted on several properties in the area.
Only a handful of other tenants were in residence when Leo and I laid our gear down. Both of us were happy to be free of baggage for a time. Mostly, I was cheered to have a break from walking and let the blisters mend a bit. They were not terrible, just bad enough to gnaw on a man who wanted to cover some territory in a day’s time. Fortunately, they did not recur for the remainder of the trip. My feet and lips were the only body parts thus affected. Even the lips recovered after Ingomar without the slightest amount of sunscreen.
The Bunk and Biscuit and the Jersey Lilly were basically IT in Ingomar. Being generally a non-meater, I gravitated to rancher’s hors d’oeuvres – onions, cheese, and orange slices – and cowboy beans. I filled up on beans, visited with the patrons and waitresses, and got to know the old building and the tiny town. Leo made do with his own biscuits and treats.
The Jersey Lilly was named after Judge Roy Bean’s original place in Langtry, TX, and was run for many years by the Seward family. Its gorgeous back bar was transported by river boat from St. Louis in the early 1900s. Besides the Lilly, Ingomar’s other claim to fame was being at one time the Sheep Shearing Capital of North America.
The Lilly was well known to people who lived along Highway 12. Not just for being the best eating place for miles, but also for being the only stop for many miles. The Lilly also was so old that the state grandfathered in its Heifers and Bulls outhouses. No indoor plumbing. Not much of a draw there.
High metal ceilings. A huge rosewood backbar with equally imposing mirrors. Moose and elk heads nailed to the walls. Old newspaper clippings, laminated and positioned around the edges to attract attention and proffer information. Eclectic tables and chairs spread around the spacious room with windows on two sides meeting at the southeast corner entrance. An open kitchen tucked in a tiny space on the south end of the bar.
Cowboys and wranglers, ranchers and farmers, tourists and travelers filled a good portion of the seats the third night in town as I got ready for another round of beans. Then, I spotted the former Karen Murnion, a woman with whom I had worked in Roundup a few years back. She wasn’t hard to miss. A slim, almost good-looking, blond athletic type. A bit lightheaded, but friendly and talkative. Interestingly, we had camped out on her ex-husband’s property west of Melstone a couple nights before.
Karen and I caught sight of each other, whence I crossed the way to say Hello to Karen and meet her new husband. I found out that they lived a mere 70 miles away on a ranch near Jordan and drove over for dinner. Karen had apparently traded one rancher for another. I asked a few questions and she turned the conversation around. “What brings you out here?”
“Oh, I just started walking across the country. I’m heading for New York City.”
Karen stifled a laugh and blushed, but just a bit. “My Gawd! I could never imagine doing anything like that. No, never.”
I didn’t say much. I didn’t need to. I suppose I might have talked about the value of imagination. Some of us are lucky to have it. Others feel lucky to be without. I am thankful to have my share of imagination, but it can be a challenge as well as a gift. Seeing the USA in a Chevrolet is a lot easier, quicker and even cheaper than the way I did it. But, that cross-country walk to New York was one of the best things I’ve done in my life. I recommend it or something like it to anyone with the gumption to try.
Leo and I said goodbye to beans and biscuits and bunks on Monday morning, our second on the trail. We could look back and say, “Our travels have been successful already. We have seen another part of Montana while stretching our limits, met some smiling and accommodating fellow humans, and moved quite a few steps towards our destination.”
Asked more than few times about where we were heading, I would merely say, “Oh, somewhere between the next town and the Lady Liberty in New York Harbor.”
Pipes in the ParkEastern Montana is not known for trees. As we left Ingomar, Leo and I found it harder to get out of the sun when we took a break. There were stretches of miles and miles and miles without a tree along the route. I remember keeping my eyes peeled for something to afford us shade for a time in midday. A culvert was okay. A bush or scrawny sapling didn’t do much at noon.
Still, we kept pace (25 miles that day) with little to stop for. There was next to nothing between Ingomar and Vananda. And there was little more than that at Vananda which “boasted” an impressive old two-story brick schoolhouse which looms into the distance for miles around. It was sad to see what was once-upon-a-time a great structure just falling apart with the weather and the years. Most of the deterioration was via the leaky roof inward. Close up the brick frame still looked grand. The frame of an old bank building, an abandoned house or two and a trailer were all that remained of the former railroad town. There was one inhabited house. The owner was not too friendly. So, we parked ourselves across the highway and bedded down for the night.
Forsyth was almost in sight. Well, metaphorically. A shorter stretch of land, a big river and a substantial town ahead the next day. We made good time and were a bit exhilarated when we crossed the Yellowstone. Time to unfurl the flag again and wave it a bit traffic or no. We camped for the night at a State Park not far from the stream. I can still see the face of the attendant who appeared and helped to get us settled. He must have been a triplet for Darryl and Darryl of the old Newhart TV show. And his name was Darold.
Fortunately, the wind came up that night because the skeeters were out. Darryl said that a sprayer would be by and fog the place before dark. He was true to his word. Either the wind or the fog did the trick. We got through the night.
The next day, I learned a thing or two. I made a stop at the local grocery store to stock up for the next leg of the trip. I left Leo tied outside. Then, I returned to make a call at one of those almost-extinct phone booths, more appropriately called a phone box. I had Leo at my side and was getting ready to punch in a call using my card when two young boys walked by. One turned back to us, stuck out a five-dollar bill, and said something like, “Hey, Mister. Can I give you this?”
I was a bit dumbfounded and just sputtered out, “No, no thanks. But ...” They were gone in a moment. I was left amazed and cheered by the young fellow’s gesture. I should have dropped the phone and had a conversation. How kind of him and generous! On the other hand, I thought, “Do I look like I need a handout?”
Our other excursion that day was to the sheriff’s office. We were just then about to run out of Highway 12. Or rather Highway 12 became part of Interstate 94. The Blue Highway no longer existed soon after Forsyth. So, the question was about walking on the Interstate which I knew in some places was verboten. The police were helpful and direct. “In Montana where no alternative routes are available, it is permitted to walk along the Interstate. Just be careful.”
We did have a stretch of side road to get to Rosebud before the map made it clear that options were exhausted. The little berg of Rosebud which was little more than a crossroads at the time. But it did have an eatery, the Longhorn Bar and Steakhouse. An oasis in late afternoon. I remember spending a long time in the rest room while my meal was being prepared. I washed everything I could get to, including my feet. I took my boots off and stuck them one at a time in the sink. Refreshing to be sure.
I returned to a burger. For the previous few years, I had indulged rarely in red or other meat. During the trip, I figured I could hardly be choosy and tended to my appetite as reasonably as possible. I remember my waitress Joyce serving the beef burger to me with red white and blue frills to suit a RWB traveler. I had to take her picture. I also had to share the burger with Leo. He deserved more than he got on portions of our tour. Maybe it made his day.
We proceeded from Rosebud onto the Interstate far enough to get a taste of the big freeway. Our campsite that night was up a incline to a little bluff above the highway. We jumped a fence and laid out our gear. We could survey the Yellowstone Valley for many miles in either direction as the dark chased the sun away. The weather turned wet that night and the bivy proved ample shelter for both the dog and me. I scrunched our gear aside and made room for my canine buddy. At first, he wasn’t keen on the idea. But as the rain continued, he settled in and we both had a cozy and protected night.
The next days were eventful. Leo and I went through a lot in a brief time. We resumed our travels along the big highway. I expected nothing more than to continue on to Miles City, the biggest town in eastern Montana, and rest up there for a bit. But, things took different turns. We had a bit more work taking breaks along the Interstate. Fencing was higher and tougher to pass through for breaks. It became clearer as the journey continued that Interstates like most highways are definitely not intended for walkers.
On one of our off-road excursions, we wandered far enough to pass over extra fences and get Leo a dip in a rivulet of the Yellowstone. He was glad for that. But somehow in our detour, I lost his leash. Losing his rein was not a major problem. I put some twine together to make a substitute. And we were back in business. But, those sorts of things get my attention. “Nothing happens by accident.”
I suppose it was no accident either that a few miles down the road we met a fellow traveler heading west. He was in our lane as we pedestrians headed east against traffic. Adolf Hoermann appeared on his bicycle pulling a little wagon and flying his own flag – a Bavarian one. After introductions, we removed ourselves from traffic and compared notes about cross country travel. We were both thrilled to meet another of similar interests and had a day’s chat in a few minutes on the side of Interstate. I soon learned that he had recently started the third leg of his cross-continent solo bike trip. He had begun his travels two summer past in Nova Scotia and resumed the trail in 2002 in Grand Forks, ND. Adolf worked as a biodynamic gardener back in Germany, but had been taking more and more time in his older years (then in his 60s) to bicycle and see the world.
Mr. Hoermann intended to dip his own feet in the Pacific by the end of summer. After we parted ways with good wishes and addresses, he proceeded to do just that. He sent me an email down the road as we traveled East and West, telling me that he had reached the ocean and completed his journey. We continue to be in contact at least yearly by regular mail as Adolf became disgruntled with internet messaging. He sent me a newsy letter ever year about his recent travels, his frequent changes in residence, and his views of world politics. I returned the favor.
So, Leo and I met a fascinating being along the way. I wished we had met in Miles City and gotten more time to compare notes. The dog and I picked up our gear and made good time to one of the largest towns (@ 8,000) in MT east of Billings.
As we let go of the Interstate and took the west exit into town, Leo began to “weave in traffic,” not once but a number of times. I might have thought, “It’s just the heat getting to him.” But, things added up differently as I reviewed the overall picture when we found a resting spot at the KOA Campground. We landed for a few days and a rest-up. The clues were adding up that Leo was nearly spent in just two weeks on the road. I slowly decided that he had to retire from the Walk. That might be good for him, if I could find him a home. But, I would be alone and without my dog buddy.
We settled in and I made some excursions in succeeding days to check out the town and get a regular meal. As the weekend passed and I was gnawing on the decision, I felt time going to waste. So, I asked Larry, the Campground owner, “Got any painting that needs to be done.” He found me a couple of spots around the restrooms which needed attention and I passed several hours tuning up the quarters. No Red White and Blue. Just Basic Beige. I asked for nothing in return, and certainly didn’t get it. A soda pop might have been a nice gesture. Nonetheless, the owner was cordial. A transplant from back New Jersey. He did give me the idea to take Leo to a woman veterinarian in town to help find him a new home.
The options were few at the time. So, I decided that was the way to go. That also decided us staying over until Monday when the vet was back on regular duty. And, it also gave us another day together. To make the best of the situation, I thought to take Leo out for treats on Sunday. We hiked across town toward the commercial strip where we bought regular food. Leo got a McDonald’s hamburger and KFC chicken for our last big meal together. I got salad and fries.
The thought of saying Goodbye to Leo was weighing on me – maybe us – heavily as we headed back to the KOA. I wasn’t keen on handing Leo to just anyone through a vet I had never met. Who knows what kind of home he would land in? Still, my choices were more than limited.
We headed back the same way we came, via Wibaux Park. And what luck we had. Pipes and drums were in action, marching up and down and around the park and playing tunes. Like my last day at Fort Riley, Kansas, and the appearance of the First Infantry Division Band. What a deal! It was even more amazing because we got a private performance of the Caledonian Pipe Band playing while in their small formation. Loving march music and bagpipes as I do made the event worth the walk. Leo wasn’t noticing much. Just resting.
When the music ceased, we had to go up and thank the pipers and drummers. They were happy for the compliment and told us they were preparing for an Independence Day program in Wyoming. They were without their full contingent, but did the best they could in a small scale rehearsal. Inevitably, the conversation went back and forth until they asked what we two were up to. I said, “Well, WE were walking across the country on our way from Lavina to the Lady Liberty. But, my friend Leo is running of oomph and I need to find him a home. I have been told to take him to the vet which I intend to do in the morning.”
The lone female in the group quickly came up with an option. She looked across the crew and said, “Morris!” Before long, it was, “Morris, do you think maybe you would have room for the dog at your place?”
Morris Bartholomew, a good-looking, dark-bearded drummer stared over at two of us. He couldn’t say no. “Well, I suppose so.”
In a matter of minutes, our problems were solved and Leo had a new home as well as a release from active duty. We all walked over to Morris’s pickup. He let down the tailgate. I released Leo’s makeshift leash and gave him a nod. The dog was up and in the bed of the truck in a moment. I could almost feel his relief, or was it my own? Maybe both.
SoloIt took days, probably weeks for me to put Leo’s story together. Even though he is a canine, a critter, a beast. Just a brutish, though domesticated animal, he is still a marvelous creature. And, he had been “talking” to me in many ways. Surely more than I ever realized, that the trip was not his deal. The first day out, he tried to jump into the back of Fred’s truck and go back home with Little Bear. Most every morning when we saddled up, he was facing west toward home. I took one wide-angle photo of him with the berm of the Milwaukee right-of-way behind him in which he is Facing West.
It eventually dawned on me what the deal was with Leo. It wasn’t merely that he was walking and working and carrying a saddle bag. And that he wasn’t having fun and free to run and play as usual. The problem, if Leo could have spoken to me, was simply, “I work all day and then I’m on guard at night keeping an eye on you.”
Wow! How lucky I was and how fortunate are so many of us who have pets to love us, tend us and guard us. They protect and care for us more than we will ever know. They take on our karma in a variety of ways, as well. Ask me about that, some day. I will be glad to explain.
Watching Morris pull away with Leo lolling in the back of his pickup was a tough moment. And that moment spawned others in the coming days. Writing the previous paragraphs brought a lump to my throat and thank-yous to my animal companions over the years and to the wondrous Intelligence that created them.
At the time I also felt fortunate and thankful knowing that Leo was in good hands. Morris and I traded info. I didn’t have much to share at the time, although I had determined to head through North rather than South Dakota on the next steps my then solo Walk Across the Country.
As I left Miles City by the frontage road, I began to unfurl the flag and make it my more regular and active partner. With Leo on leash, it had been a bit more of a task to carry and display Fannie. Henceforth unless I was reading a book or the weather was disruptive, Fannie was flying and I was fulfilling my enjoined purpose more directly.
The Interstate was not the keenest place to advertise the flag. People quite often use interstate highways to race across the country. They zoom by often oblivious of what passes before them. That said, I did get waves and honks and gestures of interest and support.
The “memorable moment” of the trek from Miles City was the passage across the Powder River on the second day out. I got off the highway and surveyed the quietly flowing stream. It was hardly a river, but I suppose it had potential. The Powder River has long been described as “a mile wide and an inch deep, too thick to drink and too thin to plough.”
It was summer and getting close to July and I was in typically dry eastern Montana. By the time I made Terry (pop. @ 600) the county seat for Prairie County late that afternoon, it was hitting over 100 degrees. A deputy sheriff kindly pulled over when I was a few miles out to ask after me and offer a ride to town. I had to decline because I was doing well despite the heat and had not even yet imagined taking a ride while on my journey.
That was my second of four encounters with police during my travel. It is interesting to note that all of them were in Montana. Another meeting as I neared Glendive occurred when a patrolwoman stopped and enquired about me. She even asked for identification. I thought it rather strange to do so. I was just walking down the road minding my own business. But, I didn’t object to her request for ID. I must have been in a malleable mood.
I stayed for two or three very hot days in Terry at the Kempton Hotel which was managed at the time by Frances Schwartz and her husband Henry. The Kempton was an old and aging structure at the time. A bit like Frances and Henry. The latter was increasingly disabled with Parkinson’s disease and always out of sight.
Despite her loads to bear, Frances was a smiley, friendly, accommodating person. She set me up with a small inexpensive room. She even offered to reduce my bill when I helped her with a cleanup project. One of her tenants, whom she called Sergeant Gunny, had been away to the hospital for surgery and was returning shortly. Frances and her maid needed a hand with cleaning, moving furniture and tuning up things a bit. I suspect Gunny had been remiss on caring for his rooms for many years. I was happy to help out, pass some time, and share the load.
The Kempton was a fine structure regardless of its age, being the oldest continually operating hotel in Montana. The original Kempton was built with only eight rooms by James Kempton, an early Montana pioneer, and his son Berney. The latter was a rodeo champion and rough rider who toured Europe and Australia with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Guests like President Theodore Roosevelt and Calamity Jane have stayed at the Kempton. Neither Elvis nor JFK ever signed the register.
The owners of the Roy Rogers Saloon and Steakhouse treated me to dinner my first evening in town. I was happy to report such kindnesses to Leslie Burroughs who was then attending to the Lavina News for both the Roundup and Harlowton newspapers. I generally called her weekly when I had news and progress to report. She duly recorded such in column.
Tomorrow came soon enough at Terry. I rested a bit, hid from the heat wave, and helped Frances a bit. I spent time at the Terry Public Library, starting a relatively regular pattern. I also quieted a restive system and restocked my backpack for the next leg of the trip.
I ventured back out onto the Interstate for a few miles and was just crossing the bridge over the Yellowstone River. Staring over the expanse of the river and taking in the prairie spread out into the distance. “Ah, what a grand spot. A beautiful river cleaving the earth in pieces.”
When I was surprised as a car pulled up. “Are you the guy walking across the country? You were staying in Terry for the last few days? We have been looking for you. You were almost out of range, now.”
“Indeed, I am.” Thence I had my first newspaper interview once we maneuvered to the edge of the bridge, making plenty of room for traffic. Darlene Strobel (with Darwin nearby) took notes and a photo of the flag-bearing traveler. Leo became a major part of her story as did the flag, my typical role as “the Lavina Chamber of Commerce,” and a question about my departure from medicine.
That gave me a moment to philosophize: “Health care is expensive and people often need to live through an illness (without medical interference). The healing force is inside. There usually aren’t quick answers like people want.”
I made it to Glendive the second day out from Terry. The temperature was still close to 100 when I arrived as reported to Leslie Burroughs by a Lavinan who saw me hiking the highway that day. Nonetheless, it was a good day. And walking into Glendive was a piece of cake. I quite liked what I saw of Dawson County’s town of 5000 souls. For Montana, it is more like a city. There are two major thoroughfares in Glendive and I remember a variety of shops along the routes. Some looked inviting, colorful and creative. I shall have to return to Glendive for a close look, some day.
A thoughtful cashier helped me out when I stopped in at a convenience mart for a drink and granola bars. The cashier clued me in that there were showers on the premises. I was quite thankful. I hope she was reading my mind and not detecting the aroma of the road.
I camped that night with only moderate disturbance by mosquitoes at Jaycee Park located very close to the Yellowstone River which bisects the town practically into West and East Glendive. As I was packing up in the morning, a man appeared with truck and trailer. I entered into conversation with him and got the story that he was just back from an annual excursion involving paddlefish and caviar. You betcha.
Despite their prehistoric origins and homely appearance, paddlefish are said to be an excellent tasting fish and yield a large quantity of top-quality meat. They also are treasured for the roe-caviar harvested from them. The Glendive Chamber of Commerce began a joint venture with area paddlefishermen in the 90s. Paddlefish roe is harvested, processed into caviar, and shipped from Glendive at a substantial price. Fisherman are encouraged to donate the roe which is processed into world-class caviar. The proceeds from the venture are used to improve fisheries and recreation in Eastern Montana as well as to make grants for historical and cultural projects. The topper of the whole deal is that Chamber volunteers clean the paddlefish for the fishermen who donate the fish eggs to the project!
I had a good long 28 miles to Wibaux the next day. I was then within striking distance of North Dakota. After a short stay in Wibaux, I made a short walk the next day across the stateline. The sight of the Entering North Dakota sign gave me a lift. I had padded across almost 300 miles (not counting detours, etc.) of Montana – with and without Leo. I was entering a new world, so to speak, even though it was just over the line. And I had something to report to Lavina's newspaper reporter.
I was happy to be recognized by one of the construction workers as I traversed a work site. At one point as I passed through the zone, I was walking faster than the traffic was moving. Trucks were carrying dirt and other rigs were moving here and there. A big dirt hauler moved up to my side. The Native American driver flashed me a huge smile. Then, he stuck out his hand and threw me a big bottle of Gatorade.
“Gee, thanks.” He got a big smile back and a warm wave of appreciation. There are wonderful, caring people everywhere. Although Gatorade isn’t my favorite, it sure beats lots of options. I had already discovered, a hiker-walker can never carry too much water.
Beach is just over the border into the often scoffed-at state of North Dakota. ND is often scoffed at by Montanans and surely by citizens of other bordering states and provinces of Canada. There are no end of jokes that make NDers the butts thereof. I won’t indulge in any of them, but instead relate a somewhat neutral quickie which my cowboy friend Norman Schuchard told me. Norm said that when he moved as a young man from Montana from North Dakota, “The IQ of both states went up.”
When I made Beach, it was hot, very hot and it was July 3, 2002. No celebrations in sight, even though Beach (pop @ 1000) is the county seat of Golden Valley County. I was back home momentarily. Eventually, I found a campground above the Interstate to repair for the night.
The next morning, I packed up for a two-day hike to Medora. I spent the day “getting used to” North Dakota. I do think if a person were really tuned in he could tell when passing state to state even without signs. These days, North Dakota is booming although the Bakken oil field spreads in all directions from western North Dakota. If you want a job, go to North Dakota.
Towards the end of the first day out I crossed into the Little Missouri National Grasslands. There wasn’t much hint of any Missouri or other river, but a wonderful grassy land which spread out and became more magnetizing as the day wore on. It was plain old grassland, but green and fresh and alive, and the temperature had abated to boot. The sky was clear and there was a glowing full moon to walk by. It was a night to savor and to walk. I thought for a moment that, “I should walk every night.” That idea did not persist, but I walked and walked and walked into that lustrous night.
A glorious moment for a trek across a grand country on this wonderful planet. The 4th of July. Well, any day is a great day to walk, to be alive and to revel in the gifts of the Earth. And the Day of Independence, a day I walked outwardly all alone on the planet. An Independent day it was, but surely I was not really alone.
I walked until I ran out of oomph. Fortunately, that was just at the time I crossed into a wide treed area next to the highway. It was like the spot had once been planted for a traveler like myself. I didn’t even put up the bivy. I just unrolled my sleeping bag and slept under the cooling night air and the broad starry heavens tinged by a waning moon. Ah! It doesn’t get much better than that.
Abbey RoadThe pace as well as the territory had changed since I parted with my buddy Leo. Our time together was the peak of excursion. We topped out at Sumatra. In some ways, it was all downhill from there. He was immediately and fully missed. Soon, I put out the call to Kinerk to join me on the road. He would drive, I would walk, and we would collect nightly somewhere along the trail. He thought about it, but came up with several reasons to decline. Then, I asked Ginger. She said YES, and went to work on a plan.
I continued on the trail into North Dakota and before long into Medora which is located in the Teddy Roosevelt National Park and North Dakota Badlands which coincides with the Grasslands. Medora seemed to have a shining reputation and people were happy to spend part of their summer with Teddy Roosevelt’s descendants in the midst of the Grasslands and Badlands. The town was founded along the Northern Pacific Railway in 1883 by the Marquis de Mores and named for his wife, Medora von Hoffman. De Mores constructed a plant to pack meat intended for shipment to Chicago. He also built the Chauteau de Mores which is now a museum. His operation went bust in 1886 partly due to drought and the family returned to Europe. But, the Marquis “left behind a small town rife with flavor and romanticism of the American Old West.”
Teddy Roosevelt’s name had long past become synonymous with the Badlands of North Dakota where he rebuilt his life after family tragedies. His mother and wife died on the same day in 1884, the former of typhoid and the latter following the birth of their only child. Roosevelt wrote, “The light has gone out of my life,” and repaired to Dakota Territory whence he previously had hunted buffalo and begun ranching. Leaving the newborn with his sister, Teddy built a second ranch called Elk Horn 35 miles north of Medora. On the banks of the Little Missouri, he resurrected himself in many ways, began to write about the frontier, and returned to public life after three years.
I’m not much of a tourist, but I did join in some of the fare in Medora. Independence Day had just passed. Yet, it got extended over the weekend and a colorful parade including TR on horseback filled the street on Saturday. Bully, Bully! I also sat in on a lecture by some authority on Theodore Roosevelt at one of the tourist-type venues.
One night, I treated myself to dinner at the Rough Riders Hotel. It sounds like an expensive treat, but it was modest at the time. I do see the hotel has been renovated and upscaled since my visit. I don’t remember the food, but I won’t forget Katie, the waitress. She was a next-door-neighbor type and I decided I should have a photo of her. So, she posed for me several times. But whenever the camera clicked, the waitress. I tried again and again as she came and went. But, I never got a blinkless photo.
On my last night in Medora, I marched up the hill past the Medora Cemetery to the Burning Hills Amphitheater. Now, that was a real treat even though I skipped the pitchfork fondue which preceded the main event. Surely the fondue’s main course was a hunk of beef which didn’t interest me in the least.
But, The Medora Musical called “Bully” was entirely worth the hike up the hill and the price of admission - and then some. The amphitheater (capacity of 2800) was probably only half full of folks, but that was still a lot of folks for a small town venue in the North Dakota Badlands. The show was prepared and rehearsed in Minneapolis. Carried every summer to Medora, The Musical is an Up-With-People wholesome, family sort of entertainment which includes a mix of music. The cast of singers and dancers followed a variety program with historic, patriotic, TR themes. Live music backed up the group as did variety acts. The ventriloquist was an extraordinary talent.
But, the opening and closing of the show were most memorable. To start things off, the entertainers sang and stomped and eventually watched as the wings spread wide for riders carrying Old Glory to ride onstage. The audience rose and joined in the National Anthem. The closing was even more dazzling. As the program wound to a climax, a lone rider rode off into the distance to a ridge above the theater. The rider was spotlighted from hundreds of yards away as he stretched his flag and staff to the heavens while fireworks rushed into the night around him. Woosh! Woosh! Wow!
Before you know it I was in South Heart and camping in the town’s little park. I secured libation but not of the alcoholic kind at the local pub. It was a windy and cool night on the plains and the bivy did right by me. I put in a call to Ginger who was then en route with Leslie, a friend in tow. They were expecting to be in North Dakota in a few days, meeting place to be determined.
While the two New Yorkers cruised westward in Ginger’s van, I got to walk for a change on a secondary road and traversed the space between South Heart and one of North Dakota’s cities, Dickinson. I skirted residences and farms as I covered the dozen miles to that town. By midday, I was marching through the Stark County seat and home of Dickinson State University. An opportunity for resupply and a late breakfast at a cafe. By early afternoon, I had crossed the town of almost 18,000 people. At a truck stop, I put in another call to Ginger. She had two more days of driving to meet me in ND.
Ginger told that her travel companion Leslie found an extra inducement to travel west as she had an old friend to look up. Brother Elias lived and worked in a monastery – “she thinks in Dickinson” – and might be a good person to meet. Well, I chalked that up to a missed opportunity. Because I was not about to turn around and march back miles to the west especially since Brother Elias and his monastery “might be in Dickinson.” I don’t even remember thinking to check a phone book. After a long day’s walk, I just couldn’t imagine turning back. So, I plodded onward to the Interstate shortly after the phone call.
I walked along the Interstate as the sun was going down and eventually found a wide grassy swath next to the fence to set up the bivy and put myself to sleep. The traffic along the Interstate should have disturbed my peace. But, it didn’t because there weren’t many rigs on the highway that night and I was very tired. I was up again early the next day and continued on, exiting onto the beginning of the Enchanted Highway. I had seen hints earlier about the happily named road which is otherwise known as 100 1/2 Avenue SW. I much prefer Enchanted Highway.
That Highway is said to be a collection of the world’s largest scrap metal sculptures constructed at intervals along a 32-mile stretch of highway. The project was conceived of by artist Gary Greff. He began building in 1989 and maintains the project which extends south from the I94 exit to Regent, North Dakota. Every sculpture has a developed turnout and some have picnic shelters. Unfortunately, I turned north and missed the sculpted road. The Enchanted Highway was tempting, but I figured it was far too much of a detour for a walker.
My feet quickly turned to the east along a quiet country road. It might not have been enchanted, but it was much preferable to the Interstate. Around noon, I found a lone tree on the north side of the road under which to rest. A moderate drizzle began and soon turned into a bit of a rain. While sitting there I could almost hear my mother hinting, “Don’t you have the sense to come in out of the rain.” Well, I hadn’t until that point.
There was a farm a hundred yards across the highway. “What the heck!” I walked over, stopping at the farmhouse en route. I got no answer there, but then noticed a wave from the owner who himself was keeping dry in the barn. I went over and met Victor Oukrop, took off my pack, and had a delightful conversation with him. Victor told me about himself and his farm and life. The 70-ish gentleman was on his own for the day, his wife having gone to visit relatives.
After the shower stopped, Victor filled a couple water bottles for me and I marched out again. But in another few minutes, Victor reappeared on his 4-wheeler and invited me to lunch. I accepted and jumped on the back of his rig. We went to his house to share leftover sloppy joes. Milk and Oreos topped off our repast. It was hardly my usual fare, but I was happy for the hospitality. The conversation and friendship beat the luncheon menu by a long way.
During our lunch, I couldn’t help noticing that Victor was Catholic. Many pictures and images of Jesus and the Sacred Heart were placed prominently around his living room and kitchen. Eventually, Victor mentioned that he worshipped at a church which was run by the monastery in Richardton, the next town to the east. So, I hadn’t missed the monastery after all. Although I would have found it anyway, Victor put me back on the trail within the trail.
That afternoon, I passed through a little town called Taylor about the size of Lavina en route, making a stop for ice cream at a sweet little cafe. As I got to the outskirts of Richardton, I encountered the sign SACRED HEART MONASTERY. “This must be a A SIGN,” I said. As I continued, I could see the monastery in the distance. But, there was another collection of buildings closer at hand – or foot. So, I turned off at first chance to find a Benedictine convent. Interestingly, the first woman I met was from Billings, MONTANA. She directed into town and to the Abbey – Assumption Abbey. I arrived just before 7:00 as Vespers were beginning. I entered the church and sat near the front, quietly taking off my shoes during service (for my benefit only – my feet were hot, wet and aching, as usual).
After the service was over, I asked for Brother Elias. He soon came to find me after one of the monks put in a call for him. I told the accented and bewhiskered former New Yorker who I was, how I had come there, and that his friend of 20 years past was at that very moment en route to North Dakota. I was soon on the phone again, sharing the unexpected news that I had found the monastery and Brother Elias. The New Yorker travelers had passed Chicagoland and were a day or so from destination. Leslie was delighted to hear that Elias and I had connected.
I was happy for the respite. It was a wonderful place to retreat for any length of time. Ginger and Leslie were en route. And I had a day to recover from what was either the effects of the heat or Victor Oukrup’s sloppy joes – or both. Whatever it was, it crept up on me the first night as I lay in a quaint guest room on the second floor of an abbey dormitory. I burned inside and out through the night and made several trips to the bathroom. I also had the distinction of staying in the guest room which Kathleen Norris inhabited during her times at the Abbey. Norris is an award-winning poet, writer, and author of four New York Times bestsellers including Dakota: A Spiritual Geography.
By morning, I was feeling almost recovered. I joined in meals and prayers and began to get acquainted with the priests and brothers of the Benedictine Assumption Abbey. The Abbey goes back to 1893 in Devil’s Lake and was relocated to Richardton in 1899 where it got its present name in 1928. At one time, it was a busy, thriving community. By the time I arrived, numbers were down as were activities. Total monks between the North Dakota Abbey and a dependent monastery in Bogotá, Colombia, was less than 60.
On my return to Montana, I crossed paths with a number of people with connections to Assumption Abbey. Most of them were young and in trouble when they were farmed out to the Abbey for special attention during their high school years. The monastery once ran a whole school system. But, times changed and the Benedictines had to curtail their outreach and just try to hold things together. Still, the Abbey seemed welcoming and active despite it falling numbers.
During my stay, I attended services three or four times a day with the Assumption Monks. I got to know Brothers Elias and Jacob and Michael, in particular, and Fathers Odo and Robert. My favorite was 88-year-old Father Robert, who had been the abbott in his younger years. He was still active and trying to stay that way. One day, he recruited me to help prune trees in the Abbey Cemetery. On my departure from the Abbey, Brother Jacob handed me an OSB (Order of Saint Benedict) lapel pin which the good Father Robert had blessed. I wear it whenever I put on a sport coat, which isn’t often these days.
Brother Jacob and I and shared a number of deeper conversations. The tall, good-looking, red-bearded Jacob had only been at the Abbey a few short years. He was still finding his way, questioning and wondering, not totally sure about making final commitments. Jacob had served in the US Navy and clearly had talents and possibilities beyond the monastery walls. It also turned out that we are related through marriage. His brother married a second cousin of mine on my mother’s side. A small world experience with more to come.
Brother Elias picked up where Robert and Jacob left off, kindly showing me Abbey properties and explaining the workings of the community. It seemed that he was one of the multi-talented members of the monastery. He was an EMT and played the part of monastery nurse. Elias also kept the group linked to the world via computers and internet. And, those were just his regular jobs.
In the midst of my Abbey activities, Ginger and Leslie continued their journey which was speeded up when Ginger got word that her son Robert was involved in a boating accident. Two fatalities occurred and Robert the Son was for a time detained by police. Ginger and Leslie appeared only a few hours after she got news of the tragic event. I must admit I was not much help when Ginger arrived. I was expecting a travel partner. Instead, G. stopped overnight, left Leslie with money for a bus ticket home, and spent a few moments visiting me. I tried to suggest she stay at least a day, but she was bent on getting home to be with her son. Understandably so.
I felt bad about the whole thing – for her and and for Robert and for me. She believed her place was back in New York. I was surely more of a drag than a help. I regret not being a listening ear. I did get her to stop overnight in Minneapolis with my older brother on the way back east. I am sure she made the return trip in record time.
After Ginger left, I lingered for a day or two and got to know Leslie. She was a classmate of Ginger’s at the Interfaith Seminary in New York City. Leslie gave me a little of the story about her connection with Brother Elias. All I remember is that they were members of an intentional community in Brooklyn a score of years past. They had kept in touch over those many years and thanks to Ginger’s trip west, Leslie got to resurrect old times with Elias, take a look at North Dakota, and experience Elias’s new commune. The three of us spent parts of the weekend at the fairgrounds watching a rodeo. Actually, Elias was on duty as the EMT coverage, standing next to his First Responder Unit.
Leslie and I were free to wander. We did that for a time and parted ways in Richardton. Leslie stayed on a few more days and later emailed me saying she would most certainly return the following summer. I never heard if she did. I thought I might go back some day as well figuring a lot of those monastery buildings, especially the dormitories, needed some painting and sprucing up. I haven’t made it back. YET.
Nightmare in North DakotaI continued on the secondary road back towards the Interstate. The land was green and almost lush for the west side of North Dakota. Before making I94 again, I found a spot on the side of the road for camping. The night passed and the sun reappeared for a new day which was a bit of test. I gulped down water maybe more than I had any time on the whole trip. I might have been remembering my bout with the heat coming into Richardton which took a toll on me. In any case, my bottles were nearly empty and a modern watering hole was still quite a few miles off.
So, I stashed my backpack and jumped the fence heading south to look for water, imagining I might find a well or spigot poking up out the ground as I did once in Montana near the Powder River. My imaginings weren’t totally off because before long I ran into a large pond enclosed by a bermed wall.
Preparing to cool my feet after filling my bottles, I removed my boots and was ready for double refreshment. I reached for a plastic bottle of fresh water. Or so I thought. I gave the H20 a quick taste and spat it out immediately. Oooh! I hadn’t paid much attention to the property on which I had passed nor to the pond itself. I had dipped my bottle into a stock pond and the flavor that came out was potent cow piss.
Somewhere along the line, I had been given me the nickname of Still Edible. Still Drinkable might have fit as well. But in that North Dakota nook, the available beverage was quite detestable. I wondered how the cows could even drink out of the pond. Still, I rested my feet for a few moments and then did some more searching. I figured, “If there are cows and a stock pond, a farmhouse shouldn’t be far off.” And I was right. Just beyond a rise, a collection of houses and outbuildings appeared.
I proceeded to knock on doors. Eventually, an aged and wizened fellow, Ray Filibeck, opened up his abode. I told him of my predicament. He quickly invited me in, telling me of his life and family as well as his ills. Eighty-four-year-old Ray was doctoring and keeping inside most of the time. His son worked the property and his wife was in town that day.
Ray not only invited me into his house. He plied me with Coca Cola and cupcakes and filled my water bottles. It felt like I was reliving my visit with Victor Oukrup. But, Ray didn’t invite me for dinner. After Victor’s sloppy joes, I might have had to refuse. Still, it was another treat to sit with the old gent, hear his stories, and get to know another human for a few moments.
I thanked him several times as I left his house and headed back to the highway. I got to thank him again a few days later as he drove to Bismarck for a medical appointment. Ray pulled off the side of the road, said Hello and introduced me to his wife. It was a sweet moment.
I had another treat along the Interstate before I hit the Missouri River. One I had been expecting. Morris Bartholomew, Leo’s new owner, was barreling down the highway heading east in his semi-trailer truck when he spied me across the median strip moving in the same direction.
I had called him a couple times to check on Leo and tell him of my progress down the road. I knew he made a weekly run up to Sidney, MT, to take on a load of beet sugar and carry it to Minneapolis and then circle back via Iowa with a different cargo. When I heard a toot and saw a big semi pull to a halt across the way, I had a good idea it was Morris.
We shook hands and embraced heartily. Then, Morris introduced his travel buddy who was a young friend of his son getting a truck ride and a look at a few states. I got to ask about Leo who was apparently settling in well and making himself at home. I took a couple photos to document and remember the meeting. We parted. Morris resumed moving at 70 mph, I got back to my average of 3 mph.
FOLLOW-UP§ I was quite sure Leo was living happily outside of Miles City, Montana, on the Bartholomew acres. But, I eventually got my own personal evidence on a stopover I made during a driving trip to South Dakota in late 2004. That followed on occasional calls over the previous two years to Mr. Bartholomew to say Hello and ask about our dog. Appearing at the 9-mile marker south of town, I noticed a small caravan turning down that gravel road. Two trucks, one pulling a load of firewood and another pickup with two recently harvested deer in its bed.
When they pulled off the road, I followed, parked my own pickup, and asked for the Bartholomews. As they directed me towards Morris, a small dog appeared. Not Leo. Then, there he was. My old travelmate. He saw me but started to turn toward the action. But then, he looked back as if to say, “I should say hello to this person. Oh, now, maybe I know him.”
I waited for just a moment and Leo came of over to say, “Hello.” He stopped in front of me and then jumped up and put his paws on my chest. I gave him a hug and rubbed his head. “Hello, to you, Leo.”
We joined the crowd which was getting ready to unload the firewood. Morris recognized me, too. But, he was more reserved in expressing his, “Hello.” Son Josh figured out who I was and wondered, “Are you going to take Leo with you?”
“No,” I said, “Leo is in the right place, here.” §
As I passed through the center of North Dakota at Bismarck-Mandan, I got off the Interstate when possible to take secondary roads. I would walk a few days, using rest stops for my bivouacs. Although the Interstate stops were rarely restful, with big rigs running their engines all night long. However I do remember one exception near Dawson, when I had a great night at a small and old rest stop on the Interstate. For some reason, the whole place was my own most of the night. I “camped” on top of a picnic table as the wind blew briskly and comfortingly. It may have been my best evening on the road and with the elements since the
Missouri GrasslandsAfter two nights in a cottage at Medina and some great Norwegian Tomato Suppe, I hurried on to Jamestown and got there in reasonable time finding my way to the baseball park: Jack Brown Stadium.
I watched an American Legion doubleheader that night. Like old times. The stadium reminded me of Kernel Park back in Mitchell, where we watched Basin League games when I was a boy. My older brother Norman also played legion ball there as his team took the state championship one year. After the ball game, I tried to get settled and rest in nearby McElroy Park. But the park seemed buggy, so I eventually repaired back to the baseball stadium and camped up in the bleachers. I remember the mosquitoes harassing me there as well. But, I got through the night no worse for the wear.
By that time on the journey, I again was ready for a break – a prolonged break. Over the past few days, I had been on the phone trying to get my younger brother Tom to rendezvous in northern South Dakota for a few days. I had the idea of us meeting up at Big Stone Lake where Mom and Dad and Tom and I had a memorable fishing expedition many years gone by. But, Tom had other obligations and interests.
After replacing my worn-out boots which had gotten me 600 miles down the road, I set out again but on a different route, Highway 281 South. I had had it with the Interstate. It had some advantages, but I was tired of the truck traffic and the frigid buildings which acted as centers for the rest stops. Besides, I imagined my brother might change his mind about a get-together and angling south would me get closer to South Dakota and lake country.
Somehow, I hadn’t realized my being in “lake country” for quite a few miles once I crossed Missouri River. West of the river – in North or South Dakota – is dry with some grass at best. East of the river is wet, precipitation wise, and fertile. With the fertility and moisture comes lakes and ponds. Looking back, I remember the waterholes being small. Often no more than slews. It was hardly like the Land of 10,000 Lakes in Minnesota. But, it might have been the Land of 10,000 Sloughs.
I trailed south along the two-lane 281 stopping here and there. I took a break on the grounds of a defunct radio station, wondering what it looked like on the inside. In mid afternoon, a young man hailed me from his house west of the highway. He invited me to have some lemonade and I gratefully accepted. I was feeling tired that day. I remember wishing the fellow would invite me to camp out on his property. But, I wasn’t about to ask. After a time, I thanked my benefactor and continued on.
I might well have known that time and fatigue, the heat and the elements would catch up to me sooner or later. But, it is hard to see what we don’t see. Nor had I recognized my relative good fortune in my meetings with the insect world over the road for many weeks. I had struggled with sun and wind and water. But, critters had been at worst minor although recurring nuisances. And up to this time, I had not thought to purchase any repellent or protective gear. In the back of mind, Minnesota is where I would be tested. But, things were due to change as cloudy and wet days persisted. The heat continued and the humidity mounted. It was Day 47 – Saturday, July 27. I decided that I should make for Edgeley which was almost 40 miles south.
HOLY SKEETERS!I made halfway – to the intersection with Highway 46 – at dusk and the mosquitoes began to swarm. It was awful. It was really AWFUL and I got spooked. I felt at moments that those hordes would surround me, lift me up and deposit my body in another world. I flagged a pickup for help. The driver suggested I go to a nearby farmhouse I had bypassed. No one was home. I wandered around swatting mosquitoes with my towel, waiting for the moon to rise or the owners to appear. The mosquitoes were still very BAD, but not swarming. I spread out my bedroll and sleeping bag. Laid down for just a few minutes. The mosquitoes were screaming in my ears and it was stifling rolled up inside the bag. I did rest my feet for a bit.
I packed up and left as the moon rose in the east. Despite the heat, humidity and bugs, the night was beautiful with the great orb above, just past full. I hiked with mosquitoes in full attendance, flailing my towel around my head, until after three o’clock. I tried again to rest on the side of the road – stuffed in my sleeping bag – as I noted the moon being darkened by clouds from the west. It looked like rain was approaching. So I repacked and marched on.
I made a very small rest stop by 4:30. I was the only human soul along with mosquitoes and other insects using the place. Within minutes it began to rain. I parked on a bench under a small pavilion as the rain came down. The trees were swayed by the winds and the mosquitoes disappeared for the time. Rubbing my sore feet, I calculated walking 32 miles in the previous 24 hours. That was a record for me, one I didn’t care to repeat.
The rain stopped around 6:00. But the clouds only broke in the north. The precip resumed over Edgeley and at my rest stop. Around 11:00, blue began to slowly move in from the west while the rain diminished. I left the rest stop after noon when clouds finally cleared. I marched 8 miles to Edgeley in 2 hours and 10 minutes. I indulged myself with a burger and ice cream at Tastee Freez. I was cooling my jets and a bit refreshed from lunch when a man pulled up next to me in his pickup. “Did you see me pass you in my Corvette, yesterday?”
“No, can’t say as I did. Else I might have thumbed a ride,” I thought to myself. My conversation with Mike Cuypers continued. Before long, he told me he was preparing to drive to Rapid City in his 18-wheeler. He invited me to go along. Mike promised to drop me off near hometown Mitchell. What a deal! I had wanted to meet up with my brother. I had never ridden in a semi. And, I badly needed a break from the road and from the skeeters. I got that ride in the Corvette when Mike traded vehicles. We ran back up to Jamestown really fast in his Corvette. I took a nap and shower at his house while he organized things. We watched Law and Order and then got in his rig and headed south about sundown.
Riding in the semi tractor was terribly impressive and practically scary. I have thought numerous times that any speedy automotive device is a lethal weapon. An 18-wheeler is even more so. It was so massive and heavy. No telling how long it takes to brake a behemoth like that. My hats are off to truck and bus drivers. It takes guts and skill to maneuver those vehicles safely.
Mike drove us to a truck stop in Plankinton, SD, through the rain and lightning. We arrived after midnight and had a snack. He headed west after a siesta with my many thanks. I wrote postcards and waited until morning when I called my brother who picked me up at 8:00 and drove me to the Corn Palace City for a vacation – of sorts.
I must add that I accidentally erased all the digital photos that I had taken between Richardton and Edgeley, North Dakota. Surprise?!
Odyssey NewsBy the time I arrived in Corn Town, my brother was making plans for a family vacation to Michigan. Within a few days, Tom and wife Janet and daughters Meghan and Darcey were driving to Lake Superior. The dog, Teddy, and I had the house to ourselves. Although Teddy had to be relocated from his usual perch because I got recruited to paint the computer room as well as the upstairs hallway. That kept me occupied quite a bit of the time while the family was away.
While planning for the next leg of the journey, I decided on an another kind of companion. Books, reading material. So, I collected a few for the road. Since I didn’t have Leo to keep track of, I only needed to stabilize Fannie the Flag to allow me to get some reading done at various stretches along the way. “I should have a book in my back pocket if not in hand at all times.” Yeah. Right. Indubitably so. Some people think it crazy. Others that it is impossible.
When I moved to the country and had dogs to accompany me on walks, I forgot about reading while I stretched my legs. For many, many years past, I had always had a book in hand most everywhere I went. Even walking? Yeah, even walking. And even along the highway. People stop and stare, or drive by and stare. It is the strangest thing. Folks are at a loss for words and sputter. “How can you do that? I can’t even read in the passenger seat of the car when traveling? Isn’t it dangerous? You better be careful.”
It has always seemed simple and easy and a good idea. Read a book while getting fresh air and exercise. Kill two birds with one stone. So, I resolved to carry books with me. I got some reading done the rest of the way. Reading became a break from just plodding down the road and a little company here and there when not otherwise occupied. I only read a few on the journey and I only remember a few of those I read. Here are some quick reviews:
• Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values by Robert Pirsig. The book is about a motorcycle journey from Minnesota to California interspersed and supposedly tied together with philosophical detours. I liked the cycling part through the Montana. The philosophy often seemed absurd. Pirsig’s “travelogue” somehow got him on the New York Times Bestseller List and also to insanity. He eventually was subjected to electro-shock therapy which permanently changed his personality. Or maybe his personality was permanently changed even before the EST. I barely finished that book, hoping for better as I continued on.
• The Odyssey by Homer. I had read this ancient classic sequel to The Iliad in high school. Since I was on my own Odyssey, it seemed a fitting tome to read along the way. But, I was again distressed. While the book surely has symbolic and metaphoric undertones, the basic story seemed much like the Old Testament. Lots of killing and conflict, spite and revenge. The Odyssey was suggested to me when my brother rented the Coen Brother's own Odyssey movie, Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? on his return from vacation. I highly recommend the film. The book I will refer back to high school English class.
• Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck. I fortunately made a better choice with this short Steinbeck tale about his cross country drive with his pet poodle, Charley, in 1960. Mr. Steinbeck made a loop of America circling to the West from New York and back with his car pulling a camper he called Rocinante. Steinbeck apparently wanted to see the “real America” again before he died. He had some great stories to tell, but it is not totally clear how many of them he really experienced. There are questions as to whether the completed book was more fact or fiction. My only other complaint was that he hurried his last many miles on the road and missed other opportunities to see the great land and people. That latter comment may relate to my own travels as well.
• Parenthetically, I should mention the reading of books by travelers on foot which I did before setting out on the road. At home and not walking. Peter Jenkins wrote a number of titles on his walks across America which were absorbing reads. Jim Kinerk pointed me in his direction. Ginger Allen suggested the story of Peace Pilgrim which I found worthy. There were others, but not worth the mention.
Even though Brother Tom and I did not have a retreat together, we did catch up from our last time together around our father’s illness and death in 2001. He had to lead me on another tour of the old home town, a leisurely drive or two around Lake Mitchell, a trip to Lueken’s Bakery, and outings to lunch a couple times. Tom took good care of me as he does himself and family. Mother used to say, “Nothing is too good for that boy.”
Before I realized it, he drove me back to North Dakota. A warm, gregarious and loyal salesman, he took me out for late breakfast in Ellendale after bending my ear on the trip north. Then, we proceeded on to Edgeley were he set me on the road with a handsome wage for painting and watching the dog. I also got a big hug and a tear. Tom picked up where Mother left. He is the “feeler” in the family and it doesn’t take much for that side of him to show.
I had accomplished a few things at my brother’s beyond painting, resting, and watching TV baseball and movies. During that time, I replenished some of the weight I had lost on the first leg of the trip. While Brother and family were vacationing for a week, I drank 4 gallons of milk. Four gallons actually in six days! Still, I returned to the road a little skinnier than my start in June. But, I was well rested. My feet were actually too rested, and I paid the price over the first few days back on the path.
When Tom let me loose at the spot where my journey had been put on pause, I was still thinking I should walk the whole way to New York City. Regardless of my detour and delay in South Dakota, “I should pick up the pace and plow on to see Lady Liberty.”
My return to the road at Edgeley was eventful and almost auspicious. Waving goodbye to younger Brother, I marched east on Highway 13. Within minutes of taking to the road with Fannie the Flag and my backpack, I was stopped for a visit by a mother and daughter whose farm is located close to the intersection. Then less than an hour down the road, Joy Powers of the Edgeley Mail appeared and invited me to give an interview for her newspaper. Synchronistically, she was preparing to take her son off to college the next day at Vocational - Technical School in Mitchell, SD. You shouldn’t be surprised that mosquitoes became a focal point of Ms. Powers’s article. However, the best quote was about country living: “Big cities have wonderful things, but they’re missing out on watching the grass grow.”
I met several more locals on the way to Lamoure, the next town. Duane Young was the second person of the day to offer me a ride. I accepted his offer. My feet wouldn't let me do otherwise. My rest had been too long and it took me some days to get my walking appendages back into real shape. Thereafter, I decided to accept unsolicited ride offers which indeed speeded up the remainder of the trip. Else I would have been walking until Christmas which might have been more problematic than mosquitoes in July. Taking rides also gave me the opportunity to meet more people and have more conversations along the way. A number of them had stories of comparable or related experiences.
Publicity and attention followed me the next day as I trekked on to Oakes. Entering town with Fannie the Flag flying, I noticed a fellow in a Cadillac driving by. He stared and stared, then waved and stared some more. The waver turned out to be Marlo who was so struck by this man marching down the road in Red White and Blue carrying a flag that he cruised to Rudy's Bar to spread the word. There he told Karen Odegard that she had to do an article about this event for the Oakes Times.
Karen, who generally did advertising for the newspaper, took up the challenge. She went to the office and picked up a memo pad, pencil and digital camera. As I was nearing the middle of Oakes, Mrs. Odegard appeared and invited me to do another newspaper interview. She also took my photo, after which I snapped hers. We had a good chat which would continue. The highlight of her article came when Karen asked me about the flag I was carrying. I responded, “We need to be more united as a nation, so I have put all the stars together as one big star. Then, I added a big heart in the middle of the star to point to the need for greater love among all Americans.”
Karen was more than accommodating. She purchased a room for me at the Travel Inn and introduced me to her husband, Rick, and friends, including Marlo, at Rudy's Bar. Ms. Odegard treated me to a malt at the Angry Beaver Lounge. It was tasty but not quite up to the fare I had experienced back in Hebron. With the weather threatening, I decided to stay on an extra day. Karen appeared and drove me around the area to towns like Stirum, Lisbon and Gwinner. The latter is home to one of Bobcat’s SkidSteer manufacturing plants. We didn’t go inside, just cruised by and talked about what that kind of business does for the rural economy. That evening, I was induced to walk in the local Relay for Life. I owe many thanks to Karen Odegard and people like her. Hospitality is still alive in the USA.
After my stay at Oakes, I proceeded on to Forman where I got a personalized visit at the Sargent County Museum and chilly night in the town park. Leaving Forman, I still had fifty miles to reach Minnesota as I passed through the Red River Valley.
From this valley they say you are going.
We will miss your bright eyes and sweet smile,
For they say you are taking the sunshine
That has brightened our pathway a while.
Come and sit by my side if you love me.
Do not hasten to bid me adieu.
Just remember the Red River Valley,
And the cowboy who loved you so true.
It was another exhilarating moment to pass over the Bois de Sioux, a tributary of the Red River, and enter a new state on foot. The Land of 10,000 Lakes appeared ahead of me. After Montana and North Dakota – big and wide states, Minnesota seemed like it should be an easier trek. And so it was, as smooth-talking Texan offered a lift into in Elbow Lake. After breakfast, I proceeded to the local library to check email as I often did on the trail. I probably stopped at as many libraries as bars on the trip. (The bars were the only venues in some small towns.) Libraries became one of my homes away from home. Gail Hedstrom, the Elbow Lake librarian, was taken by my walking project and induced the Grant Herald’s editor to run over from his office and take a photo of me on the lawn in front of the county courthouse. I got one of Gail in the library and then we sat down for a great hour-long interview.
Gail quickly caught that my journey was anything but typical. “If I would have driven, I would never have been able to meet the wonderful people I have met or visited the great small towns along the way.” We had a fun time talking about almost anything and everything under the sun. Gail and I emailed off and on for many months with her keeping me posted about the town and library, her family and theater activities.
Young people volunteered rides for me over the next couple days as I moved steadily and almost quickly across Minnesota. One was Shanna who had called in sick the day of our meeting, “Something I never do.” She must have known somehow about meeting a mysterious man on the Way East. That happened a couple other times on the trip.
It was interesting to note how different experiences clumped together at various stages on my expedition. The dog and I lived “Under the Big Sky” out west with that mode continuing for some time. When I gave in to accepting rides, I met young people in Minnesota and older folks in Michigan. From Michigan on, I encountered more and more of my fellows who were born in distant parts of the world. Newspaper interviews generally clumped around North Dakota-Minnesota and southern New York state.
I stopped that evening in Osakis at the Lakeland Motel (very inexpensive and close to the lake) and took up conversation with Barbara Wenthold. At first, she told me no rooms were available. “But, I could probably put you up in my husband’s office. If that would work for you?” It did.
Barbara and I became friends. I heard some of her life story and bits about health problems. Mrs. Wenthold was a very large lady and kept close to the motel, although she did travel on occasion to spend time with her children who lived not too distantly. Barbara was a talker and was glad for a little company. She also had some training in massage and footwork. So, she happily went to work on my peds. Soaked and rubbed my feet. Ah, what a treat. She also put a pair of Dr. Scholl’s inserts into my backpack when I started back on my travels the next day. Barbara and I corresponded for some time after my journey concluded.
Sauk Centre, my next stopping place, was only a dozen or so miles up the road. A cozy sort of place to visit, Sauk Centre was the boyhood home of Sinclair Lewis and the folks definitely let visitors to know that. Harry Sinclair Lewis is still famous for his many novels including Main Street, Babbitt, Arrowsmith, Elmer Gantry and Dodsworth. I should have picked a copy of one for the road since I had only read Arrowsmith, about young, idealistic Dr. Martin Arrowsmith, long years past. In 1930, Lewis became the first American writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. His books are especially known for insights and criticism of American society and capitalism in particular.
A night at a Mom-and-Pop spot called the Hillcrest Motel followed. The owner made the kind suggestion for me to walk the Lake Wobegon Trail which was not then and still probably isn’t a standard inclusion on a road map. Lake Wobegon is a fictional Minnesota town. Garrison Keillor claims it as his boyhood home and then reported the News from Lake Wobegon every weekend on his popular public radio show, A Prairie Home Companion. Keillor made himself famous even in the modern era with the oldtime radio show devoted to stories, traditional music and tongue-in-cheek repartee.
Fictional Lake Wobegon is much like many spots of the country I walked through, being “the little town that time forgot, and the decades cannot improve.” Keillor claims the town maintains its integrity because “all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.” The Lake Wobegon effect, a natural human tendency to overestimate one's capabilities, is named after the town.
So much for the radio town. The Lake Wobegon Trail appeared in the 90s in Stearns County thanks to an idea and persistent effort of the Albany Jaycees. The Trail is a modest one that runs 28 miles from Sauk Centre to Avon. I walked the pleasant path, but it was like doing the highway without traffic. I probably encountered a dozen people during the whole trip. Some walkers and roller bladers. I pretty much had the whole trail to myself. That night, I “camped out” at the Avon Trailhead making its concrete observation tower the floor of my bed for the night. It was pretty firm – actually hard, but the mosquitoes don’t seem to like heights.
Next day, I crossed through Saint Cloud, the biggest town since Bismarck. I couldn’t help but be reminded of bigger towns and cities that I have visited and driven through over the years. The reminder brought back thoughts on the wonders of modern construction, city planning, massive infrastructure and recent urban sprawl. America has achieved the 21st century dreams of futurists of generations past. We live in true luxury and common affluence compared to the billions who have passed before us as well as most of the billions who now populate the planet in other parts of the world. How lucky can we get!
We indeed are fortunate to live in the USA, land of many opportunities, a country blessed by Providence. But, Saint Cloud reminded me a bit of Saint Louis and Kansas City, Ames and Fort Worth, Billings and Lincoln. Such riches and speed. So much stuff, to put it bluntly. Yet, that much stuff rarely seems to be enough and we keep trying to accumulate more.
Grand America, with five percent of the population, uses close to twenty-five percent of the resources of the Earth. That surely is beginning to change, but not of our own free will and choice. Things do balance out over time. Money and ideas and ingenuity are obviously moving west. To the far, Far West in Asia.
Walking through Saint Cloud reminded me of cruising through major American cities, much larger than the Cloud (even though it has 60,000 humans.) Driving through big cities, I used to get the hint, sense, shudder of how potent and amazing those places are. Yet how fragile and vulnerable they can be. We have seen instances of that with recent hurricanes, floods, and tornados.
But, my thought was a broader one about our whole society. We have fashioned wonders of technology and construction, growth and expansion beyond most dreamers ability to imagine. Yet, how delicate a fabric we have yet weaved. One that could be disrupted in ways we haven’t even considered in our Disaster Preparedness Plans. That thought was surely scary in one way. From other angles, I felt hopeful. I discovered on my trip how helpful and ready to share people are. When traumas and troubles arise, our fellows rise to the occasion and give of themselves freely. Would that we might express that spirit every day rather than just in emergency.
Next day on the road, I was on the phone to older brother Norman and his wife Mary Kay telling them I was within striking distance of their home on Lake Zimmerman. They told me to “Ring us when you make Princeton. We will come pick you up.” I had a thirty mile jaunt to make that destination, but another benefactor appeared. Thanks to a young college student, I appeared in Princeton before any of us expected. But, soon I was resting at their hideaway.
Norm and Mary Kay had lived in the Twin Cities for over twenty years. When their children were grown, they decided to find a spot in the country on the Lake at Zimmerman. As per their usual pattern, they got a good deal on their new house. But, there was much renovation to be done. Norman had by then become a handyman and MK was accomplished as a painter among other jobs. The Zimmerman home and property was in process and wouldn’t be “done” until they picked up stakes a couple years later and moved to Arkansas. “To get away from cold winters and mosquitoes.” They succeeded, but the irony of the story was that mosquitoes turned into chiggers on their new property. And Norman had a devil of a time with them. He was “attacked” and brought to his knees on more than one occasion early on in Arkansas life.
Our time together at Zimmerman was spent largely around the property with chores, television and food. Television seemed to circle around reruns of Seinfeld. Tasty food most always had to be topped off with vanilla bean ice cream. Ginger had dropped my computer off on her hurried trip back to NYC. So, I was able to catch up on my digital photos, internet, and website tasks. I was pleased to show Norm and MK my trip photos. I made darn sure I didn’t erase any more pictures on my camera until they were duly copied to the iBook.
A Real WalkerAfter a trip to a shoe store for a new pair of boot, Norman and Mary Kay drove me back into the highway world as far as North Branch. Norm and I walked a mile or two together and he even carried Fannie the Flag for a time. We took photos and they let me loose on the trail again at close to the halfway mark of the Walk.
My break had only been a few days, so it was not so hard to get walking again as it had been after SD. I made good time just covering the pavement until I reached Taylor Falls, MN. Taylor Falls is a resort town on the St. Croix River which separates Minnesota from Wisconsin. It was a good place to stop as I found a 60s style drive-in near the end of my walking day. The waitresses were colorful, quite healthy and robust. If you know what I mean. They had the gleam of Scandinavian Lutheran girls of which Garrison Keillor talks on Prairie Home Companion.
The landscape and scenery of the nearby rock-encased river was grand. The river roared and rocked and rolled by. It was a great day to be alive. From the highway, I could see signs of the Interstate Park which straddled two states. I now wonder what kept me from investigating either park. Maybe part of me knew what was coming down the road. Although it seemed otherwise for a time once I hiked over the St. Croix Bridge into Wisconsin. I was wandering about on Main Street trying to figure where to land for the night, when Dave Points arrested my advance asking about my journey. He and his sons invited me for a ride to check out campsites and motels.
I would have been amenable to most any of the choices, but Dave wasn’t. Instead, he took me to his home. His wife, Debbie, invited me for dinner. I learned bits and pieces about their lives. The Points had five sons, but one had died recently in the midst of an asthmatic attack. That was a great trauma for the whole family. Dave was rethinking his work situation. Maybe he would try something new. Maybe the Walker gave him some hints. Debbie still had two boys at home to keep up with, but she also was involved with civic projects. I was led to believe she might write another newspaper article about their visitor.
Dinner was delicious and the company was warm and friendly. To top it off, the Points put me up in the Holiday Inn Express for the night. I thought that was much more than called for. But, it was too late to refuse. In the morning, they served me breakfast at their house. Later on, they drove me down the road to Baldwin. Debbie and I traded emails for a time and the following year they magically appeared at my doorstep in Lavina. That was a great surprise and happy occasion.
Midday found me in Menomonie which lay on the edge of a large lake of the same name. (Menomonie is an Indian word for “wild rice people.” I thought you might want to know.) Even though a modest sized city (20,000+), it was home to the University of Wisconsin – Stout and had granola flavor to it. That suited it me. I indulged in some treats at a food co-op.
Before long I found my way to the Mabel Tainter Theater Museum. While I’m not keen on plain old museums, the Mabel Tainter building is a glorious landmark which has many features to suit all kinds of visitors. It gathered my rapt attention for quite some time. Being the owner of an opera house, I was tickled to get to know the Tainter Theater, et al. The building was commissioned by lumber baron Captain Andrew Tainter to honor his daughter who died at age 19. The Mabel Tainter Memorial Building was donated to the private Mabel Tainter Literary, Library and Education Society and dedicated in 1890. The Library eventually outgrew the original space and was moved to a separate building, but the Mabel Tainter Building continues to house a beautiful Reading Room.
The huge Moorish structure was made from local sandstone and its interior has hand-stenciled walls and ceilings, marble staircase and floors, stained glass windows, four fireplaces, brass fixtures and walnut and oak woodwork. The building still has its Stearns and Foster pipe organ, with 1597 pipes and 28 stops. The organ was originally water-powered, but was restored and converted to electric power. I was thrilled to hear the mighty instrument played – if only for a few notes – when I joined a tour which included the ornate 313-seat theater. The organ holds a strategic position stage right in the theater which is home to the Menomonie Theater Guild.
Interestingly, I took more photos of the theater than any other place on the whole of my trip. The Tainter Theater is just one of a number of buildings and entities in the area which owe their existence to the philanthropies of the Tainter family. Menomonie struck me as a place definitely worth another look when time and travel permit.
That evening I made it to Elk Mound and found my way to a totally empty county park. I had the whole place to myself. It was a good camping night because of the winds and the weather. Good for air flow for me, not so good for people where the real weather was. To the north, the heavens got very dark and tornadoes were on the loose as the sun was blotted from the sky. The activity was many miles away, but that didn’t keep me from getting a few goose bumps being all by my lonesome. The newspapers in days following reported a powerful twister passing through Ladysmith. The tornado destroyed much of its downtown area.
I moteled it for a few nights passing through Eau Claire and on to Marshfield. At the 7 Star Motel, I made the acquaintance of Mr. V. Patel, the owner. He was the first of several Indians and Pakistanis whom I met on my journey. All those people were motel owners or managers. I thought it an interesting phenomenon that South Asians had taken on the occupation of running American inns. It seems similar to how Eastern Astians (Chinese, Vietnamese) make a go of restaurants in so many small towns. The Patels appeared at the beginning of my experience with foreign born Americans. The farther east I traveled, the more I met.
In the coming few days, I was to meet more of my own kind – natural born Americans – who brightened my days and helped me along the way. In the little berg of Amherst Junction, two women and a boy spotted me passing through town. They brought me treats and water for the road. After stopping for a malt, I repaired to the Motel at the River of Tomorrow. What a great name!
The following day, I wandered in and out and around many miles of highway construction. Most of it was finish-up work. At one point, I passed landscapers who were readying the siding for grass. I took up conversation with one particular bare-chested and friendly young man. Before long he offered me some COLD water from his huge iced thermos. Both talk and water were very welcome. He eventually introduced himself as Butch Van Shylden. “Butch, you’re Butch. Well, you don’t say! So am I with my family back in South Dakota. Let’s shake on it.” We did and I took a photo of the other Butch for old time’s sake.
That evening after a good day’s walk, I found a terrific spot to park for the night. As the sky was beginning to darken, I caught sight of a plateau surrounded by trees on the north side of the highway. I climbed a modest incline, took off my pack and laid out my bivy for a wonderful cool evening under the Wisconsin stars. Not a mosquito within miles. Only the gentle hum of travelers on the road a few hundred yards down the embankment. I slept and arose refreshed for a new day.
Next day, I stopped at a small shopping mall outside of Weyaweuga and met Bev and Tom who told me bits and pieces about their businesses and lives. At Bev’s B and B Crafts, I had to buy a copy of one of her vests which displayed the Lady Liberty on the back. Bev sent it on to Ginger in a few days. After Fremont, I camped out somewhere – I probably jumped a fence – and awoke with pain in my right calf. It felt like, “Somebody hit me with a baseball bat.” There was no evidence of bite, swelling or redness. It just hurt deep inside – to the bone. Walking neither helped nor added to the pain. Nor did I move very readily down the road. It felt like I was hobbling more than walking. So, I put in a call a day early to Kathleen Adams, a friend of Bibi, who was expecting my visit at her home in Kaukauna.
Kathleen had lived a few years back in Show Low, AZ, where I met her and her husband John who had recently passed away. Thence, she returned home to Wisconsin to be close to her daughter and family. Kathleen shared her house with me. Her office which made room for a blow-up mattress became my bedroom. Having slept on pavement and dirt, concrete and asphalt, wood and metal over preceding weeks, I was more than happy with an air mattress.
Mrs. Adams fussed over me a bit, as I tried to do with her. She worked in the bakery department of a large grocery store. We traded cooking chores. When I passed my 54th birthday at her home, she made a cake. I took her out one night for Greek food and a movie. On another evening, Kathleen drove me on a tour of her town and showed me the Kaukauna Locks. (pictured below)
We did a little walking, but my leg mostly didn’t want me walking too much at the time. Generally, we just watched television and played cards and visited about life. Kathleen was understandably lonely after losing her husband of many years. Her daughter Sharon and grandsons appeared on occasion, but that only filled part of the emptiness.
But before heading out for the next LEG of the journey, Kathleen drove me over to a shopping center where Sharon and a friend had a massage, oils and candle shop. There I got treated by Kathleen to a reflexology treatment by her daughter. Sharon worked on my feet and toes for most of an hour carrying on a friendly conversation all the while. From time to time, she dug into the tips of my precious pedal phalanges. “Ouch!” The rest of the time the treatment was relaxing, but not remarkably so.
Shazam! Twenty four hours later when I put my feet to the pavement, I was thrilled that there was a decided difference in my leg and gait. I was able to walk like I had ten days before. Maybe better. I remembered that episode and was on the look out for another treatment by the time I made it to Canada.
That first day out started with a 40-mile drive, again thanks to Kathleen, to Manitowoc where we proceeded to the Ferry Station to meet the SS Badger. The Badger and Lake Michigan were more than imposing. For the first and only time on the trip, I was scared or at least intimidated. “We are about to cross what looks like an ocean. Ferry boats sink, you know. And, I can’t swim.”
That might sound a little exaggerated. It may be so. But, the simple thought did cross the mind of this landlubber more than a few times while boarding and crossing that Great Lake.
Still, I made my goodbyes to Kathleen and joined a crowd of travelers boarding the Badger which is much more than a boat. At least to me, it felt like an ocean liner and that we were about to cross the Michigan Sea. It is a very Great Lake. The Badger, by far the biggest boat I have been on, is the last coal-fired passenger and vehicle ferry in service on Lake Michigan. It has shuttled across the lake since 1953. Her age at the time was close to my own. She weighed in at 4,200 gross tons and measured 410 long, 50 feet wide, and 24 feet deep. Her full capacity was 620 passengers, 180 vehicles and 60 crew. That felt like a real ship to me.
I enjoyed mostly lone moments staring out at the water on the four-hour trip covering about 75 miles. I knew where the life jackets were stowed. But, the best part of the trip came in the last hour when I made friends with Andy Horujko [pronounced Eureka]. He was one of those truly extraordinary characters we meet from time to time. Andy had quite a story even though he only shared modest amounts of it with me at the time.
The little, fuzzy-bearded Horujko was pushing 80, but still chopped wood on his property at Chase, MI, most every morning. That was just a beginning. Andy revealed that he had two claims to fame. He had worked as an aeronautical engineer with one of the Wright brothers. And Andy walked a large part of Latin America when he was near my age. So, we had a few things to talk about.
I remember Andy most wanted to impress me that I was carrying too much weight in my backpack. He showed me his small knapsack in which he was carrying the books he had bought in Manitowoc. I agreed with him more or less.
Andy was also a bit of a philosopher and skeptic. Philosophy and politics became the center of our conversation on the boat. As we disembarked, Andy pointed us to a pub where he treated me to fish and chips in Ludington. Mr. Horujko and I exchanged letters for a time, but I lost touch with him until I got to writing about the Michigan stretch of my story. Consulting the Internet, I discovered that Andy had left out big and impressive parts of his life story.
Internet investigations revealed a number of fascinating things. First, Andy was a champion woodcutter. After leaving the engineering profession, he lived as a hermit-loner on 80 acres outside of Chase, MI, and made a living cutting pulp wood. Second, he was a member of the Michigan Mensa Society for many years. (Mensa’s mission is “to identify and to foster human intelligence for the benefit of humanity ...” To join, you must have genius IQ – above 149.)
Third, Andy didn’t just “walk around South America,” as he had told me. His accomplishment was far beyond a walkabout or my modest excursion. Mr. Horujko, weighing in at 130 pounds, trekked 12,000 miles from Anchorage, Alaska, to Tierra del Fuego – the southern tip of Argentina. He began what he thought would be the world’s longest hike March 31, 1970, when he was 48 years old. Andy admitted the reason for his journey was mainly because “it’s the challenge.” But, he also considered his hike as a protest against air pollution from automobile exhausts. “That’s why I can’t accept any rides, no matter what the weather. You can’t protest against cars then hop into one, can you?”
Andy made his destination at Ushaia, Tierra del Fuego, on December 23, 1971. Along the way, he went through twelve pairs of boots. The latter ones were self-made ones of kangaroo hide with rocker shaped soles which he first developed in Arizona. He encountered “the worst coffee in the world in Colombia” and fought off a bat and thieves in the Chilean desert. When a reporter asked his brother-in-law how Andy would get back home after completing his great adventure, he replied, “No one knows.”
How synchronistic for me to meet a Real Walker like Andy Horujko. Thirty years after Andy’s incredible journey we crossed paths aboard the SS Badger. We shared the boat and dinner at a local pub, conversation and correspondence regarding our similar paths and adventures. Andy died in 2008 at the age of 87. It seems he had quite a life. Maybe a book should be written about him and his adventure.
I actually made some efforts in Andy's behalf to get some recognition for his accomplishment by contacting the Guinness Book of World Records. In December 2012, I filed an application to see if Andy might qualify for a Record for “The Longest Walk in the Shortest Time.”
Well, Andy completed a very long walk in 20 months: 600 miles in each of those months. Guinness apparently decided on distance over time when they made their record. They eventually reported to me: "Unfortunately, we do already have a record for this category and what you have achieved does not better this. The current world record is: George Meegan (UK) walked 30,431 km (19,019 miles) in a journey that took him from the southernmost point of South America, at Ushuaia, Argentina, to the northernmost point of North America, at Prudhoe Bay in Alaska, USA, taking 2,426 days from 26 January 1977 to 18 September 1983."
I declined to argue with them. But, decided to cherish my memory of Andy and our moments together. I did find a photo posted on the internet from an article done in the midst of his journey in San Diego. More than that, I was able to purchase a copy of the newspaper from that date. So, Andy persists in mind and in my memorabilia.
That first day across the Lake and into Michigan was cheering. I crossed an ocean – of sorts. Met an amazing fellow human. And got treated to a meal and some deep conversation as well. Andy and I parted ways at the front door of the pub. I think he was staying overnight in town. He had forty miles to walk to his home. But, it was a beautiful evening and I immediately walked east on the main road through town. I stopped past the county airport on the far side of Walmart. There was a stretch of green grass and trees. It was late and I laid myself down for a brief rest. I couldn’t help reflecting that Walmart has appeared almost everywhere. Becoming a home away from home even for me for a few moments.
Traffic came almost to a standstill. I ventured back onto Highway 10 and pressed on. I had the whole highway to myself and gloried in the Wonder of It All. Free, healthy, over 21 and unencumbered on a do-it-yourself journey. I pondered that past midway on the journey I had experienced only a few bumps and blisters to show me worse for the wear. My aging body was holding up fairly well for a “town boy.” I dropped several pounds along the way without trying. My experience seemed to show walking can be a surefire way to lose weight.
I had passed through the “baseball bat to my leg” episode with some assistance. Those feet of mine which had been frostbitten 30-some years before carried me along the road creditably. Even my ankles, which had been prone to sprains on uncounted occasions, hadn’t twisted to the slightest degree over the first thousand miles – and wouldn’t for the rest of the way. Nor, even with pack and flag (and dog for a time), had I tripped or fallen on my march. I came close a few times. Was I just darned lucky or was I being watched over? Or both?
The next two days, I passed through Manistee National Forest with stops in small outposts along the way. The Forest gave ample opportunities to find accessible camping spots and the trees made it easy to pitch the bivy not far from the highway. I also ran into rain in Michigan. But, I was prepared. Or thought I was. My sister-in-law had the solution. “This will take care of you when you run into wet weather.” Well, I tried the black rain suit when the weather changed. Alas, I confronted the same sort of problem I had with the bivy or even worse. There was absolutely no air exchange inside that plastic rain suit. Marching down the road as I needed to do, I produced a sweat which was worse than some of the rains which came down. At first opportunity, I unloaded the “protective apparel.”
On one of those rainy days, I got upset with the whole situation. I was picking my way through miles of dirt work on the highway. It was muddy and wet. The rain suit didn’t work and there wasn’t a hint of shelter anywhere. I put my thumb out for the second time on trip. A couple vehicles passed by. But, deliverance appeared before long. “Hie thee to the cemetery.” A large one came into view in the midst of trees and mud and weather. The tombstones wouldn’t keep me dry. But, there was a shed with an overhang under which I collected myself until the weather passed. Little do sextons know the value of their grounds to people other than their permanent tenants.
Eventually, the rain lifted and the sun came out brightly. And I found myself in apple orchard country. A bonanza! Fruit and cold cider. What more could a fella like me want when walking miles across the country! I couldn’t help but notice an obviously busy and long-standing establishment which sold the fruits of a nearby orchard on the side of the road. I marveled at great fruit and other delights. I bought a couple treats for later and walked out of the premises with a half gallon of fresh-squeezed apple juice.
An incredible nectar for the road. I drank and drank and drank even as I walked. If a man can read and walk, he surely can drink and walk at the same time. It was fresh and cool and delicious. Before I knew it the plastic container was close to empty. And it wasn’t but a mile or two farther that that fresh squeezed gift of the earth took over my innards. Fortunately, there was a gravel dump close by and I found a spot hidden from the road to let the cathartic juice push the intestinal contents through. I made a couple more stops before the day was over and eventually found a motel to rest my body and bowels that night.
I passed through Alma and Ithaca, in the once booming industrial section of Michigan. Defunct industrial plants appeared here and there. That state of things showed its face in other spots in Michigan and even more so the closer I got to Detroit. It was a common topic of conversation and undoubtedly still is.
I remember setting up the bivy at a park outside of Ithaca, collecting myself and talking to people passing by. I found a bar and pantry combined on the edge of the village. I went in to survey the fare available. The bar served pizza of which I had grown tired. I surveyed the shelves of the shop. Despite the effects of the previous day’s beverage I walked out and back to the park with a gallon of milk and a small pack of fig bars.I spent a comfortable, breezy night in the bivy. As I parted the village in the morning, I finished the gallon and tossed it into a receptacle outside the bar. Fannie and I continued on.
Michigan was another a microcosm of the whole journey. The first miles were spent walking many lone miles, the latter ones brought me into the presence of men and women and children coming and going in their own lives. In the middle of nowhere, a mother and daughter spied me on the road. Kathleen, the daughter, pulled over and asked me quickly what I was doing, then she pushed a 20-dollar bill into my hand and wished me well. They drove off and I plodded on.
Minutes later, they reappeared a few blocks up the road at a suitable stopping point. Kathleen and Helen were standing outside their vehicle waiting for a visit. We compared notes and traded questions. Then, we took photos and bid each other goodbyes.
After midday, I passed through the town of Chesaning and made it to a little spot called Layton Corners by supper time. Even though I had been on the road for over three months, I still hadn’t settled on an optimal dietary regime. Often, I just had to take what was available. The choices were few at the Corners. I looked at the menu and the salad bar. Neither drew my interest, but I split for salad.
I got through some of it, leaving more on my plate than I should have. As I was getting up from my table another fellow nearby did the same. He seemed eager to talk. Within moments, the somewhat older man said, “Where you from and what are you up to?”
“Well, I’m from Montana and I’m about walking from here to New York City.”
“You don’t say. Now, where would you be from in Montana?”
“I’m from a little town north of Billings. Not likely you ever heard it. The place is called Lavina.”
“No, you’re not. You can’t be.”
“What do you mean? That’s where I’m from. Lavina, Montana.”
I had to repeat my home of record to Mr. Ken Hafner two more times before he accepted my statement. Then, he got excited and said,
“You don’t say. I’ll be darned. My best friend lives in Lavina.”
“You don’t say. What’s his name?”
“You don’t say. It wasn’t too long ago back down the road I was on the phone with Bill and Betty.”
Before long, Ken introduced me to his wife, Barbie. (The couple are Ken and Barbie – like the dolls.) Ken told me that Bill had been his USPS mail carrier in Chesaning for years back in the 70s before Bill relocated to Montana. The Hafners had visited Montana in the past and stayed with Bill and Betty on a number of occasions. Small world, eh?
We smilingly parted ways, “Tell Bill and Betty hello for me when you talk to them.” They went back to Chesaning and I continued east. Before the evening was over, a friend of the Hafners spotted me on the road and invited me to ride down the road. He dropped me off on the east side of Interstate 75 and I found a sleepy motel managed by a huge Pakistani fellow named Oz.
I made it to Davison, MI, the following day. After a meal of Italian pasta, I found the Maple Leaf Motel on the far edge of town. Joe and Josephine Nazarkos, the owners, are people who treat their customers like friends. I stayed two nights and got to meet more foreign-born folks like Josephine herself who was born in Poland. Joe is Polish-American and he brought Josephine to Michigan to be his wife many years gone by. Josephine invited me to their living quarters for snacks and drinks and conversation. Joe kept busy while the rest of us visited and shared. Natalie, a woman from the Ukraine, appeared. Paula and Jeff, old friends who used to live at the motel for a long period dropped in. The latter couple spotted me on the road a couple days later and stopped for a short visit. When I left the Maple Leaf, one of the other customers walked with me for a mile or so carrying and waving Fannie the Flag. Josephine stuffed my pack with sandwiches and other goodies for the road. She and I traded Christmas letters for some years.
Prayers for the RoadIt was almost October and nearing Ontario, I phoned Lavina to check in with Leslie Burroughs. LB reported that the Hafners had contacted the Diamonds about our meeting at Layton Corners. They obviously had to pass on the news. I filled her in from my end on other happenings in Michigan. Then, Leslie let me know that Janie Brown and she would be praying even harder for me in the days ahead. “Hunting season is coming on. You be especially careful.”
Well, prayers are always welcome. And those of Janie and Leslie may have been particularly valuable on the road. I knew I had theirs and others with me as I covered the many miles. Besides the prayers of Leslie and Janie and others, I carried the aura of my retreat at Assumption Abbey. I had the OSB pin that Father Robert blessed for me. Fannie the Flag itself was surely a beneficent talisman for the road.
The day out from Davison, I was gifted with another wonderful moment on the road. I was just tracking along when a 30-ish woman stepped from her front porch and yelled at me. Jodi Sargent introduced herself after I turned onto her property. The nervous but beaming young mother asked, “May I pray for you and your journey?”
“I’d be happy and pleased if you did.” And she did. Jodi and I stood there for some time holding hands as she made a long and spirited entreaty for my protection on the trip. I was thankful for the additional aura of goodness that I could carry down the road.
Thereafter, Jodi invited me into her house for a morning snack and told me how she had not been able to do her regular job that day because her son was ill. While she was caring for him, she realized that she had stayed home for another purpose. “The Lord wanted me to be here when you passed by.” Jodi and I sat on her porch for quite a time and covered a lot of territory, mostly regarding her involvement in a new mission church in the area. She was struggling to determine how involved she should be there. All I could do was to encourage her to follow her own inner leading. Then, I got back to road after taking a photo of Jodi smiling broadly and waving the flag. A blessing for the day for both of us, it seemed.
As daylight was beginning to pale and I was stepping my way to Imlay city, I met another kind Michigander named Abigail Chou. I decided she owned the best smile of the whole trip and got that in a digital photo to prove it. Abea seemed to fit again into that category of recent foreign ancestry. She wanted to know my story and help me down the road, feed me, or the like. I wanted to know hers and got that Abea was going through some growing pains, trying to understand her life better, and make some decisions about her future. Abigail eventually stopped to put in a call to her husband to see about bringing me home for dinner. He thought otherwise. Still, we had grand conversation in just a few minutes as she drove me to Motel 53 where I met the Gandhi family. I remember thinking, “I always wanted to meet Gandhi. This may be the closest I get.”
The Gandhis are from the state of Gujarat, India, just as the Mahatma was. Depesh commuted into Detroit to his day job in the automobile industry. Ila kept tabs on the motel and their two children when he was away. In the morning, they shared some of their spiced chai tea (a favorite with me) and were happy to get in on a photo with Fannie the Flag before headed for work.
I continued on a roll of meeting people from far away places with unique stories. En route to Capac that morning, I met Jim Sanchez and his wife who owned their small spot next to highway. Jim invited me to sit on his deck and have tea with him. He was from Mexico but had lived most of his life in the north land and had recently retired from an assembly line in the Motor City.
Passing through Capac around noon I met more members of America’s Melting Pot. I stopped for pastries at a shop run by JoAnne and Tanya, emigres from Macedonia. They were very busy, happy to be living in the USA and pleased to have their picture taken.
I had an even more unusual encounter before my day was over when a young woman stopped her car in front of me. She got out and said, “My boss would like to meet you. He has a business just up the road. You can see it from here. Will you come in to visit?”
What did I have to lose? I soon turned off Highway 21 and walked onto the property of Miller Broach, Inc. I wondered what a “broach” was and learned a few things before I left the premises. I quickly found the office and met Jeff Miller, the young owner. Jeff gave me a quick tour of his 29,000 square-foot operation. At the same time, he tried to explain broaching to me. I got the general idea that broaching is a precision-machining process used to make one-of-a-kind parts. A machinist or tool maker or automotive man like Jim Sanchez would have figured it out quickly. I saw lots of young blue collar types working with imposing machines in a huge metal building.
After the tour, Mr. Miller got to the real business at hand: Why I was invited to make a visit at Miller Broach. Jeff showed me his Wall of Fame. He was just beginning to collect photos of himself and famous or not-so-famous people. He only had a few. The one of which he seemed most proud was a shot of him with a man supposed to look like Jimmy Carter. I saw little resemblance. But, Jeff was happy. And I would be next to appear in his photo gallery. I was glad to oblige by getting my picture taken shaking his hand. In return, Jeff let me “shoot” him and his assistant with Fannie the Flag in front of his facility. He also said he would give the Detroit Free Press a call and suggest they visit with “the fellow walking the country with an unusual flag.” I don’t know what came of the idea.
By sundown, I found a quiet, lonesome, empty park between Capac and Emmett. The spot was a bit spooky and overgrown with greenery. The farther east I went it seemed the surer I was to find more trees – and more traffic. And more reasons to miss quiet, spacious, wide open Montana.
Oh CanadaThe morning brought me to Port Huron, Michigan. I made ready to cross through our northern neighbor, Canada. That plan was far from my original and the only ID I had was my Montana driver’s license and two credit cards. The Customs Agent was a bit brusque about the whole thing, but it wasn’t all that long before I got my ID back and was told that I could enter. I also got a free ride across the Blue Water Toll Bridge. I was chauffeured by a government employee in a Canadian government vehicle. I had to suppose they gave me the lift for liability purposes, not wanting me to be run over by a terrorist while going over the Canadian-American bridge.
On the other side of the St. Clair River stood the city of Sarnia. It was an immaculate place and had the feeling of summer resort city on the ocean. Sarnia also had a sense of Britain and the Old World. However, I stayed just long enough to look around a bit, get a snack, and continue east on Canadian 402.
I soon discovered a number of other interesting things about our Canadian neighbor. First, I felt overall that the pace in Canada was slowed down even though I had hardly been passing through the busiest parts of America. Second, Canadians have accents just like Americans. Third, they have more colorful money that we do. And, they are comfortable using dollar coins for transactions: Loonies and Toonies. The Loonie is a gold-colored one-dollar coin which appeared in 1987 and has a common loon on one side and Queen Elizabeth on the other. The Toonie is their bi-metallic two-dollar coin which came out in 1996. It has a polar bear on one side and the Queen again on the other. Thanks to the favorable exchange rate, I saved a bit during my days passing through Canada. I got about three dollars in value for every two I spent in transit.
After a night in an inexpensive motel, I made a late breakfast in Strathroy. Eggs and toast at a little corner cafe. Before I left, I spied the pastry department and came up with a chocolate kruller. A kruller is a round fried doughnut which looks a cogwheel. Well, I had never tried a kruller before and was delighted with my choice. When I made Mount Brydges late in the afternoon, I saw the For You Donuts shop, “Well, I can’t pass this up. They may have some krullers.” No krullers, but they had something better. People. My kind of people.
Elisabeth Ottestad, the owner-manager, was sitting in the store in the midst of friends and bantering with customers when I appeared. She was also mulling a “Peace March” to Ottawa which had been on her mind for some time. It wasn’t long before she had my ear and I hers. We talked and talked about a whole lot of things, but most especially walking and marching.
Elisabeth bemoaned the fact that the march was definitely on hold because she and her Lebanese husband and young daughter might have to return to her native Norway due to work permit problems. Within months, that is quite what happened.
Elisabeth, or one of her customers, put me onto the idea of staying at the local Tall Trees Bed and Breakfast. With the advantageous exchange rate, it turned out to be a a particularly good idea. Tall Trees was located just around the corner and purveyed by Tony Bruinick, a retired businessman. Tony told me he had owned a name brand Canadian-American cookie company, but eventually let it pass into younger hands. He kept his entrepreneurial spirit with the B & B. I remember his pleasant home and tasty breakfast.
Donuts were on hold as I went down the road and ran into fruit vendors and more foreign-born Americans. Aren’t Canadians also American? Not far from Mount Brydges I stopped at a roadside produce stand and met Naim. Interestingly, he was Lebanese just like Elisabeth’s husband. Like Elisabeth, there was something extraordinary about Naim – and not just his nationality.
Naim left Lebanon for the Persian Gulf where he eventually owned businesses and prospered in the Persian Gulf. But the West called him away from Middle East home territory for the safety and welfare of his children. He purchased a produce farm and moved to Ontario. My visit Naim was short and sweet in more ways than one. After a photo with him taken by his beautiful daughter, I parted with fresh fruit for the road. Even better than chocolate krullers.
Bypassing London, I ran into Ford Motor Company’s St. Thomas Assembly near Talbotville. It was late afternoon and the passage was long. The plant, which included a 2.6 million square-foot facility on 625 acres, went on and on and on. Ford built Lincoln Town Cars at the time. Curiously, the St. Thomas plant closed in 2011.
I found an old downtown hotel in St. Thomas to rest for the night. It was a change from other accommodations. The hotel had seen its better days, but made for an inexpensive resting spot. It was still a “hotel,” but hardly fits the name in common image in the present day.
In the morning, I spied a Mister Natural Health Food Store and had to step in. I was greeted with the warmth and friendliness of a real “Mister Natural,” Alan Doan. Alan was semi-retired but fully active at the store owned by Aggie Reimer. He introduced me to Aggie and tried to impress a handful of remedies and health info on me. By then I could comfortably tell him, “I try to limit extras in my backpack. More stuff is just more weight to carry.” Which was quite true.
Alan did help me out in other ways. He directed me to a breakfast spot while he was tending to business. Before long, he also took me out to his farm for a visit with his wife, and eventually drove me to the other Mister Natural in Aylmer, the next town east. Alan is not only Mister Natural but also “Mr. Ontario.”
From Aylmer, I passed through Norfolk County and had a bit of a surprise. I saw long buildings with green stuff laying on tables which seemed to stretch until forever. They turned out to drying sheds for tobacco as I was then in the Ontario tobacco belt. I never would have imagined such a thing. But being close to the north shore of Lake Erie, the region has a very moderate climate, long growing season, and silt-loam soils suited for tobacco and many other crops. I also learned that farmers are diversifying into lavender, ginseng, hazelnuts and wolfberries as the consumption of tobacco is steadily decreasing.
As I skirted Lake Erie and Tobacco Land, I camped along the way in one spot or another. One curious landing place during midweek was at a cemetery adjoining a Catholic church in the countryside. I found a spot under an outcropping of bushes and enjoyed the serenity which is generally left only to the deceased.
When I reached Dunnville, I was lucky to discover another B & B. I stayed two nights on the third floor of Brenda Hyde’s home. She called it the Hydeaway. Brenda was another Chamber-of-Commerce type, a natural at promoting business. Beside running the Hydeaway, she was raising three children and working at the local credit union. Brenda was also involved in local theater and was Dunnville business.
During my stay at the Hydeaway, Brenda suggested that I visit Reader’s Cafe in downtown Dunnville. I took the bait and invited her for lunch. Reader’s was a wonderful old hardware store which her friend Cher and husband had converted into a bookstore, eatery and occasional musical parlor. The food was good but I didn’t stay long enough to hear any music.
I also told Brenda that I would like to have someone work on my feet. I was thinking of another reflexologist since my leg revived so impressively after Sharon’s treatment in Kaukauna. There was no reflexologist available, but a friendly Canuck foot specialist came to the B & B to attend to my tired feet.
At the end of the treatment, Alice Goit took out her Dremel. A Dremel is a small drill with all sorts of useful attachments. Wow! I thought I was in for it, then. And I was. Alice buzzed down the nails on my two pinky toes. She said, “You probably got fungus under there.”
Well, I didn’t buy that. But, those toenails hadn’t grown right for years. They were somewhat like the thick and crusty nails my folks had on all their toes. My father had a huge cutter he used to attack his nails from time to time. Mother’s weren’t much better. The nails on my own two toe pinkies just didn’t grow like the rest. They were a bit stunted and subject to splitting. After Alice's care, the nails grew back in like the rest. What a deal! Another reason to go for a walk and to visit Canada.
Brenda Hyde pointed me to another B & B in Lowbanks and I wandered along the roads which intermittently adjoined the Great Lake. Another Big Lake. But, I didn’t need to worry. No ferries, just a quiet shore line that seemed to stretch forever. It was cool enough by that time of the year that I didn’t need to dip my toes in the water for general relief. But, I did it just the same.
I felt much safer walking beside Lake Erie than boating across Lake Michigan for obvious reasons. I didn’t make the Erie Canal as it passes through New York state alone and north of my walking route. But, I did cross the Welland Canal which is part of the St. Lawrence Seaway and enables ships to bypass the Niagara Falls. Ship traffic was quiet the day of my passage over through Port Colborne and over the Welland Canal.
The last miles of my Canadian excursion took me from Lake Erie to Fort Erie, a city of 30,000 on the west side of the Niagara River. Fort Erie wasn’t distant for an automobile driver from Niagara Falls, but too far for this walker. I could see New York and the USA again in the distance and was soon to be in the state of my final destination. My route was not totally planned, but I did intend to reach the Liberty Island through New Jersey.
When I could see the Peace Bridge and Buffalo in the distance, I felt like I was close enough to the USA to unfurl Fannie (she had been furled since leaving Michigan) and let her wave again. So, I did just that. Then out of nowhere, John Robbins of the Niagara Falls Review spotted me and asked for an interview. I told him the updated version of my story. And John told me his own which was more than that of a newspaperman. He was a student, chronicler, and re-enactor of the Fenian Revolt of which I was totally ignorant. He filled me in as we ironically walked onward toward the Peace Bridge.
The Fenians were widespread supporters of the establishment of an Irish republic separate from Great Britain. An American wing of the group was formed on the North American continent in 1858. Their numbers swelled after the War Between the States and war vets eventually made attacks across the northern border with Canada between 1866 and 1870. The Fenians hoped their raids would threaten to hold the Canadian colonies hostage and push Britain towards granting Ireland its independence. Though few skirmishes were more than nuisances, the Battle of Ridgeway in 1866 stirred the debate after which Canada became a nation in 1867 and the Fenians faded into history.
To this day, the American version of the Fenian story is little told and less known. Still, I see from the internet that Mr. Robbins continues to work at recounting Fenian tales on the Web. I suspect John wrote up my own modest venture and submitted it to his paper, but I don’t know if it ever got published. I took John’s photo with Fannie. Then, we parted ways.
Passing back into the USA was quite different than my departure was a few days earlier. I walked through a gate and showed my driver license. I was sent on with hardly a word. And I even got to walk over the Peace Bridge (a photo op) crossing the Niagara River on my own two feet. I had almost arrived. New York is home to the Statue of Liberty. Well, New York and New Jersey share that honor.
Uncle Norm and Aunt IrisMy first steps back into America, brought me immediate reminders of New York as a true microcosm of the whole country. Home to so many races and religions, colors and creeds, ideals and aspirations. And a place that seemed to be as welcoming and generous as any on the trip. I also remember feeling like I had found another San Francisco. The City by the Bay, but in this case by the Niagara River planted at the west end of a great land.
I walked along an old residential street lined with two-story porched houses on my way to downtown Buffalo expecting to encounter nothing and no one out of the ordinary. I had another surprise. I met four young Puerto Rican men who wanted to know, “Say, what you doin’ man?”
“Well, I’m walking from Montana to see the Lady Liberty.”
“Na, man. You got to be kidding.”
“I wouldn’t kid you. Check out my driver’s license.” Licenses come in handy.
I was happy to tell them more, banter a bit and invite them to visit Montana some day. I didn’t get much of their stories. But we know, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” So, I did get one of those. A group photo of John, Jose, Carlos and Jose. It is one of a few favorites from the whole trip – I suppose because it is a group shot, the young men are so alive and “in” the photograph, and they hint at the wonderful possibilities that living in this Great Land can provide.
I was only in Buffalo for a night, but liked what I felt and saw. A big, clean, and imposing downtown of a western metropolis. I stayed at the Buffalo Hostel. For the uninitiated, hostels are common in Europe but few and spread wide apart in the USA. They cater mostly to young people bussing and biking, hiking and exploring. Hostels are basically dormitory living. Beds spread in varying sized rooms with adjoining day rooms and bath facilities.
It seemed most of the people passing through at the time were from overseas: Europe and Asia. I took up conversation with a Czech and a Scot. But, I visited mostly with a Japanese named Yuki. Yuki had come to the USA for college in Seattle. His plans didn’t work out and he took to the road on a tour of the whole country before heading back to his home land.
In the morning, I picked up my pack and continued east. I put in a couple days of good hiking and camping under the stars. The second day out was another people day. I ran into a work crew from the Niagara Mohawk Power Company and they were smiling, pleased and excited to hear about my journey and throw in a few words about their own. Chris and Tom and Paul seemed like three brothers who thought work was meant to bring them together.
They kept me occupied watching them for a time on their project. Then, they all dug into their lunchboxes and stuffed my pack and pockets with snacks, water and Gatorade. Tom and Paul headed back to their base. Chris, a professional accordionist who preferred a stable home life, drove me a few miles down the road to the next cafe. We had a friendly hug and goodbye. I thought I might want to invite him to perform at the Rocky Mountain Garage, some day.
Before the day was out, I was stopped by a couple of fellows who also wanted to assist me on my journey. Ron and Dug. That’s right. That’s how the latter spells his name. Dug worked for a limousine company and was driving a pickup with S&S Limos decals painted all over. Dug was keen to take care of me and find me a place for the night. It turned out to be an expensive Days Inn. I could have stayed three nights back in Montana, North Dakota or Minnesota for the price of a one-night stay in Geneseo, New York.
As during my passage through other states, I learned that New York had a few differences from most of its western neighbors. I remember walking and walking until I saw a sign which read, Entering the Town of _____. I immediately thought, “Wow. I’m making good time. There must be a stopping point over the horizon.” I was proved wrong several times. I finally learned that “Towns” in New Yorkese can cover many miles. They are more like what we call out Townships out west, except that they often have similar administrative staff as counties and cities and plain old towns.
I also remember addressing a few drivers at intersections or passing by as to how far the next Town was. “Oh, it’s just 20 minutes away.” They didn’t speak in miles. Well, that didn’t help me a whole lot. If they drove fast, they could make a distant point in that time. It might take me all day. Fortunately the farther east I trekked, the closer together I found the populated areas.
I was hiking down old Highway 15 which interlaced with the nearby Interstate, one partly cloudy day. I marched and stopped. Marched and stopped down a road then traveled only by locals and tourists off the beaten path. Out of nowhere as on other occasions, I was shocked by what came before my eyes.
Ninety-nine plus percent of the time, a walker like me can pretty much guess what will come over the rise or speeding out of the distance. Or bound across the highway. There were no waterways nearby and air traffic was at 30,000 feet. Yet sometimes, the skies make room for more than birds and planes. “Wow! What is that?” Suddenly, there was a bright yellow “flying thing” moving in the heavens on the north side of the road and drifting towards the horizon. I wanted to get my camera out of my backpack. But, I knew that the vision would be gone before I could go through all the motions and I would have got not much more than a speck in the distance with any photo. So, I just watched the UFO which may have been miles away and aloft only a few seconds.
I just couldn’t make out what I had seen. I continued to wonder about my sighting until I came over one of those rises and ran into the answer. There I met Dr. Tony Bachler who had just glided into the backyard of Marcia Shaver, RN. I joined the pair and learned a bit about hang gliding for which the area is a Mecca. I talked with the beaming young sports enthusiast who was on weekdays a medical resident in anesthesiology in Toronto. Our hostess, Marcia Shaver, was recently retired from nursing. The three of us had a short, spontaneous medical convention on the side of a New York country road. I took photos. Still shots.
Not far down the highway, I stopped for a few minutes in Savona. It was little more than a turnoff on the road, but had several hundred residents and a few businesses including a convenience shop. So, I filled up on a treat and a beverage. Then, I returned marching. I was heading to the highway when an older fellow and his grandson in a pickup came up from behind me and started to visit. Norm Taft asked me, “Where are you headed?” as he offered me a juicy apple. Which I thankfully accepted. That question eventually led to an invitation to stay for the night at Norm’s house which was just a few blocks back. I hopped in the bed of his truck for the short haul.
First off my older brother is named Norm. Secondly, Norm and Iris, his wife of sixty years, reminded me a whole lot of my Uncle Neal and Aunt Rose. I could have been passing through St. Louis Park, MN, rather than Savona, NY. The two couples were of the same vintage. Uncle Norm combed his hair back a lot like Uncle Neal. Aunt Iris was as gentle and motherly and flowery as I remember Aunt Rose.
When we entered Norm's house and I met Iris, I felt like I was transported back 40 years ago to my relatives’ house in the Midwest. Iris immediately invited me to sit and take off my boots. Then, she ordered her grandson to fetch me a basin with hot water to ease my weary feet. Norm offered me to join him for dinner, but I had just bolted down half of a loaf of banana bread. So, I declined with thanks. But, I did join him in watching a National League Playoff game while Iris watched her own shows on another TV in the living room. We rooted for Barry Bonds and the San Francisco Giants who won the game and the playoff but went on to lose to Anaheim in the World Series.
I slept on the couch at the Tafts that night. The next morning, Norm cooked breakfast for me. Some of his grown children also dropped in for pancakes. Before I left, Norm even called the newspaper in Corning suggesting a story be done about me. Spending those few hours at the Taft home was one of the sweetest of the whole expedition.
I was back on the road after breakfast and thank-yous to Norm and his family. I only made a few miles when I was stopped by a good-looking, bearded young man in tie, sunglasses, and late model Volvo. Norm Taft’s phone call produced results as John Michael Goff introduced himself being from The Corning Leader, newspaper for the next city up the road. We interviewed a bit on the side of the highway and also as he drove me into his hometown. His brief article “Long Walk in Southern Tier” with photo quoted me saying, “My philosophy is why drive when you can walk. It has be a long journey so far, but I have met some great people along the way.”
I could tell that Mr. Goff was a man of several interests, especially Green ones. His family owned the paper at the time of my passage through Corning. John dropped me off in the downtown of the city of 11,000 and then I took his picture with Fannie in front of his car. I wandered just a bit of the area in the midst of spending some time in the Corning Museum of Glass which houses a grand collection of glass objects from ancient times to the present. The city itself is headquarters for Corning Glass Works, a manufacturer of glass and ceramic products for industrial, scientific and technical uses.
I continued on until the end of the day which found me trudging up what seemed to be a steep hill. I hadn’t done many on the trip. Generally, I was moving downhill from Rocky Mountain elevations in the west, crossing rolling prairie, or just covering mostly flat grass land. But once into New York state, I was brought into the presence of hills and dales here and there. The summit of the road near Waverly was at O’Brien’s Inn. I checked in at the establishment which was pricey for my budget, but I let my credit card do the talking.
O’Brien’s is said to be one of the most scenic dining rooms in the country. I didn’t do the dining room, but just dabbled in some bar room fixings. Still, O’Brien’s was one of several extraordinary spots along the road. I can say that I stayed at O’Brien’s Inn from which magnificent and award-winning photos have been taken. The Great Gleason, Jackie that is, reportedly said it had “One of the most amazing views, anytime of year.”
The bar at O’Brien’s was the last in which I set foot on my long walk. I came to the conclusion by Michigan that I had frequented more taverns on the trek than I had during the rest of my fifty-some years on the planet. That may give the reader hints about my drinking career. Prior to my trip, I had determined that a bar was a place to pass through quickly, certainly not one in which to take up residence. But, I was not really prejudiced against the establishments. It was just that, like many other places and activities in life, I got along pretty well without them.
Hiking across country changed circumstances. Particularly in the early parts of my excursion, it was common for me to arrive in a small town as it was getting dark. If any business was open, it was a bar. Sometimes, a bar and cafe combined. Several towns had no cafe at all. From a positive view point, small town taverns provided me with a place to cool my tired feet and body. And to get something warm to eat. While the latter was not always particularly tasty to my palate, it was usually edible and put something into my stomach.
Moses and AaronChecking out of O’Brien’s in the morning, there was much more beautiful, green country ahead. More ups and downs along the winding country highway. I was not far along during the morning when a reporter from The Evening Times of Sayre, Pennsylvania, appeared entreating me to interview. He didn’t have to entreat too very much to get me to stop and talk for a while.
New York State Bicycle Route 17 (New York has a score of such routes) intermittently touched the Highway 17 and Interstate 88 which formed the border between New York and Pennsylvania for quite a few miles. O’Briens was in Waverly, NY, and a few hundred yards to the south was Pennsylvania and the town of Sayre whence Lon Glover appeared to get info for an article called “Montana Doctor Stops Off in Barton as Part of Cross-Country Walk for National Unity.” Barton was in New York, but I hardly noticed as I pressed onward.
I found over the course of my several interviews that about half of what was written into articles closely reflected what I was trying to say. Most of the quotations were approximate, but many of the details were less than accurate. Still, the writers did creditable jobs considering I was a moving target. They got the general idea, put articles in their papers, and promoted the “message.”
I passed in and out of Villages and Towns and Townships, making usual stops for rest and refreshment, phone calls and library breaks. Just after lunchtime near Owego, I encountered Joe Ferlazzo who was outside grilling steaks and ribs, chops and chicken (kind of like George in Fried Green Tomatoes) on the same property as his regular establishment, Frozen Joe’s. I had been nibbling at the time when Joe invited me to indulge in one of his grilled delights. I declined, but I thanked him heartily. I also took his picture which turned out to be another one of my very favorites on the trip to Liberty.
Before the day was out, I was just a few miles short of Endicott, NY. I was marching steadily on when Moses and Aaron appeared and motioned me toward their property. They immediately offered me the beverage of my choice. Dr. Pepper suited me. Then, they invited me to join them to sit around the evening’s intended bonfire. I couldn't resist. I felt like I was nearing the Promised Land.
I helped Ben Moses and Aaron Ferguson cut up an already felled tree and transport it to the old bathtub which was used as a fire pit. Before long a fire was roaring and other friends were gathering. They didn't stay long, though. After Aaron left for his abode and it was just Moses and I left, Ben proceeded to make buffalo wings and tater tots for our dinner. “Quite tasty," said the weary walker.
The whole episode made me feel like I was back in the Bundy outside of Lavina. The moment recharged me and at the same time gave me opportunity to think about back home and how I came to reside in rural Montana. Moses was obviously a unique specimen. As Timmy Rogers would say, “He’s a real character.” Fortunately, the world has plenty – on the road, back in Montana, and most everywhere.
Moses was not quite of the artistic bent like Mr. Rogers, but he was clearly free-spirited. He owned a trailer and small property on the edge of Endicott and did what he could to enjoy life and pay his bills. He admitted to me that night as we sat around his fire, he with a beer and I with a soda, that he had dealt with the law on a number of occasions and on a variety of issues.
Ben liked marijuana, probably more than beer. But, the law had interrupted his relationship with Mary Jane. So, he came up with an even better proposition. Nitrous oxide. Most everyone knows of nitrous oxide as laughing gas which is used during dental procedures. The same N20 can be used – or abused – for recreational purposes to produce mind-altering effects not unlike those in the dental office.
Ben found a legal supplier and became a businessman at rock concerts and other venues. He sold balloons full of N2O to customers who wanted to get a cheap high. He made a handsome income for a time and undoubtedly took the opportunity to imbibe his own product. But eventually, he met problems with supply and resistance from law enforcement. When I met him, Ben had been out of the BIZ for a time. Although he wished to get back into it or something comparable.
I listened to Mosaic stories until late. It was almost like being back in the Bundy. Ben didn’t persist in storytelling too late. Because sleep was necessary for both of us. The couch was a welcome resting spot until 4 am when Moses arose to get ready for his new very legitimate work. He drove us to Binghamton and dropped me off in front of the Greyhound Bus terminal. Moses continued on his way to an assembly line job where he made Shop-Vacs.
B&BBinghamton was another pre-planned rest stop. I had met Billy and Barb Walsh many months back on a trip to New York City. Bill and Barb were best friends of Bridget O’Flynn and appeared from time to time at BiBi’s house. They played music and reminisced about old times out on Long Island when the two women worked at a cafe. Guitars came out. Bluegrass and folk music were on tap. Food and jokes interspersed with other entertainment.
I had only met the Walshes once. But when they heard I was hiking through, I got word that I was invited to visit. “Just let us know when you get close to Binghamton.” I arrived a bit ahead of schedule and put in a call. Barb was happy to drive over to pick me up and do a few city errands along the way. Her drive also saved me two days walking. I made up for some of the exercise with labor on their land.
After some Binghamton shopping and gave me a quick tour of the Hancock, the closest town to the Walshes, we headed to the country and their off-grid rustic retreat north of the town. I soon got “the lay of the land” as well as more of the Walshes’ story. Bill and Barb had owned their property on a tributary of the Delaware River for a long time. But, it had taken them years to slowly put buildings on it and make it suitable for year-round residence. They also had to build up a nest egg to make up for the regular income they earned working on Long Island.
That had meant overtime at the fine woodwork that they did for rich folks at the east end of Long Island. They had real artistry and integrity. As well as uniquity. They built extraordinarily beautiful cabinets and counters, walk-in closets and whole rooms, any major project involving wood for the home which called for a fine touch. While they did exquisite and painstaking work, I got the distinct impression that the Walshes gave their well-heeled customers bargain prices. Else they might have removed themselves to the Southern Tier years sooner.
Since their removal to the hinterland, Bill and Barb gradually gave up big projects on the Island and were moving into smaller handmade items like storage cabinets, cutting boards, treasure boxes, and ornamental pieces. They call their business Oakworks Studio.
Bill and Barb had been living almost full-time for just a couple years on the property and were making major progress. But there was lots and lots to do. Their land was split by a tributary of the nearby river. Their workshop was in an old trailer on one side connected to electricity and close to the water. The main compound was up a hill, the road for which was shared by other landowners and occasionally a bone of contention.
The homestead boasted a number of buildings, all of which were modest sized. None of them had access to electricity from the grid. The Walsh home was small and cozy. It had a tiny kitchen and a tinier “bathroom” which was just an enclosed area with a composting toilet. (Bill was keen on a book called Humanure and he loaned me his copy to read on the way back to Montana.) The property also had an outhouse in the direction of the trees which guarded the nearby rivulet. The house had room enough for a dining area and parlor in the little abode. The bedroom was a loft above the dining room. I got to stay in an even smaller spot which had the main function as a shower house. It also held a bed and a woodstove and storage items. It was quite comfortable for the Walker.
Everything on the property was set up for sustainability which was to my liking. Electricity was provided by solar panels and used sparingly. Taking a shower was a bit of a project which required routing electricity out of the system to heat water and pump it through the pipes.
The Walshes composted and recycled. Nothing was thrown away. They collected building materials and put them to use in all sorts of ways. During my stay, I helped to put up the frame for a greenhouse which they had salvaged and carried up the hill. I happily put in many hours splitting wood which would be put to good use in the fast approaching winter months. We also worked on a variety projects on the land like trenching and digging the old fashioned way. Job security was guaranteed for all who entered Walsh World.
But, life was not all work for the Walshes. In the daytime, we walked and scouted the gorgeous countryside, discussed their plans for future commercial woodworking, and visited friends and neighbors. We shared meals, played games and laughed until darkness took too much control of things. Barb and Bill even strummed guitar on occasion. I cooked once for the Walshes, my famous Russian Borscht. I called it Beet Soup so it would be more palatable for Bill. “It’s pretty tasty. I never had Beet Soup before.”
We also frequented the doughnut shop run in Hancock. I was happy to join on any such trips and get to know the owner Ruby who made some finger-licking pastries. I had to try several kinds. We also went to the movies. I treated for dinner at the 100-year-old Inn at Starlight Lake.
All of us sat for a local theater production produced by another new friend, Judith Present. Judith was a “real” NewYorker who had moved up from NYC years past and carried many interests with her: photography, writing, and acting. Ms. Present had become the mainstay of the local troup performing and producing, directing and acting with Theatricks in Hancock, Deposit, and Binghamton. She also wrote for the Hancock Herald and took time to do a short piece with photo called “Montana Man Walking to NYC Makes Stop Here.”
My Montana address got her attention enough to start an occasional correspondence and spur two visits to the Big Sky State. She first appeared in Lavina and later in Harlowton. Ms. Present took those opportunities to circle central Montana and interview anybody who would sit while she took notes. Then following her visits and investigations, Judith wrote the story of Montana Junction which spans two centuries and centers around the fictitious owners of the Adams Hotel and their changing lives. One of the owners is called Ray Du Barry.
My rural Hancock lap came to an end. Bill and Barb decided I should cut through Pennsylvania and drove me down the road to Honesdale. We stopped at a Walmart shopping center. Mr. Walsh had never been in one, but forced himself. I had not yet become averse to the giant retailer. I made the best of it and bought some new wearing apparel: sweat pants. My warm weather “pajamas,” as Bill referred to them, were thinning. And the weather was turning. I handed over the old pajamas and he said, “I will fly them on our flag pole in your honor. Half staff.”
Have Camera, Will TravelThirty-five years before my walk to New York City, I had the short-lived intention to go to New York to study photography. I was out of high school less than a year. I had tried college at the University of South Dakota. Without a major or particular interest in mind. I went because I was smart and got a small scholarship. But, I was a duck out of water. Shy (believe it or not) and having no desire to do sports or fraternities. Classes were dull to halfway interesting. But, there was certainly nothing to get excited about. The town of Vermillion was smaller than the population of the University during the school year. My roommates were on their own and so was I.
I got good grades, but one semester was enough for that round. I stayed home after the Christmas break and started to consider the options other than college. Somewhere, I ran across an advertisement for the Germain School of Photography in Manhattan. I got their information via the mail and told my parents that New York and photography might be my next step. They might have told me that such was a big jump from the small town plains and no previous interest in photography. Instead, I remember comments about New York being dangerous and dirty, violent and unsafe (as portrayed on television to be sure). That was a definite NO.
Just the thought of the Big City of New York scares many people and did my parents in the 60s. Horror stories literal and merely imagined have surrounded the metropolis for generations. It is Gotham and The Modern Gomorrah, The Naked City, Baghdad on the Hudson, and the Babylonian Bedlam.
The military became the next option. The Army would take me almost immediately. The recruiter had me thumb through his Military Occupational Specialty book. I said, “Make me a medic. Maybe I can help someone, some day.” Years later after I had returned no worse for my tour of Vietname, my folks told me that October 68-69 was the most anxious year of their lives. I suspect they spent more nervous days and nights than if I had done time in New York City.
But, dreams do come true. Sometimes, decades later. Sometimes, lifetimes later. I started out for Liberty Island located in the bay across from New York City in 2002 instead of 1967. Five cycles of life later than originally imagined, I had an electronic rather than analog camera packed in my bag. And I shot pictures all the way to the Big City. My intent of 35 years past had manifested after all. What do you think of those Apples?
The final lap into New York City began as I parted from Bill and Barb in Honesdale, PA. I put my feet to the pavement once more with the many-colored leaves falling from the trees. October was pushing into November.
I found a motel in Greeley, PA, for the night and headed out early the next brisk, frosty morning. Crossing the Delaware River into New Jersey on a brisk, frosty morning, I stopped to take a break and make a phone call in front of a roadside mercantile. In the midst of my call, a fellow drove up next to me, and asked, “Are you the fellow hiking down the highway?”
It was none other than Charlie Dean, who soon invited me for breakfast up the road at his house. I didn't know Charlie before that moment but he treated me like a long lost friend. He drove me to his house, gave me the grand tour, introduced me to his dogs and cats, and made me breakfast including a local favorite, Scrapple. Scrapple is something like Spam but with corn meal replacing some of the meat. Kinerk would have approved.
Charlie was a retired truck and bus driver, who drove a school bus occasionally when requested. That's how he noticed me – on his bus route. Charlie also supplemented income and experience by doing DJ work with his wife. They called themselves the Deans of Music. I didn’t get to meet his wife. She must have been at work. But, I got a photo of Charlie with his beloved dogs after he told me the sad story of how he had accidentally run over one of them, an aging Golden Retriever. Its leg was very broken and required surgery costing him many hundreds of dollars. The old pup was then on the mend, just getting around in an ungainly cast on a back leg.
Late the same day after my visit with Charlie and cutting across the Appalachian Trail, Pastor Kem Monk came to my rescue at Culvers Lake. Ginger and I had met Kem some months before at a Labyrinth Conference. She heard about my cross-country walk and invited me to stay at her house on the lake. Kem treated me royally, took me to Drew University where she was studying to be a minister and subsequently graduated to pastor the Harmony Hill church in Stillwater, NJ. Kem paddled me around Lake Hopatcong. I took her out to dinner after she took me to a barbershop to get relieved of some of the abundant locks which had grown over my once almost bald head since the start of my trek.
After a few days at Reverend Monk’s house, she set me on the road to take the last steps to Liberty. We parted ways in an almost empty parking lot. Happily, it was not totally empty and we persuaded a passer-through to take photos for us.
I had less than two days to my destination. But, I had to dodge increasingly wider highways and busier traffic. Fortunately, there were old two-laners that I mapped out en route to the coast and Liberty State Park. That next to last day on the road was nippy which made me happy my walking days and hours were almost over. The skies clouded up and even dropped a few flakes of snow. I was then very thankful for the generous lifts that I had received along the way. Had I forced myself to walk every step of the way, I might well have been walking into the New Year. It would have been a tough slog.
Arriving in Bellville that night, I moteled it again and met another brother from a distant land working as clerk-manager for the inn. I couldn’t place him by accent or skin color. So, I had to ask whence he came to the United States.
He responded, “I come from the Middle of the World. Do you know where that is?”
Well, I didn’t immediately. After a moment, I wondered out loud, “Are you from Ecuador?”
“Si, I am from Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World).” Which I found later to mean not only the country of Ecuador but also a tract of land in north central Quito (capital) which houses a museum and a 30-meter-tall monument constructed to mark the point where the equator passes through the country.
Leaving my Middle Earth friend in the morning, I had not even 15 miles to go. A piece of cake generally, but my left foot was acting up. Tired like the rest of my body, but more so. I took my time passing down more alternative routes to get to and through Jersey City.
In some ways, November 3, 2002, was the best day of the trip and in others far from it. I found that the off roads I took to Liberty Park were dirty and ill kept. It looked like they had not been tended to for years. “Littered Roads to Liberty Park.” I couldn’t help but wonder on the significance thereof.
Passing through downtown Jersey City, I walked across a major intersection as an older fellow (older than I) in a car yelled out an unwelcoming profanity and added something like, “If you don’t like our flag, get out of here.” Fortunately, we were moving in opposite directions. Nothing faintly derogatory about Fannie the Flag had reached my ears over the past 2100 miles.
As if to make up for the obscenity, we soon encountered St. Aloysius Catholic Church and discovered a wonderful copper tablet erected long past on its front lawn. The Liberty-like figure held a cornucopia on one arm and a torch in the other. Surrounding her was a notation of tribute to those churchmen who fought and died in the World War (must have been the first). Fannie was pleased to have her photo taken next to the image adorning St. Aloysius. Before long, we were within view of the Park and Liberty Island in the distance. Again, I stopped and set my pack down along a fence next to the flag. Another keen photo resulted.
Life is ups and downs, sometimes in rapid succession. It was just a year past 911 and security was paramount even for a lone traveler from Montana. To get onto the ferry boat from the park to Liberty Island, I had to pass through airport-like detectors. When my backpack went through the scanning device, the attendant found metal objects which needed to be accounted. I took my gear apart and showed him that they were just coat hangers I had turned into makeshift tent pegs.
While I was going through that process, a husky and talkative young African-American worker started a brief conversation. “You walked all the way from Montana! Imagine that! Did you ever get scared on the trip?”
I was being flip, but the words just came out, “Well, no. Not until I got to Jersey City.” I suspect he understood.
The brief ride on the ferry boat swung by Ellis Island where millions of immigrants entered America over past generations. And then there was Liberty Island, the Lady, and my old friend Ginger and new friend Leslie. Lots of hugs and smiles. Moments of relief and opportunities for photos.
The Great Lady was her usual magnificent self towering all alone in New York Harbor and still trying to welcome all comers. But, times changed with 911. If not before. Security was heightened as I noticed when accessing the ferry boat. The innards of the Lady were closed to the public for the time being. No climbs to the top to look out through her crown.
Regardless of 911, the Lady Liberty and the USA remain as magnets and beacons to the world. Circling the Statue with Ginger and Leslie, I was delighted to see that the ideals of the nation still attract young and old, citizens and visitors. The three of us took a number of photos with the Flag and the Lady. Ginger got ahold of a giant Forest Service man who went by name of Tall Tree and asked him to join in the photo shoot. Fannie the Flag garnered special attention as well. Some young people invited us to join them in for pictures. I felt for a time like I caught up on a few moments I missed in the 60s.
Then, there was a young Asian man wearing a New York Yankee jacket who just wanted to be photographed holding the flag with the Statue in the background. That was a heartening moment. He returned Fannie to us and disappeared without even giving an address.
The arrival festivities were short lived. We ferried back to Battery Park at the very southern tip of Manhattan Island. Ginger and I eventually boarded the Long Island Railroad to Queens. Signs in the LIRR car attested that, though it was certainly not part of my plan, I had reached my destination on November 3, 2002, Marathon Day. The New York City event, considered a World Marathon Major, was a pretty big deal and continues to be since it was begun in 1970. The annual race covering 26+ miles through the five boroughs of the City, passes successively from Staten Island to Brooklyn and Queens, then to Manhattan and the Bronx, and finishes again in Manhattan at Central Park. Over 30,000 runners finished their marathon that day with two Kenyans winning the men’s and women’s open division.
Well, I didn’t win anything that day. But, I had covered 26+ miles on many days over the preceding months. Like my one 10-mile run years back in my home town, I finished the course even though I was last to finish. I was also the first and only to finish, in this instance.
Regardless, I arrived safely and wearily at the end of my own cross-country marathon to spend time with friends. Ginger and I appeared at Bibi's home where a small welcoming committee had gathered. I got to tell my story a number of times to numbers of people in the coming days.
CONFESSION§ My finale in New York City was bittersweet for more than obvious reasons. The expedition was over, successful and full of memories to carry onward. But, it was over and memories are not quite like the real event. Like trying to capture a panoramic landscape with a camera – any camera.
On an emotional level, it was bittersweet because Lady Liberty and Ginger were of two different races. Lady Liberty was a statue. Ginger was a living feeling being. Which was cause for concern.
She had made the effort to meet me in North Dakota, but did not stay because of her son’s unfortunate accident. Thereafter, Ginger fell into one of her funks and it was hard just to be on the phone with her. Our conversations were often strained and brief from Minnesota on.
As I got closer to New York, she warmed a bit. But in the meantime, the past reared its head in the shape of Diane in the Sierras. She emailed me to say that her sister’s health was deteriorating rapidly. At the same time, Diane was open, friendly and curious about my cross-country effort. We moved into warm phone calls reminiscent of some of the better times we had had together.
Before I knew it, I was planning another trip to the West Coast after my time on the East Coast.
Thence, I stayed with Bibi and her daughter for a few days in the midst of which two parties occurred to recognize Fannie and me. Thereafter, I followed Ginger farther out on the Island to her new digs at Long Beach (near JFK International Airport). I got drafted to paint her bathroom. A good project for an erstwhile Red White and Blue painter to do while resting his feet. It had been months since I touched a paint brush. The bath got painted Red.
Ginger was at my appearance receptive, warm and congenial. But, I kept my distance while I imagined an upturn in my relationship with Diane. How wrong I was on that front. §
How often do plans and expectations go awry. As in the way I expected my marathon to end. I imagined completing it immediately or soon after my arrival by walking the Brooklyn Bridge. Ginger and I had hiked over the Bridge once upon a time and the experience reminded me a bit of spending time on Liberty Island. (Tiger Woods eventually used the Bridge to glorious advantage in one of his Nike commercials.) The great old landmark still beckoned me, so I joined Ginger on a trip to Manhattan one day with the intention of doing the Bridge while she put in a day’s work at a hospital pain clinic. After wandering around lower Manhattan for a time, just gawking and staring, I started towards the Brooklyn Bridge.
Even though the whole roundtrip would have been less than five miles, my left foot adamantly rebelled. I had to give up that part of the plan. I spent the rest of the day in more gawking and staring, and a little eating. At other times in the midst of many questions about my almost five-month journey from New Yorkers, people just had to ask, “How are you getting home to Montana? Are you walking back?” The queries prompted some laughs. But, I never had such an intention whether my foot was aching or not.
I had a short-lived intention to bus back to Minnesota and catch a semi ride to Montana with Leo’s new owner. But after two weeks in New York and nearing six months on the road, I was ready to get the trek and return trip over quickly. I took a Greyhound out of the Port Authority in Manhattan. My main memory from the trip was passing through the bus company’s version of “Security.” No wands or scanners. Just questions like, “Are you carrying any knives, guns, or anything on your person or in your luggage that could be construed as a weapon?”
Well, I had to be honest. My one find of consequence on the road was a Leatherman Survival Tool. Actually, it was a generic knock-off. But, I thought it was a pretty neat find. Still, I had to raise my hand. “I have a Leatherman in my backpack.”
The Greyhound official told me I had to give it up. Which made no sense since it was going to be resting in my backpack in the luggage compartment for the whole trip excepting a few bus changes. I wasn’t in the arguing mood and I would have lost anyway. So, I handed over the Leatherman. I suspect the Greyhound guy put it in his pocket. Years after I wrote, “Maybe if I do another walk some day there will be another Leatherman lost between Lavina and the new destination.” Those words proved prophetic. On my 2012 Walk, I was given a fresh Leatherman by a young woman who stopped her car to visit and wanted to share something with me for my travels.
My several previous Greyhound excursions had been eye-opening and almost enjoyable. Great drivers, unusual travelers, curious happenings. I call them “third world experiences.” Things occur on bus trips which are frequently worth writing about. But, that trip made for rather nondescript ride. Maybe I was too tired to notice what was passing by inside the bus and the outer world.
Greyhound got me back to Billings and Terry Cooley returned me to Lavina where I was glad to see that rural life continued at its modest and homely pace. I also discovered that people had been following my voyage and had been kept up on my travels. Leslie Burroughs faithfully and regularly reported to the area newspapers whenever I picked up the phone to call her or when anybody else got wind of my progress. I was delighted to find out that Charlotte Ainslie had posted a map at the Mercantile to follow my steps across the country. At least one set of travelers I met along my route stopped in the Mercantile to pass on my regards in Hometown Lavina.
Immediately on return to 123 Main Street, I found that the school kids had decorated a big white sheet with Welcome Dr. Bob and other greetings. It covered my couch and was waiting for me when I opened the door to the house. More presentations occurred in the coming days. Soon after I arrived, Superintendent Osler invited Fannie and me to appear in front for a special assembly for the whole school and another press opportunity. I did the best I could to synopsize the trip, tell the young people about “my summer vacation,” and respond to questions. Leslie took a photo and got it in the newspaper.
Janie Brown picked up the welcome process even earlier when Fred Russian unexpectedly dropped off Little Bear in town. Since Fred had no telephone, I could not communicate with him as to Little Bear’s situation. I gathered that the old dog became depressed and lonely and a little neurotic. Fred took her to the veterinarian and got a bill. Then, he decided to give up his dog sitting job. Fortunately, Little Bear didn’t wait too long for my return once she was left in town. And Janie made her comfortable as possible in the back seat of my car. My faithful dog was thrilled and relieved when I reappeared. I still feel bad about how her “vacation” turned out.
Janie also produced another party at the Brown bunkhouse. Cake and punch and a small group appeared to get my “up close and personal” story of the trip. I used my laptop computer to show pictures as well as tell tales of the journey. Further, Mrs. Brown used needle and thread to make a quilted piece for me. She called it “Mending Broken Hearts.” It is always placed prominently on a wall in my house. Leslie Burroughs added to my gifts by presenting me an album of her newspaper reports on the Walk.
I became even more Montana newsworthy on my return and had a number of press encounters over the next weeks and months. A television interview took me to Billings for a short conversation at KSVI-TV. I talked over the phone for the radio with Tommy B. at KBUL-AM in Billings. Jerry Miller came over to Lavina for a chat and subsequent full-page article in January for the Times-Clarion in Harlowton. One more press piece eventuated when Dru Sefton of Newhouse News Service in Washington, DC, tracked me and several other cross country walkers down in the spring. Her article was called “A Journey of 3,000 Miles, Beginning With a Single Step.”