I went for a run today

Down the avenues of memory. My imagination paints what the picture takes. Please accept this repose from my silence as I deliberate over the direction of this blog.

-Stark

 

A snap shot of memory is a snap shot of us

Shadows stretched from feet, kept pace, though unusually quiet

Like a man who’s removed his blindfold but stays silent

Trees weathered branches withered; bursting rustic warm leaves gave me a shiver

Outlined in the foliage a tiger burned bright

Cloud’s shadow crawled over bare-knuckle mountain, began traversing the valley toward us to meet our shaded contours lying beside the blazing long golden grass

I paused to ponder the purpose of the past,

But no sooner forgot when wind forced tree’s coat to detach.

Furled brows beneath a forehead creased, when your hat matched the trunk mine was covering the leaves.

What use for a camera in a Carpathian dream? Cumulus clusters float by like my memories, and there we stand with a ladder at our feet.

As cloud’s shadow encroaches and envelops my constant companion, I have but one question:

Please hold it steady while I climb?

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An Ode to the Pacific

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Pacific, my princess, waved me in

with unwavering winds.

Innately calm, I am, culminating in

A kiss to her coast, locked lips

Licking hops in a toast:

Cheers! To the sweat, pain, and tears

To Adversity Road

Hotly paved by despondency

Lined and cracked with my fears -

Besieging,

Breaching,

Beseeching.

Much better, always

to bespeak future peace

to just

Be.

Be here, on this beach.

 

The brevity of my moment

eclipsed by eternity.

Infinite sand and most loyal sun

when on earth had this journey begun?

I wasn’t I, couldn’t have been

Stark presence, the prescience

Precedes my mind’s eye

Squinting far, scanning wide

Forward,

Backward,

Toward the dawn of time.

On that horizon, incessant searching never finds

But in searching ceased, am found

Approaching the aurora of Absolute Truth

 

Pacific, my princess, waves me farewell.

Sun sinks, and I arise; our-eyes surfacing

On the brink of twilight sublime

where last wink scintillates

across the ocean of time.

Dusk of this journey

sparkles infinitely into eternity.

Cycles of this summer -

Spinning spokes of my youth.

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I’ve kept an ongoing list of generosities during my travels, and I’d like to offer thanks now to the extraordinary brothers, sisters, spirits, and sages I’ve had the privilege, pleasure, and honor of intersecting. Certainly, gestures of love have been overlooked and missed, and I apologize in advance for anyone I’ve missed.

Madison, WI: Lucky’s Bar – free cheese curds and a round of drinks from “Captain”

Madison, WI: Sophia and Abbie for opening their homes to Nick, Evan, and I

Pikes Peak State Park, IA: Martín – food and a lodging hook-up in the Big Horn Mountains

Pikes Peak State Park, IA: Bruce – Knowledge, route to Decorah, groceries, use of grill

Decorah, IA: Bill and Jo – Encouraging us to “Say Yes”, use of their guest house

Decorah, IA: Deke from the bike shop – Beers, cooking us dinner, letting us play frisbee with his dog that has a better catching percentage than I do

Farmland, IA: Dwight “Bear Hands” and Ruth – opening their home and barn on a whim, ice cream, breakfast, and lawn chair

Osage, IA: Mark, local animal control officer – for being in the right place at the right time for us and Ninjak

Osage, IA: Tony, Laura, Zoe, and Anna – Opening their Garaj-Mahal, making us Tony’s famous Sunday morning pancakes, and connecting us with…

Mason City, IA: Kyle – Air mattress, homemade pizza from scratch, homemade chocolate-mint waffles from scratch for breakfast

Mason City, IA: Subway Manager for three free foot-long subs and an entire box of cookies

Clear Lake, IA: Random unknown family for buying us cheese toast

Bancroft, IA: The mayor for a free round of the Bancroft Burger and space to camp in the local park where we built a monkey-bar hammock fort

Spirit Lake, IA: Brent and Sandy for treating us to round one of our breakfast at the local diner

Rock Rapids, IA: Lou and Shari’s Kitchen for free breakfast and rain cover

Rapid City, SD: Glenn in Econo Lodge lobby for two Fat Tires, guitar playing, and conversation

Sturgis, SD: Dave for the box of granola bars

Spearfish, SD: The Lynch’s – hospitality, use of tree house for camping

Spearfish, SD: Connection Church and their summer college intern staff – Lunch, conversations, encouragement, geographic balance, laughter, community

Sundance, WY: Reuter Canyon Campground – Mike and Laurie for one of the most refreshing beers, dinner (chicken, brats, potatoes, corn, salad, milk, beer, pecan pie – I mean, come on! I don’t eat this well at home!), company, conversation, breakfast (Egg scramble, ham, pancakes, coffee!), their love, faithful encouragement, and one of the most unique gifts of my journey, a $2 bill scented with oils from Jerusalem (offered with the quick comedic caveat, “It’s not because we think you’re queer!” … y’know, the old saying queer as a two-dollar bill)

Sundance, WY: Reuter Canyon Campground – Paul the campground host for giving me a hitch up to Devil’s Tower and offering quite a tour through the mountains to get there

Wyoming: Cam Navis for the camaraderie, companionship, and camping adventures

Jackson, WY: Motel host for free extra breakfast snacks to stash for the ride

Jackson, WY: Molly for hosting, great conversation, dinner to share, and encouraging me to go up the Teton Pass and to use the Old Pass Road

Victor, ID: Gene for hosting, breakfast, and advice to attend the free music, food, and beer festivities happening in the heart of the town after I came down the Teton Pass that night

Victor ID: Victor Brewing for a great Two-Hearted-esque IPA

Idaho Falls, ID: Carolyn for tent space and the nostalgic joy of enjoying a couple beers on the porch (which consequentially led me to meeting the “only three Detroit Lions fans in Idaho”)

Idaho Falls, ID: Ron (in his Sleeping Bear Dunes shirt) and wife from South Bend for conversation and coming back to offer me $20 for lunch

Craters of the Moon National Monument, ID: Tochel for hitch and revealing a hidden hot spring to me

Fairfield, ID: Randy and Laura for use of their guesthouse and an amazing breakfast

Boise, ID: The Mallea’s for letting me stay two nights with them, achieving sleep like a deceased governor, food, and July 4th fun

Middleton, ID: Jamie, Emellia, and Adam for revealing the Smurf Turf, lunch, conversation, and encouragement

Brogan, OR: Geoff and Jan from Australia for offering me coffee and toast in the morning, the wonderful conversation, and ensuing adventures. Really, there is so much I could say about the time spent with these two new mates of mine. Saw them two more times between Brogan and the coast, the final intersection actually occurring in Florence, on the coast, where I camped with them the night of my arrival.

Eugene, OR: Therese my cousin! Shelter, food, laughter, tours of Eugene, relaxation, and a bountiful bar-hopping tour

Final 10 miles: With an absurd head wind, three London blokes who had ridden from Virginia caught up with me and offered to let me draft with them. Yes, yes I’d love to.

Florence, OR: Beachcomber’s bartender for accidentally pouring Jager instead of Iced Tea (similar spouts right next to one another behind the bar) and giving it to me. Cheers!

Sporadic cities and towns: Thank you to all that sent me letters, packages, etc. I am so grateful and was so encouraged to hear from you. Your words and gifts propelled my journey, and I hope to respond to all letters soon, whether in person or by mail.

 

-Benjamichigan out

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Specific Boast from the Pacific Coast

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Saddle Up, Partner! This entry is thicker than my beard.

Lactic acid burns for each foot raised. Un-cyclical steps stretch muscles un-tweaked, adjusting feet to match multifaceted rock. I’m hiking upwards. A force within me, stronger than the song singing that is me, compels a trek toward this peak, like the ants that naturally climb up the walls of my tent shell. Their silhouettes erratically ascending, undeterred in their mission regardless of my flicks lending them unnatural flight. A certain rock is poised atop in bold grandeur, and I’m pulled toward it, a hook attached within reeling me skyward. I am the fish asking, “what the hell is water?” The inflorescence marking my path is stark in size to the mountains abounding, but equally stark is their fluorescent essence glowing even midday. All flowers seizing life at these heights declare their resiliency in bewildering brightness.

The breadth of my lungs gasps to grasp enough of the thin air. I hoist myself onto this lofty rock perch, sporadically caked in a green, black, and orange crust. Bighorn Peak exhales a gentle breeze from the west, to my right, coaxing the hair on my arms to dance and the teal sleeves of my shirt into supple ripples. Slowly, I inhale to full-chest expansion, sauntering sight seized, slowed to stop, gazing down upon the Big Horn forest’s pine-needle tree tops. As a stray cloud relieves sun’s rays, I drop my eye lids. Middle Clear Creak meanders with celerity below, rushing and gurgling around rocks and trees fallen to inert calmness. My mind is transported back to Michigan shorelines by the swift sounds of the bustling water. Coasts are creased with waves of farewell and the trusted embrace of welcoming home.

“…I laughed in the morning’s eyes.

I triumphed and I saddened with all weather,

Heaven and I wept together,

And its sweet tears were salt with mortal mine;

Against the red throb of its sunset-heart

I laid my own to beat,

And share commingling heat;

But not by that, by that, was eased my human smart.

In vain my tears were wet on Heaven’s grey cheek.

For ah! we know not what each other says,

These things and I; in sound I speak…”

-Francis Thompson, The Hound of Heaven

Before I departed on this journey, a dear friend emboldened me to “live up to yourself.” This encouragement has certainly been an introspective delving and dwelling which doesn’t come easy. Even so, our closest companions in life will always maintain angles that reveal aspects of ourselves that we may be unwillingly and unremittingly blind to. May they have the courage to point them out. It is a journey in itself, certainly, to stay true to ourselves, “dealing out that being indoors each one dwells…”

“As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;

As tumbled over rim in roundy wells

Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s

Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;

Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:

Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;

Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,

Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came…”

-Gerard Manly Hopkins, As Kingfishers Catch Fire

Catching up where we left off, I was camped on the peripheral mountainside outside Sundance, and intended to depart early for the Key Hole Reservoir. My destination was directly due-west, and according to my shoulder-shrugging map reading, shouldn’t tax endurance toward fatigue. After thoroughly enjoying hot breakfast with Mike and Laurie, I ambled back to my camp with a coffee pep perking my steps and began packing up. By this point, I can do it with my eyes closed. My gear now gravitates to its proper place in the panniers near naturally. Tent deconstructs and packs in a manner of minutes. Panniers attach to racks easier than a sliding a backpack onto shoulders. Items stowed and in their upright positions, sunscreen and shammy-lube applied, a little morning booty-popping beat undulating in the ears (Pretty Lights), and I’m off.

That is, unless God and Devil intervene. Paul, the campground host, is making his morning rounds and I send him an upward head-nod greeting. Paul’s hair is as long as the creases in his skin, carved by years in the army. A pack of red Marlboro cigarettes protrudes from some illegible pocket in his shirt, and the eagerness of a single smoke to detach for its lit destiny matches Paul’s initial intrigue in the details of my journey. He smiles and relates, undeterred in his duties. Though Paul has anchored himself down as campground host, the allure of a vagabond lifestyle continues to grip the steering wheel of his retro motor home.

When inquired about my route, I mentioned Key Hole Reservoir. “You know Devil’s Tower is just north of here, right?” he asked. “Yeah, I know, but it’s a bit out of my way” I countered. Without a breath of hesitation, Paul says, “Well hey, I don’t know how you feel about taking rides on this bicycle trip, but I’d be happy to give you and your gear a lift up to see Devil’s Tower, and then you’ll have about the same distance to ride from there to Key Hole anyways.” Paul left the offer open-ended and continued on around the camp loop toward Mike and Laurie, checking registrations and greeting visitors. I mulled it over briefly, then wandered down to his site and took him up on the offer. My friends in Spearfish had talked with recollecting amazement of their recent journey there, so I felt prodded by fate to venture that direction.

Turns out, Paul is quite the tour guide. We rode to the top of the peak I dreaded ascending the night prior, climbed the fire tower, and rode two-track trails through rugged national forest, and I just listened to Paul talk. He lamented that large tracts of the National Forest had been recently seized by a private corporation for the sub-surface mineral rights, and is convinced when it’s all said, stripped, and done, a new lake will fill the land-ravaged area. Near this area, a hefty portion of land is for sale at 1.7 million. Paul also has some entrepreneurial vision, and is convinced that when that lake comes (if it comes), whoever owns that land will have invested in their own gold mine. He’s looking for co-investors if anyone has a cool million lying around.

Later that night, at Key Hole Reservoir, I camped atop some cliffs on the inside of the large C-shaped recreational lake. Sister Moon turned her face toward mine, and reflected magnificently off the lake. Stars scattered the black above while a chilling calmness seized the imperceptible darkness of the water below. In my solitude on those palisades, I stopped searching in the darkness and was found.

 “What could I say to you that would be of value, except that perhaps you seek too much, that as a result of your seeking you cannot find.”

-Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

I locked a ghost up in Key Hole Reservoir, burned a splashing black hole in the white sheen. For all my searching, it finally sank in that perhaps my deeper need was to seek ways in which to be found. My night camping on the cliffs above Key Hole Reservoir will remain with me on into eternity, I’m certain of that.

“When someone seeks,” said Siddhartha, “then it easily happens that his eyes see only the thing that he seeks, and he is able to find nothing, to take in nothing because he always thinks only about the thing he is seeking, because he has one goal, because he is obsessed with his goal. Seeking means: having a goal. But finding means: being free, being open, having no goal.”

-Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

Alright, we have a lot of land to cover still and this is getting lengthy. How about a short interlude! If you need a break, open up a new tab on your browser, go to YouTube, and search “Pretty Lights Country Roads remix”. The video shows a picture taken from the center white lines of a road. Enjoy that one, it’s a little taste of the soundtrack that has audibly painted the landscape of my trek. Let’s just make this easier for everyone – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NAXz2z4giws

And we’re back! Hopefully you enjoyed the track that traces the trail of my disc trucker. Have I ever mentioned my absolute adoration and avidity around amusing and ambling alliteration? Words are fun to play with, which is another way of saying, yeah, I’m a nerd.

At this point, one of my closest friends drove up from Colorado to camp and hike with me in Yellowstone National Park and the Tetons. This is the same friend that hiked the Appalachian Trail last year and, in an earlier entry, I mentioned vicariously learning the lesson to “say yes” through him on the trail. Enter Cam Navis. He found me biking through a tiny Wyoming town and we appropriately greeted each other with mountain grinning grizzly bear hugs. Joy emanated from the reunion like the bedazzling glow from the high-mountain flowers that I just can’t wrap my head around.

For six days, Cam and I hiked, camped, shared stories, listened to the intellectual intrigue of David Foster Wallace on audio (I’m hooked, thanks Cam), threw Frisbees, built fires, drank beers, swung maddeningly at onslaughts of mosquitos, explored a deserted Mormon town, hiked a segment of the Continental Divide trail, stumbled upon an actual grizzly bear during a hike up Elephant Back in Yellowstone, saw elk and bison, hitchhiked, and ended up in Jackson, Wyoming.

Jackson ushered Cam back to Boulder and put me face-to-face with the imposing aura of the Tetons, their teeth foaming with snow caps, biting down on the pass that asserted an awe-full contemplation as rigid as its commanding countenance.

“The sea’s only gifts are harsh blows, and occasionally the chance to feel strong. Now I don’t know much about the sea, but I do know that that’s the way it is here. And I also know how important it is in life not necessarily to be strong but to feel strong, to measure yourself at least once, to find yourself at least once in the most ancient of human conditions, facing the blind deaf stone alone, with nothing to help you but your hands and your own head.”

-Christopher McCandless

Out of Jackson, it’s a steady ascent toward the base of the pass – nothing like inclines to warm the legs up. About the time you reach the land’s deliberate attempt to turn you back, crack your confidence, convince you that it’s okay to take the long way around, there’s a turn off for the Old Pass Road. The city of Jackson has closed off this Old Pass Road to motorized vehicles, and maintains it for recreational purposes. Unsurprisingly, no one else was chomping at the bit to bite back and bike up the pass. One old-timer drove up to the start of the pass as I was perusing an informative sign on hiking trails in the area, delaying the inevitable. He smiled and shook his head, both of us thoroughly convinced that, yep, I’m crazy.

Climbing the Teton Pass was a true lesson in breaking down one massive objective into small goals. The sun was unrelenting that day, exposing those majestic mountains in their entire humbling splendor. I tasked myself with reaching shaded checkpoints, one at a time, squeezing streams of water down my throat in earnest hydration while it simultaneously poured out my pores. My determination did not waver. I parried off any signs of a sinking, despondent disposition by directing my sight out across the land where I had only earlier that day been. The progress I made propelled me further. Just make it to the next turn, the next switchback, beneath that pine tree’s rejuvenating shade.

Two and a half hours and nine switchbacks later from the base of the pass, I permeated the 8,000 foot ceiling and the peak of my pass that piqued my exhausted inclination to reach was in sight. I could see people standing around, gazing across the distance. My legs burned for repose. I ignored their plea, I was so close. As I reached the pull off for drivers, and for the first time all day the grace of gravity actually pulled my bike forward, I stopped, unclicked my shoes and while I stood straddling my bike, I threw my hands in the air and screamed in victorious exaltation. My celebratory proclamation reverberated off the pass’s sides and came echoing back down on me. Several folks admiring the view held fists up in congratulatory solidarity, offered words of praise, and one woman even handed me a mini bible. I sat down on a rock and strained my eyes to see the miniature Jackson nestled in the foothills below, miles away, where I had pushed off that morning. I reveled in that victory for a while before gliding down the backside of the pass into Idaho (at one point approaching speeds of 50mph) into Victor where I stayed in the home of a fellow touring cyclist.

 “And men go abroad to admire the heights of mountains, the mighty waves of the sea, the broad tides of rivers, the compass of the ocean, and the circuits of the stars, yet pass over the mystery of themselves without a thought.”

-Augustine of Hippo, Confessions

The majority of my route through Idaho was high-plains desert. I don’t recommend it for any touring cyclist, unless you just want to punish yourself. I’ll take mountain passes over the desert drags all day long. I pedaled out of Idaho Falls at 4:30am to beat the heat and reach Arco because there was absolutely NOTHING in the 70-mile stretch between the two towns except big Idaho buttes and a military nuclear facility that was impenetrable (on the map it looked like a town so I figured I could fill water there, but fences and guards prevented that intention. Luckily a kind border guard did fill my water bottles for me though).

One of the fortunate aspects of desert riding, especially in my case, is that there is nothing to distract you from riding. I cranked across the abysmally dry heat of Idaho in six riding days. My ride into Mountain Home coincided with a passing heat wave that spurred regional temperatures to as high as 118 degrees. I had about 10 miles of downhill into Mountain Home (with a stiff head wind though which required constant cranking, refusing me the relief of gliding on the wings of gravity) and as I dropped into the city, it felt like I descended into Dante’s Inferno.

One night in Mountain Home pushed me north to Boise where I gratefully spent two nights with a friend of a friend’s family and settled into sleep as deep as a deceased governor. What a treat it was to have escaped the desert and discovered what felt like the epicenter of relatable culture in Idaho. I celebrated the 4th of July there by exercising my arm in a round of disc golf, overcoming a double-cautiousness toward water and heights by jumping off a bridge into the Boise River, and watching fireworks from atop Camel Back Hill. It was a colorful panorama of surrounding communities’ night-shattering festivities.

Out of Boise, I biked onward, eager to sleep that night beyond the border of Oregon. Around lunch time, I stopped in a random town, purchased some fruit, and cycled to a local park to sit in the shade and savor my favorite snack: an apple with crunchy peanut butter. As I drowned my pallet in this delectable combination of flavors, textures, and moisture, two kids approached me and asked if I was the guy biking from Michigan. I was perplexed they had heard of me, and probably looked like a man not to be trusted with apple-juice and peanut butter trying to avoid their digestive fate by grabbing a last hold in my beard. I smiled wide and said, “Yep! How did you know?” It turns out they had passed me on the way into town, and at this point their mother came over and sat down and we all began chatting.

Unbeknownst to me, I was informed that I had made an egregious error out of Boise by not visiting the University’s blue turf football field. Now, I admit I don’t watch a ton of football here. U of M and MSU grab my attention sporadically, but, no, I had no idea you guys housed the smurf turf! Adam, the younger of the siblings, walked over to Jaime, his mom, and whispered something in her ear. She laughed and said, “Adam wants to show you the field. What do you say? We can throw your stuff in the back of the truck, we’ll drive back into Boise to see it, and then I’ll make up for your lost distance.”

“You know what?” I replied, “I learned a valuable lesson back in Iowa to ‘say yes’ so, yeah, I’d love to!” It was quite an adventure for both parties, and I left their company feeling very encouraged in my direction in life, and again feeling like I’d been hanging out with family I’d known for years. When we went our separate ways, I had one of the worst head winds whipping me in the face and I had to settle down in the tiny town of Brogan, Oregon where a proportionately sized camp ground hosted myself and one other rented RV for the night.

The next morning the sound of a nearby bathroom door opening and closing woke me up. I lifted my head and saw a woman walk out and around the corner. I laid my head back down, and as I did, I heard her come back around the corner and offer in pure Australian accent, “Hey, would you like some coffee and toast?” I’ll let you guess my reply.

Greetings, good morning, and a true pleasure to meet you! Geoff and Jan, retired teachers from Australia, made the journey across the pond for a wedding in Vancouver and decided to take a few weeks to travel around as well. We hit it off immediately, sharing stories and asking questions about our contrasting cultures. It was impossible to ignore the wind that swept my momentum the night prior, and an idea sprouted: “Say, Ben, how would you like to throw your stuff in here and we can give you a lift at least out of the desert?” I’ll let you guess my reply.

“Every once in a while, in newspapers, magazines, and biographical dictionaries, I run upon sketches of my life, wherein, delicately phrased, I learn that it was in order to study Sociology that I became a tramp. This is nice and very thoughtful of the biographers, but it is inaccurate. I became a tramp-well, because of the life that was in me, of the wanderlust in my blood that would not let me rest. Sociology was merely incidental; it came afterward, in the same manner that a wet skin follows a ducking. I went on “The Road” because I couldn’t keep away from it; because I hadn’t the price of the railroad fare in my jeans; because I was so made that I couldn’t work all my life on “one same shift”; because-well, just because it was easier to than not to.”

-Jack London, The Road

What would you expect of a sociologist in situations such as this? I love the company, Jan and Geoff’s absolutely scintillated with brilliance like those mountain flowers I just can’t get enough of. It’s become very clear to me that as much as this adventure has been about the biking, just as well it’s been about the people I’ve met. I rode with my Aussie mates out of the dreadful desert that I thought I’d magically escaped by stepping over the state line, as if geography observes our man-made borders.

I camped with Geoff and Jan that night, and they laughed at my American boy-scout imperative and initiative to build a fire. With a roaring fire, we enjoyed beers and learned much from each other. Two of the most important lessons I learned: 1. If something is corrupt or unruly, BAN IT! 2. My new favorite campfire treat: A banana sliced down the middle with chocolate inserted then set in hot coals for a few minutes to melt the chocolate, then enjoyed with a spoon. Easier, cheaper, and healthier than Smores!

The next day we parted ways with smiles, wishing each other well. I was off again, bicycling but now through the lush green forests and rugged mountainous terrain of Oregon that I’ve come quickly to love. The next major pass was on my radar, though compared to the Teton Pass it was laughable. I camped that night near the top of the pass on Lava Lake, where I was astounded by the warmth of this lake at over 5,000 feet. They aptly named this body of water. The following morning I set out and rolled down one of the most memorable 20-mile segments of my trip. The McKenzie Pass, on the western side, descends over 3,000 feet and winds through the national forest with constant collaging backdrops of the Cascade Mountains. I laughed, sang, and shouted with joy every single mile. Then, to cap off the ecstasy, during the final few miles a large rented RV driving toward me started honking obnoxiously. “NO WAY!” I shouted and turned around, reeling backward. Indeed. By happenstance, my Aussie friends were headed up the pass and we chatted and laughed at the absurd chances. Perhaps I’ll see them again on the coast.

I cycled hard and far the rest of the day, making it 85 miles to Eugene where I am now, resting and enjoying the company and shelter at my cousin’s apartment. Therese moved out here a couple years ago and it’s been delightful catching up and hanging out. Tomorrow, I intend to pedal the 70 plus miles that separates me from my coastal culmination. Cheers until then!

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Hello friends!Much has occurred since I pedaled through

Hello friends!

Much has occurred since I pedaled through the Black Hills of South Dakota to Sturgis, but before I recollect and recap, we have to trace the trail backwards, back to Iowa. I found some lyrical lines I’d written from our travels traversing the great state of Iowa, and want to share them with you:

Poem #1

You, me, and the bourgeoisie

clamber clamorously to Pike’s Peak

Gazing east across the Mississippi

reflecting back the recent week

Whet with western wonder

Thickly thwarted by the thunder

The rain’s retort falls down far short

Of this transitory mystique

 

Poem #2

A cantankerous cow intermittently howls while

Gregarious geese increase squabble and scowl

I’m drowsily adrift

in the stellar firmament

Where my full moon light bulbously wallows

 

Poem #2 came from a camp site within a wilderness reserve where this one ornery cow in the distance kept unleashing the most nighttime-penetrating MOOOO’s I’d ever heard. At one point after Nick, Evan, and I had laid down to rest, Nick retorted with an impressive gut wrenching cow howl himself, inciting laughter all around. Before the dark blanket of night settled, a group of geese were also raising quite the ruckus at a pond down the hill from us.

Fast forward from Iowa to catch up, and we left off with the back road thrills of the Black Hills into Sturgis, where I soaked up the sun and two-wheel’d culture for a night before moving on to Spearfish, SD. I rolled in around dinner time on a Saturday night, determined to find a church service to attend in the morning. Awaking early, I picked one with little discretion except that of one google review which noted particular praise for how God was active in the small church plant that meets in a cinema.

As I arrived, some college interns were greeting folks at the door. John, one of the interns with a commanding demeanor combined with a comforting smile struck up conversation with me, and after the first service at 8:45, we talked through the entire second service. I was pretty parched for some Christian fellowship and communion at that point, and I dare say God had his hand in leading me to a well at Connection Church.

The small church plant has five college interns for the summer, and after enjoying conversations, John invited me to lunch with the group. I ended up staying another night in Spearfish, and making it north to Belle Fourche with the group, where an additional church plant was sprouting roots. Coincidentally, Belle Fourche happens to be the geographic center of the United States, so of course that felt like a neat check point on my tour. Besides the obvious highlights of community, Spearfish also afforded me a beautiful campsite where a river and stream forked as well as a gripping round of disc golf through Black Hills State University.

Out of Spearfish, I trekked on westward, crossing into Wyoming. The threat of rain drenched my motivation to reach Key Hole State Park, and instead I drifted with the wind through Sundance and up to Reuter Canyon Campground, toward Warren Peak just north west of the city. Now, I learned a serious cycling lesson back in Iowa on the Mississippi: avoid roads with the word “PEAK” in their name. Unfortunately, Warren Peak Road leading to Reuter Canyon Campground was my best option. Really, there wasn’t anything else around. Not only that, but right at that time my bike started giving me some perceived resistance. I was tired and testing equanimity. But, perhaps again God had some role in my hindered roll.

Finally reaching the campground (I was relieved to find that it wasn’t actually all the way up at the peak), I settled into a spot, pitched my tent, and walked back to drop my payment in the deposit box. As I’m walking back to my spot, a couple inhabiting the spot closest to me (though still a stone’s throw away) had just returned and, after inquiring about my trip briefly, offered me a beer. Few gifts at that moment could have perked up my spirit and insulated my throat with such an intoxicating refreshment. I graciously accepted, and was introduced formerly to Mike and Laurie from Casper, WY.

We hit it off quickly. Mike and Laurie were on a well-deserved and at the time, much-needed retreat and respite. I felt kindred in our adventures in that sense. Furthermore, this was one of those encounters in which you really feel like you could be relaxing and chatting with family that you’ve known your whole life. I’m extremely grateful for our encounter, and it is in this formed friendship that I am grateful for the approaching rain and ponderous pedaling which directed me up to Reuter Canyon Campground.

Sorry friends, I’ll have to continue the story later. My computer time is nearing it’s end and I’ve already requested from the library staff for more time. Coming soon: More on Mike and Laurie, my unintended travels to Devil’s Tower, and the camaraderie and companionship of the infamous Cameron Navis.

Be well, everyone!

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Stunning Sunny Splendrous Scenery

I biked 46 miles through the Black Hills today. It had it’s ups and downs.

ba dum tss.

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In the Company of Horses, Bears, and Birds

Greetings again! For those of you that caught the last picture on the map tracking us, you may be curious about our three day jaunt across South Dakota. No, we did not bicycle nearly 400 miles in three days. No, the “mystery spot” is not a portal to other “cosmic points of interest” around the country, though wouldn’t that be fun. Rather, we “hitchhiked” with my father and grandmother traveling to meet us in Rapid City. Our window for meeting a close friend in Wyoming for camping was closing rapidly, and to catch a ride across South Dakota would perhaps give us just enough time to make that happen. So we’ve spent the last four and a half days in Rapid City, exploring the Black Hills and their two billion year old granite splendor, letting loose a rush of childlike fervor down the hotel water slide, discovering a peak disc golf course in Custer, and found combustion for reminiscence on a steam engine train where the loving light of memory buds in stark illumination against the backdrop of the Black Hills, like the violet Dame’s Rocket standing stout with it’s purple petals bursting out. Thank you Dad and Grandma for visiting us and sharing in the carving of our own monumental memories. Your presence was as significant as a president’s face etched into a mountainside.

Apart from driving across South Dakota, another substantial deviation forked our trajectory. Due to schedules, budgets, and a crucially convenient mode of transportation, Evan and Nick are on their way home as well. These brothers of mine have more adventures on the horizon and to pass up on a ride now ran the risk of jeopardizing the next thing. “Do the next thing!” prodded Monsignor Darcy, mentor to protagonist Amory Blaine in This Side of Paradise. This sagely advice has been a rolling discussion of ours (forgive me for lacking literary context here, it’s worth the read anyways, make it your “next thing”) and the current circumstance was a ripe and timely opportunity for my brothers to head back. The 41 inseparable days we shared were absolutely magnificent, and I shall miss their presence. Any grief from their leaving is quickly diminished by the thought of a horse on hind legs rolling around on a large beach ball, continuously proclaiming his name, “Jaaaaaaaames Baxter,” the long A of his first name cascading with a neigh.* Truthfully though, the lament of their departure is real and incompletely realized, but it is coupled with enthusiasm and eagerness to dwell in a solitude that I’ve never known before. I will be listening to my heart intently, as I’m certain my emotions will fluctuate and flutter as much as the landscape before me. Admittedly, there’s also a lace of fear threading through me. As excited as I am for this unprecedented solitude, it is not without that fear of the unknown, the unfamiliar, of being vulnerable. But the opportunity that lies before me is far too radiant to be shadowed by fear and doubt.

My own Monsignor Darcy recently wrote to me, and in the context of forward looking character shaping, offered a series of penetrating questions, including, “Who are you when no one is looking at you?” I shall delve into questions like this whether I like it or not, kindling a fire of pondering within the burnt bark Ponderosa Pines which give the Black Hills their name. I feel confident in Alexander Supertramp’s poignant climactic assertion that happiness is only true when shared (See Into the Wild), and as such, I do not plan to walk into the woods and burn my money and phone. My community is even more important to me now, and your prayers, communication, and encouragement are coveted. Furthermore, updating regularly will now be imperative for any concern of safety as well. In my solitude, I commit to stay in touch.

I leave you today with the same question offered to me: Who are you when no one is looking? I challenge you to explore those facets of our character that reveal themselves in such times. During this age of constant contact and communication, when someone is always looking at our virtual displays that we can’t even turn off, it’s clear that we often put overwhelming effort into how our facades are perceived by others. A decisive amount of our character is formed in the spotlight of others. What do you see when it’s only your own spotlight shining on yourself? I pray for clarity in this introspection, that we are confidently encouraged by what we find, and that we have the strength and audacity to make meaningful, slow-working commitments to ourselves to realize any necessary changes to our inscape. Like a landscape is gradually and subtly altered, so is the process of developing one’s inscape. I pray that we may nurture this slow growth and avoid listlessness during our quest.

Tomorrow night I’ll be sleeping below Bear Butte, a sacred geographic site where Lakota, Cheyenne, and other American Indians have and still visit regularly. These tribes see Bear Butte as a place where their creator communicates with them through visions and prayer. If you’ve seen The Simpson’s Movie, I can’t help but remember the scene where an Alaskan Shaman induces Homer into an intense vision toward an epiphany of resolving ramifications. I don’t expect such a revelation, but if I do, you’ll be the first to know. In all seriousness though, I’m spiritually excited to breathe and break bread beneath Bear Butte.

And with that, I find it appropriate to leave you with a poem that has been meaningful to me on this trip, and will be exceptionally important to me in the coming weeks. Enjoy:

As Kingfishers Catch Fire

By Gerard Manley Hopkins

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.
I say móre: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

I’ll be in touch in a couple days,

-Stark

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