The Great Salt Lake

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Snow coming down over my family’s back yard in Salt Lake City.

For not planning a stop in Salt Lake City in the first place, I sure have stayed longer than I planned.  When I showed up to Salt Lake City on Thursday, I met my aunt and uncle at the local high school gym where my cousin, Kiera, was playing on the varsity volleyball team and my uncle Steve was helping coach.  Eventually my youngest cousins in this family, Alek and Austin, showed up after their football practices.

Uncle Steve is my mom’s brother and in total him and aunt April have six children.  Josh, Aaron, and Mandie are the three oldest.  I haven’t seen most of them for ten years, and I think it’s been longer since I saw Josh; I was 16, Aaron was 22 I think, Mandie was 20, Kiera was 6, Alek was 3, and Austin was 1, so the youngest three didn’t remember me.  I enjoyed spending time with these guys so much that I stayed an extra day, all of Saturday, to see Alek and Austin play, and win, each of their football games.

The funny part about me showing up on Thursday was that uncle Steve forgot to tell everyone that I was coming to visit until that morning.  Kiera’s volleyball team didn’t win, but the community around the team was still friendly and cheerful.  The people surrounding my family in their sports life is very supportive and encouraging; it is a welcoming environment to anyone.

Friday, the kids had the day off and I had to scramble to find a motorcycle place to get me a replacement front tire.  I found a parts dealer that would install the tire for me for a little extra, which was no big deal.  I followed my uncle in the rain to the shop and dropped it off, just before the snow started to fall.  While my bike was at the shop, we all went off to a funeral, the grandmother of my cousin Aaron’s wife, whom the couple had been living with to help her as much as possible.  While it was weird for me to go, no one seemed to mind, and I was happy to get to see Aaron and meet his wife.  I figured the funeral would be dull and sad, but the family did a great job telling the story of the woman’s life and her commitment to her family and personal values – something everyone should strive for.

After the funeral, we visited a friend of the family that just had her gall bladder removed.  What a tough girl!  During this time, the shop called to tell me that my back tire was worse than my front and that I should probably replace both.  I agreed, thinking I could spare no expense to keep me safe during my last legs home.  I know I’ll be hitting rain most of the time, so safety is necessary.

After grabbing dinner to go, the family dropped me off and I followed them home.  The new tires look sweet (see photos below).  I opted for Pilot Road 3s (“PR3s”) By Michelin because of the extra siping on the tires (small cuts), that help to wick away as much rain as possible and improve the traction of the bike in all conditions.  My friend Brian says these tires made him fall in love with his bike all over again.  I’ll let you know how that goes.

Friday night, the high school football team had a home game just around the corner, which none of the kids play on, but is still a good community event to attend.  I hardly watched the first quarter of the game because my aunt and uncle introduced me to homemade scones, not like the kind you buy at the donut shop, with this stuff called honey butter on them.  They were delicious and my fat kid side totally thanked them.  The other big distraction for me was the sun setting on the eastern mountains of the valley.  From the stands, we could see the mountains in all their glory.  Actually, there is hardly a place in Kearns, UT, a suburb of Salt Lake City, where you don’t have a good view of a few of the many mountains.

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Pink skies provide a heavenly backdrop for the mountains east of SLC.

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Another beautiful glimpse of the mountains… and high school football.

The football game was a dramatic game, from being down by three touchdowns, to up by one point with 12 minutes left in the last quarter, then down by six with 3 minutes to go, then up by one again with one minute to go.  It was intense, but so fun to watch!  The temperature in the stands was around 50 degrees and we were all huddled in heavy blankets to keep warm.

Saturday, the forecast was 70 degrees at midday, completely opposite of the night before.  I was planning on watching both boys play each of their football games, then heading out around noon.  The games ran long due to injuries, but both boys won their games by quite a few points.   By 1pm the games were over, but my uncle and I discussed the different options and he said they would be happy to host me for another night.  For me, staying was the easy choice because I love hanging out with these guys and seeing all the kids grown up, it’s an opportunity no one else in my family back home has gotten to enjoy.

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The day time view of the mountains west of SLC from my family’s back yard.

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My new rear tire, siped and ready to go!

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My new front tire. I get to break these babies in today!

Another thing the Perry’s (my family in Salt Lake City) said I needed to do before I left was go to a restaurant called Leatherby’s.  They had wonderful homemade food and enormous dessert orders.  I ordered a bacon cheeseburger and shared a banana split with Mandie – which, even together, we could not finish.

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Bacon cheeseburgers and cheese fries at Leatherby’s, banana split in the background.

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The most intense banana split I’ve ever seen.

Today, the high temperature in Salt Lake City will be 80 degrees, but it’s been raining all night and morning at my destination of Idaho City, Idaho.  I will go there to see my mom’s father, Grandpa Richard, and possibly go hunting with him.  I’m not excited for more rain, but I am excited to break these tires in, finally visit my grandpa after years of telling him I would, and get a little closer to home!

H

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The Perry’s from left: Mandie, Alek, Uncle Steve, Aunt April, Kiera, and Austin. Yes, they’re all taller than me… even Austin, barely. No, they didn’t dress up just for the picture.

Little Laramie and the Road to Utah

When I first arrived in Laramie on Tuesday afternoon, I parked in a parking lot on the University of Wyoming campus to give Tucker a call.  Coincidentally, I saw the backside of the UW chapter of Chi Omega across the lot.  I had to walk around to the front to snap a picture.

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University of Wyoming’s Chi Omega.

On Wednesday, Tucker worked until the afternoon, so I ventured out into Laramie.  Last I wrote I was in a coffee shop wrapping up my master’s degree.  After finishing up all my necessary tasks, I headed back to Tucker’s house and threw on my workout clothes and running shoes.  Randomly, I had the urge to go for a run and geocache to get out some energy – I must have had too much coffee or something.  As I ran, I quickly became exhausted.  I didn’t remember ever getting out of shape this quickly before and was momentarily upset at myself for not working out more during the past few weeks.  Fortunately, I quickly remembered that Laramie sits higher than 7,000 feet in elevation, while Beaverton, where I live and train, is just under 200 feet in elevation.  Oops.  My lungs were not happy.  For the rest of the day I periodically coughed and sputtered as my lungs protested my attempt at cardio.  The outing was not a total bust, though.  I wandered around Laramie attempting to find caches, with no success on my own, but I did manage to spot some antelope grazing in the area and found a great overlook of Laramie.

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Kind of difficult to see, but there are two antelope in this photo.

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Two more antelope in the distance, this pair let me get closer.

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Grand Street in Laramie with the Snowy Mountain Range in the background.

Around 5pm, I headed back to the house to shower up and figure out the rest of the night.  Tucker came in soon after me and we headed out to attempt some more geocaching, I figured I could do better with help, and then on to dinner.

Geocaching was a success!  We found three caches out of the five we searched for; we think the two failed attempts were lost to recent construction.  That or we are just terrible beginners.

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My first successful geocache find! Thanks to Tucker for helping!

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My second successful geocache find. I had searched for at least half an hour on my own and came back later with Tucker.

After a wonderful dinner at a local joint called McAlisters, we called it a night.

The next morning, I had planned on getting up before 7am and leaving early, but slept poorly and woke up around 8am.  I went to prep my bike and found frost on my seat, so it was a good thing that I waited until later, anyway.  I left Laramie right around 9am and it was cold out.  I had mapped out my journey to Salt Lake City, but found an alternate route through the mountains and down into Colorado.  This alternate would add two extra hours and 70 miles to my journey, but it seemed worth it.

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Found the first frost on my bike on Thursday morning.

Within the first hour of my ride, I was grateful to have chosen a route other than the interstate.  The winding, sloping roads of the smaller Wyoming highways were much more fun.  Since it was still very early in the day and I was continuing to climb in elevation, the temperatures stayed cold.  Had it not been for the chaps given to me by Roxanne and Chip in Iowa and the fleece the hood from Ron in Pittsburgh, I’m sure I would not have made it through the day, no joke.  The only cold thing on me was my fingertips, but I persevered, at least until I found good stopping spots with things for me to photograph.  The wildlife on the journey was incredible.  I saw what I thought was a majestic black eagle, I had forgotten that juvenile bald eagles are completely dark until about two years of age.  I saw many little prairie dogs or groundhogs, whatever they’re called out here; most of them held a regal stance as they soaked their faces in the rising sun just outside of their holes.  I also saw many more antelope.  I can recall at least three giant herds of 30 or more just grazing in large fields.  I will admit, I did honk my horn and wave at them out of excitement… yes, I am a dork.  At the edge of Wyoming, just before the Colorado border, I began to notice yellow and red leaves in the trees, the most changed leaves I have seen yet.  I’m not sure if autumn is starting all at once and I missed it by a week back east or if it is starting out here because the cold is already hitting the higher elevations, but it was beautiful.

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I stopped to warm my fingers up a bit and get some pictures of the coming autumn.

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The views riding through northern Colorado were breathtaking. I stopped more times than I ever do just to take pictures.

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It was neat to see all the ranches from the main roads in Colorado. The view from this driveway looking back east was phenomenal.

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The view looking east from Grizzly Ranch.

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The view looking west behind the ranch.

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Just beyond the cars in view is a rock feature on top of the mountain. I didn’t get to stop to take a picture other than this construction break. In Colorado.

Riding through Colorado was breathtaking.  With each straight stretch, I was acquainted with views of brilliant mountain ranges extending for miles and miles.  The valley floors had grasslands populated by cattle and horses.  I caught up to highway 40 heading west and had the ride of my life. The smooth, sweeping curves were meant for riding and the rise and fall in elevation made the ride all the more entertaining.  The views were spectacular as the highway took me up to the top of the Rabbit Ear Range and back down into the valley where Steamboat Springs lies.  Another motorcyclist trailed me the entire decent to Steamboat Spring.  The only thing I would change about the decent would be the wind; gusts hit me from time to time and would scoot me across my lane, but my bike handled it all well.

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Catching glimpses of mountains and rock formations between Colorado and Utah.

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More mountain ranges coming into view.

After Steamboat Springs (a gorgeous little town, by the way), the scenery turned to much flatter ground, though still accompanied by mountain ranges in the distance.  After a while, I arrived in Dinosaur, Colorado to refuel and get some snacks.  Within a couple of miles, I was in eastern Utah.

The flat lands went on, then began to ascend into the mountains.  I realized that the temperature was dropping as I climbed and feared I may hit rain.  I did.  For ten miles I rode through mild rain, after which I chuckled and said, “is that it?”  It wasn’t.  I was in the clear for a few more minutes, but then I would ride through another 45 miles of rain, stopping for gas, seeing the rain turn into snow for a bit, then back to rain as I dropped into the Salt Lake City Valley.  Fortunately, the snow didn’t stick, thought I did have a mild heart attack from the freezing temperatures.

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Temperatures began to drop so I took a scenic view break to warm my hands up. I found this awesome little river.

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SNOW?!? Uh oh!

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Just rode through the neighboring clouds, on to the next one.

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Salt Lake City, just behind those cloudy hills.

Though the cold weather was terrible, it reminded me that I would soon be safe and warm.  As soon as I was back on interstate 80, I knew I was close enough to stop stressing.  I met my uncle, aunt, and cousins at their local high school to watch one of my cousins play volleyball on the varsity team that my uncle helps coach.  It took a bit for me to get warm and dry, but I eventually did and looked back on the day with pride that I made it through.

-H

Nebraska on Interstate 80

Interstate 80 runs, as far as I know, across the entire country.  I rode on it in Ohio and Indiana and got back on it in Des Moines, Iowa.  I will continue to ride it to Salt Lake City, Utah, where I will switch over to Interstate 84 all the way home.  Home.  I have never missed it so much.  I think this version of homesickness comes from missing the solid relationships I’ve nurtured over the past few months with my friends Brian, Josh, and all my Army future soldiers, and also that I miss my family a great deal – which includes my roommate, Chris.  I don’t miss my material things or even my bed, of all those things.  I miss the strength of the relationships at home, the companionship I have when I’m there. I miss the idea of home, something I’ve felt without since I left for college; the last few years have seemed like me fitting comfortably in homes of others, but never really bein able to claim a place as my own until this year.  I have never met so many friendly strangers as I have out here on the road, but there is very little to continue relating to others and the short conversations only slightly crack the surface of my character and theirs.  I am endlessly grateful for the people I have been able to visit on this trip, though I still have a few more to catch up to.  Without this journey, who knows when the next time would be that I’d get to see these people.  I can’t tell you how many people have wept at my departure, and I do, too, out of joy for having had such experiences.  I don’t feel like people are crying because they’re sad, I feel like it’s a mix of pride, happiness, and gratefulness to have me in their lives.  I know I’m a pretty great person, but I wouldn’t know if it weren’t for all these wonderful people.  And I wouldn’t be great if it weren’t for them.

Nebraska.  Oh flat, windy, Nebraska.  As I was approaching the eastern border of the state from Des Moines, I was staring at a cloud that went North to South for as far as I could see.  It was a visible border between Iowa and Nebraska that looked like rain.  I saw a magnificent bald eagle soaring over the interstate at one point – so amazing.

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Looking back east into Iowa, preparing to cross into Nebraska.

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Looking west to Nebraska, praying to avoid rain. I did, thank God.

The sun was setting between 6 and 7pm and made for a magnificent sunset between the clouds.  As I entered Omaha, I knew I was extremely blessed to not be under rain; as I looked North, I saw it coming down, and as I looked South, it was the same view.   Somehow, I was riding in the only place it wasn’t raining, so I kept going.  I rode until long after dark.  Chip and Roxanne had provided me with a pair of leather chaps that both of them had grown out of, and they kept me more than warm.  The road was nice, decently lit, and I wasn’t yet tired.  I rode until 9pm, when I started to notice a sprinkling of rain and the wind picking up.

I found a quaint little campsite off of the interstate that allowed night time check-ins and only cost $16 for a campsite.  No one would have been the wiser if I paid or not, as the office would be unoccupied until 1pm the next day.  However, I’m an honest traveler and would not like any sort of negativity to come back and bite me in the butt later.

Setting up my tent in the wind was entertaining, but not difficult.  For the first time during my camping adventures on my trip I had to use all of the stakes provided with the tent kit in order to keep all the various flaps from making a major commotion all night.  The stakes were a pain to attempt to shove into the one inch of dirt and successive gravel, but whatever.  I’m not sure why most tent sites have gravel under the dirt, it never works to drive the stakes into it.  Most of the stakes held up over night, and the flapping was kept to a minimum, considering the constant gusts of wind.  Sometime in the middle of the night, I was awoken by the sound of cats fighting and it sounded like they were in the grass right next to my tent.  After a few seconds, I heard one scamper away and the other scurry up the tree above my tent.  This made me reconsider the notion that they were cats, but probably raccoons instead.  I remember hearing raccoons fight during the summer of 2008 when I lived with my sister in Seattle.  The pair then was in the top of a tall pine tree and we watched the great pine sway with the commotion of the psycho rodents.  I didn’t hear anything else from the two creeps for the rest of the night there in Nebraska, though I did hear the tree monger jump down and go his own way a couple hours later; the loud thud and crunching of leaves gave him away.

I’d still take bratty raccoons over a bear any day.

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Another sunrise view from my tent, probably my last camping adventure of the trip. I liked the look of the backhoe tractor in the shadows.

In the morning, I laid in my tent as long as possible.  The blowing wind and cloudy skies were not a welcome sight, but I did what I could to muster up some motivation to change clothes, eat a breakfast of Snickers and Blisscuits, brush my teeth, pack up, and move on.  Checkout for the campground was 11am, but I left before ten.

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My Blisscuit breakfast, thanks to Matt and Jennilee for giving me a supply of them to survive with. They are filling little gluten-free morsels.

The ride was pretty uneventful during the morning.  I stopped for gas a couple of times, needing more frequent breaks than usual due to the gusts of wind hitting me constantly.  Usually wind just breezes past me, since my body is not very big, but the wind came from all sides and was worsened by the semi-trucks.  It was easy to counter them and not stressful or scary, but it was exhausting.  It also greatly reduced my fuel efficiency.

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I stopped at a tiny gas station about halfway through Nebraska. The counter consisted of this year’s NASCAR schedule. Yee-haw!

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I managed to capture a shot of the “Welcome to Wyoming” sign.

Right as I was getting into Wyoming, it seemed that all the boring parts had been exclusively written into the state boundaries of Nebraska.  Wyoming was immediately more hilly, had more trees, and had a lot more to look at in terms of topographical geography and landscape.

About 60 miles east of my destination of Laramie, Wyoming, I lifted my visor to scratch an itch on my face and a bug flew in my nose!  It was amusing attempting to get the bug out of my nose while going 80mph, at least until I hit a bump and gave myself a nosebleed, which made the situation even more amusing.  The only thing I could grab to stifle the blood flow was the rag I use to wipe bugs off of my visor every night.  Ironic that, while attempting to remove a bug, I had to resort to putting a bug-covered rag in my nose.  Within a mile was an exit and I managed to pull off and get to a gas station to clean myself up.  Oh the joys of adventuring!

The bloody rag from my the fiasco of having a bug in my nose.

The bloody rag from the fiasco of having a bug in my nose.

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Finally, Wyoming offers some landscape I could appreciate, other than the flat, corny fields of Nebraska.

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Arriving in Laramie, the Snowies mountains in the distance were a welcoming site.

I arrived in Laramie around 5:30pm and met with my long time friend, Tucker.  I was able to get my stuff settled, shower, and then we took off for dinner.  The local hot spot is a place called Altitude Chophouse and Brewery, which had one of the best IPAs I’ve ever tasted.  The food was very good, too.  I had a Thai-spiced salmon burger with waffle fries.

The night ended with some catching up and crashing around 11pm.

Today, I have spent the entire morning finishing up my masters program; I have officially completed all the schoolwork necessary to earn my degree, save for one discussion board posting I’ll submit tomorrow.  I’m very ecstatic about the completion of this endeavor, since I’ll have nothing but riding home, blog posting, and sending postcards to worry about for the next week.

Since Tucker is working until at least 4pm, I am going to attempt some more of this Geocaching business, we’ll see if I encounter an success this time around.

Until next time,

Heather

From the Land of Lincoln Back to the Hawkeye State

 

 

 

 

 

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A true Chicago-style pizza… it was amazing and one piece was a meal in itself.

After the last time I signed off, I decided to stay another night in the suburbs of Chicago in order to spend a bit more time with Jennilee and Matt.  It was worth it.  In the morning they headed off to run errands, giving me time to get the remainder of my travel plans for the way home completed and to finish up some homework.  For lunch, they ordered a Chicago-style pizza, which was to die for, if you were that intense about food.  The flaky, buttery crust is not something people make on the west coast, so it was new and delicious.  Before long, Matt had to go do some personal things so Jennilee and I decided we would walk the dogs while she introduced me to Geocacheing.  I already knew what the premise of the hobby was, but had never found a good enough app for my phone to get started.  She had some great insight and we attempted to find a cache that she had gone searching for a couple of times, without success.  Needless to say, the help of my beginner skills were of little assistance and we walked away empty-handed.  Attempting not to leave the venture unfruitful, we looked for another cache hidden by another user, but again failed at that.  Maybe we need to work on our scavenger hunting skills…  I’m thankful for the adventure, though because I have been checking in on the app regularly and notice that there are caches even in the most remote of places.

For dinner we had leftover pizza and prepared to tag along with Matt for his first indoor soccer game.

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The painted sunset in Schaumburg, Illinois.

Matt really did not want us to watch him play, but what else were we going to do?  Plus, we knew it would be good entertainment after watching him try to put his shin guards on the outside of his soccer socks; he hadn’t played soccer at all since 5th grade.

 

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Matt’s team, in black, vs. the red jerseys.

Despite his nerves, Matt actually did really well.  Jennilee and I were able to spectate up in the bar overlooking the field.

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My gracious hosts, Matt, Hex, Jennilee, and Cocoa.  Thanks for agreeing to the impromptu photo-op!

We had planned to stay out later, but exhaustion hit fast and we all went to bed fairly early.  The next morning, Jennilee was off to work and I left as soon as I could.  When Matt was seeing me off, he mentioned that one of my headlights was out, but I figured that was just because I didn’t have my high beams on.  Unless my high beams are on, only one bulb is lit.  Unfortunately, he was right.  One of my headlights had gone out.

I took highway 20 all the way from Schaumburg to the Iowa border, crossing the Mississippi at midday.  I was able to appreciate the mighty river much more in the rural setting than I had been when I crossed it heading east through Memphis on an interstate.

Saturday’s journey was shorter than most as I had under 300 miles to go.  I ended my ride with a stop at the Waukon, IA Powersports/Harley Davidson dealership to see if I could replace my burnt out light bulb.  I showed up at 4:40pm when they closed at 5pm, so I had all the help I could need there – literally four guys were attempting to simultaneously find a replacement bulb, or one that could at least be a temporary fix until I got back home to replace some parts.  It turns out my bulb wasn’t the problem; instead, the relay that the power to the bulb routes to was rusted, probably from the rainy day in Indiana.

Before I was finished at the shop, my host for the next two days, Chip had flagged me down.  I had forgotten that he worked there, so it was pretty decent timing after all.  Once the shop was closed, I followed him home to meet up with Roxanne and Jay for dinner and just winding down for the evening.  We spent a bit of time walking a large chunk of land Jay had just signed for the day before.  It was pretty cool to get to see the land undeveloped and imagine possibly coming back to visit one day to see what all he has been able to make of the property.  Right now he has plans for a house, a shop, and maybe something near a small pond.  This piece of property is a gem because it has a bit of open space and quite a bit more of forest land to do with what he wants.  If I had land like this, I think I would get enjoy the seclusion and would probably personalize every corner of it for me to enjoy the nature of it.

Sunday morning the four of us had planned a day ride, every destination within an hour of their home.  I had opted to ride on the back of a borrowed bike driven by Jay, so that I could take in the scenery more than if I were driving.  It was amazing, though the little passenger seat was rough.  I found myself telling Jay it made me very grateful for the comfort of my own seat, even if my butt gets numb occasionally. Throughout the day we ventured to heights overlooking the Mississippi, at one point we crossed the river via ferry just like people have done for the last couple hundred years, we rode through Wisconsin, briefly crossed into Minnesota, and back to Iowa.

While in Wisconsin, we took a break to go to Cabela’s, we stopped at an Army surplus store and purchased parachord rope so that I could make everyone bracelets, and we stopped in LaCrosse to run some errands and eat an early dinner.  Jay and Chip had to return some tools at Sears and Roxanne and I “had” to get our nails done.  If I have one aspect that is girly through and through, it’s my nails.  If I don’t keep up on the manicures, gel polish specifically, my nails get brittle and look like manhands.  I don’t want manhands.  It’ll be interesting trying to keep up with the manicures while in the Army… I guess I’ll have to opt for clear polish and hope it works the same, though it won’t compare to my typical neon colors.

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Our first view from Pike’s Peak, Iowa. Here, I was able to complete a geocache of taking a picture, even though the view was all fog in the morning.

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A sign in Guttenburg, Iowa listing several interesting city names and their distances, all over the country.

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A peek at the Mississippi from a viewpoint on the Iowa side.

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Here comes the Cassville Ferry!

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The Cassville Ferry preparing to release vehicles.

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The only vehicles onboard.

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Looking south down the Mississippi from the ferry.

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Crossing back to Iowa over the Mississippi via a blue bridge from Wisconsin.

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We revisited Pike’s Peak to get a fogless view. Well worth it. In the distance, the Wisconsin River is meeting the Mississippi River (bottom).

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OSU pride… right in the middle of Cabela’s 🙂

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The entry sign to LaCrosse, Wisconsin. True #laxonlaxonlax.

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Artistic shot of a train as we waited to proceed.

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Chip, Roxanne, and Jay. I love candid photos 🙂

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The view from Granddad’s Bluff in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. We estimated that at least 15 miles are visible here.

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Heading into Minnesota on another blue bridge.

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Farm barns and silos at sunset in Iowa.

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A beautiful church that is in Minnesota, but its parking lot is in Iowa.

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The first “welcome to” sign I have captured on this whole journey. Welcome to Iowa, at sunset.

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Another sunset picture. Burning sky over cornfields.

Sunday night was laid back.  I had went to bed before working on more homework but was able to take a nice, hot bath to relax.  Monday morning was a typical packing-up-and-leaving start with much mapping involved.  I ended up making it to Nebraska last night, but I’ll save that for another post.

Until then, thank you for reading!  I am learning more and more how many quiet readers are out there following my journey, mostly because I started to get texts last night asking if I was still alive and okay since I hadn’t posted in a couple days.  Sorry to keep you waiting – I’m doing my best to be prompt 🙂

Heather

Storms Always Pass

September 19, 2013

Tonight I arrived safely in Chicago after riding 500 miles across two major turnpikes in four states, coming from Pittsburgh this morning.

When I set out from DC yesterday afternoon, I was thinking I wouldn’t have much to write about, as the ride was pretty uneventful. I didn’t leave Washington until 3pm because I was still recovering from staying up so late the night before, which was well worth it.  Had I been hungover from a night of drunken debauchery, I would not be able to say the same.

Riding through the state of Virginia was peaceful and serene – the kind of perfect ride any motorcyclist would pray for in the winter or spring.  As I headed west, I enjoyed the stimulating views of the autumn leaves starting to catch their colors, but not yet giving up and falling to clutter the highway, thankfully.  My plan was to make it to Ohio by nightfall and set up camp somewhere near the interstate.  Around 5:30 I stopped for dinner and crossed into Pennsylvania, hitting the major turnpike.  I thought it was odd that the toll gate didn’t issue me a ticket, and it didn’t have a “press button for ticket” button.  Somehow, the light eventually turned green for me, so I wrote it off thinking maybe motorcycles don’t have to pay this toll.  As I rode on, I kept my eye on the sky, monitoring a significant collection of clouds and feeling the temperature drop as I climbed in elevation.  The hilly terrain while on a smooth, wide highway was relaxing, especially since I was listening to “Lost” by Gregory MacGuire on mp3; I decided to take a break from Atlas Shrugged for a couple days and enjoy a different story.  I’m only about halfway through the epic novel, which recounts a detailed history of the intertwined lives of several individuals; sometimes it’s stressful.

After 100 miles or so, I passed a sign saying the next gas wasn’t for 80+ miles, so I figured I’d better get gas and grab some coffee while I was at it.  While gassing up, I noticed another Kawasaki rider was doing the same, and decided to ask him about the turnpike rules for motorcycles.  Ron, a former Marine and Maryland resident headed for Pittsburgh, informed me that motorcycles have to pay the toll, too, though he wasn’t sure how I was able to get the green light to go.

Ron and I chatted for a bit before I headed inside for food and coffee.  When I came out, he was still there.  He told me his cousin lives in Pittsburgh and that I was welcome to crash on their couch if I wanted to.

People, most specifically my parents, probably think I’m crazy for talking to strangers and being so comfortable as a female that weighs 130 pounds on a heavy day.  However, part of living in a society is respecting the kind gestures of other people and not being paranoid that everyone is out to get you.  I think my greatest sidekick on this entire adventure has been courage – courage to be open to new experiences and meet new people, accepting of any consequences that may arise.  Had it not been for this courage, I would not be able to call this whole thing an adventure.

Being as the clouds were still hanging about and I could feel the possibility of rain coming, I took Ron up on his offer.  Less than 30 miles later we were exiting the turnpike and I had to figure out how to pay the lady at the booth without a ticket.  Unfortunately, if you are not issued a ticket, usually if you neglect to take one, you are charged as if you rode the entire turnpike – which is this case would have been all the way from New Jersey.  $37 in toll fare later (OUCH!), we were in the heart of Pittsburgh, passing Heinz field and countless iconic bridges.  I thought Portland had an overabundance of bridges, but Pittsburgh definitely has more.

After ordering New York style pizza from the local delivery place, we chatted for a while then fell asleep.  I was surprisingly comfortable on the couch there in the multi-tenant house in Pittsburgh.  The area was nice enough for me to be able to leave my saddlebags on my bike and park it on a steep hill with out fear of someone stealing anything.

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My bike (background) and Ron’s bike – a late 90’s model Kawi with very low miles and a Yoshimura exhaust – nice!

I woke up around 9 and Ron and I decided to go get a quick coffee and breakfast down the street, then he would guide me back to the interstate and on my way toward Ohio, Indiana, and eventually Chicago.

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Ron and a small view of the rolling hills beyond Pittsburgh.

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Old school buildings lining the streets of Pittsburgh.

After Pittsburgh, it was only a few miles before I made it into Ohio.  The morning had felt like it was going to be cold, but ended up being pretty warm, though still cold enough to keep my jacket on, minus all the long-sleeved under layers.  I got onto the Ohio turnpike, this time making sure I got a ticket, and kept riding until I was hungry enough for lunch.  On turnpikes, rather than regular gas stations, there are “Rest Plazas” that have gas stations, convenience stores, many have Starbucks, fast food, and even showers for truckers and whoever would like to bathe there.  I didn’t want to eat anymore Starbucks pastries, so I opted for Hardee’s, the eastern U.S.’ version of Carl’s Jr.  It also was called “Red Burrito,” not to be confused be Carl’s Jr.’s green version.  They had many options for enormous burgers, and even though I was hungry, I knew I wouldn’t have room for much.  The lady at the counter politely suggested I get a kids meal because it was cheap and there was a small-sized burger.  I went along with this but was unpleasantly let down when my meal did not include a toy.

Just kidding.  The last thing I need is any unnecessary trinkets to fill my precious cargo space.

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My Hardee’s Kiddie meal.

After lunch, I continued westward.  Before leaving Ohio, it began to rain, but not too intensely, just enough to be uncomfortable.  I considered stopping, since I wasn’t as fortunate as the last time I encountered rain in that I could not see any break in the clouds.  Instead of giving in, I tucked my head down, kept my arms and knees close to my gas tank for warmth, and trudged on.  This past July I had traveled up to my Sister’s home in Seattle to visit and ended up riding the entire way back in the rain.  Then, it seemed like a disaster and I was terrified and miserable, but in Ohio on the turnpike, the roads were in much better shape, it was still a decently warm temperature, and visibility was great.  All these factors reminded me that I had no room to complain.

During this portion of my ride, I had a personal epiphany.  Thinking about how long I’d be riding in the rain, the months to come in basic training, the years to come in my life, and everything I’ve survived through up until this point, I realized that, no matter the severity of the struggle at hand, there will always come a time for it to be over.  Even if there isn’t a visible break in the clouds from where I’m standing, there will be eventually.  When I go through basic, this simple memory will sustain me.  When I am deployed to God-knows-where, the people that tell me daily how I inspire them will be in my thoughts.  And when I get so homesick I want to breakdown, I will count down the days and keep my head up.

Before too long, the Ohio turnpike ended.  I was able to enjoy a whole one minute break from the rain while paying my cheap (compared to Pennsylvania) toll under the roof of the toll plaza.  Then, it was on to Indiana.  Again, I approached a ticket booth for Indiana’s turnpike, which attempted to not give me a ticket, but I refused to leave without one… been there, made that mistake.  This booth had a button to push for a ticket, and it still wouldn’t spit anything out for me.  I hit the “Help” button and waited for an answer.  Finally, I was issued a ticket and on I went.  At least I enjoyed more relief from the rain!

It is hard to say I was able to get a great feel for Indiana, since I was so far north in the state and sticking only to the Interstate.  I do know that I was close to Michigan and the Great Lakes, which is what I blame the wonderful rain on.  After 100 miles of riding in the rain, I began to see that it was clearing up – thank God.  It wasn’t so much as I was miserable or anything, I was mostly worried about my bags soaking through and my laptop getting destroyed ten days before completing my masters degree.  I stopped at a rest plaza, grabbed some coffee, pulled out my laptop and other electronics, and wrapped them up in case I encountered more rain in the 100 miles to come.  Many things in my tank bag were soaked, but nothing important that I can’t live without.  Actually, I don’t think I own anything in my life that I can’t live without; though my motorcycle comes close, I value my own life much more.

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Looking back at the storm I just rode through.

Just before 7pm I passed through the exit of the Indiana turnpike and continued on toward Chicago.  I pulled over just after the toll stop to remove an extra hood I had on under my helmet and forgot to buckle up my helmet.  I spent the next few miles attempting to securely fasten my helmet while riding, since all the shoulders said no parking for any reason; I’d rather not risk becoming roadkill thanks to an unfortunate semi truck accident.  During this distracted time, I managed to miss my turn onto the interstate going around Chicago and ended paying two tolls totaling $6 to go through the city.  Traffic was terrible, but I think it was worth it.  The sun was setting and the enormous skyline of Chicago was mostly visible, except for a layer of mystical-looking fog looming over the more distant skyscrapers.

Just before 8pm I arrived in the Western Chicago suburb of Schaumburg where two friends of mine from college, Matt and Jennilee Shepard, have lived for just over a year.  After a much-needed shower and settling in, we went to dinner at this great diner called Portillo’s, which is known for their hot dogs and Italian beef sandwiches, according to the Shepards.  I went for the hot dog, since it is my favorite American food (especially when it’s $1.50 at Costco).  The hot dog was amazing to say the least!

We quickly called it a night.  We’ll see what tomorrow’s adventures may hold.

H

Family, Friends, God, and American Icons

For this post, I will be attempting to sum up the adventures of the last couple of weeks, plus my two day visit in Washington D.C.

As of this morning, I have ventured through 18 states as far as I can count in my head and should be hitting two more today (Pennsylvania and Ohio).

While in North Carolina for my brief break from nomad-hood, I knocked several firsts out of the way.  As you know, I went fishing for the first time with my grandparents at the beach, but I also was able to go golfing for my first and second times ever – which I loved.  The past two Sundays, I even had the privileged of attending the first two services of Solid Rock’s church transplant out in Raleigh, called Emmaus; this is the reason my good friends Kevin and Andrew moved out here.  I was thrilled to be able to meet several people from Portland that were there to live and help the church grow, but also several others that were merely there to visit for the opening service – kind of like me.

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Andrew’s first time golfing since he moved to the East Coast.

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Pretending like I know what I’m doing… I actually wasn’t terrible.

During my final week, my grandparents and I tried to fit in as much as possible.  We had several amazing meals, got manicures and pedicures, made crafts, ran errands, worked out, and went to the zoo.  The North Carolina Zoological Society, I think is the full name, was pretty neat.  Much like the Oregon Zoo by the way it was set up with Africa, North America, Waters, and a summer Dinosaur exhibit.  My favorite part, though I’ve done it before, was feeding the giraffes because anyone can do it.  At the Oregon Zoo, you had to know the generous zookeepers to be able to get the privilege, and even then you had to wait until the zoo was closed.  We intended to make our visit a short day, but we arrived at 10am and didn’t leave until after 5:30pm.  My uncle David, his girlfriend Val, and her son Jordan joined my grandmother and me.

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Hand feeding the big guy. This was the first time I’d ever seen fat giraffes…

The NC Zoo also had Gorillas.  Three adult females and two infant males.

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One of the two mother-son pairs of gorillas at the NC Zoo. It was awesome to see them sprinting around the habitat.

Around 1pm on Monday the 16th, I left for Washington, D.C., after a filling breakfast at CrackerBarrel with my grandparents.  My plan had never been to go to D.C., I was just supposed to ride on out through West Virginia and on to Chicago, but my little sister, Emily, asked if I wanted to stop by.  I always imagined D.C. to be ridiculously far from NC, but was sorely mistaken.  A quick check on Google Maps showed that is was less than 300 miles from my grandparent’s house, which was a normal day’s ride.  I’ve always wanted to visit the capital, so I decided to take Emily up on her offer.

Before getting into Washington, I had mentally committed to stopping at Arlington National Cemetery, just to be able to see all the men and women that so selflessly gave they’re lives so that we could hold our freedom here.  I doubt we’ll ever have another generation of such ordinary heroes in our country.

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Something about the term “hallowed grounds” just tugs at my soul.

A couple things that caught my attention about the head stones was that each one had a symbol for the religion of the fallen – or none if they didn’t practice a faith; also, many of the graves were wives next to their husbands.  It is said, that behind every great man is an amazing woman… take note of that, boys.

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I still have yet to grasp the sheer magnitude of the Arlington Cemetery. Maybe one day I’ll take the time to walk through it.

Around 6pm I arrived in D.C. and was headed to meet up with Emily and her boyfriend, Brett for dinner.  She picked this great Mexican/seafood place called Surfside, which is only a couple blocks from where she lives.  I got there a little while before they did, so I decided to sit at the bar and enjoy a well-deserved IPA.  The only option was a bottled Sierra Nevada, but I can’t complain… I mean, we are definitely spoiled in Oregon.  For a few minutes it was just myself and the bartender, Andy, talking.  He told me it was kind of an intense day to show up in D.C., since there had been a shooting at the Navy Yard that morning and details were still emerging.  I honestly hadn’t heard anything about it since I was on the road all day and never had the chance of catching the news.  After a bit more conversation, I learned that Andy actually grew up in Grants Pass, Oregon but had lived on the East coast most of his adult life, oh and in Africa for the past two years up until a couple weeks ago… but that’s another story, and a damn good one, I think.

Emily and Brett arrived as I was about halfway through my beer, we ordered food and called it a night after that.  I spent the later hours cranking out homework and attempting to watch Monday Night Football with them, without much success.  I mainly was distracted by YouTube, after my hosts talked me into finally watching the wonderful VMA performance by Miley Cyrus; I was a little put off by it, but now that I think about it I could care less.  I will care about who shakes their what and puts a foam finger where one day, maybe, but it’ll likely be only because I have kids and I’d prefer they didn’t gouge their eyes out or copy our nation’s role models.

Tuesday started off at noon.  Emily and I had planned on riding around the city in an open-top tour bus that allowed us to hop on and off as we pleased, but we ended up just taking the metro tunnel train and walking the National Mall.

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The underground station of the metro tunnel. Emily said each is practically identical.

When I say National Mall, I don’t mean a sweet shopping center adorned with American flags and parking garages.  If you’ve ever been to D.C. you know that it’s the major tourist area that holds the capitol building, several federal buildings, tons of Smithsonian museums, all the major monuments, and the White House.  It’s pretty big, and we walked the whole thing.  After hoofing it through the botanical gardens and through the Native American museum of somethingrather, my hips were already sore.  I know I walked quite a distance at the NC Zoo, but being back on my big on Monday must have helped with stiffening my joints.  Crap, I’m getting old already.  At the botanical gardens we saw countless gorgeous flowers, mainly orchids, contemplated stealing the ripe tomatoes but thought better as it may have been a federal offense, enjoyed the different mint and pepper smelling leaves on some plants, and collected some postcards.  Only a mint plant was harmed in the duration of our visit, and it will be just fine.

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A silver tree in a sculpture lawn. There were cicadas around that sounded like robots to accompany this mechanical art.

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Emily, the small reflecting pool, and the Capitol building.

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Looking west toward the Washington Monument from the Capitol building.

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The Capitol up close and personal. I prefer this over the White House… you’ll see why.

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Tiny orchids.

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In the Smithsonian’s Native American History museum. Lacrosse runs in my veins. This stick is from the 1800s. We used similar types up until about ten years ago.

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One of my favorite paintings by George Catlin is this of Choctaw Indians playing lacrosse.

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Similar to the photo I took of the Red Warrior at Tuskahoma, only this guy was from another tribe.

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Benny the Beaver circa 1850. Very detailed piece.

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A case of hooties… so many things in my life lined up in this little case of treasures, starting with the lacrosse stick.

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The United State Department of Agriculture. Looks just like all the other federal building around… only I went to school in the Department of Agriculture at OSU, so I had to take a picture. Pfft, tourists.

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Oh, you didn’t know? The Washington Monument is a transformer. Autobot, though, thank goodness. Due to an earthquake in 2012, structural repairs are being made to the 555 foot monument.

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Vietnam War Memorial salutes all service branches.

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I felt naive when I discovered that Hawaii wasn’t even a legitimate state until 1959, 18 years after the attacks on Pearl Harbor.

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Oregon love… and Iowa? The order of the pillars made no logical sense.

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Looking along the reflecting pool at the Lincoln Memorial.

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Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech in this very spot.

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The view looking East toward the Washington Monument and the Capitol building from the same spot MLK Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. Imagine this place completely packed with people marching for civil rights.

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I’ve always wanted to visit this wall. It was humbling to see someone had left a soldier’s picture, purple heart, and two other medals below his name; no one has touched it (not pictured).

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The White house. My sorority may have been bigger. See if you can spot the squirrel in the picture as a reference for size.

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“The British are coming!” Thanks, Paul.

After an adventurous, foot-numbing day on the National Mall, Emily and I met up with Brett to check out the White house, then head to dinner.  Our dinner plans were to meet my mom’s uncle, aunt, and cousins about 30 minutes north of D.C. at Olive Garden.  I hadn’t seen these guys since 2009 when I first met them, but they were more than happy to meet us with very little warning, as I emailed them just two days before.  We spent over two hours sharing stories and entertaining each other.  The Topolskys are very good story tellers, if you ever get a chance to meet them.  And, they all ride motorcycles, so we got to talk shop a little.  My cousins, Fara and Erin, had just returned from I think what was called “Bike Week” on the coast, so it was good to hear about someone else’s moto journey for once!

After dinner, we went back to Emily and Brett’s and I took off to get drinks with Andy the bartender from the previous night.  After first talking with him, I realized I had many questions about his travels and was interested to hear what he learned and how he got here.  Needless to say, Andy is one of the most incredible people I have ever met.  Like me, he seems to have a drive to make something great of himself, but for no one other than him.  I can’t say that I know him extremely well, even after our lengthy conversation, but I have a great base to start from.

I’d like to personally thank Andy, which I did in person, but on here, too, since there’s only so much one can fit in a text message.  Thank you for understanding so many things that people in my generation just don’t get.  That living is rarely ever about the material things, but about the actions you pursue, even if those actions only make a tiny ripple in the span of civilization.  That pursuing adventures to enrich your life may be extreme and seem crazy to everyone around, but it’s what makes you happy and you’re up for the challenge.  That education is not just about sitting around and reading books, but also absorbing that which you learn to gain a better perspective by going out in the world and doing.  And for living in the world so that I could find substantial conversations in one person and learn about your admirable adventures.  Plus, your vocabulary is one that I would like to exude one day, so I appreciate the good influence.  I hope to see you again soon, and you’re right, chivalry is not dead.

Now I’m heading home.

H

People are like Seashells

During the past few days I have spent a lot of time with my grandfather collecting and sorting through shells.  Personally, while searching for shells, I aimed to collect the most perfect shells, no matter how tiny.  I intentionally neglected to hang on to shells with chips, cracks, or too much erosion.  My grandfather, on the other hand, would hand me the most odd, broken shells and say, “look honey, isn’t that neat?”  His point of view about shells got me thinking about myself, people I have met along my travels, my friends, my family, and most of all, veterans.  Shells remind me of people because, no matter how broken they are, they are still something special to someone.  The way one person sees a broken shell is completely different than the way another person does.  I have found many broken conch shells that I just loved, several I even kept, because I appreciate their structure.  Sometimes, I think they’re even more beautiful when broken because I am able to see the intricacies of how they were formed.  Some shells are fragile, but still manage to hold up in the tumbling surf; some shells are extremely strong but still crack and chip.  No matter how a shell looks like it should hold up, it can always turn out differently.

I have friends that I love because they are amazing people.  They are amazing because, no matter what, they live to better themselves and be better people in the world to others.  I have family that, even when they’re hurting, they still outwardly work hard for family and love those around them harder.

Lately, I’ve thought a lot about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in veterans, mostly because I’ve been spending time around my grandfather, the retired Navy SEAL.  During his time serving in Vietnam, he completed missions that, to this day, he can never speak about.  Most of the missions he was on have been declassified, but not all.  When we were walking on the boardwalk in Beaufort, North Carolina, we had a conversation about PTSD, the military, and how every soldier will always have a different experience in the military than other soldiers.  My grandfather’s biggest piece of advice was to take every opportunity in the service to grow – a piece of advice several other military friends have suggested as well.  They say do everything you’re offered, whether it’s more school, a change in training, or moving up rank – do it.  I worry that after all of this, I will become more of a broken shell than I already am.  What if I lose friends in battle?  What if I’m injured and won’t be able to do things that I love to do now?  My answer – who cares?  I know that I can be a weak shell, but no matter how intense the surf will be, I will persevere, just as I always have.  I have lost friends before, I will just be sure to put everything I have into the most important relationships in my life as I continue forward and have no regrets to look back to.  If I happen to be in active combat – which is seriously unlikely as I’ll be working in support – and if I happen to get injured, oh well.  I have broken bones before, doctors fix them.  Anything worse, doctors can fix them now, too.  I may become a tougher shell, as I’ve seen many soldiers become, and I may  become more fragile than I look, but I’ll still be me and I’ll still be amazing to those that matter.  Of all the friends and family I know that have served, the only injuries they’ve come back with were those in the mind; fortunately, I have a strong head and good mind.  I’m not worried and you should not be either.

If something does happen to me, just remember the seashells.  They are still amazing and beautiful to someone, you just have to see things from all perspectives and appreciate the gifts that God gives to us every single day.

If something hard happens in your life, do not sit around and take your anger out on others.  Do something to make a change, don’t be frustrated about things you can no longer change.  I have been visiting a friend out here in North Carolina and whenever we visit his work, I hear another one of his coworkers complain about something pointless like being sore after wrestling a buddy, or someone didn’t restock the supplies for the morning crew.  Guess what?  These are little things that don’t make or break a day.  These are things that we should be thankful are our only complaints for the day.  Take joy and pleasure in those around you and be grateful for all the things you have, big and small.  And if your life really is that hard or terrible, you’re the only person that can get off your butt and do something about it.