Tag Archives: Road trip

Preparing for the Zombie Apocalypse

Tuesday was a day full of potential but with no set plans.  Grandpa and I knew we wanted to take some of his guns out and shoot them, but other than that, everything was in the wind, so we made the most of it.

Once again, I woke up to a gourmet breakfast.  Scrambled eggs with cheese and onions, eggs, toast and orange juice.  Tomorrow grandpa says he’ll make me blueberry pancakes and bacon… I need to go on road trips more often if I want to be treated like a princess constantly!

After breakfast I wrote all of my postcards, addressed them, and stamped them.  Then we talked about the government throwing their big temper tantrum and solving nothing yet making it worse for us all, then we decided to get busy for the day.  We went to the garage and made a few more bullet necklaces, some of my friends and family had expressed an interest in getting one, so we made a few in only twenty minutes or so.  The part that took the longest was me writing personal notes in each and rolling it up before putting the lead projectile on the end, other than that, they were very easy.

Before long, we headed into town to send off my cards and a card grandpa was sending as well.  We ran into a local USFS gal who was just tying up loose ends at the post office before going home from work indefinitely thanks to the shut down.

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My last batch of postcards. I wanted to try to get everyone, so there are a ton!

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The bracelet I got at the trading post on Monday. Decided to add a picture.

Once finished at the post office, I suggested going to a used book store we passed.  Turns out it was just an extension of the local library and books weren’t priced, they were just whatever price we decided to donate.  I picked up four small books and we paid $5.  One is very short on how to best enjoy life, I’ll post a blog about it in a few days.  Another is on left-handed people of history.  And I can’t think of what the other two books were right now.  After the library we swung by grandpa’s girlfriend, Sandy’s house.  It is a beautiful house that doesn’t look old on the outside, but the inside has the characteristics of an old house, though it doesn’t seem old or worn out.  I think my favorite part of the whole place were the wooden beams in the living room and upstairs.  She has a huge kitchen with amazing appliances, too, but the beams and wooden accents gave it a rustic feeling.

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Hops on Sandy’s porch overlooking the small town of Idaho City. I’ve never thought of them being ornamental before!

My favorite room in general was more like a landing once you reached the top of the stairs.  Sandy owns an antique shop in town and likely came across most of her pieces for this space at her shop.  The space is Coca-Cola-themed and has everything from cups, to a phone, to lamps, and even a table and chairs with the Coca-Cola logo on them.  Some things were as new at 2007 as far as I could tell, and other seemed to be from the early 1900’s.  It was awesome to see all that memorabilia in there; I kept thinking how the guys from the American Pickers TV show would love this place.

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Sandy’s Coca-Cola room.

By the time we were done in town, the little bit of sprinkling rain from the morning had ceased and we were ready to go back to Grandpa’s house to get out the guns for some shooting practice.

We packed several handguns, ample ammunition, and the muzzle-loader for grandpa to practice with.

We drove about three miles out of town to shoot in a wooded area commonly used for such a purpose.

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The ammunition for the many handguns we brought along.

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Sandy’s beautiful Bursa. I really liked this little lady, and she is classy looking, too.

We made sure to use up all of the ammunition we brought, sparing no gun from use.  While my grandpa was getting some stuff together for a couple of the guns, I wandered off with our mostly empty bucket for spent shells.  I found a few that were left by other shooters and we collected the shells from the rounds we were using – this way grandpa could use them again for other rounds later.  While I was wandering, a creepy fat spider quickly crawling along the dirt caught my eye.  It took me a couple seconds to realize that it wasn’t a spider at all, but a teeny tiny toad.  I saw frogs this small in North Carolina, but they were all tree frogs.  This little bumpy dude seemed way too small for a toad, but he was cute anyway.  This entire time, I had the earmuffs on that hunters and shooters use to amplify sound, but loud noises are immediately cancelled out to protect the ear buds.  With these ear muffs on, I could hear the tiny toad croaking.  Every once in a while, he got irritated with me, stiffened up, croaked, and rolled over.  It was hilarious.  I think he was just camera shy.

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Tiny toad!!

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Glock 9mm, one of my favorites.

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Glock .45, my other favorite.

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Grandpa in his NRA shirt that says “Group Therapy” on the back. Notice the empty shell flying next to his right shoulder. Yep, I’m an artistic photographer.

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Small single-action .22

Apparently, I'm a pretty good shot.  I can't wait until I learn more in the Army and get even better.

Apparently, I’m a pretty good shot. I can’t wait until I learn more in the Army and get even better.

Armed and dangerous.

Armed and dangerous. I love the sound-enhancing ear muffs that cancel out all noise when a shot is fired.

After all the shooting practice and short lessons and facts my grandpa told me throughout the day, I know where I will be heading, should there ever be a zombie apocalypse. OR should the government remain in a stagnant state and I need to flee to a remote area of the country.  I’ll have access to all the ammunition and weapons needed, that’s for sure!

And this is how I'll mow down hoards of zombies one day.

And this is how I’ll mow down hoards of zombies one day.

Now, it’s time for me to head home.  I’m not sure if I’ll ever get to have such a great adventure on my motorcycle again, but I’m very glad I took the opportunity.  I know that many little things in my life have been changed and a few big things as well.

Also, I wanted you dedicated readers out there to know a quick funny story.  I’ll tell it short and simple like I told my mom because I was stunned by it.  Remember the amazing bartender, Andy, from Washington, D.C.?  Well, I had looked for him on Facebook without success, I figured he opted not to have one after getting back from being in Cameroon for over two years.  I was wrong, I just had his last name wrong, thankfully and he found me a couple of days ago.  Facebook is cool in that it tells you who your common friends are, I’ve made a few awesome friend connection discoveries this way before, and Andy was no different; we have one friend in common, Breanna Johnson.  Bre was one of my two little sisters in Chi Omega at Oregon State and I’ve kept in touch with her on and off since – she is a traveler at heart, much like me.  Randomly enough, Andy and Bre are cousins, though they haven’t seen each other in a very long time since his part of the family relocated to the east coast before he was a teenage, but he makes it out west occasionally.  Last week was one of those times.  Unfortunately their grandfather passed away and he flew out to Oregon for the funeral and got reacquainted with Bre there.  Small world? I think so.  Bre and I are having coffee on Friday to catch up, I can’t wait.  

It’s amazing how everything happens for a reason, though we often don’t know why until those reasons come to pass.  I am very thankful for all of the great moments of serendipity on this grand adventure.

-H

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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

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.

Eastern Time Zone

Written August 28th, 2013.

I haven’t even had the chance to put captions on the photos of my last post, yet here I am starting a new one.  I’ve made it all the way across the state of Tennessee and now I’m spending the night about fifteen miles west of the North Carolina border.  I stopped here for one reason… or rather over 300 reasons: the Tail of the Dragon.  Suggested by one of my coed lacrosse buddies, the Tail of the Dragon is a back road highway that holds over 300 curves in 11 miles.  The guy at the store near here said the only tail lights you’ll ever see are your own, if you’re crashing.  I guess that’s how loopy the turns are.  I’m picturing the Newberg-Hillsboro route up by Bald Peak back home, but curvier and longer.

Let me cover the last day and a half for you.

After getting to the nearest motorcycle dealership in Hot Springs, the mechanic checked my chain.  Unfortunately tightening it wouldn’t work for long, as it immediately slacked again and again.  The mechanic recommended I replace my chain and get a better chain lubricant than the one I’ve been using.

Waiting for the maintenance only took an hour, during which I got to know some of the staff and was able to do some research on replacing some other parts once I get to North Carolina.  The staff at John’s Honda in Hot Springs was extremely friendly and more helpful than any other motorcycle shop I’ve ever been to.  They let me use their work computer to do my parts research, they educated me on some great touring bikes for the future, and one older gentleman, who may have been the owner, brought over a small fluorescent t-shirt with the shop’s logo and asked if it would fit me.  I said it would, and he said I could have it; another random act of kindness to benefit me, so cool!  After that, several people that worked in the shop were trying to recommend a riding route for me if I come back another time.  The specific route I think was called the Pig Trail, but I know where it is on the map, and I look forward to riding it one day.

Riding through the rest of Arkansas was beautiful, but boring on the major highway at times.  Before I reached Memphis, there was a dude in a truck that kept speeding up to get next to me and either photographed me or took a video.  It was flattering, but frightening.  In the distance, the city skyline of Memphis was coming closer and closer into view, and before I knew it, I was crossing the legendary Mississippi River and riding around the city.  I kept on going until I crossed south into Mississippi and stopped for gas.  The people were incredibly inquisitive and friendly.  When I asked the girl behind the hot food counter what she recommended for food, she said: “the hot wings are good, I don’t recommend the lasagna or the egg rolls.  The chicken strips and chicken gizzards are good, but I don’t know what a gizzard is.”  I politely explained to her what a gizzard is and requested an order of those and some hot wings.  Might as well try something I’ve never had before, right?  The gizzards weren’t bad.  I’m not a fan of fried food typically, but for as bad as they sound, I’d say they were pretty good.

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Hot wings (on top) and chicken gizzards, yummy!

My snack would be good enough to hold me over until dinner, so I left and rode on to Counce, Tennessee as the sun was setting.  Mississippi was very green.  I really liked seeing huge trees covered in thick, intense ivy.  Most of the Mississippi ride was big highways, but felt like back roads because there was little in the way of road signage – other than “Cemetery” or the occasional sign for an in house taxidermy business.

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Sunset hitting as I head straight east on a small Mississippi highway, heading back to Tennessee.

It was extremely beautiful crossing back into Tennessee by riding on a bridge over the Tennessee River while the sun was setting and the reflection was caught on the water’s surface.

My friend Jack pulled up to his house less than a minute after I arrived.  I was able to quickly wash up, then off we went to the local Mexican restaurant before heading to his friend’s house to hang out and watch a comedy show.  The quaint town of Counce is so small that it’s not even really considered a legitimate town.

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Bridge lights over the Tennessee River near Counce, TN.

As one enters from any direction, a sign can be seen that reads something along the lines of: “Unincorporated town of Counce, Tennessee.”  It is interesting to me.

Jack and I stayed up pretty late chatting, and arguing, about our lives and things that have passed and things to come.

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Buster, the cuddle bug. I’ve missed this puppy’s face!

***

Before I knew it, this morning came and we were both running out the door as Jack headed to work.

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Daytime view of the Tennessee River.

Instead of heading straight to Nashville via the route most recommended by my GPS, I heeded Jack’s advice and took something called the Naches Trace Parkway, which was well worth it.  The Naches Trace Parkway is for non-commercial vehicles only and runs from Tennessee, down into Alabama for a few miles, then back into Tennessee, all through national forestland.

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The scenic Naches Trace in Alabama and Tennessee.

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Ahhh the open road!

I hoped to see more wildlife than I did, but I won’t complain about a coyote sighting and hanging out with many beautiful butterflies on a rest stop I took.  The most beautiful type of butterfly I have seen around here is primarily black with some tiny orange spots on the underside of its wings and bright blue spots on the top side of its wings.

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Making friends with nature. A beautiful butterfly!

After quite a bit of country riding, I arrived in Nashville.

My first interaction in Nashville happened while I was still on my bike, stopped at a light.  A guy in a black Nissan Maxima with heavily tinted windows was stopped next to me.  He rolled his window down and said, “Hey, girl!  Was you in Louisiana yesterday?  I think I saw a girl just like you on bike like that yesterday!”  I replied, “No, I was in Mississippi for a bit.”  “Yeah, yeah!  That was it!  I knew I seen you!”  Was his answer.  You have to appreciate the way people talk around here; it is a little endearing, but mostly appalling.

Soon after, I saw a couple walking down the street, the female adorned in tattoos and wearing a pair of fashionable cowgirl boots, and the male with a hairdo akin to that of Elvis.  I giggled inside.

I rode around the city until I found a place that looked like it had enough food options for me.  I had a great view of a huge sports stadium right where I parked, which also happened to be right across from the Hard Rock Café.

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LP Stadium? Next to Nashville’s Hard Rock Cafe.

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The Hipster Special: PBR and a Well Shot.

 

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Churches of Nashville. Snapped this while at a stop light.

I was surprised to see a Rock Bottom Brewery right there in downtown; I thought this was an exclusive thing for Portland.  I guess I am more naïve than I know!  I opted for a place called Broadway Brewery and had a huge quesadilla and an IPA from a local brewery called Yazoo, which was very good!

I think I left the city around 1pm, headed toward Knoxville, with the intention of staying just inside Tennessee so I’d have the energy to enjoy the heck out of the Tail of the Dragon tomorrow.  I crossed into the Eastern Time Zone about two-thirds of the way through the state.

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I pulled over near a construction facility to take this shot of the Tennessee sunset.

I had been unable to find a place to camp via the internet because the closest national park sites have been closed all year.  Instead, I thought I’d do what I’ve been doing: ride until I find a camp spot.  I kept riding and saw signs that said: “Caution: extreme winding road.  Use caution or alternate route.”  I knew I was getting close but was afraid I would accidently hit the route and end up in North Carolina.  Part of the fun of riding the Dragon is that a photographer sits and takes pictures of riders all day.  Some people say over 12,000 riders hit the route every day during this time of year.

After a bit of extra riding, I came up to a small shop that had souvenirs for the route, so I knew I could ask for advice there.

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I made it to the Tail of the Dragon! I still need to go check their website for my ride through on August 29th around 11am.

I’m lucky I showed up when I did because they were just starting to close up shop.  The owners of the shop also own a motorcycle-only campground about a mile back the way I came; I missed the sign because it’s down for repairs.  The male owner of the shop told me about all the different things I should expect to see tomorrow and told me a story about how some bikers get sauced off of real moonshine out here.  I wish I could relay the story, but I wouldn’t do it any justice without the thick southern accent of the man.  Eventually, I paid my camping fee, grabbed some souvenir stickers, and headed back.  Dodging several frogs hopping across the road, I found the site easily, parked, and set up camp.  There are showers here, but the one closest to me looks like an old school outhouse, though it works very well.

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Hillbilly shower much?!

It was a little unsettling when the female owner of the campground said I should leave any food I have on my bike or in the picnic area because there has been a bear coming and going lately.  Fortunately, there are at least four alert dogs on the property that are left out at all times and occasionally all run off in a sprint into the darkness.

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Three of the troublemaking dogs.

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Where I’m writing my blog from tonight.

***

I just finished writing this, closed my laptop, and was walking back to my campsite when I noticed there were large amounts of trash strewn about the unoccupied site next to mine.  I know this trash was not there just an hour before when I walked to the patio of the main house to start my entry…  I quickly slid into my tent and sat with my head lamp on attentively listening for any sounds that may tell me if there was a bear around.  Suddenly, I heard a low grumbling sound maybe fifteen feet from my tent and immediately clicked off my lamp.  It was not an identifying grumble because it could have been a dog or a bear with that tone.  You guys already know I’m afraid of the dark, and if you didn’t, now you do.  I didn’t hear the dogs barking, so I waited.  Then, I heard rifling through the trash near the picnic area, which is about forty feet from me.  Terrified, I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep unless I assured myself it wasn’t a bear.  I quietly unzipped my tent, aimed my head lamp at the picnic area, and turned it on pointed in the direction of the source of the sound.  At first, I didn’t see anything.  I could see the dogs sitting up near the patio of the house, so I whistled hoping to get their attention.  Immediately, two sets of glowing eyes because visible from the picnic area, too small to be adult bears.  The dogs started barking and running toward my whistle.  I started to be able to make out body shapes.  Maybe raccoons?  Maybe coyotes?  Oh God… maybe bobcats?!?  Eep!  Then I realized the movements were too predictable, and not cautious or creepy enough to be any of those.  The eyes started getting closer and could see tails, wagging, in my light.  One of the sets of eyes belonged to the oddly shaped miniature pinscher whom I’d made acquaintance with before.  The other set belonged to that of an adorable brindle puppy that I hadn’t seen before.  She is bigger than the minpin but smaller than the other dogs, which is why I’d thought maybe she was a bobcat or coyote.

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The supposed “bear,” what a cutie.

Whew.  Close one.  I’m so glad I checked to make sure it wasn’t a bear and that all the commotion was just the dogs.  Now, even if it is a bear, I’ll trick myself to thinking any odd noises are just the dogs.

Norman, Oklahoma: Beginning to Explore My Roots

August 26, 2013

Tonight I write from Hot Springs, Arkansas, a busy town in which President Bill Clinton grew up in and one that attracts many tourists for it national park attraction: the hot springs, of course.  If my writing style sounds a bit different than all the posts up until now, that’s because I have been listening to Atlas Shrugged for the past few days, and listening to different authors has a way of changing the way I sound when writing.

The last time I wrote, I was in Stillwater, Oklahoma.  After cooking a dinner of homemade enchiladas on Saturday night, I went to bed reasonably early.  I had hoped to leave by 10am on Sunday morning, but I had a bit of a late start and left around 11.

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I spy a tractor… at a gas station…

I arrived in Norman, Oklahoma around 1pm or so and was joyfully welcomed by my great-aunt Jo Ellen (my father’s aunt) and her husband, my great-uncle Russell.  What a riot those two are, and I couldn’t be happier that I took the detour south to visit them.  They were amazing tour guides and gracious hosts.  The first thing we did after I had the chance to clean up and change was go to lunch at a sit-down restaurant called Cheddars.  Uncle Russell recommended the fried catfish, so I gave that a try.  I don’t think I’ve ever had fried catfish, but it was pretty good.

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Remnants of fried catfish and peach tea, yum!

Over lunch I learned about their children and their grandchildren and several things going on with various parts of that side of my family.  I didn’t know there was a university in Norman, Oklahoma University, or OU, which many members of our family have attended, at least if they didn’t attend Oklahoma State University instead.  I learned that many of the ladies on that side of the family are Chi Omegas, and had been long before I was ever born.  I laughed to think that I was technically a Chi O legacy many times over, but I never knew it.  I guess that helps prove that some things are really just meant to be.

After lunch, I wanted to fulfill a very special request for my recruiting Sergeant back home.  He had asked me, if I made it to Norman, would I visit a friend of his.  Not knowing who his friend might be, I said sure.  After getting the gentleman’s address and seeing that it was at a cemetery, Sgt. Baker filled me in on his friend.  Specialist James Dean Hunt had been my Sgt.’s Bradley driver and close friend a few years ago.  On November 5, 2009 a man opened fire in the Army processing center of Fort Hood, Texas, killing thirteen people.  I’m sure you’ve all heard this story by now, as it was a big deal when it happened, and as we’re all hearing about it lately with the shooter’s trial coming to a close.  SPC Hunt was one of the thirteen, and I was dumbfounded – in a good way – to have Sgt. Baker ask this of me.   Not even two months ago, I read up on the Fort Hood shootings, just trying to get a better understanding of what happened.  I remember reading SPC Hunt’s name (since I’m starting as a SPC in the Army, I was just trying to relate to each SPC killed that day) and seeing that he was so young; he had just turned 22 years old and had been married all of two months.  He died shielding two nurses from live fire, both of whom walked away unharmed.  Sergeant Baker says that is just the kind of man SPC Hunt was.

Aunt Jo Ellen and Uncle Russell took me to a supermarket to pick up some flowers before heading to the cemetery.  I picked out a bouquet with primarily yellow flowers since yellow ribbons are a symbol of supporting our troops.  Once we arrived at the cemetery, we drove around for a just a few minutes before finding the right section; the cemetery was very small and my aunt and uncle have reserved plots for themselves there, not too far from SPC Hunt, actually.  Weird concept, but smart to do in advance so their children won’t have to pay for much.  It wasn’t difficult to spot exactly which plot was SPC Hunt’s, only three plots had small American flags in their flower pots, but his had a small, patriotic bouquet as well.  I considered this very thoughtful given the recent events surrounding his killer.  My aunt and uncle waited for me in the car as I took my time paying my respects.  I was already teary-eyed thinking about his self-sacrifice, but when I remembered how young he was, it made me sadder.  He would be six months younger than me if he were still alive.  I was able to smile a bit when I realized I was visiting him on his birthday, completely by chance, not intentionally, but serendipitously; August 25, 1987.  I will always be honored that Sergeant Baker respected me enough to ask this very personal favor of me.

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Happy birthday to Specialist Jason Dean Hunt. Thank you for your sacrifices to our nation.

After leaving my bouquet for Specialist Hunt, my aunt and uncle showed me where they will be buried.  They also decided it was a good idea to drive me to the other cemetery in town to show me where my great grandmother was buried.

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My grandmother, Josephine Santone; this was the first time I ever ‘met’ her.

On the way, we passed through the still devastated area of Moore, Oklahoma that experienced a very powerful tornado this last May.  I know you heard about it because I don’t have cable and I heard about it!  Houses no longer stand, many neighboring houses that weren’t demolished are still suffering from much needed roof repairs, and the trees that are still standing look ridiculous, almost naked.  There was even a little shopping center that was just ripped up.

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Ruins of a shopping center, still not torn down after the big tornado through Moore, OK this past May.

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This used to be a housing development, before the tornado in May.

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What’s left of a few trees after the May tornado ripped them up.

I can’t imagine living in an area where such natural disasters happen every single year; the last five years having been some of the most destructive.  When I asked a couple in Stillwater how they are okay with it they said, “The science these days is sound.  Meteorologists can tell us within a quarter of a mile where a tornado is going to be.  We would not want to live where you’re from – earthquakes are not that predictable.”  They had a good point, but I can’t think of an earthquake that was even a little devastating in Oregon.

Following the tornado tour, I was given a thorough tour of the OU campus; I think my aunt was most excited to show me the Chi O house, which was at least twice the size of the Chi O house I lived in at Oregon State.  also, the house was so big, I couldn’t fit the whole thing into an instagram! I love all my sisters, but man, it would have been insane to live with twice as many of them!

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The Chi Omega house at Oklahoma University. The whole house didn’t fit in my instagram photo.

The conclusion of our tour was dinner at a great BBQ place where I had a double order of ribs (that I could not finish) and fried okra; sounds gross, but it was good!

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The name of the BBQ joint I went to in Norman. I’m too lazy to change the picture to landscape.

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My enormous dinner. I ate all but two ribs and some fried okra!

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Fried Okra!

When we got back to the house, Aunt Jo Ellen pulled out a small wooden box filled with pictures, articles, and various other keepsakes from our family.  My favorite item was a photograph of my great great great great grandfather, James Taylor, who survived the trail of tears to where the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma currently resides; he also was numbered on the Dawes Commission Roll, #13386.

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My great great great great grandfather on my father’s side of the family. James Taylor of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Dawes Commission Roll number 13386.

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What the back of James Taylor’s photograph says: “This is a photo of James Taylor JAMES TAYLOR, Dawes Commission Roll of Choctaws, #13386, age 48, fullblood, Gaines County in the Choctaw Nation, postoffice of Damon, name of father is Ea-ho-Nubbee, name of mother is Pis-ta-hoke. Both parents dead. SUSAN TAYLOR, his wife, age 39, half blood, daughter of John Cass and Elisa Cass. Susan’s Roll #13387
Emeline Anderson, their daughter, age 15, three quarter blood, wife of Reason Anderson. Emeline’s roll # is 13389
Photo from original photo in home of Joseph Green Anderson at Tuskahoma Oklahoma by [sic] will t nelson”

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A photographed copy of my ancestors on the Dawes Commission Roll; last name Anderson.

Aunt Jo Ellen had a couple of things for me to take with me: a picture of her father when he was in high school, a related news article, and a pamphlet for the Choctaw Nation’s capital building.

After winding down, it was time for bed.  I woke up early the next morning to my hosts making a feast of a breakfast for me.  Uncle Russell was most excited to get a picture of his bike and mine together.  Recently, he had purchased a three-wheeled Schwinn, cherry red.  At first when he told me he had a bike, I pictured a Honda Goldwing or maybe even a Harley of some sort.  Nope, this guy is one for the classics, a real bicycle to get him around town and save gas; which, by the way, is something Uncle Russell and Aunt Jo Ellen detest: buying gas.  We drove around between our several destinations on Sunday trying to find a place that had cheap enough, no ethanol, gas.  I have never had to stifle so many laughs in an afternoon.

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Myself, Aunt Jo Ellen, and Uncle Russell, gathered with our sweet “bikes.”

At 10:30am I was on my way.  Choctaw Nation, here I come, then on to Arkansas!

***

The ride from Norman, OK to the tiny township of Tuskahoma, OK was very beautiful.  I saw more armadillo (dead, of course) but had no time to stop and take pictures per my friend Jordan’s request.  Frankly, I’m kind of scared to… the smell is bad enough just riding past them!  At one point, I saw what I thought was another dead creature on the center yellow lines, but as I passed noticed it tucking his head in quickly.  It was a flat turtle, not run over, just naturally flat, that was about the size of a dinner plate.  I was ecstatic.  It’s the little things that have made this adventure so enjoyable up to this point, and the creatures and scenery are certainly included in all that.

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Straight, smooth roads of eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas, surrounded by beautiful green landscape… and the occasional turtle.

Tuskahoma is so small that, when I got turned around at one point and stopped at a gas station for clarification, the guy at the counter literally scratched his head.

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Pausing to watch workers assemble tires so a bulldozer can safely cross the road without ruining the pavement.

I figured it out without having to back track too much.  Tuskahoma is the location of the old council house of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, my Native American tribe.  The old council house is now used as a museum and gift shop.  When one first pulls into the village area, a large entrance sign is visible displaying the location, the chief’s name, and the assistant chief’s name.

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The official entrance to Tuskahoma, the capital of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

I enjoyed seeing the seal of my tribe all over everything; it is a big point of pride for me.  In fact, I hope to get a tattoo of it someday, but I have to wait until my service in the Army is over.

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The museum is a building with a gaudy red roof and has a lawn adorned with statues, plaques, and a war memorial dedicated to fallen soldiers of the Choctaw Nation in all of the wars of the last century, including the current war on terrorism.

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The former council house of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. Now a museum.

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Lacrosse, much?

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If you haven’t heard of the Trail of Tears, then you slept through too much of your high school history class.

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A statue in the foreground and a water tower in the background that says “Choctaw.”

My favorite memorial was that to the codetalkers of World War I and World War II.

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Each branch of the armed services is honored here.

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I was excited to visit the museum and hoped to pick up some postcards to send home, but was disappointed to discover that they were closed for the entire day due to repairs.  Really?  The one day I make it there in my entire life and they’re closed?  I wouldn’t be able to come back the next day, but maybe I’ll make it back some day and hopefully bring my sister.

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Rude.

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“Tvshka Homma Red Warrior” The plaque on the opposite side of this rotunda reads, “Chahta Tvshkahomma” The Choctaw Red Warrior represents who the Choctaw people are: Choctaw people are proud; we have the wisdom to teach, the courage to fight, the strength to survive and the determination to persevere. “Chahta Sia,” I am Choctaw.

Leaving Tuskahoma, I was less than 50 miles away from Arkansas.  Winding roads took me through a national forest and to my final destination of Hot Springs, Arkansas.  This town is pretty lively.  And it’s fairly large!  There is a big lake, many old buildings in the downtown area to look at, and very friendly people!

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Taking a small wrong turn in Arkansas led me to this beauty, an abandoned airplane sitting in a field.

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The cute little country store in Joplin, Arkansas that I stopped at for dinner. They also rent out movies!

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View of the creek right behind my campsite.

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My campsite in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

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Giant, dead grasshopper caught in my grill. Maybe that’s why it always smells so funny when I’m riding down the road… Wasps were trying to eat him, so I removed him from my grill.

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So many wasps trying to eat the dead bugs off of my bike… ew and awesome. They’re hard to see in this photo.

This morning I have stopped at Starbucks to update this thing – my roommate keeps sending me texts to make sure I’m still alive, he says I haven’t posted recently enough.  I have to stop by a motorcycle shop to get my chain fixed, and then I’ll be on to Counce, Tennessee to visit my friend and former coworker, Jack.

Until then,

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A little parting gift for you all. My aunt and uncle had these at their house. I guess they’re back in business, but on this side of the country this time!

-H