Tag Archives: travel

A Short Guide to a Happy Life – By Anna Quindlen

While my grandfather and I were wandering about the town of Idaho City during my visit, we discovered that the tiny local library had a used book room in an outbuilding across the parking lot.  For a $5 donation, I acquired four books, the following was one of them.  I mostly decided to snag this book because it reminded me of something one of my college buddies, Jack Wong, said on Facebook the other week.  He brought up the fact that he doesn’t talk to many people from college anymore and isn’t sure if he’s living his life the way people are meant to.  I think he is in the same boat as all of us; we just need to realize we aren’t alone.  We are just too focused on ourselves and forget to check in with everyone once in a while.  I am definitely a huge culprit of this.  I spent most of college making many awesome friends, but didn’t keep most of them close.  I am very fortunate to still have a handful of close relationships, but I think it’s because those friends really did all the work.  These days, I find myself more thankful for the friendships I still have or have resumed, close-knit or not.  I’ve sent thankful texts, postcards, and letters to many people just to tell them how much I appreciate them.  If I find myself more lonely than usual, I feel it’s because I don’t follow these words of wisdom.

In this short book, many of my current values are stated in better words than I could string together.  For your benefit, I am just going to write it out word for word – it’s about as long as my blogs typically are anyway.  Phrases in bold are things that I find to be especially important.

*****

A Short Guide to a Happy Life, By Anna Quindlen – Random House Copyright, 2000.

“I’m not particularly qualified by profession or education to give advice and counsel. It’s widely known in a small circle that I make a mean tomato sauce, and I know many inventive ways to hold a baby while nursing, although I haven’t had the opportunity to use any of them in years.  I have a good eye for a nice swatch and a surprising paint chip, and I have had a checkered, but occasionally successful, sideline in matchmaking.

But I’ve never earned a doctorate, or even a master’s degree.  I’m not an ethicist, or a philosopher, or an expert in any particular field.  Each time I give a commencement speech I feel like a bit of a fraud.  Yogi Berra’s advice seems as good as any: When you come to a fork in the road, take it!

I can’t talk about the economy, or the universe, or academe, as academicians like to call where they work when they’re feeling kind of grand.  I’m a novelist.  My work is human nature.  Real life is really all I know.

Don’t ever confuse the two, your life and your work.  That’s what I have to say.  The second is only a part of the first.  Don’t ever forget what a friend once wrote to Senator Paul Tsongas when the senator had decided not to run for reelection because he’d been diagnosed with cancer: “No man ever said on his deathbed I wish I had spent more time at the office.”

Don’t ever forget the words on a postcard that my father sent me last year: “If you win the rat race, you’re still a rat.”

Or what John Lennon wrote before he was gunned down in the driveway of the Dakota: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

That’s the only advice I can give.  After all, when you look at the faces of a class of graduating seniors, you realize that each student has only one thing that no one else has.  When you leave college, there are thousands of people out there with the same degree you have; when you get a job, there will be thousands of people doing what you want to do for a living.

But you are the only person alive who has sole custody of your life.  Your particular life.  Your entire life.  Not just your life at a desk, or your life on the bus, or in the car, or at the computer.  Not just the life of your mind, but the life of your heart. Not just your bank account, but your soul.

People don’t talk about the soul very much anymore.  It’s so much easier to write a resume than to craft a spirit.  But a resume is cold comfort on a winter night, or when you’re sad, or broke, or lonely, or when you’ve gotten back the chest X ray and it doesn’t look so good, or when the doctor writes “prognosis, poor.”

Here is my resume.  It’s not what my professional bio says, proud as I am of all that:

I am a good mother to three good children.  I have tried to never let my profession stand in the way of being a good parent.  I no longer consider myself the center of the universe.  I show up.  I listen.  I try to laugh.

I am a good friend to my husband.  I have tried to make my marriage vows mean what they say.  I show up.  I listen.  I try to laugh.

I am a good friend to my friends, and they to me.  Without them I would have nothing of interest to say to anyone, because I would be a cardboard cutout.  But I call them on the phone, and I meet them for lunch.  I show up.  I listen.  I try to laugh.

I would be rotten, or at best mediocre, at my job if those other things were not true.  You cannot be really first-rate at your work if you work is all you are.

So I suppose the best piece of advice I could give anyone is pretty simple: get a life.  A real life, not a manic pursuit of the next promotion, the bigger paycheck, the larger house.  Do you think you’d care so very much about those things if you developed an aneurysm one afternoon, or found a lump in your breast while in the shower?

Get a life in which you notice the smell of salt water pushing itself on a breeze over the dunes, a life in which you stop and watch how a red-tailed hawk circles over a pond and a stand of pines.  Get a life in which you pay attention to the baby as she scowls with concentration when she tries to pick up a Cheerio with her thumb and first finger.

Turn off your cell phone.  Turn off you regular phone, for that matter.  Keep still.  Be present.

Get a life in which you are not alone.  Find people you love, and who love you.  And remember that love is not leisure, it is work.  Each time I look at my diploma, I remember that I am still a student, still learning every day how to be human.  Send an e-mail.  Write a letter.  Kiss your mom.  Hug your dad.

Get a life in which you are generous.  Look around at the azaleas making fuchsia star bursts in spring; look at a full moon hanging silver in a black sky on a cold night.  And realize that life is glorious, and that you have no business taking it for granted.  Care so deeply about its goodness that you want to spread it around.  Take the money you would have spent on beers in a bar and give it to charity.  Work in a soup kitchen.  Tutor a seventh-grader.

All of us want to do well.  But if we do not do good, too, then doing well will never be enough.  

Live by the words of this poem by Gwendolyn Brooks:

“Exhaust the little moment.
Soon it dies.

And be it gash or gold
it will not come.

Again in this identical
disguise.”

Life is short.  Remember that, too.

I’ve always known this.  Or almost always.  I’ve been living with mortality for decades, since my mother died of ovarian cancer when she was forty and I was nineteen.  And this is what I learned from that experience: that knowledge of our own mortality is the greatest gift God ever gives us.

It is so easy to waste our lives: our days, our hours, our minutes.  It is so easy to take for granted the pale new growth on an evergreen, the sheen of the limestone on Fifth Avenue, the color of our kids’ eyes, the way the melody in a symphony rises and falls and disappears and rises again.  It is so easy to exist instead of live.  Unless you know there is a clock ticking.  So many of us changed our lives when we heard a biological clock and decided to have kids.  But that sound is a murmur compared to the tolling of mortality.

Maybe you have come to feel the way I have.  And you’ve come to feel that way for a very difficult or demanding reason.  One day you were walking around worrying about whether you had anything to wear to a party and reminding yourself to buy Kitty Litter or toilet paper.  And then you were lying on a doctor’s table, or the phone rang.  And your world suddenly divided, as my world did many years ago.  It divided into “before” and “after.”

“Before” for me was my freshman year of college, when I found myself able for the first time in my life to swear at meals and not be reprimanded, to go out at midnight and not have to tell anyone where I was going.  “After” was the beginning of what would have been my sophomore year, when I found myself out of school, making meat loaf and administering morphine in a development house in the suburbs.

It is amazing how much you can learn in one year.  Just like Paul, who was knocked off his mule into the dust on the way to Damascus, and discovered God, I had a rude awakening.  I’m not sure I learned anything much about mortality, or death, or pain, or even love, although in the years since, I have found that that one horrible year has given me a perspective on all those things I wouldn’t otherwise have had.

“Before” and “after” for me was not just before my mother’s illness and after her death.  It was the dividing line between seeing the world in black and white, and in Technicolor.  The lights came on, for the darkest possible reason.

And I went back to school and I looked around at all the kids I knew who found it kind of a drag and who weren’t sure if they could really hack it and who thought life was a bummer.  And I knew that I had undergone a sea change.  Because I was never again going to be able to see life as anything except a great gift.

It’s ironic that we forget so often how wonderful life really is.  We have more time than ever before to remember it.  The men and women of generations past had to work long, long hours to support lots and lots of children in tiny, tiny houses.  The women worked in factories and sweatshops and then at home, too, with two bosses, the one who paid them, and the on they were married to, who didn’t.

There are new generations of immigrants now, who work just as hard, but those of us who are second and third and fourth generation are surrounded by nice cars, family rooms, patios, pools – the things our grandparents thought only rich people had.  Yet somehow, instead of rejoicing, we’ve found the glass half empty.  Our jobs take too much out of us and don’t pay enough.  We’re expected to pick the kids up at preschool and run the microwave at home.

C’mon, let’s be honest.  We have an embarrassment of riches.  Life is good.

I don’t mean in any cosmic way.  I never think of my life, or my world, in any big cosmic way.  I think of it in all its small component parts: the snowdrops, the daffodils; the feeling of one of my kids sitting close beside me on the couch; the way my husband looks when he reads with the lamp behind him; fettuccine alfredo; fudge; Gone With the Wind, Pride and Prejudice.  Life is made up of moments, small pieces of glittering mica in a long stretch of gray cement.  It would be wonderful if they came to us unsummoned, but particularly in lives as busy as the ones most of us lead now, that won’t happen.  We have to teach ourselves how to make room for them, to love them, and to live, really live.

I learned to live many years ago.  Something really bad happened to me, something that changed my life in ways that, if I had had a choice, I would have never been changed at all.  And what I learned from it is what, today, sometimes seems to be the hardest lesson of all.

I learned to love the journey, not the destination.  I learned that this is not a dress rehearsal, and that today is the only guarantee you get.

I learned to look at all the good in the world and to try to give some of it back, because I believed in it completely and utterly.  And I tried to do that, in part, by telling others what I had learned, even though so many people may have thought I sounded like Pollyanna.  By telling them this: Consider the lilies of the field.  Look at the fuzz on a baby’s ear.  Read in the backyard with the sun on your face.  Learn to be happy.  And think of life as a terminal illness, because, if you do, you will life it with joy and passion, as it ought to be lived.  

Anyone can learn all of those things, out there in the world.  You just need to get a life, a real life, a full life, a professional life, yes, but another life, too.  School never ends.  The classroom is everywhere.  The exam comes at the very end.  No man ever said on his deathbed I wish I had spent more time at the office.

I found one of my best teachers on the boardwalk at Coney Island many years ago.  It was December, and I was doing a story about ow the homeless suffer in the winter months.  He and I sat on the edge of the wooden supports, dangling our feet over the side, and he told me about his schedule, panhandling the boulevard when the summer crowds were gone, sleeping in a church when the temperature went below freezing, hiding from the police amid the Tilt-A-Whirl and the Cyclone and some of the other seasonal rides.

But he told me that most of the time he stayed on the boardwalk, facing the water, just the way were were sitting now, even when it got cold and he had to wear his newspapers after he read them.  And I asked him why.  Why didn’t he go to one of the shelters?  Why didn’t he check himself into the hospital for detox?

And he stared out at the ocean and said, “Look at the view, young lady.  Look at the view.”

And every day, in some little way, I try to do what he said.  I try to look at the view.  That’s all.  Words of wisdom from a man with not a dime in his pocket, no place to go, nowhere to be.  Look at the view.  When I do what he said, I am never disappointed.

*****

So that’s the entirety of the book.  Many of these things I think about daily.  I think about what I could do to better my experiences in the world and my relationships with my loved ones, with no promise that everything will turn out perfectly.  This last year has been a whirlwind of changes.  At one point I was deep in love with a man that, months later, told me he was dying of cancer, only to find out that he seems to be in fine health.  I learned that one of my Chi Omega sisters was going through a tough time with cancer herself and actually sick, not faking it like the guy.  I visited her and sent texts often, and when her life was cut short, I celebrated it on what would have been her 25th birthday with many of our Chi Omega sisters, her other close friends, and her family.  The least of my worries was when I was laid off from two separate jobs, which I’ve done fine without.

All in all, the biggest things I’ve learned this year are that God will always provide for me, even during my darkest days when I neglect to turn to him, and that I will always find strength in the people I love, as long as I love them, too.

As always, thank you for reading,

-H

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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

The Tail of the Dragon and on to the Atlantic Ocean

Written September 2nd, 2013.

If you haven’t seen on facebook or instagram, I have finally arrived in North Carolina to rest for a couple of weeks before returning back to the west coast via a different route than the one I arrived on.

Thursday morning was a foggy, damp morning.  Putting away my tent and other camping items was interesting as I had to try to dry everything off from the intense dew that settled during the night.  No bears had come, though the people in the neighboring cabins asked if I’d heard them in the night because they saw a great deal of trash strewn about.  They all got a good laugh when I told them about the dogs.

I set out around 10:30am, I was psyching myself out a bit about the Tail of the Dragon, thinking it would be nerve-racking, when it really wasn’t.  It is a well-known motorcycle and sport car route that has 318 turns in 11 miles, sometimes called Highway 129 South.  Many signs warn trucks to turn turn around because there are so many switchbacks to come.  The route takes riders over the mountains and through some very green forest area.  Before you get to the actual switchbacks, the road is parallel to a river.  I pulled over to take some great scenery pictures because the view was too good to pass up!

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Overlooking Chilhowee Lake before getting into the switchbacks of the Tail of the Dragon.

Going through the turns was so fun, it was smooth and simple, like just practicing how to weave on the most perfect course.  For the first time of my entire trip, I didn’t have music or audiobooks on, just pure silence.  I didn’t need any distractions like I normally do, the road was more than enough entertainment for me, or anyone.

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I stopped at a viewpoint overlooking Calderwood Lake.

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Looking North from the viewpoint.

Along the way, photographers were intermittently stationed to capture photos of riders and put them up on the internet for sale later.  I went through just before 11:00am on August 29th if you happen to find any of those sites.  I found one of the sites and the picture of me totally made me look like a guy.  Oh well.

When the route was over, I couldn’t believe it was so simple and enjoyable.  I would’ve gone through it again if I wasn’t planning on riding all the way across North Carolina by the end of the day.  The first ten miles of the route are in Tennessee, the last one mile crosses into North Carolina – it was pretty cool.  At the end (or the beginning, depending on where you start) there is a restaurant where hundreds of bikes were parked.

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Only some of the motorcycles in the lot. About 12,000 go through the tail of the dragon each day.

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Coolest General Store ever… biker heaven!

I stopped to get lunch, since I did not have breakfast, and to enjoy the atmosphere of pure biker heaven.  I ordered a bacon and egg burger for lunch because I couldn’t decide if I wanted breakfast or lunch, so it was perfect.

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My burger that was kinda breakfast kinda lunch, but completely awesome.

There were beautiful bikes of all kinds parked outside the restaurant.  My favorite was a practically brand new Honda CBR 1000 Repsol that had all sorts of Repsol additions; a GoPro decked in Repsol, a backpack with the Repsol colors and logo, etc.  If you don’t know what Repsol is, it is a color scheme for a sport bike, commonly seen on race tracks.  It is red, orange, and white and so sweet looking; before I ever got a motorcycle, I would refer to Repsols as my “boyfriend bike,” though I would never own one because I don’t find CBRs comfortable.  My roommate had one, so I just lived vicariously through him for a while – remind me to tell him to look up “JohnnyRepsol” on the Repsol forums, whatever that means.

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The Repsol CBR with its matching GoPro. Some people go overboard, in a good way 🙂

There were riders of all types at the restaurant and a couple of them even saw my Oregon plates.  Some guys from Michigan told me they thought their trip was long, riding the whole way from home, but then they saw my bike and knew it wasn’t all that bad.  Most people that made the trip trailered their bikes to nearby campsites or hotels… I definitely out-badassed them all!

While there, I took a lot of photos of the bikes, the dragons, and the Tree of Shame.  The Tree of Shame is a tree that is decorated with all the gear and parts from bikes that have been wrecked on the Tail of the Dragon.  Really, you have to try to wreck on this route – the speed limit is 30 and if you’re going much faster than that, you’re asking for trouble.

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The Tree of Shame: a collection of wrecked parts.

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The newest addition to the lot: a hand-carved emerald dragon.

Around 1pm I finally got back on the road.  The first 60 miles or so was a winding highway through the forest and misty air of North Carolina, it was very enjoyable.  I had to cover nearly 500 miles if I wanted to make it to the beach by the end of the day.  As the day went on, it got warmer and warmer.  I drank all two liters of water in my Camelback and refilled it at a gas station.  While at this particular gas station, I took the time to rest and call my grandparents to let them know I was going to make it to them around 8pm.  While sitting in the parking lot, a small shiny skink-like lizard darted by.  You know you’re in North Carolina or south of it when you start seeing lizards running around the place.

When I got back on the road, I realized I was riding toward an ominous dark cloud and was not looking forward to probably hitting rain for the first time during my entire journey.  When I started to feel sprinkles, I was still under blue sky, then the rain dumped on me out of nowhere.  It wasn’t like rain back home because it was sharp, like tiny razors were skidding along my skin.  It wasn’t cold, it was warm and comfortable.  I laughed most of the way through the rain because I thought I’d be miserable in it, when really it was a refreshing break from the heat.  The rain was so intense that I thought about stopping under an underpass or gas station if one came up, but I saw a glimpse of blue sky before I could settle on any big decisions.  The downpour only lasted about five minutes across two or so miles.  No big deal for an Oregonian, that’s for sure.  I was wearing a t-shirt and jeans with my riding jacket buckled around my waist by my backpack and everything was drenched.  Before I departed for my trip, I had put water resistant spray on my jacket – which did no good since I wasn’t wearing it – and on all my bags, so they were only wet on the surface.  However, my jeans, boots, and t-shirt were soggy as heck.  Fortunately the humidity was still high and it took less than thirty minutes before all the clothes I was wearing were completely dry.  It was like a free, hilarious shower.  I told my grandmother that God was being funny because he didn’t want me boasting that I rode the whole way without hitting weather, so he made sure to hit me hard and keep me humble.

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The sky only forty minutes after a torrential downpour doused me.

My route east was mostly Interstate 40 straight across from Asheville to Greensboro to Raleigh and on.  After Raleigh, my grandfather had told me to keep riding until I saw signs for Interstate 70 East Bypass toward Clayton.  Well, I saw interstate 70, but not the bypass.  After a few more miles I saw Interstate 70 Business toward Clayton, so I figured that was what he meant, so I took it.  Every mile or so I was stopping at a stoplight, what a pain.  I attempted to call my grandparents, but no answer.  My map said this would take me the right way, so I kept going.

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At least I got to snap a quick picture of the sunset when I stopped to check my map.

By the time it was 8pm, I was still two hours from the coast and I was tired as heck.  But I knew it was worth it and kept going.  Finally, I got about 30 minutes away from the coast to New Bern, North Carolina.  Ever since I read a book by Nicholas Sparks called “The Wedding,” I’ve always wanted to visit New Bern.  When Sparks spoke about the town in his book, he perfectly described the sleepy, old fashioned town.  The quaint kind of town most people imagine growing old in, as the couple had in his book.  The one reassuring thing about riding so late was the warmth of the air.  I dislike riding at night, but the warm air kept me comfortable and positive.  I finally arrived at the beach condo around 10:15pm, which was very rewarding because I got to settle myself in and greet my grandparents.  The second longest ride of my trip and it was well worth it.

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Water tower that is a want to be lighthouse that says: Atlantic Beach, NC.

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View of the beach from our condo.

The next day, we woke up around 8am and set up a canopy on the beach.  My grandfather and I walked the beach and combed it for all kinds of amazing shells.

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So many shells!!

 We spent the entire day out in the sun.  I think my grandpa has some weird obsession with shells because everywhere we went he kept eyeballing the beach and grabbing the coolest whole and broken shells; he says he’s collecting them to fill a part of his garden with, but I think he found about 100 pounds too many.  He must have over 200 pounds of shells in total at their house now, no exaggeration.

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My grandfather has an obsession with shells….

When he was finding shells in the surf on his own and his pockets got full, he would grab the small shells with his mouth and hold them in there until it was also full.  It was easy to tell when this happened because he looked like a human chipmunk standing in the surf… I’m surprised he wasn’t dehydrating from having all that salt in his mouth.

On our walk along the beach, we also found four horseshoe crabs that had died and washed up.  We were going to keep those for the garden too, but fortunately grandpa forgot about them.  Imagine how bad that would smell up their car!

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Grandpa has crabs… horseshoe crabs, that is.

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Close up!

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Even closer close up. Horseshoe crab eyeball.

After I became exhausted from beach combing, I hung out for a minute in the shade.  My grandparents were telling me about the fishing they had done the day before and I told them I had never been fishing.  My grandpa was very excited to hear that and said we could go fishing that afternoon.  High tide was around 4pm so it was best to start getting things set up as soon as possible.  Apparently you can fish right there at the ocean… how cool is that?  I learned how to cast, which I think was my favorite part because it reminded me of throwing a lacrosse ball with a lacrosse stick, and I learned how to cut up bait to put on my hooks.  In all, I caught three fish, two of which we threw back.

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Getting ready to go fishing for my first time ever!

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I unexpectedly caught something, I hadn’t even felt it tug on the line.

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Teamwork!

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I caught a flounder and let him go.

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Grandpa searching for shells again…

My grandmother accidentally caught a brave crab that just wouldn’t let go of the bait, and grandpa caught several fish, a couple of which were bait and two were for food – which we never ended up eating.  Nevertheless, it was a great experience and I found out I really like fishing.  The next adventure we plan on having is a day of golfing.  My grandfather doesn’t get around well enough to be able to golf, but my grandmother is very excited to take me this week – I am excited, too!

After our adventurous day on the beach, Friday night concluded with us going to a restaurant on the water in Atlantic Beach then walking around the bay in Beaufort.

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The classic taste of home. Oregon brewed.

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Sunset at dinner. Gorgeous.

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Walking the pier area in Beaufort.

Apparently Beaufort is where Navy Captain Michael John Smith, the pilot of the Challenger, was raised and we found a memorial in his honor.  Here, many pennies were placed at the base of the memorial and my grandmother said it had to do with who had visited, but different coins meant different things.  So, like I usually do, I consulted Google to answer the universe’s questions.  For military memorials and graves such as Captain Smith’s, it is custom to leave a penny showing you visited, a nickel if you went to basic training with him, a dime if you served with him, and a quarter if you were with him when he died.

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Pennies gathered at the base of the memorial for Navy Captain Michael John Smith of the Challenger.

You should all be well versed in the history of the Challenger accident, so I think it’s safe to say there won’t be any quarters left here.  All that we saw were pennies.  This did made me think that I wish I would’ve left a dime for Specialist Hunt back in Oklahoma on behalf of Sergeant Baker, but I guess I’ll know for next time.

After our walk, we called it a night.

***

Saturday morning consisted of running around the condo, packing everything up, cleaning out the rooms and the refrigerator, and trying to fit all of grandpa’s shells in the car.

Most of my stuff fit in the car so I had to haul very little on my bike for the way back.  The way back was another 4 hours on the bike, more than I had expected, but oh well, what’s another day.

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Coffee and breakfast at the Waffle House.

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Waffles are best when wrapped around bacon.

Since getting back everything has been laid back.  We got take out Chinese for dinner Saturday night, I got to see my uncle – my mom’s brother who is ten years older than me – for the first time in at least twelve years, and I went to church and listened to my grandmother preach on Sunday.  Sunday afternoon and evening was filled with flashflood warnings and thunder and lightning storms, very typical of out here.  The rain just kept on falling but has cleared up today.

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Hanging out with Grandma and the dogs.

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Flashflood and thunderstorm warnings all day long.

I have been enjoying laying back and catching up on homework and other life things.

Expect to see periodic posts about my musings that I thought of along my journey and some updates on anything fun I’m doing while still out here.  I imagine I’ll stay for at least another week or so because I want to get in as much time with my friend Andrew and my grandparents as possible.  I miss them all and who knows when I’ll be able to make it out here next.

Much love from the East Coast!

-H

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

Kansas, still – My Tenth State in Ten Days

Before heading to bed last night, I had a feeling that I was missing out on some socialization in the general campground area.  I thought maybe people in Kansas weren’t that friendly or didn’t like the idea of socializing with strangers.

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Moonrise over the RV park.

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I accidentally left my boots outside of the tent last night. I woke up to rolly polies (potato bugs) and spiders in them this morning.

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Some of the bugs I knocked out of one boot this morning.

I woke up to gunfire at 5:30am this morning.  At first, I hoped it was firecrackers, but I quickly remembered I was in Kansas, it was nearly sunrise, and the shots were too sharp to be anything but a small caliber weapon.  After eight or so shots rang out, I heard teenage boys giggling from a field just through some trees and across the road from me.  It took me a good hour before going back to sleep thanks to the unexpected startle.

After I got up and about, I learned that Kansas is just as friendly as I was hoping; last night was just a fluke.  I met Doug just outside the RV lot’s office where I was charging my laptop and phone.

At a glance, Doug is a 60-something biker with a patched leather cut and everything (Mom & Anna: this is a perfect example of Anna’s facebook post about bikers).  He had a white beard with red streaks in it and tattoos adorning his arms – the weathered kind of tattoos that had been there for at least a couple decades.  Following a bit of chatting, Doug asked if I’d like a cup of coffee.  Score, more free coffee!  I could certainly get used to this.  Within a few minutes, Doug and I were talking about local Kansas things, where travels have taken us, and he unexpectedly asked me if I’d been saved by asking Jesus Christ to be my Savior.  “I have”, I told him, to which he was very pleased.  We talked a bit on the subject; Doug nearly came to tears when he told me about how he was saved eight years ago.  It was very touching.  Doug excused himself, walked over to his 1998 Victory motorcycle (it looked a lot like an average Harley), and pulled out a small book and cloth.  He handed them to me and said I could have them, or if I met someone that may need them more, I could pass them along.  The book was a pocket Bible with the words “Hope for the Highway” written on the cover and the cloth was “a Gift from CMA.”  The CMA is the Christian Motorcyclists Association, which Doug is a member of.

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“For simple cleanups use this rag. For tough messes follow the enclosed instructions. ‘If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness,’ (1 John 1:9, NKJV)”

In the next hour, I learned much about Doug and his wife, Sue, whom I did not get the pleasure of meeting because she was at work.  Doug had served in the Vietnam War in the Army and had a few tips for me as I prepare to enter the service.  I will take those tips to heart, but I can’t tell you what they were, or I’d have to… you know.

Around 10am, Doug asked if I’d be interested in heading over to the local senior center in Ottawa, about ten miles back the way I came, because one of our RV park neighbors, Randy, was singing a bit of Evangelical gospel and some other country music.  I said, “sure, why not?”  It’s not like I was in a rush, and I would love the experience.

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The ground around my tent was riddled with snail shells, some occupied, most not. They were smaller than dimes and very cute!

I packed up all my gear, and followed Doug to the little town, eventually finding our way to the senior center.  About two dozen senior citizens gathered in the small hall awaiting Randy’s performance.  We walked in and sat down next to Randy’s wife, Tanya and looked on.  He sang a new version of Amazing Grace, then another gospel song I’ve never heard.  It was interesting because I was expecting him to play an instrument or something, but he just turned on background music and sang with it.  After he got into the country tunes, I got a little distracted.

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Randy, doing his thing, singing his songs.

At a nearby table, four of the audience members were playing an intense game of Dominoes, which I had recently learned how to play from my friend George.  I approached them and asked if I could watch.  The last round had just finished and two players remained to play: Lou, a lady in her 70s, I’d guess with a southern accent and another gentleman in his 80s, from whom I didn’t catch a name.  The two pretty much forced me to play, but I had no objections.  The version they were playing was much different from the version I had been taught to play, but I stuck with it as best I could.  The gentleman rocked it and Lou wasn’t bad, either.  It was a lot of fun watching how good they were at the game and heckling each other.  After that round, we all called it quits.

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Lou (left) and the domino-dominating gentleman. I was way out of my league.

Randy was nearly done singing and lunch would be served soon after.

Before food was served, the Senior Center staff thanked Randy and the volunteers, and moved to saying the Pledge of Allegiance.  Wow, talk about throwback!  I hadn’t said the Pledge since Middle School; I don’t remember ever saying it in High School, but apparently it still is a well-practiced thing around here.  The Pledge was immediately followed by singing of “God Bless America,” which I didn’t really know the words to, so I pretended to mouth them, oops.  After singing, a prayer was said.  Then, unexpectedly, Doug made a statement to the whole room that I was touring the country on my motorcycle and was about to enter the service in a couple of months.  I felt my cheeks turn hot, but was humbled by his gesture.  As lunch was served, many of the attendees came up to me to shake my hand and thank me for my future service – it was pretty neat.

Doug, Randy, Tanya, and I later discussed the audible gunshots from this morning and determined that it must have been the kids on the neighboring property.  The guy who owns the land is a retired police officer and was sure to have many firearms in his home.  Oh well.  In Kansas, at least that far from a big city, shooting guns is not thought of as a big deal.

Eventually I said my goodbyes and Doug walked me out, gave me his card with his information in case I ever need it.  He told me to look up the CMA chapter for sport bikes called “The Fast Lane,” a name that made me giggle.  I may do that, we’ll see.  Maybe one day I can write home to my parents telling them I’ve joined a motorcycle gang… but don’t worry, it’s okay, they’re Christian!

I took a quick gas and food stop before leaving town – I hadn’t eaten lunch at the senior center because I felt it was rude since they hadn’t accounted for my presence before – and hit interstate 35 South, once again.  Another 130 miles and one long toll road later, here I am in Wichita.  I picked out a Starbucks to sit at and work on homework… so far, no success, but my blog is coming along nicely!  You’re welcome 😉

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The Kansas country side is quite lush, but very flat and boring.

Tonight, I hope to camp somewhere nearby, or I may just cruise on to Oklahoma.  We’ll see what I can find through Google; I’ll be sure to leave updates on Facebook and Instagram.

Until next time,

-H

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Quiz Time! What is weird about this picture? Hint: The top number in yellow is Unleaded Plus, the bottom is Unleaded…

“…any traveler who misses the journey misses about all he’s going to get… a man becomes his attentions. His observations and curiosity, they make and remake him.” William Least Heat-Moon

I’m reading this book – actually reading, not just listening to it on mp3 – called Blue Highways.  It’s written by William Least Heat-Moon and it takes readers on his journey through the backwoods towns of America in his Econovan sometime in the late 70’s or early 80’s.