“Gold’s still out there, if’n you got the patience to stick at it” mumbled the man across the diner as he wiped his napkin across his mouth, missing the bit of home fries still in his moustache. “People just ain’t got what it takes to work anymore” replied his dining companion, somehow not regretting his choice to wear shorts on a 45 degree morning. “Food’ll be out in a bit, darling” was met with a chorus of “Thank you, Nancy” as the diner regulars awaited their platters of egg, bacon, and toast.
This won’t be your typical ride report. Instead of wrapping up my uneventful last day home, this is what you get. No bike photos, no descriptions of twisty nirvana, no maps. No food pictures or captured landscapes, solely what really held my trip together, makes for vivid recollections, and that which left an impression on me that no national park, tourist trap or secondary road ever could.
I’m speaking of those who make the world more than just a ball of rock, grass, and dirt. Geologists, forgive my simplicity. I refer, of course, to people. Friends, neighbors, strangers, foe, acquaintance, family. Answer D – all of the above.
When I planned this trip, I looked up routes, things to see, places to eat, but the one aspect of the trip I had no control over whatsoever was the people with whom I would cross paths, if but for a brief moment.
We live in an age of 4G LTE, WiFi in every restaurant, and we’re more connected than ever. Are we really? Go to a public place. Just people watch for a bit. Friends eating together all glued to their respective phones, taking photos of their food and selfies to further groom their personal online image. (I admit, I take food pictures, but…) Parents handing children tablets with cartoons on to shut them up for a bit. We don’t talk to those we don’t know and expect the favor to be returned to us. Our worlds revolve around us and everyone else is playing backup. The news is nothing but grim faced reporters discussing last night’s double homicide, and today’s economy disaster. What fresh danger is lurking in your house as you sleep unaware? Tune in at 11:00 for more.
This is a pretty bleak picture to paint, for sure, but is that where we as a world are stuck now? Is this what life is now? Is everyone else to be feared, judged, and avoided by us, just because the fear-mongering media tells us to stay in our tiny little comfort zones and “safe spaces”? Are there still people out there who are kind? Somebody who will help their fellow man out? Someone who inspires hope that we’re not autonomous self-bots just yet? Anyone?
Yes, they’re still around. I know. I’ve seen them, talked with them. Laughed, shook hands, shared a brief moment with them, parted ways, likely to never see them again, but now somehow a little different for having met them.
These people are some of the most vivid and best memories of my trip.
Outshining the beauty of Glacier National Park, the man who came down from his house to reopen the gas station to sell four gallons of gasoline from a pump old enough that it tallied in nickels. Helping out the rider all the way from South Carolina, which really is a long ways from Dale, Oregon, he chuckled as he expounded on the history of the gas station, going back inside to bring back a postcard. “No charge,” he said. “Your middle name’s Dale, that’s good enough for me.”
Greater than the fun of ripping up the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway, the scene that awaited at the top of the Beartooth Highway. A pulloff with a great view. A classic Cadillac. An elderly couple inside, his arm around her, her head on his shoulder as they sighed together and pondered life, just living in the moment, while they still could.
Oh, the advice you receive as a solo rider far from home. “Be safe out on that thing.” “Don’t try to hit any moose. They probably would win.” “Not saying you’re going to smuggle drugs into Canada, but if you do, ride a Goldwing. They never search those, not like the Harleys they climb all over. Don’t want to get in all the old guys’ stuff, I reckon.” “Keep it shiny side up” “Hope you had a good day spelunking. That’s some wild caving gear.” “Man, you should strap a kitchen sink on there yet.” “I wish I could fill up my car for that!” “Drink plenty of water out there, man. It’s hotter than a billy goat with a blow torch” (He didn’t have to tell me, I was sweating like Mike Tyson at a spelling bee)
Always a good laugh was the admiring and envious glances of those guys who longed to be on a bike, a tent on the back, and the open road ahead of them, when a elbow in the side from their significant other jolted them back to reality and lead them back into Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Kids love a biker. They come running, asking questions a mile a minute with the attending parent trying to catch them and apologizing. If they asked nicely, they could sit on the bike for a while or a photo. Their day = made.
People just love to approach a lone rider. It’s one of the reasons I like to travel alone. It adds a sense of vulnerability to which people can relate. I could always tell when someone just needed to talk to somebody, not really that I could do anything about it, they just needed to talk. It’s how I learned that Eileen* is trying to sell her RV in Phoenix because she worries about it while shes away 8 months of the year. That Ernie* is about to lose his job at the mining company and that he lost all his stock shares and he’s not sure how he can support his family, having moved them out to Wyoming just for that job. Or how Ethel’s* brother is going to be in a lot of trouble for texting and driving leading him to hit a herd of 100 cattle with his semi truck booking down the mountain at 65 MPH.
(*I’m not a names person. If I meet you, I’ll repeat your name once, promptly forget it, and refer to you as, “Hey, you” or just the general “ya’ll” until I either meet you enough times to remember or we go our separate ways)
Meeting other riders was always fun. Unless they rode up on Harleys, upon which point, they synchronized their genuine Harley DavidsonTM Genuine Accessories watches (made in China) and strutted past casting a deriding gaze at myself and the slightly filthy Jap Crap Honduh that had the gall to use metric bolts and be red with no chrome. (I love to poke fun at Harley buyers ((note I didn’t say riders, there are legit Harley riders out there that put me to shame)) so no hard feelings)
The couple in South Dakota, who’d rode from Miami in half shells and her in a tube top, him in nothing but shorts, skin like overdone leather, rolled up and hopped off their Harleys, offering route advice and places to eat.
The couple on the BMW in Montana who shared a laugh with me as we watched the worlds slowest police chase, a distraught and befuddled Asian tourist in a rental car who was being followed by two units going code 3, creeping along at 2 MPH and not stopping until an officer got out, walked past and stood in front of the car, bringing the madness to a halt.
The couple in Montana who stopped to chat and revealed that they were from Australia, and were living their dream of riding across the US. They didn’t let the fact that they had to buy a bike, let alone learn to ride, stop them from riding cross country from NYC to Seattle. While I’d normally advise against that sort of thing, they were having the time of their lives.
The Canadians bicycling from Quebec who I waved down in Zion to show them a mountain goat ripe for picture taking. I don’t speak French, they didn’t speak English, but we shared that moment of watching a goat grazing the slopes.
The epic duo of Ed and Rachel on their C90s, doing what they do best.
Really, some of the little moments that make this trip would have gone unnoticed had I had a traveling companion or been glued to my phone/tablet/laptop/newspaper.
Stopping at a roadside burger joint in Nebraska and watching the owner’s mother beam with pride as her son tells me he won the best burger in town award. (That moment was better than the burger, which was exceptionally mediocre, but I digress)
Seeing a Dairy Queen worker’s first day jitters fade as she grew more confident in running the register.
The flagger operating one lane of traffic breaking into a wry grin as he exchanged jokes with the other end of the line by radio.
The woman in the wheelchair watching the sun sink into the Pacific Ocean from her van with a slight giddy grin on her face.
That’s what it’s all about, people.
Moments in ordinary lives, captured in my memory. No photos, but that’s fine. That’s the beauty of it all. People with joy, pain, excitement, and anger. People living out this life we’ve all been given. Your experiences differ greatly from mine, but that makes them no less valuable. We have more in common than we’re told. We have more to share and give than we think. Sometimes, all someone needs is another person with whom to converse. We’re all in this life together.
Are there terrible people that do terrible things? Sure, and there always will be. But why should we dwell on the terrible and let that rob us of being able to celebrate that which is good, right, and hopeful?
Help someone in need.
Be there for someone.
Sit back and watch the world do it’s thing. No wires attached.
This is RD, signing out. Thanks for following.
(OK, fine, here’s a picture)