We woke up this morning and stowed and disconnected and readied for the road and went to breakfast with Paul's friend, Andrew. I liked Andrew. He is one of the few people who can take issue with Paul about some factual or interpretive matter and keep a calm voice while sticking to his guns. I am sure it is some sort of Jedi mind trick and I wanted to learn it from him. But it was on to breakfast.
Now, those readers who know me know that I start each day usually with a bowl of Geoff's "Sticks and Twigs," the name given by my friend, Michael, to my delicious blend of half a dozen grains, seeds, dried fruit, etc. that I make up in batches on a regular basis. My system likes it and a half a cup of "Sticks and Twigs" in half a cup of almond milk (I know! Almond milk for crying out loud!) sets me up til way past noon. I am not hungry or looking for snacks, and the whole grain goodness of complicated carbohydrates powers me through the morning. Today I had already had Sticks and Twigs before we went to a novel Thai breakfast place. The others ordered eggs, bacon, sausage, etc. But having already eaten, and to be polite, I ordered something from the Thai side of the menu because the description promised a unique ingredient: "Mints pork." If I had had two portions of Sticks and Twigs, I still think I would have had to have the "Mints pork" dish, that turned out to be a vegetable laden soup with meat (pork) and rice. Not a mint anything to be found.
I mention this because it turns out to be a theme of our trip. It would probably be safe to say I have eaten about twice as much as I usually do. Every time I turned around, it was time to eat again--big breakfasts, lunch as a break from the road, a potluck or dinner with a host. Now, I grew up believing that food shared = celebration but, folks, I am not used to all that sharing. A lot of it was fruits and vegetables, which were probably good for me. And I don't want to seem either ungracious or ungrateful, but I ate too much.
Especially since I sat for over 4300 miles over the past month. I am certain that stress from some of the driving situations may have worked off some of the additional calories, as did wrestling with the Land Whale every time it inched above 35 miles per hour or headed up (or down) one of the many 9% grades we traversed. But I took my bike--rode it ONCE. I took my hiking boots, poles and pack, but onlywore my hiking socks one cold morning with my Tevas. I went swimming-once in a large bathtub-sized pool in the Phoenix RV park. All the benefits from an early summer of hiking up Missoula's Mount Sentinel vanished into my Land Whale seat. Wait, that may not be the image I am looking for...
Anyway, 4300 miles later, here I am back where I started on August 15. This morning I told Eivind, "get me to I-15 and I know the way to my house." And on we went, mile after mile of uneventful mile of low-volume Interstate Highway, out of Utah, in and out of Idaho over Monida Pass and into the Big Sky Country. Through the smoke of late season forest fires, I showed Eivind Montana's beauty where it should have been. The Land Whale is parked on the street where I usually park my car, a space having be preserved by my neighbor (Cherie, you are a pal! Thanks for keeping the home fires burning!). My companions are all snug in their beds and I am going to be soon back in my very own.
I awoke this morning in my own bed for the first time in a month. It was strange. For the past month my bed has been the Land Whale's couch, my linen a zip up fleece sleeping sack and my camping pillow. So many days of waking up in the dark and carefully stowing my bed gear and making the cabin set for travel. Now I woke up with space to dance in, my own bed. I always slept pretty well on the Land Whale, but this was freedom I didn't know I missed.
This was a day that had lived in Paul's mind for quite a while. We had to pick up Jocelyn's new Prius and show off Missoula to her visitors. Eivind and I took a trip up to the M overlooking Missoula on Mount Sentinel. I wanted to show him a good view of the town I am so proud to be a resident of but the smoke from nearby wildfires filled the valley like a bowl of soup. Still, it was a chance for us to visit and for me to learn more about him and his plans to become a permaculturalist in his native Norway. In many ways, Eivind has set himself as a pioneer in his own land. He has a burning passion for an idea that has grasped his basic sense of who he is and how he is to be in the world like many young men do. Will he be one of the ones so fully grasped that they wring success out of whatever opportunity comes their way? Or will he be one of those who gets a lesson that pushes him toward bitterness? These things, these moments come to all of us, of course. But in the matter of rolling the dice, we all stand where we stand, and we get what we get. Like most of us, Eivind is going to be tested, and his story is one that is worth following. He is such a strong devotee of what Paul reaches, it will be interesting to see how his life pours out.
We ate lunch at one of Paul's favorite Missoula eateries--SaWaDee, a Thai place Downtown. It was a good experience for Paul and me, Jocelyn and Eivind voted "meh." We then took Eivind to see Missoula's Carousel. This was a project I helped guide into fruition and it is awesome. In trying to explain Missoula to Eivind earlier, I told him that there were not one but TWO Norwegian fjord horses on the Carousel. We also explained the practice of catching the brass ring and with that, he was ready to take his place in line and race to get on Slipnir, the outer Fjord horse. As he rode around and around, he captured many of the rings, but the brass ring went to a little girl who rode a couple of horses ahead of him. He grinned like an eight year-old boy during his ride and that's when I knew it was the place for him today.
After that, comedy ensued as I tried to unhitch the bike rack I borrowed for the trip. Paul's brother, Tim, helped me put it on the Land Whale a month ago. He REALLY wrenched the bolt that held the rack into the hitch. I couldn't tell what the size of the bolt was so I made three or four impressions on piece of paper. While the others headed off to do other things, I headed to ACE Hardware to get a box wrench to do the job. When I got there, I picked the size that seemed right, but when I got back to the Land Whale, it was too small, so I headed back to ACE to get a bigger wrench. After filling out the customer return form and paying fifty cents more, I left with a larger wrench. A larger wrench, but a wrench not quite large enough. One more trip to ACE and a bigger wrench. Another customer return form and I headed back with the right wrench. Even though the wrench fit, it required about 40 whacks with a hammer to budge the bolt and get the rack off.
Then, before I knew it, it was time to head to another local restauant favorite of Paul's: Biga Pizza.
This restaurant is the real deal--wood fire pizza made with local products where possible with great care about local food. Our last meal together as four travelers was light and full of good cheer.
I am sure that the full meaning,impact and importance of this trip will not be clear to me for some while. The people I met that I wish were still in my life a little longer are already moving on with their lives, unlike some traveler who came to them and left. They opened their lives and, in some cases, homes to us. They let me in, a little, and shared something defining about who they are. We were there on the wind, shared words and food, and parted. We four, who completed a journey so audacious, so full of promise of failure, that I can't imagine anyone else undertaking anything like it. That we did it and carried away a sense of those we visited, that we did it without resorting to murder and mayhem, that our heated words in frustration passed in brief time--this is what stays with me now. In time I know this will be an adventure I will be glad to claim as one that changed me.
As I removed my gear from the Land Whale and gave Eivind my final pointers on how best to steer and operate the Land Whale as her new pilot, I was grateful that the others who joined me on this adventure were calm enough, forgiving enough, excited enough to bear with the others' shortcomings, foibles, quirks, idiosyncrasies and Land Whale riding qualities that we were able to part as friends and fellow travelers. I hope you have enjoyed hearing how we completed this improbable journey and that it has been worth it to you to come along.