On the road again

It gets little better for me in the good time department than making tea by the roadside. I’m not sure how quite to describe it but it just makes sense to me.

I’m currently on a road trip, clacking away on my old laptop I keep around for such things as rambling or retreating, so that I can attempt to keep up with all the things that percolate and bubble to the surface that I want to scribe down. It’s far too time consuming and arduous a task to use pen and paper on trips and then have the merry assignment of having to type it all out when I get home – I know, cuz I’ve done it. So, I’ve learned to make peace with traveling with electronics, as there’s a big part of me that would prefer to venture off without them.

Alas, a writer must write – and when she wanders off she must take the tools of the trade with her, with gladness in her heart.

Stats thus far, on my first leg of the trip:
Left town: Friday October 12th at 5:45am
Miles traveled on Friday: 828.9
Car camped for the night: Medina, North Dakota
Arrived in the metro area of the Twin Cities in Minnesota, to spend 2 days with a good friend: Saturday October 13th at 12:30pm
Miles traveled on Saturday: 380.6

Billboard on the roadside in North Dakota :)

Since the stretch of miles I’ve covered this far has been traversed on a pretty straight and open highway, it allowed me to hone the craft of penning down travel inspired notes in my 6″ X 4″ pocket-sized notebook whilst driving, without crunching down on the rumble strip too often. Ah, the small delights in a writer’s life :)

I sloppily scribed this in my little notebook – by aid of overhead car light – soon after leaving town on Friday, in the dark of early morning:

Stars above, highway lines below rolling tires heading east

Ani D launching me onward away from home and onto the open road

At 6:15am on Friday, about 30 minutes after setting out from Missoula, I exhaled deeply the kind of breath one only makes when reaching a threshold of letting go of one thing and opening to a whole other thing. In this case I was going from: a fixed home to an ever-moving home; stability to flexibility; having a set schedule to winging it; predictability to possibility.

At 7:22am, 130 miles from home, I rode over the Continental Divide, which clocked in at 6,393 feet in elevation. It was 28 degrees outside and there was snow on the ground and icicles dangling from the roof of the vault toilet at the rest area I stopped at. Sunrise was in full tilt, and the mix of pinks in the sky with the white in the pines was a splendid sight to behold.

Five miles west of Three Forks, MT, a bright golden sun was in level with my gaze and I became acutely aware – not for the first time – of how car visors aren’t designed for those of us of shorter stature, as it did little to shield my eyes from the intense blaze.

Around Big Timber, MT the Crazy Mountains Range rose majestically, clad in white robes presiding over multi-toned amber fields dotted with cattle, as hefty wind gusts jostled my car like a metal fortified tumbleweed.

My first fuel stop landed me in Reed Point, MT at a little local place called The Sure Stop, where I emptied my used Newman’s teabags from my Contigo into a trashcan chock-a-block with beer cans.

Outside of Billings, at 10:20am, I passed a billboard advertising for the Olive Garden restaurant that said “Next stop: Italy,” and I thought to myself: I’ve never been to Italy but I would imagine native Italians would be sorely disappointed at the Olive Garden’s renditions of their homeland’s dishes – maybe even miffed at their brandishing of such a declaration. It seems like their claim would be akin to Taco Bell touting “Next stop: Mexico.” In short: it would be a terribly poor substitution. 

Had I not wanted to get a maximum amount of miles under my belt on Friday, I would’ve seen fit to stop at such places as Pompey’s Pillar National Monument and Statues in Hysham, both of which sounded interesting when I read the signs posted by their designated exits. I did however make the intelligent decision to stop at a rest area around around noon to eat lunch and take a nap. I decided it was best not to have too big of an appetite for digesting distance, as thankfully I’ve learned that a little bit of rest goes a long way.

At 2:51pm on Friday, I crossed over the border into North Dakota, where the speed limit went from 80mph to 75mph. It as 55 degrees outside. 2-minutes later, I passed a billboard that simply said “Have a great day!” and it was then that I fell in love with North Dakota in a way I hadn’t before.

At 3:50pm I was in need of an energy boost, so I put on the album Live Through This by the band Hole and followed that with some Macklemore.

In North Dakota, wind turbines replace the mountains of home, for what vie for one’s upward gaze in the vertical lift department. And at 4:02 I entered Central Time Zone, which somehow always feels like a rather large shift to me. Even though the landscape changes and the license plates switch states, when time itself is altered that’s when you know you’re really doing the business of traveling.

A bit shy of Bismarck, I stopped to grab some dinner and learned that at rest stops in ND, you’re not allowed to park overnight, which I found quite strange. I’d had a campground planned out to stay for the night around Jamestown but as the light began slowly draining from the sky, I started hatching a plan B.

I cruised over the Missouri River at 5:48pm, with a full belly and a fresh little burst of energy. I passed by some camping signs in Bismarck, figuring there would be more a little further away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

As a stellar sunset took place in my rear view mirror, it was all I could do to keep my car in its appropriate lane. It was just so incredibly spectacular. The mirror was mesmerizing. I didn’t want to avert my gaze from it.

I passed by a sign that touted: World’s Largest Crane, and as I drove past the exit hoping to catch a glimpse of it, I wondered: How many other contenders could there possibly be in the world, in order to hold such an honorific title? (As a point of clarity, it was a man made crane – oh, and as another point of clarity: it was the bird kind of crane, not the heavy machinery kind.)

After the sun went down, and I realized I was still another solid hour from where I’d planned out my camp spot for the night, I started wondering how big of a deal it would be to spend the night at a rest area. I was fully prepared to camp in my car. All I needed was a place I could feel safe for the night to pull over and park. I pulled off at one, and then just drove on through back to the interstate. It just didn’t feel right.

After passing a handful of exits with signs saying: No Services, I saw the classic symbol for camping on a little square brown sign and took the exit it prompted me to follow. I found a great little campground in some kind of fairgrounds area run by the local Lion’s Club, in the small town of Medina, North Dakota. (Googling it later, I learned that Medina clocked in at a population of 308 in the last census.) It was $15 and operated on the honor system. They provided envelopes and a slot for campers to drop their cash or check into and that was that. There were a number of other campers in trailer units there and I felt confident that I had found my refuge for the night. I crawled in the back of my Subaru, put up some curtains over the windows, and wriggled into my sleeping bags (two to be exact). I read for a little bit by the glow of my solar lantern and soon fell asleep. There were some tufts of snow on the ground but as I came prepared for such things as cold weather, I stayed snug and warm all night.

I woke up at 4:33am on Saturday morning. It was 43 degrees and the stars were so incredibly bright that I could see them without the aide of my prescription glasses, which believe me is really saying something. I filled up my gas tank in Medina, at a local station that wasn’t open but who’s pumps were operational, and set sail on the highway.

Around 7:00am, I crossed over into Minnesota, where the speed limit reduced down to 70mph. And around 9:30, I pulled off at an exit to make some tea and found a lovely spot in which to do so: Ten Mile Lake Lutheran Cemetery.

I took my time making tea and then did some slow walking meditation through the cemetery. As is always the case when I visit cemeteries, I was reminded once again about how death doesn’t discriminate against age. All ages are well represented on gravestone markers, even in the smallest of cemeteries.

Many people regard cemeteries as being heavy, depressing places they wouldn’t choose to visit. But for me:

When entered in the right spirit,

cemeteries have the power to beautify, uplift, and skillfully inform one’s decisions

over the fluid course of the day.

Everything we experience in life comes down to how we view it – and our view is completely in our control to sway at any given time. With our thoughts we make the world, as the Buddha taught.

I left Ten Mile Lake Cemetery feeling refreshed and at ease.

I found a couple of songs on a Howard Hello album I’d brought along to be an especially appropriate soundtrack to accompany me on the remaining portion of my road travels, before arriving at my final destination for the day: my dear friend Wendy’s house.

I arrived at Wendy’s, where I was fixing to spend the next couple of days before jutting down south to see my mom in Arkansas, at 12:30pm. And it is here with her that I still happily remain until I set sail back on the road in the dark of early morning tomorrow.

Gosh we’ve had a good time together since I arrived on Saturday. And double gosh, it sure has been nice reconnecting with such a close and wonderful, trusted friend. I’ve been missing that as of late back home.

It’s 7:00am Central Time as I finish up this post, and the sky is blooming with color just outside the window in front of me as I type. I’m facing due east and the trees I can see on the horizon are rooted in the state of Wisconsin, which is just across the Saint Croix River, on the other side of the highway situated in front of Wendy’s front acreage of land.

A new day dawns, and my heart sings its praise with gratitude.

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