Archive for May, 2010

Andrew Lancaster

May 29, 2010

In the northwest corner of Illinois lies a small town called Stockton. It is an area of rolling green farmland and timber and years ago it was home to my grandparents who lived in a small double wide on the edge of town. Grandpa Ehredt worked in the Kraft Cheese Factory toiling away with a gimpy hip 10 to 12 hours a day in a building which has long since closed down. It was also the home of Sergeant Andrew Lancaster who was killed August 11, 2007 in Iraq. Andrew Lancaster graduated from Freeport High School in 2002. He was a standout football and basketball player. I had been officiating those 2 sports back in the late 90s through 2001 and had officiated Freeport High School games. Fate is never determined for we cannot control it. Perhaps Andrew Lancaster lined up on my side of the field and made a great tackle. Perhaps I called a foul on him on the court or quite possibly I may have handed him the ball. Irregardless, fate would have it that I would bear his flag on  Montana Sate Road 200 and place it at milepost 23, his would be the 700th flag placed on my journey. His name and flag overlook a beautiful valley and the Clark Fork river. I suspect his eyes were looking down upon me from the hillside. I believe too that Andrew Lancaster was an honorable, compassionate and determined young man with great integrity. In a time when sacrifice seems so outdated he faced  hardships we cannot begin to conceive, as do so many others, and risked everything to protect this country. Words are not often eloquent enough to bear the gratitude afforded so many who have been taken from us. In time the green grass around his flag here in Montana will turn to brown and then the snows will come but in my eyes he will be there on the hillside linked arm in arm with those next to him whose flags are but a mile away. They will continue to protect us for all time and will not be forgotten.

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Harold

May 27, 2010

Trotting down Montana 200 this morning I am dying for a coffee. Up ahead I see a sign for the Perma Store. At one time Perma, MT was a bustling rail/timber town. It has long since become nothing but a random turn of the century house by the railroad tracks and the Perma Store. I wheel in and walk though the door of a tiny log cabin. It is dusty and it is a collection of random items for sale. Indian jewelry, camaflouge ball caps, old fishing reels, crystal stones and a dancing bass on a pedestal that does actually dance when the button is pushed. “Wow, this should be interesting” and I cannot forget to list the Flathead Nation Flag for sale for $30. Lost in a daze and to avoid being sucked down the curiosity hole I step outside and smack  dab into “Harold”. He is the proprietor and between his 85 years and the two teeth he has left, he proceeds to give me his opinions on everything from his time serving in Korea, his Pearl Harbor Conspiracy Theory, the government and his disdain for the Governor of Montana who for no apparent reason jacked his store license fee up another $25, or so he says. He is interesting, he is opinionated and a bit out of date but never the less I listen closely. He checks out the stroller to see what turns the wheels and when I smack my two legs he replies “Boy you are crazy” “Hell, I’ll probably be dead by the time you reach Maine” He offers me a Snickers (expires Jan. 07 it says..” and I thankfully accept. Really, chocolate isn’t bad even if its old. His goats peek around from behind the cabin and in the grass I spy the skull of a steer drying in the sun….now this is the real Montana I have been wanting to see. Knowing I have to make time and leave, I interrupt his Franklin Roosevelt dissertation and take his picture. Saying a goodbye, the gravel crunches under my feet, or was it bones? I walk away thanking the Harold for a great 20 minutes and realize once again there is a story just around the corner……

Random thoughts

May 22, 2010

Running down the road today I see her sitting up on the steps of her small house, off the road at the top of a long yard. I stop to chat. Her name is Liz and she is in her late 70s. She had been calling her friend who was on the computer tracking me to see where I was on ID200. Her cat is adopted, a stray who wandered in and never left. Petite with white hair she tells me of her husband who served in the Navy. Life is simple here for her.

 It is that way in Northern Idaho. They are hardy people up here.  Strong in their convictions and beliefs and good to the core. They work hard to make a living in this wild northwest. Nothing comes easy to most folks I have met. I see it as I continue down the road. Needs are simple and wants are few. Just these lush forests and mountains and fresh lake air that fills you with life.  Random trucks honk and some pull over and drivers give their thanks. In Clark Fork outside a bar I see people waiting and they shake my hand. The connections grow through each contact and I am thankful for that. Miles flow as sure as the river does but as it goes west I go east…..

Rules of the Road

May 21, 2010

Thus far I have had no bad experiences with cars. Its all been good. I have came up with a few rules: #1 No music unless there is a stretch of road as bare as a babies butt. #2 Go with the flow….of traffic. This has been the safest. Motorists have been kind and they don’t swerve suddenly like they do when you are coming at them. #3 Have a mirror on the bar of the stroller. It lets me know whats coming up and when I have food in my teeth. #4 Utilize woods whenever possible….porta potties are few and far between but often appear like an oasis. #5 Sing. Alot. I now realize why I never quit my day job. #6 Talk. To my 30 companions for the day. They have stories. I thank them. They watch from above and lift me down the road to the next.

Wilbert and Nora

May 20, 2010

She smiles at me as we meet and I extend a hand to hold hers and her eyes dance in appreciation. His hand is strong and firm as we shake.   She moves little from her wheelchair. He is Wilbert and she is Nora. They are in the golden years of their life and I suspect each day is one more gift in this race with time for them. We sit at the dinner table and he tells me their story. Nora has Huntingtons Disease and is losing all her motor skills. She is in her mid-80s as is Wilbert. They were married in 1944. The draft had taken him away to war but before he left they were married. It was a whirlwind of 3 days. The joy of being husband and wife and the sadness of having to part. Wilbert would drive a landing craft on Iwo Jima and come away untouched. He talks of many things pertaining to those days. The sand, the foxholes, storms at sea and he is silent on other things though I see the sadness and pain in his eyes 66 years later. For a year and a half he wrote Nora each day and she kept every letter. Nora listens intently and often speaks a word or two to correct him on certain facts. Under the stamps on those letters they had their own code in single letters. No words. It was a way for her to always know where he was. In the ports of the far east he would buy her silk fabric and send it home. Nora then says “and gum” and smiles like a child. She loved gum back then so Wilbert always included some in his packages. We continue to eat dinner and as Wilbert talks he stabs a piece of watermelon and without hesitation places it in Noras mouth. So tender, so loving, so caring. I ask Nora if Wilbert looked good in uniform and she replies with a twinkle “Real Good!”. I am touched by her eyes. How she looks at him and how he looks at her after almost 66 years of marriage. I see two young hearts that never grew old. The bodies and mind may be showing the signs of age but their smiles and true affection is intoxicating. If I could bottle that love, that appreciation, that I see in them for each other, I would give it to those who still think that all is lost in this world. You see, there is hope, there is happiness and there is love because there is Wilbert and Nora.

Frog Legs and Wheat Fields

May 16, 2010

I roll down US 12 into quiet little Waitsburg. Hmmmm nice bridge and nice creek and water I should be soaking in. Maybe later. My mind is still on my meeting a few miles back. A stop for iced rosemary tea given to me in a mason jar at the top of a long hill and a chat with the gentleman who lives across the road in a grain elevator. “Two stories of living space and 8 stories of attic” he says. How wild that must be. Back to Waitsburg.

Quiet main street, turn of the century buildings, a hardware/general store and colors of red and brown and green and maple trees in front of old Victorian homes. A scene straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting. At the Whoop Em Up Hollow Cafe, Sarah the waitress tends to my growling stomach with a plate of delicious frog legs, black eyed peas salad followed by the most wonderful catfish I have ever had. No meal is complete without dessert and banana pudding and warm cookies finish me off and I stumble home to my room full and satisfied.

I roll into Dayton and the hills begin just out of town, rolling wheat fields of green in various shades of color. Horses that stop and stare as if the know what my cargo is. That night my hosts treat me to delicious salmon and halibut and a fruit salad I embarrass myself on by literally devouring the entire contents of the bowl. I sit and listen to Bob, an 85 year old Iwo Jima Vet tell me of the day he landed there in WWII, 1st wave and untouched. He was lucky and came back to Dayton and has led a simple, hardworking, good life. I see years of wisdom and goodness in his eyes. I am lucky to have the pleasure of meeting men like that. There is history, laughter and knowledge in them that should be shared. Small town America holds many values. True and rich. I see it as I  move along.

In a few days I will be in Idaho and this lush farmland will be behind me and the topography will change as will the people. Here in Pullman tonight my hosts Pat and Colleen take us to dinner at the Cougar Country Drive-In and a double quarter pounder with fries and a banana shake never tasted so good. A good, loving couple fiercely proud of their loyalty to their alma mater her at WSU and very thankful to live where they do. Each day is a deposit of generosity by my hosts. …… each day the treasures build….

Of oranges, wheat fields and chance encounters….

May 12, 2010

So I crest a short hill near the intersection of 730/12 in Washington….now I am kinda dying for some fruit as the salty beef jerky provided by my hosts is oh so good but needs to be topped off with something….ahaaa a guy selling bags of oranges out of the back of his truck. Kevin tosses me a couple and we have a little chit chat and I head down the road. At 80 degrees a cold orange is pretty damn good in fact probably the best orange I ever had. The rolling countryside opens up to even more rolling fields of wheat and the greenness of it all is intoxicating. I drift back in my thoughts to my last view of the Columbia as it turned north. It had been a secure source of comfort for me….always there each day stretching out with periodic steps in its flow created by the dams and now we had parted company. In the small town of Touchet I roll into a Chevron in search of a cold Starbucks Mocha and have a chance meeting with Arnaud, a young frenchman riding across the country to New York. For 2 days he had followed a trail of flags not knowing their meaning until I told him. Travelers…one on foot, one on bike, 2 different countries, one gas station. The day ends well in Walla Walla and my hosts, the Pluckers treat me to a fine dinner of steak/potatoes/pasta salad/ strawberries/cake and ice cream. They clearly love their community. Their family goes back 150 years in this area….so obviously it must be love. Tomorrow new miles, new smells and sights and new faces and the tales build…….goodnight.

Thoughts from the road…..

May 11, 2010

I get dropped off…….Rain gear on or off? cold? no not yet, feet feel good….sort of, legs? still there…man should have had another cup of coffee, kinda hungry, first mile, i-phone on, check name, damn ground is hard, stick that flag, salute, move on, whoaaaaaa big truck, close! Gotta find a bush, nooooo not yet, wonder if the Cubs won? Wow the Columbia river is big….bushes lotsa sage, green and green, fields and smells, cattle trucks….Thats a big bridge, a high bridge….whew don’t like the interstate….need a gu, need another gu, did I take an alleve? maybe two? oh well, kidneys are strong…chafffffffing, shoulda lubed up….hungry, hungry, find a bush…again….drink more knucklehead…ok eat, ahhhhh mini-mart.. burritos and coffee and chocolate zinggggggg…..another flag, thank you, salute, your parents must be proud, I feel for their loss, are you watching from above? You push me forward….on and on

Lifejackets, $$$$, and apple pie….

May 10, 2010

Well Day 8 has come to a clsoe and I am in Hermiston, OR. Left the comforting sight of the Columbia River GForge yesterday and the topography has changed dramatically from rainforest type landscape to wide open rolling agricultural hills. Yesterday had the wonderful pleasure of running with my partner Peggy who even made the long drive with a delicous apple pie!! What a treat!! Spent the night in the Roosevelt Grade School and dinner was provided by my friend Daniel (host) mother…It has been interesting  learning what has made and broke these communities. A town such as Goldendale loses an aluminum factory, Roosevelt has mainly vineyard and fruit workers. Hermiston mainly agricultural. The find of the day yesterday was a red PFD and today 8 cents, which brings my current total to $1.03, along with 42 bridges crossed and 2.5 gallons of chocolate milk consumed. Life is good on the road.  The highlights of the week have been to numerous….Wonderful smooth roads through this beautiful, wet green of Western Oregon and then Washington. Hosts so welcoming and warm. Over 600 students lining the sidewalks in front of Prairie High School in Battleground, WA as I passed by and placed a flag for one of their alumni. The genuine sincerity of everyone has been truly amazing…I relish the though of ice on my feet and chocolate milk at the end of the day and the quiet moments to look around each mile. Today being Mothers Day was particularly moving….somewhere a mother was thinking of her son or daughter and I hope that somewhere from above he or she is smiling down. To all who have sent encouragement I thank you sincerely and deeply…the journey moves on!!!!!

In the gorge…

May 7, 2010

Headed east and the gorge has been beautiful even in the rain. Last night I stayed in the 1905 Lyle hotel and a few town folk came down. Lewis and Clark traded here with the native Americans on their journey west. No flats and no blisters for the road is good.