Archive for June, 2010

A Mother’s Calling

June 27, 2010

Just out of Baggs, WY, I crest a long hill in the early morning light. Almost immediately the topography changes. It is greener and there are yellow flowers along the road and valleys as far as I can see and in the distance, mountains loom. It is the kind of morning that greets me every day. Fresh air, sun, music from the side of the road as crickets and birds sing their songs. This morning would be different though.

Violet Kaylor is driving a lonely stretch of Hwy. 13 north of Craig, CO. It has been a long trip for her. She is from Hartselle, AL and left on Sunday June 20th headed for Mile Post 114. Her son was Jon-Eric Loney. An Army Corporal, he was 21 years old when he died on November 28th, 2006 in Iraq. We move forward to a meeting in the Colorado countryside, towards each other for a brief time in our lives.  I see a black, Dodge Charger with Alabama plates approach and slow. It stops. It is Violet. We walk together and she tells me about her son. Infectious, generous and just a really good son. It is quiet too, as we walk. I ask Violet to look around…..There are sheep grazing and lambs feeding and a creek runs nearby. A sheep wagon sits on the side of the hill. It is a beautiful place. A soothing, calm place to put her sons flag. It has always been an honor for me to serve this country 30 years ago and it was an honor to walk this mile for Jon-Eric with his mother. I cannot imagine her sadness and yet I see her love for her son. It was important for her to be here at Mile Post 114, to see her sons flag be placed and then to take him home. We embrace and words of gratitude are shared. Violet slowly drives away and I resume this journey. Life often brings us circumstances and people who change our lives, that somehow enrich it in a way we can’t explain. I would spend the better part of the day thinking about this Mothers Calling and its effect on me. Thank you Violet Kaylor and thank you Jon-Eric Loney for this mile in Colorado.


Prison and Prairie

June 23, 2010

I walk through the front door of the Wyoming Frontier Penitentiary. Established in 1881 and closed in 1981, it cuts an imposing gothic like figure on a side street in Rawlins, WY. Romanesque in structure, it is eerie. I close my eyes, listen to the wind outside and imagine…….walking through the door that every inmate did. He could have been a cattle rustler, a thief, a murderer. Processed in a small room, his picture is taken. He is shuttled to the next room. Dimly lit, this room is cold and it is where he would have been strip searched then hosed down and de-liced. It also had a punishment pole. Handcuffed to it the worst offenders would be beaten with rubber hoses. A sliding window would have been opened in the door so that other inmates could hear the screams. This was 1910. Taken to A-block and put in #12 on the ground floor. His room, a mere 5×8. A wooden bed, a straw mattress, a wool blanket and pillow, a sink and toilet. There was no hot water. He would have taken cold showers every day….for years. The south facing cells were coveted. Sun would often filter in and somewhat warm the inner, dark cell block. The windows were high which allowed those inmates on the 2nd, 3rd and 4th levels to see out to nothing but a vast, empty prairie, yet it would be their lifeline, their hope. At the far end of the block still sits a barber chair, confined to a larger cell. It looks lonely with its leather aged and fading, cracking like the walls surrounding this place. On the north side of A-block there is little light. The cells are dark, pitch black in most cases. Standing in them you can see out but for someone walking by, you are invisible, swallowed up in darkness. The odor here is strong. 100 years of human sweat, blood, urine. Many of the old mattresses still remain. It is cold. He must have spent many nights praying for the sunlight. Praying to get sent to the infirmary where it would be warmer. Praying for a release so he could return to the prairie and the endless skies of Wyoming. In the  silence I hear the voices and catch whispers. I see the shadows dancing….To the “yard” I would walk, following him. A baseball field long overgrown with a rusty backstop. Endless games won and lost. Guard towers in each corner watching, waiting, anticipating perhaps, that jump for freedom. I follow him. To death row. 15 would die in this place. 9 by hanging and 6 by the gas chamber. I cannot comprehend the feeling of despair, anguish and desperation in that room as the clock ticked down. I follow him. To the cafeteria. Huge ovens and old stoves, murals on the wall and no matter where I stand, the bighorn sheep eyes are still watching me. I follow him. To C-block, more modern now, more light and warmer. There are stories of escape and recaptures. I hear the whispers and know I must go. Down the dark walkway again past those cells that reach out to tell the story of those they kept within. I leave him then. I walk out into the sunlight and see the trees and flowers and feel the breeze and know it is time to move on.

Fathers Day and Antelope

June 21, 2010

My mornings here in Wyoming have become much like every other morning. I awake at 5:30. My mind begins to buzz with the expectation and excitement of a new day. What will I see? Who will I meet? The skies are blue, the sun is just beginning to come up. I realize it is Fathers Day. I am fortunate. I am still here. Alive. I will receive a gift from my daughter, a framed quote she wrote:”My Father didn’t tell me how to live; He lived and let me watch him do it”……..My son calls. I am lucky. I can still hear his voice. He is a young father now and makes me proud. My day of running  begins. 30 miles, 30 flags. Some of the flags today bear the names of sons. Some of fathers. We move down the highway together. For the briefest time there is no wind. Crickets chirp. Birds sing methodically. The sun warms my skin. I smell sage.  On the hills of sage I see numerous antelope and they snort and run as I draw near. Sons and fathers. I think that somewhere a family is sad. Today there will be no sadness on this road. There is to much beauty in this place. Enough, today that I share it with each name. What I see, they see. What I hear, they hear. Our senses are one, joined in a way I can’t explain. The prairie has power. Immense power and it pulls me down the road to another day done. The sun sinks low. The antelope seek their beds for the night. I dream and await tomorrow…………

Sweetwater Junction, Handcarts and Little Friends

June 19, 2010

It is a long, desolate stretch of highway, this ribbon of asphalt called 287 which goes from south of Lander to Rawlins, WY. As I trot along I often think about what I can write about at night. Often there is to much. Sweetwater Junction is one of those stops in the middle of these high plains with views of the Wind River Range. It is the home of the Mormon Handcarts in this area. I thought pushing a stroller loaded with 50lbs. of gear was a chore. It pales in comparison to what Mormon Settlers did 150 years ago. They actually pulled handcarts that weighed 60 lbs. from Iowa to Salt Lake City loaded with provisions and clothing. I was told it was cheaper than rail travel to get them to their final destination. They had basically 12 oz. of flour a day. The equivalent of 2 to 4 slices of bread in addition to whatever else they could muster up. When these supplies ran low the men would give their portions to the women and children. I was astounded by their efforts. A few miles up from this camp the settlers would dig down about 2 feet in the sloughs to find ice even in June and this would help preserve their meat. The California Trail, Orgeon Trail, Mormon Trail and the Pony Express Trail all traveled this route I was on today. In an area I had secret reservations about crossing, I saw tremendous beauty and solitude. I discovered when I stopped in Jeffery City that it at one time had 5000 residents and a uranium mine which, when it closed in the early 80s took most of the residents with it. Now, vacant gas stations are next to the highway along with long ago, boarded up buildings. The wind creaks the sign from an old Sinclair Station, sage blows across the asphalt, the sun beats down, the sky is blue. In such space, freedom is magnified. Further up the road I spot a young ranch mother and her two children. They had raced their four-wheeler through the field to get ahead of me. I stop and meet the little ones. They are pure, Wyoming. Dressed in jeans, long sleeve shirts, cowboy hats and each with huge belt buckles. The little girl wears her grandmothers Miss Wyoming buckle. Mom is as pleasant as her children and just as beautiful in her own quiet way. It is obvious she has done great things with them and felt it was important for them to meet me. I was flattered by their sudden appearance and so thankful for it. Thats what Wyoming has been like. Intense, open space with chance encounters that brighten my day.

The Winds…………….literally

June 17, 2010

The Wind River Range flows like a wave off to my right. Snow covered in June and yet down this low there are shades of green and brown as summer fills the mountain air of thes wide open plains. I have been fortunate to see the Tetons and now the Winds. Today I experienced the Winds in a new form. In my face, 35 mph for 10 miles….oooookkkayyyy. This isn’t quite fun. Did I say that? My speed pushing the stroller drops to a turtle-like 3 mph and I wonder if I will make my pickup time. Lander has been a nice town to visit. Pummeled by rain and floodwaters a week ago I see a town come together. Neighbors helping each other sandbag the rising river. I would not expect such weather in an area such as this but Mother Nature is not choosy. Rolling through town I take a picture of the 1905 Coulter building and spy my barber shop, Crazy Beautiful. Okay I admit it was at one time a barbershop and now a salon but for a shaghead like me passing through it would do. Coincidentally Army Sergeant Major Michael Millette flag would have been placed out front but now sits in a vase in the window of that salon, out of the elements. As I leave town I look at my small medicine bag dangling in the wind from my stroller. Given to me a few nights ago it contains a rattlesnake rattle for protection, an eyes stone to watch over me, a travel stone to get me from ocean to ocean and a healing stone. I feel secure and safe in a deep way. Running into the wind the gusts push the stroller side to side and nearly bring me to a standstill. What do I do? I keep my head down and ask for a little help and recieve from the previous 1305 flags a push from 1305 hands….

Thoughts and Tie Hackers

June 14, 2010

The road is forgiving. It rises and falls, dips and sways, shady and often barren. It is ever changing.Time is not.  When I see the weather change, the wind rise and the rain fall, temperatures drop, I cannot hesitate. My day must begin. Each movement is directed forward. Awake at 5:30. Brush teeth, clear the eyes.Eat breakfast, pack stroller, load, drive, unload, goodbyes. Start beacon, check flags, food, water, begin. Walk, run, breathe, dream….check flag on phone, stop, read name, think, thank you, place, salute, move on. Run. Drink, Eat, Run….do it again and again and again. I love these days. They are each unique and new and refreshing.

As I left the shadow of the Tetons behind I headed up over Togwatee Pass. At just over 9600 it climbs steadily at a 6 percent grade for 17 miles. Imposing? Yes, and even more as the rain and winds move in. My rain gear gets put on and the Snickers bars come out. Chocolate does amazing things at this altitude, it is the great equalizer. Snow comes and how cool is this!!! June 12th almost on top of the Continental Divide and snow! The fog grows. Motor homes and travel trailers move slowly by. I need coffee. Pretty much always, when it gets to be 2 p.m. Hmmmm nothing up here so over the top and down, down, down I roll. Often I forget what I am doing. I feel little below the waist and I look around as if I am in a slowwwwwww moving car….

The Tie Hackers logged this area of Wyoming over 75 years ago. Trees were felled then given to the Hackers who squared them up in exact dimensions and the “ties” were then sent down a flume on the side of the hill into the Wind River and floated down to Riverton, WY. Backbreaking work for low pay. Paid only so much for the ties that you did. I can only imagine the harshness of the comditions. At the Triangle C Dude Ranch I am greeted by the staff and enjoy beef brisket and potatoes and sauteed veggies, salad and cake and ice cream. Above the bar are various boots nailed to the crossbeam of the ceiling. These are boots of prior employees or someone who had died there. Nice. I am encouraged by the outlook on life the young staff has. They are intelligent and in or recently graduated from college. They are positive and energetic and it is contagious. As  I leave the rain continues. The road forgives and time continues to relentlessly move me forward towards that landmark in Dubois……………..the giant Jackelope!! …….

Rainy days and Snakes and Mocha

June 8, 2010

I am now but a few miles from leaving Idaho and I do not expect my experience with the rain and the snakes to end anytime soon. Two days ago as I was somewhere between I-15 and Rexburg, ID I began the count…..1 rattlesnake….dead….2…3….4….5……time out…..I have to make a detour off the road. The rain is  coming down, the stroller wheels sink into the mud, my shoes follow…for the love of God!!! I just have to go to the bathroom!!! To top it off the mosquitoes are out….way to early for here…and devour chunks of my bare skin….more mud and back to the pavement….6….wow, that was a big one………7………….jiminy geezuz what is with the snakes???? The smell of sage permeates the air, the dampness and rain take me back to the days of youth when my brothers and I would play in the street and pop tar bubbles filled with rain….Illinois seems so far away…….I still have remnants of a mocha from 3 days ago in my veins and to tell that story I must set the stage. I was lucky enough to have one night of camping along Birch Creek. A wonderful soak for the legs in cool waters followed by beef bbq, cole slaw and beans and of course chocolate milk and then a fire. My friend Hope brought his expresso maker and the next morning was going to make me a mocha…..butttttttt no electricity. So we zip up the road to Lone Pine. All 13 inhabitants are sleeping, hungover, I assume based on the amount of beer bottles lying around. Hope unplugs the ice machine on the porch of the store and plugs in his expresso maker and proceeds to whip me up the most delicious mocha without stirring up a single slumbering soul….ahhhh the magic of the road, snakes to dance around and coffee to dream about up ahead in Driggs….

Wide Open Spaces

June 4, 2010

Heading south out of Salmon, Idaho  I see the plains open up in a wide expanse of vegetation between the Bitterroots and Lemhi Mountain Ranges. It is quiet out here in a soothing way with much less traffic. I can probably count the cars that pass me each day on my hands and left foot. I stop briefly in Tendoy at the tendoy Store and speak with Viola, a white haired woman behind the counter. In her 80s and with an infectious smile, she had heard of me on the radio and knew i was coming. She shares a bit of history. Tells me that Sacajewea was not born in Salmon as they claim but 2 miles outside of Tendoy. It is an area rich with Lewis and Clark lore. A few of their encampments are nearby with the history exhibited on large wooden historical markers along the road. A short distance from the store I take a picture of the oldest working 1 room schoolhouse in Idaho, established in 1912. Like so many things it will one day close its doors and the stories, the laughter, the knowledge shared within will be gone forever. Late in the day I roll into Leadore which sits at 6000 feet and stay at the Leodore Inn which is run by Mike and Aleta Reis. A pleasant and hardy couple they interest me with their lifestyle and love of this valley. Mike is a taxidermist part time and Aleta makes porcelain dolls in her spare time. They tell me stories of the history of this town. How the population grew to 600 in the 1920s, dwindled to a few hundred in the 1940s and now sits at less than 75. A rail station once ran through here but was short lived and the tracks were pulled to support the WWII effort. I hear stories of people who come and go on the road. One night the state patrol dropped someone off he had picked up in a nearby canyon. The next morning the patron is seen walking outside down the street…….naked…….Mike goes out and says “Look, you gotta put some clothes on” at which the man replies “The birds don’t wear any” at which Mike replies ” Well I don’t see any feathers on your ass, so get some on”…………ahhhhh yes we never know what or whom we will encounter…….Tommorrow I roll out of here and will go over 1000 miles and 1000 flags.  As I finished today, which was particularly hard because it was 33 miles of gradual climbing all day, I looked upward and said thank you. You see, when I look up its not really the sky I see, but rather those faces of those who are gone, looking down on me, smiling. They carry me and protect me and hold the gate open for me when I start again tommorrow…On, On my friends.

Memorial Day Weekend Travels

June 1, 2010

Friday dawned to a dreary, cloudy day that turned to rain rather quickly. Fortunately a bike path would emerge rather quickly but not before two interesting incidents. The first was an encounter with a black Audie with dark windows that pulled over. A huge guy gets out and is waiting for me and holding the hand of his young daughter. I notice the license plate and it says “Marine Veteran” He has a thick Polish accent and tells me how it was an honor for him to serve our country in Iraq and Afghanistan. He thanks me and then…..he salutes with wet eyes. I am caught off guard and salute back. About an hour later outside a Stop N’ Go a young man walks up and says hello. he introduces himself as Cole. He had just gotten out of the Navy a few months ago and would soon be leaving for Malta to marry his girlfriend and then live there. He tells me of his brother who is serving in Iraq on his 2nd tour. We exchange other small talk and then I must leave. He thanks me and then he says “You deserve this” and crisply, sharply he comes to attention and salutes me, looking at me with wet eys also. I am stunned again, salute back and then go into the store to get my Gatorade. My eyes are watery, my composure lost for a brief moment. When I come out Peggy says it about made her cry….We run down the bike path to Stevensville in the wind and rain and wind and rain and wind and rain.

As I pass through the Bitterroot Valley the towns of Hamilton and Darby pass by on a beautiful Sunday. Rolling into Sula a couple travelling with bags on their bikes stop and ask for a picture. They are Marco and Muni and they are from Costa Rica riding across the country. They had been following my flags since Oregon and every 100 miles would stop and take a picture and what is the chance on this remote Montana road we would meet?

Thank you Ari and Danielia for opening up your home for 2 nights and for the great barbecue at which I was presented a Montana Service Award Challenge Coin. With some sadness I said goodbye to Montana and to Peggy who has given me so much faithful company in this first section. Now its on to Driggs!!!!