“The problem with introspection is that it has no end.” – Philip K. Dick
“You’re telling me, Dick!” — Daniel J. Getzoff
The process of writing these essays, this travelogue, these handlebar confessionals, has evolved as the months have ticked by. During the course of the ride, I took notes, most of which I’d babbled aloud into the Notes app on my iPhone. As the trip wore on, I got less and less motivated to take them. What was I thinking? Maybe I trusted my memory, that I’d absorbed the critical details and stored them everlastingly in the cauliflowered ridges of my brain. Or that I’d remember whatever I’d remember, and that would be sufficient. Only I never expected it would take this long to complete these stories. The glory—and the trap—of no deadlines is endless introspection.
The process of ongoing/(re)discovery of the events my 2018 bicycle journey across thirteen of these “Great” States (that ubiquitous pandering descriptor used by politicians and pundits alike) consistently surprises me. The more time I suck up to let something unfold, the deeper it becomes. Duh. I mean, that’s totally duh, right?
But then there’s the shame.
It’s hard to let go of the shame that plagues me: I haven’t finished writing about a journey that ended so long ago. But why? Why do I even feel this shame that I need to let go of in the first place? I could write a book about that. Don’t worry. I won’t. (Read Brené Brown instead. She’s got shame on lock.) … though the thesis of said book is probably over-self-reflected among the pages of these confessionals, somewhere anyway. (Please see also: ensuing paragraphs.)
In the pro column of what seems like—or is?—sluggishness: (1) the evolution of the writing process and (2) the joy I get from reviving and reliving these experiences and (3) infusing them with Monday-morning-quarterbacking-from-two-seasons-ago retrospect. In my source material arsenal, I still have a few un-ticked notes in Notes, in addition to the Adventure Cycling maps, time-stamped photos, the extensive and easily mineable data that Garmin and MapMyFitness absorbed via my watch. I have my memory, such as it is. And faith enough in my process that it will get finished eventually and that it will be a meandering yet pleasing result for myself and The Readership, whoever you may be.
Now, about that shame (not a book but a…consideration)…
…Last summer, when I told a friend what I’d be up to in Portland for 3 weeks attempting to finish the remaining Handlebar Confessionals for my 2018 trip (I squoze a couple out but did not finish-finish) he snarked, “Oh, yeahhhh, like the world is waiting for you to finish your blog…” And this was someone who actually reads this fucking thing! (BTW I take umbrage at “blog,” I am over “blog,”—that is soooo Handlebar Confessional 2009!) He was kidding/not kidding. Joking/not funny. On one level, I don’t care, I’m finishing these. It doesn’t matter if anyone reads it…? I mean, it does, but I’m finishing the project, no matter what. I’m doing it, because, yeah, I’m a writer, and I believe I have worth and a voice and a story. Better late than never. And I’m doing a third ride in 2021 [unless, I dunno, there’s a PANDEMIC or something—which would sound soooo dramatic back in ‘18], and then I’m going to listen to people who tell me I should turn this into a book. Big plans, big plans! Fasten your seatbelts! Put on your helmets!
On another note, I took that comment to heart, because of my bubblegum-bubble ego. Robust in size, yet so tender, so vulnerable. Sticky. I definitely have that “thing” that so many artistes have—and then you add my being an addict and anxiété magnifique on top of that. As much as I want to cling to compliments, I only really ingest the ‘bad’ stuff (real or imagined)—and, upon hearing criticism, I have to refrain from throwing myself to the pack of gluttonous wolves inside my head who all look and sound like me. I have to stay in it and on it. The journey, I mean. Follow my own beat as l’auteur and all that biz.
Frankly, it’s no fresh wound. It wasn’t fresh on opening night of At Least Until You Die, a play that I wrote, coproduced, and acted in back in 2005. A good friend (someone I had worked with very closely on multiple theater projects, including one that she wrote/produced/directed, and we were in a group together where I’d been workshopping this particular play for a year) had the sole tepid reaction in a sea of (promisingly real) enthusiasts. When my friend told me the week before that she was coming opening night (a Friday), I said, with feigned casual discouragement, “Oh, no…you don’t have to. Probably better to come Saturday or Sunday when we’ll really need support.” Knowing her as well as I do, I had an inkling of dread that her presence could throw a wrench in what would likely be a night to remember. I imagined two scenarios: 1) if all went well, she’d cut me down with what to the undertrained eye would seem innocuous but would be insidiously jugular (like in a horror movie when someone unsuspectingly gets sliced in half and is still smiling, being normal…until they realize that their top half is just about to slide off its base rendering them a two-piece meat pile), or 2) if I had an obvious flop on my hands, she’d gift me a narcissism-suffused save-the-day-chin-up-buddy cupcake slathered with schadenfreude frosting and coated with poor-baby sprinkles. Nevertheless, she persisted, buying tickets for herself and her husband for opening night.
And I was right. Right about the wrench, and right about remembering. For. Ever. The performance went well, yet after the show, as I made my way through the very-very-very-well-wishers, I could see her waiting patiently for her turn to relate the following: “It was…[wait for it!]…great seeing you onstage.” ?! ?! ?! ?! ?! ?! ?! ?! … This is ALWAYS a transparently lukewarm thing to say to a performer-writer-producer on their opening night, but even more jarring because she had seen me many, many, many times frolicking upon the freakin’ floorboards. Her job complete, she and her husband excused themselves. “We’ll talk…” she said, head cocked, [unsaid: “…about your mediocrity.”] A tinge of pity, a twinge of I have notes.
It’s not her fault she ruined my night. Bubbles always pop. People who are sliced in half come apart. The gravel at the edge of that ego cliff is always loose. She didn’t push me. I slipped in my perma-banana peel-soled shoes that can’t help but slip on other people’s shit.
Moments later, I slumped backstage to set up my props for the sophomore night’s gig, and I spotted the other actor in the two-hander I’d written, the wonderful and equally bruiseable Maureen Byrnes, sulking in the dark instead of celebrating a job well done. “Oh no, what’s wrong?” I asked. I wrote this role for her, and she was fantastic in it. I wanted her to feel good about the opening. As it turns out, she was also obsessing about our dear mutual friend’s halting regard for our work. She got the cupcake, too. Hers was laced with, “It wasn’t what I expected! But…still fun.”
“Oh my god, you too!” We broke into self-mocking laughter.
“Fuck her!” Maureen bellowed in her throaty, grated rasp of a contralto.
“Fuck us!” I countered. “We’re the ones focusing on the one non-glowing comment we got all night.”
Maureen stopped cackling long enough to say. “No. Fuck her. That bitch ruined our whole fucking lives!”
What was it that Martha Graham said? (One of those things you read and then appropriate for your own devices for years to come.) Something about it being none of the artist’s business how good they are or whether they are better or worse than anyone else. My business is to keep this confessional open for business, this “channel,” as Graham referred to it. (Thanks, Google.) Otherwise, these stories, whatever they’re worth, will never be expressed and will be lost.
So, in that spirit… (the spirit of getting on with the telling, rather than getting caught up in the muck of my or someone’s else’s socio-psycho-pneumatic shite, that is), shall we move on to the meat of the introspection and some real confessional data?
The night before Day 45 I set my phone alarm for 4:30am. The day was going to be very hot and long and windy and mountainy—and include a climb to the Western Continental Divide. Leaving AE(arly)AP is absolutely necessary on a day like today.
NEW MAP!!! Lewis & Clark Bicycle Trail, Section 6—second to last one. Though this map is entitled Section 6: Missoula, MT to Clarkston, WA, it actually starts in Great Falls. Which is about 170 miles ENE of Missoula. This is very confusing. So confusing that I ended up buying a Section 5 map that I didn’t need…Anyway, it’s all too confusing and too boring to explain in any greater detail than this. Moreover, a new map isn’t as exciting as a state line crossing. (Remember those? Montana is such a humungous beast. How many months have I been here now? Twenty-three, I think.) But retiring a map into the deepest compartment of Whitey Jackson’s left rear pannier is cause for a moment of gratitude and celebration.
It’s also July 6, 2018, what would have been my Grandmom Rosie’s 111th birthday. Happy birthday, Rosie.
Though she’s been gone since 2001, I still miss her and Grandpop Jake, especially during the summer. They mostly lived at the Jersey Shore in Margate City near Atlantic City, and we would go “down the shore” for a week at the end of August. They died within ten months of each other after 68 years of marriage. Rosie was a first-class worrier, and would have thought I was insane for riding my bicycle across the U.S. Like my stepmother, she’d have implored my father to forbid me from doing it.
The plan for the day was simple: pedal my sore ass to Lincoln, Montana without dying of heat exhaustion/dehydration. Via the Adventure Cycling route that’s mapped out, it’s about 110 miles to Lincoln from the Brantleys’ house in Great Falls. However, if I continue on Route 200 when I get to the town of Simms instead of doing what the map says, I will be able to cut out about 20 miles. Considering the heat and the upcoming climb up, up and over the Continental Divide (no matter which route I take), 90-ish miles seems way more reasonable. Also, I’ve found that once I hit around 110 miles, especially when I use some of my juice for listening to music (which, in looking at the territory up ahead, will be a necessity), my phone and battery charger, not to mention my watch, seriously deplete—and then I start to obsess about that. My adapted version of the route seems a bit risky in the sense that from Simms to Lincoln there is nothing for 60 miles. Nothing. There’s another small town (Augusta) on the vetted route but it still leaves the same distance without any services. Or people. The narrative on the Section 6 map warns: “Be prepared. …Long stretches without services, and often no other humans [author’s emphasis], require the cyclist to think and act more like a backpacker than like a bicycle tourist.” [I don’t know that I could think as a backpacker, never having really backpacked.] “For one thing,” the map continues, “solo travel is strongly discouraged.” [Um, little late for that.] It goes on to warn about drinking stream water without a proper filter [I don’t have one, so desiccation is the worst-case scenario, not death from parasites] and recommends that I have a check-in person who knows my plans for the day, so if something should happen and I get stranded, then it could be reported quickly…before I turn to dust in the wind. [Great idea! But too late/where’s the fun in that?]
I’m not worried. I need to get to Lincoln today, so that I can make it to Missoula tomorrow where I’ll spend a few days with my longtime friends Kathryn (aka Kay the Montana Whisperer) and Eric, and their kids Elizabeth and Michael. (Actually, they will be away camping until the following day with a bunch of other families, which I’ve bagged out of. Thinking of trying to hit an NA meeting since I’ll have an evening to myself in their place.) Also, I’ve faced way longer than 60 miles with no services/people/toilets/running water/purchasable water. The record for that was 128 miles, during my 2009 cross-country trip. You can read that entry here: Day 38: Utah Is at Least Three Planets. Not that I’m trying to beat any records today. Last time I tried that was a couple of weeks ago in South Dakota. Those misguided efforts resulted in ‘near heatstroke’ which, according to my sister and the Japanese, it was heat exhaustion. (Please see Figure 11.11) (It’s 11:11! That means make a wish! Okay: “I hereby wish to not to die of either heat exhaustion or heat stroke. End of wish.”)
I have extra-extra liquids on me today. My regular bike bottles that fit in each of the three bottle cages, all of which have been filled with half-water, half-Fruit Punch-flavored Powerade and frozen overnight, another Powerade bungeed to my rear rack pack, and two liter bottles of cheapo water strapped on top of each of Whitey’s rear panniers. Having run out of my usual low-sugar version, Nuun electrolyte tabs, I’ve fully accepted that the ‘Ade, of whatever brand or flavor, is part of my life, at least until I get to Missoula where the Amazon package containing Nuuns and replacement Oakley Half Jacket shades—no more Foster Grants for me!—awaits my arrival). Not that I eschew sugar by any means. There’s just something too syrupy about the ‘Ades. It feels thick. In a bad way. I do find “fruit punch” to be the most palatable flavor of these. Fruit punch has the benefit of not boasting imitation of a specific fruit, so it’s more palatable than, say, cherry, grape or orange which don’t taste like any cherries, grapes or oranges I’ve ever sampled.
Everybody knows the ol’ adage: the minute you start feeling thirsty, it’s over! (Insert a million ‘The Scream’ emojis, followed by ellipses, ending with a single skull.)
And now for the actual day’s ride:
Leaving Great Falls takes a few. Size-wise, it’s a “real” city, almost 60,000 people. After riding through downtown, I cross the Missouri once again—I wonder how many times it’s been?— unaware that it’s going to be my last time doing so on this trip. (P.S. That’s not saying I’d have taken a solemn moment to mark the occasion had I known…). (P.P.S. Did you know that the Missouri is longer than the Mississippi? I didn’t. Is that common [American] knowledge? Discuss.) Soon I hit I-15, which, if I hopped onto and headed the wrong direction, would take me home to Los Angeles. I could radically change everything right now! But I don’t, obviously. I follow the plan: ACA’s map-‘n-app out of the city on Vaughn Road, a service street that runs alongside I-15 North. There’s some not-lovely sprawl that fades into dry and dusty ranch lands. The population thins. It’s still relatively cool out, and the minimal winds aren’t wholly unfavorable (I’m headed WNW and the breeze is blowing from the SW), so I’m averaging 12 mph on my refreshed pedalers. I imagine this sounds slow to you, but especially considering the extra liquid load I’m carrying and the 1% grade, I’m definitely appreciative of how the ride’s going thus far. I know that I have a big climb coming up and heat and wind (as per the weather.com app I am constantly consulting—and being disappointed by), but I am grateful for all of it!
…My gratitude gets stung at mile 14 when the route leaves I-15’s northern slant at the town of Vaughn. I make a left on SR 200 (which, like Square Butte, I can never seem to escape from) and head southwest and more into the wind which is picking up, but not too horrendously. Ahh, okay. I’m strong, and life is amazing! I can handle this. Sure, I’m a wee-bitty-mite stressed out, as evidenced by my need to crack my jaw every few miles so I don’t grind down my teeth to nubs. (Today I am wishing that I hadn’t relinquished my night guard when I offloaded like less than 1 lb.’s worth of stuff on Day 7 when I got to my cousins’ in Cleveland. I’d had the brilliant idea to wear it all day while riding as a preventive measure for keeping my teeth well into old age. But that dream has been shattered. My smile’s days are numbered.) At mile 35, in the peewee town of Simms, I make a hard left as planned in order to stay on the main road instead of going straight onto Route 89 like the ACA map says to. (Coincidentally, that road is CLOSED anyway. Construction. Ha!)
There aren’t many instances when the experience of a single turn—just one left-hand turn out of so many hundreds (thousands?) of turns within a 3,800-ish-mile bicycle trip—reverberates so clearly into the future, now 23 months ago. This turn epitomizes the confluence of a triumvirate of unpleasant, gratitude-annihilating elements: the jack-up of windspeed, grade, and temperature. Worse, the landscape’s vastness, its barrenness, creates an illusion of flatness belying the 3% grade I’m struggling up now, with constant wind at 17mph and chaotic gut-busting gusts of way stronger than that. Didn’t see that coming.
What I do see coming is the climb to Rogers Pass, aka the Western Continental Divide. Remember when I did that slow climb on Day 3? Well, that was the Eastern Continental Divide. This is Western or Great.
As we can see from Figure 13.13 below (say “White light!” thirteen times without taking a breath to break the double-13 curse), we are at the start of a 35-mile climb. As mentioned earlier, I’m trying not to be overly worried the whole day I’m gonna overheat and dehydrate. More than anything, I don’t want to get caught out being stupid. Like, it’s okay if I die on this trip by getting run over by a logging truck. “He never saw it coming, and it was over like [*snap*]. He died doing what he loved. Pity, though.” Rather than, “What a dingbat idiot, way stupider than Pavlov’s Other Dog who put its paw to the flame more than once. He died doing what he loved…being a dumbass! Too bad, though.”
I hit mile 60, then 61, 62. I’m climbing, 3% grade, then 4%, 5%. The temperature is rising, too, 86, 87, then 88. It’s hot as Dante’s areolae, and there’s no shade besides a wisp of tree branch now and again at the side of the road. I am assuming that will change the higher I climb. Trees happen on mountains. The road will twist around as well, I’m reasonably sure, so I’ll be getting breaks from having a direct headwind. Uh oh. Am I thirsty? Or drinking down my supply because it’s correct? I’m running low on water, and what I have is warmer than camel piss. Speaking of urine, I stop for break and a bar and a banana. As I begin to water the side of the road, I remember Coach Diego texting me a few weeks ago when I had my dramatic quasi-collapse outside Mobridge, South Dakota: “Your pee should be the color of straw. Darker yellow means you’re dehydrated.” Hmm, mine is approaching tangerine at the moment. It must be the Fruit Punch PowerAde dyeing my bladder walls, because I refuse to be dehydrated right now.
It’s still about ten miles to the Divide where I’ll start an 18-mile descent. Traveling at 5 to 6mph, that’s still a ways off…like a couple of hours. The sun is teasingly merciful, not searing through the 50 SPF yet ominous behind lazy clouds that could give a fig’s leaf about protecting me.
A Brief and Clumsy Visit for Which I Am Grateful
Not long after mile 64, there’s a sign up ahead. “Yard Sale” marks the beginning of someone’s property. It’s been at least a couple hours since any sort manmade edifice has been visible from the road. It’s a residence, a modest ranch. House, several buildings, a garage-ish sort of structure boasting what seems to be a permanent installation of ‘another person’s treasure,’ as they say. If there’s a yard sale, that means someone’s home, right? Oh, please, let there be agua.
Someone’s definitely home. I can feel the presence of another being. It’s probably not a bear. Oh god oh god oh god I begin to have those conflicting feelings of relief and shame (!) of being caught out underprepared (but I had FIVE bottles!), not wanting to meet anyone and chitchat, be vulnerable and ask for help. Help me, Brené! It does occur to me to keep going and try my hand at trying not to die, but relief and gratitude beat down my ego.
I pedal onto the gravel driveway. A dog’s bark, muffled, alerts the caretaker/proprietor of the vast spread of items that start at tiny antique figurine and end at gargantuan farm equipment. A short, stout white guy, early 70s, invites me into the house—bright, lots of windows, that’s all I recall—to fill my water bottles. I am profusely appreciative. I am already apologizing for not being a paying customer, assuring him unnecessarily that I’d buy something if I were in a car. Joking, of course (but just in case). Re: my cleats, I motion, should I take these off? I don’t have to. The wife, his twin in stature and plainspokenness, tells me, “Lucky you we’re here. We just came from the market.” Indeed, ma’am.
The brief visit is a clumsy experience. I am clumsy. Clumsy because they’re Western nice, not Midwestern nice—that is, not unfriendly and not warm. Clumsy because I’m walking around in cleats on their kitchen floor and clumsily trying not drip sweat on it (or anywhere). Granted, these ain’t oak parquetry but…Clumsy because the sweat is dripping in my eyes instead and because wiping the sweat with my bare sweaty arm only increases the salt content and sunscreen quotient in my eyes. “You can have a paper towel,” the wife says. I clumsily oblige the offer. Also clumsy because the icemaker in the fridge starts pesky and slow, and then suddenly ejaculates a bunch out at once and a few of the oblong pieces hit the floor. Clumsy because they’re marvelously smooth and glassy making them hard to pick up, clumsy because man and woman say, “Oh leave it, we’ll get it” and they mean it, but they aren’t warm. It’s like driving someone else’s car and figuring out how to finesse the gas and brakes, but they’re in the car with you as you tap the brakes too hard and everyone lurches forward in their seats. They tell me I can open up the freezer and grab the cubes (er…the oblongs) from the container inside. I clumsily motion but my hands aren’t…They wave me forward. My hands don’t have to be clean to grab the ice or to accept the cookie they generously offer.
(Looking back on it now—maybe it’s because we are in the middle of a pandemic?—I wished I’d pressed them about the handwashing. Though I’d rested them on Whitey’s handlebars, my cycling gloves were gaggingly nasty by Day 45. Like, no matter how many times I washed them, they were just perma-infused with moldy grime. They just never ever dried completely. My hands stank from dawn til dusk.)
“Don’t mind him.” There’s also a dog demanding to be pet.
“Oh, I don’t mind!” I say too quickly. I’m game for anything!
The husband is standing and watching me. The wife is sitting watching. I have a cookie in my hand and a bottle in the other. The paper towel is also somewhere. The bottle’s lid is clamped between my lips. Further back in my mouth there’s some unmasticated and, hence, unswallowed cookie. A big, sheep-looking dog is buried in my crotch. I polish off the cookie quickly—a tough task since my mouth is bone-dry—so I have use of my other hand to pet the dog and to graspingly continue the effort of watering my bottles. Clumsy because I’m petting a dog with the paper towel that I’d forgotten was in that hand from ten seconds ago. It’s more wiping him than petting him. The wife offers me another cookie.
I say, “Oh, yes, please!” clumsily, dutifully, down-homely playing the role of the starving cyclist, even though, if I’m being absolutely, nakedly, not clumsily, confessionally honest, I don’t want another one, because A. I was having trouble managing the first, and B. I did not like the cookie. It was that waxy kind they sell in supermarkets and Walmarts branded “freshly baked” (according to the orange sticker with chocolate-brown letters on the clear plastic clamshell container) but tastes like something invented in a lab, rather than a baked good. Chemical, peculiar, implausibly soft yet devoid of moisture. I worry they can smell the bougie-bougie on me.
“Mmm,” I say because it’s the right thing to say, the grateful thing, and the only thing you can utter with a mouthful of it. The couple tell me about two French girls who camped on their grass last summer. I can’t tell whether or not they liked that this happened. Or whether they were just bemused by it without actually liking it. Neither scenario suggests I stay the night. No one suggests it, which I am grateful for.
After several minutes of balancing the weight of everything, I’m good with hydration (unless I’ve reached a no-turning-back point that I’m not yet aware of and the Grim Reaper awaits at the top of the mountain), and I’m all clumsied out. Plus, I want to get to Missoula tomorrow. As I bid the couple goodbye, two women pull up in a black Range Rover. They are dressed alike in what I can only describe as ladies’ off-the-course golf wear, bright whites, collars up, though I can’t say how I know that, or even if that is an accurate description. Blond and strikingly American, which is an odd observation, considering we are in MAGA Territory. These not-on-purpose twinsies are clearly there to pick over the yard sale items. I nod and try to smile, telegraphing can’t wave with all these water bottles or speak with this cookie a-danglin’ from my lips! They are wholly uninterested in my niceness or my story.
The Remains of the Climb / The Descent into Land of Lincoln (The Other Other Other Other Lincoln)
Though difficult, the remaining seven or so miles of the climb to the Continental Divide is far less anxious than the first twenty-seven or so. I stay in the smallest of the three chainrings, in the lowest gear and just…pedal. And sweat. And drink from my bottles as the ice from my saviors’ fridge melts. Now that I’m not flipped out about dehydration, the ride’s meditative. My head’s quiet, and so is everything else. The trees do proliferate, but they don’t provide even smattering of shade. The road twists some, so I’m not going straight into the wind every second. At 71.9 miles, I hit the Divide. Rogers Pass, Elevation: 5,610 feet. Success!
It’s looking pretty Rocky Mountain Classic up here as I take a few photos of the conifers, noting some areas that must have burned in recent years.
According to a local hiking guide I found online, the lowest temperature ever recorded in the Lower 48 was up here, -70° F back in the 1950s. We are a far cry from that in the upper +80s. As great as it felt to bask in my accomplishing the climb without dying, it is almost 4pm, I’ve been on the road for ten hours, and I am still nearly twenty miles away from Lincoln. The downhill awaits.
I wish I could say that I demon-speed down the other side of the Divide making a beeline at a daring velocity toward the Pacific Ocean after the overall four-week altitude gain from the Mississippi River. But…have I mentioned the wind in the last two seconds? Well. The wind is still coming from the southwest, and I am still heading southwest. Okay, if I’m being honest, I get up to about 22 mph at some point (according to the data from my watch), but averaging 12mph on a downhill is no thrill, and it does take me nearly two hours more before the day is done.
At about 6pm, Whitey and I roll into Lincoln, Montana, a town of about a thousand and most famous for being the place where the Unabomber was arrested in 1996 and second-most famous for being the place of residence of a dude who won the Iditarod four times. The general look of the place is Small-Town Rocky Mountain Classic. Several buildings have that Lincoln Log look to them. Apt. Here on Friday, July 6, we are still in the midst of a holiday week and the start of the real weekend, and the town is buzzing. Jeez, I hope I can find a hotel room. I am a pedaling salt lick. I’d done my laundry at the Brantleys, so I’m not disgusting-disgusting, but a shower, AC, a bed, and an actual meal would be ideal.
The ACA map lists three hotel options. I try the farthest one first, because A. I can be a masochist and B. I like the name. Three Bears Inn. Har har har, betcha they mean real bears and not the kind that prowl around Silver Lake—or used to before that LA neighborhood became ultra-gentrified. No room at the inn. I guess that was the Papa Bear option. I backtrack several hundred feet to option #2: Hotel Lincoln, a Lincoln Log dream come to life. Nothing at this Mama Bear option. Uh oh. Baby Bear/option #3 is Sportsman Motel, made of brick, not log. Score! And in keeping with Three Bears/options metaphor, the only available room has three beds. I’m gonna Goldilocks the fuck outta those three beds. Actually, my true reaction is…shame. Like somehow I’m being overindulgent and selfish, taking up all the air in the motel. What if a family of non-planners like me stumbles upon Lincoln in need of a room? Well, if they’re from Montana, certainly they won’t have AT&T as their provider which does not work here (please see all previous Montana posts) so they would have called ahead, and even more likely, they’ll be driving and, therefore, can drive to Helena or Missoula or Great Falls. Or anywhere. I’m ready to take the Goldilocks challenge. Plus, the guy at the desk gave me a break on the price, since I’m solo. Shame slithers away when Gratitude saunters in and says, “Howdy!”
I wheel Whitey down the gravelly drive. My neighbors, two women and a man, plus at least one other person inside, are drinking in the doorway. One of the women is draped on a lounge chair, the other sunk into a camp chair with an impressive array of cupholders, the man is half-inside the room, half-spilling out of the doorframe into the not quite evening air. They have that fuggit, it’s 1pm somewhere I been drinkin’ all day probably need to eat something substantial real soon or else it won’t be pretty vibe. I use all the power I can muster to don an invisibility cloak. After more than 90 miles in the heat, I don’t wanna deal with drunk swingers. Or drunk anybodys. Or anybody anybodys. They continue their conversation and sloshy mirth among themselves, but I can tell the invisibility cloak prayer isn’t working. I feel their eyes on me, feel their should-we-or-shouldn’t-we-engage socially lubricated wheels turning. But this is the West, where people aren’t compelled to address a stranger, even one as out-of-place as this one. “Howdy,” I say as if it’s something endemic to me. (Do people say “howdy” in Montana? I must ask Kay.) They “hey” me back, but aren’t interested in me or my story either, thank Rocky Mountain Classic God.
The AC unit is already on low in my three-bed palace. I park Whitey under the window, crank the air on high, and draw the curtains as tight as possible. Not worried about looky-loos, just want to forget there is a sun. The middle bed is the most comfortable on the first round of auditions. But it’s the floor I crave. I spread a white towel on the tan carpeting, peel off my gear, and lay it out on there. Maybe it’ll dry, maybe it won’t. Right in front of the AC, I lay down another towel, a pink one, and lie flat on my back, legs open to allow for the air to blow where it counts. Keeping still not being a skill of mine (and hungry for something substantial real soon), I last only a couple minutes, stretch a bit, and head to the bathroom to shower.
But first thing’s first. I wonder, rather lyrically, will it be straw, tangerine, or something in between? I lift the toilet seat to discover…brown. A stranger’s bowel movement. I’m momentarily outraged by this intruder on my peace and quiet and planned dehydration litmus test! I flash on marching back into the motel office to complain about someone else’s shit in my toilet. But, wait a sec… Sometimes I forget that someone else’s shit is not my problem. Sometimes I have to just flush someone else’s shit away and get on with it. Like what I’m doing right now. Writing this Handlebar Confessional and sharing it with you, whoever you are. Other people’s shit (and my own naysaying) be damned!
WHOA. That is some deep shit.