Kamaiah, ID to Clarkston, WA. 90.14 miles, cum. 3131.54 miles, elev. gained 4,526 ft.

Day 51 has ended up being its own beast. My memories of the ride itself, which occurred Thursday July 12, 2018, don’t necessarily sing with standout meaning or value as I begin to gather them together in order to release them on you. But the reanimating of the day on October 4, 2022, and reflecting on it for the rest of this month have, for sure, ended up doing just that.

Here’s the short(er) version of what you’re about to read:

  1. I rode my bike a particular route on Day 51 in 2018 that I was aiming to recreate (aka reanimating it à la de-zombification) by driving it (yes, in a car) in 2022.
  2. The purpose of the drive was to reawaken memories and re-observe the route so that I could make my writing of an essay about this day that occurred 4 years ago more detailed, and, therefore, I believe, more authentic and, therefore, more worthy of reading.
  3. I also harbored a writerly hope—the one I always carry with me whether riding, driving, walking, breathing, or chatting with you about your problems—that I could make meaning out of the experience, that the drive would provide fodder for enhancing my perspective, leading to a deeper understanding of myself that, in turn, I could translate into something of value to recount in this essay.
  4. While driving Day 51 in October ’22, I fucked up the route. Twice. Bafflement. Irritation. Fear of ruinousness of purpose and of squanderousness of opportunity.
  5. The occurrence of #4 complicated the intended outcome of #2 but paved the way for #3.
  6. At long last, I forge ahead with the story of Day 51, ponder about living in a small town, and then we collectively rest.

Why a short(er) version? You may be asking this question right now! It’s an exercise to test the theory of #2, this idea that more information equals greater authenticity; that the truth, if it exists, is in the details.

So let’s back this beeyatch up a little and color in the above outline with a million theory-testing details.

As I brought up in my Yass Process Queen post, I planned to parlay my approaching trip to Missoula (here in present-day 2022) into shaking the project of HBC awake after a long slumber. I was headed back to Montana, dear lambkins! And this time I was going to make it to Glacier, though not on a bike. Grizzlies (and the other types of bears that are supposedly not as scary), be damned! As you may recall, not including Glacier National Park (notably, several hundred miles off the route I planned) as part of the 2018 journey that took me clear across Montana, was cause for consternation, censure, and (perhaps imagined) ridicule from the entire world. An extra full-circle bonus was that my friend, Levi (who I mentioned in an earlier post as a newer Missoulian buddy who expressed sympathy for my idiocy for not going to Glacier but then offered to make me a whole person worthy of living on Planet Earth by suggesting maybe we’d go together at some point), is the one who took me—and several others (Levi’s girlfriend Ang, already an experienced Glacierer, and our friends Heather and David from Texas and Thomas from France, all three of whom were Glacier virgins like me—on a whirlwind 2-day trip up there from Missoula at the end of September 2022. (This Glacier bit, I realize, is a digression from my initial digression of writing about Day 51 [and probably some other concentric nesting-doll digressions] but I felt that I needed to ease the world of pain I created by not going to Glacier in 2018 when I supposedly had the chance—though it would have added 600 miles to my trip—by letting the world know I fuckin went and was utterly awed by it, of course.)

Glacier Gang ’22: Thomas, Angela, Levi, Heather, Me, David

Okay, let’s back up a bit less, now that we’ve rehashed and finally let go of the Glacier National Park Defensiveness & Shame I’ve been carrying for four years and transformed it into Glacier National Park Awe & Gratitude…though I was hankering for the bike during the drive through the park in the giant white van that Levi and Ang had generously rented for the trip to cart the six of us around. As I gazed out the window at my surroundings, I was assessing the condition of the roads and the extent of the climbs and drops and imagining what it would have been like riding them. As much as I might like to cling to the idea that it’s always better on a bike, if I had ridden up here during an HBC trip, I definitely wouldn’t have gone on the gobsmackingly breathtaking hikes Levi and Ang took us on, and there’s certainly something to be said about experiencing such majestic beauty in the presence of other human beings, witnessing their wonderstruckness and also Levi’s pride at being the one to lead us to a place that has brought him so much peace and fulfillment his whole life.

So, the plan was—after the Glacier trip and the NA convention in Missoula and spending time with my friends there—for me to rent a car and drive the HBC ’18 route from Missoula to Astoria, Oregon (about 700 miles). This opportunity had revealed itself seamlessly and aptly as Missoula is where I’d been effectively “stranded” in the writing and relaying of the stories of that journey. I was hoping not only to jog my memory of those final days I hadn’t yet written about but also to jog, nudge, smack, zap myself out of HBC hibernation and back into the process of alchemizing all the source materials into (hopefully) not too-precious metal. And I was wide open to however the drive might inform that process.

Pains.stake.king.ly.

But first I needed to figure out the route to drive. I estimated it would take me two days at a leisurely-ish pace to navigate by car the remaining time—Days 49-57—that it took me to reach the Oregon Coast from Missoula by bicycle four years ago. Before I flew up to Missoula on 9/27/22, I painstakingly typed out driving directions, assuming that my OCD forcefield would protect me from errors. No GPS apps for me (as they’d send me on the interstate). Though I didn’t always follow them to the letter while riding, I had the Adventure Cycling maps to assist me in planning; those maps provide turn-by-turn instructions, very handy both on the bike and in the car. And I could follow the exact route that I cycled using Garmin Connect and Mapmyfitness, zooming in as close as possible to ensure I was faithfully recreating the route. Failsafe method, right? I would have paper directions to follow while simultaneously operating a vehicle for the first time in god knows how long. (I didn’t finish the mapping task before I left, so I continued in the hotel I stayed in on my first night of the drive in Walla Walla, Washington—and those I had to write out. By hand. With a pen. That’s some pioneer-times prehistoric shit!)

On October 4 & 5, 2022 I drove from Missoula to Astoria in a rented Toyota Corolla. Driving the route for Days 49 and 50 was a cinch: after I got out of Missoula proper and turned onto Route 12 to traverse the Bitterroot Mountains, I stayed on that road, enjoying the solitude of having no cell service, (unsuccessfully) recreating the selfie that Frans, the Dutchman I met that day near the Idaho State Line, took of both of us (I stood in the wrong place, dammit!), and reliving the screaming joy I felt on the downhill to the Powell, Idaho campsite and the awkward meh-ness of the hookup at the KOA resort in Kamiah the following evening.

Frans & Me Selfie at Lolo Pass (2018)
Epic Failure Recreating from Memory
Frans & Me Selfie at Lolo Pass (2022)

I stopped for gas and to pee in Kamiah. And that’s where Day 51 went awry for a while, both in 2018 and in the reanimation of it in 2022.

I don’t remember my exact plan for this day in 2018, but I knew where I was going to end up: at a cyclist haven called Gregory’s Grotto. But first I had to get there. I had contacted Gregory, a very welcoming Warmshowers cyclist/host who lives right across the Snake River from Lewiston, Idaho in Clarkston, Washington (about 85 miles away)—Lewiston and Clarkston…get it? Lewis and Clark? I literally just made that super-rudimentary connection more than four years later. (I think it may be because, even though you hit Lewiston first when you follow the Lewis and Clark Trail, on a map Clarkston is on the left, so seemingly that comes first creating a false Clark & Lewis order of things. Anyway, I multi-omni-meta-nano-digress…)

The Lewis and Clark Trail Adventure Cycling Association (ACA) route gives you two options from downtown Kamiah: you either continue on Route 12 along the Clearwater River, the “River Option,” (though the map warns of frequent grain truck traffic in the area, and is particularly treacherous for westbound cyclists: concrete barriers instead of shoulders!) or use the main route, making your way on lesser roads (the text on the ACA map states that this is the way local cyclists recommend) through the Nez Perce Reservation. I have a dim memory of discussing this with Frans a couple nights before and him saying he was going to take the River Option because it was flatter. I don’t know if that made me think, oh I’ll take the main route then, ya know, to avoid the weirdness of riding/not riding with another cyclist. What I do remember of that morning of July 12, 2018, is heading out from the KOA, staying on Route 12, and ending up along the river just north of Kamiah. It was rush hour in this small agricultural town with cars and pickups zooming past me at 7am. I remember the grain trucks. And the bigger trucks hauling farm equipment. I must have decided to abandon the River Option in favor of the main route, because I turned around after riding 2.5 or so miles in the “wrong” direction and headed back toward Kamiah to pick up Route 162. I may forget plenty but I never forget riding unplanned extra miles, especially on a day that was going to be 85 miles (now 90) and HOT. That shit hurts. Well, at least I got the full tour of Kamiah.

Heading southwest from that town in 2018, I continued on the main route as mapped by the ACA cartographers with the approval of local cyclists, through the Nez Perce Reservation and the Camas Prairie following ranchlands and farmlands. Further on, the route bends northwest through rocky, hillier terrain flaunting clumps of conifers. At Mile 50, I reached the town of Winchester.

On the 2022 reanimation drive through this section, I missed a turn and headed north too early. I spent several miles unsure of whether I’d messed up and then I was certain I was lost when I hit the town of Nez Perce. You know I’m still the same person this year as I was in 2018, because I didn’t seek out a local to ask directions. Instead, I pulled over to the side of the road hoping no one would notice me as I unfolded the ACA map which helped only by confirming I was indeed lost as none of the map’s panels showed the town of Nez Perce. But it was no help in getting me back on track. Cell service was minimal but thankfully enough to Google-map my way toward Craigmont, a town on the correct route about 8 miles west of where I ended up. The way that Google directed me was on a gravel farm road that brought back aching memories of my stint trying futilely to ride on a dirt farm road deep in rural Iowa and accepting a RIDE for the first (and only) time ever on an HBC journey. [Check out: Day 23: Life’s in Session, Baby! (Iowa, Part 3)]

Even though I’d fucked up by not driving the exact route that I rode in 2018, I comforted myself by noting that the scenery is the same as far as the eye can see and I’m likely not missing some key element of the “real” ride that will now be lost forEVER. [Deep breaths, Danny.] One thing about my personality that has shifted over the past few years—or rather abated somewhat, thanks to recovery and thereby having better strategies for dealing with it, at least in this instance!—is my tendency to beat myself to a pulp when I make a mistake, aka the character trait (or “defect” as we say in the program) of perfectionism…those intense feelings I tend to arrive at instantly of I’M NOT DOING IT RIGHT AND THEREFORE I’M NOTHING. I could laugh at that aspect of myself quite quickly back in 2018, as the piece from Day 23 in the link above suggests. In the car, my strategy is to soothe myself: “Hey, look, the view is the same for miles and miles. You’re good. Handlebar Confessional is not a massive failure. You’re still authentically relating your experience.” In Craigmont, relieved as fuck to be off gravel and both en route and on the route, I head north on US 95 toward Winchester. It occurs to me that I could drive back and do it right, it’s only been a few miles and I’m in a car, not on a bike. Easy, right?…But no, I can’t. Sincerely, I can’t make myself do that. Similar to being on the bike, I worry that if I turn back, I won’t get as far as I’m meant to. It’s a waste of time, precious precious time! I don’t turn back in HBC-land, can’t! I must forge ahead. Instead, I swear to the heavens above, Never will I fuck up again!

Never will I fuck up again lasts another 8 or 9 miles til Winchester when I fuck it up even more, presenting an even greater challenge to my perspective that it’s okay I’m okay everything’s ok because IS IT REALLY?! IS ANYTHING?!?!

On my bike in 2018, in the very same place of this second 2022 fuckup, I veered away from the ACA route in tiny Winchester, Idaho. Instead of continuing to follow the map’s instructions and get on Winchester Road and follow it to Old Winchester Grade Road, I continued north on Route 95. For a distance of 10 miles, both roads plunge 2,000 feet of elevation into another micro-ville called Culdesac.

In the rental car in 2022, I veered away from my actual riding route (unknowingly) and blindly followed the ACA route (since that’s what I typed out in the paper directions for the drive). This was a mistake—but was it a GRAVE one that ruined the 2018 Reanimation Plan?!

Veering away from the route in 2018 was a…what exactly?

Figure 1: HBC 2018 Course Mystery
Figure 2: ZOOMING in for Greater Detail because why not

What’s lost forever in the annals of HBC history is that decision in 2018. Why did I stay on US Route 95? Was it a mistake and then I realized oh I’m going in the right direction and will pick up the route in a few miles so I’m cool and continued onward? Did I hear from someone—a local cyclist? a fellow traveler? a rando at the convenience store I stopped moments before, the exact place I changed paths? (see above true-blue evidence!)—that the route was prettier? Easier? Safer? Maybe there was a construction project on Old Winchester Grade Road? I’ve been on it now in the car, and it would have been a pretty scary ride (road not in great condition, intestine-level twists and turns, visibility issues, windy). Had it been one of those familiar times when I struggled with the decision, terrified I’d make the wrong one, fraught with FOMO, already mourning the loss of the route not taken, not knowing which one was better, and stressing out about the fact that I’D NEVER KNOW? And, as I do with some regularity, why am I asking myself these questions? Why am I concerned with the memory of that moment of decision-making that I’ll never ever get back? Why is this drilldown critical?

Well, it’s not critical to the reportage of the 2018 ride. I mean, do I really need to mourn the loss of something not recalled in the first place? I took no photos during that 10-mile detour. The view along that stretch of US 95 may very well have been unexciting, but I do know I was going fast and likely enjoying the thrill of that. Garmin Connect tells us that I averaged 21.54 mph during those 10 miles! That is a rarity in HBC-land yet still rings no bells. Forever unknelled, those bells. Whatever vestiges of the HBC ’18 experience from Winchester to Culdesac, Idaho that might have been buried in the ridges of my brain were ultimately, unintentionally and permanently erased—the final nails in that coffin being hammered by writing down the driving directions for this stretch incorrectly and therefore not repeating it by car. Lost to the winds of time. I have to let that go. I have to stop chasing this piece of recyclable plastic blown by the winds of time that I’ll never ever manage to grab and toss into the blue bin even though know it’s going to end up on that toxic Great Pacific Garbage Patch that is three times the size of France and responsible for the massacre of thousands upon million-trillion-quintillion-bazillions of marine creatures annually and is a threat to the planet’s entire ecosystem.

Back here in 2022, the plot, the experience, the supplantation of memory, the realizations, the meaning, the brain farts are thicker and more fertile. In the videos embedded below shot ten minutes apart while driving along Old Winchester Grade Road, aka The Road Not Ridden, we can experience my confusion at not remembering what I’m seeing—and the tension between wanting/needing to do it right (“it” being driving the exact route in order to write expertly and authentically of the 2018 ride), and the suspicion that I’m having a new experience which I might be letting slip through my fingers as it’s happening.

Are you seriously following all this?

For a modest chuckle, here’s a transcription of my “dialogue” in the videos, fecund with subtext that runs the gamut of fear and worry, regret, utter puzzlement, self-doubt and general disbelief, city boy insecurities, and a burgeoning and begrudging wry self-awareness with a can’t-help-myself-but-not-quite-able-to-fully-experience sense of awe and wonder bubbling under the surface trying to break free:

Video #1 (Oct 4, 2022)

Transcription of Video #1 Fucking Everything Up on Old Winchester Grade Road:

“So this is beautiful.

The road condition is so terrible.

Look at that valley…or whatever it is.

I have no memory of this.

Was I ever here?”

Video #2 (Oct 4, 2022)

Transcription of Video #2 Fucking Everything Up on Old Winchester Grade Road:

“(6 seconds of silence)

This is crazy.

I really don’t understand how I don’t remember this.

(6 more seconds of silence)

I’m just trying to enjoy this? And not overly obsess about whether I’m experiencing (snickers) …whether i fucked up my… … whole purpose? of the trip? and if that matters? But that I’m experiencing this beautiful … … (snickers) I almost said ‘wilderness’ it’s not really wilderness but…whatever the fuck it is.”

At the end of the day’s driving (I got through Days 49-52 and partway through 53), even though most of the reanimation was “successful” (in that I drove the route correctly and got some oil in the HBC joints and did some flexing of the HBC muscles), my reflex story for this day of driving and reinvigorating my memory and the project as a whole was immediately and irrevocably I FUCKED IT UP. As soon as I checked into the hotel in Walla Walla, Washington, my stop for the night, I popped open my laptop and opened Mapmyfitness to see what had been my actual riding route for Day 51, 2018. I confirmed that, yes, I was only a dumbass (wrote down the wrong directions), not ADHD oblivious and youth-sapped forgetful (I hadn’t ridden through some arresting views and completely missed or forgot them). In the evening, chatting via WhatsApp with my friend Thomas from France—who I’d just met up with in Missoula (and was still there visiting Levi and Ang at that point)—he suggested that the fuckup might come in useful, creatively. And even tho my reaction internally was screw turning frowns upside down and curse silver linings and a pox on being grateful anyway and finding the value in shit that doesn’t go your way, I knew he was onto something. Mon dieu! or quel travail! or ouate de feuque! or whatever the French kids say these days! As a writer, I hopefully intuited or plain hoped that there was some angle, some piece I was missing that made the mistake and its ensuing angst-o-mania all worth it. But I couldn’t think about it anymore. I still had to write out the directions for final two days I hadn’t gotten to before I left LA for Montana. I needed to focus and make a million percent sure I wasn’t going to fuck it up again.

The next morning, my perspective on what I’d experienced driving the day before as incontrovertible failure is refreshed, recolored, and realigned with reality.

As Thomas suggested I might, I discovered what was important about the fuckup. Primarily it gave me the opportunity to experience something different and, in the end, more memorable during those 10 miles than the forgotten ones I rode four years ago. I’ll never remember if I had sweated the decision to continue on 95 instead of the planned ACA route, but if history/personality tells us, I probably flipping did! The drive provided me the opportunity—utterly unique to HBC and uncommon in life generally—to discover the road not traveled. You make a choice and have to (get to?) live with it. My wise friend Pam told me once that when you make a decision between two options the honest truth is that you do lose out on the choice you don’t make and allllll the potential benefits and challenges of that choice. FOMO sometimes absolutely cripples me as does FOFUC (fear of fucking up choosing). But we are generous to ourselves when we 1) acknowledge that we don’t get to experience whatever Choice A might have been when we opt for Choice B, 2) don’t obsess about what Choice A could have been, and 3) wholly accept and contend with the full range of experiences Choice B has to offer. But in this rarest of cases, I unwittingly handed myself a redo and got to witness the gorgeous and treacherous road that I missed out on.

So I end up being grateful for the mistake and for the good ol’ lesson of be in the moment, too. I can hear and relive through that video that I was haltingly appreciating the view of the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness. Instead of being able to fully relish it, my potential joy was tempered by self-doubt and obsessiveness. That’s a lesson I likely will keep learning for the rest of my life. But hey, coming to that conclusion happens with more alacrity, humor, and self-acceptance nowadays than I ever thought possible.

Amen.

So.

In reflecting on the exercise where I began with the “short(er) version” above, that is, testing the theory {more detail = greater authenticity}, I don’t have a bulletproofological well-thought-out conclusion. But let’s see where we get to…

This idea of striving for authenticity—and doing that with a no-holds-barred god/devil-is-in-the-details drilldown technique—has been a central theme throughout my writing, in every genre I attempt. (Spoiler alert: the protagonist of my novel yammers on about this, literally and literarily from the first page of the book, as the manuscript stands now.) The root of this endeavor is admittedly, in no small part, due to my decades-long complicated relationship with the truth and with reality: creating and living the tension between being authentically myself and having secrets, struggling to determine what I think you want me to be and trying my hand at being that very thing, compulsively and impulsively making up stories, queer code-switching, multi-sized fibs of omission, lying because I didn’t like reality or what the truth was, confusing myself to the point of sometimes not even knowing what’s real or true. This way of being in the world is so textbook chicken-and-egg trauma and addiction stuff. Not to excuse it, but to contextualize it.

Nowadays, I’m dedicating a lot of effort to changing my relationship with the truth and with reality—by living a life with more integrity and authenticity (which is, more or less, getting clean from drugs and working on myself using the Twelve Steps in NA and being of service to others, and engaging in therapy and taking psych meds). You might be familiar with the 12-step recovery adage: Secrets make us sick. Before recovery, I was already writing with this theme in mind. I was bloodletting through the process of writing, through the voices of other characters, even before I could deal with my own personal truths. And, as the medical establishment has discovered, the practice of bloodletting totally has its prophylactic and therapeutic limitations, hence my surrendering to a more spiritually-based strategy to deal with reality and the truth, relying on the therapeutic value of one addict helping another. The genesis of my novel—a whole other story—is related to this reoccurring theme in my life (and writing). I couldn’t write it before I dealt with my own shit. But more about that another time…

Logistically, regarding the Handlebar Confessional project, the passage of time further complicates this goal to express with clarity (and even purity, I guess) what I believe is truth and being authentic. I am in the process of discovering that I cannot write about past experiences solely from and with the perspective I had at the very moment these experiences occurred. No matter how much I pore over all the various data and resources at my disposal, no matter how closely I examine the photos, memory fails me. And what I remember is altered—sometimes dulled, sometimes enlivened—by time and perspective. But the fact that I cannot remember, or re-remember, all of what occurred on a particular day, that I cannot recreate the ticker tape of my thoughts and feelings with absolute precision, does not make me an unreliable narrator. You can’t really recreate riding a bike while driving a car; they are different beasts. And I’m a different beast, too (even though I retain my reticence to ask strangers for directions). HBC 2018 is now reflexively also HBC 2022, drive or no drive, through reanimating, reliving, remembering, reflecting, refracting, reminiscing, and regurgitating.

On another note, I fucking LOVE details. Generally, I’m not into no-line-crossing dichotomies of personhood (e.g., are you a morning person or a night person, cat vs. dog person, etc., blech) but I’m for sure a more-is-more person, not less-is-more—both as creator and consumer. Born that way, can’t/don’t wanna help being that way, will stand up for that way, will die that way. (Yikes, I don’t mean the circumstances of my death!) Hmm, I guess that is my conclusion, bulletproofological or not.

And ya know what else? At least I’m not soooooo crazy OCD that after discovering I’d driven the “wrong” way that night in the hotel in Walla Walla (100+ miles further), I didn’t go back the next day and re-drive it. Or would that actually have been crazy? That part of my personality is obviously in conflict with the drive I have to keep forging ahead, that I don’t turn back on the road, no matter what!

Speaking of said conflict, enough of this Philip K. Dick-ish introspection that may have no end. Let’s forge ahead, get back to the “real” HBC ’18 Day 51 ride! The one that transpired on a bicycle! In the present tense! (If you wanna be in on the ‘present tense’ in-joke, read the Yass Process Queen post…)

Meanwhile, back at the ranchlands…

[going back in time sound/visual effect]

…after the plunge into Culdesac in July 2018, I continue on Route 95 and then choose the Hell’s Gate option on the ACA map (versus the Lapwai Alternate). Hell’s Gate is a state park that runs along the Snake River in Lewiston, Idaho. a pretty large town considering the past few days (pop. ≈32,000) up until the traversing of that river into Clarkston, Washington (Lewiston’s lil sis, pop. ≈7,500) —and a new state, second state-line crossing in just 48 hours! The ride leading to Hell’s Gate continues through wheatfields and then up an annoying hill before a 10-mile downward slither to the Snake.

After turning the wrong way and getting turned around in the parking lot of the park, I stop in the visitors center for a break from the intense heat (it’s up in the 90s again today for the 4,000th day in a row) and a piss and some water, as well as a brief whereyoucomingfromgoingtooohthatsalot chat with the college-aged kid who’s working there. I can see his bicycle wheels turning. “Do it!” I tell him. “It’ll change your life.”

I’m running earlier than expected so I snap some photos along the river before I cross it on a baby-blue-hued steel bridge—love ya bye Idaho!—into Washington. Never before have I been to Washington State and I guess it’s befitting to take another respite from the heat at a Starbucks, conceived and birthed in this state before its burnt-bean coffee spored across the globe. I chat with Kim, a friend I work with (remotely, she lives in Washington), to tell her I made it to her home state, and we make loose plans to meet in Portland when I’m there. I text Gregory, the Warmshowers host I’m staying with that evening, to see if he’s home and ready for company, and he is.

In like three minutes, I’m at Gregory’s Grotto, the home of a really excellent dude, a fellow cyclist, totally open-minded and cool, who is psyched to host me and another rider…who turns up as I’m exiting the (warm) shower, and…it’s Frans who I last saw yesterday morning when I left the campsite at Powell Junction! Gregory is a single dad of a 12-year-old-girl and a very cute Siamese called Mister P (named after a strain of weed), leans hippie for sure (the Grotto is described as “hippie sheik” on his Warmshowers profile), and has a fully stocked vegetarian fridge, the contents of which he is eager to share. And the Grotto boasts a room with its own bathroom and bunk beds for cyclists to crash in. Gregory takes his Warmshowers hosting duties very seriously, having created the Grotto as a communal space for tourers and other travelers to relax and refuel. He is keen to have his daughter, who accompanies him on outdoors adventures, meet people who come through from all over hoping to inspire her to travel and have her own adventures someday.

That seems to be working out, because his kid and her friend pile into their minivan with Gregory, Frans and me to a monthly event (during the summer months, that is), Alive After Five, in downtown Clarkston. It’s a street fair that goes on for blocks along the main drag of 6th Street. A stage with various music acts (a little bit country, a little bit rock ‘n roll), food vendors, booths dedicated to local political groups across the left-right spectrum, social clubs, schools, people selling T-shirts and jewelry and soaps and candles they made. Someone in an animal mascot costume with the name “Butch” on the back of his jersey—maybe representing Clarkston High which is also on 6th Street?—is dancing around. I can’t tell what kind of animal Butch is from the costume, could literally be a deer or a mountain lion or a chipmunk or a wolf. (I could google it but I’d rather let the mystery be.) (I just googled it. One of those is almost right but still letting the mystery be for the rest of you.) (You just googled it, didn’t you?) There’s a real downhome feeling to the proceedings, very personal and welcoming, very participatory, very local, like by the locals for the locals, not overly invaded by corporate sponsors, if at all. (I remember a local radio station as a major sponsor.) In Los Angeles, closing off streets requires a ton of resources, political muscle, police presence, cajoling of NIMBYs, and permitting nightmares. And corporate money. (Don’t get me started on the LA Pride event!) This is not to assume that Alive After Five doesn’t have its own planning issues and internecine strife. How would I know? It just feels nice. And friendly.

I am attracted to the smallertown-ness of the event. There’s a quaintness to it, for sure. A dunk tank benefiting a local youth group (with a pro-union message). A raffle for a $50 gift card to And Books Too, a local used bookshop. Girls from a ballet school running around in matching tutus and slippers. Butch. And another costumed mascot, a skunk with bright red boxing gloves representing Stinker Stores, a local chain of convenience stores.

Gregory, Frans and I grab food from a vendor (can’t remember what I got—tamales?—but I do remember having a hard time deciding), finding a place on a curb with a good vantage point, and sitting and eating and chatting and watching it all happen. Although Gregory didn’t grow up here (he’s from the San Francisco Bay Area), he knows a lot of his fellow Clarkstoners evidenced by the frequency people stop by our perch on the curb to say hey. Among other occupations and creative pursuits, he’s a DJ, so that’s one reason. He’s also a very visible parent, always showing up for his daughter to ensure she knows how important she is, how loved. (Her mom is an active addict, so not in her life at the moment.) And he sure puts the “greg” in gregarious! [I wish I could say that I’ve been waiting 4 years to write that but a) that’s not true and blahblahblah authenticity and b) it’s corny af, so why would I even wish that?]

When I reminisce about some of the American towns I’ve cycled in and through, there are a bunch that I ponder, Could I live in a place like this? Clarkston is one of those. Before I hit Zillow and muse, Wow I could actually afford a house here, with space around it, I go to the NY Times’s “Extremely Detailed Election Map” and zero in on Clarkston (or whatever place I’m currently fantasizing about moving to). And usually my takeaway is surprise, as in, Omg how can this place be so Republican? In Clarkston’s case, Trump won most precincts by 10 percentage points, and voters in Gregory’s precinct actually increased their support for Trump by 2.5% from 2016. So yeah, those people would be my neighbors. And then I realize for the forty-millionth time a) how white a place like this is, b) which means Republican in a place like this, c) with all my experience of traveling and meeting others I still am fully committed to you’re either with me or against me, and d) most people in places like this aren’t necessarily carrying their politics into every interaction they have, litmus test-style. It’s just not as big a part of their identity (says me, painting with the wide brush of assumption). Well, they can afford to! They’re white and straight! Their rights aren’t at stake like mine and trans people and people of color’s, especially trans people of color! As simplistic and rah-rah progressive as I’d prefer this tangent to be…on second thought, probably plenty of the folks around here view owning whatever gun they want, as many as they want, with zero to minimal restrictions, as part of their identity and a core civil right. But, hmm, nothing is simple, and the more I dig, more is revealed. More is indeed more! A quick google search reveals more complexity: there was a pride event right across the river in Lewiston, two days after I pedaled through in 2018 that 500 people showed up to. And the very next night there was a something called Pride Prom Freaker’s Ball at a pub in Clarkston where Gregory was scheduled to be the DJ. I wonder if he even mentioned that was happening? My brain is producing a distant memory, totally realistic (but is it *true*?), that we did discuss it and he was like, “Oh, I wish you were still gonna be here.” Now that I’ve “remembered” this, I can’t unremember it, so it must be true.

This fantasy about living in a small town and the ensuing data-gathering about that particular place is really about my own wandering sense of belonging and that badgering wonder about whether the grass is greener somewhere I’m not. Could I belong somewhere else? Could I live somewhere where less than half (or less than 85%) of the people agreed with the majority of my political beliefs and were near-uniformly aligned with my sociocultural perspectives? Where would I be comfortable and safe and feel a part of a community? Could I afford a cute little house with a porch swing, a vegetable garden, and unfailing air conditioning somewhere that won’t be in the pathway of excessive heat or wildfires or smoke from wildfires or tornados or earthquakes or flooding or hungry grizzlies or mosquito swarms or rightwing white supremacists or gay bashers? Do I even belong where I am? Do I belong anywhere?

Whatever my assessment about this place and its inhabitants might be, if people couldn’t live and let live in a town like this one, Alive After Five would be more like Dead by Dawn. So, yeah, Day 51 is/was certainly its own beast. But like the rest of ‘em, I end up crashing out from the exhaustion from riding my bike for 90 miles and from the barrage of boundless details and infinite scenarios bashing about inside my brain.

Mister P, of course

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