EPILOGUE: Life Wish

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EPILOGUE: Life Wish

“I don’t have a death wish!” the man told me, convincingly. I later learned his name is Mark. He was probably about 60 years old.

Mark and his wife Cindy were drinking beer at the table next to me on the patio of a bar in Ennis, Montana. He reminded me of a gray-haired Santa Claus. Cindy was probably 15 years younger.

“People back home think we have a death wish!” he told me. Cindy was looking at him, nodding.

Ennis is a remote western town with a three-block main street, a view of the mountains, and an hour’s ride to the next little taste of civilization. I had just checked myself and my motorcycle into the nearby motel following an epic ride through Yellowstone, and walked down to the Gravel Bar an hour before sunset. It was getting a little cool out.

Two and half years earlier Mark and Cindy had sold their belongings, bought a motorcycle, and hit the open roads of North America with just what they could fit on the bike. They stayed only in Airbnbs. They got caught in two hail storms. They met fascinating people who became friends. They traveled 60,000 miles, wore out three sets of tires, and—according to both of them—had the time of their life.

“When we left, our friends and family thought we were crazy,” Cindy told me. “They couldn’t understand why—at this pointing our lives—we would do such a thing.”

Mark turned his chair and leaned toward me. He was becoming more animated. “I looked around and some of the people I’d known for a long time suddenly weren’t there anymore. A few others were sick. And I realized that my own life was getting away from me.”

He said that his parents had always dreamed of traveling more, but that they never did. They would buy a new car instead, and postpone the trip. Then they would find another reason the next year. Eventually, he said, they ran out of time. He didn’t want that for his life with Cindy.

“So when people told me that we have a death wish I set them straight,” he said. “We have a life wish!”

He was so excited at this point I had to laugh. “A life wish?” I asked. “I’ve never heard of that.”

“Well I just made it up!” he said. “What we are doing is living.”

I asked them where they lived now.

“Right here, for now,” Cindy said. “This was one of our favorite stops along the way, and we met some great people. So we decided to rent a place here and see if we’d like it.”

“I heard it was 38 degrees below zero this past winter… and after riding all over the continent, this is where you landed?” I asked.

They admitted that yes, it got colder than they expected. But that it “only lasted a week.”

The next morning I ate breakfast at the local pharmacy, which was their recommendation. Tables were set up like a restaurant and it seemed like the whole town was there. Then I got on my bike and headed for Idaho. But my chat with the couple stuck with me, and I thought about it for many miles.

A “life wish.” I liked it. And I started to wonder how many of my friends and family had one. I examined whether Rilla and I have one. Or whether our kids have one.

Mark and Cindy realized that more excuses weren’t going to get them any closer to their definition of living. Together, they made a conscious choice to take a risk and pursue their life wish. I, for one, am glad they did. And so are they.

I don’t think a life wish requires the sort of risk involved in motorcycling around the country. In fact, I’ve made my daughters promise me only one thing in this life: that they will never get on the back of a motorcycle without calling me first to talk them out of it. Hypocritical? Yes. But still. They’ll find something else.

A life wish begins with a pursuit of real living. A wish for life — which goes beyond the will to live. It’s a desire to know that your investment of hours is giving you a meaningful return. It’s a wish for living that stops the ongoing march of marginal days that turn into marginal weeks, and it compels us to say No to the passing of only vanilla flavored time.

I mentioned that the first stop in my 4,000 mile transcontinental moto-journey was to bid a final farewell to my friend Kristi. She was 51 when she left us, but I can tell you—and so can everyone else who knew her—that Kristi had more than a will to live. She had a life wish. She twisted more life from her days than most of us have even considered. Good thing. Because her days were too few. I’m grateful to Kristi for not waiting. I’m grateful for her example. We need more examples. We should become those examples.

I remember one other thing Mark told me. “I can tell you this,” Mark said, looking directly at me. “If anything does happen to me out here on this bike, I can promise you that I’ll be smiling right up to the last second.”

He then paused, and corrected himself. “Well, maybe the last two seconds I’ll look like this if a truck hits me,” (he opened his mouth and twisted his face into a look of shock and horror). “But up until about the last two seconds, I can promise you I was smiling.”

Thanks, Mark.

I think.

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Day 12: Pacific.

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Day 12: Pacific.

Fin.

For a solo trip, I sure had a lot of great company. Many thanks, y’all. It was so good to have you along for the adventure.

This last day I rode 615 miles from Idaho, across the state of Washington to Seattle, took a ferry to Kingston, rode another 130 miles to Grayland Beach, then another 160 miles to Portland.

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Day 11: Rollin'

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Day 11: Rollin'

Left the little western town of Ennis this morning after a proper breakfast at the Pharmacy on Main Street. People who live in towns like this don’t play. If they have a truck (which they do), it’s for work. If they have a cowboy hat, it’s for reals. And if they cook you breakfast, it’s not gonna be a parfait. And if they put up a flag, it’s not just because it’s the 4th of July. God bless these people. 

Today was about putting some miles behind me. Rode 360 miles, only stopping for gas, along the most stunning stretch of interstate imaginable. I mean the WHOLE THING was stunning scenery. Still loving it. Set the cruise control on 80, got a few podcasts going, and just rode. 

Staying at an intensely meager motel in Couer d’Alene, Idaho tonight. A gorgeous destination. Except my motel. Everything else was booked because the Ironman is here tomorrow. 

About to take in a comedy show. Cheers, y’all.

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Day 10 Part 2: Rilla.

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Day 10 Part 2: Rilla.

This morning I want to pause and give a shout out to my Love, Rilla Delorier .While I’m out chasing the horizon, she’s in Portland making this dream possible. Yes, she worries about me on the bike - and yet she’s the one who most encouraged me to make the trip; and that is exactly what I need most in this life... love for who I am and the freedom to go pursue it. If you know her, you know she’s one of a kind and that she is one beautiful badass. It’s been a few weeks since I’ve seen her, and I’m thankful my front wheel is headed west in her direction. 

But don’t think she’s sitting at home just waiting... she packed up my big Jeep Rubicon and took her daughter Izzy out camping for the weekend beside a crystal blue lake with a stunning view of Mt. Hood.

That’s my girl. And I’m her biggest encourager. 

We have a manifesto of sorts that perfectly captures our approach to marriage, and describes why ours works so well for us. It’s written by Khalil Gibran:

“Let there be spaces in your togetherness. And let the winds of heaven dance between you.

Love one another, but make not a bond of love. Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone--even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.

Give your hearts, but not in each other's keeping. For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts. And stand together yet not too near together: for the pillars of the temple stand apart, and the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow.”

Miere!

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Day 10: Grateful

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Day 10: Grateful

I’m acutely aware that my life will not always be as good as it is today. Many I know are struggling with major life issues. So when I have a day like this one, which is paramount to living my best life, I don’t take it for granted. Things will change. And when they do, I’ll have days like today to think back on, and remember what’s possible. 

From the moment I rolled out of the idyllic town of Red Lodge, Montana, I couldn’t stop smiling. 

The 64 miles of road I embarked upon was once described by Charles Kuralt as unequivocally “America’s most scenic drive.” It is. 

I’m not even going to talk about it. 

It ended in another idyllic town called Cooke City. I had an amazing lunch at The Beartooth Cafe and headed into Yellowstone. 

Almost hit a buffalo. Saw a grizzly beside the road. Had the time of my life, and never stopped smiling. 

I passed the 3,000 mile mark today... and I can’t wait to get back on the bike again tomorrow. 

I posted a video separately, if you’re interested. Thanks for following along on my journey. I wish y’all could have been with me today.

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Day 9: God's Country

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Day 9: God's Country

Any attempt at describing the scenery, views, and extremes of today’s ride will fall short. Essentially, the topography of northwestern Wyoming and southwestern Montana is what motorcycling dreams are made of. Expansive views, snow capped mountains, colorful deserts, green prairies, rugged buttes, deep canyons, and the list goes on. 

I took the high speed interstate out of Gillette at 9:30am sharp hoping to shave some time off my trip to the mountains. (heh) I met a couple of motorcyclists at a gas station who gave me a map and veteran recommendations about where to ride. Perfect! Their advice paid off big time as I enjoyed several hours of breathtaking scenery. 

The elevation hit high enough at one point that I had to put my jacket liner in, and I rode past fields of snow. Fifteen minutes later, I had descended rapidly into the desert and very hot temperatures. On a bike, you can feel the temperature changing very noticeably as it’s happening.

I’m staying in a great little town tonight called Red Lodge, Montana. Tomorrow morning I will ride through Beartooth Pass and into Yellowstone. I am hoping the weather continues to be nice. There will be deep snow in the area where I am going. Wish me luck!

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Day 8: Fields of Gold

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Day 8: Fields of Gold

Rolled out of The Raine Motel in Valentine, NE at about 10:15am CDT under cloudy skies and cool weather. As I neared the South Dakota State line, the clouds parted and the sky was deep blue. A fellow biker told me about the prairies of sage going into South Dakota. The scene was stunning and the fragrance through the fields was other worldly. It seemed like a once in a lifetime ride, and you could see at least 50 miles in each direction across the prairies. 

When I got to the Black Hills National Forest, I rode right through the middle, and saw several small herds of wild buffalo near the road (no pics; I kept moving). I went five miles down a dirt road, which I never thought I could do on this bike. Several bulls alongside the dirt road and once again, I was compelled to stay upright and keep moving! Also had to maneuver around some mountain sheep with horns. The Google said that Mt Rushmore was “very busy” so I decided to skip the traffic and keep heading west. Maybe next time. 

The speed limit in Wyoming was 80 so I sped toward the town of Gillette, which has the worlds largest coal mine… and it’s not underground. About 20 miles before I got there, I stopped for gas. While filling the tank, I accidentally sprayed some gas and some got on my helmet, which was sitting on the seat. I cleaned it off with window cleaner and went inside to get a drink. When I came outside, a couple plastic pieces of my helmet were lying on the seat and on the ground. It appears the gasoline had melted a couple of key pieces that held on the front visor. Fortunately, there is an awesome Harley Davidson dealer in Gillette, so I stopped in to pick up another helmet. Rats!

I’m going to try to leave early-ish tomorrow morning, because I have a long ride to get to Yellowstone.

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Day 7: Nebraska

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Day 7: Nebraska

I’ll have to say.... the ride through Nebraska did not disappoint!

That’s largely because I had low expectations. Never before have I ridden so far in a straight line. At one point, the road almost curved. Almost.

I left Omaha and rode about 45 miles to a Harley Davidson dealer who checked my air pressure and oil level. We added a half quart of oil to the beast, I cleaned off the entomological carnage (which took some time) and got back on the road.

I think the next turn I took was into my hotel 7 hours later. And let’s just say that my lodging options have taken a turn for the meager. But actually I like it. I only see these sorts of motels in movies so it’s all good.

If you’re looking for great photos, today wasn’t the day to capture them. But have a look at what I got. The ride was cornfields and gently rolling hills or flatlands. I included a small video for you so that you can experience my day in its entirety.

The trip meter is at about 2200 miles in the saddle so far.

Tomorrow morning I head for Mount Rushmore and the badlands of Wyoming. Things should start getting more interesting from here...

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Day 6: Water Water Everywhere

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Day 6: Water Water Everywhere

[and all the boards did shrink. Water water everywhere, nor any drop to drink].

The theme for the day is catastrophic flooding in Missouri and Iowa that I cannot begin to adequately describe with words or pictures. I actually didn’t take any pictures of the flooding because it would have been a disservice to those who are actually here and dealing with it. Check the news sites and you’ll see.

I left St. Louis this morning, headed for Omaha, Nebraska. If you’re not looking at a map, that means I went all the way across Missouri, into Iowa, and then into Nebraska at the very end.

When I hit the Iowa State line, there was a temporary electric sign that said no exits were open for the next 35 miles. That’s because to the left and right of the interstate, and sometimes right up to the edge, there was water as far as you could see on what is supposed to be dry land. I saw partially submerged tractors, homes, barns, gas stations, and restaurants. I have seen Midwest flooding on the news before, but the scale of seeing it up close and personal for hundreds of miles is unbelievable. When I got to an exit that was finally open, it was a rest area that had no water available, so they had portable toilets set up out front.

I made it to Omaha where the College World Series championship game is being played. I rode past the stadium and could see and hear what was going on. The streets were otherwise completely empty. Little ghost town-ish, really.

Tomorrow I will head toward Valentine, Nebraska, ultimately en route toward Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.

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Day 5: Crossing the Mississippi

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Day 5: Crossing the Mississippi

If I were going to stay an extra night anywhere, Nashville proved an excellent choice. So many people having fun. If you haven’t been there, definitely put it on your list.

The forecast was still daunting, so rather than head straight to St. Louis, I traveled due west to Jackson Tennessee, and then began heading north. Eventually the storms caught up with me, and I was able to ride out the worst of it in a great little Mexican place in rural Kentucky that wasn’t allowed to serve me a beer on Sundays, but the owner slid into the booth next to me and she whispered: “you want me to pour some in a cup for ya?” So I enjoyed a cold, illegal Coors Light as the tornado sirens were blaring outside. The five or so people I met in the restaurant were a little fascinated by my trip and spent an hour asking questions and offering advice. So the next time you’re in Bardwell, KY on a Sunday and want a cold beer, pop in to Molcajete’s and tell ‘em Chuck sent ya.

I rode in the rain for about an hour and saw mass flooding for over 100 miles. Crossing the Mississippi was incredible. I couldn’t believe how huge it was, especially at its crest, and it took two long bridges to get across into Missouri. Flooding continued all along the sides of the interstate and several exits were closed.

Rolled into St Louis and pulled over to take a photo of the arch. It’s my first time here. I then launched my Hotel Tonight app and had a room reserved at the Angad Arts hotel in two minutes. Rode past Busch Stadium all lit up for a Cardinals/Angels game and checked into the hotel, which is amazing. Reception is on the 12th floor, at the foot of a staircase that takes you to a penthouse lounge and rooftop bar with the most stunning views of the city. I met some locals who had lived here their entire lives who are visiting the rooftop for the first time and said it was the greatest view of the city they had ever seen. Apparently this place just opened, and it is very, very unexpected and cool.

I think today I head towards Iowa. Time to check the map and the forecast.

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Day 4: Nashvegas

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Day 4: Nashvegas

Well after stewing over the weather for a few hours and checking the radar, it seemed clear that the best decision was to hang out in Nashville another night. Ultimately I didn’t see the storms materialize locally as they were forecasted, but all the weather maps show the entire Midwest as one big storm. So I’ll try to pick my way through it tomorrow. May have to ride around the worst parts if I can.

I rode a scooter around Nashville, exploring the city. Ate breakfast at Monells, which is a family style experience where strangers sit together and enjoy a meal. Highly recommended!

Ready to get riding again tomorrow...

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Day 3: Permasmile

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Day 3: Permasmile

Pure joy this morning as I stopped at a cafe in Asheville for coffee then rode out of town under beautiful skies and the mountains all around, listening to some John Denver for good measure. For me, this is about as good as it gets. These mountains have always felt like home to me.

Hearing the Harley Davidson’s deep rumble through the canyons sounded good and I finally got a chance to ride on the sides of my tires as I negotiated the twists and turns of the Great Smoky Mountain Thruway. So happy with the bike so far (thanks Bob Gilkenson).

I couldn’t resist the motorcycle museum I stumbled across. Spent an hour there and just barely scratched the surface.

I rolled into Nashville TN just as the tornado sirens were sounding and debris was blowing through the streets. I pulled up to the hotel valet and shouted that I needed to get parked immediately and he said he “wasn’t authorized to ride a motorbike.” (like that was gonna happen). So he ran to the garage and I followed him and we got inside just as the rain started pouring.

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Day 2: Atlantic.

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Day 2: Atlantic.

Today was book ended by two cities that epitomize my love for the South: Savannah GA and Asheville NC.

For those of you looking for some great photography, I will apologize in advance. I could have walked through Savannah taking pictures of the beautiful parks and architecture, but really I just wanted to get on the road. If you haven’t been there, you should visit. It’s one of our favorite cities.

Started off by riding 25 minutes to Tybee Island so I could make contact with the Atlantic Ocean. Then the same road back to Savannah, and then finally began to ride westward for reals. I wish I had been able to take share some video from riding over the marshes at Tybee. Incredibly relaxing and scenic.

Stuck mostly to interstates today because I’m already familiar with South Carolina and North Carolina. I just wanted to get to Asheville, which we fondly refer to as Portland East. We used to visit here every few months because we love it so much. A real contender for a city where we could retire.

I rode straight to the Grove Park Inn, which is over 100 years old and is a true spectacle. As soon as I parked my bike I looked up and saw a rainbow near the hotel’s entrance. The spa here is one of the finest in the country. Ultimately I decided to grab a cool Airbnb close by, which is where I’m staying tonight.

Tomorrow I think I will head west to Nashville.

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Day 1: Prologue

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Day 1: Prologue

Although I rode over 300 miles today, this was really the ride before the ride — the one to get me to Savannah so I can start at the coast.

My first stop was in Peachtree City, GA to say goodbye to our loved and remarkable friend Kristi Smith Atkins, who on Friday finally succumbed to her cancer battle at only 51 years old. Her memorial service was a fitting tribute and a stark reminder of life’s brevity. Rilla and I will miss her.

I somehow dodged a number of rain showers on the ride to a Savannah, and stuck to the interstate for this leg. Just tried to get here ASAP.

The weather is hot and humid, and I visited a local Irish pub to listen to my favorite singalongs and get a pint of Smithwicks.

I took a long stroll back to my hotel and passed by our friend Tiffani Taylor’s art gallery. Hers was the first art Rilla and I purchased together and her pieces are in the most prominent places in our home in Oregon.

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