Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Makin' Treks

Its hard to believe the paths we all sometimes take to get to where we are. In my case I had every hope of being a musician. It was more of a smaller obsession really. How I ended up a land surveyor is still a bit of a mystery. I have an old friend from high school who became a nurse. One of the better football players I knew became a concrete contractor. Its amazing how the little changes we make in our lives, the treks we make, the ideals that shape us all combine to form a person that we never expected of ourselves, nor each other. Look back on who you were before college and you might be surprised at the treks you made to get to where you are today.

The last couple weeks have been fairly hectic. Laden with all those daily grinds coupled with work, demands from others, bills to pay, daily thoughts of "Who signed me up for THIS", maybe a club asks of your time, or maybe its just the lack of any time to yourself at all. Pressure to meet a deadline or finish work on a project. Sights and sounds invade the consciousness, tearing it apart only to rebuild it again, shaping and molding our ideals, our thoughts, our character. Lately I have built up walls around myself, retreating from the stress overload that greets us at our doors every morning. Sometimes its easier to go into that "self preservation" mode in order to keep your wits about you.

All this stress and sensory overload has been catching up with me and keeping my thoughts scattered. Figuring if I "made treks" and spent time on my Harley it might clear the soul a bit. So it was Sunday - a day set aside for rest. A day God made for us to remember His goodness, too! I set out at first not really with a route but just to get away, but noted as I headed south the motorcycle course was in full swing at the community college in town. AHA - lets go see!! After all, the instructors out there helped to correct a few of my riding "mistakes", and even though I paid for the course, they made sure I remembered my lessons well. As luck would have it they offered an invitation to the experienced rider course. That could be fun because I would use my own bike for that course. After thanking them, I made treks southward.

I have a favorite route I take southwards. Its a delight to ride! Nice gradual curves rising up and settling into the countryside. It crosses the Iowa River, and also crosses Lake McBride, a local lake known for fishing and boating. It was nice and cool, too, so wearing full leathers wouldn't be a problem. Making treks I say, and heading south I was just starting to feel the calming effects of the road. Its also a bit amazing what you actually "see" on the motorcycle. A pair of Blue Jays sitting on a fence, a fawn and its mother hiding from the roar of the bike, the golden hawk circling over a potential meal. Appreciating these kinds of things really serves to calm the spirit. After making a quick stop to check on some riding apparel I wanted to check out, I decided to keep heading south. Making treks!

Land surveyors are a, well, for lack of a better, term, an interesting species. We tend to be master of all that surrounds us folks. I mean - where else can you find a car mechanic, lawyer, engineer, secretary, babysitter, woodsman, arborist, computer geek, county recorder, politician, cook, heck even lawnmower repair - all rolled into one little harmless person! If there ever was a profession where the pay simply is not enough, this is it! Oddly enough in my trails on the roads and highways, I am keenly aware of the treks surveyors make. We all see them. Paint marks in the road, a wooden lath sticking up out of the ground, even a tripod standing staring intently down the road looking for its master. Sundays trip was chock FULL of surveyor treks. I found them harmlessly aligning about every road I travelled down, as if announcing the impending road construction to come. By that time, those surveyors have already made their own treks.

And then there is the road itself. We all follow its paths mindlessly, urging the road to take us to our destination. For me, though, the road actually tells me something, leaves its own treks behind. Heading south out of Iowa City I rode past their "REGIONAL" airport. More of just a one lane landing strip really. I began to notice some seams in the road that crisscrossed the highway that alerted me to a project I had worked on a few years back as a surveyor. After a couple miles of this crisscrossing, I realized what I was seeing was the original road alignment crossing the existing road. The road, as it seems, was telling me where it had gone and where it was now, a standing unobserved testament to a historical moment in time, frozen for all passers by. The road, it seems, had made its own treks at one time.

Later, after pulling into my garage, I noticed the neighbors whizzing by in their cars and trucks, on their way to their own destinations....making treks!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

News Weather and WHAT?

Normally tonight would have been much like any other night. Rush home, fix dinner on the grill, work for three or four hours, and just collapse in bed at 11. Tonight several of my coworkers and I were invited to a little BBQ get together at a local news station. Ordinarily when you watch the news you see folks who literally keep us connected to what is happening in our community. Sometimes reporters can be a bit, well, intimidating, or they can be swell folks who promote worthy causes. In the case of CNN, well, that's another issue entirely. Tonight I figured I would have nothing to lose by attending a simple BBQ. After all, one of the things they teach you in the military is never turn down free food or a chance to go to the bathroom, right?

The weather was just perfect tonight. Not really overly warm, and a slight breeze made the bit of humidity go away. I decided to take my bike - of course. It was a perfect day to ride! As I turned northward towards the station, I let everything go from the day and just relaxed, something I am usually not akin to doing. Working as much as I do it is sometimes rather difficult to slow down and step back from the office or the pace of life, so it was grand just to get on the bike, start it up and take my time and make the ride count!.

Unfortunately, traffic sometimes has other plans with my time. Several times I ran into slow moving traffic, or the occasional aggressor switching lanes and causing a havoc. When you are just cruising, though, its a lot easier to just slow down, and let traffic snake its own way around. As I pulled off into the station area, I was almost tempted to ride back towards town, but alas, the temptation of a free meal and meeting some of the staff at the station were more inviting. Besides, rush hour can be awful hectic on a motorcycle!

Walking into the station, I was guided back thru the newsroom and to a side door that led outside. Having never seen a newsroom, I always thought there were forty cameras in there and a mess of computers and the like, with four clocks standing watch over its own time zone. Instead, the room was almost empty except for two cameras. My thought was who is in charge in here anyways? Who keeps the time, the programming moving? I have never been very keen on reporters. One reporter in particular - a national reporter from CNN - really stood out last year when he decided to go wading thru flood waters down town. Law enforcement was not exactly pleased with him! These folks, however, seemed very enthusiastic and pleasant. Well, hopefully they wouldn't put a microphone under my nose.

Dinner was a simple BBQ. Hamburgers, hot dogs, chips, potato salad. Just enough to feed my tummy. Riding a big Harley is a great thing, but muscling around a 700 pound motorcycle can be a chore. I was hungry food was free - enough said! As we ate, however, I started seeing the faces - the weather guys, the sportscaster, and then the news anchors. Even a couple staff reporters. These are folks who live in front of the camera, who give us the news, weather, and sports. I am now talking to most of these folks as if we were chatting off some picket fence. Cool!

As the staff mingled with those of us in attendance, I was particularly struck by the humor of the evening. Poking fun at each other, talking about Donnie Osmond's loin cloth (OMG!), and the jovial nature that these people seemed to have even while doing their jobs. Why can't we all be this good natured? Why do we carry such heavy baggage emotionally? While I am sure that these folks have their bad days, it struck me as odd that these folks were funny, good natured, even poking fun at themselves. I have met reporters before, but these folks made my evening pleasant and relaxing!

So thank you KGAN - for giving my wife and I a pleasant evening!


Sunday, July 12, 2009

Ghost Rider

Its the weekend. For some its the time of week to get a little wild, or maybe take the family to some distant location. Normally I don't get a real weekend as most would know it. What little free time I have is usually spent looking at the heavens with my telescope or on my Harley. Not sure what diagnosis I would get for that kind of combination. After all, most Harley guys are rebel rousing beer guzzling wild men, right? I noticed, however, that this weekend seems like a pause for some reflection.

The weekend began, as it were, with our usual date. A local diner, called Willy Woodburns, a place which was destroyed by floodwaters in 2008, reopened under the same management, and with all the same folks serving our meals. Since we had rain most of the week, I decided to meet my wife there on my Harley rather than take the truck with her. The fresh morning breeze served to clear my head of the morning cobwebs and helped to awaken my senses. On the ride to Willys, I noticed a woman on a Harley riding towards me, and the usual two finger peace sign was exchanged. I always love women riders, because for me, a woman can handle a bike just as good as anything else. When I arrived at Willys, our waitress, Mary, seemed in her usual cheery mood. She gives off this wonderful positive vibe, always has a smile, and always goes out of her way to make my wife and I feel at home. I wish that we all could see what kind of a person she is, because her presence lights up the place like a spotlight in the dark.

After breakfast, I took a short, 30 mile ride to nowhere. The magic of the bike is that I don't need a destination, but rather just to savor the journey of the road ahead. My thoughts, as it were, turned to many of the mindless drummings of bill paying, the weekly chores I had failed to do, and then thoughts of my Uncle Dale as I accelerated northward from town. I always sense he is there riding with me, but I miss Dale terribly. He taught many valuable lessons to me as a young boy, and although we never spoke much after I married, I always hoped him and I could jump on the bikes and ride off somewhere for a day. I did pull off the road to see if a friend of mine was home. Ken is a co member of the local astronomy club, a simple man whose interests seem to shadow mine at times. Unfortunately not home, so I turned the bike for home, and as I pulled into the driveway I was thankful for another successful ride.

A couple weeks ago I ordered a book. For me reading anything much beyond how to operate an IPod or program my new Blackberry Phone has been nothing more than a mindless chore. So many things to do and so little time. I enjoy my work immensly, and it gives me a certain satisfaction as I ride my Harley thru town and seeing people living in areas I have helped to develop. Reading books used to be a great joy for me. I would always find books such as Jack London or Clive Cussler, even Tom Clancy, whose penning "The Hunt for Red October" actually helped inspire me to join the Submarine Service. Then marriage came, and then children, and much of my time was then spent working, chasing diapers, moving around, and just not really settling in one place for very long. The joy of reading turned into the nightmares of parenthood, as fathering two daughters took center stage over life's other challenges. Anyone who says teenaged daughters are not a challenge hasn't experienced the horror of boys showing up looking like they had an argument with a nail gun wanting to date your child.

On occassion I did take time to read passages from the Bible. Even wrote a college paper on the ills of homosexuality during the Clinton Administration's effort to allow gays in the military. Unfortunately I never really took time for myself to really READ. Even my mother in law could find herself totally immersed in a good Louie L'Amour book, but reading for me became a lost treasure, until two weeks ago. The book I ordered is called "Ghost Rider" written a few years ago, an autobiographical sequence of how the author coped with the loss of both his 19 year old daughter and his wife in ten months. I chose this book for a couple of reasons. Besides the admiration I have had for the author since 1979, I wanted some sort of confirmation that my observations on my Harley were not just some sort of whimsical diplay of nature. Last October, while riding thru the countryside in Iowa, as the fall colors were in their prime, I noted 3 bald eagles standing "in kingly guise" almost as if watching the world as they ruled nature around me. It was a most provocative moment, and it made something move in me to put my observations down in some form for others to follow. The book also gives me ideas, places to go, how to "observe" and even what TO observe. The book helps me to understand what NOT to do, and maybe how to cope with losing a loved one in ways no one else might understand. It is a wonderful insight into life on a motorcycle, but more importantly, a reminder of how fragile our human spirit can be.

The book arrived Saturday, and I have read the first three chapters already! It feels wondrous to be this excited about a book - ANY book, but it also is a breath of fresh air. At times the book can be quite sad, but then it can be a wonderful repose of wit and wisdom. Music normally is my first joy. I used to play several musical instruments, but somewhere along the way, my father made me understand that life as a musician would be a huge undertaking, and that has always been my biggest regret. Music is creation, it is all those human emotions, it is art. I loved playing music as a boy, but many times nowadays I truly miss the art of making music. My hope is at some point in the future I can at least learn a new instrument such as guitar or banjo. Music in whatever form has healing powers, and thie book is evidence of that power.

May we all find peace!


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Oregon Trails

It is Wednesday, hump day for some, a cloudy day for us here. I had planned on grilling dinner, but unfortunately the GRILL had other ideas. While there are other ways to connect the grill to a gas source, we haven't progressed that far in my house yet, so making sure the TANK is full is imperitive. Potato pouch was only half cooked but the meat hadn"t touched the heat yet. We love our grill, though. Eating meals is much healthier and we feel better physically.

Lately I have pondered some things about our life here. It has been difficult to express as many can imagine. Many midwesterners spend their entire lives not more than 50 miles or so from the home they grew up in. Most tend to feel at ease with staying put, and for many there is a justification for that sort of life. Me, on the other hand have moved back and forth across the U.S. a few times. My whole life has pretty much been spent moving at one time or another. As a young boy I was taken from my parents at the age of 7 and placed in a foster home, and from there on I think I moved once every two or three years. It is not really the life I chose to live, let me assure you. Living as a gypsy has its down side and sometimes thats not a very comforting thing.

Since 1999 my wife and I have lived in Iowa. Before that we lived here from 1988 to 1997. We weren't planning on living here. I typically call Oregon my home. It is where my wife and I are happiest and it is where we wish to live out our last years with each other. It is where my wife and I met each other, and it is really where our hearts are. Many times we have travelled to places on the Oregon Coast, and many times we have spent our weekends picking the freshest fruits in the various fruit farms around Oregon. It is where we have always felt at peace with one another.

Living in Iowa has made me realize many dreams. We were finally able to afford things like that new four wheel drive, my Harley, a house we can call ours. I managed to get a two year degree here while working a full time job. We have been very fortunate here in that many of the trials facing a lot of Americans such as layoffs reduced pay foreclosure are things we have avoided up to this point. We have managed to hold on to our blessings and work our daughters thru school. We have found a number of faithful friends who bless us with their love. It has not been easy, though, as many family members have long since passed away, and health issues are becoming a bigger struggle.

Thus the dilemma my wife and I are faced with is probably something many people go thru in their lives. This is not really a "grass is greener over there" situation. After all we have lived in Oregon. Something is still tugging at us, though, and this is the dilemma we are faced with. At some point we were planning to return to Oregon after the passing of my wife's mother, but things just didnt work that way, and now with age becoming a factor it is beginning to look like we may never return. A few days ago I was riding my Harley thru town, a sort of customary ride after a bad night at the bowling alley. It occurred to me during that ride that my wife and I would struggle with this idea.

As I ride in the coming weeks I will ponder this dilemma. Hopefully God, in whatever manner we wish to call him, will reveal his intentions for our future.



Sunday, July 5, 2009

Blessings This Holiday Weekend

It has been a few days since I posted. I normally work two jobs, bowling on Mondays, trying to handle home schedules, and a variety of other activities have been keeping me busy. Michael Jackson passing away was a little bit of a surprise, and it does seem like we have lost a number of people in the last couple weeks but taken all in stride. Life gets hectic quite quickly, and sometimes we have to pause, reflect, readjust, and maybe reorganize. In my own way I find a motorcycle ride to some unknown destination always gives me the time to step out of myself and recharge.

For those who may not have experienced such things on a motorcycle, I can only suggest you try it. You don’t have an office calling you constantly. You aren’t forced into a multitasking machine, robotically moving about the days normal tasks, but instead you are forced to focus on the ride and the road ahead. Your mind can then let those suppressed thoughts out and the daily clutter falls away. Some will tell you it’s a spiritual experience, reminding you of those horsemen who rode this land before. For me I prefer to think it’s my time to clear my head, make my prayers known to my God, and set aside those daily doses of sensory onslaught.

I took some time Friday to do just that. I had cleared one day during the July 4th Holiday to escape my hectic schedule and ride up to one of my favorite places - Cabela's. There are two such Cabela's stores within a days ride from my house. One is located in southwestern Wisconsin in Prairie Du Chien, and the other is located in Owatonna, Minnesota. I have been to the Prairie Du Chien store a couple years ago, purchasing a pair of Arctic style winter boots. The winters in Iowa tend to get rather cold at times, and these boots have proven their worth in keeping my feet VERY warm. The northerly route to Minnesota, however, would be a bit more challenging in part because I have not ridden as much on 4 lane interstate highways as I would like. The challenge is furthered by the distance. Owatonna is 226 miles from my house, which means a roundtrip would put me close to a 500 mile ride. After discussing the trip with my wife, I decided to try for Owatonna.

A few notes here on my choice. Any time you set out on a longer trip it is important to plan your route. This was my first foray into a day long ride, so my safety is dependant on making sure my family is aware of where I am. My navigation skills are, for lack of a better word, awful! I have been known to make a wrong turn in front of my own house. Sometimes what I see on a map doesn’t look the same in person, so I always go over a route with my wife. Another problem for me is safety. I do not go on rides typically more than about 150 miles, so a ride of this length would test my physical abilities on the road. Having had some knee problems a few years ago, doctors gave me prednisone, a steroidal drug which added 70 pounds to my body. In short, this ride would test all of my skills for future rides to places like Mackinac Bridge in Michigan and Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. Stepping a bit at a time like this can reveal some problem areas and weaknesses in your capabilities, so a ride to Owatonna might reveal areas I may need to work on for longer rides.

I left the house about 8:30 AM Friday morning. The weather was sunny, temp was about 65 degrees. It was nice weather for a ride. Not too hot or humid. I was fully donned in my safety gear – jacket, chaps, workboots, and helmet. I believe in my safety gear, so riding on a cooler less humid day was a blessing. After gassing up I set out northbound. One of the things I did find was turning my arms a bit to force air thru my riding jacket. As the jacket fills with air it allows air to circulate over my body cooling it down. As I headed north I made an observation that we all see from time to time. Cell phone use while driving accounts for a large percentage of motor vehicle accidents in this country. The cell phone has become a much a part of our everyday lives as the computer. To that end, I noticed too many people driving and chatting on their cell phones. One particular woman was on her phone and yelling at her children at the same time while driving. Which hand she had on the steering wheel is still a mystery, but I note this because this gave me cause for concern of not only my safety but everyone on the road. It has become a large distraction and a safety issue. Unfortunately people still feel compelled to drive 90 mph on our country’s interstates with a cell phone in their ear.

After making it thru Waterloo, I turned northerly and westerly, and I began to notice something rather peculiar. Whether this is a sign of our downturned economy, or if it’s a higher wisdom making use of a more renewable energy source, I came up on a number of windmill farms. Not the old style windmills from years past but the newer electricity generating behemoths turning nose into the wind to make cheap electricity. I have seen such farms in places in western states such as California, Oregon, Colorado, and Arizona, but not too many here in the Midwest. Seeing these windmills will become more and more common as demands continue to rise on electricity usage. Many years ago I wrote a paper in college on alternate energy sources, and I noted at that time windmills could be used to replace coal and oil as energy sources, but never thought my prediction would come true.

My first gas stop was in Mason City on I-35. Pulling up to the pump, my body reminded me my knees were not ready to dismount the bike just yet, almost falling on my face while coming off the bike. All it takes is once for gravity to work, and you will not soon forget its lesson. I walked around the bike a few times just to get my limbs moving again. While gassing up, a beautiful Harley Davidson Road King pulled up next to me, and its rider took some time to grant me blessings on my ride. We exchanged some pleasantries, but it was the blessing of “Have a GOOD RIDE” that made me feel better. After walking around a bit more, I mounted back up and left Mason City to my south. One thing I have noticed since buying my Harley is other riders always will take time to chat and bless you with a “Have a Good Ride” or some other positive blessing. While I may not see that gentleman again, I pass on my own “Have a Good Ride” in hopes that some day I might meet up with him again!!

Another observation I made was the invasion of my senses. It isn’t just one or two senses that take in the ride, but virtually all of them. Your sense of touch is the vibration of the bike, the roughness of the road, the steering and the movement of the bike over the road. The things you see, such as the folks who wave at you from the comfort of their SUV’s, or the signs which point the way, the windmill farms, or the seeing your destination ahead. Sounds are muffled out, but the whine of tires on the highway remind you of oncoming traffic. What I didn’t expect was smell. As I rode further north into Minnesota, the smell of freshly baled hay, a solitary hog lot penetrating the senses with its putrid odors, the fragrance of sweet clover. Several places along my route I picked up the smell of clover blossoming in the fields, wafting over the road and soothing my emotions with its intoxicating waves. Somewhere along the way I realized these smells were allowing my senses to open up and increase my awareness while on the road.

I finally arrived at Cabela’s! It was about 12:30 PM. Sun was just starting to cloud up a bit, and it was obvious I would have to cut my stay short. Rain was scheduled to move into the area and in a lot of the rural areas there is just no hiding from inclement weather. One of my goals in visiting Cabela’s was to look into a back pack. Unfortunately because of the rain, I revised my schedule to just hunting equipment and clothing. Of course nothing says I was there like a t-shirt or a hat, but I also enjoy archery, and am looking into a new compound bow. The “campus” of Cabela’s is enormous. From the separate boating facility to their own eatery to everything in between, Cabela’s can offer anyone who has any sort of outdoor interest something. It is a bit weird walking into a place in full biker leathers, but at least I took some time to look into a few things before I left. A few small purchases, including some beef jerky and an energy drink were enough to satisfy my hunger for now. As I sat outside observing the crowd, a large deer statuesque and a bear likeness stood guard as sentries posted for my protection. If there is ever a place I could enjoy being at for days this was it!

As I left the comfort of Cabela’s, I waved goodbye at the deer and headed back south on I-35 to home. A brief gas stop in Mason City again gave me some concern as rain began to lightly fall in the area. My experience in rain has been very limited, to the point where I hesitate to even ride in sprinkles. I have seen too many motorcyclists hurt or killed for riding too fast in rain, and my inexperience is a big factor in considering riding in the rain, but as luck would have it, the rain only came in light sprinkles. I was forced, however, to change my riding route back home, opting to ride around the larger rain squalls in the area. This meant adding about 40 miles to my ride, but my confidence was such that this would not be a problem, right?

My previous post mentioned Coach Ed Thomas. The football coach for Parkersburg High School violently gunned down while directing school activities in the weight room at the high school. My change in routes would actually take me past the Parkersburg exit. I could never honor Coach enough to make any particular difference to those who knew him best. Knowing the kind of coach he was gives me hope that my daughters had teachers like him. The community of Parkersburg has dealt with so much tragedy and loss that it’s hard to comfort those who have lived in this community in the last year. As I stopped I took a picture of the highway sign, and remembered that while the people of Parkersburg have suffered many losses, they also have gained many triumphs, and I pray that they all can find healing in the years to come.

I pulled away from the Parkersburg exit heading east on Highway 20, in a sort of prayerful manner. I was only 60 miles from home. I had spent a great day on my motorcycle, experiencing all sorts of assaults on my senses. The wind on my face and beard almost felt like feathers brushing against my skin. It was cloudy and the humidity was beginning to rise, a sure sign of rain. As luck would have it, I was going to make one last stop but I didn’t know it. I had been on the bike for over two hours, but I began to realize that the added 40 miles from my route change was beginning to take a tool on my tail bone. My back muscles were beginning to cramp, and my face was getting a little wind burned. I had left home with an open face helmet. I chose this helmet for a couple reasons, but the biggest reason was I wanted to make sure I could “hear” traffic approaching me from behind. All these things were beginning to take a tool, and as I turned south onto I-380, it was becoming rapidly evident I needed to stop and walk around. After about 20 miles I found my stop – a DOT weigh station that was closed for the weekend. I pulled off into the parking area, and as I dismounted my legs cramped, then my back, and my legs again. A reminder that I should have been hydrating a bit more. In fact, as I tried to pull my left leg off the bike, I almost could not lift it over the seat. Once I pulled myself up again, I removed my coat and helmet and spent several minutes walking around. I quickly texted my wife, so she would not be too concerned about a late arrival. Since she was still working I knew she would not respond, but I was so cramped up I had to take some time off the bike. Just then a white Hyundai pulled into the parking lot, and the driver, a young man in his twenties gets out with a mandolin strapped around his neck. Not knowing what the intentions of this young man were, I took this as my cue to head on home. As I pulled out of that weigh station it started to sprinkle again, a sure sign I needed to be home soon.

My final stretch home was fairly uneventful, noting only the sprinkles that kept dotting my windshield on occasion. As I pulled into my garage, I was overcome with the feeling of thankfulness and relief. My wife and daughters greeted me in the garage, but I was relieved that this ride had gone well, and I had experienced many emotions that day, from the joy of seeing wild turkeys feeding on the side of the road to the smell of clover to the feel of a new bow to the feel of rain on my nose. Any good time starts with good planning, a little preparation, and flexibility to change as the need warrants. After planning this ride for a week, I realized that I had been truly blessed for the experiences I had this day.

May all of YOU be this blessed this Fourth of July!