It was just a literal fact. It happened
~ Cheryl Strayed, Author of the book Wild
Two years and one month ago today, On August 16, 2013, I completed a two-month adventure on the Trans-America Trail (TAT), a day after my 12th wedding anniversary. Yes, I have a very understanding wife. I have been on several more adventures since, but it has taken me until now to share the details of how the TAT ended. I indirectly have Reese Witherspoon and Cheryl Strayed, the producer/star and author respectively of the book/movie WILD to thank for my willingness to share my own storybook, real life ending. Even as it was happening, it felt too dreamlike to be real; too convenient to be true; Too “movie of the week.” This feeling kept me from sharing until now.
Before continuing, I suggest reviewing my blog post Homer Hears a Horn: What Dad Would’ve Done. I’ll give you a hint. Pay attention to the small bit about the horn.
Cheryl Strayed was a novice-hiker who traversed 1,100 of the 2,663-mile Pacific Coast Trail in 1995. She ended her hike at the Bridge of the Gods carrying a backpack, aptly named monster, which could have easily symbolized the emotional weight that she was carrying on her back. In an interview, with Biography Cheryl offered the following insight into the naming of her backpack and more importantly the end of her story . . .
“Things like naming my backpack “Monster.” The only reason I named it that was because, you know, it was monstrous. It was monstrously big. It was so heavy. So I’m writing the book and I’m, like, ‘Wow! You know, here I am, actually carrying a monster on my back!’ And finishing the hike at Bridge of the Gods. If Wild were a novel, any editor in the world would’ve said, ‘Uh, that’s too heavy-handed. You really can’t end your hike at Bridge of the Gods.’ But that’s exactly what I did. It was just a literal fact. It happened.”
While I was not riding to expel demons, I was trying to come to terms with the loss of my dad as I rode his motorcycle and carried his ashes from Connecticut to Tennessee on to Oregon and back to Colorado. But in Oregon something extraordinary happened. It was improbable, but it was real. “It was just a literal fact. It happened.” Accepting this freed me from any concern that my ending would appear artificial.
Saturday, August 17, 2013 – the 229th day of the year. 301 days since the fateful Sunday when my dad was hit and killed astride his BMW Funduro, returning from his local grocery store in Bolton, Connecticut. This day and my last day on the TAT with Luke are days that shook me to my core and will forever be burned into my memory.
It is mid-morning and I see it immediately as we pull into the Em-Extra Mile gas station. I struggle to avoid dropping my bike as I attempt to dismount before stopping. My mouth is moving rapidly as words are tumbling out even before I have removed my helmet. The eyes of the gentleman in front of me get wider as I move towards him perhaps too quickly. Finally I wrestle my helmet off and repeat was I was saying inside of my muffled helmet moments earlier. I think I am speaking clearly, but the man just smiles and nods. The look on his face tells me that the combination of my appearance and my nonsensical words are still confounding him. He glances towards the gas attendant who is topping off his immaculate the man’s car; a robin’s egg blue, with midnight blue accented Morgan the beautifully handmade car crafted in the UK and so rarely seen here in the US!
As a kid the Morgan was my dad’s favorite car, by default it became mine. I still remember sitting in his and pretending to drive. To this day, when a rare spotting takes place, I still get a chill of nostalgia. To see one parked in front of me, on my last day of riding with Luke, is overwhelming. I continue to babble in the direction of the man. I tell him of my love of the Morgan. I attempt to explain my connection to the car and the past 6 weeks of my life in 60 seconds. He continues to nod politely but confused. Finally, I stop yammering and just point at my motorcycle.
For a moment words are no longer necessary. I track the man’s eyes as they move towards the distinctive Morgan horn awkwardly strapped to the side of the KLR. Yes, my dad’s horn . . . from his Morgan. In addition to his ashes, this horn has traveled with me almost 8,000 miles across the US. I can see the man decoding my previous blathering as a smile of recognition crosses his face. I am not just a raving lunatic that likes his car. I am a raving lunatic that likes his car AND has the same horn on my motorcycle! Big difference. He generously allows me to take a few pictures with his wife in the car looking like a 1930’s movie star. But then I blew it.
The selfie dates back to 1839, when Robert Cornelius (no known relation to Yukon Cornelius of Rudolph fame) took a self-portrait, by removing his lens cap, running in front of his camera and the returning the cap. It is documented as the “first light picture ever taken.” So I am well aware of the concept of a selfie, but I was still in shock and neglected to include the KLR or myself in a single shot with the Morgan. It is my one regret of the trip.
After the man, his wife and the Morgan, pulled away, I had sit down. My knees were week as I just sat on the curb next to the gas pump. I can’t remember if I cried, but I am tearing up now as I write this. I have no doubt that this was a sign of my dad’s participation on my trip. The moment was so unbelievable that I had a hard time accepting what had happened.
After I regain my composure, Luke and I end our time together at the magical Multnomah Falls. We toast to our ride and friendship over Bloody Mary’s and eggs benedict.
Luke then heads off to meet a friend that will accompany him back to Michigan. I head back to the Pacific coast and up to Astoria to ride over the 4.1-mile Megler Bridge that spans Astoria, OR to Washington State. This is where I plan on ending my trip, but something doesn’t feel right. There is still plenty of daylight, and I’m not yet feeling a “stop for the night” vibe, so I move on.
I ride back through Portland and then another hour or so east to Cascade Locks. As I exit Highway 84, I am facing the Bridge of the Gods. The same place Cheryl Strayed ended her journey. Of course I would not learn that for another 2 years, but as I look back on it, I find it a beautiful coincidence. In 24 hours I will be joining two other riders and heading towards home via Glacier National Park. My adventure is far from over, but this journey most definitely is. In many ways it ended the moment I saw the Morgan.
A year later I would return to the Portland/Washington area and find the strength to quit a job I had held for almost 19 years. As I sit here typing, another year has past. Since then, there have been good times, tears, and narrowly avoided tragedies. But I know that whatever comes next I can handle it. I continue to find solace in the Mantra like words, first spoken by my oldest daughter Sophia, “I don’t want to go anywhere . . . I want to go somewhere!” I smile and close my eyes, confident that that I am ready for my next somewhere!!!