As I was driving down the freeway, my mind was spinning. There was nothing else to do than just keep between the lines and watch my speed (besides looking around, that is). All kinds of questions came through my head. Questions, but no answers. What is this all for? What am I doing here? Is it ok that I’m just driving wherever I want? Shouldn’t I be doing something else, like work? What are these people out there all doing? What is that blackbird doing all day? I think of people I’ve met on this trip and people I’ve met before, of my own family, of my family in Holland, my friends, the women in my life. What is the significance of it all? Is there even a real significance to anything? Do we make it all up through our believes, our churches, our philosophies, our theories about mankind, the world…. I found no answers, just questions and asphalt in front of me. It took me a little over four days to drive from Yellowstone to Cedarville at the top of Lake Huron, so I had time to think.
Does that Blackbird have the same questions? Is he trying to redesign his life, because he’s sick of his rat-race? Or does he just go about it, day in day out, year in year out. He sits there on that post, looking around to see if another intruder is coming in ‘his’ field. He’s fanatic about that. Catch a fly once in a while, maybe even catch a fly for his offspring in the nest. Somehow I don’t think he’s bothered by those questions. We humans are and yet, that Blackbird doesn’t destroy his environment, but we do. He is in tune with it and we are not. We try to master it, control it, manipulate it. In the process we screw up royally. We poisoned our oceans, killed our wildlife, clear-cut our old growth forests, burned holes in our atmosphere and so on and so on, again no answers.
As I finished filling up with gas, I parked kind of clumsy along the on-ramp to get something in the back. A car pulled up behind me and I waved him to go around me. As I was walking around to go in front, they had stopped to see if I was OK. I thanked them for their kindness. Two local boys of maybe 18. They asked if we were from Washington looking at my license plate (they assumed there was someone else inside). I said I was alone. What was I doing? Fishing? No I was sailing here and there and was on my way to Maine, I said. Did I like it here? Yes, I said it’s nice and green and it reminds me of Holland, similar kind of landscape. Was I travelling around the world? No just the US. Their eyes went big, wow, that was something! I wished them good day and they drove off. I wondered what went on in their minds after they left. One of them may have said that I was nuts. The other might have been inspired, who knows. That’s it, I thought; we need to inspire each other and be kind. That can make a difference; all the rest is just bogus. Driving fancy cars with big rims and skinny tires, big RV’s with fancy decals, flashy speedboats with big fat outboards; all bogus. We seek to be happy by buying all that crap and it doesn’t work.
Years ago I spend some time in Thailand with my family. At some point I noticed a couple guys cut logs into planks for the little temple they were building. I couldn’t believe it, just like we westerners did that hundred years ago. A log on saw horses and two guys sawing away with a long saw. It took them a good part of a day to cut one plank. They were happy though and fit. Not stressed out and overweight like we westerners (some of us at least). We westerners came up with machines, to make it easier. Instead of relaxing with our gained free time, we stress out to pay for the sawyer, the outfit that sells it and the truck to bring it over, not to speak of the mortgage of the home we are trying to uphold. We run around faster and faster to make ends meet. Like I said, we screwed up somewhere. No answers.
My thoughts kept on coming as I’m driving down the freeway. The day before, driving through Montana, I was getting hungry and went to a small town 2 miles off the freeway. The sign indicated there was a restaurant in that little town of maybe 400 people. I pulled up in front of a café/bar after affirming that this must be what they were talking about on that freeway sign. There where only four other non-resident buildings and they were not it. The street felt a lot like the ones in western movies. Instead of horses tied up along the dirt road, there were trucks parked on a somewhat paved road. The street was wide and desolate, with people sitting on benches here and there, watching the world go by. I stepped in the café and ordered a burger with coffee. The older lady that waited on me had a certain grace about her. I imagined the past, back when the horses were tied up in front, that she was that beautiful waitress that everybody in town was talking about. The walls were decorated with posters from the old days, at least that’s what they seemed like to me. Advertisement about hunting and riffles and bullets for your Winchester. Posters with the American flag saying that we can be free because of the fighting of the brave. Other posters had Christian texts. A family came in and ordered burgers, chips and sodas. I couldn’t help thinking that the two sons were taking all of this in as their reality. The reality of the world that we all live in.
Other thoughts flashed through my mind. A few days ago, I visited the town of Cody in Wyoming. I was just in time to watch their shooting performance. They reenacted a scene from the past in traditional clothing, where people ended up shooting each other. They acted out an argument between a waitress, a sheriff and a few thugs drinking and playing poker. Before the show everybody sang the national anthem with the actors holding up the flag and their hats on their chests. I am not from this country and it always makes me a bit uncomfortable. I don’t get along with nationalism very well. It sets nations apart rather than unite them. After the singing they asked for the oldest person in the crowd and gave him a present. A present was also given to people in the crowd that served their country. Two guys stepped forward and they were applauded. Again my mind was not at rest with that. When on the one hand I observe the business of warfare and on the other I see the way people get recruited and talk about honor, heroes and pride. I can’t help feeling a little skeptical and bitter. I have to say, the ‘social climate’ and propaganda for joining the service is quite strong in these parts of the country. Somehow this area feels radically different than Port Townsend or say, Sausalito. Off course I knew that, but it’s good to experience it first hand. I try to be an observer of it all, but feelings do come up and again, I don’t have any answers.
More thoughts poured over me as I zoomed by the countryside. Instead of scenic roads, I stayed on the freeway a while so I would get somewhere. I try to do between 400 and 500 miles a day. That may not seem like a lot, but I am pulling a sailboat and don’t have a co-driver with me. I try to keep it under 65 mph, because that seems a nice balance between fuel economy (ha-ha) and still cover reasonable ground. The speed limit is 75, so I am the slowest vehicle on the freeway, since I’m not passing anybody, but get passed constantly. This is a big county and it takes forever to get somewhere, but hey, compared with crossing the Pacific this is peanuts!
Anyway, as for my thoughts; I kept thinking that filling up gas, sometimes twice a day was expensive. That’s about $150 a day. I wondered whether this was OK and how long could I keep this up? Then I realized that, not too long ago, as a family, we were spending that and more every single day, just living and paying the bills. While going nowhere! Just live and work. Living to work, or working to live? …. Off course we were raising kids and that was a worthwhile journey. That did get us somewhere. After driving to the east coast I could be staying at one place for a while and save on gas. Last time I checked, my travels cost me about $1000 per month besides gas. That’s way cheaper than me living in a rental house and paying for utilities, insurances and food. So, in that regard, it is ok what I’m doing. And I am exploring America, and meet new people, and get to sail different waters every time.
Believe it or not, sometimes doubt comes up in me about the ok-ness of this trip. After leaving Cody, I headed up north for a bit till I hit 94 to go east. It was about 95 degrees outside. Somehow I was a little depressed and a voice in me said, hey you could just turn west and be home in a few days! I had been underway for two and a half months, but wasn’t very far from my hometown, because of the big U that I had made. First south to San Fran, then east to Salt Lake and then north to Yellowstone/Cody. I actually thought about it for a while. It made me think of ocean sailors; they must reach moments here and there, where they could just bag it all and wished they were back in the familiar. I guess it’s the seeking for the comfort of the familiar that’s nagging on moments like that. I imagined people at home wondering what the hell I had come back for, so I decided to just keep on trucking!
Another thought I had, brought me to people I had met in Glendive, along the 94 in Montana. As I was driving through the Badlands, I was kind of fascinated by the way the river banks were eroding and all the strata in the hills around me. The layers were totally flat and eroded rather easily, leaving cone-shaped striped hills. They appeared like sediments that were rather young in geological terms. Then I saw signs about dinosaurs, which added to my curiosity. I decided to stop by one of the two dinosaur musea in Glendive. The museum was combined with a music store, mainly guitars. A rather funny combination I thought, but after I got the run down, it all made sense. The store and museum were run by husband and wife. When their daughter was about 12, she was fascinated with dinosaurs and the family often traveled to the Badlands to look for stones and fossils. After travelling back and forth for a while they decided to move from Seattle to Glendive. They started the museum and did what he always wanted; open a guitar store. The name of the store is Hell Creek Music and the museum is called the Makoshika Dinosaur Museum. I asked who this guy Makoshika was and she said it wasn’t a guy, but it meant Badlands in the Native American tongue. The story was that, when the Native Americans arrived in this area, they found these huge bones of T-Rexes and such. This made them afraid of monsters and aggressive spirits in the area and called it the Bad Lands. Later geologists found lots of fossils in the Hell Creek Sediments, hence the name of the music store.
Thoughts of oil came to me as I drove into Minnesota. Back in Montana and North Dakota I had seen a number of oil-pump-jacks in the country side. Funny thing is that in dutch we call those ja-knikkers (yes-nodders). In a café I happened to pick up a local magazine and learned that oil was a booming industry in the area. They had discovered a big oil field called Bakken and there was money to be made! Days before that I was talking to a Danish guy who was driving combines as a summer job. In asking how he had landed that job, he said that most Americans were involved in the new oil industry. Also in that magazine I read that there was some dishonesty going on about how much oil is available in the US. That in fact, there is enough oil to support the US needs for a very long time without the need to import any, but apparently that needs to stay hidden politically. Who knows, more questions and no answers. We all want the truth, but is there such a thing? Maybe it’s all a matter of opinion (and manipulation of course).
I remembered another interesting site I had visited; the prehistoric Medicine Wheel in the Big Horn Mountains. After leaving Cody I drove through the Big Horn Basin, an oval basin of about 100 by 140 miles, surrounded by mountains. It was drizzling a bit just as I drove by a bentonite factory. Bentonite is a real fine clay that is surface mined in the basin. Trucks haul this stuff and the road was covered with fine slip. It was getting dark so I didn’t notice till later that my van and Fetch were completely covered in clay slip. Anyway, after climbing the steep road out of the basin (I had to go in first gear) I noticed a sign pointing to the Medicine Wheel, being a sacred site with a circle of stones, a place of worship and an archeological mystery. Having seen stone circles in Britain, I was interested to check it out. I drove up the steep 3-mile dirt road with the boat behind me and thought I was out of my mind, but I was soon rewarded. After parking in the lot it was another mile and a half walk to the actual site. The circle is about 80 feet in diameter and consists of stones laid in a circle with 28 stone spokes connecting them with stones in the middle. There is a central cairn and 6 smaller around the perimeter. The actual age of it is uncertain, but the Native Americans consider it a sacred site of great importance. Last year about 80 tribes from all over the country visited the site. The entire mountain, with an elevation of about 10.000 feet, is now considered sacred and is called Medicine Mountain. In the year 2000 a circle of wooden posts with rope was build around it and now people leave offerings tied to the rope. Quote: “Eventually one gets to the Medicine Wheel to fulfill one’s life.” By Old Mouse , Arikara.
After 4 days of rambling thoughts and hot weather I arrived at the Great Lakes Boat Building School in Michigan. Located at the edge of the Les Cheneaux Islands at the top of Lake Huron. Pat Mahon, who is the lead instructor, lives across the street from me in Port Townsend, when he is not teaching at the school. Last winter he suggested I sail in that area, when the water is warm. In winter they get 3 feet of ice and about 160” of snow!
I’ll show you some ramdom pictures I took along the way.