Sunday, September 27, 2009

In the middle of the night ...

Sometimes, when I wake up in the middle of the night to piss, I walk outside and piss off my porch. It's not to say that I never did when I lived in Pittsburgh, on Polish Hill, my house surrounded by neighboring houses for five feet for five miles in every direction. I did. I have neighbors here, too, but I've never met them and I don't know their names because they're beyond the border fence, beyond the trees, where I can't see their porch lights at night.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

When lonely, stay busy ...

I rode to Eureka and back with Cody in the trailer, a mid-September, Saturday-Sunday adventure.

I was gone a little over twenty-nine hours.

There and back, along crooked 93W -- west into the wind, then east, the cool Pacific wind from five hundred miles away at our backs -- one hundred thirty-eight miles.

I pedaled for a little over ten hours.

I towed nearly one hundred pounds, trailer, gear, and dog.

We followed vague MapQuest directions I'd copied to the back of my hand in black marker, but soon abandoned them. I'd planned to ride through the country, around the lakes, away from the world, but was forced to stay on the two-lane highway all the way -- MapQuest doesn't denote whether roads are paved or even graded. Most around here are neither ...

I rode, towed, for five miles at a time, then would stop to take a drink, a picture, a piss, reminding myself that it's always a race, but not today.

Once we got to Eureka, I found the first bar in town. I pulled my Jersey I.D. and ordered a Budweiser.

"You're a long way from home. Passing through?"

I decided to lie. "Sort of. Actually, I rode here. Left Jersey about two months ago. I rode the seventy miles from Kalispell today. I'm headed for Seattle. I have a friend there."

The next five beers were on the bartender. I was the pedal biker in the cowboy bar. They asked me few questions about my make believe trip and instead told me about their lives in Eureka, how nice it is, how much they appreciate the quiet. "I’m not trading this life for nothing," the bartender told me.

"I was a truck driver," the old man sitting next to me tells me without me acknowledging him first. "You mind?" he asks, pointing at the stool next to me.

"No, go ahead."

He moves over, his glass, too.

"Once, I drove across the country, Pacific to Atlantic and back again, four times in six weeks. I'd literally have twenty minutes time-off for two weeks at a time. I'd go home for those twenty minutes and my kids would ask me, 'How long you have off, daddy?' 'Twenty minutes,' I'd tell them and be gone again for two weeks. One day I came home and they asked me again: 'How long you have off, daddy?' Know what I said? 'Forever.' I quit and haven't left here since. Now I'm a ranch hand and, to make a little extra money," he tells me, then, pausing, he hadn't taken a sip from his drink, nodding, he excuses himself, takes a large sip of his beer, and places the glass carefully back on its napkin, "I brew my own moonshine. I've done it since high school. We'd spike the punch in school. Woohoo! This one dance, I think it was homecoming, I walk up to the bowl, nobody lookin', dump my 'shine in, then throw the glass flask in the trash and I hear clink. I look in the trash: Somebody else had already spiked the stuff! Half hour later they had to move the band into the bathroom! I also brew my own barley wine. Know what I call it?"


"Night, Night Darlin'!"

I start laughing.

"Or you can call it auf wiedersehen or arrivederci. Don't matter what language you use, it's lights out!"

By the time I left, I was too drunk, too tired, the sun had sunk too low, to ride the final ten miles to the forest where I'd planned to camp. What now? I got to the Eureka liquor store five minutes before it closed and bought a bottle of wine. The woman behind the counter checked my I.D. "You're from New Jersey, huh? Long way from home ..."

I camped for the night behind the town's historical village, just off main street. The grass behind the early-1900s library looked green and comfortable; the town was small enough that I figured I wouldn't be found. It started raining in the middle of the night; the temperature dropped fast. I put the rain fly on my tent and a hoodie on, no problem. I fell back asleep. An hour later, still raining, I was awoken by a loud fuh-shhh sound that, after ten seconds, didn't stop. Huh? I peaked out and, once I saw it, I groaned, recognizing the sound: a sprinkler system. Grass isn't native to Montana and when grass is this green this late into summer, it's being watered daily, religiously. The sprinkler system was still one hundred feet away, but I knew it would move my way soon and I couldn't risk a sprinkler head being under my tent. So, in the pouring rain, I unstaked the tent, carried it a few hundred yards to where, with my headlamp, I found a large patch of browned, dying grass, and restaked. Now I was soaked, the dog was soaked, the tarp under my tent was soaked, soaking the underside of my tent. Wet, it felt a lot colder. There was a few sips of wine left. I finished the bottle and fell back asleep, at least four hours until daylight ...

... I dreamt about a girl who's far away, but she moved here, just to be with me ...

I woke up to see a blue sky in the west, gray clouds above me, and a black sky to the east. If I was lucky, I'd travel the almost-seventy miles home trailing the storm. Remember, I told myself, proudly, you're not a pussy if you bring your raincoat, only if you check the forecast. It was only the third time I'd felt rain in two months; I was glad I'd brought my coat, had the foresight to be prepared.

I rode sluggishly, slowly, steadily with the wind at my back. This sucks, I thought. This is lonely. My legs hurt. I'm hung-over.

I started in a hoodie and overalls, wishing I'd brought a light pair of gloves, then miles later, I stopped to change into shorts and a t-shirt. Twenty miles east of Eureka, I stopped at the only gas station for another forty miles and bought and immediately ate a roast beef sandwich, three hardboiled eggs, and a large cup of cherry cheesecake. I finally felt better and got back to doing what I'd set out to do: pedal. I felt happier. I was with my dog, riding, in Montana. My three favorite things. Be happy, this is it.

Twenty miles later I caught the storm; I missed the rain, but the temperature dropped at least twenty degrees. I stopped and put my hoodie and overalls back on. Ten miles later, the west wind picking up, pushing the storm further east, the temperature rose back up twenty degrees and I changed back into shorts and a t-shirt.

After fifty-five miles I came to that fork in the road: go right, go home; stay left, add an extra fifteen miles to the trip and stop at the coffee shop in town. I chose left, coffee and bragging rights, hoping, while in town, someone would ask me where I was coming from.

It began to rain for the first time that day only two miles from home. Cody got out and ran the rest of the way along the shoulder. I didn't put my raincoat back on.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Winter is coming: Notes from ...

I've re-read "Winter: Notes from Montana" by Rick Bass for the fifth or sixth time. He's got me worried about winter; his purposely vague and dreary depictions of consecutive negative-forty-degree January days, how they wear you down physically and mentally, legitimately scare me. He was seventy miles west of here, near Idaho, but we're at the same latitude. His story was only fifteen years ago, not one hundred fifty. Most importantly: We're in the same state. I'm a little worried ... not for my security or safety, but my sanity. We're not the same, though; there are differences between him and I. He didn't have electricity; I do. He had to saw for his winter warmth; I don't. But, worse, or worst, I don't have a girlfriend; he did. I love Cody, but legitimate dialogue between us is strained at best ...

Today was the first frost; a thin sheet of ice on the dog bowl ...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Grizzled ...

I rent a cabin at Long Gone Ranch. My oral lease agreement states that I'll do chores around the property. I've cut grass and raked the stables. Fine. My landlady gave me my next duty: chop her wood for the winter. "I got the axe sharpened a few weeks ago, it's in the back of the garage, should be good." I wish we had a written agreement ...

Monday, September 14, 2009

Babb ...

Written July 2008; edited August 2009:

My hand gently quivers as it grips the cup, a nervous-type tick. The three-quarters gone beer washes back and forth against the walls like waves rolling up on a lake shore, gently. I'm drunk, again; I'm unable to control it. It's a nightly ritual, a daily holiday. Blue eyes lose in Babb, ten miles south of the Canadian border. It's a town of dirt and dust, skin tanned from birth, winters twice as long and three times harder than any you've ever known. It's a lawless town; it knows only two colors, snow-white and brown. There's a bar, Charlie’s, a general store, Thronson's, and a steak joint, the Cattle Baron. I'm foreign in Babb, especially on a Monday night when I'm in Charlie's, the only non-native patron. "I’m a little nervous," I tell the Native woman who's sat next to me at the bar and asked me what I do, "I’m the only blue-eyed person here." I tip well, my peace offering, yet I feel like I'm always last served at the bar. Charlie's is a windowless bar, a barn sheathed in tin-colored sheet metal. Most buildings are windowless here; the winters are too windy and harsh for glass. The bar stretches for half a football field. The carpet is bright-red, it's unnerving.

The fry cook in the back, that bleach-white-haired girl from Valier, a small plains town fifty miles east, population less than five hundred, has somehow made me feel like shit again. She's why I'm here, to reconcile. I'm doubtful. She's helped me accept, finally, at twenty-five, that to some degree, I'm bipolar. I don't need medication, though, it's just who I am. My feelings -- happiness vs. sadness -- will always be an up and down, in and out, always-swaying ocean. I'll never flatline emotionally.

About her, I've never said it before, and I hope I'll never say it again, but I think she just wanted sex. I'll never forget that night we spent together in the bed of her mid-eighties, Chevy pick-up somewhere out there on some dirt road in the moon shadow of Chief Mountain. We outfitted the thing with a twin mattress we'd stolen from the hotel storage closet and hung makeshift mosquito netting she'd bought at Thronson's. We sat on the tailgate, drinking wine like desperate water-drinking, desert-dwellers, and watched the sun sink into the western horizon. We were drunk, running our mouths, laughing, learning. The mosquitoes buzzed above us and around us, but they were blocked out, perfect. We had sex twice and passed out, naked. The clouds glowed eerily yellow as they blew by the moon. It was cold -- June nights here are like March nights there. I was the happiest I'd been in a long time, and I'd been happy for a few weeks. We were awoken at five a.m. by horrible noises; I'd never heard anything like it: a loud, guttural moaning, like a large man slowly, painfully dying, alone. I sat up slowly, half-too-scared to look: the truck was surrounded by free range cattle, at least fifty of them. They weren't cows, they were beasts. We'd learned as kids that dogs go woof, cats go meow, and cows go moo, but it wasn't true. What else did they lie about?

We'd spent a few more days together, and then she fell off. That's why I'm here, to find out why. But I know why ...

I finish my beer, not knowing whether she saw me sitting there or not, and go. I buy a beer-to-go, because it's Montana, because I can, because it's legal, because it's a nine-mile drive home and it's dark. It's much darker here than it is there.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

I stopped at the gas station on the way home to buy a six-pack. The man in line in front of me was buying a case of Steel Reserve. A case of Steel Reserve ...

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

It’s the sounds, not the sights, that remind me that this may not be haven nor heaven. Bulldozers, clearing land for condos, are less than a quarter-mile south. Monday was Labor Day, I had the day off, but the men there did not. I could hear them, their machines pushing dirt and clearing trees most of the morning. I can’t see them beyond the trees and high grass behind my cabin, but I worry that any day now I might. I’m twelve miles from the middle of town; no cell service, Internet, or television here. I love it. If I’m not in the city, I don’t want to be in town, and since I’m not in town, I don’t want to be anywhere near town. The cars that speed past on the road, also out of sight, annoy me. What right do they have? I'm trying to read ...

Monday, September 7, 2009

How strong does the wind have to blow to knock a six-foot, one hundred fifty-five-pound person to their knees? Not once or twice, but over and over again? Cody was over-confident on the way up -- he hopped from rock to rock effortlessly, his low center of gravity kept him below the worst of the wind, his four feet on the ground balanced and braced him like a table. I was like a flagpole, awkward and unstable. We got two-thirds of the way up, to the shack, but didn't dare go any higher. (I didn't dare go any higher; I could tell Cody wanted to press on.) I dropped my pack on the wood-plank floor and immediately the at-least-twenty-pound-bag loaded with a night's worth of supplies rolled over three times, blown by a gust. The shack has eight windows, but no window panes; the roof is missing two planks. Every real-heavy gust, the shack's tow lines, weaved through the ceiling supports and anchored into the rock, bowed, making that eerie, creeking sound, like a guitar string pulled too tight, about to snap. The shack gently rocked, but achored structures aren't supposed to rock at all. Visitors carve their initials and the date into the floor, wall, ceiling. I found a 1978, thirty-one years ago -- if the shack had stood this long, it could stand one more windy night. Be tough, build character, only ten hours to sunrise, I told myself, verbally, like the Old Man and the Sea, but I was the Young Man and the Mountain. By 6:30, though the sun was still peaked in the sky, the windchill was so low that I was in my sleeping bag, all the clothes I had -- wool cap, three layers ankles to neck -- were on, yet I was wishing I had gloves (You won't need those, you wimp, I'd told myself hours earlier, leaving them on the kitchen table). The sun wasn't going down for another two hours -- it would get colder, probably much colder. Building a fire in the wind would be impossible -- and we were above treeline, anyway, nothing to burn. Cody looked nervous, his eyes were half sunk, his pupils huge. I tried to start my cooking stove, heat some soup, warm my soul. It wouldn't stay lit. Fight or flight, only nine hours to go ...

We started back down as the sun was beginning to set and got back to the car just before that dark when you need your headlamp. We slept in the car. The wind rocked all night. I drank enough wine and ate enough soup, New England clam chowder, to sleep heavily.