I'll need months of contemplation and reflection before I can fully and coherently discuss everything I've learned on this walk, but I think the two most obvious lessons are these:
1) Have some faith in this world. Things aren't as bad as they tell us. We may all have different political opinions and different religious beliefs and different cultural norms (I'm a liberal atheist Jew. Did you know that? Does it matter?), and many of us probably couldn't stand to be around each other on a regular basis, but most of us would, it turns out, extend a helping hand (or sandwich, or beer, or couch, or shower) to a stranger in need. I walked 3100 miles across this country and didn't encounter a single person who tried to hurt me, or steal from me, or damage my possessions. This isn't a place that needs to be feared. It's a place that needs to be explored, and appreciated, and celebrated.
2) There's beauty everywhere. Keep your eyes open, and keep your mind open, and you'll be amazed what's out there, right under your nose, just waiting to be discovered. You don't need to go to the Best This or the Most Spectacular That; just take a stroll around the neighborhood. I blindly followed directions from Google on my walk, making no effort to see anything special, and look at everything I found that I thought needed to be shared with the world!
But enough with the blabbing. Let me just send out a sincere "Thank you!" to everyone who helped me on my trip. Your generosity astounded me, and I'm extremely grateful for every bit of kindness I received. And thanks to everyone who followed along online and offered words of encouragement. It's always heartening to know other people are interested in what you're doing. Thanks for making me feel special!
Okey dokey. Stay strong, people!
And one last wonderful family to share it with. Dennis whipped up a terrific dinner, and then we sat around the fire talking and drinking various hot beverages (coffee and tea for the "adults", hot chocolate for the rest of us). Madelyn sat at my feet most of the night snorting in (what I'm sure was) admiration. And then we ended on a sweet note: Tillamook ice cream!
Fun fact: 30 years ago, Dennis proposed to Jan underneath the World's Largest Buffalo, which you may remember from back in Jamestown, ND!
From left to right: Harrison, Leah, Jan, Dennis, Madelyn
I spent last night at a Hutterite colony named King Colony. I believe there are currently 57 people living there, after their latest split sent half of the group to Roundup (once the population reaches a certain limit, the colony splits and one group moves to a new location). They were very friendly and welcoming, and Anna (right) and her daughter Lori took good care of me, making breakfast and packing me a bunch of snacks for the road.
Katy and Kelly saw me at the grocery store in Glendive and recognized me from a news story. They were visiting their parents, who conveniently live just off the road I'd be walking, and they invited me over for the evening. After some pizza, beer, s'mores, and Scotch, I decided to declare last night my official July 4th celebration!
Left to right: Gary, Kelly, Katy, Maureen
They stopped to give me a half gallon of V8 Splash and a lucky dollar, and Morrie really wanted to give me his camera tripod as well, but I didn't have room for it. He also insisted that I be in the picture with them. And, finally, you may be interested to know that they once helped a group of Hare Krishnas push an organ two miles up a mountain in Idaho.
I showed up on the doorstep of Assumption Abbey last night, and the monks took me in like a brother. They let me stay in the room affectionately called the "bum room" or, as brother Odo refers to it, the "Knights of the Road" quarters. Brother Odo took me up to the cafeteria to dig out something for dinner, and the two of us sat there, he cracking jokes and me eating (although he did join me for some ice cream), all the while taking in the stunning view of the prairie. This morning I got to eat breakfast with the monks, an activity done in silence, which reminded me of a great scene from "The Frisco Kid", if anyone's seen it.
And another lovely family who put a roof over my head to keep me dry. Their house has been in the family for over 100 years, and was originally built as the farmhouse for a bonanza farm.
Top row, left to right: Nick, Brandy, Amelia
Bottom row: Braiden, Lily, Harold the dog
Last night I was welcomed with open arms from the second I arrived. Connor and I played fetch with Bailey the dog, and Mark whipped up some dinner for me. When Cathy and Molly got home later, we all hung out on the deck talking for a while. I even got to jump in their hot tub! (I'm really roughing it out here.) This morning Connor and Molly got up early to make me an enormous feast for breakfast, and they sent me off with a bunch of goodies, too.
From left to right: Connor, Molly, Mark, Cathy
Well, about half of the crew. They were having a cookout when I arrived and invited me to join in, fixing me a big plate of food and handing me a cold beer. After dinner we all hung out, talking and drinking together. When the party was over, August and I had a movie night on the porch. This morning they took me out to the Whistle Stop Cafe in Frontenac for breakfast before I hit the road.
Top row, left to right: Alyssa, April, Montana
Bottom row: Brett (holding Gracie), August, Kim
Kory, who was at the cookout last night, told me I better say something good about him on my blog, or there would be consequences. So here goes: Kory... seems like he'd be an excellent tuba player?
Last night they invited me to share in a family weekend tradition: the bonfire! We sat around drinking age-appropriate beverages, and the kids, who were really funny, asked me all sorts of questions and told me all sorts of stories. This morning I got to partake in some more quality family time around the breakfast table before heading out for the day.
From left to right: Brian, Steve, Hunter, Carly, Gabe, Maya, Bradley (not pictured: other daughter Chloe)
My conversation with Steve, a man of infectiously unbridled enthusiasm, started something like this:
Steve: Where the hell are you going?!
Steve: HOLY CRAPOLA! That's awesome!
Steve: Where'd you start?
Me: New York City!
Steve: HOLY CRAPOLA! Well, welcome to southern Wisconsin!
This is "Nature Boy". He dedicated it to me and told me to look up the lyrics:
There was a boy
A very strange enchanted boy
They say he wandered very far, very far
Over land and sea
A little shy
And sad of eye
But very wise
And then one day
A magic day he passed my way
And while we spoke of many things, fools and kings
This he said to me
"The greatest thing
You'll ever learn
Is just to love
And be loved
I pulled over last night at the home of James and Jean, an Amish couple. James got one of his sons to go get me a cup of fresh goat milk while we were talking, and Jean cooked me some steak and eggs from their farm. I spent the night with James's parents, Lee and Mary Kathryn, in a little outbuilding on their property. Lee showed me some of his woodworking projects and talked with me on into the night. This morning Mary Kathryn made a big breakfast, and the three of us sat and chatted for a while, and I had the chance to ask a lot of questions about Amish culture.
Doris (pictured with Baxter) was standing at her mailbox when I came wheeling by. I told her I was walking to Oregon, and she told me I better come in and rest up while she made me some food. She whipped up a nice big lunch and packed me some snacks for the road. She wanted to make sure I had everything I needed; I think she would have given me anything in her entire house if she thought it would help me.
Not too far down the road, another woman came out and asked me if she could feed me a hot meal. My stomach was full and I was anxious to make some progress, so I had to tell her no thanks. I felt kind of bad about it: I could see she really wanted to help me. Who would have thought I would find too much kindness to fit in my schedule?
I was sitting on the side of the road taking a break when two plain-dressed women pulled up in their car. They said their school was selling hoagies, but they gave me one for free, along with a copy of the famous Chick Publication "This Was Your Life!", seen in the picture open to my favorite page.
Last night as I was heading down the road I saw a man on a riding mower. I walked over and asked if I could pitch my tent somewhere on his property. He (Dennis) and his wife Nancy turned out to be the kindest, most generous hosts you could imagine. They fed me dinner and a double-pie dessert, let me use their shower and washing machine, and sent me on my way this morning with breakfast and a little care package of goodies. Dennis even drew me the map you see above to show me a shortcut I could take.
By the way, I think my favorite thing I learned about them was that they met at a toga party in the 80s at a nearby bar. (That's not classified information, is it?)
This road was lined with bizarre mailbox contraptions, many not secured to the ground, but this one was easily the best. According to one resident, the guy who plows this road gets a kick out of flying down the street so fast that the snow he's pushing slams into the mailboxes and knocks them over. Any artists or designers out there have a creative solution for these poor people?