Adventure

The 8-day Wilderness Canoe Immersion

 It’s Fox here and I’d like to share about my experience in the first session of the 8-day Wilderness Canoe Immersion, a course designed and guided by Abel Bean with the Teaching Drum Outdoor School.

Check him out:

He’s been dreamin’ about this course for ten years. Participants learn:

  • Basic and advanced canoe maneuvering techniques
  • Efficient paddling methods
  • Stealth canoeing
  • Scouting for the best campsites
  • Making fire by friction and advanced fire tending
  • Navigating the wilderness without the help of a compass or GPS (lost-proofing)
  • Predicting the weather without instruments
  • Primitive cooking (without the help of pots, pans, or utensils)
  • Setting up a cordless tarp for shelter
  • Wildlife tracking

I signed up knowing very little about any of the above skillset; mine looks more like playing guitar (half-assed), tent camping, riding a bicycle, etc…However I’m no stranger to a canoe and I do love the river. Our group was 7 people: Abel, Amanda, and OdeMakwa, along with myself and three other men of varying experience and reasons for joining. Surprisingly I did feel some anxiety coming into the experience, not only to face the challenge of learning these new skills, but to live and work as a team with this group of characters for 8 days in the wild sounded terrifying.

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Our objective: To spend one week on the Pine River with the bare essentials for survival on a guided canoe immersion in the Headwaters Wilderness of the Chequamegon-Nicolet Forest -Wisconsin Northwoods.

My equipment: A solo canoe, paddle, tarp, sleeping bag/blanket, clothing, towel, knife and sheath, water filter, brushes (tooth and hair), pencil, and journal.

**While there was an emphasis on wilderness survival and canoeing skills, we were also guided towards a deeper relationship with ourselves and the natural world through team building and dream sharing.

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Each day began at first light, we woke up under our cordless-tarp shelters, on the ridge above the frosty lowlands along the river below. We gathered in a circle around the hearth for a fire and the morning dream share. What’s that, you say? Well here’s a real dream that I had and shared with the group during our experience:

~We’re on the beach, Christina and I, she smiles and laughs and then her sister walks by rubbin’ her belly and for the first time it’s obvious to me that she’s pregnant, her sister that is. I voice that to Chris and she nearly slaps me; smiles are long gone replaced with anger like I called her sister fat cuz she’s not pregnant and I’m a dick. ~

I woke up feeling frustrated. By sharing a dream like this with the others out loud, I began to learn that the feelings in dreams are most important and I’m guided to look at each character within the dreamworld as an aspect of me in the waking life. I am the one who sees the obvious but feels misunderstood; I’m also the one who’s easily offended, and I’m even the one who walks by having an impact on others without knowing. So maybe in my real life, I continue to encounter situations where I think I’m right about something while someone else has an opposing viewpoint and frustrations ensue. To come to an understanding like this through dream recall and to share the process with the others each morning was one of my favorite parts of the canoe adventure. More on dreams later…

Before we left our first camp, we learned how to set up cordless tarps as shelters. I can definitely see this coming in handy in the future when stealth camping.

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Next we learned about our solo canoes, how to carry them, how to get in without tipping, and basic paddle techniques.

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Abel showed us how to stand in the middle for balance and how to sit cross-legged in the bottom of the boat.

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It wasn’t long before we all had the hang of it and loaded our boats to push off for the next camp.

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We crossed a dozen beaver dams like the one below…industrious little critters.

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We found a potential spot to camp so we brought the boats on land. First we scouted the area and found our hearth location. Next we set up shelters and then we took care of our water. We found fresh water springs and drank from the earth. The food always comes last. Our cooking was done over the fire, no matches, no pots, no pans.  We ate venison, fish, roasted fat, cabbage, leeks, squash, peppers, nuts, fruit, etc…Yup, that’s a deer head on a stick. You won’t find that at the state fair.

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“He sat by the fire with a roasted head in his lap and put on his reading glasses before he cracked the skull open with a rock. I ate some of the brain; we nibbled on the nose; the ears were crunchy; I tasted the tongue and he popped an eye ball in his mouth.” -from my journal

More deer head? Nah, I’m not a big fan. I do appreciate how the entire animal is honored though, everything can be used. We used the skin for raw hide which became the string for our bow drills. We each had the chance to make our own fire kit. To bring flames to life the old way instills a new respect for the power that comes with a small coal.

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We saw geese flying south and found our cardinal directions with the rising and setting of the sun. Using these directions, we hiked as a group through the forest without a compass and we came upon a fall zone where severe weather had caused a down burst of wind and rain that flattened 1,000 trees. Abel tells us about the history of this forest and why it’s so lumpy. We learned to read the clouds as they come in low and fast. What might that mean for the weather?

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We pay attention to the trees. The Birch and it’s wonderful bark and the Cedar of course, the Aspen and her short life, the White Pine towering over them all with her teardrop-top which was shaped by the prevailing winds, and the golden needles of the Tamarack. The Balsam Fir (your Christmas tree) is a favorite. Her flat boughs can be quite comfortable to sit on around the fire or you can place them under your sleeping bag for extra padding. The needles have an antiseptic value and work great for cleaning hands. The trunk of the tree has blisters filled with sap and that pitch is more effective on cuts than any salve you can buy at a drugstore. I saw the blood moon eclipse through a small hole in the forest canopy.

This all sounds great but it wasn’t easy out there and we did have conflicts.

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How’s that for a look of frustration? Wanna fight? I usually run from confrontations. It’s always been a challenge for me to confront people calmly without blaming or shaming; it seems far easier to avoid those encounters and to take responsibility for my own frustrations. This might be why I like to work alone? Speaking up in the moment with a clear, concise and respectful truth is a skill I wanted to develop further while on this adventure.

Having Amanda along on the canoe immersion was a blessing and she’s been a great teacher for me. She and I are on opposite ends of the spectrum with many of our personality characteristics. Where she’s enthusiastic I’m skeptical; I have a need to be heard and she struggles with listening; she wants to be engaged with planning and strategy and I desire spontaneity; she dives into the details of a situation and I look at the big picture…the list goes on. As you might imagine, her and I got into some dynamics out there but through conflicts with Amanda I’m coming to know myself better and I see that maybe we’re not so different. At the root of it all, we both believe we’re right and we both show attachment to our own way of seeing things, like Christina and I in the dream I shared earlier. So through this relationship I see a place to heal old wounds, to lose attachment, to open up and truly listen; I see a powerful opportunity to speak my truth and communicate clearly with empathy and understanding; I see a chance to greatly improve my ability to get along with others and to be more comfortable and effective in a team work environment. These are the most valuable lessons I learned during the canoe immersion. Just like the dreamworld, every character in my life is an aspect of me and I’m grateful for the guidance I’m receiving. I learned a lot out there with this group.

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canoe

My dreams were vivid on our last night and this one seems worth sharing here too…

I had lunch with mom and sis in a busy corner cafe. The line stretched out the door as we finished and left. On the way out we ran into my friend Alyssa who I embraced. Mom and sis parted ways and I said farewell and began walking down a steep sidewalk. It reminded me of the hills in San Francisco. I felt like I forgot something so I turned around but then it was clear that I hadn’t forgot anything. Right then my shoes seemed to sprout wheels and I started cruisin’ down the hill. I did a 360 and jumped a curb. I took off and flew high above the road. On the way down, I felt a little scared as the ground approached fast but I totally landed it and I woke up with that.

As I look back at the canoe immersion, it all feels like a dream. Now that I’ve returned to the school and I’m back in the flow, it’s time for me to use what I’ve learned -time to stick this landing.

Coming into the course I had some doubts about leaving behind my responsibilities for a week and I wondered if I should spend the tuition on other things. Would it be worth it? Now that it’s all over I can honestly say it was totally worth it! One day I’d like to use these new camping skills on another bicycle tour and it’s always been a dream of mine to have a long-distance canoe trip with my father when he retires. It’s gonna be sweet to share some of these skills with him.

If you’re interested in participating in a course like this, visit: http://teachingdrum.org/

**Photographs courtesy of OdeMakwa

Vulnerability

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Dear Friends,

I was laying in bed the other morning -manic- and I couldn’t get up. Crippled with a stream of negative thoughts that clouded my usually positive outlook, I just kept laying there, miserable. The Fox Trails just turned 1 and after promoting the book for an entire year, I’m finally realizing that it has a bunch of mistakes in it. And I’m not just talking about the many questionable choices I made during the course of the adventure, I’m also referring to missing words, a few grammatical mishaps, and a horrible font. I just sold a ton of books too so these errors are on my mind now.

I imagine the reader’s judgements; they terrify me. However, not one person has come to me after reading the book to give me a harsh review.  Still though, I was laying there in my bed, stressed out and worried that these errors might prevent people from seeing the beauty behind the imperfections. I was scared that the mistakes might stand out more than the truth within.

I wanted to share this vulnerability with you; I think there’s a parallel here and a metaphor for relationships. When I judge someone on their issues or their imperfections, I build a wall between us. I’ve found that when I have the courage to push passed my fears and to knock that wall down (or at least see through it), something beautiful waits for me on the other side. It’s like me looking for the perfect woman (perfect woman you say?)…if I don’t have compassion and understanding to see through what I perceive to be flaws, I won’t have relationship; I’ll be constantly searching for what’s ‘out there’ rather than engaging with what’s right here.

This doesn’t mean that we have to settle for something subpar or squint our eyes to see the potential of a situation -we can engage fully with what is, right now. To get beyond our egoic mind and our judgements, to break down the walls we build, to see through the scariness, without this approach, how many enjoyable books and beautiful people will we dismiss prematurely?

I have the gift (and the curse) of being able to share deeply without much preparation, whether that be a public presentation or some improvised music for an audience, even publishing a book. I’m honored to share that with you as a part of my process and I hope it’s encouraging… throw it out there, make some mistakes, take a chance and be real, be vulnerable, be adventurous. In the next post, I’ll be discussing the idea of Animal Guides (spirit animals) and the gifts they bring us. Until then…

Happy Trails,

-MJ

P.S. I’m currently revising The Fox Trails book 1 and I’ll be releasing an updated version with a fresh font and a thorough polish. I have a number of speaking engagements on the calendar this summer at local libraries and such. I’ll be giving readings and book signings with live music and a photographic tour of my bicycle trips.

Fox Walking

fox walking

Greetings from the Northwoods,

Bright stars and mustache icicles, the snow and the silence…I love these. There’s a certain quiet cold that you get up here in this part of the country. Community and understanding, pure living water and a real connection with the food we eat…I love these too. Natural teachers surround me and to be back at the school is an honor. I have much to learn, and as I do I’ll pass it on to you.

A few moons back, we cooked over the hearth at Mashkodens. A snaky half-mile walk through the snowy woods and around the frozen ponds on a skinny deer trail brings us to a cluster of birchbark wigwams and earth lodges. We started a fire and roasted venison and vegetables over the open flames as we told stories well into the night. It was time to head home. The moon was just a sliver and my eyes began to adjust to the darkness as I walked the trail with Thorn and Nanada. I was tempted to shine my headlamp on the path but the ladies encouraged me to walk like a fox. I thought they were just being funny with words and I continued to struggle at keeping my feet on the narrow trail.

“Have you heard of Fox Walking?” they asked me.

“I can do the Foxtrot but I’m not sure what you mean by Fox Walking,” I joked back.

“Try this,” they said…”Start with your heal and move slowly. Be mindful and put the outside edge of the foot down first and roll it flat. Before you put any weight on it, feel what’s beneath you and reposition if necessary.  Feel that connection with the earth and find your foothold, strong and silent. Repeat.”

So together we walked that slow half-mile through the woods in total darkness. What a beautiful lesson in patience, to be mindful of each step. Try it for yourself. Fox Walking will stop your feet from snapping twigs and these quiet steps will allow you to see more wildlife, enhancing your hearing as well as your sense of smell, which will help you feel a stronger bond with nature.

Now you can teach a child how to walk like a fox…

Happy Trails,

-MJ

Adventures with Greyhound

Greyhound Bus

Dear friends,

Not that I’m trying to smuggle guns or drugs, but the Johnny-Depp-in-Blow days are long gone and airport security remains in full-patriot force like 9/11 just happened. The Atlanta airport is especially crazy and now that I’m preparing to leave the city, did I choose to take the bus or a plane? I chose the bus and here’s why…I’m cheap for starters. The bus ticket was $125 and the flight would have been $350, plus baggage. Being that I’m not in a hurry, it’s no contest; thrifty wins. When I travel by air I do prefer to fly first-class though, so that I can drink heavily and steal those tiny blue blankets (which I use as fancy scarves). It’s true, airports are among my least favorite places to be, but Greyhound Bus Depots are right up there too. However, the bus station doesn’t have metal detectors or drug-sniffing dogs, and the threat of terror is, well…sort of exciting to me.

It’s a 30-hour trip north and the bus can be a wild ride, but this is far from my first rodeo. For anyone that’s never rode a Greyhound, one thing is bound to happen if you do: you will meet some characters. I’ve had confrontations with horrible mothers; I’ve listened to the stories of elderly men reliving their glory days; I’ve snuggled with temporary girlfriends between transfers; I’ve waited for hours in depots on layovers and wandered the worst parts of America’s dirtiest cities; I’ve witnessed shoplifters get arrested on fuel stops; I’ve smoked pot with complete strangers; I’ve read more books than some people will read in their entire adult lives, all on weird bus trips.

 Unfortunately, America’s fast-food industry is a major sponsor of Greyhound and the bus makes frequent stops at these sorry excuses for dining. Pack a lunch, or take the opportunity to fast and cleanse your system. Your belly will thank you. Not eating food for a stretch can be highly beneficial for your stomach and for your body, much like not thinking thoughts can provide your mind and spirit with a break from the ego. Fasting and meditation can do wonders for consciousness, but the bus is a challenging place to practice mindfulness. Someone is bound to use the on-board bathroom after a Big Mac attack, stinking up the cabin from the back to the front. You’ll smell the farts of neighbors and the bad breath of the snoring passenger next to you as she unconsciously leans on your shoulder and drools. You’ll feel the kicks of the nervous feet twitching on the back of your seat. You’ll overhear the egotistical phone conversations of people who like the sound of their own voices. You’ll be offered drugs you’ve never tried and denied those that you’d like to use to numb your pain. You will be hit on, by men and women. You’ll quite possibly lose a piece of luggage, misplaced during a transfer. I would strongly suggest that you keep your valuables with you at all times. I also recommend that you pay attention to where the tires are and never choose the seats above them. The vibrations from the wheel wells provide for a nearly unbearable ride on bumpy roads. There is no first-class tickets on the bus folks; pick your seats wisely because you’re in for the long haul.

“Thank you for choosing Greyhound,” the driver says as he directs our attention to the front of the bus. He gives us a run down on the rules for the ride and some social advice that everybody seems to hear as an invitation to immediately headbutt. He does his version of a flight attendant’s safety precautions with hand motions and mumbled speech over the old-school radio…“There will be absolutely no drinking on this bus,” he says, and glug-glug goes the bottle behind me with a belch. “There is a bathroom on the back of the coach if you need to use it. Do not throw trash in the toilet! There are garbage cans at the front and the back for that. Please clean up your wrappers and don’t make a mess,” he says, and someone shoots a spitball in his direction missing terribly but hits the old woman in front of me right on the left ear. Undeterred, he says, “Also, please keep your cellular phone conversations to a volume that won’t disturb those in your general area. People do not want to hear your personal business,” and a woman a few seats back tells her lover on the other end of the phone that she fucked his best friend and that he is not the father of their child. The driver shakes his head in disgust and sits at the wheel. I feel like I’m on the way to a high school wrestling meet…

Hopefully the bus doesn’t get hijacked like in that movie, The Siege. I don’t wanna have to go all Denzel Washington on any terrorists (my body could be weak from fasting), but a strong hero tale would add some excitement to the story of my return. I’ll let you know when I arrive safely. Did you know Greyhound turned 100 last year? Check out this article (or at least read the words in the link if you won’t click it) and give the bus a try next time you’re in the mood for some adventurous travel. http://www.boston.com/business/news/2014/05/21/greyhound-turns-hijackings-accidents-decapitation-and-now-wifi/LwRQxSRlZdh4WVITtCNsrO/story.html

Happy Trails,

-MJ

Another Bittersweet Farewell

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Dear friends,

This is about love, and the journey home…

My time in the South is nearly over again and I’m preparing to say another bittersweet farewell. The weather is exceptional, quite the contrast to where I’m going. I can hear the birds sing as I write this. I migrated to Georgia in the fall to work on book 2 of The Fox Trails trilogy, and to study as well. I did much of both, and some amazing things have happened in the last two months. A stranger at the Salvation Army gave me a bicycle. He planned to give it to the store but donated it to me instead. I’ve rode it all around the outskirts of Atlanta and made countless ten-mile white-knuckle trips to the library. The roads here aren’t meant for biking though. Traffic is relentless and unforgiving; no where else in the country have I felt so endangered on two wheels. Biking is a huge part of my life -a true love- and it seems like maybe this place wasn’t meant for a guy like me.

You can’t easily put a lady on the back of a bike and women do tend to like a man with more money than I care to carry. I have found romance in my travels across the country on bicycle, but it’s always been short-lived and a thing of the moment. I’m just passing through, lets have some fun. I’m appealing as a wanderer; there’s no risk of attachment. I bring charisma, a wealth of experience, and the entertainment of song and story. Love and I are no strangers, but that level of trust and appreciation takes time to develop and I haven’t been still long enough to have a depth in relationship like that for many years. You might say that I sacrificed my chance to have deep romantic love when I chose a nomadic lifestyle. Maybe that kind of love wasn’t meant for a guy like me.

A funny thing happened here around the time I was gifted that bicycle. I met a woman who doesn’t much seem to mind that I don’t drive a car, and she isn’t worried about my lack of savings for the future or the little money I have now. She has her own, with a grown-up job and a condo in the city. She read my book and became intrigued with the message. I came into her life at a time when she hoped to speak her heart and to live courageously, following her dreams in the moment. And she came into mine at a time of feeling greatly misunderstood and lonely, wishing to live healthy and to expand my connection with the inner and outer energies. Of course she happened to be practicing yoga and meditation. I knew that my stay in Georgia would most likely be a temporary one and I laid those cards on the table right away. We decided to dive deep though and developed a wonderful spiritual connection; the kind of connection that makes a guy like me think about the future and maybe hanging around.

At a certain age, we’ll say around 25…most women have a robotic instinct that takes over and a voice in their head starts to say something like, “Must marry, have babies.” I guess that’s normal, the drive to procreate and fashion a nest. There’s outside pressure too, from society’s idea of success and from family of course. Every mother wants her kids to find love, get married, and make her some grandchildren. My mother especially; she might adopt a grandchild soon. People say that I’m so lucky to have these experiences (some people also say I’m stupid), traveling freely and living spontaneously. Well, a little dumb luck, yes maybe, but I haven’t had children! I’ve been extremely careful about this, and that freedom has allowed me to wander in the ways of my choosing. To settle down and have a cute little baby and to share the gift of bringing life into the world would make mama proud, no doubt. I love my mom, but the path of the heart births a life of its own; that life always seems to take me away from her. It breaks me up a little each time it happens, but this is the only life for me right now.

In January last year, I left the South after writing the lion’s share of my book and I returned home briefly. That’s when I first heard the call of the drum. I was invited for a trial stay at the Teaching Drum Outdoor School to work in editing and promotions with the author Tamarack Song. It became so much more than that though. To live intentionally, with a tribe of conscious people connected with nature in a healing environment…that was life changing for me. There were so many challenges, but it was enriching and I developed skills that would prove important down the road. Feeling the calling to pursue personal dreams, I departed on short notice with the snow melt and I left much unlearned there. However, I was able to publish my book and cross the country on a bicycle, surviving in the wilderness with my newly acquired skills. It was the adventure of a lifetime. What a year!

So here I am, down South; I’ve been writing about these experiences. I thought my adventure was finished in San Francisco (that the book series would end there), and that I might be ready to settle down and do the writing while starting a more normal life with contributions to family and society. However, I know that my journey has to come full circle now, to show me where I’ve been from a new vantage point. Finding a spiritual connection with a woman who understands and appreciates me has been an eye-opening experience. It’s definitely had me imagining life in Georgia, long-term. This encounter almost seems like fate, or a manifestation of intent (whatever you wanna call it). This time in the South has definitely shown me what I want, and what I don’t want. Atlanta has millions of people spread out over a gigantic metropolitan area and the city is rapidly expanding with busy roads and noisy chaos. I miss the quiet of nature and clean water; I want community. I love those things. For these reasons, I’ve decided to return to the Northwoods of Wisconsin and the community life at the Teaching Drum Outdoor School. Travel plans are still up in the air, but I’ll be arriving at the end of the month, right around my one-year anniversary.

Love is fascinating. To this wonderful woman I speak of, I am forever grateful that we explored life together and shared so deeply, even with the knowledge of my impending departure. It was never clingy or possessive. We could’ve saw our time together as if it was ticking off the clock, but we chose to experience its unfolding and we watched it blossom around us. We could’ve saw our relationship as a beautiful bouquet of flowers that would one day wither and wilt, just to be tossed in the trash, but we saw a fertile garden, and we planted seeds there and nourished them. May they flourish and be admired by those with loving eyes, and a vision with no end. Happy trails are paths that cross in the heart of adventure. Walk them attuned, with courage and enthusiasm.

Another bittersweet farewell,

-MJ

Book Two

Dear friends,

Reporting live from Georgia, writing from my grandfather’s house.

A wonderful house it is, filled with a lifetime’s worth of accumulations and character, only seen behind the doors of America’s retired citizens. The gas fireplace burns a clean flame contained below a mantle adorned with steins of every kind, lined up next to hand-carved figurines of Cowboys and Indians and different dogs and what-nots arranged in no particular order alongside Mayan spacemen and Aztec warriors in feathered-bird headdresses accompanied by stone pyramids and random statues of Elvis. This bathroom has a seashell/ocean theme in baby blues with creamy pinks and I wander on to see shelves with old tube radios and antique record players with hundreds of 33’s and dust-covered vinyl just waiting to be explored. I see knickknacks galore and paintings with intricate-wood frames on every wall in every room with abundant fake plants in huge vases and a collection of tarnished-silver spoons, one from each state and some from countries that I’ve yet to travel to. Reporters babble the horrible news on multiple televisions and I’ve never seen so many lamps under one roof. A variety of ceiling fans spin around, at least two for each dog and I open a closet filled with vintage dresses, ballroom gowns, and old clothes protected in plastic. The mysterious guest room has the masks of the Mardi Gras Parade hanging on the walls, and the vanity mirror and the headboard on the bed are both draped in beads. Strange joker-like dolls with painted faces stare at me with their porcelain-Chinese eyes and they taunt me and haunt me like the ghost of New Orleans. I see ancient furniture with skeleton-key locks on drawers with gargoyle-brass handles, candles never burned and old chairs not meant to be sat upon. A fancy dining room table sits there, lonely in the main room and hungry for attention. The kitchen has empty wine bottle decorations and odd-shaped glass jugs stuffed with garlic and peppers in a fall cornucopia of colors, filled with oils and spices, vinegars not meant to be tasted. I open a cupboard door and a coffee cup falls out and shatters on the marble counter top and grandpa says, “Easy does it.” More mugs are stacked inside though, next to the never-ending rows of glasses, a dozen-dozen maybe and I figure, why not put these to use. So I fix a drink and clean the mess, but I do wonder about these things.

I have one mug. It traveled with me all the way from Minnesota and it functions as a bowl to eat from and a cup to drink from. I have one spoon, and it cuts just as well as it scoops. When I’m done with these things, I wash them and they serve me well. I have one pair of pants -my old trusty black jeans. There’s a pair of shorts and two or three shirts in my collection with socks and underwear of course. Likewise, I wash these items and use them without a want or a need for more. I haven’t had the room for more and now that I do have a room, I still see no need to fill that space because I’m happy with what I have.  

I complain about Walmart and not wanting to work a job that I don’t believe in and I moan and groan about our country’s over-consumption and the greediness of a capitalistic society -never satisfied and always wanting bigger-better-more-more-more. I’m now better acquainted with my grandparent’s home and the “stuff” that they’ve collected over the years and I do wonder about these things but I see this and all of the above to be totally normal. This is the American Dream, to have what you wish for. What I want and what I value happens to be different. To live simply is what I wish for and I’m fine with not being normal.

I feel like a curious child in this house with so much to explore. Not many people in their 30’s have the chance to spend quality time with their grandparents and there is much to learn here. I’ll earn my keep and lend a hand around the house. My needs for food and shelter are taken care of and I’m grateful to be in a safe place where I can be creative.

*an unedited excerpt, copy/pasted from the recent writing*

**I need a hyphen expert**

Some days I sit down and type 5,000 words and the manuscript for Book 2 should be ready for editing in about a month. I’m excited about the content that I’m creating and it’s the perfect prelude for the finale. When I wake up in the morning, I’m immediately thinking about writing. During the afternoon when I’m not at the keyboard, I’m either napping or reading. I fall asleep at night and dream about writing. I had a dream last night actually. I saw The Fox Trails trilogy on a bookshelf. Three books -one red, one white, and one blue, but in the opposite order. The American Dream, a little backwards and upside down but if you do a headstand…

I’m going back in. Where ever you are and where ever you’re going..

Happy Trails,

-MJ

Final Thoughts on the Summer Tour

Dear friends,

San Francisco was 3 weeks of madness: urban camping, music, trippin’, hoppin’ trains, rackin’, working above Mission, staying at the L Hotel (squat house), teaching Mycology 101, chasin’ guhs, studying addiction/compulsions and Capitalism…

-mind blowing-

It isn’t cheap to live in the Bay area. Studio apartments run about $1,500 a month! 10,000 homeless people reside in San Francisco and yet 30,000 vacant housing units sit unused.. the math isn’t hard. Squatting consists of occupying an abandoned or unoccupied area of land and/or buildings – usually residential – that the squatter does not own, rent or otherwise have lawful permission to use. The L Hotel has been operating for 2 years with electric and water, rent free and catering to travelers and those in need. Two interesting men occupied this house during my stay and I’ll keep them anonymous for confidentiality reasons but I can tell you that I found a job in the city and they paid me $30 an hour while I lived with a man who doesn’t even use money. There was also the contradiction of my smoking and drinking while I watched the other gentleman in the house get sober before my eyes. It was something else to end my explorations of freedom in America with this investigation into alternative ways of living. After saving the money for my return, I flew into Minneapolis for a wonderful reunion with family and friends and I’m ready to share my final thoughts on the summer and what’s next up for The Fox Trails.

Bicycle Dream Ride : The Summer Tour Overview

Purpose: to explore modern-day America on an old bicycle, examining freedom and collecting the characters and stories necessary to complete The Fox Trails trilogy.

June 20th – July 4thMinneapolis, Minnesota to Lake Itasca State Park and back to Grantsburg, Wisconsin. I rode north along the Mississippi River to pay homage to the source and from there I pedaled to my family’s home in Wisconsin, arriving to celebrate the 4th of July.

July 19th – September 28th: Grantsburg, Wisconsin to San Francisco, California.

Overall distance biked is estimated to be in excess of 3,000 miles

Equipment:

The bike: A Raleigh M-40 hand-me-down.

I wore no helmet and never locked the cycle. Without the use of panniers or trailer, I carried along all the gear needed to be self-sufficient on the road.

My touring set-up was placed on the scale at the Adventure Cycling Association headquarters and the total weight registered at 125 lbs. The average touring cyclist travels with 50-70 lbs. The photos below will give you a detailed description of my equipment and how it was carried…

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The foundation for the rear rack is Some of the Dharma by Jack Kerouac. A two-person tent and a bedroll are both secured to the rack with bungee cords.

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My backpack containing books, a computer and writing materials, toiletries, tools, etc.. is strapped to the seat post with bungee cords. A canteen was used as a spacer between the seat and the pack.

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A side view of the rear set-up. The pack on the back acts as a backrest and I could even push into it for leverage.

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The guitar case is simply hanging on the handlebar. The neck of the guitar extends back to the bedroll and leaves just enough space for my left leg to do its work on the pedal. A stuff sack containing my food/cooking equipment and clothes is dangling from the right side of the handlebar, secured with a bungee around the front fork. I kept the guitar in a leaf bag within the case and the stuff sack is lined with a trash bag for easy water proofing.

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The front view shows my handlebar bag where I kept the tools for bicycle repairs. Some of the tools I carried include: an extra chain, brake pads, oil, grease, wrenches, tubes, patches, air pump, tire…

Funding:

Leaving home with only $50, I knew that stopping to work along the way would be inevitable and so it was. Kind people showed me love everywhere I went and I received a number of generous and timely contributions throughout the journey into the west. The states that I biked through include: Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon and California. I’m pleased to report that America is still a land of opportunity and despite the unemployment rate, I was able to find work when needed and I also received a monthly direct deposit for royalties from book sales which helped greatly in funding my summer travel. Big thanks to everyone that purchased a book!

Observations:

Pristine and seemingly untouched country still exists in America. I fell in love with the Yellowstone River and the diversity of Montana’s sparsely populated land. The North Cascade Highway in Washington is the most beautiful place I’ve ever laid eyes upon, even surpassing the breathtaking views of the Oregon coast and California’s Redwoods. However, on the other end of the spectrum, I passed through oil country in North Dakota and the ugliness of what I saw was disturbing. Wages are higher here yes, but so are the price tags on everything. Cheaply constructed prefab houses (not meant to last) are poppin’ up all over and people pay top dollar to live in them. One day, the wells will be capped and the workers will no longer be needed. The oil men will take their fracking techniques to other places of exploitation and a ghost town will be left behind for the new boom. I see this model repeating itself on different levels throughout the country and the world for that matter. We take and take, working jobs we don’t believe in, for the purpose of funding purchases, only leaving the evidence of our insatiable desires through the torn packaging of products we don’t even need; the litter of America is the proof of our careless consumption and lack of foresight.

Highlights:

The history of the trail I chose is rich and the people…I had visits with old friends and family along the way, I met new friends and told my story to many. There was romance and the naked bike ride in Missoula. I had encounters with animals and the serenity of nature.  I passed through places where cannabis is now legal and saw the early effects of this new development. There was the mountains and of course the unexpected whitewater rafting adventure and ferry rides through the Puget Sound. The misty coast of Oregon and its beautiful state parks and nature reserves, the mystical Redwood Forest and the immensity of the Pacific Ocean…I may not agree with the government but I am a patriot to this land.

What’s Next?

I’ll be laying low for the winter, writing book 2 and 3 of The Fox Trails trilogy.

Book 2 will pick up in New Orleans and take me to Tennessee for the writing process and my reintegration into city life. From there I briefly returned to the Twin Cities before taking an opportunity at Teaching Drum Outdoor School http://www.teachingdrum.org/ where I learned Native Lifeways and mentored under the author, Tamarack Song. I spent months of sobriety here, putting the finishing touches on my memoir before coming back to Minneapolis for the publication and book release. Falling back into habits of consumption, I struggled in the city before riding my bicycle along the Mississippi to pay homage to the source. I intended to begin my journey into the west from Lake Itasca State Park but the river told me to go home and so I did, passing through landmarks from my past along the way and arriving in Wisconsin to spend the Fourth of July with my family -freedom on the mind…

Book 3 will take readers on a journey into the west, through oil country and along the Lewis and Clark Trail, over the mountains and down the coast to San Francisco as I explore ideas of freedom while riding a bicycle across the country. This trilogy will deliver a snapshot of modern-day America, with my personal struggles as a man evolving in our confused and rapidly changing country.

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Thank you all, for your support and love along the way. You’ll be the first to see this outline unfold in my writing and I look forward to sharing this process of creation with you as it happens. Until next time..

Happy Trails,

-MJ

The Great River Adventure Complete

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I reached Lake Itasca State Park on Friday, June 27th. It was a challenging ride to follow the Mississippi River north through Minnesota from Minneapolis.

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Bringing along 21 copies of The Fox Trails, I rode the same bike that took me from the Twin Cities to New Orleans last fall. As you can see from the picture below, I had quite the load to carry. I’d estimate that I have 150 lbs stuffed in that kid carrier. I may need to invest in a motor.

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Minnesota is gorgeous in the summer. So green and lush, beautiful skies and friendly people. The large amount of rain that we’ve already received has the river’s water high with a raging current. I took a few pictures along the way.

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Before reaching Lake Itasca, the river passes through Lake Bemijdi. I spent a couple of days in Bemidji and stayed in the State Park on the north side of the lake before making my way to Itasca. The river gets smaller and smaller as you approach the source.ImageImage

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30 rocks span the width of the Mississippi at its source and it was a special moment to walk across these stones. I’ve now seen the river in its entirety and that’s something that few can claim.

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A great storm came on the night that I camped in the State Park and water damaged the majority of the books I had left to sell. Oh well, I ended up giving them away to the campers around me. That felt right and I met some wonderful people along the way. However, after a week of facing storms and winds in excess of 20 mpr, I’ve decided to postpone the summer tour through the west. This wasn’t an easy choice and it took some serious meditation but this may be one of the most responsible decisions I’ve made in a long time. The west can wait.

I stopped in Brainerd today and I’ll be riding through Minnesota en route to spend the Fourth of July with my family. The path ahead will take me through a number of places that hold a personal significance to my past and I look forward to being home and and reflecting before the next endeavor. This has been a perfect closure for the Great River Adventure and I now have what I need to write The Fox Trails sequel. That starts now.

Happy Trails,

-MJ

 

 

Chapter 20

Meltdown in Memphis

“It’s the first of the month, wake up, wake up, wake up…”

-Bone Thugs-N-Harmony

October 1, –I sing this lyric to myself as I step out of the tent in Martin Luther King Jr. River Park. In September, I encountered my three Sirens: women, gambling and drugs. I spoke to the Wind and the Sun and listened to the River. Even the gentle river has rapids. So now October begins and I attempt to visualize a smooth start but I notice my sad bicycle sitting on deflated wheels and it quickly shoots a hole in my positive outlook.

I have three flat tires again and that’s frustrating but I will fix this once and for all. Really take the time to make it right. I have nothing more important to do, except breakfast. By a lake beneath these old growth oaks, it feels like Harmony Park, down past Hope and Medford there in Minnesota where Wookie Foot celebrates with the Medicine Tribe. I have the park to myself, using the restroom and plugging my phone in for a charge, leaving it there, propped up on the sink, with a can of sweet potatoes providing the weight necessary for the charger’s connection. As I walk up to take my tent down and deal with the bike, a car pulls up. Two fishermen step out. They find their place on the lake and cast out their lines. The water looks strange to me. A blue-green hue surrounds the shoreline with poop weeds in the shallows –the slimy ones that puff out and drip. I wouldn’t eat the fish from that water but one of the anglers has a grill cook’s uniform on.

Back at camp I pull the blankets from the tent, shaking them out in the wind. I fold it all up and away, sitting with my tools at this flaky green park bench next to a bike badly in need of attention. Dismantling the bike and trailer’s flats, I watch the fishermen test the water, moving around with no luck. I’m down on mine too. A bike with no wheels stands on its head. Another car pulls in and the passengers pretend they don’t see me with my tires, tubes and rims scattered about. The ladies walk around the lake as the gentlemen sit and talk by the water. I spend two hours inspecting tubes and patching holes I missed, rotating tires and preparing to pedal south.

A Mercedes-Benz on rims pulls in, bumping music. Two men step out, one with a camera. The other one has on a hat, flat brim cocked, purple power colors with jewels, designer denim low with ten inches of underwear showing and shoes, extra white. Pictures and poses, he likes to flick his chin and fiddle with his phone for photos. He never smiles though. They polish the wheels and buff the car, repeating the pulling in and stepping from the vehicle shot. This must be a Memphis rapper shooting a music video. I hope he doesn’t try to come and battle rap me right now. I imagine my own music video shoot, here in the park, talking about flat tires and rims and I could even change clothes and do a shot in the restroom with my iPhone potato charger. I go and get that now. With the bike back together and the trailer packed, I roll out.

South Memphis is a  war zone. Gangs, drugs and violence have put the city near the top of the Nation’s ‘most dangerous places to live’ list, year in and year out. According to a recent Gallup survey, forty-three percent of Memphis residents say that they don’t feel safe in the city walking at night. I ride my bike through the communities along the 61 and I don’t particularly feel safe in the daylight. I’ve seen dozens of dollar stores, there’s one on every other block and I make a few stops to restock food supplies. In leaving, I notice my bike trailer rolling on a rim, again. Unbelievable! I pull into the parking lot of a dive motel. This place smells like danger, maybe it’s just the dumpster nearby. The seedy-green paint flakes from the building’s crummy exterior and I imagine snitches conducting controlled buys and slimy pimps slappin’ hoes behind the walls of this nearly condemned roach palace. Looking down on my bike, I see the other trailer tire is flat now but the three I worked on earlier seem to be fine. Taking my dry box from the trailer, I pull the wheel off and stick the box beneath the axle as a jack. It’s especially hard to get these little twenty inch tires off their rims. I struggle and sweat as a drug dealer retrieves dope from a drop spot nearby, paranoid about my being here. A woman speaking belligerent Spanish tells me to leave from behind her motel room door. She’s says I’m not welcome to work on my bike here and that she’ll call the cops if I don’t leave. She’s practically screaming and I don’t understand her anger. Now I’m angry too and I tell her to go ahead and call the cops. Maybe they’ll help me. I can’t move my bike until I have the tire back on the trailer.

A man walks up and introduces himself, “I’m Hobo Joe. It looks like you’re having some troubles. Do you need any help?” He looks rough, curly red hair, unshaven with dirty clothes. He has a bounce in his step though.

“Hobo Joe, I’m Michael Fox. I’m stranded here with a blown trailer tire but I have everything I need to fix it.”

“Get out!! You can’t be here! You two go. Go now!” says the raging woman from inside. She’s nuts! The combination of her animosity towards me and my desperate situation almost has me on the verge of a breakdown. I hold back a childish temper tantrum.

“I’ve got this lady freeeaking oout!” I emphasize this loudly as I hardly hold it together, calming and addressing Joe, I lower my voice and say, “I need a safe spot to work on this bike, man. Do you know of a place close by?”

“You can come to my hobo camp. It’s about two or three miles from here. I may be able to find a bike pump.”

“I have a flat tire on my trailer Joe.” Frustrated with his lack of understanding, I say, “I’ve got a pump right here and a patch kit.” The lady comes out finally, cursing and making threats. Looking at Joe, I hold up the wheel and gesture toward the woman’s outburst saying, “This is the problem!” I show her the flat tire, squeezing it, pretending it’s her neck and pop the wheel back into place on the trailer, putting my dry box inside and leaving with a flat. Hobo Joe tags along, asking a million annoying questions, rambling on and on. He is the most enthusiastic hobo I’ve ever met. It’s nonstop talking, ranting and all I want is peace and quiet. I spot a fire department a block ahead.

“Joe, I’m stopping at the fire department up there. That should be a safe place for me to work on my bike. It was nice to meet you,” I say.

He continues to tag along saying, “They’re real nice people and even let me dig through their dumpster. The fire chief invited me to come in and eat with the crew once. They all know me. Tell them Hobo Joe sent you. Better yet, I’ll walk you up there.”

“No offense Joe, but I’d like to be alone. The last two days have been hard, I’m irritable, I haven’t ate much, money’s low, and I’m stranded in South Memphis,” I say this defeated, sincerely with tears rolling down my cheeks. When you learn to fly it’s hard to be this low –rock bottom.

He gets it finally and says, “I understand.” He reaches into his pocket and pulls out some change, handing me fifty cents saying, “You said you’re hungry, take that. I know it isn’t much but it’s something.” He counts on his fingers, looking up and to the right saying, “I still have $4 and some change. That’s plenty for a hobo like me.”

Receiving graciously is learned through giving unconditionally. Some would have rejected his offer but I see it as an opportunity to let him have the experience of this exchange and I give him honest gratitude and genuine appreciation in return. I don’t feel bad about accepting his fifty cent donation and he deserves that for his generosity. What a rollercoaster of feelings this afternoon. I think men have a sensitive period during the month like women. Well not quite like women but I feel super emotional and that small gesture was touching. It immediately raises my energy. To break off a chunk of everything you have left for a stranger is a sharing that I love partaking in. “Thank you, Hobo Joe.” I give him a hug and send my energy to him.

He wanders off the other way as I push my trailer up to the fire hall. Another character paces around on the block, OCD like with a cursing Tourette’s, angry and shouting, waving at cars passing by, signaling to oncoming traffic, dancing for a moment while flashing gang signs. He’s a strange mix of angry midnight black and a bright laughing madness. That’s a dangerous combination. I can’t tell if he’s selling crack or attempting to buy some but he appears deranged and delusional, playing out inner dialogues and fantasies of make-believe interactions with traffic. The Madman spots me and glares disapprovingly. The fire hall is locked but there’s an intercom and someone inside. Peering in through the shatter-proof glass, I see a secure and sanitary environment. It has the vibe of a hospital here in this injured place and that gives me a strange comfort as I walk up to the intercom, ready to make contact. I press the button and the firefighter opens the door, trusting and kind.

He says, “What can I do for you?”

“I’m on a bike tour on the way to New Orleans. My trailer has a flat tire. I was run off down the way trying to patch the tube. I don’t feel safe out here.” Mr. Madman yells an obscenity towards an unknown target and I ask, “Would it be alright if I used the bench here and repaired my tube?”

“Absolutely. This neighborhood isn’t the best place to get a flat. You’re safe here though. Would you like any water?”

“Thank you. I’d love some water.” He returns with a cold bottle from inside and lets me get to work. With the trailer wheel off again, I inspect the rubber and find some little thorns stuck in the tire. They were probably thrown onto the street by mowers running over sticker bush. I pull them out with pliers and watch the traffic pass. I woman with bleached blonde hair walks by for a second time, a working lady, ragged and strung out. Prying the tire off the rim is way harder than it should be. I give up and roll a cigarette. Another lady walks by, young and beautiful, she has the style of an uptown girl, curly dark hair and a sexy walk, she makes her rounds and it’s hard for me to believe that she’s a prostitute. Another working woman joins the parade. My gypsy hooker finds a trick and gets in a car with a stranger. What a career choice.

The sirens blare and the doors on the fire hall open wide as trucks leave down the 61 in route to an emergency. It makes me wonder what my life would have been like if I’d finished college and became a firefighter. To live at this hall and respond to the fires in a war zone like this would be horrible. Hookers and drug dealing gang members hang out in your front yard while you’re called to the scene of an arson inferno. These men risk their lives running into the flames of burning crack houses, serving the people, even though their efforts are far too often unappreciated. Going to school in Duluth, I trained at the Gary campus of Lake Superior College in the Fire Science program. I took EMT training, hazmat certification, firefighter one and two, building and fire code and apparatus operations. The campus is a state-of-the-art facility and run by real firemen, current and retired. A garage full of trucks provided the opportunity to learn how to drive the apparatus, double-clutch and pump water from different locations. A mock 747 jet sits in the pit, run on propane gas, we fought fire with foam, simulating the response to aircraft fires involving fuel. We also fought real flames in trailer homes donated to the school. Opening the nozzle on the head of the hose and feeling the water’s power is a rush. I turned twenty on September 11, 2011. I was with my dad, roofing a house, listening to the KQRS morning show’s Tom Bernard when the first plane crashed into the World Trade Center buildings. In the aftermath of that tragedy, with hundreds of firefighters dead from their efforts in New York, I dropped out of college with only a year left, devastated and scared. I caught a felony one year later, sealing my decision not to be a firefighter. No felons work Civil Service jobs unless they’ve been presidentially pardoned. Even though I’m temporarily broke and stranded, I know for sure being a fireman wasn’t the life for me. Seriously, I’d rather be right here with this flat than wearing the helmet and shield.

A funeral procession holds up traffic. Maybe no one died, I don’t know –what day of the week is it? This might be a motorcade for a politician. A limo with heavy security pulls into the lot across the road from the fire hall. A wealthy important man steps out in a tailored suit with bodyguards and switches cars. Security directs traffic away from the exchange, standing in the oncoming lane and waving cars around. They take over the area obnoxiously for a moment before moving on and I wonder what the big deal is. He could be African royalty for all I know, but this is certain: he and his entourage represent the opposing side of the wealth spectrum, the anti-Hobo Joe and Mr. Madman –the Anti-Fox. I swear I hear a gunshot. Maybe someone’s exhaust backfired but the motorcade proceeds northbound and leaves me with my judgments.

The thorns that pierced the thin rubber on my trailer tire have put some new leaks in the tube. I pull them out with my pliers and find the holes using the last of my patch kit to seal them up. Fire trucks return as I finish inflating the repaired tube. I give them a wave and pedal south, going into a Family Dollar to snatch a box of Snickers ice cream bars. They’re cold on my crotch as I walk by a busy cashier that never saw me in the first place. A half-mile down the road, my trailer has a flat tire again and I coast into a busy Walgreens parking lot. Plopping on the curb in the shade eating ice cream, I have two bars back to back, as two children watch, waiting in a parked car next to me. There’s three or four left and I take the box to the kids. They have the window rolled down and I hand them the ice cream bars. “I already had two and can’t eat anymore. Here, you can have the rest,” I say handing a young boy a box of ice cream. You’re not supposed to take candy from strangers but he makes an exception this time and there’s even one for mom when she returns from inside. She smiles at me before driving off.

Another vehicle pulls in and the driver has “It Was a Good Day”by Ice Cube playing on his system. He strolls by me and we say hello. It’s an ironic song for the way I feel right now, so sick of working on these wheels. I actually rip off patches from the spare tube and recycle them. When he comes back out he hands me $3 and says, “Here, take this, I wish I’d brought some loud, I would’ve given you some of that too.” He’s talking about weed. Certain marijuana has a loud odor, hence the name. I think that’s a Tennessee term. He drives off and I wave goodbye with a smile. Shortly after, a Jamaican guy parks his Mustang. I’m just finishing the repair and reassembly when he walks up to me and says, “Jah bless,” handing me $20. He runs in before I have the chance to thank him with words. Some people can just sense when another needs help. When you make eye contact and take the time to empathize, words aren’t needed. Yeah, it’s been a struggle today but I keep my head high and when cars pull up, I don’t look down ashamed. I pay attention to the work at hand as well as looking these people in the eye with my most honest, cheery disposition. It’s an unintentional street performance of attempting to be positive in the face of adversity. No instruments needed. These hold-ups have been a test of patience. I leave Walgreens before the Rasta comes out. He knows I’m grateful. I felt that he felt that.

Down the 61, I pass broken glass and roadside dumpsites, burned baby dolls and piles of rotten rubbish. I approach Mississippi’s northern border finally and I’m ready to leave the state of Tennessee behind me. Entering this new state, I think about her name and the name of the river I’ve been following. Mississippi is a word that derives from the Ojibwe language. The native spelling is misi-ziibi and it translates to Great River.

On the Old 61, a cop flies by and stops with his cherries flashing about three hundred yards ahead. A pick-up truck at the end of a driveway waits for me to pass and I give the guys a wave. They tip their hats and I ride by about ten teenagers. A few vehicles sit on the shoulder and the cop blocks the lane. Coming into a little town I notice another cop at the station and overhear him telling a guy that it was just some kids fighting. Inside the store, I get some food and beer. The friendly cashier tells me about a river campground about nine miles from here. I check my tire pressure before leaving westbound, back on the MRT. Wearing my Tommy Raines ‘Live Simply’ trucker hat, I stop for a picture with the Mississippi River Trail sign and a sunset backdrop.

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The Mississippi River Trail

The sky is on fire as I pedal into the setting sun, toward the river. It’s a peaceful ride and feels right to be moving again. All the down time in the last two days has been more than sufficient to rest my legs. I’m ready to cover some ground again and I do that now, reaching the river by dark. I set up camp and build a little fire, drinking my beer. A pickup truck pulls in and parks, the driver gets out and stretches. It’s too dark to see him well so I walk over and say hello. “These bugs aren’t eating you alive?” he says.

“Naw, I come all the way from Minnesota, the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes. Mosquitoes don’t bug me too much, that’s our state bird back home.”

He laughs and says, “Shit, these Mississippi skeeters are so bad-ass they’ll stand on two flat feet and fuck a chicken.” Spraying himself with bug repellent he offers me some too but I pass. “I’m Don Smith. I’ve been coming to this spot on the river since I was a little boy.”

I shake his hand saying, “I’m Michael Fox. I’ve been riding my bicycle along this river’s edge for the last three weeks. I started in the Twin Cities and I’ll finish in New Orleans. I crossed the bridge into Memphis yesterday morning and blew three tires. The other one blew out today leaving me stranded on the Southside momentarily. Memphis was rough on me.”

“You crossed the longest bridge in the world. It stretches from Arkansas all the way to Africa,” he says.

I get his joke but it’s not funny to me. He hands me a beer, Miller Light. Don and I are very different but we both love the river and that’s enough for now. He’s older than my dad, with a big fat beer belly pushing a pair of overalls in a white t-shirt beneath. He says “I come here every night and have a few beers, been doing it for years. It’s peaceful.” Another Miller Light cracks the silence. “I’m retired now but used to work as a truck driver for the railroad. I’ve seen the whole country but this is home.”

“Have you ever been to Minnesota? I ask.

“I never made it up to Minnesota. I tell you what though, a few years back two women from Minnesota were kayaking down the river and stopped here. Someone stole their gear while they came into town. They were totally stranded. Nice girls. The guys around here raised the money to buy them new equipment and we sent them on their way. We heard from them after they made it to New Orleans. I don’t remember their names now,” he says with sort of a regretful end to a great story.

“That’s amazing! Thank you for taking care of my Minnesota sisters. They’re beautiful women. I can just imagine their smiles and tears when you guys let them know you put together the money to help them continue the journey. I’ve met some nice folks along the way already. Each community has such a deep history and the river runs through it,” I say.

“Well you know where you’re standing don’t you?” Don asks.

“I’m in northern Mississippi. I know that.”

He says, “This is Hernando De Soto Park. Do you know who De Soto was?”

“Yeah, actually I do. He was the rich conquistador in search of gold and silver like that of Central America and Peru’s plunders. He was one of the first Europeans to lay eyes on the Mississippi River so they say.”

“That’s right. He saw the river for the first time, right here. That’s why they named the park after him. Did you know that before you came here?” Don asks.

“No. I had no idea.” I almost argue that. I was under the impression that Desoto saw the Mississippi for the first time down south by the mouth but it doesn’t matter. “De Soto didn’t care about the river, Don. He wanted gold and silver. He had dreams of exploiting the land and robbing the people like they did to the Incan Empire. He ended up crossing the river and exploring Louisiana and Arkansas before dying of fever and finding his burial-place in this water, a river worth more than all the gold and silver in the world. He didn’t love the Mississippi like we do. It was an obstacle to him and it would go mostly forgotten until Marquette and Jolliet. To my understanding anyways,” I say.

We have another beer and Don hands me some chicken wings from the truck. “Eat these, I couldn’t finish them. Just throw your cans in the back. There’s some cardboard and firewood there too if you need it. I take it you don’t have a wife or any children?”

“I should be fine Don, thanks though. I haven’t had any kids yet, never been married either –someday maybe. I’ve got some adventuring to do before I settle down like that though. What about you? Do you have a family?”

He says, “Nope. It just didn’t happen. There’s been women, never lasted, too much drama. I’m fine with being alone. You either get used to it or you don’t. I like to be able to come to the river and drink some beers or whatever and not have anyone to answer to, not have anyone calling. You know what I mean?”

I shake my head in agreement saying, “I’m still awaiting the answer to my own calling. Trying different jobs and traveling all over isn’t really congruent with the family lifestyle. To be a father will be an honor when I’m older and wiser but for now, I travel and see the world’s people. I’m sure glad I ended up here at Hernando De Soto River Park and met you. And to think, he didn’t even know the importance of what he was discovering. I didn’t know what I was discovering on this trip until recently either but I think I hear my calling, it’s too late to talk though as it’s been a long day. I’d like to be up with the sun tomorrow so I’m off to bed Don. I thoroughly enjoyed your company tonight,” I say, yawning with a sleepy smile. “Thanks for the beers.”

“Yeah, it’s about that time. Goodnight Michael. I enjoyed your company too,” he says, shaking my hand warmly. Before sleeping, I lay in the tent thinking about the kindness of strangers: the hobo, the firefighter, the gangster, the Rasta, and the river rat. My dude Mr. Clemons said it best, “Nothing so liberalizes a man and expands the kindly instincts that nature put in him as travel and contact with many kinds of people.” The kindly instincts of a traveler are also reflected in those she encounters. The folks I met today are a testament to that. I wish we could all live the dream of the traveler but then we don’t all wish for the same dreams do we?

Drifting, sleepy and dreamy, I imagine being a dad, with the most beautiful, talented little girl that a mother could wish for and I see the extraordinary way that we might interact as a family. I bestow my blessings upon the mothers and fathers who’ve poured their love into the world where I haven’t yet. Plunge into your lives as parents with a passion for exploration, just the same as I dive deep into the depths of the soul. Let us return to the surface with a report on our findings and trade our observations as I exchange my dreams with the spirit world tonight.