[We’ve followed SB C. Jane on her journeys across the continent, first on the pages of her book, Spirit Traffic and, more recently, on her trip to promote the book. Now, she’s back … and pondering … SB SM]
My neighbor asked me this morning about how I’m feeling after having ridden for ninety-seven days on a cross-country book tour on a motorcycle. She’s an intuitive neighbor who sometimes knows too much. Today she knew I was out of sorts.
In the shower, I’d been thinking about Odysseus and softly signing Simon & Garfunkel’s Look for America.
“Michigan seems like a dream to me now”
It took me four days to hitchhike from Saginaw
I’ve gone to look for America
“Kathy, I’m lost”, I said, though I knew she was sleeping
I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why
Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike
They’ve all come to look for America
Did Odysseus sing when he was tied to the mast, his ears filled with wax? Did he know he was on the hero’s journey or was he just trying to get the word out about the Trojan horse and get back home? On his great adventure, he acted honorably, faced danger, was a good guest, respected the gods, confronted terrifying monsters, dallied with seductive nymphs and ravishing sorceresses and did not give in to temptation… He might have done these things anyway, even if he’d stayed home.
Yeah. You’re right. He probably would have practiced archery or lacing up his sandals. Or maybe he’d have just sat around on his marble sofa peeling grapes.
My book tour was conceived as a marketing mission, but instead it took me to new worlds I could not have imagined. I was on my own odyssey. Now home, I’m overwhelmed, out of balance, and trying to find my new routine. And where is Penelope anyway?
I felt stuck. My neighbor and I talked about it.
“Being stuck really isn’t a thing, you know,” she said authoritatively. She is the kind of person who believes that everything happens for a reason. I concur, but without some of her spiritual trimmings or authority.
On several occasions, people have asked me about how I deal with writer’s block. “I don’t have it,” is my usual answer. This is not helpful, I know, but it’s all I’ve got. Or had. Today, writer’s block makes me want to retrain the parakeet or do more laundry or start on a Marie-Kondo-esque quest for simplicity and room to write, or even breathe.
I told my neighbor about being stuck in Montana.
We left Emmett’s house around 9am. We wanted to take him and his housemates (girlfriend, Ross and high school bestie, TJ) out for breakfast, but they had other things to do. After three days of fun, they were ready to have their house to themselves again. We said our tearful goodbyes over coffee on the back porch, John and I went to Good Foods to eat and buy supplies for the next several nights of wild camping. After eating, shopping, and mapping our route, we packed our bags and rode out into the heat of the day at eleven o’clock.
It took forever to get out of Montana. We rode, each of us in our own thoughts, through great beauty and heat mostly on Route 12 through Checkerboard, Harlowton, Roundup, Forsyth. About a day’s ride east of Missoula, in the middle of a vast open space where we had not seen any people nor passed any traffic for hours, we came upon a road construction sign and a stop light.
We dutifully stopped, looked at each other, and shrugged our shoulders. There was no discernable construction site nor construction vehicle in sight. There was no traffic behind us; there had not been any for almost a hundred miles. There was just a great openness. The first time I experienced such vastness I was driving alone from Vermont to Colorado. Gripped by a kind of agoraphobia, I felt exposed and vulnerable. (And I was in a car!) On this trip though, in the middle of it all, I felt a futuristic sense of survival. I might just make it.
We killed our engines and dismounted the bikes. The sun blasted down on us in our helmets and full armor. Time seemed to have stopped. There were no trees or bushes to hide behind, so John and I peed in the ditches on opposite sides of the road.
Sometime later, we watched a car slowly approach from the far distance to the west. It lined up behind our bikes. We straddled them again and sipped water from our Camelbaks. Pantomiming hurried executive businessmen impatiently tapping their feet and looking at their wristwatches, we snapped photos with our iPhones until a white guide vehicle (a small pickup truck driven by a 20-something woman with a ponytail) appeared before us and backed up to the other side of the red traffic light where we and one car sat waiting. The guide gestured for us to follow. The light turned green.
We followed the slow-moving truck along the empty left lane of the highway and then off the road entirely onto a makeshift temporary dirt road of rocks and loose gravel. It was not clear what was being constructed nor why we needed a guide to circumnavigate the roadside bulldozers. After fifteen minutes of follow-the-leader, the guide gestured for us to pass, and we were on our way. We let the car behind us pass us and found ourselves alone again on the highway in the middle of the barren majesty of the high desert.
“We all integrate things differently,” my neighbor said. “Maybe putting things in order will help you integrate all you’ve experienced. Ninety-seven days is a lot,” she said.
I did more laundry and washed my parakeet Doug’s cage.
We’re all familiar with the Simon & Garfunkel version of this song, but David Bowie’s. Give him points for sitting in front of a large crowd and pretending to play a little keyboard.