The baby blue 1967 Camaro was having difficulty making it up the hill. Although the car looked reasonably well-maintained on the surface, careful examination revealed it had driven a lot of miles and was past its prime. No longer worth repairing, the telltale smell of an inefficient engine was being exhaled out its exhaust pipe. The right front and rear tires wobbled, evidencing a desperate need for balancing of the wheels. It was on the freeway, so why would this aging automobile not move into the slow lane and let the faster cars go by? The tired vehicle realized there were cars trying to get by, but the once sought-after two-door coupe seemed hopelessly determined, too embarrassed to give up the struggle to remain in the lane to which it had been accustomed.
The fast lane is intoxicating territory. Speed, and the adrenaline rush that follows in its draft, intensifies and narrows sensory focus. It is like sprinting in a pitch-black forest with only a penlight’s beam. Trees, road signs and awestruck or angry faces flash by, freeze-framed in peripheral vision for an instant, and then they disappear. No more than a glance away from the asphalt ahead is permitted. The thrill of the road has its own rules; blind corners, unexpected potholes and frightened wildlife frozen in place. Reaction time is everything. But with enough speed there is no margin, no time for even a skid mark. The fast lane is speed’s domain, passing others its prerogative.
Inevitably you must choose to slow down, or someone or something will slow you down. In my case it was Parkinson's disease. My vintage Camaro can no longer be driven safely at the speeds that used to make me smile. Yet I resist relinquishing the fast lane. Even realizing the toll it takes to try and keep up my prior pace it is difficult to give up the exhilaration of speed, life in the fast lane.
So the challenge I face now is to savour the quality of life in the slow lane, taking care of myself, learning that living is no longer a race, if it ever was. It now, more than ever, a journey that is best taken in by traveling slower, so side roads can be more easily explored and distractions expand to become personal adventures. There is wisdom and beauty to be found on a journey enjoyed. To choose those deeper values need not involve resignation so much as discipline. Slowing down need not involve sadness so much as seeking soul-deep satisfaction instead of speed.
From time to time I return, foot to the floor, to the fast lane. Sometimes I struggle with the decision to pull over. But I know deep down that sustainable purpose and joy await me in the quiet and contemplative cruising only found in the slow lane.
Things had been looking so good. And then the unexpected occurred. The ripple effect proved devastating. It became a full-fledged disaster. The consequences that ensued were more than imagined, leaving those involved shellshocked. Emotional responses ranged from anger to deep sadness; bewilderment to curiosity. Despite the magnetic preoccupation with the news, I felt an overwhelming desire to simply ignore the trauma and pretend it was not happening.
Disasters come in many shapes and sizes. Recently, the world has been focused on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and its devastating consequences. Obtuse as it may seem, that got me thinking about the diagnosis of Parkinson's disease.
Both disease and disaster can so easily be misunderstood and understated. That is, "disease" can be simply as it sounds, discomfort. "Disaster" may to some mean merely a flop or disappointment. But, small or large, painful or petty, if a disaster or disease touches you, it can easily lead to panic, followed by the darkness of depression. Observing those struggling with a disaster or disease can often leave you feeling as helpless as if you are watching someone drown.
But there is much to be learned from disasters, be they personal or environmental. To me, BP's responses to the cataclysmic events relentlessly pounding at their image since April 21 are lessons for all of us facing the potentially devastating personal disaster of Parkinson's disease.
First, BP seems willing to accept responsibility for dealing with the disaster that has befallen them. It seems to me that this is a healthy response for people with Parkinson's disease as well. Hiding, denying or feeling sorry for ourselves rarely helps us cope any better with the reality we must face.
Second, BP seems committed to try everything reasonably possible to stop the consequences of the disaster, whether conventional or novel. Those of us who have Parkinson's disease often find it easier to give up, wait for a cure, or simply fall into a desperate silence of hopelessness. Commitment to help ourselves, by whatever means are available, is usually constructive.
Third, the oil giant seems to be attempting to candidly communicate about the conditions facing them, their hopes, the attempts and the failures, while caring for those impacted by the disaster, at least to some extent. One could argue that this is all publicity, but taken at face value is still points to lessons people with Parkinson's can learn. Sharing our condition, good and bad, disclosing our efforts to battle the personal disaster we face, even when we fail, and caring about those who suffer along with or because of us, all seem to signify a healthy response.
There is so much to learn about dealing with adversity. The lessons are hard. But to succeed in leaving a legacy of dealing effectively with disaster, we must learn not just from trial and error, but also from the lessons of others facing hardship around us.
There was no dream too big. No limit to the adventures ahead. The sun was shining, the flowers blooming, and love was in the air. Life could only get better and better. At 18 years old, the world was literally my oyster, seeded with not just one pearl but an inexhaustible supply. I wanted them all.
Growing old or suffering some sickness were too far away to even imagine; a highly questionable long-term weather forecast that seemed irrelevant. We were still riding the waves of the ideal 1960s, when we, the flower-powered youth, commandeered the wheelhouse of culture, demanding change and chanting, "do not trust anyone over 30" (David Weinberger, University of California Berkeley, 1964).
40 years passed. Quickly! Those years were filled with pursuing dreams; sometimes realizing them with jubilation, and sometimes watching them die a slow, discouraging death. Most of us have now come to realize that, in our rebellion against authority, one thing we had forgotten was to "respect our elders". In fact, we had forgotten our elders altogether. The "old folks’ homes" were nonexistent to most of us back then. Parkinson's and other "old people’s diseases" were virtually unknown to young people. Of course, all that is changing. Now, when cursing the dizzying speed with which technology changes, we may whisper, at least to ourselves, "do not trust anyone under 30". We cannot seem to keep up to them. We are tiring of the panicked pace. But we do not know how to slow down and give up the control we have maintained for the past four decades. In fact, we may even fear that the youth of today will follow our example and relegate us to somewhat more upscale "old folks’ homes" to be left alone to question the quality and powerlessness of the lives we have left.
For many of us in this bloated demographic bubble called ‘baby boomers’, we have begun to realize the ironic comparison between the heady optimism of our teenage years, and the over-promising, under-delivering expectations we are sold on infomercials guaranteeing painlessness, performance and prosperity to defeat our skepticism. Somehow, to put our hope in either the drug-induced dreams of yesterday, or the pill-popping promises of tomorrow, seems hopelessly unrealistic.
Perhaps foolishly, I am still 18 at heart. But I seem to be indentured to a body that is insistent on teaching me about pain and imperfection, aging and disability. Despite these lessons, there remains in me, as there does in many other baby boomers, an enthusiasm, a curiosity, a thirst for learning and a heart that wants to see the world become a better place. But the 18-year-old heart has matured. While optimism may be more guarded, I cannot give up the belief that our generation can make a difference, both for ourselves and the generations to follow.
It is an exciting time to reclaim the best things about our youth: our communication of passion, our ability to understand power and influence, our willingness to work together despite differences. But instead of being distracted by protests, parties, pot and politics, we have an opportunity to use 40 years’ worth of skills and resources to focus on the needs of those who face, or will face, chronic and degenerative disease. That is more than a distant dream. It is attainable.
The small waves lap at night incessantly, like kitten tongues against the milky shore. Their ceaseless licking strokes erode with unseen strength; carressing, creeping, taking. These tiny tidal waves in secret carry the grains of sand away, like Parkinson's and age steal my vitality and vigour, depositing them on some distant ocean floor or unknown island shore. Unrecoverable, the loss is mine. No more the carefree beach ball days when we ignored the gritty specks between our toes or laughed in tumbling waves that left the stolen sand in every body crevasse.
It seems that I must watch and wait until the shore is gone, and in its place unfriendly boulders lay to slow my stumbling path. The sand that clings to cracks and grassy clods drains grain by grain, like from the famous hourglass, but now to endless seas. It's gone so soon, too soon it seems. And leaving me with shivers on the craggy shore once filled with barefoot bathers laying, playing, loving midst the castle dreams made of sand I dream.
I dream of shores restored by some reversal of it all that courses through my veins with victory and relief. Or if not soon then let the sand return for those who yet might know a sunny, smiling day. For just as beaches drift away I know that there are cliffs so steep and strong that must surrender to the waves the sand that made the softest shores.
I will not mourn the theft of sand from shores a part of me, but laugh and know that someday soon the master of the ocean's power will bring it back. And joy can be the rhythm now of waves that wash through me.
How do you return to the valley of reality after being on the mountaintop? How do you retain the lightheartedness and anticipation of adventure when it is over?
Over the past 2 weeks I traveled 7575 kilometres (4700 miles) by motorcycle through 6 American states (Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, South Dakota and Wyoming). Most days were unplanned until planning became necessary, with only 2 motel reservations having been made in advance (July 4 weekend), one of which we did not use. I averaged 475 kilometers per day (300 miles), experiencing a lot of country and excitement every day. It was nothing short of exhilarating and yet, with the exception of some troublesome work problems creeping in, the days of riding left plenty of room for uninterrupted "helmet time". The necessity of focusing on the road, and whatever peripheral vision permitted, has a way of brushing from my mind all thoughts of "significance". Thinking is reduced to itinerant translations of relatively insignificant current events: "I wonder what kind of bird that is?"; "How fast should I take this 40 mile an hour corner?"; or "Is not life great!". These were times of mountaintop experiences. Peak to peak, summit to summit, picture-perfect panorama views from snowy places 5000 feet closer to heaven.
But the reality I returned to is a valley. It is where people live. And it is back to the valley that I must bring the perspective gained from being on the mountaintop. And yet there are strange feelings of confusion, frustration and discouragement. Returning to my home in the valley means I must leave the high adventure behind. I am glad to be home, but confused about my longing for just a little while longer on the road. At first I try and retell the tales from each peak we climbed. But I can never adequately explain the events and experiences to those who remained in the valley. How can I explain the formation of the dark and threatening clouds that left me feeling vulnerable, or the sunset that left me longing for it to continue indefinitely. How can I describe the wrinkled, leathery skin of the woman who served lunch at a tiny café in the Oregon outback? What do I say about the dozen shades of green evident in a single glance as I speed by a stand of trees bordering the creek in a shadowy valley? How do I accurately explain the warm and comfortable camaraderie of my fellow adventurers?
The truth is that adventures can never fully be explained. Like riding a roller coaster, the best description may simply be "Wow!”, or no words at all. The stories I can tell are subjective dramatizations of the best my recollection can conjure. If I exaggerate what occurred, it is for effect and out of frustration that I cannot recreate the feelings. If I understate, it may simply be a lack of adequate words that force lame narrative. In the end, the more extraordinary the adventure the more both the storyteller and the listeners will remain frustrated. The storyteller because his words have failed to capture the vibrancy of the scenes, and the listeners because they were not there and cannot fully enter in.
Confronting the valley of reality often leaves little satisfaction. There is a longing to return to thin, cold air of the mountain meadow where a doe and her faun nuzzle the long grass yet remain ever vigilant. There is a sadness because I cannot bring the mountaintop into the valley. But I must return to the valley a different person, which can change the valley.
I have learned lessons from my adventure in the mountains. I have found my way along trails, through time-worn towns and across sagebrush plains. And I can point the way for others to go and thrill at knowing the mystery themselves. I can bring the magnetic power of the mountain to change those in the valley as it has changed me. Perhaps my Parkinson's disease can be the adventure of the mountaintop that I can bring back to the valley so that others may venture to the peak with less fear.
Fear not the valley, for it exists to make the mountain what it is.
Heat, cold and fog, from sea level to rivers to mountain high. The last two days of the Peaks to Pacific Tour saw so much variety as we crammed in as much diverse terrain and weather as we could before it was all over for another year.
Friday found us headed for the beach, literally. Not for a swim, although we could have used one, but just to see the Oregon coast with its rugged beauty and enjoy US 101. Unfortunately, it was crowded on all the roads we chose, meaning we were seriously restricted in speed, sightseeing and corner swooping. To add to the frustration, there were times when George disappeared into the fog that had formed in places. Driving into the fog was like entering a walk-in freezer. It was downright cold, necessitating several coffee stops.
And if that were not enough, after lunch in a funky downtown Astoria, Oregon, restaurant we encountered record-setting heat. Even riding along the Columbia River did not cool us down. To say sweltering would have been an understatement (39 C = 102 F), especially with the all black, waterproof, mandatory motorcycle gear we wore at all times. We decided several years ago to forgo comfort for safety. This meant black leather boots to mid-calf, with black Kevlar padded pants with a waterproof liner made of synthetic material. It felt like I had crawled into a black padded sleeping bag, lined with a black garbage bag and then lying in the sun to cook. The jacket was also black and lined with the protective Kevlar, making it quite heavy. Add black non-breathing leather gloves and a full face helmet and you have the package; a sweating black Michelin man.
We managed about 250 miles before hitting the showers at Gregg's and Debi's home in Vancouver, Washington, which has served as an extremely pleasant stopover for tired and smelly bikers before.
Up early on Day 16, the final day on the open road, we wasted no time (after Starbucks) in moving quickly up Interstate 5 to find Highway 503, the route to the "front side" of Mt. St. Helen's. Having taken a quick, but eventful, trip up the "back side" exactly 2 weeks early, I wanted to complete the climb up the only other volcano-view route. It was a great view from the lookout: beauty of devastation straining to recover its verdant and vibrant status.
The only collision I experienced today was inevitable. My 57th year crashed headlong into my 58tth year. Ironic. It seems that every ending also brings me a new beginning. As I venture into this 59th year of life, I cringe a little. There is too much to accomplish. This reality leads to stress and over work, with the consequence of guilt and fatigue because of my Parkinson's disease. But the year behind was great, ending with a terrific ride with great fellow journeymen. The year ahead has already started out great, with a great ride, a mountain top experience of encouragement, with a great friend, and then returning safely to a loving and understanding wife, my family, and my future riding partner.
The back tire lurched and slid to the right and then hard left. Gravel is like ice to a big touring motorcycle. Even a little strewn on a corner can be fatal. And this was a sharp 30 mph blind corner on an uphill forest road with no place to go but into the pine trees. There are certain anticipated consequences of striking upright wooden objects with human flesh; the wood wins. Instinctively, but completely incorrectly, I put my right foot down to stop the fall. The heel of my motorcycle boot bounced off of the pavement, countering the sliding momentum of bike and rider. Wobbling but staying upright the bike miraculously recovered from a certain case of serious road rash (or worse) and mangled metal. No skill involved. Just angels. George can attest to it all.
My heart pounded inside my rib cage like the fists of a madman screaming "I'm going to die. Let me out of here!". I gripped the handlebars as if they were the only thing between me and a pair of permanent wings (I was praying out loud). My normal Parkinson's tremor instantly became near full-body convulsions. I could not stop the bike for fear of falling off because of my uncontrolled vibrations. So I continued on, scanning each curve with microscopic attention to dirt, debris or gravel thrown from the six inch shoulder onto the road surface by corner-cutting cars. It seemed like an anti-biker conspiracy. I could not help feeling anger at the four wheeled patrons of the pavement for ruining perfectly good corners. Swooping smoothly around 40 mph bends turned into creeping cautiously round them at 20 mph. Even stopping to view the summit lava beds and stunning vista of Mt. Bachelor and the Three Sisters did little to diminish my fixation on the split-second event that occurred minutes before.
As if the miracle on the mountain were not enough, descending the narrow road proved to be equally precarious. A dark green Jeep Cherokee was accelerating up the hill on my side of the road straight at me. It was as if Big Blue and I were the intended target of one of those Roman ships with drums pounding in the rowers galley to spur the slave rowers into a frenzied pace while the ship's captain shouted, "Ramming speed!" What is it with these road warriors? Do they watch too many Mad Max movies? Squeezing towards the right non-existent shoulder, not knowing what to do next, the Kamikaze pilot pulled his machine back towards his side of the tarmac just in time for me to get by. I swear he was snarling through his yellowed and broken teeth as he stared at me shooting by his driver's window.
When you ride a motorcycle there are many things to fear. Fear is appropriate. Cowardice is to give in to the fear. Only a sociopath feels no fear. Only an idiot ignores it. Fear delivers prophecies of what can happen if steps are not taken. Fear is a prophet. Of course, the prophet may be lying, exaggerating or be mislead. That is where discernment comes in. As with fears that I often feel in relation to my PD, fears resulting from riding my motorcycle must be examined carefully before reacting. Like the Old Testament says, "Test the prophet. Respect and obey him if what he says rings true. Stone him if his words prove false and thereby rid yourself of him".
Many of the 250 miles we travelled on Thursday from Redmond to McMinnville, Oregon, were spent with me shivering. Not from the temperature (it hit 39 degrees Centigrade - 102 F), but from the aftershocks of the day's close calls. But we made it unscathed, if somewhat wiser and more cautious on narrow forestry roads with sharp corners.
Soon the scary parts of the day retreated to their proper, less dominant place as we had a pleasant glass of wine with the owner of Red Ridge Farms (who grows olives, George's next passionate endeavor), and later George and I enjoyed a good meal at Nicky's in the old downtown area.
Each day is a gift. And an opportunity to listen to and learn from the Prophet.
"Dysfunction Junction is what I call it." Marge (not her real name) said, sounding half angry and half resigned as she slid two mugs of coffee across the bar at us. We were the only patrons in the "R Watering Hole Cafe & Lounge", and she spent no time at all reciting some of the more telling stories about her life in "Unity". Unity is a town of about 100 souls. The name came from the agreement forged in 1861 among ranchers on the issue of where to place a post office, around which a small town grew, but now languishes.
Marge was the owner of the business, having bought it as her "last career" after moving up from California 4 years ago. The sign tucked in the corner of the front window told much of her story in a lot less words - "For Sale by Owner" it pleaded. She was tired and seemed to want someone to care. The Watering Hole seemed to reflect her personality; a menagerie of images. There were hundreds of $1 bills stapled to the walls and rafters, each one noting in bold black felt pen the name and date someone died. She said there had been quite a few local old timers who had passed on recently, as well as younger ones by less peaceful means. As proof, she showed us with mixed pride and regret the bullet hole in the sign restricting minors from being on the premises after dining hours. References to firearms were plentiful but she said not to worry and pulled out a water pistol she said she used when needed. These days people died in Unity. Few are born there.
According to Marge, Unity was an ugly misnomer. For instance, she had been informed by one group of neighbours that they would not come into her establishment because she allowed some other misbegotten neighbours to be served. Sounded like the feuding Hatfields and McCoys. "Unity is a hateful place," she stated, "and the town is dying from it". The sawmill has shut down. The school enrollment is declining too, with the successful student exchange program on the ropes due to funding cuts. Unity will either die in a final gunfight or, more likely, slip into oblivion, remembered only in a few old photographs. I wondered who would put up the last dollar bill above the bar of the Watering Hole with an unsteady note reading, "Here Lies Unity, Dead of Dysfunction".
As usual, I found myself comparing things I observe to Parkinson's disease. Like Marge, the disease is often about growing tired, less functional and more insulated/lonely as its grip tightens. Old friends who do not know how to deal with the obvious, and some less apparent, symptoms of PD. The disease, as with the town, has a difficult time retaining its relevance and vigour in the face of a rapidly developing world. It is too slow and lonely for most.
We probably could have stayed in the Watering Hole all day, and there was part of me that wanted to. But we had more miles to travel to our next stop, Redmond, Oregon. The coffee was $1.50. I left $5 for the stories not the coffee or service. The day was hot, the roads straight and lonely for the most part, with lots of thinking time. And there were dozens of small towns like Unity waiting to be encouraged, or at least noted.
There is much that we who are challenged with PD or some other threat of dysfunction can learn from Unity. We can make continuous effort to live up to the town name and not become lone gunslingers who grow bitter about what the disease has made of our dreams. The fight is against the disease and we need to reach out to others who can help us. We don't need to necessarily have harmony in the way we fight, but we need to be focused on the enemy. Let no one be tempted to tack a dollar bill to some saloon wall with some scrawled note about dying from dysfunction.
The day started well, near missing deer on the road, and managing to stay on the pavement while checking out the scenery. We covered 375 miles (695 kilometres) of the most varied terrain. From views of the peaks of the Sawtooth Mountains to the lava fields named Craters of the Moon to huge fields of grain, corn, canola and hay to vast stretches of nothing but sage brush.
The day flew by with limited traffic and generally good roads with the expected variety of hairpin curves through sculpted rock canyons to dead straight runways that the heat shimmered off like a hot griddle.
Over a lunch of tamales and french fries at the "Easy 93", a road side cafe of sorts, we talked about how surprised we were to find such a fantastic restaurant, named the "Sawtooth", serving such creative and tasty menu items in tiny hamlet of Stanley, Idaho, of all places, It has been our #1 pick so far.
However, mishaps have occurred. The first was just last night. We had no Internet, therefore no blog. Second, the server at our choice for supper suggested we not eat there and referred us to another establishment and asked us to say "Deedee sent you". Third, birds perching in the trees had decided my bike was a good place to do their business, requiring extra cleaning, And fFourth, I left my Michelin Atlas that has accompanied me cross Canada and around the whole USA at the "Easy 93" and they did not seem to have the tattered thing when I called later. And lastly, my "FI" warning light went on outside "Grand View", near Mountain Home, Idaho, necessitating a speedy 60 mile trip to the nearest Honda dealership only to hear the mechanic say, "Don't worry about it." (for which he charged me nothing). By the way, "FI" stands for fuel injection. Who knew? The crowning touch was to discover that I am out of Tootsie Pops to keep me awake tomorrow whenever I get drowsy.
Life is a curious quilt sometimes. For some reason all day I was obsessing on what could go wrong next, an unusual place for a "glass half full" guy. Chalk it up to the Parkinson's disease. Another day dawns tomorrow, and we get to ride again!
The extraordinary thing about traveling alone or with one other person is the simple but rather profound reality that no itinerary needs to be adhered to. What roads we pick, what places we stop, how often we stop (other than for gas or the urgent call of nature or even our destination each day) are a matter of whim and circumstance. Take today, for instance.
We started out from Moscow, Idaho, at 7 AM and 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 C). We thought it was 8 AM, but were later told that the northern panhandle of Idaho is on Pacific Time, not 1 hour ahead on Mountain Time. Traveling south we crossed through Lewiston, Idaho (see Day 3) and began a day of great motorcycle roads with lots of swerves and curves as they followed the rivers by and large. We ended in Stanley (population 100), high in the Sawtooth Mountains of central Idaho and 350 miles (550 kilometres) along to somewhere. The day was a great ride experience, and otherwise uneventful, except for a 5 mile 45 minute line up for no apparent reason except a 25 mph speed limit. Good thing it was not too hot.
Often we travel along roads with limited roadway or guardrails between our motorcycles and…well…let’s just say it could be a long or short scream before you would hear the splash. We stopped to show a 5-600 foot drop from the road surface on one corner, where I dangled my feet over for affect (quite safe actually).
Despite having no definitive plans and limited routine, decisions do need to be made even while on a carefree bike trip, as they do in life. I found myself using my helmet time today thinking again about how this trip is like life after my diagnosis with Parkinson’s disease. We have a general plan; to see scenery and experience roads that are new to us. Having decided that, we take into account our own abilities and equipment; 6-7 hours a day is as much as we can do safely, and since our bikes only fare well on good pavement we stick to secondary roads or freeways. But there are still hundreds of choices to make each day. And how do we make them? We consult, take cues from locals, avoid really bad weather if we can, stop when we are hungry, tired, low on gas, curious, need pictures for the blog or…
Life with PD presents the same types of decisions. Things are different, physically, emotionally, socially and maybe even economically, mentally, spiritually and relationally. Not exactly a vacation, but definitely different. People may stop us and ask why we are shaking or stiff, like people stop us now to ask about our bikes, where we are from and where we are going. That last query almost always causes me to hesitate, as it does with my PD. Where am I going now that my anticipated future has dramatically changed? It is like someone took all but the first and second gear off my Goldwing bike. That would certainly change the trip!
How do I learn to answer the question, “Where to from here?” in light of my PD? Perhaps it is similar to our motorcycle adventure:
1. My life’s mission and vision need to be affirmed, tweaked or realigned.
2. My future is best planned in consultation with others who are ‘along for the ride”. Who needs to be involved?
3. I need to consider what my body and “equipment” can safely so, both now and from time to time.
4. What do I need to do? Earn a living, maintain key relationships, and generally continue to meet my life’s obligations,
5. Then comes the fun part: what do I want to do with the ultimate nonrenewable resource, my time?
It's a BIG DEAL here. The July 4th celebrations bring out the stars and stripes on everything, and flags too, patriotism and all things American. George and I were wished a "Happy 4th of July" by servers, service station attendants and strangers. And that was after they all saw the Canadian flag on my aerial. And in true Dennis Hopper/Peter Fonda "Born to be Wild" fashion, we celebrated by riding some of the best back roads of Idaho. Okay, so it's not 1969, and we now wear helmets rather than show our gray hair. But we can pretend can't we?
Besides the significant number of roadkill deer beside the road, nothing was more iconic and impressive than this 4th of July parade that we happened upon in Clark Fork, Idaho (population 530, all within the one square mile area that is the town). We were going to head through the town at the usual 35 mph, but when we got to the portion of Highway #2 that serves as the Main Street, we were diverted to take backstreets by the local sheriff. When we asked if we could park to see the parade instead, he was surprised and pleased, and ushered us to a parking spot on Main, half a block from the action. Truth is, we could have joined the parade if we met the minimum decoration requirement; an American flag on a stick! The parade and parade watchers were obviously all acquainted as names were called out regularly. "Hey, Grandpa, I'm over here on the fire truck! look at me!" Or, "Ashley, what are you doing after the parade?" Candy was tossed to bystanders from home made floats promoting the church youth group and local businesses, vintage cars were driven by smiling, waving, proud owners, and the town ambulance drove by with its siren wailing. Kids scurried to pick up any candy they didn't catch, stashing it in a bag provided for the purpose. Our favourite participant was the old bloodhound, who seemed either bored or grumpy in his costume, as if to say, "Come on, folks, can we please get this nonsense over with? I have work to do." We slipped away from the "crowd" with a sweet sense of this American tradition from the small town America perspective.
We then turned south, trying some back road routes in the direction we were headed. They proved to be good choices as we weaved our way through valleys, summits and farms on exceptional country roads where the speed limit was often 70 mph (120 kph), an amazing testimony to the supremacy of the automobile (and motorcycle). We settled in at the speed limit (most of the time), while watching every movement beside the road ahead for deer to emerge, which they did several times.
Although it was chilly this morning (50 F, 10 C), it slowly warmed up, and thankfully, did not rain. The sun, having slept in on the National holiday, began the late shift about 4 PM, just as were pulling into Moscow, Idaho, our unplanned overnight stop. We had ridden 355 very enjoyable and diverse miles (575 kilometres).
It truly was a remarkable day of freedom. For me, the spectre of Parkinson's Disease did not prevent one minute of blissful enjoyment.
It is called "Going To The Sun" road and it represents the engineering domination of nature. It took 12 years to build and was finished in 1921 for the sole purpose of allowing the newly in vogue automobile vacationers to travel through the centre of the now 100 year old Glacier National Park (which spans the US/Canada border) . The Road climbs up the mountainside escarpments on a very narrow, twisty and steep road surface, giving spectacular views of sheer mountain face dropping off hundreds of feet just over a tire high stone wall away. The prize is to arrive at the summit, Logan's Pass, which is the Continental Divide at some 6646 feet (2025 metres) in elevation. It is literally a dividing point for the flow of water to three oceans; Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic.
The irony of the road's name was not lost on any of us today. We suggested alternative names such as, "Road To The Rain" or "Road To No Fun". The route was so busy it took more than 20 minutes in the line up to pay to get into the Park. When in, "No Passing" signs were everywhere. Perhaps my patience needed testing as my interpretation of solid double lines became, "Be doubly cautious when passing". Just after getting into the park and "speeding" along at 25 miles (or kilometres, both are accurate) per hour for a few miles (or kilometres), it started to rain. I had learned from my last drenching on the summit of the Big Horn Mountains that such hints are not to be displaced by wishful thinking. We dutifully donned our bright waterproof gear and began the ascent. The higher we went the harder it rained and the colder it got. The arduous effort was rewarded by seeing the work in progress of Guinett Masonry (a company started by Renae's father and mother, and now owned by Renae's sister and her husband), whose craftsmen were rebuilding those stubby short walls that were the only thing between our motorcycles and their first and last flying lessons. While grinding our way to the top, fog or low clouds were added to the mix of inclement conditions. At the summit sleet began to sting our faces, forcing a shorter than normal victory photo op before descending.
The other side of the summit brought a short run to the east gate of the Park but there was still no sign of the sun. It was here, after a sumptious lunch at a rugged, log restaurant run by the Johnson family for the past 70 years, that we said farewell to Steve and Ben, who headed the 20 miles north to the Canadian border and on to Medicine Hat, Alberta. We had a somewhat rainy ride back to Kalispell, Montana, where we broke one of our rules, We ate at the same place, Capers, twice (this time totally enjoying scallops over "Forbidden Rice").
After getting over Logan Pass today, I thought of all the other passes we had conquered this trip, each in a few hours, when it had taken brave pioneers weeks or months to make it over them. And that was after someone found the best pass to use.
Life, and certainly life with Parkinson's Disease, can sometimes seem to be like my Going To The Sun road experience. I persevere in positive terms to seek the sun only to be met by increasing difficulties, and ultimately no "sun". However, in other ways I have learned that I can be very thankful for these times, for there are great lessons and hidden jewels in them.
1. Pathfollowers. The diffculties are best shared, and there is joy in the sharing.
2. Pathkeepers. I know that others are working to make the road better for those who travel it.
3. Pathfinders. I need those who go ahead and find the "passes" for me and plan and lead me as I "climb".
4. I can celebrate and learn to smile, or even laugh, when all does not go as planned.
On the other hand, I could use some sun tomorrow. I know... we can head south. San Diego maybe?
Diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease in 2006, I was 53. I currently serve as the President of Trinity Western University, of which I am an alumnus. I remain engaged as a lawyer who practices as general counsel to a wide variety of clients, primarily in the Vancouver region of British Columbia, Canada.
Married for 40+ years (to the same loving and long-suffering woman), with 3 grown children, and one grandson. Besides my wife and family, my passion is living the adventure called life as a God-given gift, which includes motorcycle riding, scuba-diving, blogging, Scrabble and looking for the treasure hidden in each day.