adventures with Henk the Buell

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Celebrating people, ideas & things that make the world a better place. Kitchen Chemistry, Social Alchemy, Adventure Activism.

Friday, September 23, 2005

"Don't ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."

Harold Whitman

I know this guy, a stock trader guy whose friends think he's independently wealthy, but who is really just maintaining a traveling lifestyle with his dog, on a modest budget. His friends can get a little resentful because he doesn't work in an office from 9 to 5 and wait all year for three weeks' vacation, and when he has a good day at "work" he likes to celebrate with a nice dinner. His friends toss around bitter and judgmental comments about him profiting in the market through others' losses, yet they are more than willing to allow him to foot the bill for cocktails.

I know a girl who used to be a Buddhist nun. She spent four years meditating in community with Thich Nhat Hahn before she disrobed and decided she could better serve the world through compassionate prostitution. Her family disowned her.

Trading stocks, on the surface, may seem like a "greedy" way to make a living. Until you spend a week with the trader and watch the generosity pour out. I heard him on the phone with his sister offering to save her fifteen grand by going to New York to do her home renovations. He gives profitable businesses away to friends, then starts over. He shares his toys without a concern they might get damaged. He walks around with an acute awareness of his fellow human beings, and always has a kind word for the cashier or hostess or waitress or stock broker. He makes people smile in every corner of his little world.

The Buddhist nun turned prostitute had all the time in the world to listen to a lonely person and bring a moment of joy to his life.

It's easy to resent those of us who choose to walk our own path. And too easy to underestimate the power of a smile to heal the planet.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

I woke up at Wal-Mart with four furry legs wrapped around me, a claw in my neck, and two gorgeous brown eyes staring back at me. He's no substitute for Willow Green Eyes, but I'm starting to fall for Ling Ling.

The day before I arrived in Glenwood, Ling bit the face of a child. It was ugly. Purple and puffy. Luckily, it was the daughter of Brett's old business partner and friend, so no lawsuit is pending, but Brett thought he'd have to put Ling down. Ling hates children and has attempted attacks before. Otherwise, he's a perfect dog and has been a perfect friend to Brett for over five years. They've become so close over the course of their travels together that when we left him with a friend for three days, he threw up all over her house thinking he'd been abandoned.

I think I was as depressed as Brett at the idea of putting him down. He called the Australian Shepherd rescue group with the idea they'd perhaps give Ling to an old man who lives alone and hates children. They couldn't help him. He was prepared to come home from Telluride and do the deed despite my pleading. Yesterday, though, Brett decided to try a muzzle. Ling hates it, but he's still alive.

Today we're visiting Brett's friend Bill at his circular house on an eagles' perch above Glenwood Springs with spectacular 360 degree views of the mountains of Aspen and Vail and the fall colors covering the hills like a rich velvet cloak. There are two other beautiful Aussies here, but after our snuggle last night, Ling just wants to hang out with me.

As for what the hell we were doing sleeping at Wal-Mart, that's a whole other story.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

It’s crazy beautiful here and I’m being blasted wide open. Between the color therapy of the great red canyons and changing golden aspens, the Reverend Al Green’s high-pitched, leg-shaking, hair-raising Amazing Grace, and delightful and constant Colorado companionship, I may never be the same again. Amen!

I have not stopped being surprised since leaving Christina Lake ten days ago. The way down is going to hurt.

I’m plugged in to the lighter in Brett’s Ford F250 Lariat heading toward Aspen to pick up his dog Ling Ling who’s been babysat for the weekend while we did the Blues and Brews Festival in Telluride. We’re towing Henk and his new girlfriend, Fazer, a rare and sexy 1986 Yamaha whom Brett sprung on us when we arrived last week. We just did possibly the most spectacular motorbike ride this side of Heaven. I rode Fazer, Brett rode Henk. They fell in love. It took awhile for Brett to warm up to Henk, but somewhere around Ouray at eight or nine thousand feet and 140 kilometers per hour, they bonded.

I’ve entirely lost track of time and it feels like free-falling. This must be how an addict feels on day 3 of detox. She’d give anything to have that old habit back because diving into the void is scary as hell—but at the same time, there’s no turning back. The only thing to do is let go.

Last Tuesday, Highway 128 from Moab to Sisco blew my mind.
The Utah sun was hot by noon, and after breakfast at the Jailhouse Café, Henk and I took to the scenic by-way. The pavement was smooth and curvy, winding alongside the Colorado River, etched deeply into the red canyons and running fast, lined on both sides by towering walls of red rock.
I stopped countless times to breathe it all in and sing opera at the top of my lungs.
For the first time since I was three years old I felt like myself.

I crossed into Colorado, arriving in Glenwood Springs sometime around 5, and called my friend Brett, whom I met at Liard Hotsprings. Within twenty minutes I was lying face down on a massage table at his friend’s house, getting some major kinks in my neck and hips worked out by her elbows. He must have read my mind because since crossing the border I’d been fantasizing of massage, hotsprings, and yoga to stretch my road-weary bones and brains back to their flexible old selves.

At dinner that night, Brett, who sometimes calls himself “Sid,” but who now would like to be referred to as “Dirk,” revealed to me that he has a beautiful old street bike in a storage room somewhere and that he was taking me to his favorite campsite in the San Juan mountains far above Telluride with warm camper and bikes in tow.

“Dirk” is a New Jersey entrepreneur who moved to Colorado six years ago, exchanged his suit and tie for fleece, and fell comfortably in love. I knew when we met at the hotsprings that he was a sensitive new age guy and not an axe murderer when he showed me beautiful close-ups of flowers in the tundra in the shadow of brilliant blue glaciers in high-alpine Alaska. No axe-murderer could pull off such reverence.

“Dirk” grew up in Massachusetts and had his first business at ten years old when gas was rationed during the crunch of ‘73/’74. Cars in Edison, New Jersey were lined up for miles bumper to bumper crawling at snails’ pace to the pumps. He “temporarily borrowed” a shopping cart and loaded it up with coffee and newspapers for the morning commuters. After spending a week in his company, I have a clear visual of this confident curly-red-haired, freckle-faced Jewish boy with a gift of the gab I’ve rarely seen the likes of, chatting up the drivers, telling a joke, bringing a little lightheartedness to an otherwise miserable situation. He’s been in business ever since. When he left the high-rises of Chicago for Colorado, he started a handyman service called “Rent-a-Man” in Glenwood Springs, grew it to a success, then gave it to his friend when he sold his house and hit the road with Ling. He now trades stocks, and is jokingly referred to by his friends as “I.W.” for “independently wealthy.”

As we both suspected, we’ve hit it off like a kid with A.D.D. (him) and sugar (I'm not nearly that sweet, but the analogy works).
It’s been almost too much fun. I honestly don’t know how much more beauty my eyes can take in and how much more levity my heart can absorb. On Sunday morning in Telluride, day 3 of the Blues and Brews Festival, we attended the church of Hazel Miller, a big, black, beautiful gospel singer who had the crowd praisin’ Jesus with her huge voice and the harmonies of a choir of angels. Just when I thought it couldn’t possibly get any better, three local women in their late forties sitting next to us gleefully gobbled handfuls of magic mushrooms and began dancing up a braless and unbridled storm.

I saw the woman I want to be when I’m eighty. She was dressed in a white party dress with a knee-length chiffon skirt, accessorized with a silver belt and purple and pink feather armbands. Her long gray hair was pulled into a ponytail with a sparkly clip and her gorgeous tanned legs and feet were bare. She shimmied and swayed to the music, beaming a fluorescent smile at everyone as she passed through the crowd. Whenever a particularly energetic blues riff would explode, she would throw up her arms, whirl her hips, and wildly swing her ponytail in circles, spinning a vortex of mirth and merriness around herself.

Eight thousand people in Telluride gathered together in what I found to be as civilized a crowd I’ve ever been in, sampling local microbrews, passing peace pipes, listening to blues, dancing their fit Colorado butts off, and grinning stupid grins from ear to ear.
This is not the Bush’s America I expected to see.

Telluride is perhaps the most beautiful resort town I have ever been to, tucked movie-set perfect into its own box canyon at 8750 feet at the foot of its own perfectly dramatic falls. The weather forecast in the local paper made the prediction that it would be “slightly breezy” but “delightful” for the days of the festival. The sun, indeed, shone bright and hot in a perfect blue Colorado sky for three days solid.

I loved Henry Butler, who followed the worship session with some classic rockin’ blues, and Joan Osborne put on a great show with her sultry voice second from the end on Sunday night; but it was the Reverend Al Green who sent tingles down my spine with his thirteen band members wailing under the Telluride stars, dancing with the full moon and the big dipper and eight thousand happy Americans. I was healed.

We rode part of the “Million Dollar Highway” from Telluride to Silverton and back to our campsite high above the airport on Last Dollar Road with a view of priceless rolling ranchland and mountain valleys. The colors were changing before our eyes. Patches of reds and brilliant yellows burst forth spontaneously from the high altitude quaking aspen and pine forests. Radiant blue mountain jays bounced by on the breeze and red tailed hawks soared on the warm thermals. When we pulled up the first night after dark, our headlights caught the shadow of a male elk with a magnificent rack. He let out a powerful bugle into the night air, then herded his harem of thirty females toward the woods.

The only negative experience we had in Telluride was at the top of the gondola on Sunday night when we went to Allred’s for a glass of Cabernet and a light bite. While taking a long, critical head-to-toe look at the two of us, the well-groomed hostess caught a glimpse of my duct-taped left boot. “I’ll have to see if we have any tables,” she derided, turning away with a disdainful wave of her knee-length brushed leather jacket. We snickered into our leather and metal-bound menus when she sat us at one of many available window tables overlooking the lights of Telluride.

“Dirk” is now bouncing off the walls watching CNBC at his friend Ross’s place in the sage hills above Glenwood Springs. He owns oil and gas stocks, which, with the present news of Hurricane Rita approaching Texas, are going through the roof.

Henk’s got a slight electrical problem, probably from bouncing around in the hills above Telluride, and needs to be looked at carefully before we move on. I’ve given up trying to control anything these days, including my desires, and the ride is delightful. I'm feeling like a golden aspen leaf set alight on a warm Telluride breeze, unattached and free, awaiting the transformational hand of divinity.

Monday, September 12, 2005

I thought I’d spend the night in Bliss after waking up at Hell’s Gate on Sunday morning, but Bliss is just a blip surrounded by Idaho farmland, so I pushed on deeper into the south of the state that surprised me turn after turn. I don’t know what I expected from Idaho. Potatoes? Idaho is shockingly beautiful once you get past the “guns and ammo” stores and the “Denny’s” and the pawn shops that line the main street of every little town.

I flew past a million shades of brown in the sunlight that wasn’t supposed to be there according to the weather network. Freshly cut fields of hay, shorn in perfect rhythmical lines in all directions, formed a rolling patchwork quilt, perfect for fall. What I wasn’t expecting was the curves and the deeply cut canyons. I caught a firey sunset coming in to Lewiston and stopped far above the town on my firehorse to watch pinks and purples dance on the steep rock faces. Then I camped at Hell’s Gate, miraculously, nightmare free.

Today I rode under an enormous cloud covering the whole of Northern Utah. The winds were strong, pushing me along from the north west, and I only got sprinkled on for two hours. My fingers had just gone numb when I saw blue sky and puffy white clouds ahead to the south. Once I hit Salt Lake City I peeled off my raingear, then rode the rest of the day in hot sunshine.

I was awestruck on Highway 6. I rounded a steep turn about an hour out of Moab and had my eyes filled with the boundless space and enormity of the cathedral-like rocks on the horizon. The only response worthy of such a sight was an operatic ululation. I sing Himalayan chants in the rain, om’s in the sunshine, and opera in the magnificent red rock canyons of Utah. Good thing this is a solo trip.

From what I can tell in just a few hours in Moab, this place rocks. It’s an outdoor-lovers’ paradise, complete with the Colorado River running soft and mighty through steep multi-colored canyons where people climb and hike and mountain bike.
The sun sets all over these red rocks, creating multiple hues of purple and an astounding variety of shapes and shadows. I haven’t yet found a vegetarian café, but several menus I’ve seen are “vegetarian friendly.”

When I crossed the border on Saturday in the rain, jobless, homeless, penniless, and alone, I told the customs officer I was just riding a quick circle back into Alberta, a two-day ride. The thing is, though, I saw a patch of open sky off to the south, and Henk being Henk, well, he just jumped off the interstate into the belly of the beast. Yup. Henk's brave. I’m just along for the ride.

I’m hoping he'll take me to revisit the enormous heart of America’s Southwest after playing awhile in her bubbling belly.

Friday, September 09, 2005

It simply doesn’t get any better than this. September, as usual, is proving to be the nicest month for riding. I got to do my favorite ride again today in hot late-summer B.C. sun with dry pavement and little traffic. Once we passed a few slow-crawling RV’s between Storm Mountain and Radium, Henk and I pretty much had the roads to ourselves. I just lay down on my tank bag and let Henk do the driving. Henk hugs the pavement like a gekko hugs a wall, while I get to fly three feet above the asphalt with the dragonflies and the flutterbys. We passed a mama moose and her baby down at MacLeod Meadows and watched hawks dive and soar on the warm winds. The sign coming into B.C. as you leave Banff National Park now reads, “Welcome to British Columbia…the best place on earth.” Bold statement, but as I drove west contemplating the dramatic mountain landscape in the warm sun under the sharp blue sky, I was easily convinced.

I’m back at Christina Lake, plugged in to a tree beside Henk and my little tent next to Rick and Jim’s private camper they’ve had out here for eighteen years. I left Banff at noon and arrived here at six after gaining an hour and stopping at the cool shady summit between Creston and Salmo to enjoy a love sandwich made for me by Patricia with avocados, tomatoes, feta, and organic greens on great multi-grain bread she’d brought back from Germany. It was carefully wrapped twice, and she even remembered napkins.

I’ve been feeling extremely grateful for my friends this week after coming full circle and reconnecting briefly before looping back out to execute the figure eight I’ve been planning.

Henk and I have covered over 14,000 spectacular Canadian kilometres. In many ways, we’re at the end of a long journey. In many ways, the adventure is just beginning…

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

I have a love/hate relationship with Banff that mirrors my love/hate relationship with relationships. It’s one of the most spectacularly beautiful places on the planet. Its mood is never boring, constantly changing with what the weather throws at the mountains in the way of light and color and drama. My four nieces and nephew live here, and I always have a home with them or my dear friend Patricia, who’s lived here all her life. In many ways, Banff has been very good to me. In Banff, I learned how not to run a restaurant and how not to be married.

I grew to hate Banff while trying to both sell my restaurant and extract myself from my marriage. When all you want to do is leave, a place can seem like it’s holding you captive. “It’s not Banff, darling, it’s your situation,” Patricia would tell me when I would complain. No, it’s Banff, I would retort, knowing she was right but preferring to have something to blame my claustrophobia on, like “too many damn mountains.”

I planned to ride Henk naked out of town when I finally did sell and finally did sign. I like to burn my bridges once I’ve crossed them. But it was November. And there was snow on the ground. And I’m a wimp in the cold. So’s Henk.

I used to sneak in quietly, if I had to return, and skulk around the back alleys like the trolls that lived here and helped hold me captive, hoping not to see any of them. Not anymore. I find myself looking forward to a short visit in Banff these days, and welcome the chance to chat with an old customer who might’ve been high maintenance or a landlord who might’ve been greedy or an ex-girlfriend of my ex-husband who might’ve caused some tears.

So here I am, back in Banff after one of my all-time favorite rides from Christina Lake. I love the warm southern BC wind in my face, getting cooler as I head east toward the Rockies. I wanted to stop at my all-time favorite hotsprings at Whiteswan, but I also wanted to do my all-time favorite stretch on the 95 through Kootenay National Park past sparkling mountain streams and endless green valleys into Banff while I still had the sun. The Rocky Mountains are like a giant walk-in freezer. Six or eight weeks of lukewarm weather in July and August is not long enough to penetrate the rock and take out the chill of winter, and the minute the sun goes down in the Rockies, more layers are required.

Winter’s chasing me around out here like the forces of inertia I’m constantly riding from. North of Prince George, fall is well underway. The Yukon’s had fall for weeks now. It may even be winter. Here in the Rockies, the larches haven’t yet changed but there’s a distinct bite in the fresh mountain air. Southern BC is still clinging to some heat. It was as hot as any hot summer day I’ve had over in Osoyoos and Oliver on Saturday when Rick and Jim and I went wine touring.

Mark Gableman, the gentleman grape farmer from Osoyoos who carried my laptop over the mythical hill in Bella Coola, welcomed us to his vineyard overlooking Lake Osoyoos.
His Chardonnay grapes, although not ready until October, were delicious and sweet and warmed by the constant Okanagan sun. I felt like one of his maddening starlings who flies over with her flock to dip under the netting and steal the irresistible fruit whenever he’s not looking or doesn’t have his cap gun armed and ready.

Mark hadn’t been to any of his neighbors’ wineries in years, so he came along for some tasting. Most of the wines we were introduced to were very young and not very exciting. Hester Creek had a 2002 Cabernet Merlot that seemed to hold enormous potential if one had the patience to sit on it for five or six years. (hmm…) Tinhorn Creek had a lovely 2004 Gewürztraminer that came alive when the girl doing the pouring suggested it would go well with a curry. I closed my eyes and imagined the meal while holding the lightly sweet lychee-scented wine under my tongue… A green Thai curry, laced with garlic and sweetened with coconut milk and infused with basil and kefir lime leaf. Red peppers, sweet and hot, for the high notes, and baby corn, green onion, and carrots for color. Morel mushrooms for the earth tone, and perhaps shrimp, rather than tofu, to stand up to a wine with such legs. Yes, that would be phenomenal. “Come on,” someone said, bringing me back to earth. “We’ve got ten minutes to make the next one before they close.” I was whisked away from one sensory adventure to the next.

The Okanagan is quickly turning into “California of the North.” Mark, a farmer all his life, made the transition from fruit trees to vines in 1998 and has not looked back. It’s become lucrative selling grapes to the big wineries, and his land, on a gentle slope toward the lake with perfect sandy soil for grapes, has skyrocketed in value. An architectural land designer from Vancouver visited him recently and tried big-city-talking him into selling. Mark, the self-described “country bumpkin” was uninterested at any price and sent him packing with the simple comment, “It’s my life.”

I always admire people who are able to plant roots. It’s a higher form of fearlessness than I’ve experienced. I’d love to think that one day, I could stop, and stay, and not be uncomfortable with comfort; not feel as though inertia were stalking me. I continue to have the excuse, though, that I simply haven’t found the right soil.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Christina Lake feels like a warm embrace and a welcomed reprieve from the road. I hadn’t realized how long I’d been gone until I saw the familiar faces of my tribe members and had a chance to reconnect with shared stories.

Thankfully, it’s still summer here. I’ve been fleeing winter since Dawson, so when I dropped into the Okanagan Valley on Wednesday from the dense and cool Fraser Plateau, I almost melted. Riding through Kamloops, then Vernon, then Kelowna felt like riding through a giant blow dryer on ‘high.’ I was ecstatic to be peeling off one or two of the six layers I was wearing on this, the first full day of riding since leaving almost two months ago without a drop of rain from morning to starlight. Highway 97 from Vernon to Kelowna is curvy, quiet, and warm, and Henk and I relaxed into an effortless flow over the smooth pavement.

Kelowna is abuzz with a booming middle class and development well into the surrounding sage and juniper-brushed hills. I filled up with gas and couldn’t get out fast enough. Eight lanes of bumper-to-bumper shiny SUV’s seemed insane after the tranquility and isolation of the Yukon and the Alaska Highway.

Rick and Jim were just heading to bed by the time I rolled in. I made them stay up for a beer and we chatted until Jim could no longer keep his eyes open.

I recognize the potential trap of seeing old friends in the midst of trying to make big changes in life. Friends and family tend to want to hold us in our comfortable place so as not to make them too uncomfortable. “What will it take to get you back to Toronto?” Jim asked. I could go back today and be happy, I told them. Reminiscing can do that to you. You tend to remember the good times; and we did. We howled as Jim melodramatically reenacted hilarious scenes we’d been in together. “Touring with Ron” was always a huge source of entertainment for all of us, as Ron would lead the three of us on occasional Sunday mini-holiday explorations of the city he’d grown up in. Thanks to Ron, we all fell deeply in love with Toronto; and thanks to me, that fun is over. We all miss those “cookie Sundays” as we called them. (There was often a mild pot cookie consumed at brunch.)

It took Rick and Jim a long time to warm up to Ron. But once they realized his brilliance, they learned to respect him. Now, they are the only two humans, apart from Ron’s brothers, who can get away with calling him “Ronny.” Jim said last night that he was surprised to have a beer with Ron shortly after I left and to hear him speak so highly of me and with such understanding. I asked him why he was so surprised. Ron always—always—takes the high road.

Four years with someone does not wash off in two months and 12,000 kilometres. As ready as I feel to go “home” sometimes—like when I’m riding through a Rocky Mountain hailstorm—I know I can’t. “Home” (at least the one in Toronto) doesn’t exist anymore. I intentionally left “home” for something more uncomfortable—and two months and 12,000 kilometres is enough time to set a steady momentum. I’m uncomfortable as hell right now but I’m here by pure and uninfluenced conscious choice.