The Cigar Box

Snow fell softly. The old man pulled his threadbare wool coat a little tighter to ward off the cold. He reached up and scrunched his worn and tattered hat down until the brim was just above his gray wiry eyebrows. He shuffled up to the walkway and stopped to look at the old house. It was a white two story wood frame home with black shutters and an old slate roof. Paint was peeling in some places and the shutters had faded with age. The bushes in front needed trimming in the spring. The front porch was just as he remembered it – an old wood 2-seat swing still hung suspended by chains at one the end of the porch, and the vintage metal patio chair, that could use a coat of Rust Oleum, still sat in the same place. He could hear the squeaking of the porch swing somewhere in the cobwebs of his mind. His eyes closed as he remembered the sound. She was once with him on that swing. The corners of his mouth formed the start of a smile, but the image in his mind quickly faded away. The front door was freshly painted a festive red, different than the one he remembered. A holiday wreath hung below the porch light – just above the doorbell. A brass plaque on the door was etched with the last name of the woman he had tracked down – “McIntyre” – the current owner of his childhood home.

He looked down at his scuffed brown shoes and thought again about turning around and leaving. Too much time had passed. He knew he would never find the answers he was searching for, but he had come this far. Maybe it was still there, after all these years. He stuffed his hands in his coat pockets, shuffled up the walk, grabbed the black rot iron railing for support, slowly climbed the 3 wooden steps up to the porch, and stood in front of the freshly painted door. He stared at the doorbell for a moment, then pushed the button.

He heard footsteps on the other side of the door, then the muffled click of the deadbolt sliding back. The door opened and the woman smiled at the old man. “You must be Jim.” she said. “Please come in. I was so glad you called and told me your story about growing up in this house.” She opened the door and stepped aside as Jim nodded his thanks and entered his childhood home.

“I put on a pot of coffee, or I could make you some tea. You must be freezing. Here, let me take your coat.” Jim shrugged off his coat, removed his hat, and handed them to the woman who draped them over the familiar banister by the staircase leading upstairs. “Thank you.” he said. She led him down the short hall to the kitchen. Jim sat down at the small table and looked out the window at the backyard. It seemed smaller than he remembered, but the tree where a tire swing once hung, and provided hours of summer delight, was much larger now, and its canopy would certainly shade the once sunny yard where they had played.

“Would you like cream and sugar?” she asked as she placed a mug of coffee on the table in front of him. His memories of the past flickered away as he nodded yes. She turned and opened the refrigerator, picked up the carton of half & half, got the sugar off the counter, and put them on the table. She poured a mug of coffee for herself and then sat across from Jim.

“It must feel strange coming back to the house where you grew up. I’ve only lived here for a few years, having bought the place from the Gotliebs several years ago. She lost her husband and her kids moved her to a retirement center just off the town square. They didn’t need the headaches of owning another house, so they put it on the market and priced it to sell. I lucked out – right place, right time – and bought it after my husband and I divorced. I don’t have a lot of money to fix the things that need fixing, but I’ve tried to spruce it up where I can. “The door looks nice.” Jim said. “The place is smaller than I remember, but I feel like it was only yesterday that I played catch with my friends in the backyard, or sat on the on the front porch swing with…” Jim’s voice trailed off. His eyes watered. The woman noticed and reached across the table to put her hand on the old man’s arm. His hand was shaking as he picked up the mug to take a sip of his still black coffee.

“After the war dad got a job at the textile factory as an oiler for the machines, and used his GI Bill to buy this house. I was pretty young, but I remember it seemed old even then, and dad was always puttering with his projects around the house. There were other boys in the neighborhood that I played with – right out there in the backyard.” Jim said as he pointed out the window and took another sip of his coffee. “And there was a girl.” His fingers drummed softly on the sides of his mug. The woman listened quietly as Jim summoned the words to continue.

“Her name was Martha. She lived right next door. We all went to school together – not always in the same classroom, but we were pals and stuck together. The guys anyway. Martha always tried to hang around with us, but you know how that goes. We were young bucks and hadn’t seen the need to let a girl hang out with us. She was plucky and didn’t take to us saying ‘no’ to her. She’d just show up in the park when we were going to play ball, or at the drug store when we’d walk down to get a pop. I guess she wore us down, because Martha just became one of the guys – we never gave it a second thought. Well, I guess I did. There were a few times that Martha and I would sit on the porch steps as the other guys walked home after playing in the backyard. We just sat and talked until her mom yelled out their front door that it was time to come home for dinner.”

The woman got up from the table and refilled their coffee mugs. Jim smiled and thanked her. He wrapped his hands around the mug and let the warmth sooth his gnarled fingers. Moments of silence passed before Jim continued.

“By the time we were in high school my buddies started getting their driver’s licenses and finding girlfriends. Some played sports, others of us had to get jobs. I ended up working at the hardware store on the highway after school. We still hung out together – mostly on weekends – but on the way home from work I’d walk by Martha’s house. She would be sitting on her front stoop as I turned the corner and walked up the street. Even from a distance I could see her look in my direction – my heart would skip a beat when she smiled. As I got closer Martha would get up and meet me on the sidewalk in front of her house, take my hand in hers, and walk next door to my house where we would sit on the swing together. We’d just talk. We laughed a lot.”

“There were some days when I’d come around the corner and not see Martha on the front stoop. My heart wound sink, then I’d remember she had a dentist appointment or activity after school. One day, as I walked by her house on the way home, I saw an envelope propped up by the stoop. I slowed down and looked. Squinting, I walked closer. It had my name on it. I reached down and picked it up. I opened it as I walked up the steps to our front porch. Inside was a stick figure sketch of a boy and a girl, walking, and holding hands. I smiled, folded the paper up, and put it in my pocket. That night I went down to the basement and got one of my dad’s old cigar boxes that he used to keep screws and nails organized. I took it back upstairs and put the drawing in it. Every boy has a secret hiding place for a Playboy or a pack of cigarettes. Mine was behind a loose board in my bedroom closet. It wasn’t very big, but I never had a lot of contraband to hide. The cigar box fit in the small cubbyhole if I turned it on it’s side. The board fit snuggly over the opening to my secret compartment.

Over the next two years we were inseparable. The cigar box got filled with notes, drawings, trinkets, gum wrappers folded into silver hearts, theater tickets folded into airplanes, birthday cards, IOUs for a present when one of us had some extra money, a matchbook from a restaurant we went to, a fishing lure from a fun evening fishing off the public dock at the park, and a chapstick that had touched her lips. I had to use an oversized rubber band to keep the lid closed. Those years were the best years of my life.”

Jim grew quiet and the woman stood and said “Would you like a tour of the house? I don’t know what things are the same and what things may be different, but I’d like to know what you remember.” Jim nodded and got up to follow her. They walked down the hall, back to the front door, and turned to go into the living room. The front window looked out past the front porch to the sidewalk and street. “This is where our Christmas tree was placed.” Jim said. “I remember how big it looked with all the lights – those big bulbs we used to have. And the gifts under the tree.” He looked around, taking in the memories. The room had been painted a different color (and he wondered how many times, and how many colors, and he wondered if the floral wallpaper of his youth still remained under various coats of paint). The hardwood floor, cold on his young and always barefoot feet, was now hidden under the somewhat soiled and worn carpet. The woman saw him looking and offered an apology – new carpet was one of the things she wanted to get for the house. Maybe next year. If the car made it through another winter without needing repairs. Or new tires. The list is long, but carpet is on it. Jim smiled at the woman. She looked away.

To break the uncomfortable silence, Jim said “I remember the dining room being green. Dark green.” They walked back past the front door and looked around. It was much lighter now and the hardwood floor was still there and looked quite nice. Someone had had it refinished along the way. The woman sat at the dining room table and Jim sat, too. “Did you and Martha stay together? Did you get married? It seems from the way you’ve talked about her, that you two were meant to be.” His hands rested on the table, his fingers woven together, and he stared off into the distance as his mind wandered back in time.

“After I graduated from high school I got a job at the textile factory where dad worked. Martha enrolled at the community college and started taking classes to become a dental hygienist. We began making plans for the future when the letter arrived. I had been drafted into the Army. While this changed our plans, we decided to pack as much into our summer as we could before I had to report to Ft. Lewis for Basic Training. That summer we became more than friends, if you know what I mean. We just didn’t see the need to wait any longer, and knew the future could have risks if I was sent overseas (which I knew was more than certain). During that wonderful summer more than a few items were added to the cigar box which remained hidden in my closet.”

“I made it through Basic Training and went on to my AIT school that fall. My orders arrived after I graduated and I had a 3 week leave before I left for Vietnam. Martha and I knew we could get through the year apart and would just put our plans on hold until I got back.”

Jim’s eyes watered up with tears and he rubbed to clear his reddened eyes. His chin quivered as he tried to continue. “I was 2 months into my tour when the letter arrived from Martha’s mom through the Red Cross. Martha had died in a car accident on her way home from class.” Jim started to sob at the table. The woman got up and walked around the table to put her arm around his shaking shoulders. Tears ran down her cheeks, too. The old house was silent except for the anguished cries of the two who shared one’s pain.

The daylight had faded. The woman stood to turn on the dining room light, and dimmed it with the switch. “Jim, would you like to see the rest of the house? Your room? You came back for a reason, and I’m glad you’ve shared part of this journey with me. But there is more to see. Something to find.” Jim wiped his shirt sleeve across his eyes. The woman walked into the kitchen and came back with a box of Kleenex. Jim thanked her as he pulled a couple sheets out of the box and dabbed his eyes. “I would like to see my room” Jim told her. They got up from the table and walked back into the entryway. Jim started up the stairs and then turned to look back at the woman who was still standing by the front door at the bottom of the stairs. “Take your time, Jim. I’ll make some more coffee. Maybe I’ll see if I still have some brandy in the cupboard.” Jim nodded and turned back to go up the familiar stairs for the first time in so many years.

He walked by the first bedroom – his parent’s back then – with just a glance. Then past the small bathroom (which still looked very much like he remembered – no major upgrades – and the memories came flooding back). The next door was his old room. He stopped in the doorway and looked in. The floor, the window looking out over the backyard, and the electrical outlet below the window (one of only two in the room). Jim chuckled when he thought of all the gadgets he tried to plug in at once, and his dad yelling when a fuse blew – plunging the house into silent darkness. The room was a guest room now – not filled with all the “guy stuff” that filled this room years ago. He walked inside and sat on the edge of the bed. The closet door was in front of him. It was closed. A calendar hung on the door where his dartboard used to hang. He looked closer and saw the tiny holes, painted over, but still visible, where darts that missed the target stuck in the door. There were quite a few – he laughed when he remembered how bad he was with darts. His friends were even worse.

The smile faded away as he recalled another letter he received in Vietnam, three months before he could come home. His dad had lost his job when the textile factory had suddenly shut down. He had found another opportunity, but they had to sell the house and move across the state. Money was tight and they had to move quickly. Before he could write back to tell his dad about the cigar box in his closet, the house had been sold, the movers had boxed up their things, and his dad had relocated for his new job.

So many years had passed, and the house had changed hands how many times? He wondered if someone had discovered his secret hiding place and found the cigar box – his only remaining connection to Martha. She was still the only woman who had ever captured his heart. Hearing his name called out by the First Sergeant at mail call had always been a high point in his day while “in country” and away from home. Letters from Martha warmed his lonely nights. The day his name was called, and the letter arrived from Martha’s mom, everything changed. Too far away to help, too far away to grieve, and too busy in Vietnam to even cry. He kept his promise to Martha – to keep his head down and come home in one piece – but it was never even considered that he would come home to shattered dreams. Jim never found his footing. He wandered from one job to the next after leaving the service. He stumbled from one relationship to another – never finding again what he once had and lost. It was this lonely journey that brought him back here. To this house. This room.

Jim stood up slowly. His legs stiff. Tired of wandering. He moved forward and approached the closet door. His boney hand grasped the old glass doorknob. Firmly. With long lost determination he turned the knob and pulled the door open slowly. The closet was dark and smelled faintly of mothballs. He reached forward for the string that used to hang from the bare light bulb. It was still there. He gave it a tug, but the bulb was burned out. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his cellphone, pushed the home button, turned around, and used the soft light to illuminate the wall just above the door. As a boy he had to stand on a box to reach the board, but today his fingers found the edge of the wood where it stuck out just enough to get a grip with his fingernails. He pulled and the board moved. Another tug and the board fell to the floor. Jim closed his eyes and said a prayer to a god he had given up on many years ago – maybe he pleaded, maybe he bargained, maybe he just yelled at god to make this right. He kept his eyes closed as he reached over his head and into the cubbyhole. His fingers touched the cigar box then lifted it out of his secret hiding place (which evidently had served its purpose well for over 50 years). He sat down on the floor of the closet and wept as he removed the rubber band that had grown brittle with age. The lid sprung open exposing a box chocked full of a lost love’s treasured mementos.

“Jim? Are you ok?” The woman came into the bedroom carrying a tray and saw him sitting in the closet. “I thought you might need some light – I brought a flashlight. And some brandy. Can I join you?” She saw a genuine smile crawl across the old man’s face. “Yes, I’d like that, very much.”

For the next hour or two, and the better part of a bottle of brandy, the two new friends sat together on the floor in the dark closet, lit only with a flashlight, and went through all the simple contents of the box – each having a story – and celebrated one life lost, and another life found.



You know the story of Hershey bringing me a Hummingbird last May, several weeks after we said goodbye to our dog. We did not plan to get another dog, focusing instead on Veloice’s upcoming retirement and working our way through various related decisions: signing up for Medicare and finding supplemental policies. Do we stay in the house or downsize? A new dog was certainly not in the cards – getting a dog would eliminate options that had not yet been considered. But as each day passed the loneliness grew, the memories of Hershey in the boat, or camping, or watching out the window by our front door for us to return, would bring tears to my eyes. I’d wake up at night crying. My eyes would water on my walks at Staring Lake when I would pass the pier where I spread her ashes. At one point I remember asking Hershey to find me another dog. I’d know it when I saw it. If it was meant to be I’d leave it up to Hershey to help me find a dog.

Hershey had been gone over four months. Summer had been a whirlwind of events – my month long motorcycle trip, our camping trip out west, and all the activities surrounding Kayla’s wedding. The fall colors had peaked and the leaves had started to fall. In the evenings I started looking for photos of different dogs. I had had four miniature Poodles because they were good with kids and didn’t shed. Now that our kids were grown I thought a bigger dog could be fun. The Goldendoodle and Labradoodle were more recent mixed breeds that offered a blend of good traits. And they were cute. I checked out several breeders and exchanged emails when I found a puppy I liked. The prices were high. I balked for all the reasons I knew would make this a really dumb idea.

I remember the morning I came out to the porch and told Veloice I just couldn’t do this anymore without a dog. Just like when I was a little boy in Clarendon Hills, pleading with my mom, promising I’d take care of a dog, I ran through all my reasons why we needed to get another dog. Tears were rolling down my cheeks. Veloice listened. Over the past couple of months we had found ourselves talking about how empty the house felt without Hershey. I told her I was not in a rush, and that I knew Hershey would bring me the right dog. I’d know her when I saw her.

Megan was coming over with the kids later that morning. I had looked up two of the breeders and had wanted to drive up to see one of them – just to learn more about the Goldendoodle and decide if that was the kind of dog that would be a fit for us. Once the kids arrived I told everyone I was heading out for awhile. When Megan asked where I was going I told her I was taking a look at a couple of breeds to see what they were like. “Can I go with you?” she asked. “I’d love it!” I told her. We decided Veloice could watch the kids (movie, popcorn, and ice cream) while Megan and I drove out near Paynesville to find the Amaze ‘n Farmyard where the first breeder was located.

The drive out of the city on a beautiful fall morning was delightful. Megan and I talked about Hershey and Bailey. We shared fun memories of our dogs while they were with us, and the heartbreak we felt when they were gone. I told her I had been looking and about my plea to Hershey to help me find the right one. The car got quiet. “Do you really think you can go see puppies and not bring one home?” she asked. “Well, I’m really just going to look. And there’s a Labradoodle breeder that I might visit in the evening to narrow down our choice.” I told her. And then, after a brief pause, “But I brought a check.” Megan and I both laughed out loud. Not too far down Highway 55, at the top of the next hill, we could see a red barn and silo on the left side of the road. “I bet that’s it!” I said. A few moments later the tires crunched along the gravel driveway and we parked by the barn.

We walked inside and met Mark for our 1 o’clock appointment. He took us to a side room where two red Goldendoodles were running around. They were sisters, 12 weeks old, red in color, and absolutely beautiful. I sat on a chair and Megan sat on the floor. One puppy was more active, running around the room, while the other found Megan’s lap. After a bit, I walked over and sat on the floor by Megan and reached for the quiet one so Megan could play with the busybody. The quiet one settled into my lap. A few minutes later I was looking down at her, she looked up at me with those beautiful brown eyes and the little white slivers, and we knew right then. I looked at Megan with tears in my eyes, and she smiled. I wrote the check.

During our drive home the puppy sat on Megan’s lap. We both kept petting her. She seemed content (but drooled profusely). I looked over at Megan and said “You know what I’m really feeling right now? It’s like I’ve always known her. There’s a comfort. It’s not like I’m bringing a stranger into our family. She belongs there – she has always belonged there. And I knew it the moment our eyes locked back at the farm.” Megan agreed and said she had the same feeling. A few minutes later I said “Thanks, Hershey. You did it.”

“We should think of a name.” I said. “She’s red (different from each of our other three dogs), reminds me of Irish. I’m thinking ‘Maggie’”. Megan looked at me and said “That was the first name that came to my mind!” We tried out a couple other names, but it was Maggie. It was always going to be Maggie.

Thanksgiving 2018 – Everyone is Welcome at our Table

The house is full of wonderful smells emanating from the kitchen where Veloice has been busy preparing our Thanksgiving feast. Our almost-housebroken new puppy “Maggie” is waiting patiently for any morsel to fall from the counter – hesitant to leave the kitchen for any reason this morning. Smart dog (but Veloice might disagree as she tries to cook around the hopeful hound). The house is relatively quiet – for now. Soon it will be filled with two of our daughters, their amazing guys, and two of our four grandkids. Later we will all pass the phone around while we FaceTime with Emily and the rest of the Idaho branch of our family who can’t be at the table today.

Making a craftsy centerpiece has become a fun tradition over the years. Veloice gives us some odd household items and it’s up to the rest of us to come up with ideas that incorporate them (and anything else we want to add) to create something memorable for the table. The mess at the craft table rivals that in the kitchen as many hands grab for pipe cleaners, tongue depressors, glitter and glue guns. This year the theme is “Everyone Is Welcome At Our Table”. We are scouring our house for dolls, super heros, stuffed animals, Pretty Ponies, Barbie & Ken, Weeble figures, and whatever else we can find in dusty toy bins downstairs to help us celebrate around our dining room table.

The older I get, the more I realize, that Thanksgiving is my favorite day of the year. At the top of the list is family. Veloice and I are so blessed with our 3 daughters and the wonderful young men they have brought into our family. And what they say about having grandkids is all true. Nothing better.

Add in a puppy to the chaos and life couldn’t get any better.

I also give thanks for friendships that have lasted and thrived through many decades. They have always been there.

Many of us identify with what we do for a living – our jobs and our careers. I am so grateful for always finding the best people to work with, making it a joy to go to work everyday and roll up my sleeves no matter what project was at hand.

So on this special morning my heart is full of gratitude and joy! From our humble home, filled with laughter and love, we send you best wishes on this Thanksgiving Day.

Road Trip with a Hummingbird

In high school I watched a show called “Then Came Bronson”, about a newspaperman who becomes disillusioned with his life after the suicide of his best friend. In order to renew his soul, he quits his job, buys a Harley Sportster, and becomes a vagabond searching for the meaning of life. In the opening scene, Jim Bronson is sitting on his motorcycle wearing his signature jeans, jacket, and a dark blue “beanie” on his head, with a small pack on the back of his bike – stopped at a traffic signal waiting for the light to change. The weary businessman in the car next to him looks over at Bronson sitting on his motorcycle and gives him an approving nod. Bronson smiles back, revs his throaty engine, and rumbles off into various adventures as he travels the lonely back roads of the west. I was hooked. I’m on my 5th motorcycle now and had always wanted to take a ride and be like Bronson for a few weeks – traveling back roads, with no itinerary, and seeing who you’d meet along the way.


As I looked at maps to plan a general route, and called friends who I hoped to visit, the trip started to fall into place.

Getting ready

My riding buddies, Larry and Mike, helped me get my bike ready for a 3 week ride out west. We changed the oil and added a plug-in for my phone so I could use GPS. I had put new tires and brakes on it last fall. My itinerary would take me west, but it was seeing friends and family that determined a general route.

Saturday June 9th

I started my trip by stopping to see my friends at Cheers, then the rain started. I had been packed for a week, ready to set off for my 3 week ride, and I wasn’t going to let the rain slow me down. I told Veloice, “I don’t wait for blue skies, I go find them.” I suited up in my rain gear, checked the radar, and headed out. It poured all the way through MN. Fueled in Clear Lake – tornado sirens went off. Clear to the south. Dinner in DSM then a sunset ride to Avoca (Motel 6).

Sunday (Avoca to Brush)

Woke up to rain. Suited up and rode out of it by Omaha. Clear, hot, interstate ride. Boring. Made it to Brush. Microtel hotel for shower and bed.

Monday (Brush to Colo Spgs)

Gorgeous sunrise. Cute coffee place (one of the few store fronts not boarded up downtown). Meandering ride on the back roads of Eastern Colorado toward Limon (Highway 71) and west to the Springs on Highway 24 to see Bob. The first 2 days were no fun – just have to get here where the ride becomes what it’s all about.

Sign leaving Brush “Last Chance – No gas for 75 miles”. Heavy sigh. Deep breath. This is what I’ve been waiting for! A few “YeeHas” and “Andre, Andre, eeba, eebas” as I left town and headed south on the backroads of Colorado. Nice thing about June rains, the expansive wheat fields are green and lush. They will be parched soon. Tractor driver waves. Beautiful fields stretch to the horizon. “Sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug.”

Jacket and helmet were great!

Colo Spgs – Bob. Catching up. Washed bike. Modern Market for dinner (farm to table).

Tuesday (Colo Spgs)

Coffee and English muffin on the patio. Ran to UCCS to pick up a t-shirt. Met Don Warrick at his home. Met Rick Peterson at Buffalo Wild Wings. So nice catching up with old friends who mean so much to me. InstaPot dinner with Bob. Last night in the Springs.

Wednesday (6/13)

No rush. Just have to pack the bike and hit the road around 9 to meet Mike Meeks in Canon City. I’ll have time for some coffee and toast with Bob before I go. More talks about alcohol.

Now it’s off to Canon City where I’ll meet my friend Mike for a couple days of riding. Once I get through the Colorado Springs rush hour traffic (it has grown so much since my college days) I’ll go up the pass into the Rockies. Already at 6200 feet in the Springs, I start climbing and the ride will get spectacular. There’s nothing more fun on a motorcycle than riding through mountains and being IN the wonder of it all. Twisting and turning, downshifting, leaning into the curves and sensing the power of the V-Twin as you accelerate out of them, the sound of the pipes changing and reverberating off the rocky cuts – you become one with your bike and the road. The sun warms you and the breeze cools you. The smell of the pine, the grassy valleys with wild flowers, peaks rising all around you with snow still fighting the sun by hiding in the shadows. Runoff cascading down rocky crevices and mountain streams on its long journey to the mighty rivers and eventually into the Gulf of Mexico. There’s no air conditioning, no radio, nobody to talk to, no maps to look at – and we don’t care which roads we take or where we’ll end up tonight – it’s just the ride. Only the ride. In one of the most breathtaking places on Earth.

Hooked up with Mike at Mugs in Cañon City. Rode past the Royal Gorge to Salida for lunch at the Boathouse Cantina on the Arkansas River with kayaks and river rafts going by our patio seating. Fueled in Buena Vista, rode through Leadville, and took 91 up to I-70 east to the Frisco/Breckinridge exit. We found a Holiday Inn Express and got it for 2 nights so we can use it as a base tomorrow for rides without all of our gear. There are lots of fun places to eat outside, surrounded by mountains, while Mike and I catch up on our friendship. On Friday Mike will head back to the Denver area so I’ll be on my own again.

I’ve contacted Gregg & Lisa Syverson in Steamboat and plan to spend Friday night with them in their new home. Gregg and I will FaceTime with the Cheers guys before I saddle up and continue on with my ride west.

Thursday (6/14) – Fresco/Breckenridge

Woke up at 5:30, went for a walk and watched the sun come up over the mountains. Starbucks near the hotel.

Saddled up our bikes for a day ride over Independence Pass to Aspen. Breakfast in Leadville at the Golden Burro Cafe. Lunch (crab cakes) at the Grey Lady in Aspen.

Rode our bikes to the Highlands and hopped a shuttle bus up to the Maroon Bells. On the way up we saw a female moose with her new baby. Absolutely stunning view of the Maroon Bells when we arrived. Wind in the pine and the rattling of Aspen leaves. Sat down by the lake while Mike wandered around. Weather is coming in and we have a long ride back to the hotel.

Got back to Frisco at 8. Changed clothes and rode downtown. Crowded for a BBQ Festival, but fate got us just the right table at Grecco’s (Italian Place) out in front and a fun waitress. Mike and I joked about how amazing things were falling into place on this trip. We went back to the hotel and fell asleep within minutes.

Friday (6/15)

Had breakfast downtown, got fluke call from Don Warrick (told him about my plan for becoming Director of Corporate Culture), said goodbye to Mike (he’s heading east), and rode south to Breckenridge for coffee on Main Street. I’m going to ride in this area and then head up to Steamboat to stay with Gregg & Lisa tonight.

After my coffee in town I decided to go further south through Alma to Fairplay. Saw the “Cafe Cream and Steam” and it looked perfect for a place to sit and pull out the map. I opted for some ice cream. When I got back on the bike the blue sky over the mountains had turned ugly. I checked the radar and saw I was going to get wet. I made it the 6 miles back to Alma and pulled over to suit up. It rained pretty good as I went back over Hoosier Pass, being careful on all the switchbacks going up and down the pass. When I got back to Breckenridge the sun came back out and I took off my rain gear.

Took 9/40 north over Rabbit Ears Pass into the lush green valley and into Steamboat. Gregg was waiting in the garage with a glass of ice water when I rumbled into his driveway. Lisa came out for a hug and showed me to my room. Took a shower and put on shorts before dinner. Sat on their amazing covered deck/patio surrounded by rattling Aspen trees and caught up on all of our families and travels. Gregg grilled us a Salmon dinner (that he caught on a fishing trip in Alaska).

There’s a huge rain system coming our way – could be a soaker. Making plans to hole up on Sunday and do some work for NLT to pay for a room. Gregg thinks Grand Junction would be the best bet. Weather looks good after that system passes through.

I text my cousin Stu to see if we could hook up and we decided to meet at the Hotel Denver in Glenwood Springs.

Saturday (6/16)

Gregg was making egg & sausage tacos for breakfast. Lisa made Americanos for us. At 7 o’clock we had a FaceTime call with guys at Cheers back home. After breakfast I packed up my bike and said goodbye. I took Route 131 back down to I-70 and then headed west to Glenwood Springs to meet Stu for lunch.

Stu was standing in front of the hotel when I pulled up. We went into the Glenwood Canyon Brew Pub and spent a couple of hours catching up over salads and ice tea.

It was a cloudy afternoon, and my radar app showed scattered showers all over western Colorado, but tomorrow is supposed to be worse so I decided to push on to Grand Junction and get a hotel. It sprinkled the whole way, but it was a t-shirt ride and the clouds kept the ride cool. Once I got into town I found an Applebee’s and started looking for a hotel. Everything was very expensive (on a Saturday night) because this is a weekend destination and prices are high. I got an America’s Best for $99 and the room was perfect if I get stuck inside tomorrow (and the rate drops a lot tomorrow night if I have to stay).

Sunday (6/17 – Father’s Day)

Good night’s sleep. Got up around 6. Cloudy out, but got dressed and went across the street to Octopus Coffee for an Americano and some banana bread. Came back to the hotel and added a 2nd night since the forecast is for showers all day. I put a light pack on my bike so I had essentials with me, then headed off to the Colorado National Monument. It truly is amazing, and I have no idea why we haven’t taken the time to drive through on previous trips. Unfortunately, the rain caught up to me and it was a very wet ride coming back into town. I can’t wait to take Veloice here on our next trip west.

After a quick break in the room, I saddled up again and headed to the Black Canyon. Rain showers were everywhere and you could see them coming. I only made it to the North Rim. Going down 92 to Highway 50 would have put me at the south entrance to the canyon, but the sky in the south was very dark. Next trip.

Got back to my hotel to shower and change for a quick ride to Applebee’s for dinner.

CRASH! I heard the gentleman next door leave, followed a moment later by the sickening sound of my bike tipping over hard. I ran to the door and saw my bike on its side in the hotel drive. It had slid down the slight incline and fallen over. Another gentleman came around the corner in his pickup and helped me get it back upright. My throttle grip was damaged, but still worked. The rest of the bike was fine. I had talked to the man next door earlier in the day – nice man, Vietnam Vet – I’m sure he didn’t know what happened. I looked on the web for a Motorsport repair place and figured I’d get there first thing in the morning to see if they could fix it.

Monday (6/18)

After my Octopus Coffee I rode over to to the Honda place. CLOSED on Monday. Good grief. Do I go on? I checked on Google – nothing in Moab, and I don’t want to drive in Salt Lake City traffic with a sticky throttle grip. Time for Plan B. Knowing it might take some time, I decided to change my plans and see if I could get a 2 day reservation at the Grand Junction KOA. Veloice and I stayed there before and it is a nice campground. I booked it online from the Honda store and rode down Highway 50 to see if I could check in early.

The people at the KOA were great and got my site ready right away. I had firewood delivered while I unloaded my bike and got my campsight all set up. I rode over to the Country Market to pick up a few things then spent some time at the pool reading, swimming, and writing.

In the afternoon I hopped on my bike and rode up to the Colorado National Monument again (no rain this time). I came back down and explored downtown. Stopped at Old Chicago for a cold O’Douls and a salad. On the way back to camp I picked up a steak, canned beans and peas, and some charcoal to make dinner at camp. I’m amazed at what I can pack on my bike – I had all the comforts and enjoyed my first evening sitting by the fire. I walked back to the KOA store and got some ice cream to eat by the fire – why not? I turned in when the fire turned to embers.

Tuesday (6/19)

Happy birthday, dad – I remember. Slept in until 7. The sun hit the orange flap on my tent and it was blazing! Very pretty – I took a pic. Got dressed, brushed my teeth, and made coffee. As I walked down to throw out trash, I stopped by to say hi to a gal that rode in last night. Tammy is an OR nurse on a 2 week ride from Virginia on a beautiful Harley. Another guy walked by with 2 dogs. I said hi and told him I missed my dog. He is a Vietnam vet and we chatted for a few minutes. I love traveling and camping – you meet fun people.

At 8 I headed over to the Honda store. I love it when a plan comes together. I got to the Honda store a half an hour early thinking the service guys might be opening up. The door was locked, but I walked around back and saw the garage door was open. A guy named Daniel saw me and listened to my plea for help with my damaged throttle grip. In broken English he said “We fix anything! I am Italian and my English is not so good. Maybe we have part, maybe we just – how you say? – we get you back going to see your friends. Come in, come in, I get your phone number and we start now.” How cool is that? Now I’m having coffee at Starbucks while Daniel gets my bike ready to ride.

And it gets better… Right after I finished my coffee, about 30 minutes after leaving my bike at Honda, my phone goes off – it’s Daniel (in broken English). My bike is done already. I walk across the street and into the, now open, front door. Daniel is waiting for me at the service window. He reaches through the window (I was getting my credit card out of my wallet, expecting to get soaked for an emergency repair far from home). “No, no! We only spend 10 minutes fixing. No parts. Go see friends. It is safe to ride.” He was reaching through the window to shake my hand. “You go around. I show you.” I walked back to the shop where Daniel showed me how he cut the damaged part and fixed the grip. It worked perfectly. I asked him if I could buy him dinner. He said no, but he’d share a tip for beer with the guys. I handed Daniel a $20 and thanked him. The ride back to the KOA felt like I was on a new bike with the repaired throttle.

It’s starting to really sink in – this whole trip has been about amazing coincidences, flukes, and serendipity. I’ve seen people I didn’t expect to see, been places I didn’t think I’d get to, and had things happen that I just think we’re meant to be. The nice thing is, I’m aware of each little moment when something like that happens, and I smile and say “thanks”.

Back at camp, since I now have most of the day free, I got my map out and started thinking about a ride up to the Grand Mesa – I haven’t been there before.

And then this happened…

I have been trying to book the Moab KOA for several days but could only get a tent site with no hookups. Since my onboard charger has been acting up, having a place to charge my phone is really necessary. Every time I checked online the only sites available were without hookups – which made my decision to stay in Grand Junction (cheaper and WITH hookups) easy to make. This morning, since everything on this trip has been falling amazingly into place, I called the KOA directly. Elizabeth answered and I told her my story. “Let me see what we can do… One tent site, with electric and water, for one person on a motorcycle. We just had a cancellation and we can hold it for you for tomorrow night.” I think I’ll go buy a lottery ticket.

Decided to ride up to Grand Mesa (the tallest flat top mountain in the world at 10,000 feet). The ride up was beautiful. I stopped at Powderhorn Resort for a look around, then continued on until I happened across the Mesa Lakes Lodge. I parked my bike and saw a fisherman casting out of his fishing boat on a small mountain lake. I walked up the steps and into a wonderful old lodge with a bar inside. I sat down and told the gal behind the bar that this was exactly what I was looking for. Her name was Alexandria and we got to talking about the Grand Mesa and my bike trip. I had ice tea and a terrific burger and fries. I saw they had ice cream at the end of the bar so I slipped off my stool to take a look. Huckleberry. Done deal. A small dish and it was off to a rocking chair on the porch overlooking the picturesque mountain lake. Alexandria gave me the lowdown on which way to go, so I tipped her well and followed her suggestions. It was an amazing ride all the way past Island Lake and back down the south side of the Mesa to Delta where I caught Highway 50 right back to the KOA. I made a quick stop at the market to get fruit and salad for tonight. After a quick jump in the pool I lit the campfire and did some reading and writing before dinner. It will be an early night because it’s off to Moab early in order to avoid the hottest part of the day on the road over.

Wednesday (6/20)

Packed up and ready to go. The old, thin lady from KOA was riding her cart around the grounds checking to see who had left. “Where ya headed now?” I told her Moab. “Taking the back way, through Gateway and Naturita?” I remembered talking to her when I first arrived – she takes long motorcycle rides, too. “You’ll regret it if you don’t. It winds through the heart of the Colorado canyon country.” I answered “You know, I think I’ll do that.”

More serendipity. I was on my bike, ready to run up to I-70 for the boring interstate ride over to Moab. Instead, I’m winding through twists and turns on the backroads of western Colorado. There is no cell service, no billboards, no power lines, hardly any traffic, and no gas for 44 miles. There are only cattle guards in the road, signs warning of “Game Crossing”, amazing canyons, and terrific scenery. The sky is crystal clear – not a cloud in the sky. When the road hugs the canyon wall and I’m in the shade it’s chilly, then the road bends and I feel the warmth of the sun. I pulled off on the side of the road to write this and there’s not a sound. Instead of following semis down the interstate, I’m winding through this amazing creation – and I’m aware of why I’m on this trip. Thank you, KOA Lady – another angel crossed my path and whispered “Take a different road. Enjoy the ride.” I listened.

Oh my God! This ride is incredible – it just keeps getting better! I pulled off at a small mountain river and sat in the shade listening to the water. At another stop I watched a butterfly flit from flower to flower. I’ve been on 141 south to Gateway. When I was fueling there I saw another biker with a full load on his off-road type of bike. Minnesota plates. We started talking. His name is Mike (from Blaine) and he has been on the road for 2-1/2 weeks – Florida, Texas, New Mexico, and just left Moab going east through Colorado. With his off-road bike he takes lots of dirt roads. His plate was XPLORER. I continued on from Gateway to Naturita where I stopped for gas and lunch at the 141 Saloon. Now it’s west into Utah. I keep thinking of my conversation with the KOA Lady this morning. I would have missed the prettiest ride of my trip so far had I followed my own instincts.

Just arrived in Moab and got my tent set up. Now it’s off to Arches for an afternoon run through the park and dinner in town before returning to camp.

Riding through Arches at sunset on a motorcycle was on my Bucket List. The air had cooled down as the sun got low in the sky, and the dry western air made the cruise through the towering, sometimes eerie, rock formations delightful – even after an all day ride through canyon country on the way over from Grand Junction. The setting sun illuminated the western faces of the familiar formations while the backsides were dark and casting long shadows. It was beautiful.

I rode into town and found the Peace Tree restaurant where Veloice and I (and Hershey) would sit outside on the patio with the water misters spritzing people walking by on the street to keep them cool during the day. It was fun watching the kids passing by stop to enjoy the cooling mist, while dads snapped pics on their phones. I had a nice dinner and headed back to camp. On the way I stopped at the market to pick up ice, creamer, and some dried Palisade fruit munchies for the morning. After a long, hot shower I made a cup of coffee, not caring if it kept me up late, because I wanted to watch the night sky over Utah without the clutter of city lights. No shooting stars, but I saw several satellites pass quickly and silently overhead, and even saw an Iridium Flare just by chance. My eyes got heavy, even the coffee couldn’t overcome the weariness after a long ride in the Utah heat. I crawled into my sleeping bag and quickly fell asleep.

Thursday (6/21)

I awoke at 6:30 and put on my riding jeans and t-shirt – got a lot of miles on them – I’m in need of a washing machine pretty soon! I walked down to the restroom to clean up and enjoyed the cool dry morning air. I made my coffee and started packing up my camping gear.

Floyd Jacob McAllister and his son were camping next to me. He came out of his camper and we exchanged greetings. Floyd is 90 and sharp as a tack. He was admiring my bike and wondered how I could pack everything up. He had a Harley when he was a young man so I invited him over to see how I packed it for 3 weeks on the road. We talked grandkids (he has greats, too), the loss of his wife 2 years ago, he drove semis for Amoco Oil, lives in Denver – all the chit chat that campers do – it’s part of the fun. Floyd wanted to hear me start it up. He loves the sound of Harley pipes. I told him mine were quieter than a Harley, but had a nice throaty rumble. He smiled. I told him I’d goose the throttle a little when I left – just for him. I told him I was journaling about my trip and asked if I could get a pic. Floyd and I shook hands and I got back to packing up. I needed to head into town to get gas and have some breakfast at the Peace Tree restaurant before I start the ride to Salt Lake City where I’ll hook up with my Vietnam buddies, Dave and Jim, for the air show this weekend.

I goosed the throttle as I left my campsite. In my rear view mirror I saw Floyd grin and wave standing in his camper door.

After breakfast I started out of town, but as I neared the entrance, that little voice told me to go back to Arches. I smiled, put my turn signal on, and rode back into the park. I have the time – why not? This time I stopped at places I had never been before, and took my time riding all the way through. The light was so much different than last night and the formations were ablaze in the morning sunshine. I parked my bike and hiked through the deep sand, and climbed through the narrow crevices, to see the Sand Dune Arch for the first time. I’m glad I listened to that little voice and went back for the morning ride.

Now it’s off to Salt Lake City for the next chapter of my ride.

It was a long, hot ride from Moab through the parched moonscape of northern Utah. Once past Price I climbed into the mountains and it became cooler and greener as I ascended into the mountains to the southeast of Salt Lake City. I came down into the valley just in time for rush hour traffic but pulled into Dave Barber’s driveway at 6 PM. I met Dave’s wife, Lora, and Barb (Jim’s wife) joined us in the driveway. A few minutes later Mike and Beth pulled up in front of the house – Mike was our Supply person at the 156th (and I had met him at Oshkosh several years ago when he came with Dave).

Jim was busy cooking ribs and steaming corn while Lora and I set the table. Dave gave me a tour of his home then we all sat down to dinner and watched the sunset cast it’s shadows across the mountains to the east. Dave had recently purchased an observation tower from the airport where he flew and erected it in his backyard for watching sunsets and fireworks displays. After dinner Dave took us into a room where he had laid out all his military memorabilia for us to look at. I turned in around 11.

Friday (6/22)

Up at 7 (slept like a log) and had coffee with Dave and Lora – talked about family. At 9 we went over to Mike and Beth’s house to see the old truck Mike is restoring, and Beth’s collections of light houses, Coke memorabilia, and spoons. After seeing Mike’s truck he took us into his Man Cave which was filled with drums, model plans, and a lifetime of memories. There wasn’t a place to look without seeing things that amazed me.

We headed to the grocery store to pick up some food for our weekend at the air show in Dave’s camper, then headed back to Dave’s to pack up. The Air Force base is an hour north, so I’ll have to ride my motorcycle up and park it at Dave’s friend’s house, so I can get onto the base with Jim and Dave. They will be staying until Monday (because Dave has a booth at the show to support the CAF), but they will drive me over to my bike after the Thunderbirds fly tomorrow so I can head up to Idaho to see Emily and the kids. It turned out that Dave’s friend was actually the 224th AVN Battalion Headquarters Company Commander during our time at the 156th in Vietnam. He was a big shot in the Army Security Agency over all of us. Now here we were, chatting in his driveway, with him watching my motorcycle while we went to the air show. You just can’t make this stuff up.

Saturday (6/23)

Air show, said goodbyes, ran over to pick up bike and headed north.

Rain near Pocatello so got a Motel 6, shower, and dinner at Texas Roadhouse.

Sunday (6/24)

Rode from Pocatello to Driggs. Church (sermon on Rest). BBQ at Jan & Gary’s. Asked Karee out for coffee – Emporium (serendipity- chairs and free coffee – meant to be). Talked from 2:30 to 8. Em and Karlin went on a float- I begged off – knew I was supposed to be w/ Karee. Amazing talk. Got home and talked with Em. Decided to stay until Wednesday (2 days longer) to help with kids and rest for long ride home. Maybe Megan will still meet me at the Badlands on Friday? She text back that I should stay and enjoy my time in Driggs – we’ll reschedule our Black Hills camping trip so I’m not racing to get there. Another piece falls into place as the serendipity of this trip continues to become a theme for this ride.

Monday (6/25)

Em went to work at 9. Karlin was planning to fish, but told Em he was too tired and decided to spend the day reading, go for a hike up by Targhee, and stop by the pool. The kids were off to Hiking Camp at 8:45, so I put on my riding jeans for a trip to Jackson. Karlin suggested I ride up into the Teton National Park. I offered to pick up the kids from camp at 4:15 and we were all off to our day’s activities.

I needed coffee (got lost in the shuffle at the house in all the morning routines criss crossing in the kitchen), so I rode to Rise (my favorite Driggs coffee place). The parking lot was full and I decided to try Victor. The new place, Butter, was open so I parked my bike and walked inside. I ordered an americano and a small chocolate chip muffin. There was an outside table so I sat down in the sun and pulled out the map to plan my day’s ride in the Tetons.

I’ve been over the pass many times in the summer (and twice in the winter last February), but riding over Teton Pass on a motorcycle is spectacular! The pullover I put on kept me warm as I rode up to the summit. I could feel the morning sun warm me as I came down through the switchbacks of the eastern slope, into the dusty town of Wilson near the Snake River. I pulled off to fuel and thought about a quick visit to Jackson for another cup of coffee before the town got busy with throngs of tourists. I text Karee to see if she knew a place to try. A moment later she text back that she and her 3 daughters were in Jackson and would meet me on Cache Street at Cowboy Coffee. Twenty minutes later the 5 of us hooked up and ordered. Karee wanted to show me where she and her band play, so we walked over to the famous Cowboy Bar. Karee insisted I get up on the stage for a pic, and then had a server get a pic of us sitting on the “saddle” bar stools at the bar – a little irony for two people who have known worse times in bars. But with a knowing smile, we were really celebrating our 2-1/2 year journeys away from alcohol. It’s the whole reason Karee and I made time to talk about our new lives – like only those who have been there can understand. Karee said “Come on, I’ll take you to the famous old Wort Hotel where I first started playing when I moved back from Alaska!” Kids in tow, we headed out of the Cowboy Bar and walked around the block to the Wort Hotel. Karee is somewhat of a celebrity in Jackson, and she is constantly being stopped to chat with people she knows. She guided me through the lobby and down the hall to a lifeless, dark, old time bar with a small stage. At night it would be packed with people and loud music. Karee had told me yesterday how she would drink and play, play and drink – and looked back on her downward spiral. In that famous old hot spot in Jackson, now quiet and dark at this early hour, we looked at each other knowing we had both beaten the odds when we chose to stop the madness. I guess we were both thinking the same thing – where would we be if we hadn’t decided – enough. We walked back outside and turned to walk back to where my bike was parked. She had brought the kids to town to pick up Bibles for VBS so she ducked into a book store. No Bibles (too many versions and too little retail space we were told), so we walked on. Karee showed me where the thrift store was, so we checked out the book section. No luck, but the kids did find some bicycle helmets and Karee scored some bargains. At my bike she thanked me for our hours of conversations over the past two days and we both realized the “serendipity” of our connecting on this trip. There are a million reasons why there should have been no time or reason to say yes to having ice cream and coffee over two days, but there was one reason why we both made the time.

The more I think about this three week ride, it is so much more than a motorcycle trip through the mountains. It is the people and the conversations – some longtime friends, a professor I haven’t seen in 41 years (but who changed my life), a cousin I seldom see (but who could have been as close to me as cousin David had things been different – I’m going to work on that), my Vietnam buddies (at an Air Show no less), family time with the Bilcher’s and their CiT family at Gary and Jan’s after church, and my incredible conversations with Karee. And I can’t forget Daniel, who amazed me with his Italian tainted broken English, and his world class customer service skills, as he fixed my bike and got me back on the road in Grand Junction. Or Elizabeth at the KOA in Moab who arranged for a tent site (with hookups) when my attempts online repeatedly said no sites were available. Or the old lady at the KOA in Grand Junction, a biker herself, who showed up at my site just as I was ready to ride up to I-70 for the boring ride into Utah. She told me about the route through Colorado Canyon Country and told me I’d regret it if I didn’t take a different path. It turned out to be one of the most amazing parts of my ride.

It has slowly started to sink in that “serendipity” has been what this trip has been all about. Finding the miraculous in the mundane – because I’ve slowed down, I’m watching, I’m stopping, I’m listening, I’m taking, I’m giving, I’m writing, I’m breathing, I’m RESTING (Karlin’s sermon was the thread that pulled this all together), I’m grieving, I’m crying, I’m laughing, I’m joyful, I’m thankful, and I’m celebrating my new life that I’ve created these past 2-1/2 years. My conversations with Karee were the fulfillment of my 12th Step – I reached out to her right after we both ended up in the ditch – to let her know that she was not alone. Emily and Karlin were the thread that brought us together at dark moments in our lives. Emily and Karlin were both essential pieces of our recoveries. Few of us succeed. We both did. Our conversations were the celebration of our hard work, and an understanding that we would always have each other’s backs on this lifelong journey of staying sober. It’s about understanding each other, where we’ve been, and being accountable to someone else who has walked this path of recovery. The ride to Driggs, which wasn’t even in my original plans (because of the Bilcher’s travels out east), was a beautiful ride, filled with people and places that served to prepare me for a change in plans – Em telling me that the kids would love a visit from Grandpa Pete. From Salt Lake City I rode north, stopped by rain in Pocatello, and arrived in Driggs just in time to catch Karlin’s sermon on REST at CiT. Then the BBQ, and Karee saying “yes” to ice cream at The Emporium. The whole ride was to prepare me for those conversations.

After saying goodbye at my bike, I rode back toward Wilson, turned right, and headed up into the Teton National Park I stopped frequently to snap pics on my phone. I’m pretty good with words, but I’m at a loss when it comes to describing the incredible vista when you come around “Oh My God Corner” and see the familiar snow capped mountains with Grand standing tall in center of the three postcard perfect peaks. I made it two thirds of the way into the park, but had to head east to pick up 191 back into Jackson, over the pass, and only a few minutes late picking up the kids.

After dropping off backpacks at the house, we walked toward town, with a quick stop at the FSN to say hi to Em, then over to Corner Drug for some ice cream with Finley and Zion. By the time we got back to the house Karlin had come home and we were all hungry and ready for dinner. We drove into Victor to eat at the Knotty Pine – one of my favorites – and got an outside table on a perfect Teton Valley evening. The kids showered and got their jammies on and said goodnight. Karlin was still exhausted, and emotionally drained from some of the tragic happenings in the CiT family – which place enormous demands on a pastor. Emily and I sat on the couch and talked about family, friends, and jobs. Small talk really – nothing heavy. It was nice to have an easy father/daughter conversation just to catch up with each other. Something simple, but something I so miss with Emily being so far away. As the living room grew dark, with the sun long set, we both stifled yawns and hugged goodnight.

Tuesday (6/26)

Karlin and Em both work today. I’ve extended my trip so I could have a day with the kids. After writing yesterday’s entry, I took the kids to Broulim’s for groceries. We have planned a surprise dinner for Em and Karlin – complete with flowers, wine, marinated flank steak on the grill, with golden mashed potatoes, a salad made by Zion, and a special dessert made by Finley. After putting away and hiding our surprises, we walked down to the playground for some outdoors activity. Well, it’s only a few blocks to the Corner Drug soda fountain, so we snuck by FSN so Em couldn’t see us heading to town. We’d be busted. On the way we discussed why it’s a good idea to have ice cream before lunch – it’s the wisdom of a grandparent, learned through years of experience. We enjoyed our favorite selections and walked home to make lunch. A little quiet time now. Em will swing by to take the kids for their checkups at 12:45. Karlin will be home later to work downstairs on next week’s sermon while the kids and I start working on our dinner. No motorcycle today. Just glad to be playing “grandpa” with the kids. Tomorrow I’ll pack up my bike and start my journey home.

The table was set with flowers and a bottle of wine. The flank steak was marinating, the mashed potatoes made, Zion’s salad was ready to assemble, and Fin had been working on a chocolate dessert that used balloons to make chocolate dishes for ice cream and nuts to fill. Karlin and Em came home to our surprise and were delighted. Karlin has converted from gas to charcoal and Emily had got him a brand new, huge, Weber Grill. He had assembled it a couple of weeks ago, but waited for me to help him break it in with our inaugural flank steak dinner.

The dinner was amazing, I cleaned up, and the kids set up a quick game of Apples to Apples while we had our dessert.

After the kids and Karlin went to bed, Emily and I talked on the couch – I read some of the most recent parts of my journal that brought pieces of my trip, and conversations with Karee, together with Emily and Karlin at the center of our friendship and recovery.

Wednesday (6/27)

Packed up the bike and jumped into the Bilcher morning routine – everyone going different directions. Zion made me toast. He looked for a beach ball he got at the shore and went into a complete breakdown when it couldn’t be found. After watching Em deal with his tantrum, I pulled out my phone and called Zion over. It wasn’t the right color, but his crying stopped. I swiped through options and found the right one – “That’s it” Zion said, then I picked Em’s shipping address. Two minutes later the order for a new ball was placed and it will arrive in 48 hours. Karlin asked me to walk the kids down to the Hiking Camp. When I got back we said our goodbyes and headed in different directions.

I rode my bike down to “Butter” in Victor for some coffee. Karee called to see if I had left yet. She was on her way to town to take her daughter (Enza) for a horseback ride at a friends place and wondered if I could come along. On this trip, so full of amazing serendipity, I told Karee “Sure!” A few minutes later, Karee and Enza pulled up in her bright yellow VW Bug and told me to follow her back toward Driggs. We arrived at this beautiful place in the Valley and Karee introduced me to Tracy Baumann. Tracy loaded her horse “Barbie” (of course, my mom’s name, more serendipity), and we headed back toward Victor and turned off on a road heading up into the foothills. The road went from paved to gravel as we entered a forested area where Tracy parked her truck and horse trailer. Karee and I parked off to the side. Tracy unloaded and saddled Barbie while explaining that she would give Enza a ride, with Karee and me walking ahead on the trail with her dog, Indy. The narrow path was muddy, rocky, hilly, and had logs across the path in places. We danced across logs and stones to cross small streams. It was amazing. Five miles later (I counted steps on MyFitnessPal) we got back to the trailer and thanked Tracy for a great morning.

We needed to head toward Jackson, so I offered to get lunch for Karee and Enza on the way back to town. I hopped on my bike and followed her yellow Bug back to Victor and then up the Teton Pass. It was a beautiful ride up, then I saw Karee put on her blinker and turn off at the summit. I pulled up next to her. “I want to get a pic of you up here.” I got off and walked over to the amazing panorama spread out below me from the top of the pass. When I turned around, Karee was still taking pics, but I noticed a woman walking up behind her. Since Karee knows so many people I didn’t say anything. Laughter and hugs erupted as friends engaged. Karee introduced me as Emily’s dad to Ruth and Andrea. Sisters, whose parents own the Pines Hotel in Driggs. We decided to go down to Wilson and get some coffee and bagels at the Pearl Street Bagel shop, and hopefully get a table outside by the river.

Their kids and Enza set off to play while the four of us enjoyed our coffee and bagels by the river. Karee was on a roll with stories – she is one of the funniest people I know. Ruth told us about her visits to Emily at the Family Safety Network when she was in need of help. When I asked what she did in Driggs, she handed me her card – Hummingbird Yoga – I cracked up and looked at Karee. I had told her about all of the serendipity on this trip, and had already shared the Hummingbird story that I wrote after we put Hershey down. And so it continues!

A couple hours later they gathered up their kids and headed to our cars. Ruth and Andrea honked as they left the parking lot. Karee and I said our heartfelt goodbyes after so many fun, and deep, conversations about recovery, spirituality, and life in general. She would be playing at the Cowboy Bar in Jackson – on the same stage she snapped a pic of me – about the time I crawl into my tent in DuBois. I walked away, got on my bike, and turned toward Jackson to pick up 191 north along the eastern slope of the magnificent, still snow covered, Teton Range. Thirty miles later I turned to the east, toward DuBois, and watched the Tetons fade away in my rear view mirror.

It was a short ride today, so I arrived at the KOA and got my tent set up. After calling Veloice, I headed into town for dinner and pie at the famous Cowboy Cafe. There was a long wait to get a table in the small hot spot – and it was worth every minute of standing in line. I returned to camp as the sun slipped behind the mountains to the west and settled into my tent for the night.

Thursday (6/28)

The night got pretty cold – low 40s – and I found myself zipping up my down mummy bag against the chill. I awoke a few hours later to the morning sun turning my orange and gray tent into a blaze of colors. I slipped my jeans and boots on and headed to the restroom to clean up. I had the bike packed in no time and drove over to the Coyote Blue Coffee store across from the KOA for an americano and toast. I was back on the road at 8 to start today’s ride through the Wind River Canyon, up to Ten Sleep for lunch, into the Big Horn Mountains, and over the Powder River Pass as I came down into Buffalo where I’ll spend the night at the Quality Inn. After a hot ride today a shower and a bed sounded really good.

Since I had a big lunch at Ten Sleep I decided to stay in the room. The phone rang and it was Karee. “You aren’t going to believe what just happened.” She told me she had just set up at the Cushman Ranch, where she and Candice are playing a gig tonight, in a refurbished barn. There was an old juke box, and they were the only two people there, so she and Candice walked over to look at it. Before they could even look for a song to select, the old juke box began to make noise and load up a tune. They looked at each other and Karee decided to see what the fates had in store. “It played ‘Over the Rainbow’ and I thought of you! I told Candice I just had to call Pete and let you know that the serendipity of this visit is still happening.” I told Karee that it wasn’t just my “Rainbows and Butterflies” story, but that I had picked the Eva Cassidy version to play at dad’s memorial service. After we hung up, my phone buzzed. Karee sent me a pic of the old juke box to include in my journal of this trip.

Friday (6/29)

The wind howled outside my hotel room last night. I checked my radar and saw there was some weather in the area, but still looked pretty good for my ride so I went back to bed. I woke up at 5 this morning and checked the radar again – there was rain just to the west and heading my way. The problem going home is that I ride with the weather – not through it. I skipped a shower and making coffee. Within 20 minutes my bike was packed and I was cruising up the entrance ramp onto I-90 East. The morning sun was just above the horizon in front of me, and the dark clouds mingled with the gray mountains behind me. The early yellow sunlight illuminated both in a way that made the mountains and foreboding sky worthy of an artist’s canvas.

Stopped at City Brew in Gillette for an americano and a cinnamon scone. Wrote in my journal while the coffee warmed me up after a chilly ride from Buffalo.

By the time I had finished my coffee it had warmed up enough that I didn’t need by bike jacket for the ride up to Devil’s Tower. Because I got an early start, the traffic was almost nothing. I turned off 14 and rode the short distance to the entrance (with a couple stops to snap pics of the incredible and familiar monolith). I pulled right up to the Park Ranger’s booth and handed him my pass. We both remarked what a perfect morning it was. I started the drive back to the visitor’s center and pulled off to watch the Prairie Dogs. They were not afraid of anything and posed for some good closeups that I text to Megan. I parked my bike at the visitor center and walked through the exhibits. Outside, I followed the path around the base of the tower and got some more pics with the sun high enough to be peeking over the top. I saw no evidence of any recent “close encounters” (but I did see some questionable tourists that may not be from these parts). As I headed back out of the park I stopped at the Trading Post, just past the Ranger Station, for some coffee and to check my map for the best route to Sturgis. I called the Welsh Hotel in Wall and booked a room with Kelly so I had a place lined up for tonight. When I pulled out of the lot, the line of cars coming into the park was about a quarter mile long. The early bird got the worm (or my Hummingbird was looking out for me). I smiled, yelled a “YeeHa!” and headed east on 14 toward Sturgis.

All morning long I had the song “Bobbie McGee” playing in my head – and I had no idea why. At a fuel stop I text Karee. “Do you have a connection to the song ‘Bobbie McGee’? A few minutes later she text back that her sister, Candice, sings a killer rendition of that song. Then she text me a photo of her guitar. She and Karee had gone to the Gibson factory for a tour. Afterwards, Candice purchased a guitar with a very intricate Hummingbird design on the front. There it was in the pic. Then another text arrived from Karee – during one of their sets at the Cushman Ranch, people started pointing out the window behind their stage. Karee turned around to look out the window. A perfect rainbow spanned the sky from horizon to horizon with the Tetons as the backdrop.

This trip has simply been filled with serendipity – things have happened that go beyond being a coincidence – but I have been open to finding the miraculous in the mundane. Some will laugh at the silliness and simplicity of the things I found simply astounding. Not me.

It took me years to write “Rainbows and Butterflies” and I have held those simple, but amazing, events close to my heart for years. When Hershey died, I asked for a Hummingbird to let me know she was ok. It came, an hour after I spread her ashes. I thought about all the serendipity I’ve encountered throughout this motorcycle trip, and how the Hummingbird showed up on Ruth’s business card, and again on Candice’s guitar.

As I rode toward Sturgis I thought, maybe I’ll get a tatoo of a Hummingbird to remember all the serendipity that filled this trip with knowing smiles and the pure joy in finding the miraculous that’s happening all around me.

After picking up a t-shirt in one of the stores on Main Street in Sturgis, I parked my bike next to a gaggle of others outside the Knuckle Saloon. It was a huge bar filled with biker related memorabilia everywhere you looked. It was already busy at 11 in the morning. In another couple of weeks it will be a madhouse as bikers descend on this small town for the largest bike rally in the world. I ordered beef tips and a salad. An O’Douls helped my hydration.

Deciding to skip the Wildlife Loop and Mt. Rushmore (savings those for when I come back with Megan), I headed toward the hotel in Wall so I could get an early dinner. Once checked in and settled, I went to the office and asked Kelly where I could get a good steak. She gave me two options – I picked the wrong one (but the Badlands Bar did have a good salad and fries, and my server, AnneJo, was a lot of fun). However, I could show them a thing or two about grilling steaks.

As I walked out of the Badlands Bar and across the street to my bike, I saw the sky was very dark to the west. I got back to my room 5 minutes before the winds kicked up. A severe weather alert for our area crawled across the bottom of the TV screen. Good timing! After 3 weeks on the road with no weather problems (other than the rain when I left home), I’d say someone has been watching over me. Thank you Hummingbird, wherever you are.

Saturday (6/30)

Awake at 5, I looked out the motel window. The ground was dry – that’s encouraging. My weather app showed rain coming up from the southwest and across my path home. There was no rush, I just need to get to Mitchell or Sioux Falls – tomorrow I can make the final push home. I cleaned up and watched the news as I started gathering my gear. I went outside to check my bike and wipe off the water from last night’s rain.

“How many miles do you have on it?” I turned and said good morning to the man inquiring. We shot the breeze for 5 or 10 minutes about bikes and rides. He had an older model Gold Wing in front of his door a few rooms down. I told him I needed to finish up packing and said goodbye. A few minutes later I walked back out to finish loading my gear and he strolled back over and started chatting away. He reminded me of Lionel – a little boy in Newark who just kept asking questions. This time, sensing a Hummingbird might be close by, I started asking him questions and rolling with the conversation in the parking lot outside my room. I wasn’t in a hurry. I listened.

Roy is turning 70 this year (but is in great shape). He lives in Pine City (north of the Twin Cities), and was a machinist with a company in Bloomington for 20 years. He was married and had a daughter, but went through a nasty divorce about 8 or 10 years ago after 18 years of marriage. He had come to the Black Hills for a couple days of riding the area, but had to be back on Tuesday for a dentist appointment. Being old guys, with creaky bones, we talked about doctors, and then the VA came up. I asked when and where he served, and he responded “Marine. I Corp in Vietnam. 1969.” I snapped to attention and gave him a mock salute. I told him my dad always took his hat off for the Marines – they are always the first ones in, and I’ve always had the same respect. He asked what I did and I told him I was a Crew Chief with the Army Security Agency in ‘71 – ‘72. We thanked each other for our service and I saddled up – still not knowing what my plan would be for the day, but breakfast at the Cactus Cafe sounded like a good start.

I parked my bike on Main Street, across from Wall Drug, and walked into the familiar cafe. I picked a booth, ordered some coffee from the hostess, and pulled out my phone to check the radar. “Mind if I join you?” It was Roy. Seriously? “Of course, have a seat.” I smiled, knowing for sure that this was going to be another Hummingbird encounter.

After ordering our food, we picked up right where we left off in the parking lot. About 20 minutes into our chit chat he mentioned Trump. I looked at him and said, “I’m no fan.” We were off to the races after that! We talked the election, Fox News, Limbaugh and Hannity, global warming, the Middle East and fossil fuels, alternative energy, battery technology and upgrading the grid, and the Supreme Court. He told me he listens to NPR and reads. We talked about the “Red Hat” Trump supporters, and agreed that when you talk to one, facts are irrelevant. We discussed critical thinking skills. We talked about the hard work of finding, and implementing, solutions to problems, verses the constant blaming and denying of the Trump Party. We both agreed that the dumbing down of a major portion of our electorate will continue to be a problem. We also talked about the Koch brothers and the Mercer family funding Trump’s theft of the White House. All of these conversations happened between two complete strangers, over plates of fried eggs, over medium, with bacon and toast. And a pot or two of coffee. I picked up the breakfast tab and Roy left a good tip for a fun server who played right along with two animated old biker dudes who were solving all the world’s problems right there in the Cactus Cafe – right across the street from Wall Drug.

It’s possible my Hummingbird made a visit this morning. There’s nothing miraculous about two old bikers talking, but the way I’ve found myself saying “yes” to some very different opportunities on this trip has led me to making new connections, and sharing experiences and stories with people I never would have known if I hadn’t taken the time.

Having said goodbye to Roy, and seen some weather still to my east, I set my course for the Badlands to kill some time before I started for home.

When you figure I’ve been on the road for 3 weeks today, and (other than the first day of my trip when I chose to leave in the rain), I only had rain one day in Colorado. There were other nights that it rained, but not during the day. Even my ride from Buffalo to Wall yesterday was clear right through dinner – then the sky got black when I got back to my room. So, after I left the Badlands, and headed east on I-90, I had my rain gear ready for what I was sure would be a wet ride at some point. I figured if I could just get to Mitchell, or maybe Sioux Falls, the trip home tomorrow would be much easier.

The ride east went smoothly. At every fuel stop I’d check the radar. It was still out there, but I had passed Chamberlin and was bearing down on Mitchell. It looked like it would be close, but I could see the sky ahead was getting dark. I pulled off at a rest stop and put my rain gear on. Then I saw lightening. I was less than 20 miles from Mitchell. I pulled out my phone and checked for a hotel, figuring I’d be pushing my luck to try and go any further. I booked the Ramada and asked my Hummingbird for a little help getting to Mitchell.

You can call it a coincidence, or you can call me lucky, but the rain started to fall just before I exited the freeway. The Ramada was easily visible just to the north. It started to pour and the wind kicked up. Thunder rolled. I pulled up to the front of the hotel, under the canopy, and went inside to check in. I handed my license and credit card to “Jessica” while she looked up my reservation. I asked if she had a ground floor room since I have a lot to carry from my bike. My reservation was for a queen, and it was on the second floor. “Do you have an elevator?” I asked. “No.” Then Jessica said, “Let me see what I can do.” Her fingers clicked away on the keyboard. A minute later she handed me key cards to room 169. “It’s a ground floor room. Go in entrance 5 and go into your room from the hallway, then you can unlock the other door to the parking lot.” Perfect! I thanked her and drove around the building to park in front of my door. The room was amazing! Then I noticed the door to the adjoining room was open. I peeked in and saw it was unoccupied. It had bathroom, desk, refrigerator and microwave, and a full living room suite (but no bed). I checked the room numbers on the hallway doors – they both said 169. It was a huge suite. Jessica gave it to me even though I had snagged an $80 bargain through Priceline. I’ve never had a room like this in a hotel. I took a video on my phone and text it to Veloice with a “Wish you were here” message. After a hot shower and a change of clothes, I decided to check out the hotel bar/restaurant. It was still pouring out. The Ramada is huge – it’s the town’s convention center. I walked past the large indoor pool and hot tub, a miniature golf course, exercise room, game room, laundry, and business center before I found the bar. I picked a stool – had my choice since the place was dead. Kayla was the bartender and I ordered an O’Douls. She handed me a menu and said they had a Prime Rib special tonight. Eight ounces for $15.99, or 14 oz… “I’ll raked the 8 oz cut, with a salad (blue cheese) and the mashed potatoes. I figured at that price it would end up being typical hotel food. Wrong! It was very good. So was the salad. I asked Kayla for a cup of coffee and she came back a little while later and said she had just put on a fresh pot. This Ramada has far exceeded my expectations. I tipped Kayla a little extra.

After going back to my room I remembered I needed a few things for my dop kit. The rain had stopped. I walked out my front door and saw a 24 hour grocery store across the street. It had everything I needed. I even picked up half and half for my morning coffee – because my suite has a refrigerator.

Thanks, Hummingbird.

Sunday (7/1)

It rained all night. I know, I woke up several times and peeked through the drawn curtains to see my wet bike illuminated under the parking lot security lights. Rain fell into puddles that were dancing with drops splashing. I climbed back into a comfortable bed – one of two – in one of the nicest hotel suites I’ve ever had in all my years of traveling.

Even though the early Sunday morning sunshine is making this a “sparkling” morning in Mitchell, South Dakota, my radar shows the green and yellow blob swirling around the entire area that fills the map between me and home. There’s no way around it, so I need to get ready for a wet ride home. I started my journey three weeks ago in a soaking rain, but I left anyway. I decided to not wait for the rain to pass, but to go find the blue sky. Now I’m starting the final leg of my trip and a little rain can’t dampen my excitement of going home!

After another hot shower I got my AeroPress out and made some real coffee (remembering the half and half that I had put in the frig – in the OTHER room – of my expansive suite). I flipped through the channels, skipping the Sunday morning news shows, and watched a sweet movie on the Hallmark channel while lingering in bed a little longer. What has happened to me on this trip? Good grief.

I made a second cup of coffee before packing up my AeroPress kit, then pulled on my jeans and started packing up. Check out is at 11, so there’s really no rush. Maybe some of the rain will move further east, and I’ll stay dry a little longer, once I start out.

My bike packed, I left my key cards in the room and rode around to the front of the hotel, walked up to the front desk and asked to speak to the manager. She introduced herself and I told her about Jessica getting me a great room, Kayla taking good care of me in the restaurant, and my overall delight with my night at the Ramada. She wrote down their names and promised to pass on my compliments.

I got back on my bike and started my trip back home. It was an hour ride to Sioux Falls and another 40 minutes to Worthington where I got off the interstate and started the diagonal run up to the Twin Cities on 60 and then 169. The rain had cleared out, and the air was cooler after the front passed through, but the sun was a welcome sight all the way home. I called Veloice from Shakopee to tell her I was 15 minutes out. When I came up the street, our neighbor, Chuck, was taking a video of me arriving home. Veloice was waiting in the garage and greeted me with a big hug and a kiss.

The story didn’t end there…

Karee & The Double Rainbow

On July 24th I was looking at Facebook when I saw a post from the Teton Valley News. Karee Miller, one of the well known Miller Sisters, confirmed the death of her sister, Candice Miller, in a kayaking accident on Jackson Lake last night. A flotation device had been found, along with a few personal items. The coroner had determined it to be a suicide. I was stunned. I picked up my phone and sent a text to Karee.

My text…

What the heck? I just saw the post about Candice. Karee, My heart is broken. Shattered. For your whole family.

Karee’s text…

No butterflies or rainbows do I see, but there are some beautiful mountain sunrises out this way, with paths leading the way to heaven. That is our final home and resting place, where my sister now feels only peace.

My text…

Keep watching. Candice is there and might show you something special to let you know she’s ok. Also, I know these are traumatic times for you. Remember, I’ve got your back in sobriety. You are in my prayers, Karee.

I sent another text…

I downloaded Bobby McGee today. I haven’t figured out why yet, but something kept telling me to do it. I trust that inner voice more everyday. Karee, if you fly back to be with your family, I hope you let me pick you up at the airport and take you home. It would mean a lot to be able to help out. Thinking of you.

Karee’s text…

It was there in the Park last night while I was driving home – a double rainbow! Yes, you were right!

My text…

Hi Karee, A double rainbow. Incredible. I knew Candice would find a way to send you a gift that you would see and know it was from her. Now I understand why I came to Driggs. For you to “see” the Double Rainbow for what it was, a million things had to happen. Mom gave me rainbows before she died 30 years ago. After seeing several, in unique situations, I started to write a story about the beauty found in the serendipity of those moments. Then it happened again with Monarchs after Veloice’s dad died and I added those amazing moments to my story. I started to realize that people who had left me in bone chilling grief found ways to let me know that they were fine. I started sharing my story with people who needed something to hang onto in times of loss. And then I lost Hershey, and I fell into my own grief once again. I asked Hershey to send a Hummingbird for my long jinxed feeder and it came weeks later, an hour after I spread the last of her ashes at Staring Lake. During my motorcycle trip there were many coincidences that happened that I simply can’t explain, but I think they happened in order to prepare me for something very special. When I was in Salt Lake City at the air show, Veloice called and mentioned that my Hummingbird hadn’t come back to the feeder after I left home. I told her it was ok, because the Hummingbird was with me. We laughed. Emily also text me that the kids could use a visit from grandpa Pete. I changed my plans to come to Driggs. Karee, I had to go into a ditch 2-1/2 years ago in order to meet you where you were after your own DUI at the same time. We both had to make it through 2-1/2 years of recovery in order for me to have a reason to ask you to get coffee when I arrived in Driggs that Sunday morning. You had to have a reason to say yes. Amazing things started to happen and you became the Hummingbird for me. I got to share my Rainbows & Butterflies story with you, and then Hershey’s Hummingbird story. During those 3 days of conversations you saw other Hummingbirds cross my path while we were together (Ruth’s business card and water bottle, and Candice’s guitar). After I left to go home, Candice was with you when the juke box played “Over the Rainbow”. She saw your reaction and how excited you were when you called me in complete amazement to tell me what happened. She was there when you both turned around during your performance and saw the rainbow over the Tetons at the Cushman Ranch. We live in a mysterious and wonderful creation, where God can hug us when we need it most. I thought you were put in my path to help me on this trip. I felt like you became the Hummingbird for me. Now I understand what really happened. For years I’ve put out a Hummingbird feeder but never had one show up. When Hershey died and I was overwhelmed with unbearable grief, a Hummingbird was sent to me. It is still at my feeder today, but I’m the one that cleans the feeder, makes the nectar, and feeds the Hummingbird. When you became the Hummingbird I think God used my gift of writing to tell you a story – for a reason that was yet to unfold. I was put in YOUR path to share my story about serendipity. I knew Candice would do something special for you to let you know she’s ok, but you needed to be able to see beyond the earthly bounds of a rainbow, and see it for what it really was meant to be. A million things had to happen for you to be AWARE of what you just witnessed. Some people just chalk it up to coincidences, but we know better.

A few days later…

The friends of Candice and Karee began flooding Facebook with posts in the days after it was learned that Candice had died tragically while kayaking at Jackson Lake. One post caught my eye. It was a full length video (not just a short snippet), that was taken at “Music on Main” in Victor about the time I was riding back from Idaho at the end of my motorcycle trip.

Candice and Karee were belting out Bobby McGee and Candice was playing her Gibson Hummingbird guitar.

And then there was a Hummingbird

The house seems so empty. I still yell out “Hershey, we’re home!” when I come in from the garage. I still do a double-take when I walk through the kitchen and see her empty dish, thinking I’d let Hershey run out of water. My morning routine of yoga on the living room floor still has me watching down the hall for her to come out and sit by me. The last piece of toast always belonged to Hershey – I still look for her at my feet before reluctantly putting it in my mouth.

After Hershey was cremated I knew I would spread her ashes in places that meant something to us – under the Bucky Tree in our yard, at Lake Minnetonka along the shore where she ran, and on the path around Staring Lake where we walked together almost everyday when I started losing weight. At first I wasn’t ready to let go of her ashes – they remained on the mantel in the box and velvet bag, by the photo-book I had made at Shutterfly of her life with us, and a snip of her fur that I cut off just before the vet arrived. A shrine of sorts, I suppose. A place I could still feel the connection while trying to let her go. The weeks after Hershey left us were an emotional roller coaster for all of us as we found our own ways to grieve.

I was sitting at the small table on the front porch. Spring had turned to summer and I noticed that even the brown spot in the yard where Hershey did her business was starting to fill in with new green grass. My mind drifted back to “Rainbows and Butterflies” as I thought about how in the midst of my deepest sadness something surprising cuts through the gloom to let me know everything will be ok. I thought of Hershey and wondered what might happen. Nothing came to me.

Years ago I put a Hummingbird feeder in our yard. It became a family joke because as hard as I tried the Hummingbirds never came. Even the red plastic had faded with the passage of time. One year I didn’t even put it out. I had pretty much given up. This year we cleaned up the garden in front of our house, spread mulch, added new plants, and hung flower baskets. The bird bath is in place and I decided to try the Hummingbird feeder again. I cleaned it, filled it with properly mixed nectar, and hung it on the Shepherd’s Hook in a sunny spot in the garden. Then I watched. Nothing.

In the first days after Hershey was gone I’d sit on the front porch. At one point I remember saying “Hershey, bring me a Hummingbird. If I see a Hummingbird I’ll know you’re ok.” And then I told Veloice and the kids what I had asked Hershey to do.

For a couple of weeks I watched expectantly, cleaned and refilled the feeder regularly, but no feathered friends paid a visit to my obviously jinxed feeder. I knew it was a long shot – and Hershey never did listen to me, or let me know that she even cared. She usually turned her back to me whenever I talked to her. But I thought if a dog crossed the Rainbow Bridge, maybe they could put some serendipity into play for those who were left behind.

After spreading Hershey’s ashes under the Bucky Tree, and at Lake Minnetonka with Kayla last week, I had a small amount left to spread during my daily walk at Staring Lake today. I parked the car and walked the short distance to the pier where I sat on the bench and thanked Hershey while I sprinkled some of her ashes into the water. I walked the 2-1/4 miles around Staring in silence and sprinkled the remaining ashes at different places along the path where I remembered being with her. Then I drove home.

The box on the mantel is now empty and I guess I felt like today I let her go. I walked into the kitchen to get my keys and looked out the kitchen window – a Hummingbird was flitting around the feeder. And I’ve been watching it all afternoon while I write this.

There is nothing miraculous about a Hummingbird finding a feeder, but today? After years of hanging the feeder, trying and giving up, only to try again, unsuccessfully? Really? After I told Veloice that Hershey would send me a Hummingbird? It shows up an hour after I get home from spreading the last of her ashes at Staring Lake? Seriously? I asked Hershey to bring me a Hummingbird so I’d know she was ok. It happened. You can call it a coincidence, but I know better.

For weeks my tears fell at the very thought of Hershey being gone. I clung to her ashes. Today I let her go and my heart is full of joy. I know Hershey is free and I know she will always be close to my heart. Upon seeing the Hummingbird today, I felt reassured that one day I will cross that Rainbow Bridge and see Hershey racing toward me, yelping with glee.

Two old dogs

Papa and Nana are watching the grandkids this weekend in Woodbury. Saturday afternoon went great – we stuck to the detailed script left by Megan. Meals, activities, baths, reading stories, singing, and watching “Cars 2” before bed – all happened without a hitch. When things finally got quiet after the kids were tucked in I looked at Veloice and said “we used to do this everyday.” Nana sighed. A few minutes later I was on my way upstairs to go to bed. It was only 8:30. 

Two dogs’ noses were in my face at 3 AM – they needed to go out. Senior bladders, like mine. Afterwards, Hershey starts bumping her empty dish around – she eats in the morning. Bailey stands by, jealous, because she eats in the evening. I pacify Bailey with a couple pieces of her food while Hershey cleans her dish. 

Both dogs are almost blind, and Hershey doesn’t like stairs anymore. I carry her up and put her on the bed next to Veloice. Where’s Bailey? I can’t leave Hershey on the bed – she may try to follow me and jump off the bed (which would probably mean a visit to the Doggy ER). I carried her back downstairs to look for Bailey. She is standing in the dark, in the middle of the living room, totally lost. Hearing me come back into the room (sorta, her hearing is going too), brings her relief and joy. Poodle Alzheimer’s. 

The whole ordeal took me half an hour. Bailey figured out that it was Papa, not dad, so it must be time to play! Now I can’t get them back upstairs to bed. 

While I wrote this, curled up in an overstuffed chair downstairs, both dogs are now snoring at my feet. The peace and quiet is nice. Looks like I’ll just be dozing down here for the rest of the night. 

Babysitting the kids is easy, the two old dogs on the other hand…  I wouldn’t trade a moment. 

Requiem for a president

I will be turning 67 in a couple of months and appreciate the perspective that experience brings to a person’s life. Thirteen presidents have lived in the White House during my life so far – that’s over 25% of all presidents who have been elected since George Washington. I lived through the Kennedy assassination, Reagan shot and wounded, and Ford shot at (twice). I watched Nixon resign in disgrace and Clinton impeached – both because they obstructed justice during scandals that enveloped their presidencies. But I’ve never seen anything like Donald Trump – the 45th president of the United States. How and when will this presidency end? Soon, and not very well.

With Republicans in control of all branches of government the checks and balances that the Founding Fathers enshrined in our constitution are stretched to the breaking point. We have been counting on the “Freedom of the Press” to hold those in power accountable for their actions. Not since Watergate, and the reporting by Woodward and Bernstein at the Washington Post, has the press been so essential to the survival of our democracy while politicians try to cover up their mistakes and misdeeds. Legacy media has found its voice once again and investigative reporters are tirelessly working their sources, following leads, and breaking new stories about the Trump administration at a furious pace. The steady drip of new disclosures is now becoming a torrent of breaking news and the sandcastle is starting to crumble. With the appointment of Robert Mueller as a Special Prosecutor the investigation just became even more ominous for the Trump White House. While Trump has only been president for four months, we are already witnessing a tragically unique moment in our nation’s history.

Trump was elected to the highest office in the land by 3 million fewer votes than his opponent. He won the electoral college by a mere 77,000 votes in the 3 states that tipped to Trump in the waning days of the election – after unprecedented announcements by the FBI, and Russian interference with social media stories and leaks about his opponent with the intent of influencing the vote in Trump’s favor. Communication between the Trump campaign staff and Russian officials now suggests possible collusion that is currently being investigated.

My money is on Trump finding a way to resign and claim victory. He will claim he WON by disrupting the “rigged system” and setting the stage for the incoming Pence presidency. His base will see him as a hero and he will fly off the White House lawn in Marine One – all smiles and waves – to start the new conservative Trump TV network to promote his version of the Trump Legacy. He cannot tolerate being seen as a LOSER so I don’t think he will stick around for an impeachment in the House of Representatives much less the removal from office when the Senate convicts him of high crimes and misdemeanors. He will protect his brand and massage his bruised ego.

The Trump presidency will be studied for years to come – how his wealth allowed him to self-fund his way through the primary winnowing process against other candidates who had to grovel and appease the donor class to stay in the race for the nomination. How his simple messaging appealed to, and captured, the support of the disenfranchised older, angry, white population in flyover country – the consumers of Fox News – those who prefer red hats, rallies, and slogans over policies, facts, and details. They still will – which is why an eventual Pence presidency, that tries to color inside the lines of the legislative process, will ultimately be a letdown for frustrated Trump supporters that were energized by bombastic threats and pompous promises. They preferred the CEO that promised to break the rules, drain the swamp, and Make America Great Again. Instead, they got a thin-skinned reality TV star that liked firing people on The Apprentice, but ran into trouble when firing experienced people of stature and reputation in his administration who dared to get in his way by holding dear to their principals and integrity.

Trump’s likeness will never replace Abe on the five dollar bill, or be sculpted next to the greats on Mt. Rushmore. He won’t have the shortest presidency – that will probably always belong to William Henry Harrison after giving the longest inaugural address, catching pneumonia, and dying 32 days later – but I believe it will be short. And his record of accomplishments even shorter. The disastrous Trump presidency will always be remembered for the asterisk after his name and there will be many footnotes in history for this unlikely president and the voters that elected him.

Left and Write. The jottings of a progressive curmudgeon.