After departing the Rocky Mountains and heading back toward the Midwest, I had a few months of uncertainty ahead. The plan was to spend some time house-sitting, visiting friends, and putting together the logistics required for a more stable lifestyle as opposed to the semi-nomadic one I had been living for a year and a half.
I stopped to camp outside a bar in Idalia, Colorado. The bartender at the restaurant graciously allowed me to set up my tent in a clearing in a field just off the parking lot. I had taken the small Highway 36 just north of I-70, and began weaving my way on back roads through northern Kansas and Southern Nebraska. As most in the country may assume, this part of our country is a bit flatter than other areas, but nothing will make me forget the seemingly endless miles of Sunflower fields in full bloom I passed as I rushed back to Cedar Rapids.
Riding almost non-stop on the 1982 Yamaha Maxim 650 for a day and a half, my goal was to make it in time for a fantasy football draft. Although my auto-draft secured me Le'Veon Bell for my first pick, by the time I arrived at my buddy Kip's house it was already the fourth round and the rest of my team didn't shape up so well. After I secured Kirk Cousins for a steal in the tenth round, I continued on Highway 151 north out of Cedar Rapids towards Dubuque just along the Mississippi River.
I had arranged to meet up with my college friend Andy who had been taking care of his grandma for the past few years in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Not to beat a dead horse, but many people outside the Midwest likely have no idea how beautiful the landscape in Wisconsin is as you drive past the mighty Mississippi. The rolling hills and rocky outcrops you pass make this area one of my favorite rides in the country (that I've been on at least). I arrived just in time to spend a few days with Andy and his family, and make it to Packers Stadium for opening day with the Seahawks.
Oshkosh sits on a lake that is known for it's world class ice fishing during the winter, and the nearby Wittman Regional Airport is home to the Experimental Aircraft Association's (EAA) AirVenture air show. The latter is the largest show of it's kind and draws aviation companies and enthusiasts from around the world to this small town every summer. The nearby EAA Aviation museum houses World War II aircraft, unique glider prototypes, and replicas of "The Spirit of St. Louis" and the Wright brothers original flyer. My favorite exhibit was a rare Air Force collection of World War II nose art. These paintings of risque women and other slogans adorning the noses of vintage aircraft told an amazing story of the young men who risked their lives during the war.
Before some of Andy's family had to get on a plane back to California, we made the drive just south of Oshkosh to visit Horicon National Wildlife Refuge. Established in 1941 to provide a sanctuary for migratory birds and waterfowl, the refuge is one of the largest in the country at just over 33,000 acres. Jointly managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Horicon Marsh (as it is called) is a shallow lake bed in a limestone bedrock that was shaped when the Wisconsin Glacier receded around 12,000 years ago. Although the underlying bedrock formation extends all the way to Niagara Falls, the marsh has dimensions that record approximately fourteen miles long and three to five miles wide.
Waterfowls, butterflies, and other critters find refuge in the marsh. Although not an unlikely place for the critters, but apparently it is for a lot of other people. Most people are genuinely shocked when I tell them about Horicon Marsh—one of the largest protected wildlife refuges in the country—and its location in the middle of Wisconsin. I don't know why it is such a surprise for listeners to hear that Wisconsin could be home to such a pristine and ecologically important place. Just as much as I feel people in the Midwest should venture outside of their comfort zone, so too should people living anywhere else in the country. And, hopefully, Americans can begin to form opinions for themselves regarding the places, and the people, living in different parts around the United States.
Prior to my final weeks before leaving Iowa, I bought a truck and a trailer and hoped that my "new" 1999 Ford F150 would survive the haul out to Colorado with two vintage motorcycles in the bed, and hauling a custom built trailer with everything that I owned. As I drove through some heavy crosswinds traversing Nebraska, I was thankful the loaded trailer didn't tip, and the smaller bias-ply tires withstood the increased miles (these tires are designed for shorter trips, like transporting a boat a few miles from storage to the lake).
After arriving back in Denver, I began the search for jobs and a place to live, all while living in a flower shop with Stephanie, the florist with whom I had started a relationship three months prior. Due to past long-distance relationships that didn't work out, I felt this move was what was needed to overcome most of the hurtles to make this one work. I thought wrong, and the day I moved into a small studio in the Capitol Hill Neighborhood was the day we broke up. Well shit.
So that's why I live in Denver now. I have been working as an instructor for indoor gym facility for toddlers called Great Play, providing developmental, motor skills, and sport activities for children—and a whole lot of fun in the process. One of my job descriptions is "Comfortable being inundated with hugs and high fives." So yeah, it's not a bad gig. I manage the weekends with three days off during the week, and for someone who hasn't had an alcoholic beverage for almost a year and a half, I'm okay with this scenario.
It's Mother's Day 2018, which means it's exactly two years since I moved away from Iowa and began traveling for a year and a half before making the decisions described in this post to settle down in one place again. From the Appalachian Trail, to Mongolia, to the Smoky Mountains, to Honduras, to Nicaragua, to El Salvador, and then three months of living off a motorcycle back in the States, I could have never anticipated the path of the previous two years, and taking advantage of the opportunity to do so was one of the greatest decisions of my life.
Yeah, I'm sad the relationship with Stephanie didn't work out, but it didn't break my spirit. If that brief relationship was the catalyst for me deciding to settle down again, if it was the reason I 'sought refuge' again, then it has helped me focus on other positive things in my life. I've been able to more effectively finish an eight month editing process on my book, External: Backpacking through Life on (and off) the Appalachian Trail, and get a polished copy of the manuscript submitted to an agency just this last week. And if there is anything that writing this book has taught me, you can never predict the outcome of many life scenarios, but we can learn from most of them, and manage our expectations more effectively as we continue to put one foot in front of the other—whether we're on a trail in the middle of the woods or living in a city.
|Photo Credit: Krystian "Snap" Repolona|
Happy Mother's Day,