Spirit Traffic is the story of the 10,000-mile motorcycle trip the author C. Jane Taylor took with her husband, John, and son, Emmett, to celebrate Emmett’s college graduation. They were all new riders, and it was their first trip. In May, Jane and John took Spirit Traffic back to the road on their BMW 650 GSs for a 97-day national book tour. Below is her final installment of Postcards from the Road.
Related Story: C. Jane Taylor Rides 6,000 Miles on National Book Tour
Day Ninety-Seven: August 17
It took forever to get out of Montana. Sure, it’s a huge state and we left late, but the heartache of leaving my favorite son seemed to have stopped time. That we had such a great time together made leaving all the more difficult. I tried not to cry; I know how dehydrating it can be and how hard it is to ride with tears in your eyes. This leaving felt like dropping him off at college for the first time, only this time I was getting schooled.
We rode to Roundup, Montana, and camped at the municipal park. We’d had great luck camping at the Spray Riverfront Park, a municipal park in Oregon. The park in Roundup had a river and running water in the bathrooms, but it felt more like camping in a van down by the river from that Chris Farley skit on Saturday Night Live. The bathroom was a concrete bunker filled with living and dead spiders. (Incongruously, a bottle of Mrs. Meyer’s hand soap perched on the edge of a bug-filled sink. It was basil-scented, the kind Emmett uses. Sigh.) But we were exhausted and sad; we tried to overlook the broken glass and cigarette butts.
The white-haired park proprietor and his wife rode up on an ATV as we cooked our vegetarian quesadillas. “I don’t want to interrupt your dinner…” he said as he interrupted our dinner.
“What are you cooking?” He looked at the perfectly chopped vegetables – Emmett’s housemate TJ had just sharpened my favorite knife the day before – with curiosity and maybe a little “where’s the beef” disgust. As we got into the “All the way from Vermont” and “National Book Tour” conversations we’d had so many times during the last ninety days, the proprietor swore. “Shiiiiitttt [he drew the word out over three syllables] that’s a long way.” His wife looked surprised at the bad language out of keeping with his old timey, Mayberry RFD vibe.
We rode out early the next morning into fierce heat and the grip of persistent heartache. Clouds of grasshoppers rose up from the road as if to slow our progress. We made a game of calling out where we we’d been hit: “Right arch, left knee, left shoulder, right thumb…” When a bug hit a face shield, the other rider could hear its thunk in the headset.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota was our next destination. Theodore Roosevelt is my favorite national park. On the edge of the Great Plains, it is filled with breathtaking painted canyons, bison, prairie dogs, and wild horses; and it’s threaded by the Little Missouri River. The small campground in the park is first-come-first-served. We’d ridden hard all day so we would arrive in time to get a spot. We did, but just barely. We cooked our supper of quesadillas under a richly colored sunset reflected off the canyon onto the river. A herd of wild horses forded the river near us on their way to their evening grazing grounds. We sipped wine and watched the moon rise.
In the morning, we woke early to break camp and take a scenic ride through the park’s spectacular canyons. The twisties here are gentle and sweet; we relished the opportunity to enjoy these last great curves of the west. Five minutes into the ride, we saw a giant majestic bison sunning himself on the rocks above the road and stopped to admire him from a considerable distance (I had to look up the difference between a buffalo and a bison. Here it is from the Smithsonian: “Bison have large humps at their shoulders and bigger heads than buffalo. They also have beards, as well as thick coats which they shed in the spring and early summer.”). I wondered about the loneliness of his solitude (Anthropomorphizing is a common activity inside my helmet.). In the open space beyond the next curve, an entire herd of bison blocked the road. Gobsmacked, we pulled off the road to admire the beasts from another considerable distance. As we sat on our bikes at the side of the road, other park visitors, snug in the safety of their automobiles, slowly approached the herd. A line of cars developed, bison weaving amongst them. One mighty bull, obviously the leader, glared into the grill of a shiny RV from Arizona. Younger animals cavorted and head butted one another on either side of the line of cars. We turned our bikes around.
Days 84-87 – We stayed with Emmett for three days during which time I did a Saturday Sidewalk Book Signing at Fact & Fiction Bookstore and a reading at Montgomery Distillery as part of their annual motorcycle show Spirits and Spokes.
Day 88 – Roundup, Montana.
Day 89 – Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Day 90 – We camped at Carrington City Park in Carrington, North Dakota. The park is in the middle of town next door to the municipal swimming pool where giggling teens swam and splashed to heart-throbby tunes until dark. In the early morning as we packed the bikes, two football teams started their practice.
Day 91 – We camped in the rain at Schoolcraft State Park in Deer River, Minnesota, at the headwaters of the Mississippi. Two huge, loud, probably paired snow geese flew over our picnic table and splashed down in the river as we cooked supper.
Day 92 – We finally got out of the rain in a sweet little cabin at Two Rivers Motel and Cabins in Trout River, Michigan, in the Upper Peninsula. There were more four-letter-word political flags waving in the U.P. than in any other part of the country. We passed a hand-painted billboard (a highway-sized billboard) broadcasting in red letters on a white background, “Impeach Joe-N-the-hoe.” A minivan was broken down under the sign. Two guys looked under its hood, as the mom and kids from the van stood at the side of the road furiously pumping their arms trying to get passing cars and trucks to beep their horns. We beeped.
Day 93 – Crossing into Canada was a breeze. We camped at Ojibway Tent & Trailer Park in the Garden River First Nation near Sault Set. Marie, Ontario, where I confronted my romanticized – probably racist – notions of Native American magic and mysticism. Trailer living is non-denominational and inelegant even in the Garden River First Nation. Our tent was squeezed in between camping trailers and their persistent generators, but we had a delightful cold sunrise swim at Laughing Water Beach on the St. Mary’s River.
Day 94 – We camped at Fishers’ Paradise, home of the River & Sky Camping and Music Festival. The place felt like Vermont’s Bread and Puppet Theatre festival. River & Sky (one of a handful of events hosted on the 200-acre property in Field, Ontario) was not going on. We had the place to ourselves. It was a bit eerie with abandoned tents and oddly appareled manakin parts.
Day 95 – Rideau River Provincial Park, Kemptville, Ontario. Our neighbors were smokers from Quebec. As much as I love to hear French conversation, the menthol gave me a headache.
Day 96 – Mom’s house. Newport, VT. After a wonderful, home cooked vegetarian soup, Mom poured us two fingers of Knob Creek Bourbon. We toasted all the riders as we did with Emmett in Sturgis during our first Spirit Traffic journey.
Day 97 – Home. Hinesburg, VT. Dewey is thrilled. My parakeet Doug sings happily. My heart is full. And I don’t know what to do. For ninety-seven days, I woke up and rode my bike. This morning after coffee on the porch with the dog and parakeet, I am a desk jockey.
As I reflect on the magnitude of this journey (13,000-14,000 miles, we haven’t added it all up yet), the thousands of miles I rode, the long hours in the saddle, the depth and breadth of motorcycle skills I gained, the great number of new friends I made, the wonderful and generous hosts who welcomed John and I with open arms and homes, the number of books sold, the ways I’ve grown, and the things I’ve learned, my eyes fill with tears.
This is just the beginning.
Thank you for your support and for reading my postcards.
Spirit Traffic can be purchased on the author’s website. It is also available on eBook and as an audio book read by the author.