Effigy Mounds National Monument, Iowa

I hadn’t seen a Dunkin Donuts for many days and was afraid I’d passed out of their range, but this morning I found spoor. At the rest area just inside Wisconsin there was a trash can with two styrofoam Dunkin Donuts coffee cups right on top of the pile. My heart leaped up but I rode all day and still didn’t see an actual DD; the rest area was on I-90 so it’s possible the cups weren’t fresh and had been carried from many states away. I don’t know what to attribute their absence to- I can’t blame it on the Waffle Houses anymore since they don’t seem to fare well this far north, but maybe the Dairy Queens have predatory tendencies that I’m unaware of.

Riding across southern Wisconsin I saw black and white road signs proclaiming things like “XX,” “CH,” “G,” and “Q.” Apparently the county roads are given letters instead of numbers — it’s as good a system as any, I suppose, but I still felt like I was in a Sesame Street skit.

The butterflies have started to change, so I know I’m not at home anymore. A week ago I stopped in the southeast corner of Indiana to investigate a stream and I found an abandoned arched stone bridge and a posse of big black butterflies. They looked like floppy bats as they moseyed around the brown slab stone streambed, and had a faint blue irridescence that became bright on the back wings — pipevine swallowtails, which I’ve never seen in New Hampshire. Along many highways and roads since then I’ve also seen small bright orange-yellow butterflies that I can’t identify.

The leaves have also started to change, but when I saw the first brown and yellow leaves in Kentucky I didn’t believe it. It seemed too early so I thought it must have been some strange Kentucky tree with odd habits, but since then I’ve seen the leaves starting to change colors across five states; it must be the drought. Fall in New Hampshire is one of the most beautiful things on Earth; I’ve only missed a couple in my life and it breaks my heart to think I might miss another.

I’ve seen two sets of sundogs so far: parhelia, smudges of rainbow colored light about a foot to either side of the sun (measured at arm’s length). Both were in the late afternoon, once in Ontario and once in Indiana; as I understand it they’re pieces of a halo formed by sunlight passing through ice crystals. There are signs and portents everywhere, but not all of them are clear to me.

Giant dirt bears are real, and they sleep on the banks of the upper Mississippi.

Someone formed mounds of earth here on top of the bluffs. Some are domes 20 feet wide, some are like dashes 100 feet long; some are bears and birds. The Great Bear mound is 137 feet long and some of the birds have wingspans of 100 feet. The domes can be 2500 years old while the animals have probably slept for only a millenium or so.

They’re low, rising only a foot or two or four above the ground. A swell a foot high spanning 100 feet would be imperceptible to me if it wasn’t cleared and the grass around it cut, but once I know what to look for the giant bears are undeniable, massive and subtle. Discerning them in the overgrown woods must have been like learning to see Magic Eye images, staring until patterns rose up out of the leaves. The mounds’ sublety makes them even more wondrous, not only because it means they weren’t really meant for us ground-dwellers to see but because it makes me wonder what else I’ve missed. If this normal-looking ground is actually swollen with images and symbols, what about all the other ground I’ve walked across? If I’m blind to these Godzilla-sized animal crackers, how blind am I? There could be equations etched in the White Mountains, musical notation inscribed in the stream-patterns of marshes, the name of the one true God written and erased in the dunes every hour, and I would never know.

They’ve found traces of old fires set in the bears’ heads and hearts, as in mine. The bears must have nearly come alive. They speculate that the fires might have been used as parts of funeral rites. Is that what you have to do after you die — face down a giant dirt bear and pass though his fiery mind?

At the visitor center the filmstrip teaches me that this was a transitional region between the prairie to the west and the hardwood forest to the east. But there is no hardwood forest to the east- I know because I’ve just ridden from there, for many hundreds of miles, and there’s nothing but the Corn Plain. I enjoyed that ride through the sweet-smelling farmland, but this lends it a sinister cast. There was once a vast and mighty forest and we eradicated it, and now the corn we put in its place is all brown anyway.

The Marching Bear Group is a few miles south of the others and it’s getting dark by the time I reach them. There are ten bears marching in a line, head to tail, with a couple birds at the ends. The grass around the bears has been mowed while the grass on the bears grows wild. The bears seem to be marching out of Harper’s Ferry; the birds are flying to the river.

Although it’s against the rules, I sleep between the bears, high on the grassy hill under the oaks and maples. I dream nothing and leave no trace.


All that separates us is a thin layer of grime.

It’s been a week since I had a shower or slept in a bed. That’s fine as long as you don’t need to cross back over and be a part of society again, but I did need to. My back tire was bald and I needed a new one; since I’d resolved not to take the money out of the 751, and there is no other money, I had to work for it. I’ve been doing pen-and -ink drawings of houses since Bowling Green, Kentucky and across the length of Indiana. As in: (knock-knock) “Hi, I’m sorry to bother you. I do pen-and-ink drawings and was wondering if you might be interested in one of your house. Here are some examples of others that I’ve done…” They’re a good size for getting made into greeting cards.

But it’s hard to be taken seriously if you’re greasy, stubbly, your hair’s gone mad and you stink. I can’t even take myself seriously when I stink, and attracting flies is demoralizing. I’ve done the best I could, (shampooing my hair with the antibacterial hand wash in the Mcdonald’s restroom, then hunkering down under the hot-air hand drier because the nozzle doesn’t swivel), and sometimes feel pretty clean, but it gets a little harder every day.

A few days ago in Bloomington, Indiana, I played make-believe. After a vigorous and refreshing shaving, scouring, and shampooing I walked around the Indiana University campus and pretended I was a real person who had a reason to be there. It was a beautiful day and the students were just coming back for the fall, so lots of people were just wandering around. I looked people in the eye, smiled, exchanged greetings and nobody flinched; I was careful that nothing about me said, “Last night I parked my motorcycle behind a piece of construction equipment and slept in the dirt next to it.”

Going door-to-door is gruesome — 99 out of 100 people just wish I wasn’t there. There’s a look in their eyes that tells me they’re not even going to consider anything I’m about to say; these are the same people who, if I was hitchhiking, would refuse to make eye contact and just shoot on by pretending I didn’t exist. Denied the luxury of just driving by, forced to face me, I can see them frantically scheming up an exit strategy, an excuse to get rid of me. Very few of them can simply say no, so instead they hunt for an excuse or justification. This is ridiculous because I make it very easy to say no to me since I don’t want to work for anyone who isn’t genuinely interested, but they’re so crippled by vague fears and suspicions that they can’t even hear me. There are only a handful of people who actually listen to what I say, then check inside their heads for a second to see if they really want a drawing, but they’re like rays of sunshine. After a long series of refusals all I really want is to be considered as another human being, even if they still say no.

But a little like hitchhiking, the few who say yes make it all worthwhile. They’re enthusiastic, thrilled by the idea, and happy with the result. It’s very satisfying to work for people like that, producing something that they want and then giving it to them directly. Drawing has been very satisfying work by itself, and even if they’re only houses I’ve been proud of every one. I hate to part with them so I make photocopies for myself.

I feel like a ghost floating through the strip malls and suburbs. It’s no place for a person with no job, no money, and no clean clothes. I should be out in the country, riding, but the suburbs are where the people live and the strips are where I can find clean tables in air-conditioned rooms to draw at. Finding a place to sleep is hardest here. My resolve broke down and I handed over $30 at a motel outside Indianapolis, but when I saw the room I turned right around, got my money back and kept riding; every surface was crawling with filth and the stink gave me a headache. The ground is so much cleaner, and free.

$30 was cheap. If you make minimum wage then a night’s lodging is at least a day’s wages, if not double or triple. That seems out of balance, since we all have to sleep. It’s not as though it’s a priviledge you want to work all day for- sleeping is a right. If you work at the Mcdonald’s on the interstate then you can’t afford to travel, only to serve those who do. And as far as I know, none of the chains do much better than $6 an hour, including Barnes & Noble.

I’ve spent the last four days haunting the same Mcdonald’s and Barnes & Noble (with cafe), drawing feverishly all day, working from Polaroids. The Mcdonald’s has a wall outlet I can plug into and read over my e-mail as a cheerful break, but the Barnes & Noble has a superior bathroom with fantastic paper towels. They’re white and soft like a kitchen roll, but tough as cloth like something I’d expect to find at a garage, something you can really scrub with. I have no qualms about imposing on Barnes & Noble since I’ve worked for that company for much of the past year, and I don’t feel too guilty about liberating a few cents of electricity from international megacorp Mcdonald’s (if I’m in an independent truckstop or cafe I always ask before plugging in and usually offer to pay for it). I have the sense of being in an economic landscape so rich that luxuries like hot water and electricity flow freely off the the mountainous megastores and fast-food chains. But no beds.

It is lonely. All around me are not just people, but interlocking webs of people who know each other, who work together or have friendships or romances. Everyday life flows along the strands of the web making it tremble and flutter. I pass right though it because I am just a one dimensional point, unconnected. I need solace and hope to find that in land, somewhere west.

They can say representational art is dead, but yesterday it bought me a new tire. I removed and reinstalled the wheel myself to save a few dollars. I did it methodically, by the manual, and it felt like a hot, grimy holy ritual as I removed and cleaned and re-greased each part, then slowly put it all back together again, tightening, adjusting, double-checking. That tire makes me very happy. I feel like I won it in battle.

It is September 3 and I am in Lafayette, Indiana. I’ll be here for about 5 more minutes. It’s taken me 4,190 miles to get here and there are 520 dollars remaining, but now I know I can make more if I have to.

Mammoth Cave, Kentucky

Today I spent three hours under the earth, not even dead, and walked inside it for four miles; still I saw only a tiny fraction of the things I shouldn’t have seen.

Since mooching off my relatives in Ontario worked out so well, I decided to extend the theme and visit my aunt and her family here in Kentucky, just across the river from Cincinnati. It was wonderful being a part of civilization, but I got soft — being indoors does that. Kind of like Superman, my powers start to fade if I’m not exposed to the sky. A few days ago I set out for Mammoth Cave, only a couple hundred miles away, but I left late, stopped at the mall, then got turned around on some back roads. I rode an hour down the highway and pulled over to take a nap; when I got up I decided what I really wanted was a root beer float so I bought ice cream and root beer and rode back to Villa Hills. It was pathetic.

I was caught in the gravitational well of the clean bed and the hot shower for a whole week and only left two days ago to finally head for the cave, but it was worth it: spending time with relatives and playing with the kids is at least as important as any trip. Eating their food is just a bonus.

Ohio and Indiana are covered with corn. Most of the fields are brown; staked at their edges are colorful signs with mouth-watering names like Pfister Hybrids 3321, Pioneer 33Y18 Elite, Southern Cross Jude 4.0, Croplan Genetics 6598, and AgriGold A6460. Corn is no longer grown by human beings.

Mammoth Cave has 350 miles of passages that they know about, and the pamphlet estimates there may be twice as many more yet undiscovered. I walked along only a few miles of these but it was still very strange to slip into the earth in one place and come out several miles away (Honey, we’re late — should we take Route 259 or the cave?); it isn’t just a cave, it’s a Way. Much of the tour was through grand corridors 15 feet high and 40 feet wide, gently curved — a pipe under the ground. Other segments were much taller and rougher like riverbed with a flat rock ceiling. We filed for several hundred yards through a subterranean slot canyon 3 feet wide and extravagantly curvaceous, a wildly rippling ribbon of air through stone. We rested and walked, rested and walked, as if we were on an epic journey and had to conserve our strength; I watched for Gollum and kept my hand near Sting (my Leatherman) in case the lights failed.

We weren’t the first. People began exploring the cave 4000 years ago by the light of reed torches, and made it not just a hundred yards or a half mile, but many miles under the ground. That’s staggering bravery, and I can only hope they found that passage to the other side that has so far eluded us.

Far underground, we found hidden things, wonders of the earth: a cafeteria, drinking fountains, restrooms.

Most of the passages we travelled through were dry, if haunted by water. Stalactite and stalagmite free, the mighty network of tunnels was cut by dark children of the Green River millions of years ago and then abandoned for deeper levels where they play still. There were white gypsum growths on the rough walls like flowers, tufts of hair, lichens, as if when rock dreams it dreams of life and then extrudes those dreams through a slow stone alchemy.

At the end we did come to a chamber called the Frozen Niagara which was full of the rock icicles and sheets of flowstone that are formed by slowly dripping, oozing water. Some appeared warm woody brown, some closer to white. Looking up at the ceiling was like looking up into the vanes of a madly twisted mushroom cap. I guess if rock is going to dream it’s not surprising if it dreams small dreams of things barely alive; fungus, for its part, seems nostalgic for stony sleep.

As the ranger said, we are creatures of light. Not only are we solar-powered, but our minds are like shuttered lanterns full of light. We have other senses but sight rules over them so that the world we perceive around us and the copy we keep in our heads are both full of pictures. To us, darkness is just the absence of light, like silence is the absence of sound, a temporary condition. But light in this cave is a little like sound in space — it’s just not one of the features. When we turn on the lights to walk through and look at the cave, what we’re looking at is something we invented; we might as well paint the cave blue from end to end because light is just as foreign and unnatural a pigment. We have to go down in our capsule of light, though, to make some sense of the place or else we could barely even tell that it existed, as the little fish and bugs that live down there would come up to the surface world in dark capsules of smell and sound-perception if they ever undertook that journey.

Guelph, Ontario

I spent the better part of three days on that road, la Route de la Baie James. It is too long. By the time you reach the end you’ve forgotten where you started, why you’re there, who you are. An hour can pass and not see a single vehicle. It’s not a real road — real roads have buildings on them, people, cities and towns. This is just an idea of a road, an archetype. The wind comes and goes, the rain comes and goes, the sun sets and rises and sets again and you ride and ride and ride.

The road does have a purpose, a destination which isn’t mine. To the east of the road’s northern terminus lie about 500 miles of hydroelectric reservoirs linked end to end to form an almost continuous body of water. According to my map this water feeds seven hydroelectric stations with names like La Grande 1, La Grande 2, La Grande 3. I have no trouble picturing how big this is: it’s equivalent to the length of the road I’ve just been on, plus several hours.

It rained on me as I edged south so I wore my secret lingerie of blue garbage bags. The most effective rain-defense system I have, they at best act like control rods in a reactor by controlling the rate at which I get wet. By the time I got south of Rouyn-Noranda and crossed over into Ontario it was so warm I didn’t even mind the rain, and I rode half the night just because I could.

I love riding at night. Free from the automobile cabin that blots out the sky and the ground and parcels the rest into dim rectangles, on the bike I can see everything. Lights falls off the bike in all directions; not only does the headlight throw enough extra light to cast a glow onto the bushes and trees beside me, but the tail light sprays red behind me. At the center of a sphere of light I fly through a dark world.

In the headlight’s beam I saw the giant dragonfly, like I always do. The old headlight doesn’t cast an even circle or cone of light but rather it projects a varied and intricate structure of light and dark across the world before me. On the road in front of me fall two irregular pools of light to form the head and thorax, then mighty rays of light spill sideways to the left and right to form the wings. The wings sweep 20 or 30 feet in either direction, right off the road and up into the trees; as the uneven night world flits by and the light dances across it, the wings seem to flutter. This isn’t a visual whim like a face in a cloud that might also be a camel or a flower — it really does look like a dragonfly. With the high beam it looks like a bigger dragonfly. Since the head, body and wings fly just ahead of me, that places the long tail directly under me as if I was astride.

Riding my giant dragonfly of light, I almost hit a skunk.

I was a little anxious about visiting my cousins in Guelph. I’d never met them, so even if we shared a smidge more DNA than most people we were still total strangers. Why should they put me up for the night?

They turned out to be some of the nicest and best people in the world and we spent all night in the backyard eating and talking. It was a wonderfully warm, soft night; the crabapples fell with an intermittent patter; the black cat, Evil Roy (a female), prowled. And I marveled at my luck, that even the farthest corners of my family are full of such good people.

Chisasibi — James Bay

James Bay is the thumb that Hudson Bay sticks down into the continent, and Chisasibi is as far north on the water as the road will take me. It’s plenty far enough.

I’ve never had to sign in to use a road before, especially a road 400 miles long, but I did for this one. Just north of Matagami was a gatehouse where they put my name, address, and telephone number into a computer so they could file a report if I never came back.

At about mile 50 north of the gatehouse I saw a monster of some kind. It appeared to be a very tall dog with the head of a cat, but it was far away and loped into the bushes before I could get a better look. It warms my heart to know that such fine medieval creatures still walk the earth.

It was 240 miles from Matagami to the next gas pump. I emptied my main tank twice, then my reserve, and still had to pour my little cannister of stove fuel into my tank to make it the last couple miles. There’s something unsettling about having to carry my own gas — it reminds me of a movie I saw once that took place in the future when there wasn’t any more gasoline for some reason except there was this guy with a Ferrari — maybe Burt Reynolds? — and he found another guy with a whole bunch of gas hidden away so they decided to drive the Ferrari to California where people still had gas and cars… but I don’t think I saw the rest of it, and I’m not sure I’m remembering this part right anyway. But I remember thinking, Geez, imagine having to bring your own gas with you wherever you went? It seemed so… well, apocalyptic. And then there’s that whole Road Warrior thing.

I spent the night close to the gas pump.

The trees here have heads — dense clusters of needles and cones at the top that bobble and wave in the wind. I feel like a mouse in a wheat field. The effect is even more striking when the trees are dead and there’s nothing left but a slender trunk with a dark snarl at the tip, and there are a lot of dead trees; in some places, mile after mile of them.

Around mile 350 the ground disappeared and was replaced by a dazzling lime-white foam: a vast carpet of bushy lichen about 3 inches thick. The woods were open and easy to walk through but eerie and surreal with such a bright, uniform mat beneath the trees. This alien landscape extended out of sight in all directions, poked through by occasional low bush blueberries and big anthills. Stranger still, the mat was precisely cut by dark lines 20 or 30 feet long — sometimes singly, sometimes forming X’s. The lines were geometrically straight, 3 or 4 inches wide, and through them showed the dark, bare earth. Close inspection revealed rotted wood in the dirt and usually the remains of a stump at one end; these were all that was left of trees that had fallen and decayed right into the ground. They must have been many years dead but the lichen still hadn’t regrown over where the trunks had been; maybe the lichen grows that slowly, or maybe it doesn’t grow on wood. The effect was that of shadows etched on walls by the Bomb, images etched into matter by things no longer there.

The bones of the Shield showed through more the farther north I rode, flat outcroppings of darkened, painstakingly weathered stone. The Canadian Shield is a great big hunk of geology, a massive plate of old hard rock that arcs around Hudson Bay and covers half of Canada, stretching all the way through Labrador in the east. It’s home to some of the world’s most ancient rocks — 3.8 billion years old — which still leaves whole empires and dynasties of previous rocks unaccounted for and probably lost forever. The Shield is so colossal that you can almost see it in a map of Canada, can almost discern its shape, intuit its presence as if it lurked just below the ink. And what is it really? What sort of shield straddles the Earth, cups a giant bay?

Chisasibi is a Cree town and it seems much larger and more interesting than the Hydro town of Radisson. At the moment, though, nobody’s home — they’ve all gone over to Fort George Island, where the town used to be, to celebrate the fact that in 1978 they moved the town to where it is now. I’m not sure what to think, except that they must have really hated living on that island.

James Bay looks like a bastard: brown, churning water and a cold wind. There are a couple dozen very serious looking boats pulled up on the rocky beach, long heavy outboards, Cree boats. This is a working beach. I have trouble getting a sense of where I am; I think I’m missing something.

Where do you go from here — to the north pole, or outer space? At the airport near Radisson I saw a big airplane with Air Inuit painted on the side. Maybe that’s where you go — Nunavut.

But me, I’m going south. I’ve come 1278 miles and there are 640 dollars remaining.

Val-d’Or, Quebec

Rode all day in the rain. I thought I’d outsmarted it — when I was still only mostly wet I pulled over at a sheltered picnic table to wait it out.  I wrung out my socks, made some hot chocolate and warmed myself over the Iliad and my unrequited love for Athena. I waited several hours until the rain lessened and finally stopped. I patted myself on the back for my prudence and patience and rode for about 20 minutes without precipitation, then rode the rest of the day in pouring rain; if they’ve invented gear that can keep you dry in pouring rain at 60 mph, I can’t afford it. The rain was hundreds of miles across — no rain has a right to be that big, and cold.

Another high point was perhaps one million miles of dirt road due to construction.  Muddy and violently potholed where it wasn’t entirely loose, freshly-graded dirt, it was an alternately unpleasant and terrifying ride. It might not have been so bad if I’d been able to see; that’s why I bought a new visor, after all, to replace the old one that was so scratched up that to look through it was to be convinced you were surrounded by clouds. But the new visor is tinted black- it was the only one they had and I thought it might be my last chance to get one for a while (I was wrong), but it turns a perfectly good day into twilight and an overcast day into an oppressive evil darkness. And as I was riding and wiped some water droplets off my new visor with the back of my soft fleecy glove I could see scratches left behind; Lexan, as far as I can tell, scratches upon exposure to air.

I had to get a room and a hot shower.

It’s very different travelling without company. If  Sean was here, we could at least laugh about how miserable we were. Right now I’m not laughing.

I only mention this because any trip worth a damn starts with a misery or an outright disaster, so I’m at least heading in the right direction.

Time has slowed down considerably.

Manchester, New Hampshire

They found a body in the river. That’s a story that’s got to be as old as Cain, but they did, just the other day, right here. The woman’s arms, legs, and head had been removed. She was found in a swimming hole where I’ve swam before. Just an hour before the body was found I walked right over the river above it; I’d dropped my bike off for a tune-up and was just coming back across the bridge. If I’d looked more carefully I might’ve seen it: an abstraction, a dictionary definition of a torso.

It chills my blood, but it isn’t completely surprising. There’s just something about Manchester that says it was only a matter of time. I’ll be glad to be gone.

My bike is an old warhorse: a black 1981 Kawasaki KZ440 LTD- two cylinders, belt drive. It gets no respect. I was talking to a mounty who warned me against taking a particular road because it was gravel and, he said, your friend’s bike might get hurt. Nothing about my bike, but Heaven forbid that anything should happen to Sean’s Vulcan. At another point we were parked next to a guy with a Goldwing who immediately offered Sean some special polish and a soft rag to touch up his bike. It was understood that this offer did not extend to me and mine; his rag might’ve gotten dirty.

It’s a small bike, but it’s all I’ve got. I owe a lot to small bikes anyway: a ’72 Honda 350 4 cylinder that was heavy as lead, a ’76 Honda CB550 that ran and ran, a red MZ 250 that took me farther than I had a right to go. I’ll get a big sprawling cruiser someday, but there’s something to be said for making do with what you have — right now my motorcycle and my laptop combined cost less than $400, and both of them took me to Labrador and back. Every mile from here on out is just a bonus.

I’ve always wanted to go up to Hudson Bay. It’s immense, it dominates any map of North America, but somehow you never hear anything about it. For a long time I wasn’t even sure how to get there- the maps I saw never showed any roads, just train tracks. Finally last summer when I was driving a cab one of my fares told me that he’d not only been there, but he’d been there by motorcycle. Apparently the road doesn’t show up on a lot of maps because it’s actually a private road, hundreds of miles long, owned by Hydro Quebec. At one point there’s a stretch of 230 miles between gas stations; I’ll need to bring extra gas to span that.

A secret route, passed between travelers by word of mouth.

I have a full tank of gas and a bag of food to give me a head start. There are 24,262 miles on my odometer and 751 dollars remaining.

Time Dilation

Although it was a two-week trip, we were only actually in Newfoundland and Labrador for five days. That boggles my mind- those five days seem somehow bigger than the whole previous year. When I try to remember 1998 there are whole months missing — not amnesia, it’s just that when every day is the same there’s nothing to remember. I had a couple jobs but I really only remember a day or two from each — and that day repeated X times, over and over. Even when I look at the calendar to jog my memory all I see are empty spaces, a blank grid signifying idleness and distraction, a wasteland of lost time. I lost almost an entire year and it makes me want to weep.

Of those five days in Newfoundland, though, I remember every minute, from strapping the motorcycles down on the ferry to eating french fries soaked in gravy and cheese. Because everything was constantly changing — the land, the people, the price of gas — every moment was stamped and marked in my memory. It’s got something to do with the way brains work, the way they compress data; if you have a routine, if one day is just like the day before, then the brain says, “Hey, I’ve already got this memory — I don’t need another copy.” That’s how weeks of my life seem to disappear.

Anything different, though, gets remembered. It can be painful to live without a routine, exhausting to make countless small decisions when you don’t have a template to follow, and frightening to not have the reassurance that what you’re doing must be O.K. because it worked yesterday — but times of flux get remembered, so that when you look back in your mind there’s at least something there. This is one of the secret magics of travelling, a kind of time dilation that stretches minutes and hours out until you have to find another way to measure time; with miles, maybe.

So that’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to buy memories. I’m going to get back on my motorcycle and ride until that money is gone and I’ve ridden across 751 dollars’ worth of North America. Instead of watching time erase behind me on a mnemonic whim, I’m going to build a linked chain of places visited and people met and then polish each one in my mind like a jewel.

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to stop time. This’ll be a good start.

Manchester, NH

After only one night in Labrador we crossed back onto Newfoundland and rode up to the northern tip of the island. One thousand years ago the Norse had a settlement there at L’Anse aux Meadows; we spent two nights just a stone’s throw away. That beautiful green rolling land might be the Vinland of the sagas; those bulges in the ground might be the remains of Thorfinn Karlsefni’s failed colony. I can believe it; it’d be a fine place to live.

Three days ago we left to begin the long burn home with less than full enthusiasm. I’d left my head behind me somewhere; minor miracles and people met. It seemed like a beautiful day, warm and sunny, until we got out into the wind. I’ve never had to ride in a wind like that before — there were times we could hardly get over 40 mph. It slapped me from side to side with such vigor it was all I could do to stay in my lane; when a truck or tour bus would appear going the other way I ‘d concentrate: “DON’T HIT THE BUS. DON’T HIT THE BUS.” Even on straightaways my bike was canted into the wind as though I was going around a corner. My head flopped from side to side and my face was mushed around into surely entertaining expressions, even behind the visor. At one point my engine cut out; mystified, it took me several minutes to realize that I’d run out of gas after only 90 miles instead of the normal 120. It was like wrestling with a motorcycle-shaped animal, or how I imagine it must feel to ride a jet-ski in heavy surf. The wind could do anything it wanted up there because there was nothing to stop it; I was grateful for every moment that it didn’t simply flick my wheels out from under me. This continued for 200 miles.

We watched three movies consecutively on the ferry from Newfoundland to Nova Scotia. We heard so many stories about the ferry: the boat is designed to make the passage in three hours but the ferry company didn’t make any money from the cafeteria on such a short trip, so they lengthened it; the ferry leaves at odd hours to insure that you miss a meal and thus have to buy food on board; the day boat only takes four hours but at night they shut off one engine so the trip takes six or seven hours and the crew can receive more night pay. If these stories aren’t all true, they’re at least an example of our human need to explain and assign blame for our suffering.

The ride back across the middle of Cape Breton Island was slow as we arduously leapfrogged past long caravans of campers and trucks on the hilly two-lane highway, so after we crossed back onto the Nova Scotia mainland we left the highway to look for an alternate route. Ofcourse we failed and rode around in circles for a while, then got back on the highway an exit or two down. Now the road was smooth and fast, a four-lane divided highway- Heaven! We rode in oblivious glee for ten minutes before it occurred to us (simultaneously) that we were the only vehicles on the road; we hadn’t seen a single car or truck going in either direction. Laughing hysterically we exchanged gestures of bafflement, then pulled over and looked at the map which told us nothing. Still silence on the big beautiful highway. We rode on and about five minutes later came to where the blacktop ended and the construction crew began; this was a new highway being built to replace the old one and for whatever reason the exit we’d got on at just hadn’t been blocked or marked. The construction people directed us back to the old road.

At dark, after riding all day from North Sydney, we crossed back into Maine, took off our helmets and then rode all night toward places called home; 22 hours by the time we got back at dawn on Friday.

Behind us, from Manchester to Red Bay, lay 1350 miles of road.

L’Anse Amour, Labrador

Just after the boat left shore at St. Barbe we saw our first iceberg, the first iceberg I’ve ever seen, a white chip against the horizon. Then we saw two more, then a handfull, all grazing along the coast like ancient things out of H.P. Lovecraft. A little later we saw our first whales. I’ve never seen a whale before, except maybe once when I was little and someone pointed out a black speck in the distance and told me it was a whale. These whales made their leisurely way across the straits blasting geysers of vapor , dorsal fins rising and falling. Boats, icebergs, and whales were gathered in that water like three strange tribes of giants, but if they had anything to say to each other, I don’t know what it was.

The paved road in southern Labrador is a single ribbon along the coast about 50 miles long. We rode up to Red Bay at the northern end, then turned around and rode back; to go farther we’d need something other than these bikes. 500 years ago Red Bay was a Basque whaling city; for us it felt like a long way from anywhere else, but the store still had Pepsi and Star Wars: Episode I promotional displays.

All the way up we couldn’t peel our eyes off the icebergs creeping along the shore, sneaking into the bays- they were much closer than they’d been from the boat. There was one maybe 50 feet off the end of a pier; it looked like a porcelain sculpture of whipped cream- hard, shiny, rippled, whorled, dazzling white. An hour later when we went by again it had flipped over. There were others with that crazy blue color inside that you hear about, an alien electric glow like radioactive gel toothpaste — really, the last color you’d expect to see produced by snow. One had three thin spires like steeples, seemingly too thin and delicate to support their own weight.

What does it mean when you see icebergs? You look it up in your dream dictionary and find out if she likes you or not, because icebergs aren’t a part of the waking world. They’re not even real things, they’re ideas, symbols, icons. My brain is not equipped for icebergs.

There are minke whales surfacing 100 feet from me — probably the same kind of whales we saw from the ferry, but right here, come into the cove to feed. One comes toward the pier and surfaces and its back breaks the water not 50 feet away. I wonder how much closer it came, unseen beneath the surface. The cove at L’Anse Amour is about a half mile across and has a nice sandy beach: cozy, safe, with whales in it. From where I am, I have to look inland to watch the whales — it’s not like they’re in the ocean, it’s like they’re in the backyard.

There are five houses in a line along the shore at L’Anse Amour and one of them rents rooms. It’s as modern and comfortable as any suburban house, and it could be anywhere except for the whales out the window; that, and the piano in the corner of the living room which was salvaged from a ship that ran aground here in 1922. The H.M.S. Raleigh, crew of 700, also provided the kitchen chairs. The chairs have been reupholstered to match the more recent tubular metal kitchen chairs; I’d never have noticed them.

Rita, our hostess, gives us bakeapples over vanilla ice cream and they are absolutely delicious. When the woman who Sean didn’t hit with his motorcycle told us about the bakeapple festival, we tried to picture apple trees in Labrador. But a bakeapple is a little orange berry with a shape like a raspberry that grows singly on the ground. They have little white flowers which, we’re told, collapse inward and then change color before the bakeapple emerges from within; first the berry is reddish, then it turns bright orange when it’s ready to be picked. They’re tart and sweet and yeah, a little apple-y, but they’re not just a quirky local food, they’re delicious. They strike an unexpected chord of food-joy in me; how could we have never heard of something this good? In their own way the bakeapples are as amazing and surprising as the whales and the icebergs; they must be one of the fruits we forgot about when the Gate was locked behind us.

A boy named Jordan, maybe 5 or 6 years old, rides up to me on his bicycle and starts talking. He’s slightly pudgy with a big grin that never stops as he tells me all about the other day when his friend’s bike broke down in the ditch and they had to tow it out with Jordan’s bike and then tow it all the way back to the house (about 100 feet away). He shows me the flimsy orange plastic cord they used for this salvage operation, wrapped under the bicycle seat in case of further emergencies. He peels out in the dirt a couple times to demonstrate how powerful his bike is. He’s a great kid and I could talk to him all day. He starts telling me about all the different kinds of whales, their names, sizes, where you can see them; he’s like an encyclopedia. It never even occurs to me to doubt his knowledge until I ask him about the whales in the cove and he tells me that they’re killer whales and they grow to be 138 feet long. Oh well.

It’s later now, the sun is about to fall, and the whales are still there. They were there when we checked in, they were there all afternoon, and they’re still there as the dark comes; not a dream.

How much can you see in one day? How many times can you see the rules of your world broken? I’d better go inside, and close my eyes.