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Snow was falling leaving Sylvan Lake and the Crazy Horse monument which is easily seen on a clear day was barely visible. The roads of the Black Hills National Forest were unplowed and growing thicker by the minute. I didn’t have a good feeling about this next leg of the trek and tenseness set in.

A friend called to check in on the status of the hike and my safety. The conversation turned to Thanksgiving and I thought of the friends and family I’d miss on a favorite day of the year. Enjoying good food with friends and family provides connection and community not always occurring throughout the year. Instantly I felt overwhelmed thinking of all the people who have been a part of my life. I’m truly gifted to have some of the best friends in the world. I knew I would not only miss them on Thanksgiving but for an unknown period of time. Thoughts that I could or should have waited heading west until after Thanksgiving, or Christmas, or New Years or even the spring were swirling in my mind. Was this the best thing to do at this point in my life? With a bucket of doubts raining down turning back crossed my mind. A bad idea. I left when I did to minimize the winter weather I would encounter and waiting until the spring wasn’t an option. The time was now to move forward. I procrastinated to head west long enough. I regained composure and continued on the snow and ice covered roads.

Snow, Ice, Wind & 6% Downhill Grade“The Little Truck that Could” pulled hard up the mountains then engine braking down the steep 6% grades. No fun on snow and ice. We, the truck and I, were traveling at less than half the speed limit locked into 4WD. The line the truck took was fairly stable and we stayed on the road away from magnetic guardrails wanting to pull us in. I left finger impressions deeper than what was already on the steering wheel. True white knuckled driving. An hour later entering Deadwood I was craving a cheeseburger. (McDonald’s wasn’t an option.) As much I wanted a one more daylight miles were needed and there was a break in the weather. Finally on I-90 a better speed was obtainable making good miles. So I thought. More snow came then wind. Snow covered roads became ice. My hyper focus on the road was more than when I played the video game Asteroids in high school. I held on with a death grip and had to pry my fingers from the steering wheel to change hand positions. This was crazy, insane even. There were places where if I was blown off the highway there was no getting back to the road. Maybe I could get help from my brother Dave’s Navy helicopter team. My life’s belongings would sit at the bottom of one of these slopes forever. More thoughts of turning back consumed me. The weather wasn’t going to suddenly get better leaving South Dakota and crossing Wyoming. With these wild thoughts building an eagle suddenly flew across my path, wings spread wide, dangling legs and long talons. I couldn’t translate the sign this majestic bird was providing, but I was being guided by another raptor.

Iced Aero TrailerThe weather worsened and I knew the department of transportation would be closing the highway. I just needed to make the next exit in Gillette, Wyoming. Mentally wiped out and hungry I found a busy Mexican restaurant playing an extreme level of La Cucaracha three times normal speed. I would have won a taco eating contest that night and couldn’t leave fast enough even though the tequila menu looked tempting. I finished a much needed beer and found my place of rest. The snow sprayed from the rear tires to the trailer made an aerodynamic design I’m submitting to U-Haul for a patent. The following morning a weather advisory had me sequestered in the hotel where I tried to figure out what exactly was in pre-made waffle batter which made better sponges than a breakfast treat. I was surely not in Belgium!

Iced Over The Toyota is Ready to Press OnBack on the road at 10:00 AM snow was disappearing and I could relax into normal driving. My willpower broke down and treated myself to a double filet-o-fish and a small fry for lunch. I deserved it. The Toyota received a treat of high octane. I left Wyoming with a few mental scars from the previous day. Crossing into Montana the terrain began to change. Outlines of mountains near Bozeman were fading as darkness took over the sky. Cresting a mountain exposed the city lights of Butte which reminded me of pacing in the Wasatch 100. I welcomed seeing the city knowing my head would soon hit a pillow.

Clearing in MontanaMisting clouds broke early the next morning creating rainbows in the mountains. The “Little Truck That Could” pressed on and pulled the heavy load through the mountains of Montana and into virgin territory of Idaho. A state I’ve never been to before. I had to give the truck a name. Being strong, stocky and rugged, Tatonka would be fitting. Meaning buffalo in Lakota. We were gifted with warmer than normal weather and clear skies reducing the fear of sliding off the motorway. Idaho came and went with a long final decent into Washington through Spokane then into the high desert region of the state. Refueling in springlike temperatures felt good and odd. Was this the same month I was in a few states ago? No green was to be seen and as dusk set in I crossed the Columbia River into Oregon and decided to make the final push to Portland. Maybe I would be in time for Thanksgiving leftovers.

Just outside of Portland, fatigued almost to the point being delirious, mixed thoughts and emotions arose while I wondered about this new beginning and if this was the right thing to do. I was here and it was time to move forward. Arriving in Portland my Tatonka - High Desert Rest Areacousin’s family and aunt welcomed me to a warm hello and much needed plate of Thanksgiving dinner.

I was with family for Thanksgiving, thankful for making the 3,500 miles safely and ready to begin a lot of new.

A grateful thank you to Christine, Jill and Bob who were virtual passengers throughout the trek.

Thank you! Peace – Greg

“You have to accept whatever comes, and the only important thing is that you meet it with the best you have to give.”  – Eleanor Roosevelt

“There is unknowing until you’re in the throes of your decision.”               – G. Chokas Cross Country Trek With Numbered Stops A special thanks to all of my family and friends who have been with me through this journey west: Mom, Dad, Jamie, Lyn, Danielle, Gram Roy, Jane, Dennis, Christine, Jill, Bob & Catherine, Sue, Phil, Jenn, Keith, Alan & Kim, Stacey, Mike, Rich, Carl & Maggie, Lynne, Vicki, Peter, Reuben and family, Pam, Elisa, Suwan, Kathee, Pat, Bob, Rick, Brooke, Rick 3, Eric, Donna, and to those I haven’t been in touch with for years who have sent messages. If you’re not listed you’re not forgotten!

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Stacked and PackedPutting plan in action I picked up the U-Haul trailer to load my possessions. I thought I was over zealous getting the largest trailer my truck could pull but after trimming down everything fit with little room to spare. Eight AM on November 19 a short good bye was said to my incredible Aunt Jane. The Toyota, trailer and I were westward bound. Wheels in motion to start a new chapter or maybe this is a new book. My mind was racing, “Whoa! Am I really doing this?!”. Thoughts and emotions were churning as I kept driving.

Interstates 84 and 80 provided the western route to the first overnight stop in Pennsylvania 500 miles away. Soon after entering the interstate two red tail hawks, spirit guides, lead the early stage of the journey. I was fortunate to see this raptor along with others many times while crossing the country signaling I was being watched. With the heavy load the ride was uneventful only stopping for gas and slowing for deer grazing casually on the side of the busy interstate.

Uncle Den's Train SetTen hours later I was in Greenville, Pennsylvania. A town once known for manufacturing automobiles and railroad cars. With industry long gone the town has become financially distressed. Uncle Dennis put me up for the next few nights to visit and see the model train set he builds piece by piece by piece. The trains, tracks, and towns are as you would imagine to see 60 years ago. The complexity of the different number of trains and crossings almost require a locomotive license to be at the helm of this train set. The following day I met a special cousin, Vicki, catching up on the many changes in our lives and was reminded as always she’s my elder by 22 days. The time was good to see family during the early stage of this journey.

Leaving Rockford, ILThe next morning the trek resumed. Light snow was in the air and I prayed it didn’t fall any heavier. Travel continued on Interstate 80 until sweeping around Chicago connecting to I-90 making for another 500 mile day stopping in Rockford, IL. After the motel check in I hauled in the next days necessities and a sleeping bag which I find more comfortable (and safer) than bedding in quick stop motels where the “Free” breakfast is marginal along with rubberized hard boiled eggs. A nearby Starbucks saved me with a venti dose of caffeine to begin the day ending in Mitchell, South Dakota, 600 miles later. Not much to see in this truck Ready for the Huntstop town with gas stations and motels. Same routine, check in, necessities and sleeping bag. Early next morning pheasant hunters and their canine companions from Alabama were preparing for the fields. The dogs were more excited than the hunters after a 12 hour drive and six hours of sleep.

The Plains of South Dakota delivered severe headwinds trying to push the Toyota and me back to Connecticut. The drive was unnerving since the Toyota is the shape of a refrigerator towing a giant block. Not aerodynamic to say the least. Completing only 300 miles both the Toyota and I were done for the day which worked well being near my only other planned stop, the sacred Black Hills. A tourist center was just Home in Custer State Parkoff the highway and when asking about camping I was looked at rather strangely since few camp in the winter months. I was reminded it was the off season and cold. Fortunately, one campground was open and my response to the cold was cold is relative. I surveyed local shops for food and supplies pulling this large white and orange container. Driving through parking lots was no easy task since it was the weekend before Thanksgiving and Christmas shopping madness had begun. I found needed items, refueled myself with yet another Starbucks and the truck with a treat of high octane gasoline.

Ramen and ChickenCuster State Park was outside of town and my residence for two nights of solitude being the only camper on the premises. In short time the tent was erected, sleeping gear thrown in and water boiling. If you’ve followed the U.S. Tour posts you know ramen noodles are a personal staple. They were again, only this time I had (store) roasted chicken to add instead of tuna. Nice!

Brutal head winds, navigating through Rapid City, locating and setting camp made for an exhausting day. I was looking forward to sliding into a -30 degree sleeping bag even though temps were in the low 20’s, which, by the way, is barely cold to winter campers.

Up next… Mt. Rushmore by accident, The Crazy Horse Memorial, a hike to a sacred area that almost didn’t happen.

Peace – Greg

“When you remove the risk, you remove the challenge, when you remove the challenge, you wither on the vine.”  –  Alex Lowe

The theme of an adventure and journey seems fitting and The Way strikes a personal chord.

Martin and Emilio Promoting The way

Martin and Emilio Promoting The way

A few months ago while browsing Amazon I noticed a movie that looked interesting. The Way. Initially, it was the actors who caught my eye. Martin Sheen and Emilio Estévez. Both I’ve liked for years. If you’re not aware, Martin Sheen (Ramón Antonio Gerardo Estévez) is Emilio’s father. Emilio wrote, directed and produced The Way which takes place in southern France and Spain. Martin, “Tom”, flies to France to identify his son’s body Daniel, played by Emilio, who dies in the Pyrenees on his first day of a 500 mile pilgrimage walk from the French Basque town St. Jean Pied de Port to the Camino de Santiago. A father and son making a movie together. A father directed by his son, playing the role of a father carrying his son’s remains on a pilgrimage walk across the north of Spain. From the description I’m hooked and acquire the movie never watching a trailer. I was and still am enamored with the film and the soundtrack. The journey Tom partakes is emotional, physical and spiritual. Not a practicing Catholic, Tom regains his faith and although there’s a powerful scene at Santiago de Compostela cathedral the movie isn’t one about religion.

Tom reminisces about Daniel and has an awakening, spontaneously deciding to walk the Camino. A journey he’ll carry forward for the rest of his life. Tom didn’t have to walk the path of El Camino de Santiago or “The Way of St. James”. He felt it was right since being disconnected with his son and wanted Daniel to finish the journey he began. Once Tom made the decision, he had the clarity and focus of walking his path on the Camino even though he wasn’t prepared for it physically or mentally. Nothing was going to stop him. A few events almost did, but you’ll need to see the movie for the details. His goal for the 500 mile trek was set and the unknown brushed to the side to be dealt with when it happened. Tom meets a few other pilgrims on the Camino in Wizard of Oz fashion who were on their personal journeys adding depth and humor to the storyline. The variety of characters from different countries added a cultural mix and community, working through personal times together. A bond was created with the sharing of food, wine, emotions, nights in albergues (hostiles), and the final scene at the Atlantic Coast in Muxia.

I have many good things to say about The Way which was filmed on location as the cast (including Deborah Kara Unger, Yorick van Wageningen, and James Nesbitt) trekked the Camino. The characters, views of Spain, the soundtrack kept me engaged and the storyline is within reality and family ready. If you like wholesome, uplifting movies consider The Way ($5 on Amazon at time of writing). The DVD offers a commentary version with Martin and Emilio speaking of events and thoughts during the film. I didn’t know of The Way when it was released a few years ago(2010) probably because it wasn’t made as a “blockbuster” buy the industry. The Way was mostly self-promoted with Martin and Emilio touring the country by bus. Since its release word of the film continues to spread around the world. Check out The Way Facebook page for interesting following and news.

I can’t relate to a life changing journey on the premise of losing a son or daughter. I can relate to being on life changing journeys. Haven’t we all? One was not accepting an opportunity to be Outward Bound instructor. A path I sometimes regret. If I took the O.B. path I would never have had the opportunity to live and work in Europe, unfortunately never making it to Spain. I learned how incredible the journey was. More so now than then. I met one of my closest friends and “brother”, Phil, reconnected with hiking and camping, experienced different cultures, and enjoyed local foods and spirits. In the end, the path I chose lead to an incredible opportunity and a time of personal growth. We should accept our journeys, having no regret, living the path we chose at that particular time. There’s an introspective line Daniel tells his father, “You don’t choose a life Dad. You live one.” Great advice.

I wish you a “Buen Camino!” or “Good Path!” as is said to the pilgrims making the trek on the Camino.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Peace – Greg

The Path

If anyone asks you what the Path is about,

It’s about generosity.

It’s about morality.

It’s about concentration.

It’s about gaining insight through

focused self observation.

It’s about the cultivation of subjective states

of compassion and love based on insight.

And it’s about translating that compassion and love into actions in the real world.

–  Shinzen Young

Notes: Emilio shares my grandfather’s name of French descent, Emile. There will be second movie of Tom’s journey which Emilio has the difficult challenge matching the power and success of the first. And “Along The Way”, a dual memoir by Martin and Emilio, tells of their individual careers and includes stories during the filming of The Way I found interesting and entertaining.

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