Wednesday, July 6, 2011


Ebony and Ivory
In chapter 2 Pirsig writes "There is no one place or sharp line where the Central Plains end and the Great Plains begin. It’s a gradual change like this that catches you unawares, as if you were sailing out from a choppy coastal harbor, noticed that the waves had taken on a deep swell, and turned back to see that you were out of sight of land. There are fewer trees here and suddenly I am aware they are no longer native. They have been brought here and planted around houses and between fields in rows to break up the wind. But where they haven’t been planted there is no underbrush, no second-growth saplings...only grass, sometimes with wildflowers and weeds, but mostly grass. This is grassland now. We are on the prairie.

I have a feeling none of us fully understands what four days on this prairie in July will be like. Memories of car trips across them are always of flatness and great emptiness as far as you can see, extreme monotony and boredom as you drive for hour after hour, getting nowhere, wondering how long this is going to last without a turn in the road, without a change in the land going on and on to the horizon.

John was worried Sylvia would not be up to the discomfort of this and planned to have her fly to Billings, Montana, but Sylvia and I both talked him out of it. I argued that physical discomfort is important only when the mood is wrong. Then you fasten on to whatever thing is uncomfortable and call that the cause. But if the mood is right, then physical discomfort doesn’t mean much. And when thinking about Sylvia’s moods and feelings, I couldn’t see her complaining.

Also, to arrive in the Rocky Mountains by plane would be to see them in one kind of context, as pretty scenery. But to arrive after days of hard travel across the prairies would be to see them in another way, as a goal, a promised land. If John and I and Chris arrived with this feeling and Sylvia arrived seeing them as "nice" and "pretty," there would be more disharmony among us than we would get from the heat and monotony of the Dakotas. Anyway, I like to talk to her and I’m thinking of myself too.

In my mind, when I look at these fields, I say to her, "See? -- See?" and I think she does. I hope later she will see and feel a thing about these prairies I have given up talking to others about; a thing that exists here because everything else does not and can be noticed because other things are absent. She seems so depressed sometimes by the monotony and boredom of her city life, I thought maybe in this endless grass and wind she would see a thing that sometimes comes when monotony and boredom are accepted. It’s here, but I have no names for it."

Walking in the wildflowers.  That black thing is my knee!
This quote from the book agrees with my view of the this ride as well. The gradual changes in terrain, both in elevation, and plant life is worthy of study. I stopped many times to take photos, many of which don't tell the story. Stopping provided a bonus though: The sounds. Wind. Birds. Other wildlife in the grass. At one point I got off the bike along the road to drink some water and glanced at my watch to see how long it might be before a vehicle could be heard. It was 18 minutes and then another couple of minutes before she passed me. Wonderfully unpopulated.  Car drivers wave at bikes out here.

Industry changes too. Dakotas appeared to me mostly grass, corn and other field crops and some cattle. As I reached Montana oil pumping stations could be seen, and the trappings of the oil industry, new and old. First mostly old, but here in Miles City there appears to be a robust petroleum industry just based on the number and size of the trucks carrying support and construction crews.

Bob and Chris from the original trip.

One change that I implemented yesterday was traveling at speeds that the R60/2 would be most comfortable at, 60 to 65 mph. This is likely the most that Pirsig was traveling as well and is much more relaxed than the 70-75 mph that most traffic is traveling here. It is the change of mindset from getting someplace and being someplace. On the road you are always where you are. You are never lost, you can see exactly where you are. If anything, this is the zen of the ride for me, though I really know nothing of Zen.

The point of view is what changes with change in speed. A fox crossed the road, route 12 which I am following is a 2 lane road, the Yellowstone Trail, and at the leisurely speed I was able to catch his features, the texture of his fur and predict easily his path as to avoid running him over. At 70 mph he would have been a flash. "Was that a fox?" would be my only thought.

Lesson Learned: Ride at the right speed to enjoy the moment. Stop to smell the roses and take a picture in your mind, and maybe with the camera as well. Listen to creation. Allow yourself to enjoy just being there.

Stats for July 5: about 191 (gps ran out of juice for some miles), seat hours 4.5, overall hours 6

Next, short day ride to Laurel, near Billings, and preparing for Yellowstone on my birthday, July 7th! I hear that Beartooth Pass may still have snow and I won't be able to ride it.  I hope that is not right.  In the 90's here each day!

A couple tenting next to me were just in Yellowstone and showed me some nice photos and said it was not very crowded at all.  We shall see.

I have a blog about detours in my head and likely will be able to wrote it tonight now that the laptop, minus wireless, is working...  Hint: Detours in North Dakota can be LONG.

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