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Yermo

2010 Deadhorse Alaska Trip

'Tuesday June 1st, 2010 10:00'
This ride is over.
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2010 Deadhorse Alaska Trip

I said goodbye to Rachel and headed off on the last small leg of my journey through the traffic, humidity and oppressive heat.

I think I'll see Rachel again. She lives pretty close. I wonder if I'll see any of the new faces I met while Out There. I sincerely hope so, as I realize I'm very hungry because I haven't had breakfast.

"I tried to warn them, I tried to warn them all, but did they listen?", I thought as I chucked. I imagined a country peppered with "Do Not Feed the Yermos" signs. Feed a Yermo once and, like an insatiable little gremlin, it will probably come back clawing at the door demanding to be fed again.

"It didn't work out so well for Duncan and family. 24 years later and they still haven't gotten rid of me.", I thought as I remembered how good the steaks they grilled for me when I got back were.

The road away from Rachel's condo was a nice winding tree covered road that carved it's way along yet another small stream in a gorge which this time was in the middle of a large East Coast city. There were sadistically few pulloffs so opportunities to snap photos were nonexistent. It was hot and the Toxic Suit was living up to it's new name.

The bike continued to run warm causing the radiator fan to kick on which bathed me in a whole new level of heat.

Eventually, I made my way out onto the interstate, where of course, since this is the East Coast after all, traffic was horrible.

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This kind of riding with all these distracted cell phone talking drives flanking me on all sides is stressful and risky. Traffic was "stop and go" for some time which caused my bike to run even more warmly. I hadn't had a chance to get the fuel injection adjusted to match the new exhaust. The radiator fan punished me mercilessly.

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The ambient air temperature was not much cooler.

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There's quite a debate in motorcycling circles about at what point does full protective gear become more of a risk than a protection. In this kind of heat, the potential for heat exhaustion goes from an abstraction to a distinct possibility. Thankfully I had had alot of water, which helps, and I wasn't anywhere close to the dangerous point yet. It was just really uncomfortable.

I merged onto Interstate 95, one of the absolutely most horrific motorcycling roads in the country. The stretch from New York City to south of Washington DC is just "'orrible I tell you! Simply 'orrible!!!". It's also uglier than sin with industry belching toxic fumes skyward.

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"She would not like it here.", I would think as I surveyed what now seemed like such an alien and inhospitable landscape. "It's somehow fitting that this last leg would be the worst, the worst of the whole trip.", I thought thinking about symmetry.

Eventually I got even more uncomfortably close to home and crossed into the state of Maryland, my so called "home".

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There are sections of Maryland that are beautiful. The stretch down I95 is not one of them. The heat continued to punish me.

I stopped at the last rest stop, filled the gas tank one last time and drank copious quantities of water. I skipped the coffee. It was that hot.

I approached the city of Baltimore and rode through the Fort McHenry Tunnel. The new exhaust note from my bike could be heard echoing off the tunnel walls. I've always liked riding through this tunnel.

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Another great ride is across the huge Chesapeake Bay Bridge. I may have to do the Delmarva Loop and cross both bridges with Duncan before the season is over.

I was now in full avoidance mode. I so did not want to go home. Indulging my desire for procrastination, I stopped at Bob's BMW just to check in and say hello to Daryl, one of the service managers I know. We chatted about the Deadhorse trip. Of course, to these guys trips like that are common place. They had a couple in the parking lot that were on their way All the Way Around. In comparison, a small trip to Deadhorse is hardly worth writing home about. I had wanted to say hello to Bob, but he wasn't around. I had bought my bike from him 18 years ago and thought it might be nice to mention that one of his bikes all these years later made it up there. Of course, that is not a unique occurrance.

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Despite the minor issues I had along the way, the bike held up well. It really did.

I got back on the bike and continued my way South, now less than 20 miles from "home". I rolled off I95 onto Route 1 and instead of turning left into my neighborhood I instead headed down to a diner that I rarely go to. "I still want road food.", I thought as I rolled into the College Park Diner. I haven't eaten there in years, but I've gotten so accustomed to diner food on this trip I have a feeling I will go back more often.

It was mercifully empty as I sat down at the counter still dressed in my toxic suit. "One more omelette after all the ones I've had on this trip won't kill me any faster.", I thought as I ordered. A very attractive woman waited on me. "You must be European, maybe German", she asked in a wonderful Nigerian accent. "Yup. Both my parents are German.", I replied. She smiled and said, "I knew it!". Her name is Busola, a very pleasant and infectiously cheerful person. I found myself thinking she should be a model and not a diner waittress. We got to talking and soon the whole staff and owner were asking me questions about the trip and my perspectives

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The owner said, "I would be too afraid to ever do a trip like yours. Motorcycles are too dangerous.". I told him the story of the white car and of my sister. "There is always a reason to be afraid. Life is over when it's over. If you risk nothing you will experience little.". He agreed and the conversation moved to travels of his and places he would like to see, but he could not leave the diner. "The last time I left this place there were nothing but problems when I returned.", he said. I said, "There's always a reason not to do a thing" as I thought about the consequences of my trip and the disasters I feared waited for me.

I wouldn't trade the experiences I've had and the memories I now carry with me for the world.

As they worked one member of the staff or another would come by and chat for a bit. I can't remember ever having moments like this here in College Park. "I'm still open. Still on the road.", I thought as Busola asked how long I had been home. "I havent' been home. I live across the street but don't want to go back. I just rolled into town.".

We all talked for quite a while about life, risk, travel and consequences and then it came time for me to leave. As I paid my bill, Busola said, "Every day I learn something new here. But today, today I feel like I've really learned something important."

I still didn't want to go home, so off to Starbucks I went. Thanh and Jonathan were there. There were more stories of the trip. I got a cup of coffee and sat in the air conditioning for a while preparing myself to go back.

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I wondered how I would feel walking into that place again having been gone for so long.

Remembering what I had learned Out There and realizing this Moment, this wonderful Moment that had lasted so long was now almost over, I donned my jacket, gloves and helmet one more time and headed across the rude and erratic traffic filled street into the small old neighborhood where my brick rambler sits waiting for me to return.

I turned left off Route 1. Evidence of the storms that had ravaged the neighborhood could be seen everywhere. Power and communication lines were down. Trees were down. Debris could still be seen everywhere.

I turned the corner onto 48th Avenue and there stood my house. It's a very small and old brick rambler set up and back on a small embankment and concealed by a tall wall of weeds.

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My very first thought was the realization that my house embarrasses me. It hadn't dawned on me until this very moment that I've always had this toxic feeling of obligation to maintain it to a certain standard, a German standard. But I never have. It's as if my failure to keep it to an immaculate standard somehow reflected badly on myself as a person.

"Now that's just silly.", I thought as I remembered back to a time sitting in a bar dressed in my toxic suit, sipping wine and talking to Her.

I stood there with the bike idling for a while taking in the scene, trying to feel through that moment, these last seconds of being on the road. Looking at it it felt in some ways just like another stop on the road, as if I would soon be leaving. It did not feel like mine. But I also realized, almost immediately, that for the first time in 77 days, I felt like there were things I had to Do.

I rolled up into the driveway. Lance was there.

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Lance took care of so many things while I was gone despite living in another neighborhood. He fixed the cottage refigerator for my renter, Wendy, when it broke. After the storm, he repaired the fence and took care of other issues.

Wendy, more friend now than renter, took care of my mail and watched out for the yard.

I have very good friends. They watch out for me.

From my perspective looking at this house and garage with new eyes, I realized that I have lived my life somewhat unusually. I have said many times that this space, this house, garage and yard, do not feel like mine. At this moment, they felt even less like mine. Somewhere my subconscious, or was it my heart, wanted to believe that soon I would be packed up and back Out There.

Lance is one of the most generous people I have ever met. Whenever anyone has a problem, no matter what it is, he is always there putting his life on hold to help someone else out. Sometimes the projects he finds himself working on take months. He's rebuilt engines, done head swapped, body work, fixed AC units, done wiring, and so much more. If it's mechanical or involves materials, he's the man. His abilityto concentrate and understand some new system has always impressed thehell out of me. He has helped me and so many other people I know that I always wanted to show some kind of appreciation, something substantive beyond just the words.

Lance does not have a garage or other covered space to do his projects. Realizing it was something I could do, I got a set of shelves which we put along one side where he can store parts and tools. I gave him a key to the garage and my car so he can come use the garage any time he wants. At least someone is making use of it.

Our mutual friend Micro had bought a used truck when his car died. At first it looked like it would take minor work to get it to the point where it was reliable. Unfortunately, it ended up taking months to work through all the things that broke on it. So it stayed in the garage for quite some time while they got it up and running.

Another very good friend of mine, Yun, who often works on BMW cars, also has a key to the garage and free reign to use it any time Lance doesn't need it. Because of the truck project, my car had been outside for some many weeks.

Yun used to detail cars professionally and is extremely good at it. Actually, he's extremely good at anything he tries.

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He detailed my car. It looks like new!

Now if I can just con Lance into helping me fix the AC.

The final odometer reading was 68,798

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Compare with the first day when I left.

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So to answer a question I've been asked alot, I rode 15,647 indiciated miles on this trip.

I walked into my house. My house is set up more like an office or server farm than a house. I looked around and contemplated the poor bastard who was imprisoned here for so long. The din of all of these servers permeates the house and, for the first time, I was aware how it made me feel.

Disquieted.

I looked around. I saw all these Things everywhere. Outside there was debris. Inside there was evidence of the time I left. There were packages and piles of bills.

For the first time in 77 days I was in a world of Things and I became almost immediately aware of how each Thing I saw here would steal another small slice of my life and pull my mind away from the here and now.

The basement is wet because the demudifier failed. The cottage water heater broke. The AC in the car is broke. There are endless bills to pay and a bathroom to clean. There's a yard with a broken fence to deal with. There are long term projects that really need to get done. The doors have to be replaced and insulation blown into the walls.

It's too hot here.

And it's dark. The lighting in this place has always been dim. The oaks outside conspire in their beauty to prevent much light from getting into the house.

And the sounds in the house imply money is being spent. Electricity. Gas. Water. Insurance. How much of my life do I slice off just to have these Things?

I spent a time, a wonderful time, with few Things. My physical world narrowed to what I could pack on my bike. Things broke, but it was so manageable that these physical things never drained the creativity, the feeling or the openness out of my mind. I was free to be Out There body, mind, heart and soul in part because I had few Things to worry about.

But here, here I am almost immediately overwhelmed by the hours that each thing I have implies. Thoughts of Things invade my mind preventing me from being completely present in a conversation, in a moment, like I was Out There where I could be doing what I wanted to do.

Thinking. Seeing. Feeling.

I begin to understand why some people choose to let all Things go, their lives fulfilled in other ways. She said her life fits into the back of an F350 pickup. I now envy that. I have many friends to aspire to possess greater things. I look, no I feel, around me at each Thing I possess. "Is this a thing I want? Does it help me? How much life does it cost me?", I would ask myself as I surveyed my surroundings. Immediately I feel how I did before. I feel this unbelievably long Todo list filling up again. Already, if I worked 7 days a week for the next few months I would not finish everything I feel I need to.

STOP!

I remember talking to Phil about the rennovations he intends to do on this house. He had an enthusiasm for it. It was his place and it meant something to him. I recently visited Josh who has a overwhelmingly gorgeous house. No one lives like that. It's a palace. He talked about all the work and the money he put into it. It's gorgeous and he seems to derive alot of satisfaction from having it the way he likes it.

From early on, I was taught that this is what you do. A house is a good investment. You need a place to live. Being North German, you pick a place and you move forward assuming you will always be there without really thinking it through whether it makes sense or not.

Around me I have set up, or let be set up, a life that doesn't really match how I live. I have all the trappings of someone on the Standard Plan. I have crystal and dinner plates. I have a dining room and a sidebar. I have wine glasses. I have fine art. I have couches and a huge TV. Most of these things I did not buy but were given to me.

But I rarely invite anyone over because I am embarrassed about the condition of the place. The bathroom desperately needs renovation. It's disgusting.

And I have servers. The din of the machines overwhelms any sense of calm this place might have.

How many conversations, how many times, have I not had because of theseToxic Feelings? Have I let this just be another barrier that keeps me,in my day to day life, from Seeing, Thinking and Feeling differently? Have I allowed myself consciously to get caught up in the Toxic Beliefs of materialism despite my best efforts? Have I let myself feel badly because of how my material life compares to others? Of all people, did I let this happen to me without realizing it?

Most people on my trip seemed to approach me because of my bike or my suit. Confirming an unconscious belief, they saw the symbols and realized I was the kind of person they would want to talk to.

"But I didn't see any of those things.", She had said implying a meaning I have not yet fully internalized but one that gives me, dare I say, a glimmer of hope.

I aspire to more Thinglessness or maybe better said, I aspire to a shorter Todo list which I may be able to achieve with fewer Things.

Maybe my unhappiness with this place has less to do with the place itself and more to do with the Toxic Feelings of being overwhelmed by how much I have to do for all these Things.

It was a Thursday and I had arrived home early enough to shower and change.

Not far away there is a Tavern, a very silly Tavern, that I often go to. It's a Pirate themed tavern filled with people dressed as Pirates and walls covered in swords and skulls. I remember the first time I walked in there thinking that it was some cringingly cheesy theme bar like you would see in Disney Land and that there was no way I would ever go back. That first impression quickly faded as I began to survey the people there and realized that I could hear five distinct languages being spoken. In the corner, there were a couple Germans. The guy sitting at the bar was Russian. Portugease could be heard out back. A couple in the corner were speaking Castellon Spanish. And of course you could hear English. The food was simple yet excellent. And there was something about these silly Pirates costumed people, something genuine. I got to know the bartender at the time, Claudia, who had given me the cactus task which I failed miserably at. There was Dallas, the bartender who describes himself as what happens when you combine a korean and a redneck. Dallas is great and can sing like you wouldn't believe. There's Nipper who is enchanting in all of her 4'8" glory. And there is Kyrin, a regular, who actually came out to see me off when I left.

What I've liked about this Tavern more than any other place here around DC is that you can go there and there is always someone interesting to talk to. DC folk are a closed, antagonistic and rude bunch. However, there's something about the silliness of the Piratz Tavern that opens people up. Maybe it's the unusual demographic they attract there which ranges from wounded military, to business men, to endless numbers of theatre and re-enactment folk, to costumers and renn-fair types. Whatever it is, I have come to truly enjoy the place. They keep telling me, "You're one of us in disguise."

I mentioned that I would show up. People were there waiting for me, even Duncan and Ann.

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And yes, they have belly dancers there, on Thursdays. Maria, a mother of one and soon to be two, was the one who upon hearing about my trip gave me the rules. "No getting eaten by grizzly bears. No tagging guard rails. No dying.", she listed out for me. She was also the one who suggested, somewhat forcefully as is her style, that I write this blog.

If it weren't for her I would never have thought to do any of this writing and my trip would never have turned into what it was. So many things turned out differently because of that one event.

And, as I posted on Facebook, there is something very correct for my idiom about coming back from an epic journey and having the belly dancers rejoice.

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My days would be filled with numbers of people. The next night Duncan and Ann threw me a cookout welcome home party at their house. Stacie was there and we played pool until late. Even Kyrin, from the Tavern, showed up. There were stories of the road and of course I got grilled about various events I wrote about. I, unfortunately, don't remember much from that evening.

I went to the Laurel Outback a day or two later and saw Rachel K, Dale, Patrick and Holly. I wanted to treat Lance to dinner as another thank you for everything he did. There were more stories of the road. I told Patrick how much being in Canada was good for me, how the people up there are somehow less stressed, more genuine and focused. Nicer.

"That's because they are not a god fearing folk.", he said surprisingly. Patrick is brilliant and tries hard to conceal it, but it comes out. "Because we live in a god fearing puritanical society, even if you're an athiest, it gets inside you. And you stress. You fear the future. But if you are not god fearing, like the Canadians, then you can just be in the moment. It makes you nicer.", he went on to explain.

Interesting hypothesis. I'll have to give that one some thought.

There has been an almost overwhelming call for me to write a book. At least 40 people, if not more, have said I need to do it. I talked to my friend Jeff just the other day who drove all the way down from Frederick to talk to me about the blog and ask me about the people and places I mentioned. It was as a result of that meeting that I got the inspiration on how to turn this into something resembling a book.

I don't know if I can do it. I don't know if it'll be worth reading. But I will try.

I sit, a week later, surrounded by my endless array of Things.

I am still at a cross roads.

I still have no clue what is Next.

Anatoly, my business partner, who I met with yesterday asked me, as so many have, "Why didn't you stay?".

If I had had a way to stay Out There, on the far side of those incredible mountains filled with vistas, critters and wonderful people, I would have been sorely tempted never to return ... I liked myself out there. I have never liked myself before.

But I am back now and there are people here, many people. who I care deeply about. People to whom, whether they know it or not, I feel Connected.

I may stay. I may leave. But, whatever I eventually decide, I will try to keep the lessons of the road inside me and learn to like myself here first.

But, at some point, I will travel many miles by motorcycle to find myself back Out There again ...

My apologies that it's taken me a few days to get this one done. Writing here at home is much more difficult than writing while Out There. I'm finding it very challenging to concentrate. There are a steady stream of interruptions and the din of my machines is distracting, but I try. Once I finish this one, I will write at least one more article about this improbably successful 2010 Deadhorse trip.

Since my time with Rachel, I've been thinking back to the vastly different people I had met during this trip and how, more often than not, each acted as an ambassador from a different world, a world I would never have been able to peer into without their kindness and understanding. I think of the pipeliners, truckers and oil rig workers. I think of an advocate for environmental capitalism. I think of Ted and Sarah at Dancing Rabbit who helped set this theme of challenging comfort zones and being better a man for it.

Back to a time when I was still on the road, I packed up my gear and after a couple of illegal U-turns found myself sitting in a diner at a window sipping brown colored water. I had gotten up early and I was not expected at Rachel's until well after noon. I had not spent any significant time with her in over 17 years and it got me to thinking more about the distant past than at any time during this trip.

"I have not always been so open.", I contemplated. "What I would have missed on this trip if I was still like I was back then." I could remember back to a time, long ago, when I was much more inflexible and exclusionary and so much less accepting of ways of living life different than my own. Mine was the right way. The only way. I thought back to that time and the experiences I had with different walks of life and how often such events would go very badly, how often I would be hurt or hear stories of hurt. That inflexibility was just fear manifested.

"But it only takes one.", I reminded myself. I understood one saving grace I have is that all I need is an ambassador, someone to take me under their wing to make an unfamiliar world understandable. Those ambassadors, if they are patient, can make you see a different world clearly and understand it in it's own context. Ted and Sarah did that. Phil did that. Robyn did that. When you are fortunate enough to be open to such an ambassador, you can conquer your fear of the unknown and the harsh judgements that are cowardly used to mask it. I have known a number of key ambassadors in my life and I am such a better man for it. I have seen into Worlds and been accepted in contexts that I would never have thought possible. But it took a first one. It took someone exceptional to make me understand that that's all you need. With a compassionate ambassador, even people from the most incompatible worlds can find common ground and become meaningful parts of each others lives.

That first ambassador was Rachel.

In 1992, shortly after I bought my BMW K100RS and just before the last cross country trip that I affectionately refer to as the Failed Alaska Hell Ride, I went to a university party with some friends. I didn't like going to parties back in those days. Burdened by introversion and toxic beliefs, I would generally hang around those I knew or politely stand alone somewhere out of the way watching the goings on from a distance lost in my own thoughts. If I was fortunate enough to talk to someone new it was always because a close friend had gone way out of their way to make an introduction. This party, however, was the one exception. On this day I met Rachel.

"The sound of the German language scares me", I overheard her say. It was not the first time I had heard someone say something like that. It never goes well so I never say anything. This time, however, I did and it started a long and very enjoyable conversation.

English is my second language. Despite being born in the States, I was born a German citizen and was raised to "move back" to that country. My childhood was filled with it's language, culture, fairy tales, philosophy, literature, structure, food and world view. I was intentionally isolated from American society so I would aclimate better when we moved back, my mother believing the old mans lies and telling me for years that Ahausen, Germany was home and that we were just visiting here. To this day, despite having spent less than five months there in total, Ahausen looks and feels more like home to me than anyplace else on Earth. I have always been closer and had more in common with my aunt, uncle and cousins there than anyone else in my so called family other than my sister. Growing up it was always my sanctuary. Bad Things never happened to me there. As a kid, it was the only place I ever felt wanted. In my core, I am still more North German than American and I can be somewhat of an intolerable Germanophile.

Rachel is Jewish. She is fully immersed in that culture, religion, world view and history. It has touched every aspect of her life including her professional choices, her studies, her travels, what she eats and how, what days she engages in what activities, the places she lives and the communities she involves herself with. But very much like Ted and Sarah at Dancing Rabbit, she has a depth of compassion, a humility and an understanding that hers is a different life than many and is not the only life. She gracefully makes her world accessible to Outsiders in a way I have never seen done with more kindness and understanding.

Inconceivably, we became instant friends.

We talked for hours eventually moving onto the topic of my impending motorcycle journey to try to reach the Arctic Circle with three friends, one of whom was Duncan. Completely out of character for me and not thinking that anyone would possibly take me up on such an offer, I said late that evening, "You should fly out to the West coast and join me for a week of motorcycle camping. We could go riding through the Big Trees."

And so she did.

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(1992 Outside San Francisco)

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Rachel has the distinction of doing more miles as a passenger on my bike than all other passengers I've had over all the years I've been riding combined. Then again, since the days she was riding with me, I have had very few passengers.

We rode from San Diego all the way up north of San Francisco, on the way camping under Big Trees and going on long walks. We did longer days two up than any day on this current trip. How we managed to get all of my gear and hers packed on that bike and have it look as clean as it did I'll never remember.

It was a beautiful time filled with conversation, dark humor and stories. She brought color and life into what had been an overwhelmingly gray, dead and painful existence. It did not take long for me to become addicted to her company. Never before and only once since has someone gotten inside me that quickly with such great effect. Both times involved a long painful motorcycle journey. Maybe there is a pattern here.

But in a way similar to my time with Angela, with Rachel there were unspoken yet completely understood Boundaries and Constraints. But these boundaries and constraints were what gave us the freedom to become very very close friends and it did me a world of good. Without them, I don't think either one of us would have had the time together that we did.

During that time in California I learned two things, one from an Uncle and one from my sister, that the Nightmare around me had been so much worse than anything I could ever have imagined or believed. It devastated me destroying the foundation of my world forever changing me.

Rachel, with her kindness, compassion, acceptance and infectious beautiful smile, was a reservoir of strength for me then, but I never told her that. I think maybe it was that contrast, that kindness, that made me see how closed I had been.

In an effort to show her my appreciation, I did everything in my power to make sure she had a good time.

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For the remainder of that year, we spent a ridiculous amount of time together. There were a few smaller bike trips. There were also concerts.

She may look like all sweetness and light with that incredible smile but make no mistake, Rachel was a heavy metal headbanger with an unbelievable ability to win near front row tickets to any concert she wanted. I went to more concerts that year than all other years combined. Metallica's "Nothing else matters" seemed to be the theme song of that time for us, but also held that foreboding of an end and a goodbye.

"I move through lives.", she would tell me. In some ways a weekend I had not too long ago echoed thoughts from '92. I remember fearing the implications of that statement.

Around Rachel there is the ever present sense of a world that is so deeply inside her and one into which no Outsider can ever venture too far. I always sensed in her an unspoken internal conflict about the exclusionary nature of her world. Exclusion seems so against her nature.

She did her best to explain her world and I was always so impressed how she was able to get to the core human values behind a given thing whether it be a ritual, a story or some, as I called them, "silly rule". Without prejudice and without any sense that her way was any better or worse than any other way, she presented her world and life in such a way that the listener could experience the beauty beneath it all as if the only goal was to show what she saw and felt. She was one of the most intensely spiritual people I have ever met, but spiritual in a substantative approachable way, not a flaky one. Life in the presence of Rachel was simply Better.

My time with Rachel all those years ago changed me. Where before I had been very closed minded with a strong indoctrinated belief that mine was the "right way", after that time I was much more open, in a way like her, to accept other ways of being. I think of other Important People that are now part of my life who live even more radically different lives than even Rachel does. I think of Stacie and wonder if I would have been open enough to accept her if I had never met Rachel. I shudder to think how much poorer a man I would be, how destitute, if I had through closed mindedness excluded her from my life.

Jumping in time to just a few days ago, Stacie came to the welcome home party. We played pool, as we often do, and it was such a good time. She left a present for me in my kitchen which I found on my return. Back when there was a shootout on my street she was the first to call, in a panic, to see if I was ok. Stacie is one of the most important people in my life and few understand. She is simply beautiful with a strength, solidity and zen like calm that inspires all those who know her. Our friendship is deep and very unusual with the kinds of absolute Boundaries that can never be crossed. Stacie is not attracted to men and as I often joke from my own selfish perspective "it's a crying shame". I absolutely think the world of her. But I digress as usual.

Back to years ago, my time with Rachel came to an end and as I have figured out on this trip, I do not deal well with endings. She went off into her world and shortly thereafter my Nightmare began in earnest. The old man was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and was dead within 6 weeks. The hell he left for us and that was unleashed afterwards was something I, nor anyone else, could not have ever foreseen.

I crossed paths with Rachel once some time later but it was during a very bad time. Everything was different and I was unable to bring the kind of presence she had come to enjoy. We parted company would not see each other again for nearly 17 years.

In the intervening years I kept a photo of her on my wall and the candle holder she gave me has been a fixture in my living room. I never forgot what she taught me.

Some time ago thinking about her as I often do, on a whim, I checked to see if she was on Facebook. She was and to my surprise accepted the friend request. We met for lunch at one point and when she heard about my epic ride to Deadhorse she wanted to join me for a leg of the trip. I was so excited to have her be part it. It just felt right. Unfortunately, life got in the way and the scheduling didn't work out. Bummer.

But as it happened, the stars did align somewhat and I was able to visit her as the very last stop on my epic journey. There's a nice symmetry to it. Since the events of Prince George, I thought I had learned everything I needed to. With each passing day I have been proven so very wrong. My time with Rachel during this very last moment on my trip was no exception.

I finished yet another cup of brown colored water, got back on my bike and rode off into the heat and humidity, a thunderstorm threatening in the distance.

The ride was uneventful but filled with endless traffic and lights. Philadelphia is an old city with lots of stone construction. Much of it is impressive.

I rode through a funky little section of town with shops, cafes and nice restaurants. The street was cobblestone.

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It took me a while longer to get to her place than I had planned. Since my lying bitch of a GPS had died, I had to memorize the route, which wasn't a problem however quite a number of streets in this area seem to be missing street signs. Combine this with slow city streets, the outdoor air temperature and the fact that the bike is running hot due to the new exhaust causing the radiator fan to run non stop and bake me slowly, I was pretty well cooked.

I arrived well done.

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Self conscious about my toxic Transit Suit I texted her to let her know I had arrived. Out she walked and gave me a huge hug not complaining in the least.

I followed her on the bike to a spot in the parking garage where I could safely leave the bike. I was relieved because I had been having some concerns about leaving the bike on the street in this urban setting. I pulled off the gear and we walked into the old condo building. It had that style of elevator from the earlier part of the century that you see in movies. It has an outer door that you pull by hand and an inner grating that is also moved, manually, out of the way. I have to admit it does not inspire alot of confidence.

"I wonder what safety features this elevator doesn't have.", I joked. "It has the inspection certificate.", she replied laughing both of us understanding that it may not mean much.

She had told me that I would be staying in the Opium Den. "You'll understand when you get here.", she had texted me.

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"Yup, that's pretty much what I had imagined.", I thought as I put my gear down. The guest room was decorated in a way that was just oh so Rachel. Her condo is large and may be nearly as large as my small house.

Themes of community and cooperation come through in virtually all of Rachel's stories.

The reason she could not join me on the trip was a planned three month sabbatical back to Israel. She had set up a house swap with a six member family. Unfortunately, last minute developments at work conspired to prevent her from taking her sabbatical, so she and six house guests shared her apartment for five weeks.

They had just left a few days before I arrived. Where as I think most people would complain about the inconvenience and stress of a situation like that, Rachel with a big smile seemed to be able to see the humor in and present it from a perspective that makes the listener think, despite the stress and work, that it was a rewarding experience.

"It must be really hard to have come back here after they all left.", I commented thinking about the empty house I was going to be returning to the next day.

"It doesn't bother me. Endings don't bother me because I've done it so often. There's always something next.", she said.

"Next.", I thought thinking back to other conversations.

After many glasses of water and chatting for quite a while, I asked to take a shower so I could change out of my Toxic Suit. Putting on clean clothes, jeans and the tennis shoes Phil gave me was a welcome change.

Rachel had a few things to take care of so I walked about the apartment and laughed aloud as I came upon a cactus, the first cactus of the trip.

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She walked in and asked why I was laughing, "There's something I have to do before I leave and it involves that cactus."

"I am so not going to ask!", she replied with a huge smile that screamed WTF?

She had some errands to run and there was a wooded park with trails nearby. As we got into the elevator with the manual doors I explained that when I first started this trip I was concerned it would be very lonely so I thought that I should have some tasks with which to pass the time. A rather attractive and very interesting bartender friend of mine, Claudia, gave me a small bottle and, as a completely arbitrary task, asked me to bring her back the sand from around a cactus. "I like cacti", Claudia had said. I had just the previous day confessed to Claudia that I had encountered no cacti on this trip.

Rachel looked at me skeptically. Unfortunately, when we got back I forgot.

We went to a nearby nice coffee shop. I seemed like she would run into groups of people she knew where ever we went. "One of the downsides of living in this community and having the job that I do is that everyone knows me.", she said. "Yea, but it's more than that. You have a way of drawing people to you. When you look at someone you make them feel like they are the most important person in the world and it's addictive.", I replied. She told a story of a woman she knows who can do the same thing even with groups of people each person feeling like they are the most important.

We drove down to the park. The feel of the park was not unlike the PA Grand Canyon. It was deeply wooded with trails carved along a ravine. A large stream flowed below.

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Despite the threatening rain we walked along the path for some time as I remembered what I had thought just the previous day walking in the canyon. "So here I am walking in the woods with Rachel", I thought and mentioned to her the 1500 foot canyon. "I would have been dead and unhappy", she commented about going to the canyon. "Oh, you would have been fine.", to which I got another skeptical look.

We sat on a boulder next to the stream and talked for some time. I kept thinking that when I walk through my life I need to take notes. There are so many stories, so many insights that fall by the wayside and are forgotten that really should not be.

Work interjected itself into her life as her cellphone rang. She's the executive director at a nearby synagogue and there's an upheaval going on. It's been a stressful job for her and strangely has involved dealing with difficult problems in commercial real-estate, so we had a lot to talk about on that front as well.

As it started to rain we walked back to the car. On the way we encountered a crazy bird that repeated flew right next to her head but she was still busy on the phone.

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The bird seemed upset and would fly loops around us.

We got back to the car as we noticed a couple of gang banger looking guys hovering around the car. You could see the fear on her face. "We have a big problem here with car theft.", she said. She had explained earlier that her choice of apartment was also in part to mitigate fear. "So I don't have to worry.", she said.

I explained how I've realized that kind of fear isn't good for me. It gets inside.

We got into the car without incident. My feeling was the the two guys were scoping out the car next to hers but they didn't seem all that threatening.

"Do you want to see where I work?", she asked. "You'll be able to see what I've been talking about."

"Most definitely!", I said. So off to the Germantown Jewish Center we went.

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Not too terribly long ago this building burned. I got the impression it was arson. Rachel was front and center in managing the aftermath of the disaster, making sure that the congregation had continuity and felt taken care of and, if that wasn't enough, managed the reconstruction, the insurance, everything. It was a huge job. "But because of the insurance I had a budget.", she commented. It was because of this experience she could understand how I felt during the more practical parts of my Nightmare. "I hate the sound of phones ringing late at night because the alarm at the building has gone off.", I would say as she would nod knowingly. She's been there. She gets it.

"Is it going to be ok for me to go in there? I mean is any going to mind?", I asked tentatively remembering stories from decades ago. "Sure, no problem.", she said.

As we walked in the front door she said, "After the fire, I had this mural commissioned. I wanted to add some color and a sense of life."

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We walked into a room I believe called the Sanctuary which had been devasted by a broken water pipe from a floor above. She talked about all the challenges involved in putting the room back together again.

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"Dealing with contractors typically sucks.", I said. "Tell me about it.", she replied.

We walked around the building and she showed me various areas that had been repaired or rebuilt. "I don't yet know what I feel here, but I feel something that I can't yet put into words.", I commented.

Because of my time with her all those years ago and the fact that I was in this building in her presence, I felt welcomed, but in a way not that unlike my time spent on secure military bases. On those bases, you want to make sure the MP's see your escort first otherwise Bad Things can happen.

Each wall hanging, each fixture here, had some significance and a tie in to stories of a very different people from long ago. Strangely, it did not all seem as alien as I think it probably could have largely because she is such a good ambassador.

"Do you want to see my office?", she asked. "Of course. I want to see everything.", I said thinking that I wanted to understand more about the parts of her life that are inaccessible to me.

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"It looks very officially office like.", I said.

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"I had one person ask me if I was a follower of the Occult.", she commented laughing. Look at her office and you'll notice the Ouiji board mouse pad, the gargoyle and the Lochness monster. That is just so her.

I've always liked Rachel. She has this compelling dark but very funny side that has always drawn me to her.

"I've been doing paper cutting.", she said as she pointed to one of her works of art.

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Intricately beautiful.

As we left the building she pointed to a list of names carved into the wall. "With the Rabbi leaving, I had to get a contractor to add the new name when I realized my name will never be up there. Despite how much I've sacrificed and how much I've given for this place at the end of the day it's still just a job", she said.

"I've seen that so many times and it's happened to me too. If you let it, a job can start having meanings that it shouldn't. It can start bleeding over into Life.", I replied thinking of the Dalton Highway and the guys who crash up there because it starts to mean something to them that it's not.

We went out for dinner and drinks that evening in that funky cobblestoned streets area. As we walked around I said, "You know, I think I understand what it is that I feel. I felt this before too.", I said. "Really?", she said.

"Walking through those halls, seeing your place and listening to the stories I feel that there is just such a huge part of your life, your world, you, that I can never be part of. It's as if the you I experience is just one small sliver.", I explained and she seemed strangely saddened by this. I went on to talk about incompatible lives and how, at this age, with lives as well defined it's amazing anyone makes new friends or establishes new relationships. "At this age, for two people to get together one or the others life would have to be destroyed and in need of reforming. I guess if I'm ever going to get together with anyone it would probably be at this time with my life fractured in pieces.", I commented. I forget exactly what she said to this, something to the effect of having someone else take the pieces and make something out of them. I remember thinking it was a nice comment.

We talked until very late, the day over before it began.

"I'm sorry the time was so short.", she said the next morning. I echoed the sentiment. "I don't do well with goodbyes.", I replied.

She got ready for work. I put on my Toxic Suit, grabbed my gear and we headed down to the parking garage. Before I knew it my time with Rachel was over.

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It is so easy to exclude. It's is so easy to rigidly hold on to the belief that one or the other way to live is the Only Way, the Right Way. It is so easy to put up barriers and shut people out who could contribute so much to a life, turning it into a Life.

Rachel reminded me of things she had taught me ages ago. Even the most foreign of worlds can, with a bit of compassion, become less so. Similar to choosing to feel the emotional impact of the rainbow instead of the storm, choose to see and feel the familiar in other human beings, not the alien, no matter who they are.

However, it's easier said than done, especially when there is serious pain involved. Oftentimes the pain is too great. I think about walking in Rachel's world encountering members of her community my mothers age. How clearly would they be able to see me or would the pain of inconceivable Horrors from the past mask any compassion they might have for this displaced German? I think about certain communities that I still cannot bring myself to accept because of how some of their members behaved when Gesa died ... I still feel the hatred ... but in time I'm sure I will. At least, now I know I have to try.

Looking back now and with new eyes, this story, this epic journey, would have just been another insignificant trip by motorcycle without much value if I had continued being a coward looking for only those who saw the world as I saw it. The calculated risks I took along the way to be open and step into uncomfortable new worlds has allowed me to learn how to See and Think differently.

Now I Feel differently. Everything has changed.

My apologies that it's taken me a few days to get this one done. Writing here at home is much more difficult than writing while Out There. I'm finding it very challenging to concentrate. There are a steady stream of interruptions and the din of my machines is distracting, but I try. Once I finish this one, I will write at least one more article about this improbably successful 2010 Deadhorse trip.

Since my time with Rachel, I've been thinking back to the vastly different people I had met during this trip and how, more often than not, each acted as an ambassador from a different world, a world I would never have been able to peer into without their kindness and understanding. I think of the pipeliners, truckers and oil rig workers. I think of an advocate for environmental capitalism. I think of Ted and Sarah at Dancing Rabbit who helped set this theme of challenging comfort zones and being better a man for it.

Back to a time when I was still on the road, I packed up my gear and after a couple of illegal U-turns found myself sitting in a diner at a window sipping brown colored water. I had gotten up early and I was not expected at Rachel's until well after noon. I had not spent any significant time with her in over 17 years and it got me to thinking more about the distant past than at any time during this trip.

"I have not always been so open.", I contemplated. "What I would have missed on this trip if I was still like I was back then." I could remember back to a time, long ago, when I was much more inflexible and exclusionary and so much less accepting of ways of living life different than my own. Mine was the right way. The only way. I thought back to that time and the experiences I had with different walks of life and how often such events would go very badly, how often I would be hurt or hear stories of hurt. That inflexibility was just fear manifested.

"But it only takes one.", I reminded myself. I understood one saving grace I have is that all I need is an ambassador, someone to take me under their wing to make an unfamiliar world understandable. Those ambassadors, if they are patient, can make you see a different world clearly and understand it in it's own context. Ted and Sarah did that. Phil did that. Robyn did that. When you are fortunate enough to be open to such an ambassador, you can conquer your fear of the unknown and the harsh judgements that are cowardly used to mask it. I have known a number of key ambassadors in my life and I am such a better man for it. I have seen into Worlds and been accepted in contexts that I would never have thought possible. But it took a first one. It took someone exceptional to make me understand that that's all you need. With a compassionate ambassador, even people from the most incompatible worlds can find common ground and become meaningful parts of each others lives.

That first ambassador was Rachel.

In 1992, shortly after I bought my BMW K100RS and just before the last cross country trip that I affectionately refer to as the Failed Alaska Hell Ride, I went to a university party with some friends. I didn't like going to parties back in those days. Burdened by introversion and toxic beliefs, I would generally hang around those I knew or politely stand alone somewhere out of the way watching the goings on from a distance lost in my own thoughts. If I was fortunate enough to talk to someone new it was always because a close friend had gone way out of their way to make an introduction. This party, however, was the one exception. On this day I met Rachel.

"The sound of the German language scares me", I overheard her say. It was not the first time I had heard someone say something like that. It never goes well so I never say anything. This time, however, I did and it started a long and very enjoyable conversation.

English is my second language. Despite being born in the States, I was born a German citizen and was raised to "move back" to that country. My childhood was filled with it's language, culture, fairy tales, philosophy, literature, structure, food and world view. I was intentionally isolated from American society so I would aclimate better when we moved back, my mother believing the old mans lies and telling me for years that Ahausen, Germany was home and that we were just visiting here. To this day, despite having spent less than five months there in total, Ahausen looks and feels more like home to me than anyplace else on Earth. I have always been closer and had more in common with my aunt, uncle and cousins there than anyone else in my so called family other than my sister. Growing up it was always my sanctuary. Bad Things never happened to me there. As a kid, it was the only place I ever felt wanted. In my core, I am still more North German than American and I can be somewhat of an intolerable Germanophile.

Rachel is Jewish. She is fully immersed in that culture, religion, world view and history. It has touched every aspect of her life including her professional choices, her studies, her travels, what she eats and how, what days she engages in what activities, the places she lives and the communities she involves herself with. But very much like Ted and Sarah at Dancing Rabbit, she has a depth of compassion, a humility and an understanding that hers is a different life than many and is not the only life. She gracefully makes her world accessible to Outsiders in a way I have never seen done with more kindness and understanding.

Inconceivably, we became instant friends.

We talked for hours eventually moving onto the topic of my impending motorcycle journey to try to reach the Arctic Circle with three friends, one of whom was Duncan. Completely out of character for me and not thinking that anyone would possibly take me up on such an offer, I said late that evening, "You should fly out to the West coast and join me for a week of motorcycle camping. We could go riding through the Big Trees."

And so she did.

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(1992 Outside San Francisco)

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Rachel has the distinction of doing more miles as a passenger on my bike than all other passengers I've had over all the years I've been riding combined. Then again, since the days she was riding with me, I have had very few passengers.

We rode from San Diego all the way up north of San Francisco, on the way camping under Big Trees and going on long walks. We did longer days two up than any day on this current trip. How we managed to get all of my gear and hers packed on that bike and have it look as clean as it did I'll never remember.

It was a beautiful time filled with conversation, dark humor and stories. She brought color and life into what had been an overwhelmingly gray, dead and painful existence. It did not take long for me to become addicted to her company. Never before and only once since has someone gotten inside me that quickly with such great effect. Both times involved a long painful motorcycle journey. Maybe there is a pattern here.

But in a way similar to my time with Angela, with Rachel there were unspoken yet completely understood Boundaries and Constraints. But these boundaries and constraints were what gave us the freedom to become very very close friends and it did me a world of good. Without them, I don't think either one of us would have had the time together that we did.

During that time in California I learned two things, one from an Uncle and one from my sister, that the Nightmare around me had been so much worse than anything I could ever have imagined or believed. It devastated me destroying the foundation of my world forever changing me.

Rachel, with her kindness, compassion, acceptance and infectious beautiful smile, was a reservoir of strength for me then, but I never told her that. I think maybe it was that contrast, that kindness, that made me see how closed I had been.

In an effort to show her my appreciation, I did everything in my power to make sure she had a good time.

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For the remainder of that year, we spent a ridiculous amount of time together. There were a few smaller bike trips. There were also concerts.

She may look like all sweetness and light with that incredible smile but make no mistake, Rachel was a heavy metal headbanger with an unbelievable ability to win near front row tickets to any concert she wanted. I went to more concerts that year than all other years combined. Metallica's "Nothing else matters" seemed to be the theme song of that time for us, but also held that foreboding of an end and a goodbye.

"I move through lives.", she would tell me. In some ways a weekend I had not too long ago echoed thoughts from '92. I remember fearing the implications of that statement.

Around Rachel there is the ever present sense of a world that is so deeply inside her and one into which no Outsider can ever venture too far. I always sensed in her an unspoken internal conflict about the exclusionary nature of her world. Exclusion seems so against her nature.

She did her best to explain her world and I was always so impressed how she was able to get to the core human values behind a given thing whether it be a ritual, a story or some, as I called them, "silly rule". Without prejudice and without any sense that her way was any better or worse than any other way, she presented her world and life in such a way that the listener could experience the beauty beneath it all as if the only goal was to show what she saw and felt. She was one of the most intensely spiritual people I have ever met, but spiritual in a substantative approachable way, not a flaky one. Life in the presence of Rachel was simply Better.

My time with Rachel all those years ago changed me. Where before I had been very closed minded with a strong indoctrinated belief that mine was the "right way", after that time I was much more open, in a way like her, to accept other ways of being. I think of other Important People that are now part of my life who live even more radically different lives than even Rachel does. I think of Stacie and wonder if I would have been open enough to accept her if I had never met Rachel. I shudder to think how much poorer a man I would be, how destitute, if I had through closed mindedness excluded her from my life.

Jumping in time to just a few days ago, Stacie came to the welcome home party. We played pool, as we often do, and it was such a good time. She left a present for me in my kitchen which I found on my return. Back when there was a shootout on my street she was the first to call, in a panic, to see if I was ok. Stacie is one of the most important people in my life and few understand. She is simply beautiful with a strength, solidity and zen like calm that inspires all those who know her. Our friendship is deep and very unusual with the kinds of absolute Boundaries that can never be crossed. Stacie is not attracted to men and as I often joke from my own selfish perspective "it's a crying shame". I absolutely think the world of her. But I digress as usual.

Back to years ago, my time with Rachel came to an end and as I have figured out on this trip, I do not deal well with endings. She went off into her world and shortly thereafter my Nightmare began in earnest. The old man was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and was dead within 6 weeks. The hell he left for us and that was unleashed afterwards was something I, nor anyone else, could not have ever foreseen.

I crossed paths with Rachel once some time later but it was during a very bad time. Everything was different and I was unable to bring the kind of presence she had come to enjoy. We parted company would not see each other again for nearly 17 years.

In the intervening years I kept a photo of her on my wall and the candle holder she gave me has been a fixture in my living room. I never forgot what she taught me.

Some time ago thinking about her as I often do, on a whim, I checked to see if she was on Facebook. She was and to my surprise accepted the friend request. We met for lunch at one point and when she heard about my epic ride to Deadhorse she wanted to join me for a leg of the trip. I was so excited to have her be part it. It just felt right. Unfortunately, life got in the way and the scheduling didn't work out. Bummer.

But as it happened, the stars did align somewhat and I was able to visit her as the very last stop on my epic journey. There's a nice symmetry to it. Since the events of Prince George, I thought I had learned everything I needed to. With each passing day I have been proven so very wrong. My time with Rachel during this very last moment on my trip was no exception.

I finished yet another cup of brown colored water, got back on my bike and rode off into the heat and humidity, a thunderstorm threatening in the distance.

The ride was uneventful but filled with endless traffic and lights. Philadelphia is an old city with lots of stone construction. Much of it is impressive.

I rode through a funky little section of town with shops, cafes and nice restaurants. The street was cobblestone.

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It took me a while longer to get to her place than I had planned. Since my lying bitch of a GPS had died, I had to memorize the route, which wasn't a problem however quite a number of streets in this area seem to be missing street signs. Combine this with slow city streets, the outdoor air temperature and the fact that the bike is running hot due to the new exhaust causing the radiator fan to run non stop and bake me slowly, I was pretty well cooked.

I arrived well done.

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Self conscious about my toxic Transit Suit I texted her to let her know I had arrived. Out she walked and gave me a huge hug not complaining in the least.

I followed her on the bike to a spot in the parking garage where I could safely leave the bike. I was relieved because I had been having some concerns about leaving the bike on the street in this urban setting. I pulled off the gear and we walked into the old condo building. It had that style of elevator from the earlier part of the century that you see in movies. It has an outer door that you pull by hand and an inner grating that is also moved, manually, out of the way. I have to admit it does not inspire alot of confidence.

"I wonder what safety features this elevator doesn't have.", I joked. "It has the inspection certificate.", she replied laughing both of us understanding that it may not mean much.

She had told me that I would be staying in the Opium Den. "You'll understand when you get here.", she had texted me.

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"Yup, that's pretty much what I had imagined.", I thought as I put my gear down. The guest room was decorated in a way that was just oh so Rachel. Her condo is large and may be nearly as large as my small house.

Themes of community and cooperation come through in virtually all of Rachel's stories.

The reason she could not join me on the trip was a planned three month sabbatical back to Israel. She had set up a house swap with a six member family. Unfortunately, last minute developments at work conspired to prevent her from taking her sabbatical, so she and six house guests shared her apartment for five weeks.

They had just left a few days before I arrived. Where as I think most people would complain about the inconvenience and stress of a situation like that, Rachel with a big smile seemed to be able to see the humor in and present it from a perspective that makes the listener think, despite the stress and work, that it was a rewarding experience.

"It must be really hard to have come back here after they all left.", I commented thinking about the empty house I was going to be returning to the next day.

"It doesn't bother me. Endings don't bother me because I've done it so often. There's always something next.", she said.

"Next.", I thought thinking back to other conversations.

After many glasses of water and chatting for quite a while, I asked to take a shower so I could change out of my Toxic Suit. Putting on clean clothes, jeans and the tennis shoes Phil gave me was a welcome change.

Rachel had a few things to take care of so I walked about the apartment and laughed aloud as I came upon a cactus, the first cactus of the trip.

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She walked in and asked why I was laughing, "There's something I have to do before I leave and it involves that cactus."

"I am so not going to ask!", she replied with a huge smile that screamed WTF?

She had some errands to run and there was a wooded park with trails nearby. As we got into the elevator with the manual doors I explained that when I first started this trip I was concerned it would be very lonely so I thought that I should have some tasks with which to pass the time. A rather attractive and very interesting bartender friend of mine, Claudia, gave me a small bottle and, as a completely arbitrary task, asked me to bring her back the sand from around a cactus. "I like cacti", Claudia had said. I had just the previous day confessed to Claudia that I had encountered no cacti on this trip.

Rachel looked at me skeptically. Unfortunately, when we got back I forgot.

We went to a nearby nice coffee shop. I seemed like she would run into groups of people she knew where ever we went. "One of the downsides of living in this community and having the job that I do is that everyone knows me.", she said. "Yea, but it's more than that. You have a way of drawing people to you. When you look at someone you make them feel like they are the most important person in the world and it's addictive.", I replied. She told a story of a woman she knows who can do the same thing even with groups of people each person feeling like they are the most important.

We drove down to the park. The feel of the park was not unlike the PA Grand Canyon. It was deeply wooded with trails carved along a ravine. A large stream flowed below.

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Despite the threatening rain we walked along the path for some time as I remembered what I had thought just the previous day walking in the canyon. "So here I am walking in the woods with Rachel", I thought and mentioned to her the 1500 foot canyon. "I would have been dead and unhappy", she commented about going to the canyon. "Oh, you would have been fine.", to which I got another skeptical look.

We sat on a boulder next to the stream and talked for some time. I kept thinking that when I walk through my life I need to take notes. There are so many stories, so many insights that fall by the wayside and are forgotten that really should not be.

Work interjected itself into her life as her cellphone rang. She's the executive director at a nearby synagogue and there's an upheaval going on. It's been a stressful job for her and strangely has involved dealing with difficult problems in commercial real-estate, so we had a lot to talk about on that front as well.

As it started to rain we walked back to the car. On the way we encountered a crazy bird that repeated flew right next to her head but she was still busy on the phone.

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The bird seemed upset and would fly loops around us.

We got back to the car as we noticed a couple of gang banger looking guys hovering around the car. You could see the fear on her face. "We have a big problem here with car theft.", she said. She had explained earlier that her choice of apartment was also in part to mitigate fear. "So I don't have to worry.", she said.

I explained how I've realized that kind of fear isn't good for me. It gets inside.

We got into the car without incident. My feeling was the the two guys were scoping out the car next to hers but they didn't seem all that threatening.

"Do you want to see where I work?", she asked. "You'll be able to see what I've been talking about."

"Most definitely!", I said. So off to the Germantown Jewish Center we went.

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Not too terribly long ago this building burned. I got the impression it was arson. Rachel was front and center in managing the aftermath of the disaster, making sure that the congregation had continuity and felt taken care of and, if that wasn't enough, managed the reconstruction, the insurance, everything. It was a huge job. "But because of the insurance I had a budget.", she commented. It was because of this experience she could understand how I felt during the more practical parts of my Nightmare. "I hate the sound of phones ringing late at night because the alarm at the building has gone off.", I would say as she would nod knowingly. She's been there. She gets it.

"Is it going to be ok for me to go in there? I mean is any going to mind?", I asked tentatively remembering stories from decades ago. "Sure, no problem.", she said.

As we walked in the front door she said, "After the fire, I had this mural commissioned. I wanted to add some color and a sense of life."

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We walked into a room I believe called the Sanctuary which had been devasted by a broken water pipe from a floor above. She talked about all the challenges involved in putting the room back together again.

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"Dealing with contractors typically sucks.", I said. "Tell me about it.", she replied.

We walked around the building and she showed me various areas that had been repaired or rebuilt. "I don't yet know what I feel here, but I feel something that I can't yet put into words.", I commented.

Because of my time with her all those years ago and the fact that I was in this building in her presence, I felt welcomed, but in a way not that unlike my time spent on secure military bases. On those bases, you want to make sure the MP's see your escort first otherwise Bad Things can happen.

Each wall hanging, each fixture here, had some significance and a tie in to stories of a very different people from long ago. Strangely, it did not all seem as alien as I think it probably could have largely because she is such a good ambassador.

"Do you want to see my office?", she asked. "Of course. I want to see everything.", I said thinking that I wanted to understand more about the parts of her life that are inaccessible to me.

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"It looks very officially office like.", I said.

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"I had one person ask me if I was a follower of the Occult.", she commented laughing. Look at her office and you'll notice the Ouiji board mouse pad, the gargoyle and the Lochness monster. That is just so her.

I've always liked Rachel. She has this compelling dark but very funny side that has always drawn me to her.

"I've been doing paper cutting.", she said as she pointed to one of her works of art.

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Intricately beautiful.

As we left the building she pointed to a list of names carved into the wall. "With the Rabbi leaving, I had to get a contractor to add the new name when I realized my name will never be up there. Despite how much I've sacrificed and how much I've given for this place at the end of the day it's still just a job", she said.

"I've seen that so many times and it's happened to me too. If you let it, a job can start having meanings that it shouldn't. It can start bleeding over into Life.", I replied thinking of the Dalton Highway and the guys who crash up there because it starts to mean something to them that it's not.

We went out for dinner and drinks that evening in that funky cobblestoned streets area. As we walked around I said, "You know, I think I understand what it is that I feel. I felt this before too.", I said. "Really?", she said.

"Walking through those halls, seeing your place and listening to the stories I feel that there is just such a huge part of your life, your world, you, that I can never be part of. It's as if the you I experience is just one small sliver.", I explained and she seemed strangely saddened by this. I went on to talk about incompatible lives and how, at this age, with lives as well defined it's amazing anyone makes new friends or establishes new relationships. "At this age, for two people to get together one or the others life would have to be destroyed and in need of reforming. I guess if I'm ever going to get together with anyone it would probably be at this time with my life fractured in pieces.", I commented. I forget exactly what she said to this, something to the effect of having someone else take the pieces and make something out of them. I remember thinking it was a nice comment.

We talked until very late, the day over before it began.

"I'm sorry the time was so short.", she said the next morning. I echoed the sentiment. "I don't do well with goodbyes.", I replied.

She got ready for work. I put on my Toxic Suit, grabbed my gear and we headed down to the parking garage. Before I knew it my time with Rachel was over.

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It is so easy to exclude. It's is so easy to rigidly hold on to the belief that one or the other way to live is the Only Way, the Right Way. It is so easy to put up barriers and shut people out who could contribute so much to a life, turning it into a Life.

Rachel reminded me of things she had taught me ages ago. Even the most foreign of worlds can, with a bit of compassion, become less so. Similar to choosing to feel the emotional impact of the rainbow instead of the storm, choose to see and feel the familiar in other human beings, not the alien, no matter who they are.

However, it's easier said than done, especially when there is serious pain involved. Oftentimes the pain is too great. I think about walking in Rachel's world encountering members of her community my mothers age. How clearly would they be able to see me or would the pain of inconceivable Horrors from the past mask any compassion they might have for this displaced German? I think about certain communities that I still cannot bring myself to accept because of how some of their members behaved when Gesa died ... I still feel the hatred ... but in time I'm sure I will. At least, now I know I have to try.

Looking back now and with new eyes, this story, this epic journey, would have just been another insignificant trip by motorcycle without much value if I had continued being a coward looking for only those who saw the world as I saw it. The calculated risks I took along the way to be open and step into uncomfortable new worlds has allowed me to learn how to See and Think differently.

Now I Feel differently. Everything has changed.

My journey came to an end yesterday. Far too quickly the memories, the calm and the focus from the road are fading. Words are already becoming far more difficult to craft. Was it all just a dream?

Rolling up to my house, I paid careful attention to my initial reactions, my first feelings. In ways, it's nicer here than I remember. In other ways, it's some of the ugliest scenery of the whole trip. Walking into the house, the din from the racks of servers I manage there was very disquieting. Stress. There is so much stuff everywhere.

I've come to understand very quickly that I am more affected by my surroundings, by my environment, than I would ever have allowed myself to accept. My old man always considered that weak, so I learned to deny this fact about myself. I walk through the house thinking about the man who was imprisoned here for so many years. Poor bastard.

I couldn't think with the din of those machines, so I'm now sitting at my Starbucks in College Park. There are familiar faces here, Thanh and Jonathan, who welcomed me back with big smiles. Yun, a good friend who helped watch for things while i was gone and who detailed my car, just arrived. He's a very good guy.

Back three days which already seems much longer ago ...

After an early breakfast I donned my odiferous leathers, packed up my gear which by this point has become a well practiced motion and continued on my way in the heat along Route 6. Crossing a bridge, I came upon a scene that captures how I see Pennsylvania.

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Very green. Hills. Small quaint towns situated inbetween trees and not the other way around.

It was hot and the traffic was still ever present. I cooked in the heat.

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Traffic let up a bit a few miles on and I started making good time. The geriatric drivers doing 10mph under the speed limit were no where to be found. The breeze felt good.

I clicked off the 50 miles to Wellsboro in no time flat.

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I was pretty well cooked and bathed in sweat. In addition I needed to get gas so I stopped at a gas station, grabbed a couple huge bottles of water. Looking up, there were interesting clouds overhead.

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At this point I was only a few miles from the so called Eastern Grand Canyon. There is an observation tower on the edge of the canyon from which you are supposed to be able to see 100 miles out. My intention had been to go see this but I missed the exit and found myself in one of the state parks around the canyon. After all the incredible landscapes and beautiful scenery I have seen while Out There, this seemed more like a small ditch. Then again, for the East Coast with all it's gentle slopes this is a huge canyon. Calling it a "Grand Canyon" is overstated, but it is nevertheless beautiful and worth the trip. The lower elevation and the fact that it's a lower latitude East Coast feature means that the vegetation is different. There's little that beats the kind of dark lush impenetrable forests we have here.

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Meandering about the park in the heat and being eyed suspiciously by young children as they scurried about I came upon a trail head.

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It's 90+ degrees outside with something like 1000% humidity so my former genius leather clad self thought, "Hehehe. I remember Telluride. 'Note to self, down is harder than up'. I'll do down first.". Of course, I failed to take into account that down is harder than up only a motorcycle.

For some reason, the option of not going down the path never really dawned on me.

I did, however, have the foresight to ask a very nice shop keeper whether I could drop off my helmet and jacket for safe keeping. He very nicely agreed to hold on to them for me.

So my odiferous leather pant clad self started the easy stroll down hill. I found myself wondering, not really knowing, "At what point does a stroll turn into a hike?". I still don't really know. I figure if you don't have a backpack filled with survival supplies, it's probably a stroll and not a hike.

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The environment here really is gorgeous. The canyon walls are steep with what I guess is slate rock sticking out in places. Trees can be seen eeking out a precarious existence on the outcrops.

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I happened on some other park visitors and offered to take a photo of the whole lot of them. They returned the favor.

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"Unlike getting eaten by grizzly, getting crushed by boulders is thankfully not on the list of disallowed activities, so I can have some fun.", I thought chuckling.

It was pretty hot and I had figured out that if I unzip the transit suit pants a bit around the ankles it was much cooler. My legs were started to hurt and tremble a bit.

There had been a lack of rain in this area so the waterfalls were a mere trickle. The slate strata made for an interesting stepped effect.

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The path continued it's slow descent. As I strolled through these woods I found myself remembering how much I like walking in the woods. "A requirement! If I ever have another girlfriend", I thought chuckling artificially trying a new thought pattern on for size, "she's gonna have to like walking in the woods with me."

Requirements. I've always been loathe to think about "requirements" when it comes to human beings. So many people I know "shop" for significant others, friends or other connections, the way they shop for a car. They have a check list. I guess those are the kind of people for whom dating sites work. I am not one of those people.

I'm just not someone that thinks about "requirements" when it comes to human beings. This is not just when thinking about romantic entanglements but also just in terms of the kinds of people in general.

Being open, being flexible, being willing to defer opinion and just accept regardless of how uncomfortable it is has been such a powerful part of what I've tried to learn while Out There. I never imagined I could meet and get along with so many radically different people with backgrounds and viewpoints so far removed from my own. Many times I've had to stray far outside of my comfort zone and stretch the limits of what I think is acceptable. I've even broken some of my most core Artificial Rules and now I Feel differently.

But if I had kept to my artificial "requirements", I would never have had these experiences nor would I have learned what I so desperately needed to. There's a lesson in here somewhere and maybe not just for me.

There is, however, a fine balance. There are still many things I won't accept or tolerate, but there are fewer of them than before and they are more along my true core values as opposed to my fear of consequences.

"I really like walking in the woods.", I would think pondering the state of my life.

In places the walls of the canyon were impressively steep.

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I made it to the canyon floor.

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So beautiful, but hot so very hot. I was pretty much cooked by the time I got here.

I walked down to the river.

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It's a canyon like so many others I've seen, just much greener.

It was at this point I began to curse my former self. My former self had decided it was a good idea to stroll down 1500 feet. My current self now had to suffer the consequences of this ill-begotten choice.

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Did I mention the steps? A little girl who passed told me that there were 263 steps. Did I mention I was wearing leathers? I unzipped the sides of the leathers even more in a vane attempt to cool down.

I climbed back up pouring sweat and getting hotter and hotter. At one point, I decided to take a short cut and scramble up vertically