Content, and at home in the shade of the Stars and Stripes that canopies this fabulous country, clean air, trees, and on some days a brilliant blue sky. Makes me wonder why am I fighting an internal battle in both my heart and mind. It strikes me as entirely odd and unreasonable that I could be caught in this quandry, but I am. Our RTW(round-the-world) adventure draws yet closer to completion as we pass another mile marker along the road that circumnavigates Gods Creation. The roads are wider, in better shape generally, heck most folks even speak my language….and yet with all that, for which I’am grateful I find myself longing for that which I have come to know so well.
That being Europe. I am for instance a little taken aback, when I step into a store and someone says “good morning sweetie, how can we help you”! Leaves me a little unnerved when I go into a store ask for stove alchohol and the man says “right this way Sir, follow me”! Where is the struggle and worry, where is the requirement for simple sign language, nobody refuses to answer a question nor direct you to an available source. Between you and me, this internalized battle would play out for several weeks, conclusions will come later.
Leaving Lisbon turned into a mental and physical challenge for me, I was on the fight and ready for any provocation. My entire family was now jettisoning out of my life once again……and poor ol’me had to cross solo yet again. While I was needing to hug my wife one more time she was being hurried thru a different terminal gate. While I was struggling to make my luggage fit the airline standards, and then struggling yet harder for a thirdtime to meet these exacting conformities my family on the otherhand slip out of sight and on towards thier waiting plane with ease. Rattled, cranky and not inclined towards a kind thought nor gesture, I finally make my way to my own departure gate with a full hour to consider just what sort of example I may have been to those around me…..I wasn’t feeling like Christian Giant right at that moment. Sometimes God delivers his message with softest swipe of a dainty silk glove…..other times he whacks you smartly with a catchers mitt……I realized I had just gotten the latter.
“Hi, God bless us, pray we have a safe flight……I think Iam in the window seat please”. Within a few brief seconds of finding my seat on the aluminum skinned flying culvert known as American Airlines, I had been gently prayed for, had my faith shorn up and put in my respectful place with regard too who is really in charge. God. A middle aged women of Hungarian heritage, who had lived in Torrance California for 8 years, whom now had her flag planted along the shores of Wales, but would very soon be leaving to live in Israel…..after she had taken her seat extended her hand and said “God Bless you, I am Rebecca”. Ever meet that person, who upon eyesight almost, you just know deep down inside that everything about thier character is 100% genuine. I felt cared for, I felt like I really mattered……and we didnt even know one another. Gods working.
By the culmination of that 9.5 hour flight, as we passed over Greenland for my 8th time, however this time God was really at work showing his magnificense. The slanting rays of a setting sun swept across the snow capped jagged peaks in a way I had never seen before. The deep rifts that formed between worn cornices were bathed in a meloncholy soft blue making the pink light on the gleaming snow all the more brilliant. As warm pink ambiance faded, morphing seemlessly into stronger orange and crimson tones, we arced over the polar route at 565 miles an hour. God was at work on landscape out our cabin window, and upon hearts in row G, seats 32 and 33.
Touch down, as wheels screamed and the reverse jet engine thrusters send us all headlong to the front of the plane were it not for seat belts, we arrive in Columbia, South Carolina. After almost 8 months, Jeremiah is walking on American soil, thru customs and out into brisk evening aire. My first two days would be spent with friends and relatives, Ryan, Trace and 2.5 year old Chloe. I would gain yet another moniker. While in Morroco, everywhere I went, I got “Ali-Baba”, on three other occasions while traveling thru customs I was called “Jesse James”, at Columbia while lining up for imigration a security fellow said “right this way operator”, and now I wore the gleaming hat/crown known as “Unk”. Good to arrive at a welcoming home rather than a stark room at Hotel 6. Better to be woke by a sharp rap on the head with a gleaming yellow plastic building block…..than to hear Carly Simon belting out a tune on the radio alarm…..I lay there for a moment rubbing the swelling goosebump…….and thinking whooly crap and poochy maggie……..I am in USA. I have been on my way to this place for 8 months, and the realization of arrival was slow to land in my mind. While I have been pedaling, life has been churnning along at home, there were now boyfriends and girlfriends to compete with for time, business was trundling along in my own office, decisions made shaping future outcomes that I had no part in, friends whom I loved dearly had passed away…… ALL, while I frolicked. It really was a torrent of emmossions, guilt, elation, anger, satisfaction,all coming to a crescendo in that moment……as a smiling, cute 2.5 year old asked me to get up and play “Unk”. My head was swimming as I made tractor sounds, shared twice eaten grapefruit and read the story of Goldilocks…….can this be real……someone must have slipped me LSD along the way. I felt as twisted and contorted as a Lewis Carrol character. Yet here I sat at an actual kitchen table, family around, every word spoken was recognizable, I could read the signs and labels on the food. I just couldn’t wrap my head around it, I was needing some quiet time to sit and ponder all that it meant to arrive at this point in my journey.
2 days later, well fed, rested as a cyclist can be and with Chloe escorting me on her gleaming red tri-cycle down her street, I cycled south out of Columbia, out of the security and comfort of family once again making my way south towards the coast at the famous civil war city of Charleston. Had to be sure that I could lay claim to a coastline departure, not wanting to cheat my own nor my friends expectation as it regards this journey. Somewhere along about here, as I cycle threw the the pine scented aire, billowing cumulus clouds partially obscuring the afternnon sun, smooth blacktop ribbon layed out before me…..that I will no doubt iether offend or dissappoint many. My journey takes me completely across the southern USA, where JWP (Jeremiah Watt Products) and HSBT(Horse Shoe Brand Tools) have many friends and customers. Aquaintances from engraving classes over some 25 years of teaching, saddle customers and avid fans of our DVD’S. If I were to stop at each for just a brief visit, I would never get home. RULES OF THE ROAD, no offence, but the rules have to apply to bring the journey to a conclusion. There are going to be many I ride by because I simply didn’t know that I was that close to your home town. Others whom I know well will also be passed simply because miles and timing really matter on a trip like this. As much as all things matter, miles is what closes the gap between myself and success. Only by taking the safest, straitest backroad route, and covering my average or maybe better each day will Jeremiah get home to the waiting sunshine and cerulean skies of California and the loving arms of wife and family. If by chance you see my ride right past your house, or you read on this blog that Jeremiah passed within but a few miles and didnt stop to see you…….it’s not because he doesn’t care nor for lack of want too……its very simply a longing to arrive home much like a migratory bird in flight. SORRY, but its going to happen…..my aplogies. I am traveling like a DUCK headed south with a snowball stuck to his butt, and sunshine on his eye lids….. cant wait for the snowball to melt away.
The lapping waters of a grey Atlantic ocean wash the feet of the city of Charleston, as I arrive under dull lead grey cloud and slow drizzling rain. The last 2 days have been a slow wet soaker, off and on thru both night and day. With the coastline of South Carolina now at my back and the west firmly taking its proper position in front of me I begin my actual trek west. Heading no place imparticular, but all the while due west. one backwoods road after another, one slow growing hill at a time, we are passing thru a very rural America that that I have not seen in several years. Tiny towns, repleat with old men sitting out front of poorly stocked general stores. Cars on blocks take up space next to a flower planter on front lawns. Hand painted signs as well as glowing neon, lead you vintage antiques…..some as old as a quarter century…..and the price reflects its rareness amply. Outside bait boxes, humming beer coolers, and bins full of night crawlers , the resonant sound of howling coon hounds wind thier way into your phyche, slowly “america”seeps” back into your vocabulary. Y’ALL, lays on your tongue like a morsel after a good meal. A wave from passing motorists whether in a new Lexus or thouroughly beatin farm truck, are all sent with the same purpose and intent…..hello……goodmorning…..welcome……good too see you! Its happening, so slowly as to be invisible but for the receptors in the heart. Home is happening, awakening within. Replacing memories of foriegn soil and landmark, warm well known words land on my timpanic membrane replacing those of different tongue which are harsh to me by the fact I dont recognize them, yet they had taken up residence.
Traversing thru National Forests, barely discernable from non national forests I am hurtling thru a sea of tall Pine and Poplars. In a 3 day stint of riding taking me into Macon Georgia. A city that is somewhat of a musical legend, along the lines of Memphis. Home to musical greats from the Blues and R&B genres of the music industry. My old Shirley Surly was having her own difficulties with the current southern red sand voyage we shared. Her back gear group, front main ring and well worn original chain were all beggining to slip and jump as we tackled each new hill that rose in our way. Best take care of all this here and now while we have the place to get parts, versus later on down the road. 3 days in Macon were spent getting some new power cords with US ends. A new miniSD for the tablet, work on images, seeing American Sniper, and knowing that Micheal Moore would forever suck. I was back home, where idiots can have a microphone and an opinion……thank God the founding fathers didn’t promise an audience.
Robert Lovett, water management and maintenance expert for Georgia Rural Water, steps from his grey pickup, a friendly southern smile and slow twangy speech, asks me how far am I traveling? Today, I am aiming for 60 miles, but when done I will have ridden around the world……proving one of these Georgian log haulers doenst turn me into a hood ornament first I joke. Robert, is somewhat of the town welcomer as it turned out, over several the years Robert has welcomed about a dozen cyclists of the long tour type, along with several across America walkers and the most unusual a man who traveled in a 10 goat wagon caravan. Pretty sure its classic southern hospitality and charm that make Robert a tourist magnet and the southern States a destination, yes even in the smallest towns.
“Say, where ya headed with’al that there stuff on yer bike”…..chcking out thru a drug store line, somewhere Georgia. The conversation ensues, incorporating the gal acting as checker on this cloudy day……mostly west right now I say…..but the beggining was some 8 months ago. A fit man, about my own age, square jawed, hosting a dimpled chin and a firm handshake congratulates me and welcomes me back to “good ol’USA, good to have you home brother”. Say he says, why dont you stay out at my cabin tonight, it looks like its going to rain again tonight. We have hot water and a good bed out there, besides its on your way and only maybe 3 mile from hear. Tim, the fella offering the cabin, resonates that American hospitality that is so much of what makes the south an endearing place to live,see,visit. My only problem is that is only 1pm and i have more miles to conquer, sorry Tim, and thanks again, maybe another day.
“Blessed are those weak in Spirit today but filled with a desire to find the comforting bosom of Christ. For he shall not overlook those who seek him……can I get an AMEN for that brothers and sisters”. The words boomed out of the speakers, dislodging loose white paint chips from the ceiling overhead……thankyou Jesus, you did it again I mentally said to myself….thankyou Jesus. I had not taken in a Church service for now 8 months and was longing for it. This particular morning, I rode past 4 maybe 5 tiny roadside Churches……all I was waiting for was an approximate time, nothing more. “Turn here” was the clarion call inside my skull. Plenty of cars out front, and about the right time for a renewed life to begin. Once again, upon closing the door behind me I realize that JW is the only vanilla to show up at the OREO party. The Saints are on there feet now, arms waving rythmicly, voices harmonizing in a way and hitting notes that are heavenly. I refrained from singing knowing God was loving this and he would not want to hear me scratch the record right in the middle of such a glorious rendition of a hymn I had never heard. 2 splendid hours, hugs, handshakes, well wishes and dinner invitations abound……but as I said “THE ROAD RULES”. Pastor James send me off amply Prayed up, and we covered almost 45 miles that afternoon settling finally with sunshine threw Pine boughs and a soft evening campsite on a rust red matt of Pine needles. Another day down and another day closer.
Feeling a little like Peter Sellers brother, I asked the fellow if his ambling lanky dog would bite. Heck said Johnny….”he doan even got no teeth….what’ya ass fer anyways”. All wanted at the moment was to get a closer look at, and an image of an old red car in a dilapidated open front barn. “Heck, com’on in tcheer, get your self a picture, he t’aint gunna hurt’cha nun”. And so it was that I met Johnny and Buster. A collector of old cars since he was 13 and now past 66 years, showing me his very first car purchase. A French made car I had never heard of, a Simplon……..Sorry Johnny, I said…..”but that motorscooter is as ugly as a gumboot”, what would make you buy something like that. Always felt like honesty is the best policy, even though sometimes it lands like a rock on glass. Pretty much agree says Johnny with a rye smile. So tell me about the old red car over in the barn. “Yeah, grew up here watching that beauty as a kid. It belonged to the fire Captain, it was the town ambulance, the town hurse, and represented the fire district at all functions…..bought that one when I turned 16” he says with the pride of a new father. Its a pretty rare beast as cars go. A 1945 Cadillac, with full delivery van construction built over a 1 ton truch chasis…..but most unusual component is the 8cylinder inline tank engine. A tank engine did you say? Yes sir assures Johnny. This car did not come out of production till 46, because we were waiting on a huge group of war surplus french made La Salle made tank engines. Part of the agreements after the war, buying up war munitions and machinery from a cash strapped Europe. “Hold on a minute and I’ll start it up for yah” says an eager Johnny………a few wires, a couple battery leads and several reluctant purrings from a long idle engine…….vr…vr…..vroom…….vvvvrooooommmmmmm and its pure PURRING from under the hood, and Johnny wearing a Cheshire cat grin.
Wjile I do find myself in front of an audience of people who want to know more about saddles, saddle trees and horse gear in general. Its very seldom the JW will place himself in a public speaking venue in which its a group of High Schoolers…..and on this occassion a series of 4 classes of all black students. To be honest, I dont know who was the more nervous…..the whole room was full of wide eyes. A longtime family friend, Darren Ramalho, same age as my kids, having graduated honors from UCLA and now teaching thru the “Teach For America”program is the one who arranged the day. We are in the tiny rural town of Union Town, but a stones throw from the epicenter of the Civil Rights Movement……and new movie release “Selma”. My job, to use pictures and verbal descriptions of my RTW journey thus far as a launching pad for the merits of education and work ethic. Have to say, that I was very welcomed by the local staff, made welcome by the kids at the school. In the end I think I actually got more out of the whole expierience than did they, great group of kids, both smart and eager. Walked away unharmed by the days events and would actually do it again…..never thought that would be the day. Thankyou Darren “Mr.Ramalho” for organizing a character building day for me. Thankyou Dean and Kim for raising a really great kid, who has always been a trusted friend and now a fine teacher.
Tonight will be my last night in Marion Alabama and we will commence weaving our way west again tomorrow. What roads await, what towns we pass thru…..non of this is decided yet. I bear Jack Sparrows compass in my vest pocket, and the wishes of my heart lie to a westerly direction……a fair breeze does blow crisp snapping canvas in that direction.