You never really know where the lessons of life will come from. Closed minded people rarely understand there are lessons available everyday. We simply have to be willing and receptive to accept them.
The year was 1998, location the Pacific NW, late November and I’m driving home from the coast and the growing town of Monroe, Washington where my son and daughter were living at that time. My F-250 Ford van was set up as a mini camper and I had stayed therein during the holiday visit. In the rear of the van, in a cooler was a large plate of left over turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, pieces of pumpkin & pecan pie and a six pack of cola. I had taken off early, skipped breakfast and was looking forward to stopping along the Columbia River after crossing the Cascade Mountains and having an early left-over holiday lunch.
As I climbed into the foothills of the western Cascades the rainfall began turning into wet snowflakes. It matched my mood. Post Thanksgiving, leaving family behind, other dark clouds within. The drive was going to be a slick haul up Steven’s Pass and over the mountains. I crossed the Snohomish River just before the town of Index and within a mile spotted a cyclist sitting on a guardrail, his bicycle in front of him and his thumb out hoping for a ride. There was enough room in the rear of the van for the cycle and the front passenger seat was empty. Did I really want company to disturb my brooding thoughts? The tension of a stranger in my small mobile world? But a small leftover of the holiday spirit guided my vehicle to a stop just up the guardrail.
It took a bit to get the bike and the fellow into the van but soon we were on our way eastward. I had mistaken my rider for a middle age male of Asian descent when I first looked at him. Turns out that Jeffery Jackson was Native American. I put a lot of miles on the long and windy roads of the Pacific NW. It’s not usual to find a Native American cyclist in good weather and here we were on the doorstep of December. Turns out that Jeffery had just completed a cross the United States ride of 3,000 miles and had been planning on catching a Greyhound bus (with his beloved cycle as cargo) back to his home in Arizona from this western end of his long journey. Unfortunately for Jeffery while cycling a campground where he was staying near Bellingham, someone stole his tent, sleeping bag, & most of his clothing. He even lost his coat for it had been nice weather and he had done what he normally did when camped somewhere for a bit, leave everything in the tent whilst he explored on his bike. The caretakers of the campground had a spare coat in their lost and found that fit Jeffery and his walkman with his favorite Robert Cray blues tape had been with him but most everything else was gone. More importantly his journal of the trip was gone and with it his travelers checks. Yet Jeffery was not a bitter man. He took the spare coat, loaded up what little was left of his possessions and set out cycling. His plan was to cross the Cascades route to Wenatchee and travel south to a friend's place near Yakima and sort things out from there.
It took quiet a few miles for this story to come out. In the meantime we compared notes of different campgrounds he stayed in during his ride across America. As we worked down the eastern slope of the Cascades I asked Jeffery if he had been anywhere to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal. He had not.
“You’re in luck,” I told him. I just happen to have a big plate of holiday leftovers in the cooler. Jeffery was hesitant but I assured him I had a big breakfast and couldn’t stomach any more turkey.
“I don’t have any thing to share with you,” Jeffery said upon completing (and enjoying) his holiday meal. “But I wrote some poems while on the road and I memorized them,” he said. Each of the several poems were short, poignant and Jeffery recited them with a distant voice, very unlike his speaking voice. I wish I could remember even one of the poems but time has washed those sands from me.
At twilight, as we were passing through Leavenworth, Washington’s very own Bavarian Village, there were hundreds of people in the streets. I explained to Jeffery the holiday lighting ceremony this village does annually and the crowds it attracts. “Hmm…” Jeffery mumbled to himself. A mile or so later before we were out of town he asked if I would let him out here instead of 20 or so miles away in Wenatchee. When Jeffery got out I asked if I could take his photograph. He agreed. I include it here at the bottom of this posting as part of the story. Driving away from Leavenworth I had a big smile on my face from the simple gift of sharing & receiving that Jeffery Jackson had given me. That was ten years ago. I still remember the conversation, the drive and the person fondly.
Good luck Jeffery wherever you cycle.
And Happy Thanksgiving to the rest of you…
For info on Leavenworth's tree lighting celebration: http://www.icicleinn.com/festivals/christmaslighting.htm
For info on the North Cascade driving loop:
More Cascade Range info with beautiful photos: