Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Green Tortoise Part X

After such a bad night's sleep and the fear of being left behind in Idaho, I decided to abandon the idea of rest all together and start setting up breakfast production around 6:30 AM with Driver Dave.

This becomes one of my regular jobs during the next eleven days. To set-up breakfast, first we pull out all the equipment from the cargo bays in the buses belly. For each meal we extract four six-foot folding tables, twenty over-sized stackable crates the contents which include coffee cups, plates, bowls, coffee brewing equipment, coffee, tea and hot chocolate ingredients, disposable sandwich bags and foil, assorted cereals, condiments, dried pasta, granola bars, olive oil and vinegar, miscellaneous dried ingredients like flour and corn meal, dried spices with salt and pepper mills. Also there are two huge tool boxes that hold chef knives and utensils plus the silverware we all use.

Once we unload the bins out of the bay, then comes setting up the huge pot we use to boil water for coffee and tea plus setting up the propane stove with five gallon propane tank. The is no weekend camp stove. It is cast-iron and very heavy designed to hold only one over-sized stock pot at a time. The first actual cooking task after bringing everything out and setting up the stove is boiling water. Everyone craves their coffee or tea first off in the morning. Occasionally we make other meals that require us to use industrial sized camp stoves with dual burners. We set two of those up back-to-back with another giant tank of propane.

We have a hand-washing station that uses a three compartment sink concept: soapy water, rinse water and bleach water to sterilize. Before anyone helps, they have to wash their hands. Also, we set-up a dish washing area with the same set-up but using bus tubs and there are four drying racks. Dishes and utensils must air-dry after being dipped into the bleach-water to kill bacteria.

Wavy Dave, the tax consultant, appoints himself as chief coffee maker in the morning. The only problem with this is that he is not a coffee drinker thus makes terrible coffee. We're drinking cowboy coffee which consists of boiled water poured on top of coffee grounds in a stainless steel pitcher with spout. We strain the coffee into plastic cups and put the leftover grounds back in the pot. When I kindly suggest to Wavy Dave that he use more of grounds in his cowboy coffee, he says, "That's not what Driver Dave instructed me to do."

Good times.

Except for a couple of days, each breakfast has cut fruit salad, granola and yogurt. On the other few days we had French Toast which wasn't so much fun for me since I can't eat bread without feeling sick, but people seemed to enjoy it. Carol, who also can't eat bread, made us cheese omelets instead for breakfast. That was nice. Another day, Cassie and crew made a Mexican scramble which was inedible. It was watery, wet eggs with soggy vegetables.

To set-up and tear-down breakfast takes a couple of hours. Once the food prep is done then we pack a lunch for the afternoon which are sandwich fixings, then we clean and put everything away. Not a fast process.

It is Sunday morning and we are headed to the Craters of the Moon. It is before 9 AM and already a hot 95 Fahrenheit degrees outside (that's 35 Celsius). Driver Dave drops us off and says the hike is only a mile around and there are caves to explore. He is wrong. It is a few miles but I do the hike quickly and return back to the bus and fall immediately asleep. I don't wake up for several hours which is blissful rest.

When I awake we are headed down Idaho canyon roads that weave around the Salmon River. It is a beautiful area, lush and green and all of our spirits are lifted. We arrive at our campsite which is off of the river so we can go for a swim, or at least a dip and it is the first night of camping. We pull our out big bags and tents and start setting up camp. Most of us will be sleeping outside. Those who didn't bring tents lay blue tarps on the soft grass and take cushions from the bus to sleep under the stars in their sleeping bags. It sounds romantic but I've slept under the stars plenty of times and don't like to wake up wet, covered in dew. But I can see the attraction. The party group set-up their tarps just like they are in the front of the bus except they don't sleep head-to-toe outside. They're side by side. Each tarp holds about four people.

I bought a new tent for this trip and it was a bargain. It is huge compared to my companions who have single or double tents. Mine can easily sleep four to six people. I take cushions from the bus to sleep on and bring all my gear inside. It is so nice to have all my stuff around me within the confines of my own space. There is a strong sense of self within my little tent. I savor the privacy, skip dinner and fall asleep for thirteen long, glorious hours.

The first night of camping was a success. A huge thunderstorm passed through our canyon after dinner and we were lucky, no tents were harmed. I slept through the whole storm and listened to the stories of the double rainbows that appeared following the storm. After breakfast we tear down camp and have a two hour wait before we head out white water rafting. Everyone is in good spirits and a group of us sits around a picnic table telling stories and laughing.

Joe is funny this morning. Every time someone says the word "gold" he stands up, crouches over like an old man and slaps his knee like he's a prospector from the 1800's and says really loud, "GOLD!?" The laughter feeds his soul and it becomes an inside joke for the next week, especially when strangers are around. We say the word in anticipation of Joe's response. Later in the trip Joe buys a black Stetson cowboy hat, black leather holster and a very real looking metal gun, so he looks more the part. He takes to sitting in full cowboy gear on the bus, hiding the gun when we roll into small towns. Joe takes no shame in playing dressing up and will do just about anything for a laugh on this trip.

A while later and we are back on the bus winding through the canyons to the drop-off point for the white water rafting. I was ambivalently about going rafting thinking about other things I could do with the sixty bucks, but decided I had never done it before and didn't know when I'd be back to the west coast again...and the snow pack was still melting so the trip was bound to be exciting. At the last minute I decide to go abandoning caution to the wind and face my fear of the white waters.

We are met by our Idaho guides, rugged, athletic, strong, handsome men who know this river inside and out. There are three boats. Two boats are full with eight people and mine has six. There is only one person who is not with the Green Tortoise group. His name is Todd. He is a teacher from Baltimore out west camping with some friends. His companions bailed out at the last moment once they found out that we would be on class four rapids.

Rating rapids is the same as rating tornadoes or hurricanes. It is a one through five scale, five being the most dangerous and one the easiest. The snow pack was still melting under the hot Idaho sun and the river looks intimidating. Our guides have increased the ride by ten miles. They are a small, family-owned business that dropped homemade cookies to our campsite after we arrived last night as a welcome present.

This should be an exciting ride.

To be continued...

So much love,
All the way from over here...

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Brooklyn Baby

I found a furnished room to live in Brooklyn yesterday. It's in a "transitional" neighborhood which means it doesn't have any Starbuck's and it's mostly Afro-American. J-Z, the rapper, is from this neighborhood. The residents are very watchful and church going folks. It borders the Hasidic Jewish neighborhood and there are Kosher butchers and pastry shops close by.

My new roommates seem nice and are very welcoming. It will be the first time that I live with children, a 9 year old girl and 11 year old boy also live there half-time, so we'll see how that goes. The good news is that if I don't like it I can move's month to month.

Now what?

Write, I guess...find a community...maybe a good slice of pizza.

I move in on Friday.

Wow. I've moved to New York!

So much love,
All the way from over here....

Sunday, July 27, 2008

New York Bound

I am riding a bus with internet access complete with air conditioning and electrical outlets on the four hour ride from Boston to New York. Listening to Hildegard Von Bingen I am amazed at where I am today, at this moment.

I reflect mostly on Anne and her recent survival from open-heart surgery performed under emergency situations. How fleeting and fragile this life is. How tempting it is to become consumed with the mindless chatter, the monkey mind that invades trying to convince me that it is real when all that matters is this moment. Life is funny. It seems like only a moment ago I was a child and suddenly I am a woman. I am grateful for this life, this gift and pray that the right thing is in motion for me, that my intentions are pure and for the highest good of all the people, everywhere. For each action has a ripple effect and the more consciousness I bring to my every day, my every movement, my every thought it somehow will impact the world around me.

May my transitions continue to be smooth and blessed. May my fear of the unknown be replaced with trust that I will feel my answers in my body and receive confirmation from my surroundings.

Thank you Grandmother, Grandfather, Great Mystery, Creation, Spirit. I am present and in gratitude for this moment. May our planet heal from the pain that the humans have created by over using her beautiful resources. May she forgive us for our ignorance. May the winged creatures, the two legged and four legged beings, insects, flowers, rocks and trees forgive the foolish who invade her land and hold compassion as we visit this most beautiful vacation planet.
Amen. Ashey. Namaste.

Wish me luck.
So much love,
All the way from over here....

The Green Tortoise Part IX

The Green Tortoise information page clearly states that they have a "Flexible" itinerary. We were on our second night and our itinerary was changed again from what I had booked. Two weeks earlier, when I booked my spot on the bus, we were scheduled to go white water rafting following our stop in the Ruby Mountains. We still were going, but it has been postponed a day. There was a late night announcement that we were still headed to the Salmon River but first we were going to "Craters of the Moon" which is a national monument and volcanic preserve. It is filled with black, razor sharp lava and caves.

The reputation of the Green Tortoise is that of a hippy bus and very laid back. I took this to mean that the passengers would be included in any itinerary changes and perhaps make suggestions or asked if they would like to visit new places. I know this was an assumption on my part and I had no reason to support this belief but somehow I believed that we would be included in the decision making process. So when I find out we are headed to "Craters of the Moon" I am disappointed. I've been there before too and it is no place I'd like to visit twice. Not to mention its name conjures images of a bad ride at Disney Land.

Being a passenger means that we receive information from our driver on a need to know basis. We don't need to know all the details, but I like knowing what is going on. I am accustomed to being a driver which means that I hold all the information...not receive it. Part of my personal transformation includes letting go of this obsessive behavior to know everything in every situation. That is an old habit I learned from being with people who were out of control of their behavior. It is a behavior I learned as a child to compensate for turbulent times. Letting go of my need to know means I am letting go of my need to control my situation. My lesson now is to learn how to trust. Trust that the right thing is in motion. Trust that I am a favorite child of God and that I am safe. This is a big lesson for me and I welcome it.

When you are a passenger on a bus all that you can control is your own behavior. You cannot control thirty other people, all you can do is notice your own response and grow as needed. The Green Tortoise provided me with ample opportunity to witness my own responses to others and I did my best to respond with dignity and respect towards all of the other passengers, even when their behavior infringed on my personal space.

During the second night's sleep, as we drove full speed ahead towards The Craters of The Moon and then Salmon River, Idaho, I was awakened several times by another passenger, Randi, who did not like where she was originally sleeping that night and squeezed in next to me during a bathroom stop.

Randi is addicted to drama and attention. She is a loud, self-absorbed woman from New Jersey. She is one of the few passengers who is always using her cell phone, iPod and lap-top. She talks loudly on the phone so we all can overhear her self-important conversations, she cries loudly while listening to her iPod and she complains loudly when there is no WiFi at any of our bathroom stops. She interrupts private conversations that she has been eavesdropping on to correct facts. She includes herself in hiking groups uninvited and she is always late. She holds the bus up several times from us leaving on time. Randi has many health issues she is very happy to share with anyone who will listen and especially to those who wish not to listen. It is not surprising to me to find out that she kicks in her sleep like she is at battle with her demons during the daytime and fighting for her life as she sleeps.

I find this out in fifteen minute intervals at one, two, three, and four AM. She kicks me repeatedly with force, hard kicks in the side, back and legs oblivious to her own physical actions. Each time I sit up to see why she is kicking me and she is sprawled out, snoring and drooling taking up two sleeping spaces, eyes moving in REM dreaming patterns. Even in her sleep she is demanding attention. The sleeping bus is full, all bunks taken, the party-drinking bunch are passed out from too much sunshine, hiking and Wild Turkey. There is no place to move, so I try to make my six-foot frame (or 1.8288 meters) tiny and move closer to my other sleeping companion.

When I look at Randi, I see a black cloud surrounding her as if her aura is not able to break free from her need to be liked and accepted, even in her sleep. Under normal conditions, I would channel compassion and say a prayer for her to find happiness and self-love in her life, but these are not normal conditions. I am cranky like a child, angry and tired. I crave my rest but can see it will not be happening for me this night. Accepting this situation I remain awake changing my energies to meditation in hope of gathering rest for my weary soul.

We pull into a lush rest area with rest stop with picnic tables underneath big trees. It is pre-dawn, one of my favorite times of day, when the star filled skies gently turn from midnight to indigo to soft light blue as sensual pinks and tender tangerine prepare my eyes for the magnificent sun to arise for another day warming my skin and nourish our ever evolving planet.

Our driver crawls into her bunk to grab a few hours sleep. I am exhausted from no sleep and in dreary exhaustion slip off the bus to use the bathroom. I take my sleeping bag and go outside under the stars, alone to watch the sunrise. I nod off and am awaken to the bus engine starting and backing out of the rest stop. I realized I did not put anything on the driver's seat to let them know I'd moved off the bus and I forgot to grab my emergency bag with cell phone and wallet. Panicked, I sprint at a mad dash towards the bus dragging my sleeping bag through the dew filled lawn.

Driver Dave stops and opens the door and says, "Don't worry. I'm just turning the bus around. We're gonna make breakfast here before heading out."

I can only imagine how terror stricken I must have looked at that moment dashing through the rest area and take a moment to thank god that I would not be left behind although I was starting to wonder if I might not be happier if I'd just get off the bus and head to New York on a Greyhound bus.

To be continued...

So much love,
All the way from over here...

Friday, July 25, 2008


I am in Cambridge, MA...I've been here a week housesitting and on Sunday I am headed into New York City to find a place to live. I will continue to write about the my Green Tortoise experience but I am feeling quite anxious not knowing where I am going to live, or how it will all work out. It is hard to write about the recent past while I am in such transition, although I seem to be doing it. I am taking a huge leap of faith by moving to NY and everyday I wonder if I am making the right decision or if I should retreat and head back to Seattle with my tail between my legs.

My birthday is August 7th and will be here in no time at all. I realize that it is not an important date but for me it signifies the beginning of a new year, so relocating is happening at the exact right time.

I am scared and nervous but trust the right thing is in motion. I am hoping to find a room to rent in Williamsburg for about $600/month...which is possible, just not too common. I get back into the city, I have a place to stay for a few days while I sort this all out. It will all work. I just don't know how.

If you have a moment, keep me in your kind thoughts as I move forward with another day as a human being on planet earth.

Now I will go find a cup of chowder. I am in Boston after all.

So much love,
All the way from over here....

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Green Tortoise Part Vlll

As the bus pulls out of the parking lot and onto I-80 East, I slip into the forbidden bathroom and change into my bathing suit.

Joe tries to get a party started in the front of the bus but Driver Dave stops him with another rule.

"People, there is another rule!" Conversations stop quickly so we can hear the latest rule. I start to wonder if he makes these rules up along the way just as he sees fit.

"RULE NUMBER 10: YOU MUST ASK THE DRIVER IF IT IS OKAY TO DRINK! Sometimes it is cool to have a drink on the bus, other times it isn't and the Driver always has to know when you're drinking." He focuses his attention to those sitting near the front of the bus and gives a hard gaze. They listen intently.

"In some places it will be okay for you to have a drink, and other places it's not cool. Just ask, okay?" he says nodding his head looking for head bobbing as a response.

Joe pipes in, "Can we have a drink now?"

"No." Dave says. "We are going on a hike and then into hot springs and it is a bad idea to mix alcohol and hot springs. But once we are back on the bus you can have a drink."

He turns his attention to the rest of us and says, "You know, you don't have to drink to have a good time."

This statement wins my heart. Maybe my immediate fears are all wrong! Maybe this won't be a party bus. Maybe, just maybe, this will be a great trip.


Joe grumbles in disappointment and puts the bottle of vodka he produced away for later.

I feel bad for Driver Dave having to be the "bad guy" in this situation but appreciate him and what he does. He and Cassie work their asses off grocery shopping, driving and keeping the bus safe with all these people on it. It seems like a thankless job. And it reminds me so much of the kind of work I used to do...babysitting a bunch of people who would push the rules as far as they could...showing up for work drunk, being late, stealing. It was a thankless job and I imagined myself as a bus driver for the Green Tortoise, treating "Sol" (the name of our bus) as my own.

Immediately I banished the thought from my head as I gazed into the sleeping cupboard. No thank you! When I had the Malibu Stacey Funtime Camper at least I was able to have a large bed and she was oh, so comfortable to sleep in. God bless Malibu Stacey.

"Are we there yet?" Joe asks in his thickest New York accent. Joe is not only a republican spin master, he is an ammature stand-up comedian.

"No." Driver Dave says as drive by the second exit to Elko. "It'll take about an hour or so to get where we're going."

People return to their small clusters and wonder what will be for dinner since many are very hungry from a full day hiking. It is getting late in the day. Some people stopped by the deli to pick-up fried chicken as a snack, others munch on Pringle's potato chips and Elfin' chocolate cream cookies. I have a pint of raspberries, an avocado and a couple of hard boiled eggs.

The bus pulls off the freeway and drives through the desolate town of Wells, Nevada. It was a destination for the Western Shoshone Indians during the 1840's and 50's and then became a stop for pioneers moving west for gold. When they crossed the salt beds after crossing the mountains, Wells became a destination to replenish gear and supplies before the long haul through the Nevada desert and Sierra Mountains.

Many of the old buildings have been restored but the town still looks abandoned; depressed. Now there are a couple of truck stops that are open but not too many other businesses look thriving as our bus drives down main street.

We cross over railroad tracks and onto a smaller road, then another turn and onto a dirt road. The bus finds our location and turns around before we rise to exit, gathering our things. Driver Dave instructs us to bring a towel and our flashlights since it will be dark when we are hiking back to the bus.

Like school children, we do as we are told grabbing things and stuffing them into our day packs. As we exit the bus we are each handed something that will be a part of our dinner to carry into the hot springs. I am handed a big box of assorted crackers and take all the cardboard off.

"People, we are on private land and we leave no trace that we were here. That means what we carry in, we bring out. Everything. Got it?" Driver Dave instructs.

"Is there a bathroom?" a voice asks.

"Only the bushes." Driver Dave replies. "We will be stopping much later tonight at a truck stop to "Miracle" the bus so you may want to hold number 2...or take a shovel with you, it's in the bay. Should I get it out?"

"No." the voice replies.

"The hot springs are about a mile that way," he points east. "You are gonna have to cross a stream and I don't know how high it will be but pay attention because when you're walking back, it will be dark out so try and figure out how to cross in the most shallow spot."

"Start walking." He says.

We head down the dirt road in the middle of nowhere, Nevada.

I am a walker. I walk just about everyday at least three miles a day. Before this trip, I was walking up to eight miles in a day so I know how far a mile is and when we'd been walking for about thirty minutes, and still no sign of the stream, I started to get concerned. It was clear that we were on the right road, since there were no other options before us. Wild sage brush and black flies were everywhere. As we the road made a slight turn to the left, we saw about a hundred heads of cattle all mooing "hello".

An amours bull chased after several cows in hot pursuit. Young calves were being escorted away from the road and the intruders by their protective mothers. Several people in our group started mooing hello back to the animals and the field filled with sound.

"Watch your step." I say to my companions as cow pies were everywhere. Cows appeared on our left stopping from crossing the road to let us by first. I waved.

We had walked two miles and still no sign of the stream.

"Did we miss it?" Someone asked.

"I don't think so." Someone else replied.

The group was getting tired. Many had already hiked five miles today and we were not at our destination yet. Everyone was hungry. We all were starting to smell.

A half a mile later and we see the stream. Headed towards us is a family carrying a cooler. I stop and ask them if we are close to the hot springs.

"Yup." The father replies. "It's about another mile or so that-a-way." And he points in the direction we'd been walking in.

The stream is icy cold glacier water mixed with cow manure and many in the group stop waiting for someone else to cross first. The young boys start crossing and take a step into the icy waters. "Come on in! It feels good!" they cry to the people standing at the edge.

I move forward, see how far the water comes up on their waist and choose a different spot. Icy waters hit me mid-thigh and I quickly trot across the stream assisting others come across. Judy from Australia is an active woman. Once crossing the waters she says to me that she is worried about crossing the stream in the dark. Several others say the same. I offer to lead them back immediately following dinner once we hit the hot springs.

A half a mile later and we arrive at the hot springs. Cassie spreads out a large blanket and she and Driver Dave start gathering all the ingredients we carried. It is a smörgåsbord of appetizers such as hummus, carrots, Brie, horseradish cheddar cheese, crackers, lunch meat, rolls, grapes, brownies, cookies. We swarm the food wet from a quick plunge into the hot springs.

"Let's not think about how dirty we all are in this warm bath water." I say as we sit snuggly in the small hot springs. The springs feed into the stream that we crossed earlier. The Europeans are excited that there is a cold water plunge after being in the hot water.

When we are eating a customized pick-up truck pulls up to our spot and four drunk local early twenty guys emerge. They open the coolers in the back of the monster truck and start drinking beers. I say hello.

"You all walk here?" they ask.

"Yeah." I say. "That was our bus back there a ways."

"Damn! That's a long walk!" one of the guys says to me. "Want a beer?"

More than anything, I thought to myself...but Driver Dave said no drinking at the hot springs and I was just about ready to head back with Judy.

"Better not." I say. "Don't want to get in trouble..." and I look over my shoulder towards Dave and they nod knowingly. I was glad there were kids with us. They were playing with Driver Dave and they guys seemed to understand that we weren't drinkers. Maybe they thought we were Christians or even Mormons. There are a lot of Mormons in Eastern Nevada.

"You about ready?" Judy asks me holding a small plate of food.

"Yup." I say. I tell the guys we're headed back before sunset and excuse myself. They head for the hot springs and start playing "Dunk the Little Guy". I did not want to hang-out with the locals and was glad Judy was eager to get back to the bus.

I tell Cassie that Judy an I are headed back and ask if there is something for us to carry. She hands me extra mustard that we didn't use and hand sanitizer. Judy gets uneaten crackers and some rolls. We stow the items and start to head out. Several other travelers grab items from the buffet and follow us.

"One mile? One mile? Bloody Hell!" Judy says angerly. Like many of the other travelers, she did not know that she would be walking eleven miles today. She was tired, cranky and wanted a good hot shower. We all fantasized about hot showers that day and everyday until we got one in the Grand Tetons.

I am a fast walker and once we crossed the stream, I asked Judy if she minded if I walked faster, at my normal pace. She said she didn't mind and she'd meet me on the bus so I moved ahead alone.

It was the best walk on the trip. The cows mooed hello and I watched the sunset across the high desert enjoying the purple wild flowers, green pastures, yellow hay fields. I savor the peace and quiet on the bus, still warm from the setting sun. The temperature drops dramatically outside and I feel bad for the people walking back to the bus cold and in the dark. I am so glad that we returned early.

I change my clothes, pull out my sleeping bag, make an emergency bag to take with me in case I have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night that has my wallet with ID, cell phone, shorts and a bra and my daily thyroid medication. I pray quietly to myself as I prepare for another nights sleep on the bus.

Oh Dear God...
Please hold my bladder tight as we travel tonight. May the other people be warm and safe as we drive through the night. I am serious God. Keep us safe. We need the protection. Thanks for the snacks and for Judy wanting to come back early. I really loved the walk...thanks for all the beauty. Amen. Ashey. Namaste.

I sleep through everyone returning to the bus tired and hungry again from the walk back and am awakened at the truck stop when it is time to "Miracle" the bus. They let me keep my sleeping bag where it was and as soon as I can, I crawl back to sleep not knowing where we are headed next.

To be continued....

So much love,
All the way from over here....

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Green Tortoise Part Vll

Our time in the Ruby Mountains ends and we gather back at the bus, as instructed, ten minutes before departure time, with muddy feet and sunburned limbs. Once aboard, Driver Dave gives further instructions for the rest of the day.

"Okay. We're going to make our first 'Store Stop' which we will do most days. These are short stops so don't waste a lot of time. All your stuff needs to be moved from the front bench," he points to the side behind the driver's seat and continues. "That is where the ice chest is and we will need to repack it with ice so move your stuff." There were bags, books, games, cards, abandoned lunches, water bottles, and dirty socks sitting on the bench seat.

Cassie whispers loudly to Driver Dave, "Oh yeah, don't forget to tell them about that rule we talked about."

He nods back at her and finishes his thoughts on the store stop. "Remember, there is no need for you to stockpile anything. We are feeding you three times a day. We will stop at a store almost everyday so no need to bring a bunch of food back on the bus, okay?" He looks in our eyes for confirmation. We nod in understanding.

"After we board the bus from the store, we are headed to Wells, Nevada to some hot springs. It is about a mile hike in and we will pack-in dinner, spend time soaking in the hot springs and walk back in the dark. You will need your flashlights because it is a dark hike coming back and we may have to cross some streams so wear shoes you can get wet." I look around at the eager faces excited about the hot springs and I shake my head.

I lived in Elko Nevada for about 11 months back in the late 1990's. I first was called there by an old boyfriend of my sister's, Steve. Lisa met him first when she moved to Seattle in the 1980's and he worked as a traffic information gatherer for her when she was a news anchor on a radio station. Steve was very funny and she introduced us when I first arrived in Seattle in 1986. He felt like the long lost Silberman brother I knew existed somewhere and when he met Anne in 1987 after she moved west, he fell in love.

Sadly, Anne didn't have the same romantic feelings for him as he had for her but they remained friends. He found love through a personal ad and met his wife Carol. She was a nurse and found a job in Elko Nevada which was pretty close to her parent's in Idaho so they packed up their city lives and moved to the mountains. Once there, Steve wanted to open a business and there was no espresso in Elko at that time, so he hired me to help him start the business.

I named the shop Cowboy Joe. People were skeptical at first but receptive to the espresso wave hitting the nation and Steve was able to play boss which was good for him since he was the laziest person I'd ever met. He told me, many years later, that he used to make up traffic for my sister when she was on the air...but he was that kind of guy. The kind of guy who naturally charmed anyone into doing anything for him while making you laugh all the while.

Plus he was one of Elko's only Jews. He liked that.

Cowboy Joe did so well that he hired me to come back to open a second location. Then he wanted to open a small restaurant and he hired me to come back to help assist with that project and the word of mouth spread that there was a fancy, restaurant consultant from Seattle in town and I was hired to do a special project for the local chamber of commerce and then another restaurant remodel and grand reopening. I was pulled into Elko lifestyle and became a small part of the community.

There wasn't much to do in Elko. The county, which is the largest in the state of Nevada, has 35,000 people, most of whom life away from others on ranches or work in the gold mines that surround the Ruby Mountains. The Red Lion Casino, the biggest hotel in town, had their own chartered flights from small cities across the west to Elko Nevada. All you had to do was make a reservation in Spokane, WA and show $40 in cash to the flight attendants and you were on a free flight to Elko. While in flight there were lessons on black jack and poker to make you hungry for the tables although most people came for the "loose slots".

People were flown in because it took about five hours in any direction to get anywhere. Five hours to the east is Salt Lake City, Utah. Five hours to the west is Reno, Nevada. Five hours to the north is Boise, Idaho. Five hours to the south puts you in the heart of Nuclear Test sites from the 1950's but if you push on three hours more, you'll end up in Las Vegas.

So when Driver Dave said we were headed to Wells, Nevada and not the Idaho hot springs that was on the itinerary, I was skeptical. I'd hiked just about everywhere in these hills and Wells Nevada was practically a ghost town.

"These hot springs are on private land and you must be on your best behavior." Driver Dave warned. "No drinking allowed." The party-bunch, led by Joe, moaned in unison to this news.

"The rule!" Cassie reminded Dave.

"Oh yeah, RULE NUMBER 9! NO PERFUME OR BUG SPRAY OR ANYTHING SMELLY ALLOWED ON THE BUS! If you must use these things, apply them off the bus, okay? Many people are chemically sensitive and have negative reactions to your chemical smells. That means if your sunscreen has a strong scent to it, put it on off the bus. Same with bug spray, hair spray, deodorant, whatever... Got it?" He looks sternly at us.

We nod yes.

"Good." He says. Cassie smiles and nods.

Cassie starts the bus, the door shuts and Dave yells, "Buddy Check!" We all look around for our new buddies and call out each other names like giddy school children and the bus heads down the mountain for our store stop. I am quiet following my prayer and time on the mountain and take in the landscape one last time, not knowing if I will ever return to these mountains again.

We pass through Lamoille Canyon where Kayla's father had taken me on Thanksgiving to teach me how to shoot guns. He was impressed by my skills and I didn't have the heart to tell him that I had learned to shoot a few years earlier when studying with a Native American Shaman in New Mexico. I let him think that his expert teaching brought me to that level.

The road gradually becomes larger and wider to handle the traffic of the small city that Elko has become. We ride past the restaurants I created and Cowboy Joe. I smile to myself looking out the window as we pass by. The bus drives us to Smith's, a large grocery store near the I-80 on ramp. We park and Driver Dave yells, "TWENTY MINUTES AND THE BUS LEAVES!" We know he's serious about staying on time so we scramble off the bus, some grabbing day packs with personal care kits and head for the store bathrooms. This will become a regular event for us over the coming weeks...rushing through grocery stores looking for bathrooms and emergency items that were needed like band-aids, bandages, tweezers, potato chips, cookies, coca cola, beer, wine, vodka, cigarettes...and for me, almond butter, rice cakes, fresh fruit, nuts and gallons of water.

As I crossed the parking lot I was torn between going across the parking lot to the new Starbuck's or heading into the store. I was glad to see that Starbuck's had made it's way to Elko and decided that it was too late in the day for a cup of coffee and not enough time to get out my laptop to write, so I decided to do a quick refresher in the grocery store public bathrooms and pick-up some snacks.

This mad-dash through the grocery store was the first time I felt like I was on some kind of weird reality TV show. There was a line, of course, for the lady's room and the clock was ticking. Which was more important? A clean face? Brushing your teeth with running water? Washing off your feet? Charging your cell phone for twenty minutes? Going to the bathroom? Changing into your swim suit for the hot springs? Or was it finding fresh water to drink? A new People's magazine to pass the time while the bus rode into the night?

I decide to wait my turn and use the flush toilet, brush my teeth and wash my face before quickly shopping for a snack and some protein bars to have with me. I have the advantage to having shopped this grocery store many times and know it's lay out.

"I wonder what the hot springs will be like?" A voice comes from the bathroom stall.

"I don't know." I say. "I've visited hot springs in these parts before and they're not too fancy. I don't know how one can hold all of us. We may have to go in turns."

"Yeah, it's the same way in Oregon at some of our hot springs there," Val says.

Donna takes the time to wash out Mackenzie's wounds and bandage them up again this time using real first-aid tape and gauze and bandages. Mackenzie looks relieved as the bleeding finally stops.

"Road rash is the worst, and so painful." I say to Mackenzie.

"It's not too bad." She replies. What a trooper!

I finish up, buy a few items and head back to the bus where people are helping load in the hundred pounds of ice into the cooler. Party Master Joe returns with bottles of Wild Turkey and the under-aged kids have twelve-packs of coke to mix it. I see a bottle of Southern Comfort which is a sweet whiskey that is blended with fruit flavors, spices and sugar. It is popular with kids because it has a 100% proof alcohol (which means it's 50% proof) and it is like candy. But it doesn't taste the same way going down as it does coming up!


There are a handful of kids on the bus between 18 and 28. Normally I wouldn't put the 28 year olds in the "kid" category, but when they behave like 18 year olds....I do. We have two kids from England who are on a GAP year. It is acceptable in Europe, for kids graduating from school to take a year off to travel the world and then start their studies in college. It makes for a more mature, well-rounded kid who is ready to focus their energies on schooling. Well, that's the theory at least. And I can see it to be true in Rory and Esther. Both are in a GAP year and more mature than the young 18 year old American's on the trip. They have already partied and are responsible for keeping the group more in line than the American or Australian kids.

I'm not a prude, but I hadn't thought about this factor when booking my trip. Since it was a rule that the back of the bus is quiet, I end up sleeping there most evenings during our drives at night with ear plugs in to not be disturbed by the party crowd. On day 11, during an over night drive, Driver Cassie has to tell the group to put the bottles away and get to bed at 3 AM.

It is a party bus.

To be continued...

So much love,
All the way from over here...


Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Green Tortoise Part Vl

Travelers break into groups venturing off onto dangerously thin, snow-covered trails. These mountains hold a sad memory for me and I break free from my hiking group to find a warm, private spot on the rocky mountain for prayer and mediation.

Icy streams flow randomly down the mountains. Natural waterfalls form as pure glacier waters crash over boulders. Wild flowers vibrantly bloom excited that summer has arrived. Fresh prints in the soft mud show where hungry mountain goats, mule deer, marmots, coyotes, mountain lions, pronghorn antelope and big horned sheep snack on new growth single-leaf pinyon, Utah juniper, wild flowers. The air smells clean from the wild white sage native to the area. Black flies are persistent and abundant in these mountains. I find myself rhythmically slapping myself on the face, the back, an arm, a leg.

I take a moment and say a Native American prayer to the land.

Grandmother, Grandfather, Great Mystery, Spirit, Creation, I invite you to my prayer. To the four directions, to the east of new beginnings, the south of passion and creation, the west for peaceful endings, the north of strong foundation, and to the three unseen directions; above where Spirit lives, below on this sacred planet and within my being please join me in my prayer.

Oh Great Mysterious, I am a humble child of earth in gratitude of witnessing this beauty. May the mountain be kind to the foolish humans who mindlessly trample the beautiful flowers. Thank you for the black flies to remind me of staying here and now, in this moment of prayer, may my old cells provide nourishment for they are a part of these hills.

Oh Spirit, forgive my companions as they race up your sacred mountain disturbing the beauty you have provided. Please keep the coyotes and big horned sheep hidden so they do not foolishly approach. They are blind to the beauty that we are surrounded in and do not know the power of this sacred land. Forgive them.

Grandmother, thank you for this time and this place and this moment to share the beauty of this land. It is vast and I too have forgotten the power of this planet. Thank you for the reminder. May my actions be honest, truthful and for the highest good of all peoples, everywhere. Amen. Ashey. Namaste.

In silence I breathe in deeply and feel the land through my feet vibrating alive with the power of new growth, life, vitality. I am honored.

It is near the anniversary of the death of a beautiful little girl who went for a hike in these mountains with her father, lost her footing and fell hundreds of feet to her death. Her name was Kayla and her father was an experienced hiker who had taken his eight year old out into this wilderness many, many times.

It was a warm day and the three mile hike to Liberty Lake is slow going as loose rocks cause insecure footing for just about anybody. Anyone can slide on this trail and her father didn't see her slipping until it was too late. Today she'd be nearly seventeen years old, driving her father's old blue Chevy truck, chasing off boys for she was a natural beauty. I thank her spirit for being with me in the mountains. I feel her presence there on that boulder under the scorching sun and cry for the lost youth. How could the father have known that on that lovely Saturday afternoon he would be leading his beautiful daughter to her death? It is a question that stays with him for years. Today he still looks for answers alone, in bottomless bottles of bourbon.

The Ruby Mountains are not a big tourist attraction like Yosemite or Yellowstone. The people of Elko County like it that way too. They are outdoors men who appreciate the tourists stopping off of I-80 to spend a few hours in their casinos and fill their tanks, visit their shops and maybe have a bite to eat before heading right on out of town. They need the money the tourists provide. Cowboys come to Elko every month or so to freshen provisions, visit a brothel and eat platefuls of Basque food family-style at one of the three Basque restaurants. Over a hundred years ago, the Basque people left Spain at war with France in search of peace. Sheep herding and rumors of gold led them to this area and they have been here ever since.

I sat in silence in the warm sunshine placing my feet into cold mountain streams to cool off every so often. Each time I do so, I give another silent prayer of thanks for the cold water, the warm sun, the beautiful day. After a few hours I head down the mountain and out of the sun into a beautiful shady spot near a big, icy, growing stream that feeds the Humboldt River. I am thankful that eleven year old in our group fell earlier in the morning so the family would not hike these rugged paths. Just as I finish a silent prayer of gratitude, Donna (the girls' mother), her mother Val, and the two girls join me in my peaceful spot. I started painting the landscape in my watercolor journal I invite them to join me. As the children run to the stream to explore, I notice that Mackenzie has bled through her bandages. I over-heard that one of our fellow passengers Judy, an Australian woman in her mid-sixties, is a nurse and perhaps she can help with Mackenzie's injuries.

Donna leaves Val with the children to see if Judy is back from hiking and returns with the big red first-aid toolbox, packed with condoms, and Judy who has her own travel first-aid kit. Judy is an upbeat explorer who's life passion is to travel. She now works part-time and travels four to six months a year. After our Green Tortoise excursion she is headed deep into Central America for a sixty day rustic tour of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica.

"Naturally, I've been there before," she says candidly as we chat later on the bus. "I've been on every continent and visited nearly every country three times already. Now that I'm older I'm revisiting the places I really love, but there isn't that much time to do everything I want to do!" Judy books her travels three years in advance and working on her holiday for the year 2011.

Mackenzie is strong while Judy picks loose rocks out of her open wounds and makes a temporary bandage to stop the bleeding. "I think we had a store-stop coming up," Donna says. "And there I'll pick-up new bandages and make a donation to this worthless first-aid kit!"

"Well, it is an emergency when you don't have a condom." Val says. We nod in agreement. When Judy is finished with her project, Donna hands Mackenzie the candy bag she brought (which would circulate the bus many, many times) and tells her she can have as much as she wants...Melia too. The children select carefully and play with each other quietly as we sit in the beautiful spot by the stream.

To be continued...

So much love,
All the way from over here...

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Green Tortoise Part V

Only half of us make breakfast and clean-up. I figure the other half, the non-morning people, will help during dinner. Most people are willing and happy to assist during mealtime. But it is still day one. It takes just as long as it did to set-up the kitchen and cook as it does to clean-up, tear down and put everything neatly away in the cargo bays. People who didn't help cook breakfast help wash dishes but then they all disappeared and only a handful of us were around to stow the equipment. This was a pattern that would not change during the trip and caused great friction between nations.

Driver Dave gives us lessons on how to open the bay doors because it is expected that we all handle our own luggage and gear. Getting into your things will become the primary focus for most of us travelers. We look forward to the "big bag" parties where we take inventory for all we've packed for the fourteen day excursion cross-country.

Packing wasn't easy for this trip either. The chilly days in Seattle and San Francisco followed by hot afternoons in the high Nevada desert and then cold mornings in do you bring all you need for such a journey and stay within the packing guidelines of one backpack, a day pack, sleeping bag and tent (tents are optional.) Layers. Lots and lots of layers. This, I must admit, does nothing for the figure. Oh sure, if you're a tiny little thing you can wear several layers and still look like Madonna but most of us aren't that lucky. By day 3 and with no shower stop in sight, I abandon caring about my looks and focus simply on comfort and minimizing smells.

Here's what I packed in my big bag: three thin cotton tee shirts, three tank tops (really 5 but two were so tiny that they didn't take up any space at all), two pair of shorts (and one tennis skirt just in case I had some sort of shorts failure), one pair of jeans, one pair of linen pants (for NYC and Chicago), one linen jacket (city wear), one pretty white linen shirt (city style) four pair of panties (actually six pairs but who’s really counting? They're small.), two bras, one turtle neck, one heavy cotton long sleeved shirt, one thermal underwear top, one thermal underwear bottom, sleeping shorts, one sweater, one black skirt (you never know when you need to look nice in a skirt), one blue leopard sheer top (just in case you need to have something for the skirt), one pair of sneakers ( must check them out...crazy awesome shoes), two pairs of socks, one pair of fleece socks, one pair of Teva's (worn on most of the trip), one fancy pair of sandals (for city and black skirt outfits) and one bathing suit with matching sarong and cover-up.

Okay, okay...I know it looks like a lot, but really I needed all of it! Not to mention that I had my motorcycle jacket for those extra chilly nights....and I used it too! I used bungee chords to attach my leather jacket to the front of my Eagle Creek backpack because I also brought along my laptop, a portable CD player, Bose headphones, extra CD's, one camping lantern, a travel watercolor set with brushes and a painting journal, my daily journal and a back-up since it is nearly full, a tarot deck, a deck of playing cards, two small towels, a wash cloth, my personal beauty set which includes hair serum, gel and spray, moisturizer, exfoliating gloves, Jojoba oil (ladies it has saved my life...I don't go anywhere without it!) tea tree oil, my crystal rock deodorant, body wash, shampoo, conditioner, moisturizer, tweezers, ear plugs, and my make-up kit. All the usual things you would take on a road trip.

Carol,an early 40's woman who flew in from Thailand the evening before leaving on the bus, had one very small bag with her which contained: two shirts, one pair of shorts, one pair of pants, one bathing suit, two panties, one bra, one jacket, one tiny personal care kit (which had enough products in it to use on a toy poodle...once!) sneakers and Tevas. Needless to say, I hated Carol. Not really. She had this Martha Stewart quality about her with packing and being in small spaces. I envied how she streamlined her life and belongings for such a trip. She was such an awesome packer and so tidy. I found out that this was her seventh trip on the Green Tortoise. She is planning on spending a week or so in NYC after we arrived there and then she is taking the Green Tortoise back again to San Francisco which will take another two weeks!

Carol loves riding the bus. I asked her why she kept returning and she says she doesn't feel safe traveling across America alone as a blond British woman who now lives in Thailand. I assure her that it is safe and I'd done it several times alone and with people and the only problems I’d ever encountered was bears but she wouldn’t hear of it. She likes her adventure trips. Carol is a world traveler, as many other passengers, and that experience makes for excellent packing skills. She can't wait to get to NYC to have a real martini and do some serious clothing shopping.

I ignore Driver Dave as he reminds us again to get our swimsuits out of our big bags for lake swimming in the Ruby Mountains. It is June 28th. We are at 9,000 ft elevation. That means icy waters and there will probably still be snow on the ground. Since I haven't really connected with any of the other passengers, I fill my day pack with what I need in these familiar, old mountains.

We board the bus again and drive fifteen minutes more deeper into the canyon for our hike. There are two trails to choose from, one that goes to the lake which is about three miles in so that means it's a six mile hike round trip, and the horse trail up the mountain which is also about three miles in to no particular destination. The bus arrives and there is still snow on the ground blocking parts of the trail. To get around it you either have to hike over the snow or go around in the mud. Many travelers took this option with great enthusiasm, slipping and sliding then falling into the snow banks. Showers were still days away.

To be continued...

So much love,
All the way from over here...

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Green Tortoise Part lV

I wake up again during the night, around 4 AM and the bus is stopped at another truck stop. I lie still listening to the sleeping sounds all around me and realize that my bladder is exceptionally full. Do I get out of the bus and drain it or do I wait it out? How long have we been stopped? Who’s driving the bus right now? Has anyone else gotten up? What can I put on the seat that the driver will know that I am out of the bus?

My bladder presses hard and I decide that I must use the bathroom. Damn. Why can’t I just slip into the bathroom here in the back of the bus? I stand up on the big bed and start the delicate walk towards the front of the bus careful to not step on too many legs and arms on my way up front. It is like walking through a human mine field and I shift my foot to the left and right over the many, many sleeping people.

“Oooh!” a blue sleeping bag cries out.

“Sorry!” I reply softly and quite sincerely.

Holding onto the top bunks for support as I walk across the mattresses, I finally reach the front of the bus. Cassie, the driver, is nowhere in site so as instructed I find something to leave on the driver’s seat so she knows someone is off the bus. I have no personal items with me and my shoes are at the bottom of the twenty-seven pairs of sneakers, flip flops, Keens and Teva’s at the front of the bus. Bathroom breaks are short, 15 minutes or less, so I must hurry. Accepting that my shoes are unavailable, I grab a big looking left foot Teva and a small right foot flip-flop, and then I throw a sneaker on the driver’s seat so they know someone is out of the bus and dash into the truck stop.

Oh Dear, Kind Baby Jesus,

Please hold my bladder until I find the Ladies’ room and let’s hope that the driver will understand that the random shoe on the seat is a representation of me. I know where we’re headed and I also know there is really no way to get there and I don’t have a cell phone or my wallet or anything but my stinking PJ’s and two shoes that don’t match. Please, please, please watch over me!

Okay, sorry to be so selfish, but I really need the help so I’m counting on you! Alright then. Amen. Ashey. Namaste.

I find the bathroom and heart racing, pee like its Christmas morning. I flush before I’m finished, decide not to wash my hands and race back to the bus. Cassie is holding the sneaker when I arrive and says, “Is this you?”

“Yes!” excited to discover the system works.

She smiles and says, “Ready to go?”

“Oh yeah” I say while slipping off the mismatched shoes.

She turns the key and the bus starts right up. She buckles the seat belt and throws the Green Tortoise into Drive and heads into the Nevada desert. I try not to step on the arms and legs again as I head to the very back of the sleeping bus, find my spot and fall immediately back to sleep.

I wake up in the freezing cold Ruby Mountains. We are in a picnic pavilion in Lamoille Canyon. There are a few people awake. Driver Dave stands at the front of the bus and says very loudly in a very cheery voice, “GOOD MORNING EVERYONE! WELCOME TO THE BEAUTIFUL RUBY MOUNTAINS!”

People roll over and groan. I sit up, looking around at the outside surroundings. Birch trees and big rocks fill the quiet canyon where we are parked. Dave gives the morning update. “Good Morning” he says again but in a more natural voice. “We drove through the night and have arrived at our first destination, The Ruby Mountains. Here we will make breakfast, have a big-bag party, de-Miracle the bus and then head out into the mountains.” He looks as many people in the eye as he can and then continues. “Get up! There won’t be any coffee if you don’t help!”

On that note, I get up out of my sleeping bag and head for the front of the bus. It is easier to step over people since many are awake and sit-up moving their feet so not to have squashed toes. Heads look from the bunks above to see if everyone is getting out of bed. I say “good morning” as I pass the bunks. In the front of the bus I look for several minutes until I can find my shoes and head out to help with breakfast.

I decided before the trip that I would not tell the staff or other members that I am a classically trained chef, unless if it were absolutely necessary. My intention was to participate just like a regular person…not over-work, which is my nature. My immediate interests lie in the coffee production. Wavy Dave, a tax preparer from San Francisco is first out of the bus helping with the breakfast set-up. The menu today is the same that we will have for most of the trip: Cut fruit, granola and a yogurt/sour cream concoction called "Glop". I start calling it "Schlag" so the Germans can feel as if someone can speak their language.

Bus driver Dave and Wavy Dave set out tables, a huge propane tank and big pot of water to get boiling for coffee but tea turns out to be the favorite hot beverage for our International group. I start cutting fresh melon, mangoes, strawberries and bananas for the fruit salad. We've set-up a three compartment restaurant-style sink for dish washing and another one for hand-washing.

"Be sure to wash your hands in all three buckets before helping. I don't want anyone getting sick on this trip from dirty hands in the food, okay?" Dave instructs to me and several other sleepy travelers who have emerged to help out.

We make cowboy coffee. The recipe is a cup of coffee grounds in a stainless pitcher with boiling water poured over the grounds. There is a little red strainer to strain the grounds out and we're instructed to put them back into the pot for reuse. This method is pretty similar to the French Press coffee I make at home, but after five minutes I plunge the grounds. It will due for now. Wavy Dave assigns himself the task of chief coffeemaker for the rest of the trip. Unfortunately, he isn't a coffee drinker and when we offer suggestions on improving his cup of Joe, he doesn't take the suggestions kindly.

An hour later and we are sitting on rocks in the cold Nevada morning drinking hot beverages and longing for running water. There is an outhouse bathroom for us to use as nature calls us. Driver Dave has our attention and tells us there is a nice hike in the Ruby Mountains, our next stop after we clean-up, that has a lake so if anyone wants to go swimming now is the time to get bathing suits out of the big bags.

Also, we have a schedule change to the itinerary. We were scheduled to leave after the Ruby Mountains and head to Idaho for hot springs and white water rafting, but that's been pushed back a day for some unknown reason. Instead we will be going to hot springs outside of Elko in Wells, NV.

"What happened to the Idaho hot springs?" someone asks Dave.

"We're not allowed to return. People, you must remember to be on your best behavior when we go places. Okay?" Dave says.

"Why can't we go then?" I ask.

"We can't discuss it. All I can say is that we're not allowed to do your best to be on good behavior tonight when we go to the hot springs in Wells, okay?" He sounded stern and firm.

A good amount of murmmering passed among the passengers. Later in the trip we would find out that people were having sex in an inappropriate place and we weren't allowed back. I discovered that this was a regular theme for why the Green Tortoise wasn't allowed back in many places. For some reason, the bus makes people amorous. Not me, mind you...but others.

While cleaning up, the children pull out their razor scooters and glide around the rest stop. A few minutes later and we hear a loud scream and crying. Mackenzie, age 11, falls hard on the asphalt that has a lot of loose stones and slices open her elbow, hand and knee. There is a lot of blood and crying. Donna tries to console her daughter and the drivers are quick to pull out the first aid kit.

It is full of condoms with only a few gauze strips and bandages. I guess they have a lot of other kinds of emergencies on this bus. Donna patches Mackenzie up as best as possible and she bleeds through the bandages quickly.

"Well, let's hope that the worst thing that happens on this trip." Donna says to console her crying child. Val, Donna's earth-goddess mother, steps in to assist. Smart thinking on Donna's part to bring along a support system.

Together they patch up the child and she stops crying and goes off on her way.

To be continued...

So much love,
all the way from over here...

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Green Tortoise Part lIl

We headed east through California farmland and towards NYC. It is 2563 miles between San Francisco and NYC or 4125 kilometers. We have an international group on our bus. Thailand, England, Japan, Germany, India, Australia and the USA are all represented. There will be many opportunities for me to work on my kilometers-to-miles equations in my head to satisfy my traveling companions many, many questions.

A couple hours passed and a handful of passengers sitting on the back bed asked the usual questions to form opinions and foundations of friendship such as, where are you from? Have you done this kind of trip before? What language are you speaking? Can you repeat that? Maybe try saying it slower? Can you write in English? How about saying it in German? No, I don't know the word for that? Use your hands and maybe I can figure it out...

It turns out that about a third of the passengers have done this type of trip with Green Tortoise before and are coming back for a return trip. Patrick, a tall blond hair, blue eyed German man is on his fourth trip on the Green Tortoise. I asked him what made him choose this particular trip.

"Eet is a goot vay to meet goot peoples unt camp unt hike" he says in his thick German accent. He arrived a week earlier to spend time in San Francisco to be with family who live in the States. In Germany, he works for a car dealership ordering parts for the mechanics who work on Opals. Sadly, I would find out later, he is not a mechanic.

Two hours pass quickly before our first truck stop and many of the passengers are getting tired from a busy day in San Francisco and preparing for our departure. We park in the truck stop and are given 15 minutes for teeth washing, clothes changing and general bedtime preparation before "The Miracle" happens.

Having traveled for thousands and thousands of miles in the Malibu Stacey Funtime Camper, I am very skilled at bedtime preparations in truck stops, rest stops or any McDonald's across the USA. In my day pack I have my toothbrush and toothpaste, a wash cloth, moisturizer, fresh underthings for the morning and pajamas. The women outnumber the men on this trip and we are all friendly and kind during our first stop allowing the mother and children the extra space they need to prepare for bedtime. I will find it interesting to witness how quickly those niceties dissolve.

We are instructed to pull all items out of the bus except our sleeping bags and pillows. I didn't bring a pillow and regret it from that moment forward for the next two weeks. Standing on the side of the bus a few volunteers go in the bus to perform "The Miracle".

The Miracle is when the bus is converted from its daytime configuration with seats looking out the windows and tables for games or cards to sleeping mode. All personal items are stashed below the wooden slates and the front is converted into a Big Bed like in the back. The table cushions are converted to bunk beds that are long enough for a regular sized human being and below is like a dark, hidden cubby. Above the eight bunks that held our day packs and sleeping bags are cleared of all items and people are to sleep up there. It is about twenty-four inches deep or 61 centimeters.

The people who perform The Miracle have first choice of sleeping spots. I find this out on day seven and volunteer to build The Miracle every night until the end of the trip.

As instructed, I passed all my personal belongings to the bus while it was being Miraclized and didn't think twice about what I might need in the middle of the night. We all did. Then we took off our shoes and walked across the first bed scoping out where we'd like to sleep. Since I had been riding in the back of the bus, I went back to that spot. I like the gentle hum, like white noise, from the engine. I find it soothing.

Cassie says since we are under-booked for this trip, there is plenty of space to spread out which means the top bunks get only one person instead of two and the top of the tables get one person instead of two. Keep in mind, these spaces are no wider than a twin bed and it is expected that if two are to sleep in those spots, it is head-to-toe or "sardine" style or "the zipper" as Cassie calls it.

"Cuddlers, you need to go under the tables! No cuddling on the big beds!" She instructs. The German couple, one of which is my buddy, throw their bags below and disappear from site. I sleep next to German and Japanese feet.

"Yah, eet seems early to go to bed," Patrick says but I am tired and ready to sleep. I grab a wedge-shaped extra cushion from the big bed to use as a pillow, lay down and fall immediately to sleep.

I awake several hours later thirsty. I notice that the bus is turned off and there are flashing blue lights reflecting off the windows. We are still in California and Cassie is pulled over by the State Police. As the officer approaches, she says in a loud whisper to the people still awake in the front, "Keep quiet! And for God's Sake Joe! Get that bottle of vodka away from here!"

Joe is a New Yorker who now works in politics in Washington, DC. His job is to run focus groups asking questions about today's issues and create "spin" for the media.

He is a conservative republican who later says he will be voting for Obama, but I don't believe him. He is also the "party master" encouraging heavy drinking as soon as the sun goes down and sometimes before. He had offered Cassie a swig from the bottle earlier, but she is smart and refuses. He stashes the bottle behind the driver's seat. Luckily she spots it before the officer boards the bus. I can't hear what the Trooper says to her but they speak for a long time. She hands him documents and he reviews them with his flashlight and returns to the police car. A little while later he returns and she exits the bus with him.

I start praying.

Dear Sweet God,

How's it going out there in the ever expanding and great infinite Universe? Hey, do you have a moment for me here on this bus? If you do, can you guide this bus so we are out safe and we still have a driver and all? And if anyone is holding drugs, can you shield that so we all don't get busted? That would be so awesome.

Oh, and God? Will you please remind me why I booked passage? I don't seem to be able to remember why I thought this was a good idea, but I bet you will let me know in your own time.

Thanks for reminding me to pack some food and for the warm sleeping bag. Peace. Ashey. Namaste.

A few minutes more pass and I hear some noises from the rear of the bus like a compartment opening and closing. Cassie returns to the bus alone, starts the engine and we are headed off again.

"What the hell was that?" Joe asks loudly.

"People are sleeping, keep your voice down." she says. I hear murmuring and inaudible conversation so I lower my head and fall back to sleep. In the morning I hear from another passenger that the hose from our toilet was dragging and creating sparks behind the bus. That's why we got pulled over and Cassie fixed it putting the hose back where it belonged.

Isn't the fuel tank in the back of the bus? Hadn't we driven about 400 miles already? Isn't that about 644 kilometers?

To be continued...

So much love,
All the way from over here....

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Green Tortoise Part lI

A question from the group is presented to Driver Dave. "When can we get into our big bags?"

"I promise you we will have a big bag party everyday. The next time you'll see your bag will be tomorrow morning when we arrive in the Ruby Mountains which is where we'll have breakfast before hiking." As he finishes, people start mumbling all around me. Most of us didn't put any pajamas or toothbrushes in our day packs and that is all below the bus now. No chance of getting to it until morning. Plus I know the Ruby Mountains. I lived in Elko, NV for nearly a year and hiked in the mountains weekly. There is no running water where we're headed. Good thing I packed an extra toothbrush and toothpaste.

"It'll be okay people." Dave continued. "We will be stopping at a truck stop and rest stops along the way. We have to stop every couple of hours and you will have lots of opportunities to get what you need."

"Are we stopping for dinner?" A hungry voice asks from the middle of the bus.

"We are driving straight through to the Ruby Mountains. We will be stopping at a truck stop later tonight to "Miracle" the bus. There you can pick-up a snack if you need one." Dave sounded a little frustrated and said, "Please, hold your questions. We have a few more rules to go through to insure we have a safe for and you."

I roll my eyes and look around to see if there is anyone who is feeling what I'm feeling. The German looks at me and says, "I hope I can have a smoke soon."

I nod remembering what it felt like not being able to smoke when I was addicted to nicotine. Frustrating to be on someone else's smoking schedule.

"RULE NUMBER 6: BUDDY CHECK! Look around you and say hello to a few people. Remember what their faces and names are...they are your buddies. When we get on the bus and do a "Buddy Check" you need to make sure they are there. The drivers have a full plate and cannot be held responsible for you being on the bus. When the bus stops and we say we'll be 15 minutes, you need to be back in 15 minutes. 10 minutes is even better. The bus will not wait for you. If you get left behind just find a pay phone and call 1-800-TORTOISE." Driver Dave said this with such authority that I was certain it has happened many, many times.

"Oh shit." I said to Mami, the Japanese woman I met at the station. "I hadn't considered what I'd do if I was left behind!"

I ask Driver Dave, "What exactly do we do if we're left behind?"

Dave says, "You call the number and let them know where you are and that you've been left behind and then you need to find a way to get to where the bus will be stopping next." He pauses and then says, "That reminds me, of another rule. RULE NUMBER 7: ALWAYS KNOW WHERE THE BUS IS HEADED. We will tell you everyday, several times during the day where we are going. It is your responsibility to know where we're headed. When Cassie or I are talking, PAY ATTENTION!"

Makes good sense, I thought. Pay attention.

"Does everybody have a Buddy or two?" He asks us. I look at my new Buddies, Mami and Kirsten a very thin German woman who was all smiles. We nodded that we had our Buddies and Dave said, "Good."

"Now, if we stop during the middle of the night to fuel or for any other reason and you need to go to the bathroom or get off the bus you must put something on the driver's seat to let us know that someone is off the bus. We are very focused driving and cannot be checking if everyone is here. The best way is to put something with your name on it and if anyone is awake during the stop, please help remember who is on the bus so we don't drive off without you. And if we do drive away, what do you do?" He asks us like we were school children taking an oral exam.

"Call 1-800-TORTOISE!" We say in unison.

He and Cassie smile and say "Good! Wow. This might be a smart bunch!" He looks really pleased. I guess that has been a difficult part for other tour groups.

"Okay. There are other rules but we'll get to those later as we need them. For now, relax, enjoy the ride. We'll be performing the miracle on the bus in a couple of hours and if anybody wants to fall asleep now, there is the back of the bus. Questions?" He opens the floor to the passengers.

"Where exactly are we headed and what are we doing for breakfast?" Someone asks near the front of the bus.

"Oh right! I forgot! Yeah, you need to always know exactly where we're headed in case you're left off the bus." He chuckles. "We are headed to the Ruby Mountains specifically in Lamoille Canyon. There we'll make breakfast, reverse the miracle and then head deeper into the mountains for some hiking."

He taps himself on his head as if forgetting something really important and says, "Oh man! I really forgot Rule number 8 which is very important!" He shakes his head and says loudly, "RULE NUMBER 8: YOU ALL MUST PARTICIPATE IN MEAL PREPARATION, SET-UP AND CLEAN-UP! EVERYBODY MUST PARTICIPATE OR IT WILL NOT WORK! We are all here together and how the Green Tortoise works is that we have to work together. Cassie and I will direct you during meal times which about 70% of your food is covered in this trip and you will need to have cash to provide for yourself during the other 30% of the time, but while we are together, we have to work together. Got it?" He scans the bus and looks everyone in the eye. We nod in understanding.

He looks at the children and says, "You too! No exceptions!" and he smiles to the kids who have been very quiet and attentive during the reading of the rules. They smile and nod to him back and he laughs.

"Okay. We'll be stopping in a couple of hours. I gotta get to bed. See you in the morning!" We all say goodnight and he walks across the big bed in the back of the bus, opens the cupboard door and hops into the cabinet/bunk that hung above where I was sitting in the back of the bus.

I looked at my new Buddies, opened my back pack and found a bag of Bing Cherries I'd bought earlier in Chinatown.

"Cherry?" I said to my new friends. They were hungry and each grabbed a big handful and we snacked chatting about the rules and wondered how we were all going to sleep together.

"I snore." I warned them. "I have ear plugs for anyone who is around me and if I could stop snoring I would but I can't so I do." I said. "I hope it doesn't ruin your trip."

"I sweep tru eneting." Mami says.

"Yah, me too." Kirsten says.

"Well, if you can't sweep," I say, "I got the ear prugs."

They nod okay.

To be continued...

So much love,
All the way from over here,

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Green Tortoise Part l

June 28, 2008
10:10 AM
Ruby Mountains

We met last night at the San Francisco bus terminal around 6:30 PM. There is an excited buzz in the air as many of us are headed out on the Green Tortoise for the first time and don't know what to expect.

"Have you been on the bus before?" I asked a tall man in his late 30's who just arrived at our meeting spot and took off his backpack.

"Oh yes, this will be my fourth trip." He said with a very thick German accent.

"Wow!" I said. "You must like it then?" I asked.

"Oh yah. I dooo." He says and then turns as a Japanese woman interrupts us and asks if we are going on the Northern Crossing.

"Yes. We're waiting for the bus." I reply.

"Oh good." She is all smiles and excited to board the bus.

Our group forms and a handsome balding man in his late 30's with a full, trimmed beard arrives and informs the fifty or so people that have gathered that there were two Green Tortoise trips leaving at the same time. Those of us who were taking the Northern Crossing were to walk about a block and a half away to the official pick-up zone.

In the Green Tortoise information guide, they advise that you be able to carry your gear at least one and a half city blocks and that you will be required to carry your own stuff, so pack wisely. I knew that I could carry my gear because I had hoofed it up the 12 blocks from the San Francisco Ferry Terminal to the Green Tortoise Hostel earlier in the week. Also, I had sent ahead of me about 1o pounds worth of stuff that I didn't need to carry with me to make my load lighter. In a week and a half, I'd send another 10 pound box worth of warm clothes ahead of me to Karen.

We walk en mass to the new pick-up place and our group diminishes to twenty-six. One by one, we go on board and check-in giving the driver the remaining balance of our bill in either cash, traveler's check or money order. After paying the balance, we are given another waver form and are told that this is our boarding pass.

As we're gathered, we mingle and try to get a feeling for who is on the bus. I talk with the German man a bit more and the Japanese woman. Most people are strangers but there are a few people who arrive together. Julie and Jessica are from North Hampton, MA and have been in San Francisco for several days before the trip enjoying the city. There is a strawberry blond woman in her early 30's with two children, Melia who is 6 and Mackenzie 11. Then I say out loud, to no one in particular.

"Wow. There are kids on this bus. I hadn't thought about that." Several heads turn and look at the girls. The German man says, "Should be okay." That's when I knew I'd hate him.

By eight o'clock all the money has been collected and we are nearly ready to board the bus. A plump, loud, crooked nosed woman runs towards the bus yelling, "Wait! Wait! I'm here!" That is Randi. She is from New Jersey, and I was just about to discover that the world revolves around her. For the next fourteen days she will be late and holding the bus up at all of our stops, she includes herself in everyone's private conversations and she knows all things about everything, everywhere.

We are instructed to load our big bags below in the luggage bay and board the bus by Dave, our primary bus leader and day driver. Cassie, a pretty, apple-cheeked grad student and professional baby sitter, is driving the first leg of the trip overnight towards the Ruby Mountains.

I board the bus. It is a customized vehicle that has eight bunks, four on each side, hanging above where we stash our day packs. There is wide bench seating facing opposite windows in the front of the bus followed by two sets of tables that can hold four skinny teenagers or two regular sized adults. These tables convert into bunk beds at night. Behind the tables is a long, flat bed like an extra long and wide king-sized bed. In the very back is a bench seat that holds two comfortably and a bathroom.

As we settle in, Dave reviews the rules in a strong, authoritative voice. "RULE NUMBER 1: No one uses the bathroom. Pretend it isn't there. It is for emergencies only and you must have driver approval before you use it."

Oh no, I think to myself. I already have to go to the bathroom now that I know that I can't use it. This is going to be a long ride. He continues talking about peeing and finishes with the pee-scale.

"The Pee-Scale is from one to ten. One is how you are right now. If you are not at a one, we will stop the bus and let you use the bathroom at the terminal. A Five is the feeling that your bladder is about half-full and you will need to go soon...not right away, but in the near future. Ten is oh man! I gotta Pee! You must let us know when you are at a FIVE! FIVE IS WHEN WE CAN FIND A SPOT! Do not report to the driver that you have to pee when you are at a TEN! TEN IS TOO LATE! In case of a Ten, an exception will possibly be made and you can use the bathroom in the back of the bus but: NO NUMBER TWO IN THE BACK OF THE BUS!" He raises his voice to make sure we understand.

"Mom," He says looking at the strawberry blond woman. "I'm going to be depending on you to make sure your kids understand fully the rules of bathroom on this trip, okay?" She and nods in understanding and has an air of confidence around her as if this is easy and been discussed.

This is the point I decide to start praying.

Dear Mighty God,

Hey...what's going on? You know I'm headed out on this trip and I got a bad feeling God. A real bad feeling. I know it's just because I've not had a lot of good experiences with little kids and Germans and carrying my backpack but I'm stronger than before. So please, please keep my bladder on bus time and may I have to go to the bathroom even when I don't think I have to and may the kids be well behaved and not screaming monsters. If you'd like me to do some bargaining, I'm willing to do so, but I think the driver's gonna speak again so Amen. Ashey. Namaste.

Driver Dave continues with the rules. "RULE NUMBER 2: SHOES ONLY ON THE FLOOR! No shoes or sandals on the beds, tables or bunks anywhere at anytime. We will be in a lot of rest stops and truck stops and there is goo and crap on the floor and you will be sleeping on these pads for the next two weeks. TAKE YOUR SHOES OFF! SHOES STAY ON THE FLOOR. NOT IN BUNKS. NOT IN BEDS. ON THE FLOOR."

Everyone takes their shoes off. I think how this should have been Rule Number 1, but no need for me to become critical of the driver. It is best to make friends with authority than run against them...I learned that in the corporate world.

All my fears about body odor and traveling on the bus vanished as I thought about foot odor.

There is some mumbling among the passengers as people find spots to where they can retrieve their shoes if needed. I noticed that there were a lot of similarly looking pairs of TeVa's and Keen's. If I didn't mark my shoes they may get mixed up with someone else's. I packed a silver Sharpie for just such an occasion and marked my shoes with a silver X so that I could see the difference.

"What if we stop someplace at night?" a woman with a thick Australian accent asks.

"Yeah! What if we need to get out in the middle of the night?" a thick New Yorker asks.

"People, I promise you will be able to find your shoes if we stop at night and if you can't just wear someone else's. This is the Green Tortoise. We all have to work together, okay." He sounds exasperated and we are twenty minutes into our ride towards the Ruby Mountains. "I promise you, you'll be able to find your shoes and it will all be alright." I don't feel reassured but try to keep the spirit of the Green Tortoise alive within me and remind myself that I signed up for a different form of travel and so far, I'm getting it.

Dave continues with the rules. "RULE NUMBER 3: NO HOMESTEADING! That means where you sit today may not be where you sit tomorrow. We do not save seats, beds or special spots. You are not to make claim to any area of the bus. Everyone paid their fare and there are no special exceptions for anyone. Understand? NO HOMESTEADING. NO SAVING SEATS. GOT IT?" I think how this might have been an issue in the past because he said it so passionately.

There were more rules and Dave went on. "RULE NUMBER 4: NO PARTYING IN THE BACK OF THE BUS! LOUD NOISES ARE FOR THE FRONT OF THE BUS NEAR THE DRIVER, NOT THE BACK OF THE BUS. There are two drivers and when one is driving, the other one is sleeping right up there." He points to a bunk sized cabinet opposite of the forbidden bathroom. We all turn our attention to the back of the bunk and the cabinet he was pointing to. It was the same wood color as the rest of the bunks and had a slight "L" shape to it with a sliding door.

I thought to myself, how do they fit up there? But I would find out soon enough...

To be continued...

So much love,
All the way from over here...

Friday, July 11, 2008

Welcome to NYC!

Oh Golly...I am a happy girl. I just arrived at the hotel and checked my bags and am hanging out for several hours until Karen arrives later in the day.

I know I have much to say, but for now let's just say I am thrilled to be here. NY feels like home. Niagra Falls was one of the most depressing places I've ever seen. The Canadians have done it up like Disney Land and the Americans have let it all fall into disarray like a thirty-year old shopping mall. We were there for seven hours getting in around 5 PM and staying until Midnight. WTF?

I have many stories to tell and will do so soon. For now I am headed into Bryant Park to find a delicious cup of coffee and meet my girlfriend Carolyn (who is also a writer!) and jabber jaw about this and that until the cows come home.

So much love,
All the way from over here...

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

We were in Wyoming Four Times!

I hate Wyoming. I started hating that state back in 1996 when Sing, the world's best cat, climbed out of the Malibu Stacey Funtime Camper and left me. He was miserable in the bus and wanted out. He snuck out a crack in the window in the middle of the night and I wandered around this truck stop where I had parked for the night, sobbing my eyes out asking if anyone had seen a black and white kitty for hours on end. The truckers put a look-out on the CB radio for me (thank you good buddies.) I always felt safe around truckers...but you gotta keep in mind that I was in my 30's and I was sobbing like a 5 year old for many, many hours. I was really devastated. He never came back. I am sure the sound of the big rigs scared the shit out of him and he wandered off into the wilderness. I had dreams that he crossed over mountain passes trying to find his way back home like in stories I've read in the Reader's Digest Magazine while waiting for a dental appointment. Then I started having dreams that he found a nice home in Wyoming and lived his days out with a kind family. That's what I like to imagine happened to him.

I know, I know...I was (and am) a bad cat mommy to bring him with me in the camper, but I couldn't have imagined a life without him and then I got it. He was such a good boy. I've had so many great cats...and it is time to create some sort of peace with the state of Wyoming...I mean it isn't the state's fault that it took my cat from me or that the Green Tortoise bus driver kept getting lost there, is it? We crossed over the state lines four times! It's the Hippie's fault! Tthe Rainbow Gathering screwed us from camping in Yellowstone so we had to go back to the Grand Tetons for a second rainy night of camping. Why is Wyoming's fault?

Because Wyoming sucks.

There isn't a decent cup of coffee anywhere and they have a black market on Maincoon cats. Look at how adorable they are. Sing looked a bit like this but with green eyes.

So long Sing. You were a good cat and a very, very bad boy. He was the kind of cat that played fetch and ripped open packages of food for his own Hershey Kisses and marshmallows. Granted, I probably shouldn't have been eating that kind of food back then, but I did and he loved it. He was the kind of cat who could scale the wall and sit up on the door waiting for you to enter and he would swat you on the head. Funny cat.

We wandered in and out of Wyoming and the third time when we crossed the state line, I asked rather loudly if we were supposed to be headed east instead of west.

Damned hippies.

Turns out that 5 hippies were arrested at the Rainbow Gathering for throwing rocks and sticks at forest rangers and one guy they took into custody had 96 hits of acid on him. One of my fellow passengers said that there's 100 hits on a sheet. Honestly, I don't know how you score acid or why it is on a sheet. I have a hard enough time managing half a dosage of Sudafed and a cup of coffee. I can't imagine life on acid. Stinking hippies.

Now I am one.

It's still Tuesday and I have gone to where everyone who is homeless and in need of a shower and a nap go...The Public Library. If Seattle has taught me anything, it is when you feel down and out, go to a library and look at all the homeless people and feel better about yourself. The Seattle Libraries are so frikking sweet now thanks to the Gate's Foundation. Thank you Bill & Melinda Gates! Way to show Paul Allen how to use your money wisely! Although it would have been nice if Bill bought the Sonics so they wouldn't have to move to Oklahoma but the Sonics have sucked forever so Adiose Mother Fawkers! May you find winning days in the mid-west. Enjoy the flatlands...

Golly...I have really learned how to embrace my inner rage on this journey and let it out in new and exciting ways. I think I have built a new layer of of protective shielding due to all the dirt that is embedded in my skin.

Let me tell you about the food on the Green Tortoise. 70% of your food is covered in the price. When you board the bus, you are required to give cash to the drivers for food and gas... about $181 US dollars....which really isn't very much money for two weeks of food. But considering what we are eating, it's a ton.

Breakfast is pretty much the same:

Cut fresh fruit
Glop (which is am mixture of yogurt and sour cream with maple syrup and cinnamon. I call it Schlag because I feel like I'm speaking German and I want to master their language to intimidate them and go to their country and be a lazy tourist and stink up their land.)
OJ and Tea and weak coffee

And then we build our lunch which is exactly the same:
Cold cuts (ham, turkey, beef)
sliced tomatoes & cucumbers
Yes, sandwich fixings. But for someone like me who doesn't really eat bread (or much meat,) it's been a bit of a challenge. The Vegans on board are feasting on PB&J which isn't very nutritionally balanced either. I was pretty lucky when we entered South Dakota. We hit a Safeway and they had a natural food's section. I joyfully paid $8 for a jar of Almond Butter and $3.50 for a package of brown rice cakes. I tell ya, it has been uninspiring in the food department.

Dinner is usually pasta...which is wheat....which I don't eat because it makes me sick in my stomach and makes my hands breakout. So I've been making big salads and home made salad dressing which is a quite yummy Balsamic Vinaigrette.

Thus the renaming of the bus tour the Fried Chicken Tour. We get "Store Stops" most days...kinda like prison inmates being let out for a visit to the commissary. We are given about 15-25 minutes to get what we need and return to the bus while the drivers shop for ice and fruit. Everyone is sick of the food and heads to the deli departmets. I've braved the fried chicken only twice which is a lot for me since I don't usually eat scares me and I almost never eat fried foods anymore, but when you are hungry in America, you do what you gotta do.

The best fried chicken, hands down, was in Broadus, MT which is where we spent the fourth of July while the bus was being fixed. There is one grocery store in the town of 400 people, an IGA which was fun because there aren't many IGA's anywhere in the USA anymore. The people in Broadus were very friendly and we were the talk of the town at the Fourth of July Parade and Picnic in the park. Man oh man, can they make fried chicken. I think even the Vegans wanted a piece of this crispy, moist, tender meat. The second place I embraced grocery store fried chicken was yesterday in New Ulm, Minnesota. We spent the day in the state park which is where I stole a shower from the neighboring campsite. I could not bear the thought of either a rice cake or sliced tomatoes and cucumbers so I braved the fried chicken from the deli department. It was bravery too because there were several salads in the deli case that were made of unnatural creamy colors like pink and green and all were decorated with multicolored mini marshmallows. It was seriously risky on my part and everyone agreed it was not as good as the Broadus, MT chicken, but it did the trick. Plus it felt good to be full for a few hours. We almost ordered pizza to be delivered to the State Park, but that would have really hurt our driver's feelings so we didn't.

Wow. As I am sitting here I get an occasional whiff of my own stench. It hasn't made my eyes water yet, so I guess I am okay. I feel so European.

I usually don't smell so bad because I use this crystal deodorant that I discovered about 15 years ago. It is a crystal that you wet and it balances out the enzymes that cause odors and there is no risk of breast cancer which many health care professionals believe that the aluminum content in deodorant is linked to breast cancer in women. And I have never liked the smell of deodorant...and antiperspirants seem crazy to me. Why block a gland when you need to sweat to stay cool. With the crystal you still sweat but you don't stink. Mine is buried somewhere on the bus.

That's another thing about the bus. People leave their shit everywhere! I'm pretty neat and clean-up after myself. The Republican Spin Master is like a little kid who leaves his crap all around the bus. I can't tell you how many times I've found his Ipod charger or Blackberry charger laying around and he buys all this crappy junk food like packaged Rice Krispie Treats and Doritos and Cheez-it's. (I will admit to having a handful of Cheez-its before handing them back.)

My point is that he's a pig and now my personal care bag has gone missing. There is like this zone of mystery where shit floats around the bus and then it reappears.

Do you think it is time for me to get on an Amtrak train and just hoof it to NYC?


But I've come so far and there's only two more days on the bus. We let five people out here in Chicago so there will be more room on the next ride overnight tonight as we head somewhere else...I think Niagara Falls. I might go to the wax museum or just look at the pretty falls and find a cup of coffee and blog a little bit more. The night camping in the Adirondacks has been canceled and we're going through the Catskills instead and we are not camping due to scheduling issues from the broken down bus in Montana.

Stick it out? Get on a train? I don't know...both sound pretty good. There are other people on the train, but no obligation to talk to them. I did have a nice 18 hour chat with the born again Christian drug users on my way from Seattle to San you never know who you'll meet on a bus or a train.

I think it is time to find a good snack and maybe make my way back to the bus for a nap and then who knows...some jazz tonight? Chicago is a nice town. My kinda town, you might say.

So much love,
All the way from over here....