His Eyes Were Open But The Man Looked Dead

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I Think I’m Getting Sick Of Traveling With Myself

Railroad Bridge Outside Quebec City

July 3, ‘77

It felt like somebody had grabbed my feet and tossed them. It was a rude awakening at 5:30 a.m.! When I was traveling yesterday, I wondered if the St. Lawrence had tides. The surrounding area appeared as though it did, but I didn’t pay close enough attention because I was now scrambling to get out of the water that had just spilled over into the spot where I was sleeping. I threw my sleeping bag farther up the bank, and I got my bike to high ground before the flood. That was the quickest incoming tide I had ever experienced. Yes, the St. Lawrence Seaway is just that, a seaway. The tide swooped in on me, and I did not escape dry. I now have my tarp and sleeping bag drying in the sun, and I just put a couple more sticks on the fire. If the tide comes in any further, it will flow over the three-foot bank that separates me from the seaway. Last night was a full moon. Maybe that had something to do with this high, high tide.

It was a half and half day, yesterday. When the rain stopped the wind started. As I look over my shoulder right now, I see a cloudbank moving in and the sun being blotted out. This has happened three days in a row now, and two of those days I had to face rain. I wonder if old Mother Nature is going for a three-peat. I’m beginning to think westward biking is going to take some time.

Around 6 p.m. last night, I entered St. Jean Port Joli. There was live music being played in the town square, so I decided to hang out, catch up on some reading, and enjoy the music. This was a big year for Canada. It was their one-hundredth-birthday celebration. There were art exhibits and special pavilions set up. Many of the celebrants were dressed in traditional costume, and, after paying special attention to the folk dancing; I decided to find a place to crash. That’s how I came to be here now, on the shores of the St. Lawrence. And, except for the high tides, its been a delightful trip.

I don’t believe this weather. All last night it was clear. I slept out under a beautiful moon. This morning the sun was shining and everything looked great. Then all of a sudden this—I have to stop writing and prepare for rain. The sky is completely covered in clouds now, and I’m starting to battle strong winds. Looks like another good day!

Evening: Well, about half hour ago, I was ready to ride into Quebec City, get on board a train, and not get off until Michigan. In fact, I still might!

The wind blew hard this morning; I couldn’t even pack up my bike. I had to carry everything behind a near-by house to secure it. At least I didn’t have to walk very far to get back to the square–thank God. I managed to take shelter under a gazebo until the rain stopped. All day I peddled in 3rd, 4th, and 7th gears. That meant for ten hours I had to push through 30–40 mph winds. It was similar to when I had food poisoning only this time I wasn’t sick. That wasn’t all, though, Ma Nature threw her torrents of rain at me, too. If somebody would have given me a dime for every time I put my rain gear on, I could have bought a train ticket back to Michigan. At the end of the day—my third day of riding wet— that idea sounded like a keeper.

Out of fairness to myself, though, I decided to wait a night before making that decision. I bought a quart of beer and some cheese twists at a party store. (The only good thing about Quebec was that every grocery store sold beer–just like in the states.) Just before sunset, and a ways off the highway, I camped under an old railroad bridge. From on top of the cement supports, I could see Quebec City rising above the horizon. It was a very pretty sight. Drinking my first beer since Nova Scotia, and eating really good cheese twists, I was beginning to feel like a human being again.

Right now things are pretty good, but for how long? After a good night’s sleep, I will seriously consider calling it quits. For a trip that was planned as a scrapbook event to begin with, a train ride home, it seems to me, would be a fitting ending. I just witnessed a beautiful sunset, but it didn’t affect me like in the past. I think I’m getting sick of traveling with myself. What more can I say

Spooky Deserted Farmhouse

July 4, ‘77

It was the sunset that did it, I’m sure. Come morning, I decided to keep biking. I was up around 7 a.m., and after campfire coffee and toast, and, in the midst of the solitude of my railroad sanctuary, I was ready to greet the day—good or bad. It helped that the sun was out, too.

Back on the highway, I spent a lot of time trying to piece my way around Quebec City. Coming down a steep grade somewhere in the city, I heard a ping. There went a rear wheel spoke. I continued riding until I found an air compressor. While fixing my bike, I met an old lady in the yard next to the gas station, doing her gardening. She invited me in for dinner.

She introduced me to her husband and son. English was not their preferred language. In fact, they really couldn’t speak much. We managed, though. They were special people, very nice. We had sirloin steaks for dinner. There were leftovers, so I ate two. They were delicious. I stayed a while, but conversation was limited. It was the “good vibes” that kept me there. They understood my “getting out of town problem,” so they told me to follow them. As I followed on my bike behind their car, they drove slowly until we reached the road sign that read, “Montreal.” Thank-you very much nice people!

I needed that. It was a surefire attitude lift. I rode away from Quebec City feeling a lot better than when I arrived. Out on the highway, I still had the wind to contend with, and the sun disappeared behind the clouds around 4 p.m., but I felt really, really, good. When the rain clouds
rolled in, though, I started to look for shelter.

After a couple hours more biking, I saw what looked to be an abandoned farmhouse setting back in a field. I felt the risk was minimum, so I got off my bike and hiked up to the house. Standing on the rickety front porch, I could see a room full of newspapers. Upon entering the half opened door, I found the papers stacked a couple feet high. They gave off an unpleasant odor, but the clouds had darkened, so I figured I could live with the smell. After going back for my bike, I made myself at home. I was feeling pretty good when, through the broken windowpane, I saw a car pull up and three people get out. They didn’t look like owners. They were young. I figured what the hell, getting kicked out of this place wasn’t the worst thing that could happen. The girl entered first, and upon seeing me sitting on a stack of newspapers, screamed. The situation was pretty awkward. I couldn’t speak French and they couldn’t speak English. As it turned out, I figured out that they were making a movie and were looking for a place to film. They were making a Dracula movie. In broken English the girl said, “A good place to film, no!” I replied, “Yes,” but what I was really thinking was “Go away before you blow my cover!” After they finally did leave, I waited to see if the farmer down the road was going to show up, but after thirty minutes, I began to feel more secure.

Actually, in another way, I began to feel less secure. The place really was spooky. It was definitely suited for a Dracula movie; it had multiple rooms and an eerie over all atmosphere. There were old bottles and other oddities strewn about the place. It took me 15 minutes just to make room for my bike and sleeping bag. Also there were noises. Most of the squeaks and creeks came from the next room. When I went in to look for a cause, I found only a room with a metal bed frame in it. I have to admit, the place made me uncomfortable, but that wasn’t the worst of it. Bugs, the kind you couldn’t see, were biting me. I would have left, but outside the rain had finally started to come down. Instead, I climbed in my sleeping bag, and covered my head.

I put in a really shitty night. It was hot, and I had nightmares. In one of the nightmares, I woke up to find a light coming from behind the door in the other room. On my way to investigate I stumbled over a pile of newspapers. The door wouldn’t open until I forced it. Upon entering, I found myself standing in an immaculate room. In opposite corners were antique lamps giving off an ultra soft light. The light brought out the redwood floor’s rich tones. A canopy bed stood in the middle of the room. Lying in the bed was an old man who looked to be more than a hundred years old. We remained fixed in each other’s gaze until I looked away in fear. I wanted to run, but I couldn’t. And then came the voice that said, “If you have come for a visit you are welcome. Visitors are rare!” The voice sounded strangely familiar. Was this guy really my old college professor?

His eyes were open, but the old man looked dead; then came the voice again, “Well,” he said. I didn’t respond. I just stood there, silently looking into his eyes, watching his breathing become more labored with each passing moment. Finally, the silence was broken when he again said, “What are you doing here?”

I looked back at him hard. How could this be? My Professor wasn’t that old, but that was certainly his voice. “What are you doing here?” I shot back to him.

“Are you blind, I’m sleeping,” came the response.

“I mean, you’re not supposed to be here,” I said, “you’re supposed to be back in Michigan teaching classes.”

“Not anymore,” he replied. “That was a long time ago. If you have come for a visit, that’s okay. I don’t get visitors anymore.”

“Well, not exactly,” I said. “Actually I don’t know why I’m here. I mean, I don’t know if I’m really here, or why you’re here. I was hoping you could tell me. It’s all screwed up.”

“Get on with it,” he tersely replied, “You’re either here, or you’re not, which is it?”

His face began to contort. The last place I wanted to be was in front of an upset college professor and, as was common in dreams, at that moment I lost dream consciousness. The next thing I knew, the dream switched to a bar. I was drinking a beer, and into the empty barroom walked Dr. Gill. This time he was his right age—60 something. He came over to where I was sitting and asked, “Would you like some company?”

“Why not,” I replied. And then after he ordered two beers, one for him and me, he said, “Why did you get up and leave my lecture?”

I looked at him curiously, and then said, “I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to leave or scream. Which would you have preferred?”

“That’s what I figured,” he said. “Well, you’ve got my full attention now; so why did you get so upset? Was it the lecture? Sometimes I get carried away, you know.”

“No. When I left you weren’t even lecturing,” I said. “You were in the middle of one of your famous digressions. You went from ‘why mechanical principles don’t apply in social and psychological situations’ to describing a hike you once took in Washington State’s Olympic Mountains.”

“Oh yeah, I remember that,” he said. “I was talking about the natural beauty of the place, and how I loved to get away from it all by going there. But, why did that upset you?”

“There was more,” I said. “You were describing how impossible it was for a person to be
sensitive in a selfish society. Where people cared only for themselves, where greed, killing, and war were the norm, where love and hypocrisy were joined at the hip, in a society like that you said, ‘hearts turn to stone.’ ‘In the darkest hours,’ you said, ‘thoughts of life turn into thoughts of death.’ After that I left.”

“I remember,” came the reply, “but I didn’t mean to sound like we actually lived in that place. I was talking more hypothetically.”

“It doesn’t matter,” I said. “You said it, and you meant it, every word of it, I could tell. I didn’t just get up and leave because of that. I left because most of the time you talked as if ‘right and wrong’ were inviolable absolutes, yet other times you would go on and on about how life was one big massive confusion. I can take only so much of that. Which is it anyway? Who exactly should I believe–the Pope or the pragmatist?”

“It’s not as if a professor has to think for his class you know,” Dr. Gill responded, “It’s a professor’s job to make the class think. Some students like that method; it even excites them, while others do not. I always thought you were in the group that enjoyed independent thinking?”

“I do,” I said, “that’s the problem. I totally disagree with you. When you start talking about how logical inferences will one day set humanity free, my stomach starts to churn. That’s bullshit. Logical calculations are what nuclear bombs are made of–not human kindness and compassion. The only reason I go to class is to see what disagreements will arise. In fact, you seem to encourage them. It blows my mind. I don’t know how you can go on teaching when the whole class doesn’t know what the hell you’re talking about. You’re an enigma! So, I say it again, which is it, the Pope or the pragmatist? There’s no time like the present. I really want to know. I need to know!”

“I doubt very much if behind Papal decrees you’ll find much deductive reasoning,” Dr. Gill responded.

“What’s the difference,” I said, “its all about ‘authority,’ isn’t it? Your paper scratching isn’t science. Astronomers predict events. What can you predict–headaches?”

To be continued…


2 Responses to “His Eyes Were Open But The Man Looked Dead”

  1. Beverly Says:

    I could not help but laugh when I thought about you scrambling as the tide was coming in, though I am sure you were not amused as you got wet. I also laughed at the thought that beer and real good cheese twists are the things that make you feel like a human being again. Is life really that simple?

    The rain just kept on coming….it seems like it never let up. I have thought to myself “Seems like the most consistent part of all Dave’s journeys has been the rain!”. Well, the rain and the beer. I couldn’t figure out why you seemed to be obsessed over the rain. Then it dawned on me, I always travel in a car, so rain is not a consideration, it’s only an inconvenience to me….except for running from the door to the car or from the car to the door.

    You had no such protection as a car would afford. When you’re on a bike, you don’t miss anything Mother Nature sends your way. There is no escape. You have to hunt and hunt until you find some refuge. The car provides it for me instantly. It is my insulation from the worst Mother Nature has to offer. But it is also my prison and keeps me from the best Mother Nature has to offer.

    That’s what I like about you Dave…one of many things. Living without a safety net. Risking the bad…so you could enjoy the good. At least back in 1977 anyway.

    Again, you met some kind strangers who helped to ease your travels, proving yet again there are decent, generous, kind hearted people in this world, and not just in 1977 but even still today.

    You had me going with the dream thing though. I have never had a dream where I carried on such an intellectual debate. Or, at least none that I can recall so clearly.

    You would have to leave me hanging…..to find out how the dream ends……and what it means.

    Have a great week Dave!


  2. dave Says:

    I’m glad you like what I’m doing with my blog Beverly. Things have changed a bit for me since 1977, though. Back then I was aggressively searching out spiritual answers. On one level, now-2007, those answers are just as important as they were back then, but on another level, I’m not searching anymore. However, some things have remained the same, family, pets, music and beer are all there in my simple life. I try to keep myself in contact with Ma Nature at all times. I walk in all weather back and forth to work, a mile each way, (I use the van for shopping). I do not have or want air conditioning (a point of friction with family) and I still ride my bike whenever possible.

    My 1977 bicycle trip was the worst trip (1 out of 4) for rain. There are and always will be really nice people to meet wherever you go, but that doesn’t mean you throw caution to wind. And, as far as the dream debate in concerned, that, along with most of the conversations in my journals are constructed to communicate some of those spiritual lessons I learned over my very long journey. A few conversations, however, actually did take place.

    I just answered a question sue sent me concerning GothMan’s literary influences. I didn’t have enough space to finish my reply. The sunyata aspect–Buddhist nothingness–is a bit tricky to comprehend. To help qualify my take on that concept, I’ve decided to do a quickie blog. I’ll be positing it again here, but not in the near future.

    Take care,

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