We were lost. Well, we knew where we were. We were just north of St. Louis along the Mississippi River smack, dab, in-the-middle, the heart of America. We just didn’t have a direction. We had our hearts set on New Orleans. Go south. And indeed, that is what direction the river flows. But that plan, along with our hearts, was sitting ten or fifteen feet down at the bottom of the Mississippi where the Illinois River and it meet. There we were though—at the Gateway to the West. Almost literally. We had some walking to do to get to St. Louis, and specifically the Arch, but that is where we were headed. No one particularly wanted to go west. Not that anyone was against it either. We didn’t have a Plan B. We should have. A lot of things could have gone wrong. This is why Caring Sue had so many rules. It wasn’t registered with any State in the Union. It was as good as stolen as far as the law was concerned. And knowing that, if the law needed to get a good look at the motley crew that was running the thing down the river, we would have been tried and convicted on the spot. Or the thing could have just gotten stolen from us, with all our stuff aboard, despite our best efforts to keep it locked, and to keep our stuff with us mostly. We wouldn’t have had any recourse. Luckily for us, it just sank. We were still alive. We still had our precious stuff and our savings. We just needed a new inspiration. A new muse. A dream to chase.
We tried to hug the coast of Lake Superior as much and as often as we could as we made our way west toward the source of the Mississippi. As we entered Wisconsin, there were two peninsulas that we had to contend with. We could either walk the perimeter or we could walk a straight line at the base. There was a small one inside the Bad River Indian Reservation. We cut across that one at the base. We didn’t think we should tempt fate with the Indian Reservation authorities.
Machine asked, “Are the Chippewa people mean?”
Bill said, “Hell yeah, them niggers will scalp you!”
If you recall, they were only supposed to see me to Mount Arvon. After having taught me everything they knew about surviving off-the-grid and living under-the-radar, they were then going to just leave me at the base of the mount. They were going to head on to the Keweenaw Peninsula to mine for copper and live off the land. I was going to climb to the top of Mount Arvon where I would meet with an elder medicine man who could break the spell and turn me back into a fish. I was then going to have him throw me into Lake Superior where I could use the Great Inland Sea and Saint Lawrence Seaway to get back to Ocean, my home proper.
I looked right at him and said, “Quit blowing your pot smoke in my face!”
He happened to be taking another hit off the joint when I said this, so that hit was interrupted with some laughter, which then turned into a coughing fit. After awhile, he managed to pull himself together. He said with a smile, “Sorry, Piper. I’ll do better. You are the last person I should be doin’ that to.”
I said, “I’m not just a kid, dammit!”
The old man put out his cigarette and took a sip from his coffee. He said, “So you kids just walk the back country roads then?”
The woman smiled, nodded, and said, “That’s right. You know, I am forty-four years old.”
He said, “Aah—just a kid!” He lit up another cigarette and continued, “And you are just doing it for kicks then, eh?”
She said, “Well, not exactly. It is hard to peg a one-size-fits-all meaning for all of us. Hmm. Well, let us just say that we think life is a gift. And how do you best show that you appreciate a gift? Well, by living it. By savoring it. By trying to extract the most from your experience. Most importantly—by having experiences! Become enthralled with the mystery! You never know what awaits around the bend. And I like there always being a bend! I live for the bend!”
It took us three days to get in the vicinity of where we wanted to be in Hiawatha National Forest. There was a little river than ran under US-2. Well, it was more of a creek. There were quite a few of them actually, but for whatever reason we picked this one. As far as I know, it didn’t have a name. Hiawatha National Forest was absolutely peppered with lakes and ponds, and likewise I don’t think very many of them even had names. So we deviated off the beaten path, otherwise known as US-2, and began following this large creek. It probably eventually dumped into Lake Michigan which was just behind us a few miles.
I wish there was more to say about Windemere on Walloon Lake, but there really isn’t much to say. As for the cabin itself, it was just a private residence—no tourists allowed! Maybe there were Hemingway’s inside of it. I don’t know. They weren’t advertising and nobody was lining up at the door either. Sure there were some placards here and there around Petoskey denoting the historical significance of a place. There was a general store and a hotel, but the town certainly wasn’t built around Hemingway, nor was it retrofitted to honor him in any meaningful way. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed. Allow me explain where my lofty expectation came from.
And there’s my television. It’s on. I don’t even know what I’m watching, “what time is it?” I ask myself and my voice is unfamiliar, strange. Is someone in the room? Are they asking for the time? The lights are off and there could be someone here, maybe I didn’t see them come in? I don’t remember what I was watching I could’ve forgot someone sat down…but I’m alone, I live alone. “Hey, get me a beer?” Nothing. Surely if there were a stranger here they’d be kind enough to get me a beer…my voice is a little more recognizable to myself. “What if I just walked away from all this…this stupid television, this rotten couch, and my unstrung guitar…my cat is dead, no one needs me,” Nothing. Now I’m just talking to myself. “What if I killed, MYSELF?!” That felt good.
I know what you are thinking. I know what it looks like, but you’re wrong. They are not just simply liars, con-artists, and thieves. I don’t want to defend them, but I have to. Yes, some of their tactics were questionable—no doubt. They made choices and did things that would make you cringe. They made me cringe. I began questioning them and their lifestyle choices starting day one. Well, at least when it directly affected me. If it was none of my business, then I just let it lay. I had agreed to walk with them “for a bit” and part of that agreement was that I could jump off their crazy train anytime I wanted—no questions asked. I knew I still had a lot to learn. They were right about that. Maybe that food poisoning was a blessing—I don’t know. But they were wrong too because I wasn’t just a kid.
“Hurry,” was what she said…in my dream and what I wish to hear every morning but I woke up and that’s not what she said, I don’t know what she said, and she’s been dead awhile. I’ve known a lot of people that are dead now, but she bothers me the most. I’ll be in a bar, we went to a lot of bars, and I’ll think I see her and think it’s her and inside I feel a chill, like a little tickle, and I’ll shrug my shoulders like she’s scratching my back and giggle and twist and more than once a bartender has cut me off, totally harmless, but drunk nonetheless and should’ve probably been home I have a cat to feed and he’s kind of needy.