Day 18 Wednesday, July 27 Three Forks to Bozeman, MT 47 miles
I knew something wasn’t right when I rode into Three Forks. I very clearly remembered that my great grandpa lived in Three Forks, but as I looked around the town it had clearly grown more than any town should be allowed to grow and it was now missing my grandpa’s house and the hill just behind his house. Something wasn’t right, but I went ahead and posted my blog entry last night assuming I would get my bearings in the morning.
I asked a few of the local folks if they had heard of the Amberson name and if there was a hill somewhere in town. Over and over again I heard, “Name doesn’t ring a bell and Three Forks is pretty flat all over.” I decided to ride around the small town to see if I could discover where I had gone off base. I hadn’t ridden a block when I saw a sign pointing to Willow Creek and the name finally clicked–that’s where we used to go see Grandpa! I think my family always said that Grandpa was from Three Forks because it was the closest thing to a town that anyone might know. Willow Creek was just 7 miles away and I enjoyed a nice leisurely ride out there before making the trek to my birthplace of Bozeman.
It is ironic, meant to be, or mysteriously puzzling how things work out sometimes. I had just posted earlier that morning my blog about seeing a “break in the clouds” as I have wrestled with the subtle difference between being a “pastor of the faith” and a “chaplain of the spirit”. As I finally discovered what I thought was my great grandpa’s old house, I walked my bike over to the neighbor to see if I could get just enough information to confirm my hunch. A few quick questions and I knew I was in the right space.
And then something happened that I think was meant to happen. As I shared the nature of my pilgrimage this neighbor also opened up. He has been going through a particularly rough period after losing a child, contracting a neurological disease that is slowly disabling him, and divorcing. There are hints of Job in his story. He and I talked about heaven, about learning to accept life on life’s own terms, about his own struggle with whether there is a God-presence or not, and about death. I found myself falling naturally into my chaplain role finding whatever words and meaning that would off him some strength, healing and acceptance in this time. He told me that he didn’t believe in angels, but he was an angel of affirmation for me and I hope I was an angel of hope for him. We parted and offered a blessing of peace to each other as we both continued our journeys. “John”, if you read this know there are invisible hands carrying you through this time.
I went back to a place that had shaped my identity at an early age as I am working through my professional identity as a minister in this time of tremendous change and transformation in the world of religion and spirituality. How ironic that as I went back to my roots I was greeted by another pilgrim who affirmed my identity as a safe container for the grief, loss and pain that life sometimes shovels out in disproportionate amounts. I rode away saying to myself, “This is who I am. This is what I do. This is where God wants me.” I had no interest in having him adopt the faith of my tradition, but in affirming the places in his life where he might find hope and acceptance.
The ride into Bozeman was a mixed bag today. The miles themselves were not difficult and once again the mountains, the rivers and the prairies are so soulfully stunning. I unfortunately had few options for roads and only some local cyclists told me there might have been a better route if only I had lived here and known about them. I used the frontage road that followed the freeway to travel from Manhattan to Bozeman. It was busier than I could have guessed. This is the road that leads to the Bozeman airport and is the conduit for moving the product from the gravel pits. Not a pretty picture! Let’s just say that it was the first time I was a little unnerved by the traffic and lack of shoulder. I just reminded myself to ride a straight line. The good news: I am writing about the experience rather than someone writing about me!
Tonight I am tenting on the lawn of another Warmshowers host, Elizabeth. We had a chance to compare pilgrimage stories. In 2007 she completed the 1500 kilometer Santiago de Campostela in Spain on her bike. I have a member at Eastminster who both rides bikes and started that pilgrimage. He’ll be interested to hear about this.
Elizabeth’s next door neighbors came rolling in on their bikes, saw my touring load, and quickly drew up a conversation. They have already offered to help me plan my route both to and through Yellowstone for both the safest and the most scenic routes. I will be glad for some local guidance after growing more white hair today on the way in.
Tomorrow I will get to know Bozeman, the city of my birth. I left at such an early age that I have very few memories of what it once looked like. Everyone tells me that the town has skyrocketed in growth in the last 10 years. It reminds me some of Boulder, CO close to where I grew up after moving from here. I intend to schedule a luxurious massage, let the legs rest and recover psychically. In many ways the daily push and intensity is more taxing than the physical challenges. Today I will use my yoga practice and remember to breathe, relax and receive the good energy around me in the people, the air, and this youthful university town. I also have a great uncle and aunt in the area and may be able to connect with them.