Day 26 Thursday, August 4 Thermopolis to Hiland, WY 74 miles
When I was first working with Eastminster on taking this pilgrimage I said one of things that I want to do is to mirror the theological and ecclesiastical wilderness experience of the larger Church. In our tradition we have the narrative of the Hebrew slaves who escaped from the oppressive Pharaoh in Egypt. Freedom was great until they found themselves wandering in the wilderness for 40 years and some began to opine that they were better off in Egypt. “Why did we leave and what were we thinking,” was their question. This morning as I left Thermopolis I was nagged by a similar question, “Why the hell am I out here and what am I doing?”
I was riding through one of the most beautiful natural wonders of the Western United States—Wind River Canyon—yet I had to remind myself to not miss the magnificent beauty while being consumed by the thoughts swirling around in my head. I did take some time to really enjoy the canyon walls and the strata of rock formations that tell the unfolding story of the evolution of this land. As you ride through the canyon, signs point out that the layered rock gets older and older beginning with about 185 million years old and ending with about 800 million years old. It is an awesome sight to behold.
As I rode and thought more about why I am out “in the wilderness” I found myself going back to my original intentions for the pilgrimage. I think this is why I find myself pushing forward on an almost daily basis. I feel compelled to keep moving forward. At this point I am crossing over an imaginary line where I can feel myself moving beyond the “leaving home” of this pilgrimage and inching toward the feeling of “going home”. After reaching Loveland, CO (where I grew up) early next week my route will start taking me back west again and I imagine I will feel a psychological shift. But, my original intention was to bring my two worlds together. I lightheartedly define it as healing my “spiritual schizophrenia”. In many ways this pilgrimage is sort of a theological coming out. I just can’t live anymore with a split between my commitment as a minister in a traditional church setting and the rich spiritual exploration among many of my contemporaries. Both have a deep gifts to offer our community and both have a unique voice in this time of religious dialogue. I have to believe the two can co-exist and even enhance and deepen each other.
The real news of the day is this! I was baptized into Wyoming culture tonight when I ordered and consumed a delicious basket of Rocky Mountain Oysters! You didn’t know they had oysters in the wild west, did you? If you don’t know what they are I can’t really exlain it here without turning this into a PG-13 blogpost. Quite honestly, they were quite tasty.
These oysters were being served at the Hiland Motel, Bar and Grill. I had intended to stay in Shoshoni at a motel and really rest up for a full century ride across a high desert plain that many said, “Pack as if you aren’t going to see any services at all.” When I got to Shoshoni, there were three motels–two boarded up with weeds reaching the windows and one that was full up for the rest of the summer. Apparently, more oil and natural gas has been discovered in the area and crews and assessment crews have moved into the area.
Camping was allowed on a narrow strip in the community park. But, I got to thinking if I am going to have to camp out I might as well see if I can knock a few of the miles off of tomorrow’s long ride and just camp whenever my legs scream, “Enough!” Before leaving one clerk said the town of Hiland had a small convenience store and he thought they had about five rooms in a small motel they ran. I rode hard for about thirty miles and then my legs simply gave out. Hearing that Hiland might have a place to stay I limped into the “town”. I quote “town” because it is literally this one building. Here’s how small this town is. When Bryan, the everything man at the store answers the phone he just says, “Hiland!”
Hiland was a treat. It was another surprise Oasis in many respects. Not only did I get to experience and enjoy Rocky Mountain Oysters, but they did a room available for a very reasonable price. Bryan and owner, Mary, were a delight. Best of all, coming from the east, two other cyclists also had had enough by the time they reached Hiland and were allowed to put their tent down behind the motel. Aaron, Jamie Lee (see her blog at www.ridethosebikes.blogspot.com) and I had great conversations about religion, the change in education, cycling (of course), and a whole shift in our culture from hierarchical thinking to shared wisdom and experience. I was especially struck by Aaron’s comments about his grandfather who was an atheist Jew. For him this was not a contradiction. He loved the Torah study, his closest community developed out of this group, and he appreciated the ethics that emerged from the Jewish tradition. I have been thinking along these lines in recent years. Must one believe in God in order to experience the awe and mystery of life and commit to a life of compassion to one’s neighbor? If an athiest and a Christian both live lives of compassion and are open the deep unknown mystery of life are we really all that different? More questions to ponder over a beer!
Just a short sixty miles into Casper tomorrow. Jamie Lee and Aaron said there is a great microbrewery there that serves $1.00 happy hour pints. It will be a taste of Portland again. I am sure I can find a dollar in these packs somewhere!