saint helen’s

September 8th, 2013

Day 138

80’s pop music again.  I hear it faintly way past the other side of the parking lot.  There’s only one car parked here this morning, it’s Monday and I’m sure people are working or in school.  Yesterday at this time the place was packed with families barbecuing, kids playing in the park and locals walking their dogs.  I’ve seen some of these people come by here each day since I’ve been here.

The music is getting louder and I see her bike emerge from around the tree-covered corner.  I’ve seen her several times in the last three days but only from afar.  Her bike has a huge Tupperware container strapped on the back and a cleverly built extension holding a stereo.  Each time she’s passed by its been the same pumped-up 80’s music blasting out of the bike.  She pulls in the bathroom, bike and all, and suddenly music fills the surrounding area, bouncing off the concrete walls, naturally amplifying the inspirational rock.

st. helen's camp

It’s nice to have some music around here for a bit.  I’ve been sitting here at this picnic table in silence all morning.  I’m tucked away behind some trees in my little camping spot.  I’ve got my tent, motorcycle, everything I need but a way out of here.  This is my third day here in the little campground/city park of St. Helen’s Oregon.  I actually quite like the place, it’s been peaceful, beautiful and a perfect place to sit down and write.  I got my first flat tire on Saturday in the almost five months since I’ve been on the road.  I left my house prepared with a tire repair kit and pump but it was stolen back in New York.  What would’ve been a two-hour delay is now going to be something more like a 60 hour delay since the only motorcycle shop is closed until tomorrow.  I don’t mind, it’s part of the adventure.

flat tire

That music’s been coming out of there for a while now so I’m sure she’s taking advantage of the free showers here.  She comes by several times a day usually just to drink a gulp of water and then takes off just as fast as she came in.  She’s not the only one who comes through here.  I heard that this town has a particular problem with drug abuse and this is a public space with free restrooms and showers so a lot of homeless people hang out.

I met one nice man living out of his car last night whom I talked with for a couple of hours.  He gave me the rest of his canned margarita and I got buzzed up while he talked life and lessons.  A been-there-done-that kind of guy who finds his worth in offering advice to youngsters who still have their lives in front of them.  Tragedy and hardship seemed to creep up on him at the same time in his life.  He reminds me to appreciate loved ones and being young and able.  After telling him about how I got stuck here with a flat tire he offers me a tire patch kit, but only after shaming my lack of preparation.

I notice the music getting softer and look up from the bench I’m writing at and realize I missed her again.  I haven’t caught her face yet in the 6 or 7 times she’s passed by.  I watch her carelessly ride away swaying the bike side to side in no rush.  I get the impression she loves the music she’s jamming out to and doesn’t care about anything else.  The mystery of her intrigues me, she looks close to my age and I wonder what she’s been through.  Part of me doesn’t want to know, to keep it a mystery and fill in the blanks, avoid the potentially disappointing truth.

The music lingers a bit after she disappears around the corner and I’m left again in silence.  This park is right in the middle of a town but there’s enough trees and land to give the illusion of being deep in nature.  The stream, only a few feet from my campsite, fills in any uncomfortable silences that might be.  Wind rustles through the trees above me completing the surround sound ambience.  In the distance I hear the occasional truck roaring down the street hidden from view.  The illusion is not broken though, I am still in nature, this just happens to be the nature of this place.

Slowly a few more cars trickle in.  A couple grandmas take a leisurely stroll through the park in between daily errands.  A middle-aged couple living out of their car fill jugs of drinking water from the bathroom and smoke cigarettes in the parking lot.  A stylishly dressed man in his mid forties is wiping off the only specks of dust from his sparkly clean black Camaro in the same corner spot he’s been parking in the last 3 days in a row.

I notice a tall older man in a suit who had walked by earlier stopped behind a tree looking into my campsite.  He waits for a moment then comes toward me.  He says he’s playing hooky from work, taking a longer lunch and he looks like he needs someone to talk to.  He tells me a bit about his life then goes into a detailed lesson about the geography of eastern Washington.  I wonder if he’s a geologist or something but realize after a while that everything he tells me had been learned from a television program he saw recently.  I think he exhausted his wife’s ears already and I am a set of fresh ears willing to listen so he gets it all out.

I find this guy more interesting than the geological fun facts he’s teaching me.  He came to this town thirty years ago from a bigger city in Washington for a job.  He refers to his wife as the wife , his would-be only friend, if only they could call themselves that.  He admires that I’m traveling around and says he’d always wanted to but the wife won’t have it and her word is law.  He cares more about what I represent to him than about me as a person I feel.  He wants more to vent than converse so eventually I signal with subtle body language that I’m trying to finish up what I’m writing here at the table.  He says he’s gotta get going a few times over the next twenty minutes before he finally bids me good luck and leaves.

Although I didn’t feel much of a connection with this person, I embrace interactions with others as much as I can, or at least as much as I can bear.  He gives me a glimpse into a could-be future.  He seems to be an upstanding citizen who has followed the protocol, school, job, wife, kids, a suit and a nice car.  Every now and then I feel overwhelmed and intimidated about the future, about money, security.  I’m afraid to struggle but when I think about it, I’m more afraid of going stale.

How much bread do I need to be fed?  I have to plant my seeds now for a future harvest and it’s hard to tell.  At this stage of my life, listening and learning is more important than planting.  Seeing how other’s fears, greed, courage, hunger, drive, laziness has affected their harvest teaches me what to plant for.  It’s not only about how much to plant but what kind of seed to plant as well.  Eventually winter will come and I’ll have to make a decision, but for now, I’m basking in late summer and taking in what I can.

When I’ve been telling people here that I’ve been stuck they seem to feel bad for me like I’m in an unfortunate position.  I try my best not to judge if it’s good or bad but to simply accept it as quick as I can.  Every moment spent in a state of non-acceptance is a waste.  If I really wanted to get out of here I would find a way to make it happen faster but it is not worth it so I’m happy to stay.

I’m in a really good place.  St. Helen is looking out for me.  I got my flat here in the campground right after arriving instead of on the freeway at a dangerous speed.  It’s good weather, I’ve got water, power to charge my batteries, nature to enjoy.  I haven’t had to walk the mile into town for food because local people I met were kind enough to invite me to their barbecue, leave me with food and even come back later to feed me a home-cooked dinner.


Somehow I feel like I was meant to be here.  A glimpse into an unusual little town park in northern Oregon.  The comings and going of unknown people, the vane, the crazed, the courteous, the curious, the charitable.  Another little world of worlds.  Tomorrow I’ll fix my flat and move on to something else unexpected…