Through Fire And Into The Divine

I had a great apartment in San Francisco. It was a small, older building; classic, with high ceilings and huge windows, wonderful worn wood floors, and a hallway with a domed archway. It was my first apartment with a hallway; I adored that hallway. At 3 am one night, a crash woke me from sleep, followed by a woman's screams. I opened my eyes and all there was to see was orange - orange light so intense, so magnificent, it was like the color orange in solid form. Someone had poured gasoline through the mail slot of the front door of the building next to mine and lit it. As this was downtown San Francisco, where all the buildings touch and all are made of wood, the fire had jumped over to my building, exploding out windows as it burned through the stories. The fire destroyed both buildings and killed two of my neighbors that night.

Insomnia ensued for two weeks while I stayed with a dear friend and her family; then I set about finding a new home. Instead of renting another apartment downtown, I decided to move to an obscure hilltop neighborhood. My new home was a tiny jewel surrounded with jasmine and wild roses. With the money I was saving on rent as the means, and the inaccessibility to public transportation as the rationale, I bought myself a Vespa. I had never been on a Vespa before I bought mine, and though I had been on the back of a motorcycle, I had never driven one. I didn't have my motorcycle license yet, but I got my permit, had a lesson, and knew I was destined to ride. Riding a Vespa feels like a cross between riding a horse and skateboarding in the sky. It's exhilaration and meditation, awareness and surrender, chaos and craziness and extraordinary peacefulness all at once. It requires being completely in the moment - or risking serious injury. It is so much fun.

The fear of having my home burn down was my single greatest fear for as long as I can remember. Yet the fire, and the subsequent events that sprung directly from it were so infused with magic and miracles, I was stunned into a realization that would prepare me, a year later, for my trek across the country....

When I told my mother I was planning to ride my Vespa from San Francisco to New York, she gasped. She was not alone in her horror - I soon learned the common reaction was one of shock and fear. Many people expressed concern over every horrible thing that might happen to me on the road. One way of looking at my decision to go is that our freedom can be taken, in various ways, without warning - so why allow one's fear to take it? And everything "bad" that could have happened to me on the trip could happen to me anywhere, anytime, in the most seemingly benign environment. However, the deeper truth that the fire helped me to learn was this: bad things happen to give us the opportunity to realize there are no bad things. To not have gone would have been to turn my back on faith (plus, I'll take any occasion to wear leather pants).

Incidentally, I was never harmed. I rode through lightning, got chased by buffalo, spent the night with at least one felon, and got lost every day... but I was never harmed, or hurt, and nothing bad happened.


Population: 67

Interior, South Dakota is a tiny town on the border of The Badlands and Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. I stopped for gas and ended up staying three days. In the parking lot of the gas station - which didn't have any gas - I met Greg, ex-boxer, ex-trucker, and the owner of one of the town's two bars. We hit it off, and I followed him to his bar for a break from the heat.

Soon after I arrived, Lonnie, a deliberate, silent cowboy, brought his longhorn steer into the bar. A saddle was perched high on his massive back, and so up I went, my head nearly touching the ceiling as I sat atop this giant, gentle beast.

After hours of laughter and stories and countless cups of the most delicious iced tea, it was time for me to keep on down the road. Instead, Greg invited me to stay with him and his girlfriend in the trailer where they lived, in the bar parking lot. I accepted. My three days in Interior felt like a month, and I met all the characters that came into the bar - the cowboys, the bikers, the Sioux. Everyone was rough, tough, and wild, yet our conversations were deep and intimate, and I learned more about the heart - our own true Interior - than I ever expected.


Thinking (Salt Lake City)

I'm in a different time zone, but time has been different since the moment I began. Each day has felt like ten for all that I have seen and felt. Even the cells of my skin seem to be jumping, reaching, trying to grab a piece of what surrounds me to hold onto and remember forever.


A Whole Lot O' Buffalo

It's hard to take buffalo seriously until you're surrounded by 200 of them. From afar, they look rather bizarre; lumbering, disproportionate, almost silly. When you can hear them breathing as they stare you down, it's another story entirely.

I was cruising through the Black Hills, on gorgeous empty sweeping roads, crests and dips, crests and dips. I rode over a hill and descended straight into a herd of free-ranging buffalo. These massive beasts lined both sides of the road and spread up into the hills, dotting the grasslands as far as the eye could see. Huge bulls stood four feet away from where I rode, trembling, in awe and afraid; each one five times the size of my Vespa, their heads larger than my entire torso and adorned with conical black horns. Ignorance is bliss and I didn't have that luxury; I knew these guys could run - fast, up to 35 miles per hour.

I soon realized that forward was not an option. I was flanked by buffalo where I was, and others stood in the road ahead. And so, I made the decision to turn around and find a different route, frantically praying the Vespa's headlight wouldn't anger those it crossed as I made a slow U-turn in the middle of the road.

I tried to avoid eye contact - because isn't that what you're supposed to do with wild beasts? But it was an impossible feat - everywhere I looked, a pair of big brown buffalo eyes stared down at me. I made my way back through the herd, hands sweating, my entire body shaking. A bull twenty feet from the road thundered into a run. Was he after a lady buffalo or after me? I didn't stay to find out. I opened up the throttle and was out of there.