Trippin’: Roads, Rails, and Mountain Trails
Episode 46, November 1972
When the fall days were not too chilly, I spent time in the sunshine, on the side porch with my canine buddy Charlie, Betsy our liberated goat, and Lochima, Hanna’s pony. My heart had grown numb—caught in the purgatory of loving a woman with distant emotions. I found comfort in the fresh air and solitude but my easy-going manner was changing, plagued by helplessness, frustration, and irritability. At times, I'd lose my cool with Jody and say things that I'd later regret—which proved unsettling and caused me to detest my unpleasant behavior.
When I wasn’t working on the finishing touches of my book, I was kept busy with the animals and other everyday demands. One of these popped up when Jodi’s ’59 Studebaker Lark failed to start. My neighbor, Willy and I tinkered with it, trying to discover the problem.
Leaning against the turquoise fender in defeat, I complained, “It’s not the battery, so it must be the starter or generator. Or maybe something in the wiring. I sure as hell can’t figure it out.”
Willy adjusted his wool cap and scratched his unshaven chin. “It’s a stumper. Do you know that retired mechanic, Steve Phillips? He may have an idea of what the problem is.”
“Where can I find him?”
Willy pointed up the road. “His place is on the right. It sits upon a rise just before the Ten-Two restaurant. You can’t miss it.”
“It’s worth a try. Thanks for the tip.”
The house was easy to locate. It stood out as a modern, brown and beige single-story. Most Meadow Valley dwellings tended to be more of the rustic variety. I drove my truck up Steve’s driveway, where I found him working in his open garage, which, from the looks of things, doubled as a shop.
Steve was wearing greasy coveralls, and his thin, ruddy face, piercing eyes, white hair, and three-day-old beard left an imposing impression. I introduced myself and found him to be more amicable then his appearance had suggested. When I told him about my predicament, he asked several questions in the raspy voice of a longtime smoker. He was confident that the problem was with the starter solenoid and gave me some tips on how to replace it.
As I thanked him and turned towards my truck, he said, “So, a ’55 three-quarter-ton Chevy, huh? Does it still have its original stock engine?”
“I suppose so.”
“Mind if I take a look?”
“No sweat,” I replied, as I popped the hood.
He glanced at my straight-six motor and said, “Just as I thought. This engine is unique. Want me to show you a trick?”
He walked back to his garage, searched through a tray of tools, and picked up a small open-end wrench. He came back and said, “Start it up.” I jumped in and turned the key. He motioned for me to come back up front and then loosened the bolt that secured the distributor. He gripped the distributor and said, “You can’t do this with many other engines. Watch the fan.” He turned the distributor counterclockwise, and the fan began to wobble while the engine rattled, running rough. Then, he told me to grip the distributor and said, “Now you turn it back very slowly clockwise. When the fan smoothes out, the timing will be set perfectly.”
I followed his instructions, and when the fan was running smoothly, the engine quieted. Steve said, “Back just a hair. That’s it.” Now you couldn't even see the individual fan blades as they merged in a metallic blur. Steve handed me the wrench and said, “Now tighten down your distributor.” I used the tool to secure it.
“Cool! Thanks, Steve. That'll come in handy.”
“Like I said, you can do that with this engine. It’s peculiar in that way.”
“Thanks also for helping me figure out Jodi's Studebaker problem.”
When it was too cold to be hanging outside, I'd sit by the potbelly stove in our cabin. Behind the couch on a window ledge, Jodi had placed a half-dozen books, supported at each end by large stones. I leaned closer and looked at two bibles and a few books with Hindu names, including the Bhagavad Gita. A distasteful image of a group of dancing, head-shaven, orange-robed fools playing hand cymbals came to mind. But one text, for whatever reason, stood out. That was Autobiography of a Yogi, by Paramahansa Yogananda.
I picked it up one evening out of sheer boredom and found the first chapter intriguing, so I moved on to the second and the third. I'd never been much of a reader. Except for Hermann Hesse’s books, a couple of Louis L’Amour westerns, Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, and a few others, I'd read very little. But now, out of my need to escape, I dove into that yogi book and was digging it. It was opening my eyes to things I’d never considered possible.
There were examples of feats accomplished by holy men that defied reason. I'd experienced enough with drugs to know there was more going on than meets the eye. And my “Climbing the Mountain” meditation encounter had shown me that even without drugs, higher realms could be experienced. I thought of Albert and his ESP. All those occurrences helped open me to the things I was discovering in this book.
There were also stories of people who had conquered their physical bodies and expanded their limitations, including lengthening their lives to hundreds of years. I read about a master who was so aware of his disciples that he was able to affect their lives from a distance. The paperback was chock-full of compelling stories. Some things were unbelievable, but the author instilled a trust that he had experienced or witnessed the odysseys he described.
So I was feeling open when Jodi announced that the folks whom Willy had introduced me to—Mike, Ella, Chuck, and Faun—were coming over on Sunday morning for a meditation circle. When they arrived, we sat cross-legged with our eyes closed for about forty minutes. I didn’t experience much, except quiet and a nasty crimp in my knee—but I enjoyed the company and the warmth of the group.
I spent that afternoon at Willy’s place where we smoked some powerful weed. That evening, Jodi was in the kitchen preparing dinner while I sat by the open stove watching the flames leap and dance. My stoned mind was still tripping a little and I couldn't ignore the heaviness I felt surrounding our relationship. The flames of the fire produced the likeness of an old-fashioned sailing vessel. I thought of something I had read—a reference to a person’s spiritual journey. It left me with the image of a frigate sailing across a vast ocean.
My ship had long been the enjoyment and appreciation of life. My crew was composed of kindness and caring, integrity and honesty, humor and lightheartedness, trust and optimism. But I now saw that my journey had taken a detour in an attempt to rescue a reluctant castaway. She was stranded within her strict, puritanical concepts—convinced that her island was her salvation.
When I had first steered my ship closer to shore, I’d noticed a storm brewing—a warning I failed to heed! Visibility was diminished, obscuring the rocks and shallows that threatened to sink my vessel. It was clear now that this foolish quest was my folly. I had already lost my cherished crew, obscured by the dashing storm and relentless waves. To proceed on this course threatened to destroy all that was precious to me.
I released the metaphor but I knew that I had a heart-wrenching, unavoidable decision to make—leave the fair maiden to her own trajectory or lose myself in the swirling surf of heartache and despair. I believed she'd be safe on her neat little isle —disappointed and maybe heartbroken—but at least safe.
Then I thought of little Hanna, that precious jewel. How I would miss her sunshine.
On a frigid afternoon, I was running errands in East Quincy which was not too far from Spring Garden, a bump in the road where Mike and Ella now lived. I’d never been to their new place but I was given directions and found it with ease.
I knocked on the door but nobody answered. I figured they'd be back from classes soon so I let myself in, settled on their couch, and remained nestled in my coat to ward off the chill. In front of me on a coffee table was one magazine. On the cover, there was a young man's face and the words And It Is Divine.
I picked up the magazine and read about a young master who helped people find peace in their lives. The words he spoke were profound but simple. I was taken by the way he expressed his truth. He spoke of the senselessness of blind faith. "First see it and then believe," the young man professed. To many of the things he said, I responded with a silent, Right on! It felt like his words were speaking to my heart! I waited for Mike and Ella for over an hour, nearly finishing the magazine by the time they arrived.
One evening, I was lying in bed waiting for Jodi’s endless routine in the bathroom, which was still a complete unknown to me. Charlie was curled up on her favorite rug. The wind made a peculiar noise as it pushed against the cabin. It had been snowing for two days and I had spent many hours working on one of the final chapters of the homesteader book. Writing provided an escape from my dark thoughts.
My mind on fire, I searched for a clue that would unlock Jodi’s imprisoned heart. I realized that I needed something she didn't seem capable of delivering—a simple connection between two people in love. A rock-hard lump had formed in my chest and it was growing heavier with each passing day.
I had always found it easy to reach people’s hearts. It was as simple as being in touch with my own feelings. Jodi had been the exception to this rule—which filled my mind with questions. What in her mysterious past caused her to build such a wall? Had I been arrogant to have thought I could generate a change in her? I sure as hell didn’t like it when someone tried that on me. My motives were well-meaning but perhaps she was content in her beliefs.
A light shone in the hallway signaling that Jodi was coming from her bathroom refuge. Then the light went out and I heard the rustle of her cotton nightshirt in the dark, along with the smell of lavender and soap. She slid in beside me and we settled into the spoon position. Her body was soft and warm. Yet even holding her close, I felt the distance between us. I loved this woman but my feelings weren’t enough to melt her heart—or that familiar hollow stone that had replaced mine.
So that’s where I was, between a rock and a soft place, in a situation that continued to generate hopelessness—an unhealthy situation for either of us. I didn’t relish hurting the woman I loved but I knew it was inevitable—we would have to separate or I'd sink deeper into despair.
I listened to her breathing and to my own troubled thoughts until sleep finally brought a measure of relief.
To be continued...
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Trippin': Roads, Rails & Mountain Trails
In book 2 of his Hippie Adventurer Series, Rich takes us on another wild ride during the 1960s as he and his faithful canine companion, Charlie, hitchhike, hop freights, work in an Alaskan gold mining camp, and manage a Sacramento Valley cattle ranch.
A Message from Rich
Trippin’ is my gift to all of you. For me, the ’60s were a heartfelt time of growth, exploration, freedom, and brotherhood. I hope to impart a truthful account of what it was like to live as a hippie in that wacky, magical era. Enjoy the journey!
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If you haven’t read the first book in the Hippie Adventurer Series, the award-winning Groovin’: Horses, Hopes, and Slippery Slopes, you can find it on Amazon and Audible.
1A. Escape from Heavy Caverns