Pedaling Across Iowa for Pie

RAGBRAI, the Des Moines Register’s Annual Bike Ride Across Iowa, is really all about the pie. The Amish, the church ladies, home bakers and commercial bakers alike can be found all along the 500-mile route feeding the masses their homemade goods from strawberry-rhubarb, peach, blackberry, apple and more. Sometimes they even have homemade ice cream to go with it. Which is why I just HAD to pump up my tires and join in the fun for three out of the seven days — along with nearly 30,000 other people on bikes.
 

I hadn’t planned on riding this year, but once the event got underway and I started seeing all the pictures and the social media posts of all those people smiling and laughing and exercising — and yes, eating all that pie — I developed a severe case of FOMO (fear of missing out) so I hitched a ride to Bloomfield and joined in the sea of bicycles as it flowed eastward.

L to R: Scott Horsley, me, Les Cook

I caught up with Team NPR — the acronym can stand for National Public Radio or “No Pie Refused,” depending on how you choose to see it — and rode a few days with economics reporter Scott Horsley and business editor Les Cook. I thought I was in pretty good shape, but oh man, I had a hard time keeping up with these dudes. I thought these guys had desk jobs! But they were motivated by — and fueled by — pie. (Scott told me that he first read about RAGBRAI in a Wall Street Journal article that said it’s the only long-distance bike ride where you’ll gain weight. He’s been doing the ride every year since.)

Special delivery: banana cream pie! (photo by Madeline King)

Some of those weight-inducing calories were provided by yours truly. After putting in a 50-mile day on my bike, I went home and baked until midnight. The next morning I delivered pies — banana cream, apple, peach crumble and key lime — to their support vehicle. When Team NPR rolled in for their daily pit stop they tanked up — and as you see in the photo below — some even did a toast with their pie.

photo by Madeline King, IPR

They all commented that you don’t see a lot of cream pie on RAGBRAI. That’s for obvious reasons — like 90-degree days with high humidity. (Great biking weather! Especially when there are relentless headwinds. Luckily RAGBRAI provides a sag wagon to transport you to the end of the day’s route if you just can’t take it anymore.)

Their favorite of my pies, hands down, was the key lime. (The recipe is below.) And guess what? I didn’t make that one! Doug did. He’s a good pie baker too. But then he had a good teacher. Ha!

I’ve done the full RAGBRAI ride three times, starting when I was 19 years old — all the way back in 1981. (RAGBRAI started in 1973 as a bet between two newspaper reporters and is now going into its 48th year.) I’ve jumped on for a few days at a time during the past nine years I’ve been back in Iowa, yet never fully committing to the whole week.

But after riding this year — after getting caught up in the contagious joy and unity of the fellow cyclists (ranging from 10-year-olds to 93-year-olds), after making new friends from all parts of the world, after getting swept up in the common goal of reaching the Mississippi River, after feeling the sense of accomplishment and freedom that comes from covering great distances under your own power, and after breathing in all of rural Iowa’s beauty on those car-free country roads…after all that, I am already planning on doing the entire weeklong ride next year.

I even have a team name already — Team Pieowa.

I posted my team name on Facebook last week. I was only half-joking, but like most of the crazy adventures that happen in my life, it gained momentum almost immediately after several people left comments. They wanted to join, someone offered to help with the support crew, and the next thing you know the idea has gone from wishful thinking to really happening.

If you want to join me, let me know. We’ll need a support vehicle (maybe a van or bus or RV or just bike trailer) and a driver. We’ll want to get team jerseys designed. (Any graphic artists out there jonesing for a project?) If nothing else, this will be something fun to focus on during the long winter months, something to look forward to and a reason to not slack off on the exercise. There will be no last-minute decision to go, no FOMO. Only miles of cornfields and open sky; thousands of happy, healthy people; new friends to be made; local communities welcoming visitors; pies waiting to be enjoyed. Like labor pains, I will have long forgotten about the trifecta of heat, headwinds and hills, forgotten a
bout the sore muscles and sunburn, and I’ll be excited to do it all over again.

Next summer — July 19 – 25, 2020 — you will find me, along with thousands of other people, pedaling across Iowa in a community effort of endurance and fun.

I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

For more info on RAGBRAI: https://ragbrai.com

KEY LIME PIE 

GRAHAM CRACKER CRUST  

1-1/2 cups graham crackers (about 9 to 12 crackers, at least one sleeve), crushed (increase amount if you’re using a large, deep-dish pie plate)
5 to 6 tbsp butter, melted

Optional ingredients: 1 tsp cinnamon and 1/4 cup sugar (I make mine without these)

Crush crackers by putting in a ziplock bag and roll with rolling pin. Mix melted butter into cracker crumbs, then press into pie plate. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes.

FILLING

1 (14-oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
4 egg yolks (save 2 egg whites)
1/2 cup fresh squeezed lime juice (To get ½ cup of juice will take about 6 Persian limes.)
2 tsp lime zest (optional but zesty!)

Whisk 4 egg yokes, add condensed milk and lime juice.

Optional step, but one that I always do: Beat 2 egg whites until stiff and fold into this mixture. This will make your filling lighter.

Pour into pie shell. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until filling is set. Let cool, then chill for at least 3 hours. Top with whipped cream. Store in refrigerator up to a week.

TOPPING:

1 cup heavy whipping cream
3 tbsp sugar

Beat cream and sugar until peaks form. Spread over top of cooled pie.

TIP:  
Instead of little key limes, you can also use “regular” limes, also known as “Persian” limes. They are bigger and juicier and thus easier to squeeze, but are said to be less tangy than key limes. However, I did a taste test with a few key lime pie aficionados in Key West, people who swear by using key limes, and they all voted for the pie made with the Persian limes. Even the experts were fooled. Go figure. (This is why I insist on questioning authority and thus dispelling myths.)

TIP:
You can use bottled lime juice. Recommended brands are Nellie and Joe’s or Manhattan (unsweetened). It’s a lot faster and easier than squeezing those mini key limes and will keep your fingers from pruning. That said, I always prefer using fresh fruit.

World Piece: A Humble, Homemade Film About Making Pie Around the World





During the summer of 2015, I traveled around the world making pie in 9 countries. At long last, I have gotten the story down, but not on paper as you would expect. Instead, I taught myself how to edit a film using iMovie.

Forgive my amateur skills, but like I always say about making pie: It’s not about perfection!  I also tell my pie students, “It should look homemade!”

So that’s what you get here:

*  a heartfelt story
*  in the form of a homemade film
*  that’s as humble as pie.

I hope you like it.

More so, I hope it inspires you to connect with your friends, family, neighbors, foreigners, and strangers alike. Because now more than ever, we need to unite our world, to heal the wounds and bridge the divides, and what better way to do that than to sit down and talk over pie!

The World Needs More People Like Ann

My friend Ann is dying. She had breast cancer about 10 years ago but it came back. In her spine. Containable but not curable, the drugs held it back for about a year or two. I hadn’t talked to her for a while and last fall I had a very strong sense that I needed to get in touch—and not just by email. Something told me I needed to pick up the phone and call her. She was happy to hear from me, but had some not so happy news: The cancer was growing.

In early December, I started getting emails from Ann’s brother. I was on a mailing list, one I’m sure is a very big list because of the number of Ann’s friends. In the past several months the chemo was affecting Ann’s nerves to the point she could no longer use her hands or feet. She couldn’t write or walk. But there was the possibility, the hope, that the neuropathy could depart in the same quick way it began.

The updates kept coming.

Ann is being moved from the hospital to the rehabilitation center for physical therapy.
Ann is making progress and determined to get home.

Ann is going home, but will need 24-hour care. A nurse will be there during the day but we’ll have friends stay with her overnight, so let me know if you would like to come for a few days or a week.

I volunteered to spend a week with her in March. (She lives in San Francisco.) Given her loving friends I’m sure she has enough caregiving volunteers to get her through the next five years. But I will not be going to San Francisco to help because Ann won’t make it five years, or even five months.

I woke up to an email update from her brother.

Ann received news yesterday that her battle with cancer is quickly coming to an end. Ann has in mind to say her goodbyes in the coming days and weeks. Then it seems she will be ready to depart on her next adventure. She seems to have no regrets and accepts that this is her time. She has great care and love of those around her. And wishes you and us all great happiness, love and peace.

And so the grief begins.

Ann is just three years older than me. She has been a mentor, a role model, a big sister, a grief counselor after Marcus died, and a true and loving friend.

Like me, she lost someone she loved who died suddenly and unexpectedly, so she already knew the ropes of this kind of grief. (The cliché is intentional; her love was a rock climber.) She was there for me—to listen, to coach, to refill my wine glass, to just be. She was there for me a few years later when Daisy was killed by a coyote. Ann, a dog lover herself, was once again a step ahead of me as she had lost her dog Shayla (an Airedale terrier) not long before Daisy died.

Ann’s dog, Shayla, was one of the most remarkable dogs I’ve ever met. I tell the story of her often, how, when Ann worked from home, Shayla would come to Ann’s desk to remind her to get off the phone and take her for a walk. After a few minutes, if Ann was still talking, Shayla would go get her leash and present it to Ann, standing there with it dangling from her mouth which, with her tall size, was level with the desktop. And when that still didn’t work, she would go get Ann’s fleece jacket off the hook by the door and drop it onto Ann’s lap, signaling that, “Excuse me, you really need to hang up now. It’s time to go out.” If that cuteness couldn’t make you end a call, no matter how important the business discussion, nothing could!

Ann and Shayla

Shayla was only 7 when she died. She got sick and Ann did everything she could to keep her dog healthy, happy, alive. She even stayed with Shayla at the animal hospital, because she believed—she knew—her presence would help the dog recover. And, with Ann’s affection, Shayla did recover (from an illness of leptospirosis.) Shayla’s recovery, which even her vet attributed to Ann’s love, was so remarkable that a magazine did a story featuring Ann on how spending time at the vet with your sick pet helps it heal.

I have followed Ann’s example of animal bedside care—many times now—whenever Jack is at the vet for his various health issues. (I did with Daisy, too.) Each time I sit on the cold cement floor of the vet’s office, gently stroking my dog’s fur for hours, I always think of Ann and Shayla and it keeps me going.

Ann talked with a pet psychic after Shayla died and the psychic told her Shayla was doing okay. When Daisy died, Ann gifted me a session with the psychic who told me Daisy was doing okay. (When your heart is THAT broken, any little bit of reassurance or affirmation is helpful.) It is one of the most heartfelt gifts I have ever received.

Lately I have been experiencing a period of turmoil—depression and despair over a combination of things: the current battlefield of politics, climate change, gun violence in schools and, more personally, what it means to be 55 and all the upheaval that goes with it: menopause; muffin top; loss of libido, bone density, and muscle tone; the seemingly limited future of my career; how to manage my finances; how to balance the solitude of the farm with my need for city; and the sobering reality that I now qualify for senior housing. But all of my worries seem so trivial now, my whiny first-world problems thrust into perspective by the news that Ann, who is just 60, is preparing to take leave.

Now I am asking:

    What really matters?
    What do we leave behind?
    What are we most proud of?
    What did we accomplish?

Ann hasn’t squandered away her time in the existential wasteland of turmoil and despair. She has been too busy, spending her life helping others as well as the environment. She has been:

  • Advocating for women in the outdoor industry
  • Serving on boards of environmental non-profits
  • Mentoring teams of young people to help them grow in their careers
  • Overseeing a foundation’s endowment allocating grants to wilderness conservation and outdoor education
  • Building public speaking careers for adventurers, enabling them to share their risk management lessons learned from Mt. Everest, El Capitan, Antarctica and beyond 
  • Building an outdoor clothing brand into an internationally recognized and highly respected name
  • Organizing a film festival featuring the feats of extreme athletes who have triumphed over tragedy
  • And, in her earlier career, producing music events

She has traveled the world, spending a lot of time in the mountains—in the Himalayas, in Yosemite, in Muir Woods.

She has nurtured friendships that span the globe, often hosting those friends in her home, their sleeping bags and backpacks turning her living room—an otherwise cozy and elegant sanctuary filled with Buddhist art and Tibetan prayer flags—into a climbers’ base camp. I have been one of those lucky friends, sleeping bag in tow, treated to her home cooked meals (my favorite being grilled tilapia with sautéed mushrooms and puréed cauliflower, and a bottle of Malbec) and waking up on her couch to a view of the Redwood forest, talking with Ann for hours over coffee.

And yet, when the time comes—and, sadly, it is coming too soon—what will Ann be remembered for most? Not for her grilled tilapia and comfy couch. Not for her career and for her many, many accomplishments. Not even for her recent, wholly deserved Outdoor Industry Lifetime Achievement Award. All of that is impressive and important, yes. But what she will be remembered for most is her kindness. Her generosity. Her humility. Her love. Her spirit, a spirit so bright and beautiful its light will keep shining long after her physical form can no longer contain it.

May we all be so lucky to be remembered that way.

May Ann’s legacy serve as a guide for those of us still here, and for others yet to come. May we model her values and her examples of honesty and integrity, to make the world a better place for as long as we are here.

We will miss you, Ann, but know you will be there with all of that kindness, generosity, humility, and love when we see you on the other side. And we will all get there eventually. Thank you for being in my life and for all the goodness you have contributed—to me and to so many others. Wishing you peace on your new journey, my friend. I look forward to meeting up with you in the next one.

With all my love and deepest gratitude,
Beth


UPDATE:  Ann Krcik passed away on February 28, 2018. She told her family the day before her departure, “I feel so happy and free.” I imagine her now, soaring in the winds, her soul so light, her joy boundless. Fly high, my friend. Fly high.

Taos: Making Friends with the Locals

During my recent weeklong Taos Writers Retreat I skipped the scheduled morning dance sessions. Free-form dancing in a group is waaaay too far out of my comfort zone, even though Jen insisted everyone keeps their eyes closed so no one is watching you. Instead, I walked a few blocks from the Mabel Dodge Luhan House to a local coffee house.

Possessing an instinctive homing device for caffeine, I found my way there by taking a trail that led off the property, slipped through an opening in the bushes that led to Kit Carson Park, and cut a diagonal line across the park toward the center of town. I passed the Taos Little League field, the graveyard where Mabel Dodge and Kit Carson rest in peace, and popped out the other side onto Paseo Del Pueblo Norte. I hung a left on the main drag, passed a restaurant and a few art galleries before finding my destination recommended by one of the staff at the inn: World Cup.

World Cup is a tiny espresso bar, one of the smallest spaces in which I’ve ever had a latte. About the size of a bedroom, it feels as cozy as one too. There’s a cash register, an industrial size espresso machine, and along two walls runs a counter with metal bar stools underneath. The place is so small, so intimate you automatically become part of any conversation.

Every day I saw the same people, the “regulars,” people who lived in Taos.

There was Jack, the barista. Reserved and intelligent looking, his clean cut-ness offset by his hint of a beard, he always dressed neatly in a collared shirt, vest, and bandana tied around his neck. I wondered if he was a folk musician by night.

There was Simon, the English mystery novelist who looked more like a rancher. He was tall with blazing blue eyes, and his booming voice with the British accent dominated the coffee house whenever he spoke.

There was Pat, the ex-hippie from Haight-Ashbury, a short, kind-eyed man who wore Hawaiian shirts and a baseball cap that hid his grey hair. When he smiled it showed the hint of gold rimming his teeth.

There was Marianna, another barista, with dark hair and bangs and an ever-present warm smile made brighter by her signature swath of power-red lipstick.

There was Lloyd, slightly soft and rumpled, always sitting at the bar, always ready to join in the conversation. He was a dead ringer for Norm from “Cheers.”

There was the man (whose name I never learned) who looked like an aging rock star turned mountain man, his hair long and shaggy, his jeans faded, his boots worn, his icy blue eyes weary.

And every single morning there was Joseph and Augustine, two men from the Red Willow tribe. Weathered and bronzed, with high cheek bones and black hair in long braids tied back into ponytails, they walked the three miles daily from the Taos Pueblo, where their tribe has dwelled for over 1000 years, to get coffee and wait for their ride from Joseph’s brother, Blue, to whatever work site they were headed to that day.

Joseph (left) and Augustine (right) making a point not to smile for the camera

It wasn’t just people who were regulars, but also their dogs. Pat with his ultra-shy black lab-mix puppy named Digger, whom he was attempting to socialize. Steve with a different dog each day (he had five), including a red chow, a black chow, and a brindled Mastiff-mix. A lab here, a scruffy white terrier there, a cattle dog, a Golden retriever, the dogs nearly outnumbered the customers. Because World Cup was so small, the combination of dogs and coffee patrons made for the Taos equivalent of an L.A. traffic jam. Without the road rage.

Often the conversations revolved around the dogs. Many of the dogs’ owners had made it their mission to rescue animals abandoned at the animal shelter, or capture feral dogs found on construction sites, and rehabilitate them until they could be adopted.

This was a reminder: There is still goodness in this world.

I heard one woman say she was on her way to a daylong chainsaw carving class. I heard a man say he was applying for a visa to move to Australia. I heard someone say he just signed a lease for the art gallery he had been working so hard to open. I heard another one say his New York agent had just given him feedback on his screenplay. I heard a four-year-old girl insist to her mother that she wanted the chocolate croissant not the plain one she was already eating.

This was a reminder too: There is still so much to strive for, so many dreams to pursue. (And a reminder that when in doubt, always go for the chocolate one.)

Given my affinity for café culture (especially the dog-friendly kind), my curiosity about people, and my chatty personality, I was more than happy to insert myself in these conversations. (And pet every dog that came through the door.) I was eager to be part of the group, not only because of my outgoing nature, but because I live a little too isolated for my disposition on a farm, 25 miles from the nearest espresso bar. I was starving for conversation, for community. Forget free-form dance; this was a week I could take advantage of being a 10-minute walk from the crossroads of an eclectic bunch of townspeople. And drink really good coffee.

On my second morning at World Cup, I was pulled into a dialog with Augustine and Joseph, the two Native Americans. Augustine asked me where I was from.

“Iowa,” I told him.

In reply he asked me, “Do you know Jim Leahy?”

Outwardly my face showed that I was trying to determine if, in fact, I did know a Jim Leahy. Inside, though, I was laughing at the notion that out of an entire state, nearly 500 miles wide, I would know this one person.

But then Augustine added, “He founded Overland Sheepskin Company.” He spoke so shyly, so quietly, I had to lean in to hear him. The background noise of the bean grinder and milk steamer and other customers ordering coffee made it even harder to hear. I got so close I could smell the cigarette smoke on his clothes. “I worked for him for 13 years,” he continued.

My eyes shot open at the recognition. “Oh my god, yes. I mean, I know his wife, Jennifer. She runs Blue Fish Clothing. They live in Fairfield. I spend a lot of time there.”

This is why I love life. These seemingly random connections are what I live for. Stumbling upon common links always tells me I am exactly where I need to be at exactly that moment. The world is a lot smaller and a lot more connected that we realize. With this realization comes a feeling of wellbeing. We are not as lost or as disconnected as we think.

As if reading my thoughts, Joseph chimed in. “Small world,” he said, flashing a grin at me, unselfconscious that his two front teeth were missing. Teeth or not, he was handsome, with his chiseled features, crisply dressed in his jeans and cowboy boots, and athletically fit. “We live up at the Pueblo. Have you been there?”

“No,” I said. “I just got here. I’m in Taos for a week, for a writers retreat. It’s a group of 23 women trying to get past their writers block. Coming here for coffee is my secret little morning ritual.”

“Come to the Pueblo. I’ll be your tour guide, “Joseph said. “There’s an adobe structure that’s an original five-story building. We grew up there.”

I looked into his eyes, brown and slightly slanted. What I saw in his eyes was a deep, bubbling hot spring of American history so dark and tragic I felt like I was going to drown. My heart splintered a little more at that moment, the broken pieces shattering into even smaller pieces—as if after all my recent grief I could afford any more cardiac damage. Talking with these Native American men stirred up something far down and unknowable inside me. I don’t believe in past lives, and I absolutely cannot comprehend the quantum physics of gravity, space and time, where life might exist simultaneously in different dimensions, but damn if I didn’t feel like there was something more going on between the three of us. Was this force of energy and this intensity of eye contact—also with Augustine, his brown irises surrounded by more red than white—because we were connected on a different plane? Or was it my nostalgia for simpler, more environmentally sensitive times? Times before smart phones and paved roads. Before combustion engines and Dakota Access Pipelines. Before the White Man obliterated the peoples who lived in harmony with nature, those who understood and respected the balance of ecology.

Who knew that a 7:30AM stop at the local coffee house would evoke such profound thoughts?

I had to remind myself to breathe. After a pause to shake off the mind-bending sensation, I answered him. “I would love a tour. How about Saturday afternoon, right after my workshop ends?”

For the rest of the week I continued my daily jaunts to the coffee house. One morning I met a woman while cutting across the park. She was older, with hair dyed scarlet red, taking her morning power walk. I walked next to her, asking her for directions which led to asking her about her life. In clipped British English she said she spends half the year in Taos and the other half—the winter—in San Miguel de Allende. Like Augustine asking me if I knew his friend in Iowa, I asked her if she knew my friend Angela in Mexico. “She’s a writer,” I said. “She’s also British.”

And then, in the way I answered Augustine, this woman stopped walking and turned to look at me. “Yes. I think I do know her. I’m sure I’ve heard her name. Yes, I’m certain I’ve met her.”

Once again, right place, right time. The world is so bloody small, people are so connected to each other—connected to me—it feels like I do belong in it after all.

On the last night of the writers’ workshop, our group of 23 formed a circle. Each woman took a turn professing what she got out of the week. In my allotted one minute, I said, “I got exactly what I needed: a sense of community, a sense of belonging. But not just from all of you.” Then I revealed where I had been disappearing to each morning. “I got a bonus community by going to the espresso bar, where I made friends with the locals.” The entire circle nodded in approval, and with, I dare say, a hint of admiration.

At the designated time on Saturday, I met Joseph at the Pueblo. As promised, he gave me a tour of his primary community. (World Cup, like it did for me, clearly served as his “bonus community.”) He explained how these earthy red adobe buildings have been continuously inhabited for over 1000 years, making this place the longest continually inhabited community in the U.S. These mud and straw structures, still standing so solidly, were built between the years 1000 and 1050 AD. Its buildings are so impressive in how they’ve withstood the test of time (and weather and myriad attacks) that the Pueblo is now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, ranking right up there with the Pyramids and Taj Mahal. “It’s not a reservation,” he said, “because we have never left. Reservations are places tribes were moved to.”

I nodded, acknowledging this important distinction.

He pointed out the kivas, underground caves marked by a bundle of tall poles protruding above, where the men (no women allowed!) partake in rituals, initiations, and learn the unwritten wisdom and teachings of the tribe shared orally. “I’ve spent 40 days and 40 nights inside the kiva,” he said. Joseph is 55 and is an elder serving on the Tribal Council. “I’m young for an elder. They are normally in their 80s. But as they die off I continue to move up, taking their place.”

His revelation that he was an elder didn’t surprise me, given how articulate and knowledgeable he was. Maybe there was something about his elder wisdom that had moved me so much the day I met him. Maybe he was channeling the Great Spirit.

We walked along the front side of the largest structure, passing vendors selling carvings, beads, drums and art, and I spotted—what the…?!—a pie shop. “We have to go in,” I insisted. “I have to try the pie.”

Joseph knew the baker, the grandson of Crucita, the woman who opened the bakery almost 100 years ago. The two immediately started chatting in their native Tiwa language.

The Pueblo is off the grid—there are no power lines, no running water. They collect their water by dipping buckets into the river that runs through the middle of the village. The lights are run by propane, and the ovens—adobe beehive-shaped things called “hornos”— are fueled by wood fire.

Try running a pie stand baking in this

For a moment I imagined what it would have been like to run the Pitchfork Pie Stand using only an horno. I bristled at the thought.

I bought a slice of blueberry pie, a flat triangle that resembled a quesadilla, and shared it with Joseph. It was too sweet, and the filling was probably canned, but who cares? I was eating pie at the Pueblo. Pie made in the oldest inhabited structure in the land. Pie made by a Red Willow man.

Pie notwithstanding, after such a long and sad period, life was looking up.

I stayed in Taos a few extra days, renting a ridiculously cute one-room log cabin I found on Airbnb. It was too far to walk to World Cup, but that didn’t stop me from driving the five miles there to get my latte. But two days in a row I arrived too late to see my regular crowd. Determined to see my “friends” one last time, I gave Augustine a call in advance (Joseph doesn’t have a phone) to make sure the guys would be there on my final morning. I set my alarm for 6:30AM to be there by 7.

When I arrived at World Cup, they were there, along with a few other regulars who trickled in and out. I said hi to my Red Willow friends but told them I wanted to get my coffee before chatting. I went up to the counter and the barista, Marianna, said, “Large latte, three shots?” I nodded and smiled. You know you’ve become a local when they know your drink order. I reached for my wallet and she added, “The guys already paid for it. It’s on them.”

My hands reached for my heart to keep it from bursting out of my chest. I couldn’t stop the tears welling up in my eyes. “I wasn’t expecting that,” I said to Marianna, still holding my chest. I didn’t need to say anything as my reaction already told her. “It’s my last day here,” I said, wiping my wet cheeks. “I don’t want to leave.”

“Taos is a great place to live,” Marianna said. “There’s community here.”

Community. Yes. That is exactly what I kept experiencing during the 10 days I had been in town. I wanted more of this—needed more. I longed to stay. I had even looked on Craigslist for short-term sublets. But as the owner of my rented cabin said when I asked if I could book it for an entire month, maybe two, “You have people who love you waiting for you back home.” He couldn’t have known this, yet he was right. It wasn’t just people waiting (Doug) but dogs and cats and goats too.

I finally composed myself enough to return to Augustine and Joseph, and Blue. “Oh, you guys, thank you so much. I am so touched. But I’m the one who should be treating you to coffee.” They shrugged off my thanks, as if they were embarrassed by my gushing gratitude.

They couldn’t possibly have known—and I wasn’t about to tell them—just how down I had been before I came to Taos, how much I was grieving not just my dad and my goat, but the whole state of the world. Likewise, they couldn’t possibly know just how much their kindness had restored my faith in humanity. (Though I must add, taking a 10-day break from the news and social media also helped.)

Overcome by shyness all around, we sat on barstools, not really sure what to talk about, not sure how to say goodbye. Other regulars showed up, filling up the space between our awkward small talk. Pat with his dog Digger. Steve with yet another dog. And the guy opening the art gallery with his cattle dog. I bent down to pet each of the animals.

“We have to go to work,” Augustine finally said. “I have something for you.” He handed me a small bundle, a zip-lock bag wrapped in paper towel. “Don’t open it until you get home,” he said.

“You mean when I get back to Iowa, or do you just mean don’t open it until later?”

“You can open it after I leave,” he said.

Once I was in the car, I unwrapped his gift. I assumed it was one of his rock carvings he had shown me photos of—bears on all fours. “I like doing the detail,” he said as I studied his pictures, faded and dog-eared. But it was not a stone carving. It was a necklace made of chunky turquoise beads. I immediately fastened it around my neck and held the beads in my fist as I drove down highway 68.

As much as it made my heart ache to leave Taos, I reminded myself that life is about moving forward. Unless you know how to move in a space-time continuum, forward is the only direction we can go.

Eventually I pointed my car East, toward my life back in Iowa, toward my goal of finishing my next book, toward my pathetic little $39 Mr. Coffee Espresso Maker and my community of farm animals.

Back in Iowa, this is what community looks like.

I had a long talk with Doug on Saturday, while we were out canoeing on Big Cedar Creek. Immersed in nature is an ideal setting to discuss important issues. I told him about my desire to remain in Taos, to rent a place there, about my morning coffee house routine, and how I felt like I really belonged there.

“I need to live in a place that smells of sagebrush,” I said.

He understood. “You can go back, Bea. If that’s what it takes for you to write, you should go.”

His support came from a place of such unconditional love I realized the Taos cabin owner was right. This is home. The people here do love me—Doug loves me. And I can—and I will—readjust to a place that smells of fresh-cut hay instead of sage.

Instead of returning to Taos, I rearranged one of the rooms in our farmhouse and turned it into my own office. No more desk in the bedroom.

The first thing I did after setting up my desk was to create a shrine to my time in Taos—my journal filled with inspiration and motivation from the workshop, the “Write True” charm from Jen reminding me to write my heart out honestly, the postcard of Georgia O’Keeffe on the back of a motorcycle (she too was smitten with Taos, so much so she left NYC and moved there permanently), a sprig of New Mexico sage, and last but not least Augustine’s turquoise beads.

I have claimed a room of my own where I will write— with courage and confidence—my next book, my blog posts, magazine articles, and thank you letters to certain Red Willow Indians.

Thank god I skipped those dance sessions.

World Piece Gets a Little Press

At KRUU-FM, solar-powered radio, in Fairfield, Iowa.
With one of my favorite hosts, Steve Boss of “Great Taste.”

 While I consider my World Piece journey a personal one, it is also nice to have people — and sometimes the media — take notice. I say “nice” mainly because I hope the effort I am making will have a positive impact on several levels.

One, that by making and sharing pie around the world, I will actually spread some love, joy and…yes, peace.

And two, I hope it will serve as a reminder to others to kick their own fears to the curb and get out there in the world to make a difference. Follow your dreams, dare to leave the comfort of your nest, and take a leap. There are great people, places and experiences out there waiting to be discovered.

And lastly, I’d like to think this project proves that wealth is not about acquiring material things. To experience adventure, to stretch and growth beyond our comfort zones, and to give freely to others is to live richly.

With that, here are a few places where you can hear more and read more about World Piece.

ZESTER DAILY  Six Smart People Changing the World Bite by Bite

IOWA PUBLIC RADIO  “Talk of Iowa” with Charity Nebbe

KRUU-FM SOLAR-POWERED RADIO  “Great Taste” with Steve Boss

With Charity Nebbe in the studio at Iowa Public Radio
 in Iowa City last week. Like her apron? You can order one at
http://www.cafepress.com/theworldneedsmorepiestore.

 Donations to World Piece are appreciated! Sponsor a pie or pitch in toward pie ingredients. It’s all good.

RETURN TO THE WORLD NEEDS MORE PIE.COM

World Piece Kicks Off with an Epic Trans-American RV Road Trip

America the Beautiful — as seen through an RV windshield.

If you are ever going to drive your RV cross country and get a severe toothache in the middle of a hail storm, the best possible place to pull off the interstate is Fruita, Colorado. Or so I learned on my way to Iowa this week.

The RV trip from LA to Iowa was part of my World Piece master plan. I would move out of my Palos Verdes guest house where I had spent the past 6 months, load up the RV with all my stuff, and drive to Iowa where I would put my things in my storage unit there. I would bring my dog, Jack, and leave him at my friend’s farm where he could spend the summer while I was circumnavigating the globe making pie.

Six months earlier, when I drove the RV to LA, stressed to the max from towing my Mini Cooper behind it (and from losing Daisy, my other sweet member of Team Terrier, after that coyote attack), I swore I was selling The Beast and that I would never drive it again. Not 18 miles, and certainly not 1,800 miles.

Bwwahahahahaha. As you may recall from my book, “Making Piece,” I also told my late husband, Marcus, when he first bought the RV that I would never drive it at all. Ever.

So yeah, The Beast started up on the first turn of the engine, and off I went, heading east.

First stop was Las Vegas to pick up my artist friend, Dave. (He is the same artist who designed the gorgeous World Piece logo.) Dave lives in Iowa now and he offered to help me drive. He is great company, tells entertaining stories, and can make me laugh until I cry. Which is something that will come in handy on this trip as I try to get my facial muscles to work again. I picked him up in Vegas not because I wanted to gamble — solitaire is the closest to gambling I will ever get — but because it was the closest, cheapest one-way ticket I could find at the last minute.  


After Dave offered to help drive, he texted me, “We’ll make it a little adventure.”

That made me look at the drive as less of a dreaded task (remember, I said I never wanted to drive the RV again) and instead I began to view it more as a fun mini-trip before my Big Trip.  Not that there is anything “mini” about driving more than half way across the USA in an RV. But when Dave said “adventure,” I should have considered that the definition of adventure is when things do not go according to plan.

The plan was to drive the RV to Iowa without incident and get there in the most direct and quickest way possible. But, to quote John Lennon, “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.” This is what happened:

Near Disaster #1 

Dave’s flight arrived at 9:30PM. It was dark and there was a lot of traffic at the Las Vegas Airport. The Billboard Music Awards were going on, and god knows how many conventions. I had to maneuver the RV through lines of limousines and SUVs and convertibles to get to arrivals. I managed to butt my way into the left lane for the parking lot when panic struck. It didn’t take a sign that said, “CLEARANCE: 7 FEET” to know that I was going to crash into the low overhang. I slammed on the brakes and just as I thought I was completely f**ked, a jeep with flashing lights pulled up next to me. “Follow me,” he yelled. The sign on his bumper read “Airport Security.”

I followed his jeep as he cut across three lanes of traffic, parting the seas like a modern day Moses, and drove through to a quiet, cordoned off area that was marked “Employees Only. ” I pulled in behind him when he finally stopped.

“My heart is still racing!” I told him when he walked up to my window.

“Lucky I just happened to be driving by,” he said. And then he spent the next 10 minutes explaining the nuances of driving an oversize vehicle to pick up a passenger at LAS. As in, next time don’t. It’s a red flag for security. Even if the sides of your RV are emblazoned with giant lattice-top cherry pies. He directed me up to the departures area, where the clearance was high enough for my 11-foot-tall RV, but warned me that the “brown shirts” will shoo me away within seconds if I’m trying to wait.

I circled around the terminal and wound my way up to the departure level where, sure enough, there was a woman in a brown shirt approaching me the instant I pulled up to the curb. A long, dark-haired ponytail streaked with grey, she looked Hawaiian. And she was — wait for it — nice! Dave had already called and was making his way to the terminal. “My friend is on his way,” I assured her.

“Let me talk to him,” she said. “I’ll give him the directions to come out at this door.”

The next thing I knew, Dave was peering into the passenger window, which made Jack first bark and then wiggle with excitement, and made me let out a huge sigh of relief. We waved goodbye to the nice brown-shirted lady — those airport workers in Vegas are angels — and off we went. To the nearest Wal-Mart parking lot for the night.

Near Disaster #2 

I had made it the first 300 miles on my own without catastrophe. But together we had another 1,500 miles to go, and a few mountain ranges to traverse along the way. I normally drive the southern route from LA to Iowa, along Interstate 10, then cutting up through Oklahoma and Kansas. But I wanted a change of scenery this time. I also figured the third week of May was late enough in the spring that the weather in the Rockies would be fine. I had also calculated that even a little mountain rain would be preferable to dodging tornadoes along the southern route, which I had had to do the last time I drove east.

This is what a deluge of desert rain looks like — from a safe distance.

That only thing worse than waking up in a Las Vegas Wal-Mart parking lot is waking up in a Las Vegas Wal-Mart parking lot to a sky filled with black clouds. I began checking my WeatherBug app obsessively. If there was a road that wound between the storm cells I would have taken it. Instead, we stayed on I-15 and headed northeast. Straight toward the darkness. We could see cloudbursts and lightning bolts all around us, but for most of the day we avoided the brunt of the storm. By the time we got to St. George, Utah, however, we were deluged by rain. In an RV with a leaking roof. Worse, the temperature was plummeting. By the time we got to Cedar City, we bailed on the driving and went to a movie.

The movie choice — mine —could be added to the Near Disaster List but Dave was a good sport and sat through “Hot Pursuit,” instead of “Mad Max,” which would have been his choice. I thought Reese Witherspoon could make any movie watchable. But even the stale, overpriced movie popcorn was better than the jokes in that film.

A break in the weather after the film lured us another two hours further down the road. To a truck stop near the junction of I-70. With only one restaurant, a Chinese place in a log cabin with wagon wheel chandeliers run by Mormons. There was no disaster in this, no food poisoning, no hot tea spilling on my lap. Just a really nice waitress who kept the place open 15 minutes past closing time to accommodate us. And a nice warm plate of Lo Mein before crawling into the cold RV for the night. Luckily, because I was moving all my stuff back to Iowa, I had 4 down comforters and 2 quilts between the two of us.

Last services for the next 116 miles includes pie!
Too bad we drove through on a day it was closed.

The thing about mountain driving is that the sky can be so clear and blue one minute, like it was when we woke up, and then you round a bend and see a bank of clouds looming above a peak ahead. Dave had been on storm chasing tours before and, much to my chagrin, he began explaining what was going to happen as we made our way across Utah’s remote I-70. (There are warning signs that read: “No services for 116 miles. No bull.” You do NOT want to break down out here. Or get caught in a windstorm in an RV.)

“You see those towering puffy clouds?” he asked, pointing dead ahead. “That’s called a cu-field. And you see those anvil clouds forming above them? That means the air is very unstable. It means trouble. If we were on a storm chasing trip that would be very exciting and we’d drive toward it.”

“We are NOT on a storm chasing trip,” I said without needing to.

I was driving. The road was winding between stunning red sandstone towers and rock formations, the beauty Utah is renowned for, but road construction had the highway limited to one narrow, winding lane. I could feel the tension mounting, and not just in the sky.

When you see a Runaway Truck Ramp sign,
you know you are driving on steep and scary roads.

Near Disaster #3 

As I was driving, I was chewing on licorice, and then switched to wasabi peas (from Trader Joes), to help me stay alert — and calm. The more stressful the driving, the harder I chewed. Until I hit a nerve. And I don’t mean that figuratively.


“I think I just broke the seal on my bridge,” I told Dave. Pain was shooting up into my skull. I held onto the side of my right cheek. And once the throbbing started it didn’t stop.

“Don’t catastrophize it,” he said. He wasn’t being dismissive. I know him. He meant well. He is the guy that can generate the calm in the direst of situations and he was just trying to keep me from worrying.

“No,” I said. “This happened to me 12 years ago. I know this is bad.”

My toothache was so severe I started to panic. Not only was it going to make the rest of the drive difficult, my mind was racing ahead to my World Piece trip. I was leaving in just 2 weeks. The anxiety, both physical and mental, escalated. “I need you to drive,” I told Dave.

We switched places and no sooner did Dave get behind the wheel, the sky cut loose. We didn’t have to chase the storm, the cu-field we had been watching grow had chased us. The blinding rain turned to hail. And if you’ve ever heard hail hit the roof of an RV, let’s just say ear plugs don’t even help. “We need to get off the road, Dave,” I screeched. “Take the next exit.” (I had been trying really hard not to backseat drive, but this was one time where I couldn’t hold back.)

The closest exit was for the town of Fruita, Colorado. We took it. We parked. And we plugged our ears as the hail continued to pound the roof like a musical accompaniment to my throbbing tooth. While we waited out the storm I started Googling dentists nearby. I called at least 4 places until I got an appointment just 30 minutes later. And not in the bigger city of Grand Junction just 10 miles down the road, but in this very small town (pop. 12,700) I had never heard of, never planned on stopping in.

Somewhere in between the rain, the hail, and Fruita,
a full arch rainbow appeared….An omen?!

The offices of Fruita Canyon Dental are impressive from the moment you drive up. New, modern, and made of stacked stone, the place appears immaculate. The kind of place where, if you had a dental emergency while traveling cross-country, you would be glad to find. And it only got better.

The receptionist was friendly. “Oh, you made it here fast,” she said. “I’m so sorry you are having a problem with your tooth.” I was immediately ushered to a dental chair—there must have been at least five of them, all in separate rooms, all facing out toward the one-way glass windows for a soothing view of grass and aspen trees. We passed a printing machine in the hallway that sounded like it was spewing out reams of paper, and I was told, “Sorry about the noise. That’s our 3-D printer that makes crowns in the office, so you don’t have to have temporaries anymore.” I was astounded to see such state of the art equipment so far off the beaten path. And then I was greeted by Jessie May, a young woman with her long hair wound into a top knot, her long eye lashes batting like a gentle doe. She was the dental assistant assigned to my chair.

Jessie took some X-rays of my mouth and while we waited for the dentist to look at them she probed me with questions. She asked me about my road trip, about Iowa, about pie. I gave her the abbreviated version, about Marcus, about the American Gothic House, about using the frequent flyer miles for World Piece. And then I could no longer hold back the tears. The difficult driving, the bad weather, the aching tooth….it was all too much.

Jessie handed me a tissue. “Life is about adversity,” she said, her eyes big, her smile warm. Then she shared enough of her own history with me to realize that she has had challenges of her own.

Reality bites.

Dr. Stegelmeier came in. He looked more like a snowboarder than a dentist in his bright orange plaid shirt and baggy Carhart-type pants, his face tan from being on the slopes. He looked at my X-rays, and pointing at my back molar said, “This tooth needs to come out.” The intensity of the pain had already indicated it, but to hear him say it out loud made me cry again.

“Can I call my dad first? He’s a retired dentist. I just want to get his advice.”

“Sure. I can talk to him too if you want,” Dr. Stegelmeier said.

I got my dad on the phone and then, to make it easier, I just handed the phone to the dentist. I tried to listen to their dental speak as their dialog switched to Latin names and tooth numbers. When my dad heard what would have to happen, he said, “Aw, shit.”

The dentist held the phone away from his ear, smiled and said to Jessie, “I like this guy.”

I miss having my dad as my dentist, but it meant so much to me to have him consult on my case. And anyway, from the minute I saw his high-optic glasses perched on top of his head I knew I was in good hands with Dr. Stegelmeier.

“Do you want to hold my hand?” Jessie asked as the dentist prepared to inject Novocain.

“Yes, but I’m afraid I’ll hurt it,” I told her, grabbing her outstretched fingers.

“No. I know you can’t hurt it, because my sister held my hand during five childbirths.”

After I was thoroughly numbed up, the dentist got down to business. He sawed off half of my bridge, smoothed out the remaining rough edge, and then yanked out my molar. All the while, I squeezed Jessie’s hand hard. It was over in less than 30 minutes. I would be able to go on my round the world journey, sampling food in every country, but able to chew on only one side. It was a small price to pay.

I went out to the RV and got a copy of “Ms. American Pie.” I brought it into the reception and signed it to Jessie May. “Thanks for holding my hand,” I wrote.

The receptionist looked at the cover and then at me. “Is this you?” she asked.

Biting down on the hunk of gauze inside my mouth, my eyes puffy from crying, my hair greasy from being on the road for 3 days without a shower, I nodded to say, believe it or not, yes.

The road to Glenwood Springs.

Dave and I drove straight to Glenwood Hot Springs after leaving Fruita Canyon Dental. The sky cleared so we went to the pool to soak in the mineral waters, a reward for surviving the near disasters.

“Jeez, Dave,” I said as I laid back in the steaming hot sulphur water, letting my body relax. “Can you believe it we found that dentist? I mean, if the hail hadn’t driven us off the road…” I shook my head. “It was a miracle.”

“The Universe worked it out. And it was better that it happened before you left the country.”

I tried to smile, but the right side of my face was still too numb and swollen to move. “That’s true,” I said.

Dave pulled himself out of the hot water, sat on the side of the pool and giving me his signature grin said, “And to think we are only half way to Iowa.”

RETURN TO THE WORLD NEEDS MORE PIE .COM

Rescuing The Beast — and Revisiting its History

Today I was planning on writing about the evolution of a logo — the World Piece logo, which turned out so beautifully thanks to a certain artist friend who you’ve previously read about on this blog. But the day didn’t go exactly as I had planned. And thus, instead of the logo, I can’t stop thinking about the evolution of my RV, affectionately known as The Beast.

My parents drove me to Pasadena this afternoon to pick up the RV — more like rescue it — from a distant and dismal parking lot where it has been sitting, neglected, abandoned, since I arrived in LA in late November.

When I left it there five months ago, I had parked it wedged awkwardly and tightly in between a rusty Jeep Cherokee with a broken windshield and four flat tires and a semi truck—just the tractor part—which was shiny and new-looking with no apparent reason to be unused. I never felt good about leaving it there. But at 50 bucks a month for RV parking in SoCal, well, I couldn’t find a better deal anywhere, not even close. And believe me, I looked.

I wasn’t exaggerating when I said it was wedged in there.

When I arrived in LA this past November, I had been anxious to get away from The Beast. After driving it from Iowa to Dallas, towing my car behind it for the first time, my nerves were shot. It’s one thing to drive a 24-foot RV, but to add another 10 feet with your precious little Mini Cooper bouncing around behind? No, that was too much for me. I marvel at those giant bus-type RVs that tow big SUVs behind, driven by senior citizens, no less. How do they manage?!

With my stress already running high from the drive, no sooner did I arrive in Dallas, Daisy was killed in a coyote attack and Jack was wounded. No way was I going to stay there so I had to hook up the Mini to the back of the RV again. This time I enlisted a friend to drive for me. I sat in the back during the 3-day trip west, keeping a protective eye on the Mini, holding vigil over a swollen and bandaged Jack, crying about Daisy, and playing endless games of Solitaire to keep my nerves from breaking down completely.

By the time we got to LA I had sworn that no only was I never going to drive the RV again; I was going to sell it. Forget the emotional ties and its rich history, that the RV was Marcus’s dream, that it symbolized me facing my fears after he died. I was done with it. After putting 40,000 miles on it, I had reached my limit.

Not only had my nerves been tested, so had my budget. Not only was the cost of gas sucking funds out of my bank account (8 miles per gallon, you do the math), the list of things needing repair was growing, along with the leak in the roof that no amount of caulking could stop.

Once in LA, I cleaned out the RV, emptying it of every single personal item and gave it a deep scrub. I bought a “For Sale” sign at the hardware store and taped it in the window. I posted an ad on Craigslist. I announced it on Facebook. But there were no takers. Not even one nibble from Craigslist. So it has just stayed in Pasadena, alone, all winter.

Until today.

“There she is. Miss America.” The Beast looks like a
beauty queen next to all the other vehicles.

When we arrived at the parking lot I spotted it right away. The “Pie Across the Nation” decals made The Beast stand out like a sophisticated beauty among the derelict cars and trucks. My heart ached a little, my guilt flared. Why had I been so anxious to be rid of this sweet house on wheels? It had carried me far, and safely. It was an important part of my life.

I climbed into the driver’s seat and held my breath as I turned the key in the ignition. It started on the first try. I could hear my dad outside. “Good job, Boo!” he cheered. Besides my mom and dad, there were a few other people in the lot so I had extra eyes to help direct me out of the tight parking spot.

Once I was on the highway, the anticipation I had been feeling on the way to Pasadena dissipated. I haven’t driven the RV for five months. I wasn’t sure I would feel comfortable driving it again. Especially through downtown LA traffic. Ah, but just like that very first time I drove it five years ago in Oregon, all those imagined fears vanished the minute I started moving.

The fears vanished and the memories flooded in. As I drove The Beast back to my guesthouse in Palos Verdes, I had a full hour to reflect on its chronology. As you will see, emotional ties and rich history might be an understatement.

The History of The Beast

2008

Celebrating the new purchase with Champagne.

May of 2008, Marcus bought the RV from a coworker in Portland, Oregon, thus taking a step toward fulfilling his “European dream” of touring America’s national parks. A job transfer to Mexico didn’t stop him.

That June he drove the RV to his new job post in Saltillo, Mexico, towing his BMW motorcycle behind in a Wells Cargo trailer. (His nerves for this sort of thing were way stronger than mine.) I followed in my VW Beetle.

Marcus, the brave road warrior, proud of his big rig.
In front of our house in Portland.

The roads in Mexico are not exactly “smooth” so we didn’t take the road-trip adventures we had planned. Though we did have one wonderful, memorable weekend driving The Beast to Real de Catorce. We couldn’t drive through the tunnel into the mountain town, so we slept in the RV outside of town and took a taxi into the village. And we got a flat tire on the way back. After that the RV sat in front of our house on the pecan farm.

We didn’t know it but there was a leak in the roof…

Happy Campers.
Marcus and Daisy in Del Rio, Texas (Lake Amistad).

By November of 2008, I took a job in LA and Marcus accompanied me up to the Mexican border in the RV (pic above). We camped at Lake Amistad National Recreation Area in Del Rio, Texas. We had just *adopted Daisy and I was taking her with me to the US. (*Adopted as in rescued the homeless, worm- and lice-infested dog directly off the streets.) We had a fun weekend with the newly formed “Team Terrier,” swimming in the lake, BBQing, and making lattes in the RV. That was the moment I was irreversibly hooked on RV camping.

Over Christmas, Marcus drove the RV from Mexico to LA bringing some furniture for me to use in the studio apartment I rented.

Team Terrier on the step of the RV.

2009 

In May of 2009, Marcus’s Mexican stint ended and he was transferred to Germany. He packed the trailer with our furniture and drove the RV back to Portland, stopping to spend several days with me in LA on the way. He started shopping around for a trade-in with the RV, wanting a smaller, newer one, the kind built on a Sprinter van chassis. Even though he was moving back to Germany he wanted to keep an RV in the US and keep his dream alive. I supported him in his dream. Before he left for Germany, he left the RV with a small dealer outside of Portland where The Beast was for sale on consignment. Marcus died in August. The Beast stayed at that dealer’s lot until I picked it up a few months later.

In the fall I loaned the RV to some German friends who took it to the Oregon coast.

In December, I drove it for the first time — all the way to Los Angeles. It was so much easier to drive than I ever expected. I actually liked driving it, which made me feel VERY guilty because I had growled to Marcus that I would never, ever drive it. (You can read all about this story in my memoir, Making Piece.)

Driving to Arizona, Dec. 2009. No wonder I was afraid to drive the RV!
You never know what dangers lurk out there in the desert.

I spent the Christmas holiday of 2009 in the RV, driving to Arizona through one of the worst windstorms in history. But by god, I held onto the steering wheel and had a safe passage. The news the next day told of countless semis and RVs that had overturned in the wind. But I had prevailed. And though I was visiting friends and family in Arizona I slept in the RV. I loved having the cocoon of it, my own private sanctuary to read and rest, to write in my journal, snuggle with my dogs, and make my lattes in the mornings.

2010

In January, The Beast was used to make a TV pilot (or documentary or web series or whatever, as it has yet to be completed). For two weeks I drove all over California with my producer friend Janice, taping stories about pie. In the RV we hauled boxes of apples to make pie, then we ferried 50 apple pies around LA, handing them out by the slice for free. (Here’s the 2-minute sizzle reel on YouTube: https://youtu.be/2GjwZ4–8gM)

I drove the RV round-trip a second time from Portland to LA, this time hauling a motor scooter inside (to use as transportation to get around LA) and drove back with my parents accompanying me one-way. We had to climb over the motor scooter to get around, but that was part of the adventure.

The Beast at Crater Lake National Park with my Swiss friend Eve.

In August of 2010, I moved out of my Portland apartment, put my stuff in storage and headed to Iowa to be a pie judge at the Iowa State Fair. The RV went on vacation without me, driven by my friend from Switzerland, Eve, and her daughters, who drove down the coast to California. In an ironic (bittersweet) twist, the RV got to stop at Crater Lake National Park, where Marcus and I met in 2001.

Eve left the RV with my brother Mike in Costa Mesa, who used it for surf weekends. And as a scaffolding for painting murals with his non-profit Operation Clean Slate.

Turns out, the RV makes a good ladder. 

2011

The RV spent a whole year with my brother in Southern California. I had promised to bring it to Iowa, but kept putting it off. Until Mike got a warning from the police that it was time to move The Beast, or else.  So in July of 2011 my friend Patti’s husband Terry drove the RV back from the west coast to Iowa. And that’s when The Beast became both a guest room and a privacy fence at the American Gothic House.

RVs make good fences.

I had a boyfriend “H” that fall (alas, short lived with a bad ending). We loaded the RV with Team Terrier, plus his dog (a chow) and his guinea pig (not kidding), and drove the RV to South Dakota. We visited Mount Rushmore and the Badlands — and ate donuts at Wall Drug. Marcus had bought the RV to visit the national parks. I could never have imagined I would be carrying on his dream without him. And with someone else.

2012

My book, “Making Piece: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Pie,” came out April 1, 2012. Given that the RV featured prominently in my story, it was fitting that the RV be used for a book tour. So The Beast got outfitted with some nifty pie decals, fueled up with gas, and Team Terrier and I set off cross-country on a six-week tour.

Before
After

Iowa City, Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, LA, San Diego, Orlando, Austin, Jefferson (TX) — the tour was so grueling I ended up in the ER with tendonitis in my neck. No fault of the RV; traveling with my own down-filled bed in the back of the RV made the trip really comfortable. The neck problem came from the red-eye flight I took from San Diego to Orlando mid-tour.

Not only did the ER visit set me back six figures, the RV needed new brakes. So while in Seattle, we spent a $1000 day at Les Schwab getting new rotors. Fun times.

The Beast became a kind of celebrity, appearing in many TV news segments and articles. Tourists who came to get pie at the Pitchfork Pie Stand liked to walk around to the back of the house where the RV was parked so they could take pictures of it. Who cares about the American Gothic House when you can pose in front of The Beast!

That June, I spent my 50th birthday in the RV, camping at a nearby rural Iowa lake to have a night of solitude and welcome my new decade quietly.

That July, Kyle Munson, the Des Moines Register columnist, used the RV for his team’s support vehicle during the weeklong bike ride across Iowa called RAGBRAI.

Delivering pie to Newtown.
Pie delivery vehicle (aka The Beast) in background. 

In December 2012, after the tragic shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, the RV served its greatest mission yet. We drove from Iowa to Janice’s house in New Jersey (the same Janice with whom we shot the pie documentary), and rallied 60 volunteers to make 250 homemade apple pies. We then loaded up the RV — and it was REALLY loaded — and drove the pies up to Newtown where we handed out free slices and free pies to bring kindness and comfort to the grieving community. I have never been so grateful for that RV and what it made possible. People wrote me letters later saying how seeing “the Pie Truck” in their town gave them a sense of hope and joy amidst the sorrow.

2013

The RV and I always liked coming home.

Back at the American Gothic House, not only did the RV make an excellent (and well used) guest room — and privacy fence to shield us from the prying eyes of The Binoculars next door—the refrigerator in The Beast also served as overflow storage for my pie stand ingredients.

My dad giving the RV a wash.

In September, I drove the RV to LA — just for a respite after a very demanding summer with the Pitchfork Pie Stand (and another failed attempt at a relationship) —and was planning on staying in LA for a month, maybe two. I fell in love with an artist from Iowa, who lived in Pasadena, and two months turned into six. That’s when I found the $50 parking lot in Pasadena. But at least I was close by and could periodically check on The Beast’s well being.

2014

Book Tour #2! In April, The Beast got a new battery, an oil change, and some updated decals with my new book cover and tour dates. I set off from LA to promote my cookbook “Ms. American Pie” along the way back to Iowa. First to Arizona. Then Albuquerque, Austin, Dallas, Kansas City, Des Moines, and home to Eldon. This tour was a more manageable three weeks. No ER visits. No breakdowns, mechanical or otherwise. Just lots of pie. The RV featured prominently in every stop.

A book tour stop in Texas.

Back in Eldon, the RV once again resumed its duties as guest room and privacy fence. Do not underestimate the importance of this. It got a lot of use!

Looking out the RV window at Dockweiler.

In September 2014, I moved out of the American Gothic House. Some people were very happy about this. Others, like my pie customers & would-be students, not so much. As for me, I miss the house terribly. But I still had my house on wheels. I moved the RV to a friend’s farm and used it as a guest room for myself until the weather started turning cold. By November I was determined to head south for the winter. The RV and I have that in common: we prefer warm weather. I decided on Dallas. Which we know now was a Very. Bad. Decision. Not knowing where else to go, I hobbled back to LA. Again.

When I first arrived, I camped at Dockweiler Beach State Park. It’s the closest I could legally camp near the beach and still be close to my parents. The park, located directly beneath the LAX flight path, has a three-week limit. Not to mention, it cost $60 a night. But I was in such a down state I could not put a price on my mental health. I stayed the maximum allotted time.

The beach can be very soothing to the soul (when jets are not passing overhead). I spent HOURS lying in that cozy nest of down comforters and pillows in the back of the RV, listening to the ocean waves and petting Jack’s belly as I grieved the loss of Daisy.

Exactly six years to the day after Marcus and I camped in Del Rio, Texas in December of 2008 with our newly adopted member of Team Terrier, I had lost both Marcus and Daisy. I still had Jack. And I still had The Beast.

2015

I rented a sweet, quiet, sunny apartment in Palos Verdes. Sadly, the parking situation could not accommodate a 24-foot RV for a long-term stay. After calling around and not finding any RV parking for under $200, I went back to Pasadena to the old lot I had used last year. And that’s where it stayed for five months.

I thought I was done with The Beast. I thought it was time to let it go. Retire it. Sell it. Let someone else enjoy it. I mean, an RV’s lifespan could be measured in dog years. Which would make this 2002 camper the equivalent of 91 years old! But I was so happy to be driving it today. I was so filled with big, life-affirming memories. And instead of feeling like I wanted to be rid of it, I felt the sense of renewed possibility, that with a little TLC—and money—I could tackle some of those repairs, breathe some new life into it, have some new adventures.

Luckily, I don’t have to decide right now. I am buying myself a little more time. The RV will go back to my brother’s in Costa Mesa for the summer while I am traveling around the world. It will have another stint as weekend surfer camper. And I will have the peace of mind in knowing that it is getting good use, having a happy time by the beach, and not sitting abandoned in a distant parking lot.

For the next few days though, I have it parked outside my apartment, where I can wipe off the dust, wash the windows, and appreciate what an incredible history we have shared.

I am already picturing how nice the RV would look with the World Piece logo….

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Why It Pays to Resist Your ‘Inner Pig Dog’

Redondo Beach, 23 April 2015, Me with local resident Nina and Aussie adventurer Rob

I had one of those days today, the kind where I had to fight off my resistance to getting out of the house. I had to take my Mini in for its third service in three weeks, but what I really wanted was to just stay home in my pajamas, drink my latte, and catch up on email. I’m driving from California to Iowa mid-May (to drop off Jack at my friend’s farm for the summer so I can go on my WORLD PIECE adventure) and the water pump and axle seal had to be replaced. If I didn’t do it I might later find myself somewhere in the Nevada desert of Colorado mountains waiting for a tow from AAA.

The resistance to leaving the house was not just that I would have to get dressed (I do my best work in my pajamas) but that I would have to ride my bike home from the mechanic. It’s only 6 miles, but the last half of it is uphill.

The Germans have an expression for this kind of resistance: they call it the Innerer Schweinehund. Inner Pig Dog. Which basically just describes your (er, my) lazy, unmotivated self. The hill isn’t really that bad. And I have a good bike with good gears. And usually I love riding my bike. Besides, with the clock ticking on my departure date, there was no avoiding — or even postponing — the auto shop.

This was how I felt, before I got on my bike.
Do a Google image search for Innerer Schweinehund.
It’s interesting (read: disturbing) what you will find.

Once I dropped off my car I realized it was a really nice day for a bike ride. So instead of riding straight home to the south, I headed north. I rode on the bike path up to Playa del Rey, following the ocean the entire time, taking in the sailboats, the seagulls, and was awed when a snowy egret land just inches from me.

Why had I been so resistant? This was a huge treat to be outside, surrounded by nature, feeling the wind in my face, the sun warming my bones.

I stopped to eat a granola bar and watched Massey Ferguson and John Deere tractors raking debris from the sand as if it was a meditation. What first caught my attention was the familiarity of these tractors, their red and green colors identifying their brands, and the contrast of seeing them on a beach instead of on the Iowa farms I was used to. As I sat on a beachside bench I became mesmerized by their slow and steady rhythm, soothed by their repetitive motion as they traveled back and forth in straight lines, smoothing out the beach. My farmer friend, Doug (Jack’s future dog sitter), had just sent me a photo taken from his tractor where he was at that very moment making his own back-and-forth lines in Iowa’s black soil, planting corn. Making the connection between these two worlds made me feel more connected to myself. This day was definitely going well.

Similar yet different. This is my friend Doug’s view from
his tractor while planting corn in Iowa.

I got back on my bike and it only got better.

I spotted a biker on the path with his bicycle loaded with gear — bulging panniers, a bag hanging over the front bars, and sleeping bag and tent rolled up over the rear wheel. I wondered where he was from and where he was headed. I had a magnetic eye for traveling bikers, drawn to them as I had been one myself, carrying that same kind of gear, when I was 17 and riding down the West coast of Canada and the Pacific Northwest. That was the same trip where I was caught stealing apples at the orchard of a retired pastry chef and learned how to make apple pie. To be on a bicycle is the ultimate way to be open to adventure. You are traveling under your own power. And you are very exposed. It’s you and your own strength — mental and physical — that moves you along. Through rain. Heat. Headwinds. Traffic. Hills. There is no place for an Innerer Schweinehund on a bike trip.

I was curious about this biker. I was also remembering how while on my own adventures — biking and otherwise — I appreciated people offering support. A meal, a shower, a bed, a phone number of someone in the next town, even just some friendly conversation. Reaching out can mean the world to someone who is alone and traveling by their own human-powered engine. So I pedaled to catch up to him and talk.

“Where are you headed? Where are you from? How long are you going to be biking? Where are you going to today?” Poor guy probably just wanted to ride his damn bike but here was this chirpy girl in a blinding orange bike jersey yacking in his ear. But he was willing to answer. From his first word I detected his Australian accent, that pleasant and friendly tone with the soft Rs and drawn out As. Of course this only made me want to hear more.

He was riding across the USA, including Alaska, and he was going to take 12 months to do it. The most amazing thing was that he had just started. He had just landed at LAX, assembled his bicycle, loaded the bags, and I had encountered him on the FIRST MILE of his 6,000-mile trip!

“Do you have a website? A Facebook page? Somewhere people can follow your progress?” I might have been a little overzealous, bordering on interrogating him. Maybe I just seemed, well, American to him.

His name was Rob and, no, he didn’t have a website or Facebook page. He had barely had time to get all his gear organized, and any energy that would have gone toward social media was spent trying to navigate the bureaucracy of getting a 12-month US visa. Besides, he said, this trip was for him, to find the “real” Rob.

Yes, I totally understood that.

I’ve had my own questions about that for my “World Piece” journey. I’ve had days where I was overwhelmed trying to turn this into a project, when really, my trip was intended to be something personal.  To feed my soul, to help me get “un-lost,” to reconnect with that fearless and adventurous girl I used to be, to make myself feel better by giving to others (through making and sharing pie.) Hearing about Rob’s lack of need or desire for public sharing of his travels and transformation affirmed my own thoughts: Personal journeys require some privacy. I had already come to the conclusion that not every big, life-altering trip has to be promoted — or turned into a book. The world is already so noisy. That Rob had opted to travel so humbly and quietly was, frankly, refreshing.  (Don’t worry, I’m still going to blog from my travels! I’m a writer; telling stories — hopefully inspirational ones — is what I do.)

Rob had just quit his job as a naval engineer, moved out of his apartment in Sydney, and tried to convince his mother that he could go on this bike trip without getting hurt. (To hear that his mom is so caring about her son made me smile.) He is in his early 40s and he had been hearing that compelling voice, perhaps a command from a higher power, telling him, “If not now, when?” Exactly. So here he was. Day One of his 365 day bicycle trip. He left his Innerer Schweinehund  behind in the Australian dust. And now he is living his dream.

We ended up stopping for coffee in Redondo Beach before saying goodbye. A woman we encountered at the cafe, Nina, started asking him about his bike trip. She was so interested and so friendly, we sat with her and talked for nearly an hour until Rob finally said he needed to get moving. He still had 50 miles to ride to his first overnight stop.

Rob and I rode together until my Palos Verdes turnoff, meaning the uphill climb I had been dreading before I left the house that morning took almost no effort at all. We chatted the whole way up. Rob was loaded down with all his gear and wasn’t standing up on his pedals, or even breathing hard like I usually am on that climb. This time, as I climbed the hill, I was feeling buoyed, my inner load lightened by the nice surprise of making two new friends. Especially, I was feeling happy that I could make a stranger feel welcome in a country that was new to him. It was a reminder that when I get off the plane in faraway lands this summer, the same can happen to me. There will be good people and new friends in each new place I go.

Because of this bike ride and chance encounter (was it chance?!), I ended up having such a good morning that I didn’t even mind when I went to pick up my car and got the bill for $750. Okay, well, maybe that part was a little painful.

The next time the resistance rears its fat and furry head, I will know to kick it to the curb without hesitation. Interesting and inspiring people and adventures are always awaiting. All I have to do is get out of my pajamas.

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