Coincidently, I have yet to eat and am again driving through Carrington, North Dakota. Crossing the American border at Northgate, both last fall and a few hours ago, I’ve spent a collective time of no more than two minutes in conversation with the crossing guards. A white guy in a cowboy hat – yep – we like them. The routine, ‘I did my job’ questions: Where you from? Where you going? Any firearms? Any tobacco? Alright, have a nice trip. Rubber-stamped. The quickest way to ruin a 2500 km trip is to commit to a departure time and align geographical landmarks with projected time of arrival. It’s a set-up for disappointment. So today I casually crossed after a morning with my nephews beating on each other and playing “you be the bullfighter and I’ll be the bull” followed by a pit stop in Carlyle to visit my friend Lorri.

Yesterday’s morning coffee with my good friend Jason was a final pep talk before the last minute tying of loose ends. Another caffeinated brainstorming – a legal pad with a Blackwing 602 pencil. I draw a small box followed by a thought. My designation for a checkmark to signal achieving the task, I prefer the aesthetic of the line highlighted, box remaining empty. Of these tasks; buy health insurance, find air mattress, meet with bassist Steve about facilitating rehearsals in my absence. The hunt for partners in the release of the record continues but not overthought. A bit of my hesitancy with leaving is connected to those administrative duties and a commitment to a game plan. The record will be a lot for the listener to chew on – it’s best released one bite at a time. The reigns to have a band working like clockwork on the new material come March is trusted in Steve’s hands.

Jason urged me to relax. Just chip away at the list, leave casually when it’s time to go and enjoy the drive. He’s always been supportive with my erratic behaviour – I scrapped all my material weeks before going into studio to have him produce the record, informing him we were starting from scratch. His ability to manage an artist (emotionally) is his greatest quality as a producer. His genius begins there. This conversation is an extension of that – as he left for studio he insisted I activate my tracker on my phone so he could keep tabs on my whereabouts. Pretty Good Guy, that guy.

From there I said my goodbyes to my lovely Melanie, her support – dumbfounding. We do well as entities in each other’s careers, teaming up but keeping names separate. I can only credit her with being the catalyst in my personal development, the classic “don’t find a partner that wants to change you but one you want to change for”. Having just attempted the theft of a keg of beer from a local live music establishment she came into my world during a pretty rocky period on my end. And now, another kiss goodbye, looking forward to the end of February and few days together in Music City.

I slept well in my old bed at the farm and had a nice couple hours with Lorri over lunch. An unassuming connection but we gravitated towards each other quickly. She’s great for morning messages wishing productivity – we’ve been due for a hang and more than what the time allowed. Quick and dirty, digging into the nitty gritty. She has an intuition that guides her contact with the most astounding timing. Last fall just prior to a controversial Facebook post in regards to my opinions on the decline of quality among Canadian mainstream writing, her message popped up with the feeling that she should check in. I responded with “buckle up” and we both watched a shit-storm ensue. I stand by it.

Upon leaving she pulls out her Tarot cards. She’s tapped in like that. Never allowing one to separate from the deck she insists on me pulling one for my trip. Protection, if you will. I shuffled and my card jumped from the deck to the floor – she laughed. There you go, traveler. The Star. A woman with two pitchers of water, nourishing a rose bush with one and returning the other to a stream which she’s knelt beside. A star with eight points overlooking her actions with several smaller stars scattered above. The woman, a striking resemblance to my partner, the two pitchers indicating the star sign Aquarius – again a parallel to Melanie.

It feels like a good omen. I’m instructed to carry it on me at all times so into the right chest pocket of my jean jacket it goes. Hugs and I head out.

The 52 southeast of Minot has me trailing a truck with lumber at a patient 50 km/hr. I tested the brakes to have the ass end of my van kick to the left and adrenaline surge through my chest. I’ve learned my winter driving lessons spinning like a curling rock down a pebbled 48 highway years ago. My mustang, backwards in the opposing ditch through oncoming traffic. I put my hand to my Star card and a text from Melanie comes through. This is how it works – a commitment to magic.

And here I pull back into Carrington. Where I spent my first night due to a late crossing and fatigue last September – I replicate my supper, this time hours earlier with a desire to get through Minneapolis. Pork Rinds and Gatorade.

A noticeably pleasant tone inside the truck stop coming into town. Locals ribbing each other from across the convenience store, the centre of the room acting as a make-shift coffeeshop. I respond to nods, mood affected. My first American interaction post election (aside from the border guard) is a gentleman of a much rougher appearance smiling and offering the spot ahead of him as I make me way to the till. “Are you sure?” I ask, “By all means,” he replies.

I devour two-thirds of the bag of pork fat before starting the ignition and am moved to have someone on the flipside expect me. Shane Queener, a resident of Lebanon, TN and one to quickly become my friend through the Quest for Real Country Music was the first to enter my mind. I looked forward to spending more time with him out at his ranch than anything. With a rebellious approach to religion, we bonded quickly – usually over burritos at El Jaliciense.

Queener sits bunked up in a little town west of Chicago, an unexpected turn of employment has him living on the road and away from home. Past the initial disappointment with the news that he isn’t going to be around we come to the decision that driving in his direction is well worth the slight deviation in routing. To Oglesby, Illinois I continue with hopes of supporting a Mexican family business.