Into A Place Of Darkness: A Past Master's Trip Of A Lifetime
by Midnight Freemasons contributor
SK Robert Johnson
I arrived at my lodge about 5:30 in the evening. It was overcast and I was sitting in my car going over some interview notes. A homeless man came up to me and asked for some change, I obliged and after writing a few questions down, I became stumped. What was I going to ask? How was I going to get the information I needed?
I guess I should set the stage a bit. When I was initiated, passed and then raised, there were few faces the same each time, other than the officers of course. But there definitely had been a few that were there through each degree. One of them was this “Harley Davidson guy”. Always showed up in his Tebala Shriner’s coat and under that was always, and I mean always, a Harley Davidson shirt. In fact for this interview he was wearing one. He spoke rough and if you hadn’t seen the guy smile, you might think he was a drill sergeant. The truth is, this Past Master, Harley aficionado, Vietnam Veteran, and Shriner was a wealth of knowledge and experience. He taught me what I needed to know about floor work, whether I wanted to know or not!
PM Behling became a Master Mason in 2000. And the year before that he started riding his Motorcycles. He explained to me that his father told him that “It will do you good”, and the second time his dad said it, he thought he ought to do it, and he did. His father hailed from Boulevard Lodge in Chicago Illinois, and his mother is a lifelong Eastern Star. The Motorcycles came into play because “It was my midlife crisis, I couldn’t afford a Corvette, so I bought a motorcycle” he told me. I don’t think he knew how far it was going to take him at that point in time.
A year after being raised, PM Behling joined the Shrine, something he had always wanted to do since visiting his cousin in a Shriner’s hospital when he was a kid, something that never left him. I’m sure that the Tebala Shrine’s Dresser Shrine Club had something to do with it as well. In 2002 PM Behling’s father passed to the Grand Lodge on high. Behling was a JR. Warden at the time and told me “Somehow, I’ve never let that go” speaking about the fact his father never got to see him become Master of his lodge. His mother however, placed his hat on the day he became Master, something that was very special indeed.
PM Behling has had a few bikes in his time, I asked “What’s the deal with Harleys and Freemasonry?” He told me “It probably has much to do with the Shrine.” In Fact his bike right now is a Shrine bike made by Harley Davidson. The serial number has a distinctive “S” in it to denote Shriners.
Before the interview we talked about atomic bombs and World War 2. We also talked about his first degree and how the worshipful master at the time had a voice like James Earl Jones. He said “When I heard Clampit (The WM at the time) tell me the penalty of my obligation, well, I almost lost it in my pants (Laughs). I had to agree with Past Master Behling, Worshipful Brother Clampit had done the Paul Revere charge at our installations and it was intense. PM Behling then told me that after his first degree he heard nothing from the lodge all summer. He thought perhaps he did something wrong. But later he found out through his mentor, Worshipful Brother Carmen, that the lodge was dark in the summer time. He also told me that that, was the last time they were ever dark for summer (Waukegan Lodge 78, Waukegan Illinois).
PM Behling 63 years old, had planned a trip to Alaska with his friend, Mikey, a Marine of 68 years old, and if thats not cool enough, then think about doing it on a Harley Davidson.
RJ: So how long had you been thinking about making this Trip?
PMB: I think I initially planned it about 8 months in advance. At first it was a straight route, but then after looking into it, I started adding sights to see along the way and by the time I was done, we had a handful of things [to see].
RJ: What made you want to go to Alaska on your Bike? Isn't that a bit insane?
MB: Well it was the only state I hadn’t ridden in. Before that I had ridden my bike in 48 states and 8 provinces in Canada, I wasn’t going to ship my bike over to Hawaii because of the obvious expense, so when I got there I rented a bike and put 900 miles on it in 3 days. I don’t think they were happy about it. One of the cool sights I went to see was the training ground for Camp Tarawa, where we trained the Marines for Iwo Jima. Interestingly enough, that’s also where I experienced a good earthquake. We were on the 18th floor of a hotel in Honolulu. It was in 2006, and my wife and I were there before going into the time share. I was about to take a shower when I saw hangers start to sway in the closest. I looked out the window, straight down and the building was swaying about a foot in each direction. When it was over I decided to take my shower and then the second quake hit. Then we hauled all our stuff by stairway to the 3rd floor. That was a nightmare.
RJ: That's crazy, so you had been everywhere but Alaska.
PMB: Yeah a friend of mine gave me this book, called "The Milepost" which has what to expect for each mile marker on the Alaska Highway. Gas stations, motels and anything else you could imagine. That book showed the way, but from there, I altered routes to get to national parks and other cool sights along the way.
RJ: How old is that highway?
PMB: It was built in 1942. It was quite the venture, a ton of history behind it as well.
RJ: What was your main route?
PMB: Well we started in Gurnee Illinois and ended the first day in Sioux Falls South Dakota. From there we went to Sturgis, Cody, Wy, Edmonton AB, British Columbia, Yukon Territory to Fairbanks AK.
RJ: The Arctic Circle on a motorcycle...
PMB: That was the plan. When we got to Fairbanks we stopped in for some service at the local Harley dealer. I reconfirmed that the Arctic Circle was ahead, the guy said, “yeah 120 miles. But that's going to take you 8 hours each way.” The road is a mix of asphalt, rock and dirt. We thought better of the idea after hearing that, and opted not to attempt it.
RJ: How long did this trip take? How many miles was it round trip?
PMB: 28 days on the road. 9,183.8 miles. 9 of those days were spent riding just in Alaska.
RJ: So what were some of the sights?
PMB: The Black Hills, Badlands National Park, the Rockies in Northern British Columbia and Denali National Park. It was great because we found out you can get a lifetime National Parks Pass for $10.00 if you're over 62. So that was a great deal. We tried to take advantage of it. The landscape was littered with local wildlife, black bears, grizzlies, moose, deer and bison. British Columbia was particularly heavy with roadside wildlife.
RJ: The amount of wildlife sounds incredible.
PMB: It was. Like I said British Columbia was great for bear, big horn, bison and moose. At one point we saw a grizzly with two cubs just walking along. Then not long after that we spotted two black bears together, so mamma bear must have just recently let them go off on their own because they don't usually travel together. When we went through the Kenai Peninsula, south of Anchorage, the road was littered, and I mean littered with rows of Bald Eagles. Just hanging out. Alaska is just one giant postcard. We stopped in Wasilla and we visited a reindeer farm. I even had some reindeer sausage. It was good but a little spicy. I thought about taking a picture of it then having a friend photoshop in a red nose to mess with the grandkids. (Laughs). Somebody once told me, that up there you're at the bottom of the food chain. You gotta worry about what's hunting you.
RJ: How did you guys protect yourself from those animals? I mean, you could have been attacked right?
PMB: We had nothing. You can't bring anything up through the Canadian border as far as guns go.
RJ: How did that go over? Did you find that out when you got there? Had you brought any guns?
PMB: It was fine, I found out a long time ago what you can and can't bring into Canada. I also learned you can't be a smart ass about anything either.
RJ: Do tell...
PMB: I was coming back into the States from Canada. I pulled into Madawaska Maine. It was July 2008. The customs agent asked if I had anything to declare and I replied yeah, it's good to be back where we use gallons, miles per hour and have real money. The agent didn't look amused and asked me to pull around to the side. They checked me out pretty good.
RJ: So this wasn't the first time out of the USA on the bike?
PMB: No, I had been out several times. I do the Iron Butt Association rides.
RJ: What on Earth is that?
PMB: They are like challenge rides. When I was searched by border patrol in 08' I was coming back into the states to start the "Four Corners" ride. You travel the four corners of the states. I have also done the "Saddle Sore" 1000, which is 1000 miles in 24 hours, the "Bun Burner" 1500 which is 1500 miles in 36 hours and the "Great Lakes Challenge" which is where you drive around the Great Lakes in 100 hours or less. In fact I got this license plate cover for the bike. It has the buttons of completion on three corners.
RJ: So that leaves a fourth corner.
PMB: (Laughs) Exactly. I have been thinking about doing this for a while now, but I just don’t know, I mean I’m 63. But you know the reason I want to do it? The real reason? It really is that fourth corner. (Laughs again).The ride is called “50CC”. Which is coast to coast, Jacksonville, Florida to San Diego California in 50 hours or less. I think I can do it. But every gas stop, food stop etc. has to be meticulously documented.
RJ: So it really sounds like this isn’t a trip, but a journey.
PMB: We ran into some rough spots. There were a ton of roads under construction and up there, if it’s under construction it means dirt and loose gravel. In fact when we got to Glacier National Park, it wasn’t open. Denali was looking good but the weather was going to catch us so we avoided that one. We did get to see the Watson Lake Sign Post Forest.
RJ: Is that what it sounds like?
PMB: It is. It’s a forest made of sign posts. I don’t know when it started, but it’s awesome. People just bring signs that say where they are from, like my buddy who planted one up there that says Gurnee Illinois. When we found it Mikey and I both wrote on the sign, “Miss you Pat” (PMB’s wife) and Mikey wrote that he missed his wife, then we wrote “Thanks for the sign Joe”
RJ: Did you see one for Chicago?
PMB: No, I’m sure it’s there though. I think it would be cool if it was full of bullet holes. (Laughs)
RJ: Did you meet any Brothers along the way?
PMB: I did, there were a bunch. I wear my H.O.G. Chapter vest. On it, there are 2 patches, one for the blue lodge and another for the Shriners. People definitely recognized them. One fellow I met although not a Freemason, was a CMA...
RJ: Sorry to interupt, but what is a CMA?
PMB: Oh sorry, that’s the Christian Motorcycle Association. My wife is a member and she is actually the treasurer for the Ambassador chapter. Anyway, I met this guy and we exchanged formalities, I told him about my wife. I noticed a patch on his vest, it said “prison team”. It was comical. So then this guy finds my wifes chapter website and sends her an email to let her know he ran across me in Edmonton.
RJ: (Laughs) That's hysterical. So how are the accommodations on the Alaska Highway? I can’t imagine they’re luxurious.
PMB: Far from it. But when it comes to these kinds of trips you really have to plan ahead.
RJ: How so?
PMB: Well the stretch on the Alaska Highway is interesting. I made reservations at hotels months in advance. While we were riding we kept playing catch up and tag with these other two fellas. We got to this place called “The Air Force Lodge” and talk about amenities, this place was like barracks. Each room had a single bed, a nightstand with a lamp, community shower and community bathroom. I called it a German Youth Hostel. That’s what it felt like (Laughs). Not to mention it was run by this German guy who made you take your shoes off. Anyway, as we're cruising into the place, the two guys that we had been playing tag with were turned away and leaving. No reservations.
RJ: So they had to find somewhere else to stay then.
PMB: Exactly. We made our arrangements well in advance. We weren't going to get stuck riding at night out there. We’d probably hit that big hole in the middle of the road AKA a moose. Problem with moose is the eyes don't reflect light because they’re so tall. Yeah, they say if you're going to hit an animal try to aim for the back end, but you know what? If I knew I was going to hit a moose, I’d hit the throttle and hug the gas tank. Riding at night up there is not a great idea. There’s a story of a moose dismantling an 18 wheeler. It was crossing the bridge and the driver honks the horn. The moose didn't take kindly. He literally destroyed an 18 wheeler.
RJ: Dangerous things happen on bikes.
PMB: Yeah they do. I hit 100 miles per hour once on the interstate. I was on my way to a bike blessing in Kenosha Wisconsin. I looked down and saw the 100 and just took my hand off the throttle. I figure at that speed anything could lay it down. Hell, I’d probably stop sliding about Milwaukee.
RJ: (Laughs) So what's next Brother? Where is the next adventure?
PMB: Well, I’m not sure. That “50CC” sounds good, but I did promise my wife we’d drive up to Maine for a lobster dinner. You know it’s only five bucks a pound up there. Also I may go out to DC for Memorial Day. Of course there is the Bonneville Salt Flats, that would be a fun trip. That's where they do the land speed records. Maybe even do some volunteer work at Wendover, Utah.
Past Master Behling is an active member of Waukegan 78 and the Tebala Shrine. He is active in training young masons in proper ritual and floor work. He is indeed a just and upright Mason.
Sir Knight Robert Johnson is a Freemason out of the First North-East District of Illinois. He belongs to Waukegan Lodge No. 78. He is also a member of the York Rite bodies Royal Arch, Cryptic Council and Knights Templar. Brother Johnson currently produces and hosts a weekly Podcast (internet radio program) Whence Came You? which focuses on topics relating to Freemasonry. In addition, he produces video shorts focusing on driving interest in the Fraternity and writes original Masonic papers from time to time. He is a husband and father of three. He works full time in the safety industry and is also a photographer on the side as well as an avid home brewer. He is also working on two books, one is of a Masonic nature.