Omens and Divine Providence: A Different Motorcycle GPS

I am writing this in a cafe, down a flower and fern filled alley in Blowing Rock, North Carolina. Need to hit the road soon but for now I feel like lingering over coffee, and the overhearing of soft, but succinct, North Carolina accents.The accents always make me think of  “Andy of Mayberry”, and my Aunt Pearl who was from Raleigh.  There’s a horse show in town and so the population is filled with graceful young women wearing riding trousers, with fresh natural complexions and perfect postures. I wander around slightly bent from riding, wearing my bulky riding trousers and my Belfast Northern Ireland Harley Tee shirt. I don’t receive much prolonged eye contact.

I’ve been trying to open myself to omens and Divine Providence on this trip, accepting somehow that things will work out, will happen for a reason. I want to see what it’s like to not have expectations, not get frustrated. Hard to get frustrated when things don’t go your way when you don’t care which way they go. I stop at Hardees in Adairsville and get a breakfast biscuit. They give me the wrong one. I start to take it back then I remember I’m trusting how things go, so I sit back and just enjoy eating it. Back on the bike later and somehow I miss the turnoff to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Turn around? Nah, I’ll just keep going. I know I’ll cross it again up ahead. Finally, I see another sign and take it and see directions to the Bat Cave. Holy surprise Batman! But I don’t go that way. I head the direction of the parkway. In a short time I’m on the parkway and it’s magnificent. I don’t know if you’ve been on it before but imagine a road that travels along mountain ridges, craggy rock ledges, gaps, valleys, forests and meadows with no traffic lights, gas stations, restaurants, or stop signs for 469 miles, from northern Virginia to Cherokee, North Carolina. (You can exit the parkway for gas and lodging and something to eat.) It is amazing. And accompanying you are incredible mixes in colors from the Rhododendrons, Black Eyed Susans, Oxeye Daisies, Wild Hydrangea, Queen’s Anne’s Lace (Lowly named Cow Parsely In Ireland!) and other purple and scarlet wild flowers.

The highest point we rode through was the Richland Balsam Overlook, weighing in at a mere 6,047 feet! Can you just imagine the views from there of the rolling mountains with clouds drifting through them? Or can you remember a time when you were surrounded by the alluring scent of fir, spruce and pine? Well, that was me. Thankful and grateful, even when the rain came a calling. The only drawback to the parkway is that the speed limit is only 45 mph, which on some of the curvy stretches was just fine. Around 5 pm (I had started at 7:45 am) I was tired and needed a place to hunker down and walk around some. I took the next exit which turned out to be Blowing Rock. It’s a beautiful place with a great old country town main street full of shops, restaurants, pubs and a park. I stopped and walked around. I could smell the incredible scent of someone making candy. I could hear the clanging of horseshoes in the park and saw folks sitting on benches eating ice cream. This felt like the right place to stop. Now, where to stay? I walked around some more, glanced down a side road and saw a place called the Hemlock Motel. Hemlock, of course, is what my hero Socrates drank for his punishment for being found guilty of corrupting the youth, encouraging them to think for themselves. Hemlock is also one of my favorite literary poisons! Literary, not literally! They had a room at a fair price, so Big Red and I set up camp there for the night. Great place. Later, I went for a walk around the town and found the Six Pence Pub, coincidentally a sister pub to the one I used to frequent in Savannah, Georgia. A cold pint of Harp beer did the trick rightly. Then I walked back to the Hemlock Motel, making absolutely sure I corrupted no youth on the way home!

How Do You Describe a Motorcycle Ride: Part Two

I don’t do music when I ride. Now I respect every biker’s choice in the matter but personally, I don’t do earphones or have a stereo system. I also don’t do blue tooth wireless transmitters that allow people to phone you or allow the passenger behind you to talk with you. Just communicate the old fashioned way, tap me on the shoulder. I like the silence, the natural and the man- made sounds of the world we drive, walk and ride through. The trains, the lawnmowers, the church bells, the sounds of a small town at a four way stop. Good time to remember the Four Way Test of the Rotarians:
Is it the truth?
Is it fair to all concerned?
Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
Will it be beneficial to all concerned?
How much better our society would be if we simply asked ourselves those questions about what we say and do. It would close down many news broadcasts completely and send most of the politicians packing their bags. I’d make less mistakes, that’s for sure.
We could also use Kant’s Categorical Imperative to guide us but that’s for another blog.
I also like the sounds I can get from Big Red’s engine, My Harley Road King: accelerating as fast as I can up to the speed limit (safely!), running at high revs (safely!) in a gear, the sound of gearing down. From the open throttle scream, to the throaty grumble, to the muffled roar, to the torque”y” confidence and swagger. I love to listen to them. And I don’t want to be distracted in case some thing or someone falls of the back. (For the record no one has fallen off my bike –yet!)
When I finally settle into a gear I like to gather my thoughts, and believe me those rascals run everywhere. Past, present, future. The usual: Why in God’s name did I do that? What did she mean when she told me that? I wish to hell I’d said that to them! The French have a phrase for that last one – “Esprit de l’escalier (es-pree der less-kal-lay) — A witty remark that occurs to you too late, literally on the way down the stairs.” From “In Other Words: A Language Guide to the Most Intriguing Words Around the World” by Christopher J. Moore (Levenger Press, Walker and Co., New York, 2004).Let’s have a show of hands – we’ve all had those reflective thoughts!
After giving up on trying to herd the cats of my thoughts I finally try to meditate, watch my breath, be aware of things around me, do my “Be here Now” thing. It helps give me a quiet frontier where I can cultivate awareness, pray for folks and give thanks. I’ve come to love the silences. The long silences of cross country trips have affected me off the bike as well. I no longer listen to music or the radio in my Jeep, or as background noise in my house. But hey, that’s just me. Still, unless you try hard it’s difficult to keep the silence going when you’re back into your demanding and sound crowded life.
I made a list of other things I want to write about in this series of: How do you describe a motorcycle ride?
Roads, conditions and especially back roads, people you meet, new places, other riders, bars, restaurants and entertainment, and adjusting to life off the road

I hope they sound okay to you. Let me know if you want me to comment on anything else. But I’ve got to hit the road now because, dang it, I just thought of something I really wish I’d said to her!

How Do You Describe a Motorcycle Ride? Part One.

Riding my bike tonight at dusk I was describing the incredible clouds I was seeing. My problem was that of trying to reduce the picture of the sky down to a few words. I failed. So I’m going to give you what I came up with and you can pick and choose. Help yourself.
Pewter colored clouds, bruised purple clouds trimmed in orange and pink, harsh, unforgiving black clouds with creamsicle underbellies, oyster colored clouds with an honey apricot glow, patches of renaissance blue sky, clouds with faces of foreign dignitaries.
I’m glad this challenge came to me because I wanted to write about my ride over the last few days when I went up to the mountains and roads of North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia, I just didn’t know where to start.
It’s the same with scents that assault you as you ride. Where’s that barbecue smell coming from? Somebody’s got a wood fire burning. Wow, there’s the sweet smell of mimosa. Ah, the scent of newly mowed grass. I can smell the cut pine wood coming from that logging truck. There’s confederate jasmine around her somewhere. Damn – creosote! Must be train tracks nearby. Oh no. Something died around here.
Sounds usually are soothing. I love the sounds of trains when I’m riding or when I stop at a crossing. The stream that I pitched my tent next to allowed me to listen to the clear water trickling over the stones, lapping over small pebbles, the unceasing murmuring of the rill.
“A noise like of a hidden brook. / In the leafy month of June, / That to the sleeping woods all night / Singeth a quiet tune.” (Coleridge).
Combine the sounds of a stream with the evening songs of birds and it’s magical

Who knows what bird song
Reveals to an open heart?
The clear water flows.

I was happy enough with all the sounds until those bally katydids started screeching when I tried to sleep. The male and female talk to each other in the usual male female way.
Katy did
No she didn’t
Katy did
No she didn’t
Katy did
No she didn’t.
Whole lotta trouble to go to when we all just need a little love.
I imagine that the frogs I hear are just a little drunk, leaning against each other and swaying, singing some kind of sentimental bar tune, like “Show me the way to go home”.

Part Two Soon!

A Motorcycle Ride Against Cancer; Because No One Should Journey Alone.

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Yesterday, along with around 60 other bikers, I took part in a motorcycle ride in memory of Darlene Bagley, with all the proceeds going to Cancer Navigators of Rome, Georgia.
Big Red and I had to leave early in the morning to get to Adairsville in time, especially, since it included a stop at Hardees first for a biscuit and coffee. It was only 74 degrees when I left (It would reach 96 later) and patches of mist were still ghost hovering over the Oostanaula River. The farmer’s market at Ridge Ferry was open, walkers were sauntering down the path along the river and folks were already trickling into yard sales. A veil of blue grey mist hung on the hillsides in the trees. A breeze rippled across their tops making it look like the trees were still rubbing the sleep out of their eyes.
After fueling up on coffee and a biscuit I headed to the park in Adairsville and found bikes, cars and police escorts in a lot near a large covered area.
I went in and registered, bought a tee shirt and took stock of the gathering. Men, women, children, a St Bernard and a black kitten meowing in a travel box. Most of the riders were men though I saw at least two women bikers. Folks wore Harley shirts, some sleeveless so you could see their upper arm tattoos. Others wore black and pink Cancer Navigator shirts and other tee shirts. Heads were adorned with Harley and American flag skull caps. A number of men had leather vests stitched with the names of their organizations: Missionaries on Bikes, Cruisers for Christ, Biker’s against Child Abuse and OBK – which I found out later, stood for Outrageous Beardsmen Koalition. I kid you not. Since my biker name is Monk (Long story –not that exciting) I thought about creating a group called Monks on Motorcycles. The logo could be a hooded monk on a Harley Road King and above it M.O. M. Okay, maybe not.
After a brief speech on the amazing supportive work of the non-profit Cancer Navigators, and a few testimonials and a prayer it was almost time for “kickstands up.” I ran into a friend Carol, herself a cancer survivor, who said she would love to go on the ride with someone. I usually ride without a sissy bar and an extra helmet but before leaving that morning “something” told me to put one on the bike, so I did. She hopped on and the big procession began rolling slowly over the speed bumps out of the park. I love these police escorted and intersection-blocked rides. We zoomed down the highways enjoying the thrill of running red lights! We cascaded over the shadowed, narrow back roads and the wind created from our bikes caused the trees to shake in support. Almost looked like they were waving at us. Okay, not the whole tree waving in support, maybe just a few branches. Carol did her fair share of waving to folks who had parked their cars on the sides of the roads as a sign of respect. We did about 85 miles through the foothills and forests of Northwest Georgia, passed farms, ranches, fields, wet bottomlands, lakes and thick forests of pine, oak and maple. Pink flowers from Crape Myrtles, yellow dandelions, blooming Mimosas and purple flowers dotted the countryside. The sky was blue with wispy white clouds. It was beautiful. After about 1 ½ hours of riding we were back, hearts soaring even though many butts were sore-ing. A great ride.
Afterwards there were soft drinks, burgers and hot dogs and the fixings. Camaraderie, hugging, back slapping, jokes and folks telling stories ensued until the auction for donated cakes and baked goods began. (An Italian Crème Cake went for 80 bucks!). Then the raffle began. I watched for a while and then skedaddled with a lot on my mind.
For me this wasn’t just a charity ride. It was a big reminder about some important things.It reminded me about how a small group of people can change things. How a group of professionals gave up large salaries and started a non -profit for the sole purpose of supporting cancer victims and their families, folks usually abandoned to find their own ways after the diagnosis has been given. How one man started a benefit ride for his wife and kept it running every year to raise money. How folks and businesses contributed their cakes and their prizes to help raise even a bit more money for the cause. How families were brought together, families of friends, supporters and bikers. It was more than just a charity ride. All these people felt good about having an opportunity to show their compassion, to be a part of larger cause, to contribute in their own way. It was a beautiful thing!
I rode home overwhelmed by the heat and the gratitude in my heart. I can’t contribute much, but I can ride.