Day 23 Continued: Rode Through a Tree; Cramps and Coincidences.

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That’s me and Big Red riding through a redwood tree!

Day 23 Continued: Rode Through a Tree; Cramps and Coincidences.

I’m in Willits, California now, about 140 miles from the Harley shop I was at this morning. The woman at the shop advised me to take the Avenue of the Giants, a highway that goes through the beautiful redwood forest. It was magnificent. I stopped at the tree you can drive through and a lady asked could she take my photo for me. I thanked her. Afterwards, I told her, noticing her Florida State t-shirt, that I had gone to school there. Then she told me she and her husband now lived in Gainesville, Florida. I told her that I had worked at the VA in Gainesville for a while. “Where do you live now?” She asked. “Rome, Georgia,” I replied. “My husband went to Shorter College in Rome!” So we chatted about the town. Meanwhile, a Chinese man was admiring my bike. “Want to get a picture of you sitting on it?” I asked. “No,” he replied but he would like a picture of the two of us in front of the bike. I was happy to do this. Turned out he was a minister in Berkeley and had come from Hong Kong. I told him I had spent a summer teaching in Hong Kong. Coincidences? Fate? Like the wonderful woman I met in Peoria? Oops. Or is coincidence, as someone has said, just God’s way of remaining anonymous?

When I left Arcata it was cool. Now in Willits it’s 87 degrees (30 degrees Celsius).  On the ride through the redwood forest my right hand started cramping up and then my left hand did as well. Not easy to ride with cramping hands. So after a few miles I stopped for a drink. I’ve had this happen before but seldom both hands. Usually, it’s just my right, which controls the throttle, the speed. I can sometimes set the cruise control and drive with one hand, but not on winding roads.

So anyway, I’m fine now and heading toward San Francisco!

Day 23: Big Red is Back on the Road!

Day 23 Big Red is Back on the Road!

The guys in the Harley shopped were impressed with how I had jerry-rigged the exhaust on Big Red. I’ll try and attach a picture. (Actually, I think I heard them laughing.) It is said that Harley Davidson’s abbreviation, HD, stands for hundred dollars, meaning you can’t go into a Harley shop without spending at least $100. My repair was $106, along with over $100 in T shirts.

It’s 11:10 am and I have a long, beautiful ride ahead of me toward LA, which is 645 miles (1052 kilometers) away but I’m going through more redwood trees and cruising along the ocean and I’m going to enjoy every moment of it.WP_20160531_09_04_22_Pro__highres

Day 22 Down and Out in Eureka; Memorial Day

Day 22 Down and Out in Eureka; Memorial Day

Strange day here in Eureka, or actually just outside it, the town of Arcata. Last night when I arrived I noticed a number, 4-5 people, who were homeless hanging around in the area. A woman, who wasn’t homeless, said hello to me in McDonalds with the usual refrain that I get: “Well you’re far from home.” As you know, I’m happy to chat with people. But then she told me to be careful with my stuff because there were a lot of ‘scumbags’ about. She said ‘scumbags’ a number of times.  It bothered me. I don’t know if she was religious or not but can you be sincerely religious if you hold views like that? I know I can’t.

Of and on over the years, I’ve worked with the people who are homeless and some who had mental health problems. And I make sure I say it that way – people who are homeless – because it emphasizes that they are people first – that they have souls and spirits like everyone else. And I have seen such individuals everywhere I have traveled on this trip and others.

Last night, I walked over and talked with a couple who appeared to be homeless. The man must have been in his 70’s. The woman had a beautiful smile. We just chatted. I didn’t ask for or get their history. They weren’t sociological artifacts to be studied– the homeless – they were just people. The man told me some motorcycle stories of his own.

Today, I had breakfast at McDonald’s and saw two other people outside who were homeless. One just had his head down and the other, a young woman, was clearly hearing voices and talking with imaginary people. Well, I couldn’t see them anyway. I later walked past them and said ‘good morning’ and the man looked up and responded and the woman looked away and mumbled. It’s just a thing that I do but I make sure that I don’t cross the road to avoid people who are homeless, because I know that with the values I have that would make me both a hypocrite and a coward. I’ve been those before and I don’t like how they feel.

By the way, no one asked me for any money. Later, I walked past two men and overheard one say: “Look, stop following me.” The other replied: “I’m not following you. You’re paranoid.”

One thing I noticed was that in the square mile I walked around there were no benches or seats, even outside McDonalds or the other fast food places. I figured it was because the businesses didn’t want people loitering. In fact, since I wanted to sit in the sun for a while the only comfortable seat I could find was back on Big Red. So I went behind the motel, sat on her and smoked a cigar. We commiserated about not being on the road today.

The older man who was homeless who I’d met last night came over to the bike and chatted with me. Thin, grey receding hair and bushy grey eyebrows he reminded me of an older man I once knew when I lived in Ireland. He told me that he and his friend slept “over there” pointing to some green trees in a wooded area behind one of the motels. He told me that he had been a fisherman.

Mark Twain once said: “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”

I want to say thank you to all those who have served in the military. My father and his four brothers all served in World War Two.

What I always struggle with is this: What kind of vision do we have for America? What type of society have we fought for? Do we want to fight for? How should we treat our least fortunate citizens in a way that is consistent with our personal or religious values?  I think of the old man sleeping in the woods and of the younger woman talking with herself.

I also think about the writer George Orwell. Before he published his classic 1984 he lived for a while in poverty and wrote a book about it called: Down and Out in Paris and France. I’ll close with a couple of quotes from his book.

“It is curious how people take it for granted that they have a right to preach at you and pray over you as soon as your income falls below a certain level.”

“It is worth saying something about the social position of beggars, for when one has consorted with them, and found that they are ordinary human beings, one cannot help being struck by the curious attitude that society takes towards them. People seem to feel that there is some essential difference between beggars and ordinary ‘working’ men. They are a race apart–outcasts, like criminals and prostitutes. Working men ‘work’, beggars do not ‘work’; they are parasites, worthless in their very nature. It is taken for granted that a beggar does not ‘earn’ his living, as a bricklayer or a literary critic ‘earns’ his. He is a mere social excrescence, tolerated because we live in a humane age, but essentially despicable.

Yet if one looks closely one sees that there is no ESSENTIAL difference between a beggar’s livelihood and that of numberless respectable people. Beggars do not work, it is said; but, then, what is WORK? A navvy works by swinging a pick. An accountant works by adding up figures. A beggar works by standing out of doors in all weathers and getting varicose veins, chronic bronchitis, etc. It is a trade like any other; quite useless, of course–but, then, many reputable trades are quite useless. And as a social type a beggar compares well with scores of others. He is honest compared with the sellers of most patent medicines, high-minded compared with a Sunday newspaper proprietor, amiable compared with a hire-purchase tout–in short, a parasite, but a fairly harmless parasite. He seldom extracts more than a bare living from the community, and, what should justify him according to our ethical ideas, he pays for it over and over in suffering. I do not think there is anything about a beggar that sets him in a different class from other people, or gives most modern men the right to despise him.

Then the question arises, Why are beggars despised?–for they are despised, universally. I believe it is for the simple reason that they fail to earn a decent living. In practice nobody cares whether work is useful or useless, productive or parasitic; the sole thing demanded is that it shall be profitable. In all the modem talk about energy, efficiency, social service and the rest of it, what meaning is there except ‘Get money, get it legally, and get a lot of it’? Money has become the grand test of virtue. By this test beggars fail, and for this they are despised. If one could earn even ten pounds a week at begging, it would become a respectable profession immediately. A beggar, looked at realistically, is simply a businessman, getting his living, like other businessmen, in the way that comes to hand. He has not, more than most modem people, sold his honour; he has merely made the mistake of choosing a trade at which it is impossible to grow rich.”

Ride safely through this world.

Day 21 Continued: Beautiful Ride Today but Big Red Needs Work; Eureka.

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I made it to Eureka when Big Red decided she’d had enough. She didn’t break down but she grew louder and louder and people were staring. I spent an hour trying to fix her. However, I am mechanically incompetent. The good news is that I know what’s wrong. The bad news is that I couldn’t fix her. I tried everything, including that old southern standby: spit, juicy fruit and the Lord’s Prayer. So we’re going to have a layover for two nights. Two, because the Harley shop here is closed until Tuesday.

But the ride before that was amazing. Not only did I go through the Redwood Forest and got to slalom along beautiful curvy roads, saw the huge redwoods, but I also came upon a herd of elk. I pulled over and counted 32 of them. Then a few miles down the road there were a few hundred of them. I think it was a convention. Elks. Get it? Sorry.

The photos are of the Pacific coast and of an obliging elk.

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Day 21: Leaving Bandon; 856 Miles to LA; Random Reflections; Zen; Gratitude.

Day 21: Leaving Bandon; 856 Miles to LA; Random Reflections.

The good thing for me is that these 865 miles are all on the same road – Hwy 101 in Oregon and 1, The Pacific Coast Highway in California. Staying on the same road significantly decreases my chances of getting lost!

I like Sunday mornings. Especially rides on Sunday mornings. It’s often the church of choice that I visit. Not that I have anything against regular churches – I’ve attended many different kinds: Catholic, Episcopalian, Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran, Evangelical, Pentecostal, Anglican, ecumenical, etc and others that were non-Christian. My thought is that if they help make you a better person in the church and out of it, then more power to you. I always liked it that the Dalia Lama said something like: I don’t want you to become a Buddhist. I want you to take what anything you find useful from Buddhism to help you become a better whatever you are. That’s what I try to do. Anything that helps me become less judgmental and more compassionate I’m all for. Mother Theresa nailed it when she said that if you’re busy judging people you can’t be busy loving them.

My church is the open road where you meet people that need help (sometimes just a smile) or ones that have a message for you. Buddha spent a lot of time on the road. Jesus also ran up a lot of miles. If he could have, I know Jesus would have ridden a Harley Road King, like Big Red. Buddha I see cruising around more on a Fat Boy.

This morning’s ride was holy, full of grace and gratitude. I rode along the magnificent coast of Oregon and stared out at the Pacific, its roiling waves, whitecaps, and the huge determined stones that jut out from it. It reminded me a lot of the coast of Ireland, except in Ireland everything was greener and windier and wetter.

I thought about Robert Pirsig’s line (which others had said in various forms before him) that the only Zen you find at the top of the mountain is the Zen that you brought with you. I agree to an extent. But certain places help bring out the Zen more in me. A peaceful, silent ride like this morning’s has me sinking into the present, letting go of the past and not worrying about the future. A deep sense of gratitude comes over me and I shout: Thank you God! Much like Kerouac did. Zen is a tool. It is not a religion, it’s a philosophy, a method to use to help reach a sense of completeness, peacefulness, love, compassion and gratitude. Whether you’re at the mountain top, riding along the coast or just washing dishes, it helps you see that at every moment you have everything that you need to be happy. You don’t need more, better, faster, prettier, thinner…you need awareness, self-acceptance and compassion (including compassion for yourself as you are). Rub these things together like sticks, and you get the sacred fire of gratitude.

May you ride down whatever road you are on today with the fire of gratitude in your heart.

Day 20 Continued: Seaside, Oregon to Bandon, Oregon; 240 miles. Mo’s restaurant; Kerouac; Your Vision.

Day 20 Continued: Seaside, Oregon to Bandon, Oregon; 240 miles. Mo’s restaurant; Kerouac. Your Vision.

 

Jack Kerouac:

And I said, “God, I love you” and looked to the sky and really meant it. “I have fallen in love with you, God. Take care of us all, one way or the other.” To the children and the innocent it’s all the same. – Dharma Bums

I feel this so often when I’m driving down many of the roads in this USA. Especially today, while Big Red and I made our way down the coast of Oregon. Last night, before leaving Seaside, I had a walk around the town, a drink at the Irish pub and went by the beach. I spotted at least 17 small fires flickering in the sand and the rolling waves illuminated by the moon. Then there was the scent of the sea and the fantastic aroma from the wood burning fires. All of this made it hard to leave this morning.

The ride down the coast was filled with small towns like Rockabay and Garibaldi, views of the Pacific and white beaches, and curvy roads through fir scented forests. It was fun to lean and slalom into the curves. I stopped at Newport and ate at Mo’s, a rightly famous seafood restaurant. I had the chowder, and steamed oysters which were the biggest I’d ever eaten.

Back on the road I started checking out motels. For some reason in Oregon on Memorial Day weekend everyone goes to the beaches. Everywhere had a no vacancy sign. I finally rolled into Bandon and saw a vacancy sign at the Lamplighter Motel. I’m really not going to say anything bad about the motel because (lowering my voice) I think the room is listening.

Kerouac wrote about traveling the USA in his books Dharma Bums and On the Road; Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I’m not a Kerouac, nor a Robert Pirsig by a long shot; neither are you. But I am here to tell you that the roads can be discovered again by anyone; their beauty, wackiness, and their healing powers. You just have to trust, believe that your vision, though unclear, is as good as anyone’s, and let go.

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Day 20: A Poem for the Road; Heading Out

Day 20: A Poem for the Road. Heading Out

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

By William Butler Yeats

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,

And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;

Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,

And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

 

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,

Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;

There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,

And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

 

I will arise and go now, for always night and day

I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;

While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,

I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

Day 19: Day Off! Taking Stock and Relaxing; Zen with no Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Day 19: Day Off! Taking Stock and Relaxing; Zen with no Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

My first complete day off in over 4700 miles. I needed it. Big Red, the Harley, needed it. I’ve spent most of it walking around the little town, drinking cups of coffee, sitting on seaside benches and sleeping. In other words, getting ready for retirement someday. Jokes aside, my friends who are retired don’t seem to have much down time. Back in Rome, Georgia my friend Karl, who just turned 80 is busier than I am, what with all his swimming, the many organizations he belongs to and his volunteer work in various civic programs. Still trying to make the world a better place and doing it a bit at a time. Or Robert, who I believe is 93, writer, artist, designer, philosopher, former military, former dance instructor who still plays bridge once a week, attends our Saturday pipe smoking group and, when leaving, gives us an example of his dancing skills. That reminds me, Karl, among other things, is our Imperial Turtle, the local head of our International Association of Turtles. He inspires respect, friendship and loyalty and gives them freely. In fact, Karl told me to take a day off. So I did. His influence extends even as far as Seaside, Oregon.

I feel better, but I am worried about Big Red. For the last few days she’s been making sounds that are very unfamiliar to me. She still rides fairly smoothly, doesn’t cut off on me, and I can’t tell if it’s engine or exhaust related or what. I can’t find any leaks, she has plenty of oil and nothing seems to be loose. That’s about the extent of my motorcycle repair knowledge. This blog is Zen without any aptitude or art of motorcycle maintenance. We have about 1000 miles to go to Los Angeles and Big Red intimates that she can make it. I’m just worried. But we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. But bridges have a way of showing up anywhere, unexpected. In fact, sometimes I think God, or the Universe just throws a damn bridge in your way when you least expect it and says: there now; make a decision.

See, this is what happens when I take a day off from riding. I start getting philosophical. But it’s going to take more than a little philosophical WD-40 to get us to LA. Still, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Day 18 Continued; Seaside, Oregon; Zen Rediscovered (It was here all the time!); I Discovered the Pacific Ocean!!!

Day 18 Continued; Seaside, Oregon; Zen Rediscovered (It was here all the time!) I Discovered the Pacific Ocean!!!

Strange ride today. I felt better after writing this morning about my melancholy. Today, I slowed down, meditated some, and smiled at everyone I saw. People are always stopping to ask me about my trip. An older guy at McDonalds who was from Poland came out and spoke to me. He used to ride motorcycles so that’s what we talked about. I told him the only word of Polish I knew was “gen dobry”, which means “good day.” He asked me how I knew it and I told him about the time I took 14 Irish kids to Kutno, Poland to play little league baseball for a week. My son Rory came along and we all had a great time.

The ride to Seaside, Oregon was confusing for me, as usual. One of these days I need to start using GPS. But I’m old school. The temperature dropped into the 50’s and the rain began to fall. I stopped at a place and had some oysters and some seafood chowder. It was good. Made me think of my mother who used to bring a tiny bottle of sherry with her to pour into her seafood soups. For some reason, she felt she needed to pour it in when the restaurant staff weren’t looking.

Finally, getting to Seaside I thought it would be easy to find my hotel. I was wrong. I rode all around the town looking for it. My phone had died so I stopped at a restaurant and plugged it in to check my hotel reservation. Turned out I was only .4 of a mile from the place. Turn right and turn left. It turned out to be a great place – The Ashore Motel. My favorite motel so far. And on this trip I’ve stayed in some real doozies (As Hazel used to say.) I checked in, dumped my stuff, grabbed a cigar and headed down to the beach. Damn, if there wasn’t an ocean there! Good place to keep it.

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