Here I sit, in the restaurant Panera, on a rainy day in Rome, Georgia, grading papers, when I’d rather be out riding my motorcycle on St Columbanus Feast Day, who, as we know, is the Patron Saint of Motorcyclists!
Here’s a link to a page I wrote a while back to explain as to why the Irish monk, Columbanus, is our patron saint.
Motorcyclists that do venture out today will most certainly be wishing each other: Sona (happy in Irish) Columbanus Day! We bikers are far more literary and learned than we look!
Sona Columbanus Day!
The temperature hit 102 degrees, (38.8 Celsius) this last week in North Georgia and people were talking.
“It’s so hot chickens are laying boiled eggs.” “That’s nothing,” another person said, “I saw a line of tall women at the courthouse and men were marrying them just for the shade.” Gives you an idea of how hot it felt.
You’ve never really experienced heat until you’ve ridden an air cooled motorcycle on a hot day and stopped at a traffic light or been stuck in traffic. Along with the heat from the asphalt, the engine heat rises and attacks you. The worst heat I’ve ridden in was in Baker, California in 2016. I was coming back from another cross country trip, stuck in a traffic jam on I-15 and it was 113 degrees. (see https://2cyclepaths.com/2016/06/19/day-27-continued-horrible-ride-motorcycles-do-not-have-air-conditioning-113-degrees45-celsius-having-an-ice-cream-now/). So many cars and trucks were stopped along the interstate with overheated radiators or cracked ones.
Remembering that day made 102 degrees a bit more tolerable. Still, even at that temperature, stopping at a traffic light can cause the motorcycle engine to overheat and if you don’t do something quickly the engine can be destroyed. The amount of damage that can happen from overheating can range from a little to a lot. You might get some pings and knocks and sluggishness or you could banjax the pistons or warp the head or the cylinders. Nothing you can fix by the side of the road with a bit of duct tape or juicy fruit gum. So, be patient with bikes trying to get out of the heat.
After work one day I rode Big Red over to this place I sometimes volunteer at. I ran into a former student who showed me a bunch of kids who were running laps in a hall, practicing for their soccer team. He explained about how the organization had paid their fees and had uniforms donated so the kids could play. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to afford to play in a league. He told me that he needed to get some water for them and asked me to watch them. As soon as he left, they started slowing down. I yelled at them to keep going and then, to my surprise, I started to run laps with them saying things like: “Here I am, an old man and I’m about to pass this guy!” The kid would look at me, smile, and take off running. So, I joked with them, thinking my bad knee might blow any minute. About five minutes later the coach returned. As I started to leave, I told the kids goodbye, that they looked great and to keep practicing. They waved and one of them came over to me and said: “Thank you for coming to watch us.’
Something struck me deeply about what this kid had said, and I haven’t been able to put my finger on it yet, other than to feel deeply touched, moved and honored. I know there’s a lesson for me in there somewhere. I’ll keep thinking about it. Anyway, thanks for coming here to read this.
Leaving Rome, Georgia at 6:30am I found myself rushing. Not going too fast but thinking: “Ok, better not stop for breakfast – the traffic is going to be terrible the later I get to Atlanta.” I realized that once again I was leaving the present moment, projecting myself into the future, imagining what something might be like instead of BEING HERE NOW. That brought me back to the present and I began to relax and settle into just enjoying the ride. The sun was starting to rise in a blue/gray sky, the mist still blanketed the hills, I was on Big Red, my Harley and all was right with the road.
I-75 south through Atlanta, despite morning rush time, was easy, especially using the HOV lane. I stopped for gas, Dunkin Doughnuts and coffee in Morrow, Georgia and memories flooded back. When I was a fresh, young philosophy graduate from the University of Georgia back in 1976 I managed to get my first real job and it was here in Morrow. I was hired as a child protection worker. I know, a philosophy major doing child protection work doesn’t make sense. I did the best that I could but I was still immature, under-trained, naïve to the realities of what parents could do to their children, and inexperienced in professional work. I saw some terrible things, worked some rough cases and did the best I could with 40+ families (the recommended load is 20). Still, I could have done much better. Driving around brought back memories of families I had worked with and children I had placed into care. I lasted a year and a half there before going to work at a psychiatric hospital.
I stopped in Macon, Georgia and visited with my oldest friend Joe. We met in our first year in high school and have stayed in touch over the years. He even visited me when I lived in Ireland.
I-16 from Macon to Savannah is a long, let’s just say uneventful road. Pine trees, oaks, mimosa, and crepe myrtle, repeat for about 160 miles. The only exciting thing for me is to try and figure how far the Spanish moss has crept northwards since my last trip. The farthest north I’ve spotted it so far is exit 49 in Dublin and then its sporadic until closer to Savannah.
After three hours I entered the incredibly beautiful city of Savannah. Google it to see better photos than I could make (also because my camera, though packed at the time, was damaged in the dust storm I had been in over in Arizona a month earlier). I stayed at my favorite place, 1790, an old inn in the historic district. My great grandfather had built part of the house and lived there for a while. I highly recommend the place.
I did my usual things in Savannah – walking and sitting in the squares – they always mesmerize me with their huge canopies of live oak trees and swaying Spanish moss, and especially when the moss hangs on the crepe myrtle trees – the pink flowers, the grey moss, the green leaves, the peeling grey and brown bark. I walked the cobblestone streets, shook my head at the beauty of the old colonial and gingerbread architecture and sat by the river. I ambled down the river walk to Kevin Barry’s Irish Pub. I had been coming there since the 1980’s. It has an ‘old world’ European feel about it and it has Harp beer on draught. It also has good Irish music 7 nights a week. When I lived in Ireland for 17 years it was hard to find it even one night a week.
My grandparent’s house.
The path by the Savannah River
An excellent musician, Carroll Brown, was playing at Kevin Barry’s. He took requests and surprised me by playing some of my favorite old tunes, like “The Mountains of Mourne” and “The Town I Loved So Well.” Before I realized it, I was crying. Crying because of the Troubles Ireland had endured and because of my troubles there, my divorce, which caused me to leave the country that had been my second home. Twenty-two years was a long time to be married to someone.
Walking the streets of Savannah other memories came to me: of when as a teenager I had delivered calendars to the clients of my dad’s insurance business, C.F. Powers; of when I worked after high school as a lineman for Southern Bell Telephone Company and lastly, in the 1990’s, when I managed a child protection unit and did foster and adoptive home studies. A swirl of memories and emotions.
The next day I had breakfast at Clary’s and then rode my 2004 Harley Road King down to Tybee. The marsh road was just as I had remembered it. The cordgrass – green, gold and brown. The tide was out, and you could see the driftwood, mud and oysters. The oleanders were blooming, the sky was blue, and the breeze carried the scent of memory, freedom, and possibility.
Later, I ate shrimp and grits, and crab stew at the Pink House while listening to the piano player play the standards and joke with the crowd. I couldn’t face another evening at Kevin Barry’s, so I walked around the city. I remembered the last time I had brought my father to town. He was 94 years old but still wanted to make it to one last Savannah St Patrick’s Day celebration. We walked the streets one last time together and he was so happy. He died a few months later. Tonight, I just enjoyed the salty breeze and the fragrance of night blooming flowers and looked for more traces of ghosts I once knew.
Thomas Wolfe wrote “You cant go home again” and he was right. Home changes the moment we leave it. It’s never the same when we return and, thank God, neither are we. But in Savannah things change much more slowly and the city always leaves a piece of what was, behind, in the old colonial and gingerbread architecture, the cobblestone streets leading down to the river, the blooming azaleas and the scent of jasmine, all left as a path to follow into the doorway of memories.
School meetings start next week so I’m trying to get in as much riding as I can before I have to return. I’ve put about 6200 miles on Big Red, my 2004 Harley Road King Classic, since the middle of May when I headed out to California, and I still haven’t had enough. Since returning from that trip I replaced my windscreen (which had been damaged by a dust storm in Arizona), replaced my horn (which broke, also because of that storm), got the oil changed and repainted some of the tank and fenders. I did a horrible job with the painting and have drips of clear coat running down the sides. Until I can sand that down, I’m telling folks that it’s supposed to look like a candy apple with drips of glaze. So far, nobody’s buying that and so I distract them by showing off my REALLY LOUD horn.
I have been busy otherwise. I trained for and competed a few days ago in a micromarathon – a .0420 mile road race. Unfortunately, half way to the finish line I hit the wall –
Undaunted, I quickly switched to a Tai Chi running style and finished the race.
Other than a forays around town, I’ve ridden up to Dalton, Georgia and over to Cave Springs and I participated in a charity ride for Cancer Navigators of Rome, Georgia. Still, that hasn’t been enough. I’ve decided to head to Savannah one more time. It’s my favorite USA city. I need to “feel the ride” on the old marsh road to Tybee, inhale the scent of the of the blooming oleanders and pluff mudd, and let myself become mesmerized by the changing colors and shadows of the green and gold
(Big Red parked at the benefit ride for Cancer Navigators of Rome, Georgia)
cordgrass. I love that ride! I need to walk the timeless, cobblestone paths of old Savannah, soak up the fragrance of confederate jasmine, and sip on a Harp beer at the old-worldly Irish pub, Kevin Barry’s. That’s just for a start. The trip is about 370 miles each way which will give me plenty of time to ruminate on the meaning of life and other mundane subjects. I plan to stop about halfway, in Macon, to see my oldest buddy Joe.
Check back with me. Meanwhile, safe riding to you.
You get used to things on the road and when you get home it can be disorienting. For days after I returned from my 5700 mile trip I would come downstairs where I live expecting a hot breakfast, or at least a poor continental one. That didn’t go over very well. Some days I found myself trying to figure out the motel check out time. Or I’d awaken in the middle of the night and run to the window wanting to make sure my bike was safe.
It would have been easier if I’d had some life to jettison back into but I’m a teacher and I don’t work in the summer. (And I don’t get paid.) So, it has been a struggle and everyday since I’ve wanted to hop back onto the bike and go somewhere. And on most days, I have.
Since I returned from my 20 day trip, I decided to give, Big Red, the Harley a break for a while and instead I’m riding my old 1973 BMW. I call her Rocinante – named after Don Quixote’s horse. Being 46 years old she has, rightfully, a few complaints, but she tends to keep quiet about them. Her speedometer is broken, as is the rpm gauge but the odometer works just fine. So, most of the time I’m riding around not knowing how fast I’m going, unless I use my phone app, which is a hassle. Her stand’s a bit wonky and tends to sink into the hot asphalt. The neutral light doesn’t come on and so I have to guess when the bike’s in neutral, which I’ve mostly gotten used to. She doesn’t have a self-cancelling turn signal, so the blinking lights stay on until you notice them and turn them off. When I’m not looking, she’ll sometimes leak gas (petrol) out of one of her Mikuni carburetors. I have to turn off the petcocks before I set her on her wonky stand to avoid that. But she runs beautifully, is nimble and at stop lights you can barely hear her putt, putt, putt. I can say that the little thumper has great torque, four speeds and can get up to 100 mph but we won’t say how quickly. I can’t say, however, that I’m not waiting for something new to happen to the bike. The other day on a trip over to Alabama I hit some railroad tracks hard and the headlight popped out and was dangling by a few wires. That was easily fixed. I think. She also doesn’t have much storage ability – just a small tank bag. Still, I love riding her. She weighs around 450 pounds (around 210 kg) as opposed to the Harley’s 750 lbs. and because her engine sticks out, is horizontally opposed, it has a low center of gravity, which makes for better, easier handling. On the bright side she gets over 50 mpg, whereas the Harley struggles with 35-40. Here’s the two of them:
Two days ago, I got up early to head over to be a part of a charity ride for cancer patients. I was right on time, but no one was there. Then I figured it out that it was the following weekend. To not waste the time I awarded myself: Best Looking Bike and Most Handsome Rider awards. Anyway, I decided it was a great day for a ride and so I took the route the ride usually takes. (140 – 411 to Cartersville, Ga. )I stopped at the Harley dealer and looked at vests to replace the one I’d lost. Sitting outside in front of the shop a man’s shadow came close to me. I looked up and it was Carl, the mechanic I always ask to work on my bike. He was scanning the parking area and said: “I was confused because I don’t see Big Red.” I laughed and explained, but it may not be such a great thing that the repair staff there know me and Big Red so well.
On the way home I took highway 411 and then 293 which is twistier and prettier. I had hoped that the old man who sells boiled peanuts might be selling them in the parking lot of an auto parts store. He was!
I stop there a few times a year and buy a bag and listen to his stories. This time he was telling me that he was now 75 years old and the heat was getting to him. (It was 99 degrees). He could hardly breathe sometimes though he’d had surgery to try and fix that. We talked further and then I walked over to get on the bike. He came over to me and said, roughly:
“I hit one not long ago.”
“Really, that must have been awful.”
“Never had an accident I caused in my life and I just didn’t see him. Saw the white car in front.” His face reddened. “I have nightmares about it.”
“Is he all right?”
“Had to get a rod put in his leg – bone was sticking out – I was crying and apologizing to him and he was apologizing to me. Imagine that.” He glanced away. “He’ll be in rehab soon down here. I’m toying with going to see him. What do you think?”
“I think that would be good.”
He turned and started to walk back to his truck and then turned back to look at me. “Every once in a while, I just have to tell someone.”
“I’m glad you did. I’m so sorry.” I hesitated. “God bless you.”
He stared at me: “God bless you too. Be careful.”
My 2004 Harley Road King Classic now has over 118,000 miles on it and did beautifully on the trip. Fortunately, I didn’t drop her once. She weighs over 700 lbs, without baggage, and believe me, it ain’t fun trying to lift her. Though once, on a previous trip, I dropped her and a Russian named Igor in Deadwood, South Dakota lifted it and set it on its side stand by himself. There’s always someone around to help.
As with most riders I had to watch out for slippery gravel on the road and in parking areas. Parking on hot asphalt – the side stand can sink into it. You always have to think about how you’re going to get out of a parking space before you go in. Do you back in or is there a slope so you can roll out? My bike, like most, doesn’t have a reverse gear. You also have to watch out for road gators- bits of tires broken off on the road – some have steel in them, and tar snakes – tar patches on the road that get slippery when hot. Then there are grooves in the road, steel road plates, potholes, construction, debris that has fallen out of, or off of vehicles and animals. I wrote about the dust storm that permanently damaged my windscreen and the cold and snow I encountered. I mentioned the winds but not how you often have to lean your bike into them at 10-30 degrees just to stay upright. Passing trucks on a two lane can give you a slamming blast of wind in their wake. As I mentioned in a previous blog, I don’t listen to music and I don’t have a GPS device. This makes for lots of solitude and riding on unknown roads. It was scary at times leaving my destination up to chance (Divine Providence). At the same time, it made me aware of all the little expectations I had and letting go of them and trusting was so freeing and relaxing. If you don’t have to be anywhere, at any specific time, then you’re never lost or late. Despite the challenges, I always found myself smiling in the morning when I took off and thankful to Divine Providence for the chance to ride again.
We’re all on a journey, even if we never leave town.
And what about this attempt to abandon myself to Divine Providence? A quote from Amazon partially summarizing the book Abandonment to Divine Providence, an 18th Century spiritual classic, says: “God is to be found in the simplest of our daily activities and especially through total surrender to whatever is His will for each of us. It encourages us to ‘Live in the present moment, accepting everyday obstacles with faith, humility and love’…” Sounds very Zen too.
If you want a more contemporary view the Reverend Barbara Brown Taylor says in a recent book:
“There is a sense in which if I will trust that what comes to me is for me (now that’s the hugest faith statement I can make to you), if I will trust that what comes to me in my life is for me and not against me… what I find is that it breaks my idols, that it breaks my isolation, that it challenges my sense of independence, it does all kinds of things for me that I would not willingly do, that are for me, that are for my health.”
So – no great dramatic epiphanies for me– what I found out is that it’s all about trusting what comes to us in life and living in the present moment, accepting everyday obstacles with faith, humility and love. I can live with that answer. Well, at least, I can try. But that’s the best I can come up with for now.
Thanks for riding along with me and Big Red. Keep the shiny side up and the rubber side down. Ride safely.
By the way – if you want to read two of my novels that have motorcycle trips in them here are the links:
Hope Bats Last
I had a great night last night at a Drurys Hotel. I’m definitely not used to fancy places to spend the night, but I’d gotten a good rate and I thought I’d treat myself. They had free food, and beer and wine when I arrived and a hot breakfast in the morning.
Today, I thought I might be able to make it all the way back to Rome – 360 miles. I took 155 out of Huntsville to Jackson and then took the backroads – 45 and 72 to Huntsville. But I decided not to go farther. I’d spent too much time talking to people when I stopped for breaks. Plus, it would be dark by the time I’d get there, and thunderstorms were in the forecast. So, I hunkered down at a nice Clarion, walked across the street to a sports bar and watched the Atlanta Braves lose on TV.
As fatigued as I am from this ride, part of me doesn’t want it to end. I’m enjoying it. Another part of me kept thinking: Okay, Divine Providence, is this it? No great revelations or epiphanies for me? I did abandon myself to You after all! So other than welcoming the wonderful birth of my first grandchild – and not implying that was not enough – what else was this trip all about?
“The underlying message of this work [The book – Cloud of Unknowing] proposes that the only way to truly “know” God is to abandon all preconceived notions and beliefs or “knowledge” about God and be courageous enough to surrender your mind and ego to the realm of “unknowingness,” at which point, you begin to glimpse the true nature of God.” (Wikipedia).
Whoa! I didn’t glimpse the true nature of God, but I have had one hell of a ride.
Stay tuned for my next post as I wrap things up.
Things looked ominous when I finally dragged myself downstairs at the motel for breakfast today. It wasn’t the food choices I saw; it was the pouring rain. I ran into some bikers who were heading out toward St Louis. “Somehow, she got my bottoms [rain suit] and I got hers.” One woman biker was saying to the other. We wished each other a safe ride. They went out toward the bikes and I went for breakfast. Since the rain was falling, I had no other choice but to go up to my room and go back to sleep. Ha ha! Any excuse. When I woke up an hour later the rain had stopped.
Folks are always stopping to talk to me about my motorcycle. Some reminisce about their old bikes and experiences. I stopped at McDonalds yesterday and a 75-year-old man just came up and sat down and started talking about his days riding motorcycles. He asked me about my bike and my trips and believe me, you don’t want to get me started on that. He was surprised that I had ridden from Georgia to Alaska. (See this blog.) He always wanted to visit there – but with some buddies in a motor home. He had a friend up in Anchorage. We talked for a good half an hour. When he was leaving, he told me to ride safely. I said – see you in Alaska.
Another man today came up to me when I was sitting on my bike. He used to have a shovelhead (a Harley made from 1966-1983) and he loved it. Then, for some reason he started talking about his ex-wife who divorced him and “took everything”. “Came one day with a truck and took two of my motorcycles – brought the grandkids to make sure I wouldn’t act up. She met some guy on the internet. 28 years we were married, and I never saw it coming. I guess the cardboard boxes around the house should have tipped me off.”
“Yeah, I reckon.”
I took backroads again today. Highway 60 was my main road, but I was much happier when I was able to turn on a two lane – Hwy 53 -for the last part of my journey. The corn in the fields were the highest I had seen anywhere. “Knee high by the 4th of July” my old pappy used to say. These stalks were easily five feet high. Black-eyed Susan’s, Queen Anne’s lace and wild orange day lilies dotted the roadside. This was my kind of road: small towns – churches, convenience stores, signs for bail bonds.
I treated myself to a stay at Drury’s Hotel tonight and a phone call to my daughter and grandson. Goodnight. Ride safely.
Yesterday, the Weather Channel showed a wall of rain and thunderstorms blocking my way east. No problem, I thought, I’ll just head south. Hwy 65 south looked good, so I headed out on it from Chillicothe. I managed about 20 miles before there was a barricade and a sign saying: road closed due to flooding. The Missouri River had overflowed its banks. I checked my map and figured there was another road across to the east. Took that road for 10 miles until I saw the road closed ahead sign. I checked my map. If I went back to where I had just been and headed west, I could catch another route across the river. I stopped at a McDonalds and took a break. When I was leaving an older woman offered suggestions as to how I could get across. It involved going to the town square and taking highway E, then to make a left on W and a right on K – she had already lost me. Then she added the fateful, dooming words: “You can’t miss it.” I’m guaranteed to not find something when anyone says those words to me. But I tried it anyway. This is what I ran into.
Every time I started to get frustrated, I remembered that I had turned my route over to Divine Providence and so maybe I was supposed to go this way. True or not, it calmed me down and helped me just enjoy the journey without expectations.
Finally, I headed north and then west and found my road which I took across the swollen Missouri. I set my sights on Springfield, Missouri where I spent the evening catching up on the sports news and contemplating the whims of Divine Providence.