Day 24: Home! Total Trip Miles: 6794 Miles, Sleep, Journeys, Angels, Hospitality

It’s been about 36 hours since I returned from my trip and I’ve slept about 24 of them. The last day of the trip I just kept going and ended up doing around 660 miles in 12 hours. And yes, that part of my body was sore. But there are folks who belong to the Iron Butt Club which requires that they do over 1000 in a day. Compared to those iron amazons I’m more like aluminum.
I left before 7am on my last day, July 4th, and knew the roads would be comparatively empty due to the holiday. They were. Peeled through towns: Abilene, Ft Worth/Dallas, Shreveport, Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, and Gadsen. Saw folks gathered in parks festooned with red, white and blue bunting. Others, on the road like me, were traveling somewhere.
Tolstoy said that “all great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.” Well, needless to say, this ain’t great literature but on the trip I did both; I was the man going on the journey and the stranger riding into town. And I met a whole slew of amazing people; some celebrating a marriage and others coping with tremendous loss. I was enriched by getting to know them and their stories, however brief. And there were many more stories I never got to tell, but I hope to add them here someday. The trip reaffirmed for me that whether we are physically moving anywhere, or merely staying put, we’re all on a journey somewhere. And our journey intersects and influences the lives of so many people, for good or ill, whether we know it or not.
A few days before the end of the trip I came upon this quote which I think applies to all of us.
“Your journey has molded you for your greater good, and it was exactly what it needed to be. Don’t think you’ve lost time. There is no short-cutting to life. It took each and every situation you have encountered to bring you to the now. And now is right on time.”
― Asha Tyson
Good and bad experiences brought us to where we are today. Let’s cherish the now.
The Bible says: “Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!”
I’m certainly no angel. Maybe the people, the strangers we meet every day are angels and maybe they’re not. I find it hard to judge. It’s a safer bet to try and see angels in everyone we meet. That’s what I want to remember from this trip. We’re all on a journey. At the very least let’s be kind to our fellow travelers, some of which most certainly are angels.
So thanks for riding with me. Best wishes on your journey. Ride safe!

Day 16: Henderson to Holbrook; Random and Unruly Thoughts I have while Riding

Day 16: Henderson to Holbrook; Random and Unruly Thoughts I have while Riding

Today I decided that I’d take out my laptop when I took a break and write down the thoughts I’d been having during the ride. After all, the subtitle of the blog is: Motorcycles and Mindfulness; Two Wheels Move the Soul. While riding, I find that I can balance focusing on the present-what my senses are telling me while I ride, e.g. sounds, smells, feel of the bike, reacting to the wind, reading the road ahead- with being mindful-thinking about issues, as long as they are in the present, and not the past or future. If I get into memories or thinking about what I’m going to do I get distracted and lose awareness.  That’s never good.

You will probably conclude that I’m pretty weird (if you haven’t already!) but welcome to my world! Here’s what I recorded at my breaks. I did edit it when I got to the hotel!

Break 1: After 100 miles. Kingman.

Whoo wee! That was a windy ride. I left Henderson, skirted around Lake Mead and Hoover Dam and was met with signs saying: gusty winds next 2 miles”. I tensed up; even though that’s the worst thing you can do on a bike. Winds are definitely a flow you’ve got to go with and you have to trust your experience and the bike. Though I did wish the highway people would start out with more gentle warning signs such as: “Not sure, but it could be a little windier than usual up ahead”, next sign: “We’re pretty sure now it’s going to be fairly windy”, “Okay, we were wrong it’s going to be gusty up ahead. Sorry.” I could then ease into it. Otherwise, I start to get anxious and tense. I look around.  Okay, where are those pesky winds hiding?

I spent two hours in the traffic and the gusts, did 100 miles and made it to Kingman, where I am now having some iced tea and relaxing. The winds were bad, but I’ve been through worse. Hurricane Point above Big Sur will now be my standard measurement. But now, the tea is cold, sweet and great. I’m happy as Larry, as they say in Ireland, though I never had a clue who this Larry was.

I was thinking about how I love how most bikers (90+ %) will give a little salute to other bikers as they pass. Normally, it’s the left hand down, extended outward but sometimes it’s a wave. It’s like we’re saying: He there buddy! Ride safe! I remember how when I was younger, out in different parts of Georgia car drivers would give a little wave. More recently, I remember driving in the Mourne Mountains in Northern Ireland where passing motorists will still wave to each other. It was quaint and I liked it.

Break 2: Williams Arizona for Lunch

Magnificent clouds met me when I left McDonalds. Huge feather clouds taking up half the sky, scudded by fleecy clouds underneath. Wow.  

Awareness and going with the flow to me means being patient, not in a hurry, enjoying the ride, recognizing that on the bike or off, our life is a ride. What applies on the road applies in life.

What gets in the way of our enjoying life are our expectations of things. We think things should be a certain way and they’re not and we get frustrated and angry. In restaurants we don’t like waiting. We get angry at the waiter. There’s some guy driving slow in front of us; another guy hogging the passing lane and we get angry, ride on their tails. It reminded me of a poem I wrote last year about geese. When I get to the hotel I’ll find it and stick it in here.

 (Here’s the poem!)

An Alternative Theory on Flying Geese and War

There’s a charming and inspiring story

About geese flying in a V formation,

Taking turns to lead

And honking to make contact

To support and encourage each other.

You’ve probably heard it.

Or you can Google it.

Personally, I don’t believe it.

Apply Ockam’s Razor,

The simplest explanation is often the best,

And you’ll see that they honk,

Like we do

When others get in our way.

Sky rage, road rage,

Sidewalk rage, rage between countries

What’s the difference?

For heaven’s sake the honking

Is not a “contact call”.

It’s not saying:

“I’m right here behind you!”

Geese aren’t stupid.

We know, they know

When some other goose

Is flying close behind our tail.

I don’t know about you but

No one ever encouraged me

With a honk.

We’re like the geese

Always in motion,

Heading in some direction which

To us feels sacred and inviolate

Wanting others

To hurry up

And get out of our way.

Think about it:

Hasn’t all our heartache,

Violence and war come from

Our desires to

Be some where

(Where is this where?)

Or be some one

(Special, acclaimed?)

Or have some thing?

(A person, fame, wealth, property?)

And damn it if other geese,

People, countries

Just won’t get the hell out of our way. 

They honk.

We honk.

 

Ha ha! That was fun.

 We’re in such a hurry. To where? In a car I’m thinking how this place is boring and how fast can I get across this bareness? I listen to the radio, keep changing stations, listen to a cd etc. On a motorcycle I’m immersed in this barrenness. The Buddhist might say that I am at one with the barrenness, and that maybe the barrenness isn’t really barren at all.

I see a bike ahead and can tell from the outline it’s an Electra Glide like Jeff’s. I can’t make up the color but no way I’ve caught up with him. I get closer and see it’s white, the guy has no helmet on, bless Arizona. I pass him and wave and he smiles and waves back, He has a bandana on and a long smoky grey beard that flops, doubling, as he waves. He’s cruising at 65 and enjoying every minute of it.

It is at this point that a wind zaps me into awareness again. Damn wind! I start thinking about it and wonder if any biker has compiled a typology of winds. Well, I’ll do my own.

  1. Zephyr. A gentle breeze.
  2. Directional wind. Wind coming from one direction.
  3. Cross winds. Winds sometimes from the left alternating with winds from the right.
  4. Buffeting winds. Winds created by large trucks when you are following them.
  5. Truck passing winds. Winds created when you’ve decided you’ve had enough and you’re damn well going to pass that truck. With these situations you have to factor in the Bernoulli Effect –which I won’t describe now but involves differences in air pressure which actually suck you towards the truck as you pass. (A whole independent treatise could be written on the crazy dynamics of these kinds of winds! Maybe I will.)
  6. Reappearing winds. They hide when you are passing the truck but when you reemerge they’re back with a vengeance.
  7. Wacky winds. Impatient, unhappy winds. They think the wind is greener on the other side. They dart through you, decide they don’t like it on the other side and quickly dart back. And they keep doing this like a kid changing channels on his TV.  
  8. Whacking winds. These appear out of nowhere and just whack you. The universal response is almost always something like: Where the hell did that come from! They remind me of what some Zen monks do to students who are meditating. If the student looks like they are drifting off into daydreaming then the monk will whack them on the shoulder with a stick. It’s for the student’s own good. Yeah right. Whacking winds can be helpful if you’ve lost awareness and focus, but I still hate them.  

 Then I’m back to thinking about the Geese poem again. Don’t all religions preach love, kindness and compassion? So my goal is to love the person in front of me, as Kierkegaard would say, not as I want them to be, wish they could be, but as they are, without any judgement, expectation, or demand that they be different. But our beliefs and ideas of right and wrong get in the way. (Where did they come from? What we think about our country, our rights, our religious beliefs? Are we sure about them?)  

We have so many beliefs about what we think is right and wrong and we never question them. We listen to other people and news sources which only serve to confirm our beliefs. We make fun of other groups. I’ll confess that I used to have a rough time with rich people and assumed all sorts of things about them. I didn’t like them. I also used to think bad things about overly demonstrative religious people. (And I would use parts of the Bible to justify these e.g. pray in quiet. But haven’t people always used the Bible this way? Look how many southerners used the Bible to justify slavery.)

I started thinking about the 16 years I lived in Northern Ireland. Now the people there were wonderful. And I’m not going to then say: “But bless their hearts!” and lay into them. They ones I met were and are wonderful. And I met some “chancers” as they would say over there!

But I remember once going on a cross cultural peace retreat at a peace center called Corrymeela. They had some great speakers and facilitators that tried to get you to look at things differently, to understand better where you and others were coming from.  I remember a leader saying: To Jesus right or wrong wasn’t the most important thing. It didn’t matter if the person was a prostitute, leper, tax collector, a beggar, or a rich man, it was the relationship that he had with that person that was of utmost importance. He put aside His judgements. He saw the person and he loved them. That stuck in my head. Ideas can get in our way and we don’t even know it. Catholic or Protestant? Years ago, before they had the long time now peace process the old joke used to go: A car gets stopped at a paramilitary road block in Belfast and a man with a gun asks the driver. “Are you a Catholic or a Protestant?  In those days, depending on where you were in Belfast the answer to that question can make a huge difference as to whether you continue to drive in your car. Anyway, the man says: “I’m a Buddhist.” The paramilitary man thinks for a moment and then replies: “Yeah, but are you a Catholic Buddhist or a Protestant Buddhist?”

I figure my job is to let go of labels and judgements. If I’m busy criticizing or making fun of others, be it Republicans, liberals, Democrats, rednecks, immigrants, gay people, people from other countries, whoever, then I’m digging a hole for myself. Besides, I love what Anne Lamotte said: The surest sign that you’ve created God in your own image is when it turns out He hates the same people you do. My goal is to love others. Judging gets in the way of that.  I need to watch out for this. I can slip into judgements and expectations of others in the blink of an eye.

I’m writing this down (most of it-edited later) while sitting out in the sun having lunch, a beer and listening to a well-travelled, folk and blues player.  This man has paid his dues. He seems to be happy in the moment. He jokes, shares stories, plays requests and pets his dog during the break.  

I look over at a gabled wall and read: Williams- Last Route 66 town bypassed by 1-40 on October 13th 1984. 

It feels great to be off the bike, to sit in the sun, to watch the families, the children goofing around and to listen to the music.

The food comes. The cole slaw is better than good, even has some walnuts in it. The fries are very good. The amber ale is excellent but I don’t like the barbecue sandwich. I am disappointed but not upset. I could get mad but what will getting mad do for me? For anyone else? I’m happy. Maybe it’s a different style of barbecue? Arizona style, where apparently they don’t know how to make real barbecue! I don’t eat it. I let it go and enjoy everything else.

I’m rewarded brilliantly when the musician plays two tunes I love and hardly ever hear. “Looking for the Heart of Saturday night.” By Tom Waits and a real obscure song called:   

“1952 Vincent Black Lightning.” By Richard Thompson. Wow.

 I figure I’ve got about 130 miles to go. It’s 3:15 pm. An easy two hours with more stuff to think about.

 Break 3: in Holbrook, Arizona.

Jeff’s already here and we chat. It’s good to see him again. He tells of his adventures and I tell mine. I hope he’ll blog them because the man can tell a story and he’s funny as all get out.

I collapsed on the bed. I was exhausted. My head hurt and I fell asleep.

Later, when I woke up we talked some more. I asked him if he’d seen the man on the yellow Victory. He hadn’t. So I told him the story.

When I was leaving Williams and topping up the gas tank I ran into another biker doing the same thing. He was on a yellow Victory motorcycle. He came hobbling over to talk.

“You hurt yourself?” I asked.

“Yep, I’ve dropped the bike 5 times. Last time was up at the Grand Canyon. Slipped on some gravel. bike fell on my foot. I’m not used to the roads.”

“Dang!” I replied. I walked over to his bike. It looked nice but dirty and a bit dented.

“You been on the road long?” I asked.

“Just 10 days. Had a fog light here.” He said pointing to where there were only two wires sticking out. “Knocked it off when I dropped her. Other one still works.”

“You been riding motorcycles for long?” I had to ask.

“Yep. This bike has 35,000 miles on it. But these roads are different than the ones back in Tennessee.”

We talked for a while longer. I was going East and he West.  I wished him well as we said goodbye.  “And no more dropping your bike!” I said.

When I left I gave thanks for not having had his experiences. And I said a prayer for him.  

 

Jeff and I chatted off and on. He wrote, I wrote, he called his wife. We discussed things. He’s a witty and clever and fun traveling companion. I’m lucky. He, not so much.

Before he headed off to bed he said: “Lookie here, ain’t that nice they put a special pad under my sheet. I guess it’s in case I pee during the night.” He laughed.

I said: “Well Jeff I gave them those special instructions  because I’m not going to pay those motel surcharges for you any more.”

He laughed: “Yep, I bet you’ve already forked out $200 in paying for new mattresses!”

“Yep, and I ain’t gonna do it any more.”

Monty Python and Zen Motorcycle Repair Shops

I’m pleased to say that Jeff finally got his bike back from the repair shop. Since we’re leaving in two days the delay was putting an unneeded and unexpected burden on our moods; his mainly. It got me thinking about my experiences with repair shops and whether there was any use exploring the problem from a Zen perspective.

We’ve all asked the question: “When will this be ready?”

Instead of getting a response like “tomorrow’ or “Monday” which I know is just a wild guess I’d rather just get a more honest Zen reply, like: What is the sound of one hand clapping?

We all meet a variety of skill level people everywhere we take our business. Motorcycle repair shops are just the same. There are some extremely competent people there and then sometimes, in the Monty Python tradition, you just wish you could yell: “Will every mechanic who is a mechanic punch a mechanic who isn’t a mechanic?”

I must say that overall I’ve had good karmic experiences at motorcycle shops. But then I haven’t had to use one in a long time. That’s because this is the first motorcycle I’ve owned in about 22 years. Before that I did ride a succession of bikes: Kawasaki 125, Honda 350, BMW R60/5 for years until I got the old “ultamato”. One day, staring at the BMW my wife at the time said to me.” Gene you’ve got a child on the way, it’s either us or the bike.”

I had sort of guessed this was coming. She’d hinted around about it. And, of course, you have to answer quickly because saying ‘I’m thinking about it’ would release a whole lot of pain on you that you don’t need.

“Of course”. I answered, already thinking that maybe I’ll put such an absurdly high price on it that no one will make an offer.

I reflected on the carefree days when the two of us would have great adventures riding all over the rolling hills and back roads. And you know that just offering to buy a side car, for some reason just won’t cut it.

Mothers-to-be are programmed to say these things. It’s instinctual. They know that our having a motorcycle will just interfere with our hunter and gatherer skills. Unless you are talking about hunting down and gathering more motorcycles.

Before I could get an advertisement in the paper I guy I know offered me money for the bike. In front of my wife. The worst place he could have done it!

So when I returned to riding motorcycles after the kids were grown I realized that, just like cars bikes had evolved technologically. Motorcycles also now have those check engine/ maintenance required lights that flicker on and off. The bike mechanics can plug your bike into a machine and it’ll whirl, groan, and then spin out some arcane number, both mystical and alchemical that may or may not give a clue to the problem. I’ve never seen one of these decoding machines work but I have seen the confused looks on the faces of mechanics. I remember hearing one exclaim: “Check the lean-angle sensor. Where the hell is that?”

In Zen motorcycle repair shops they probably get an answer more like: “Do not look outside. The answer is within.”

In the old days you’d stand there with the mechanic, he’d be wiping oil of his hands with a blue rag and he’d just say: “She done froze up on you.” That was the explanation for everything. We’d nod our heads in agreement and then shake them sadly in unison, staring at the bike.

I actually feel more comfortable when the check engine light is on. It’s reassuring. Most of the people I know ride with them on and, like me, get worried when the light goes off. “Okay, what’s wrong now? The light went out.”  If you’re like me you put a piece of black tape over the light so you won’t have to look at it all time. And if you’re like me you also angle your head to the side every now and then just to make sure it it’s still on.

You can tell a lot about the psychological makeup of a wife or girlfriend just by their reactions to the check engine light. Try this experiment: Next time you’re in a car and the light goes on or goes off what do she immediately say?

If she says: “what did I do?” it means she’s guilt prone, like me, and tends to take responsibility for her mistakes, along with the mistakes of others. Now that’s a way of being-in the-world you can work with.  There’s some self -reflective ability there, which, in moderation is good. If she looks at you and says: “What did you do or not do?’ you can tell that marriage counseling is likely to be ineffective with this person should you need it someday. You are going to get blamed for everything. These folks have an ability to see everyone else’s check engine lights, but their own. The Zen way of responding is just to smile, wonder at and appreciate the beauty of the disappearance of the check engine light.

I wish motorcycles would come with a check engine light, check light so I can be sure that my check engine light is always working. What if there’s a fault in the check engine light itself? . But then, having studied philosophy I know that my simple wish to have a check engine light, check light,  if followed, according to Zeno’s paradox would result in an infinite number of check engine light, check lights, each checking on each other. Motion itself would become impossible. Nobody wants that.

So how can we apply any of this to Zen motorcycle repair shops? Well it helps to teach us patience and to have compassion. Zen motorcycle repairmen have no more control over the future than we do. They are at the whim and mercy of their stock, the correctness of their inventory updates, the honesty of their suppliers and the talents and abilities of their staff, just like we are. The Buddhist idea of interconnectedness helps us see that we’re all in this together.

And while we watch them do their silly walks around the repair place, just like we do ours, we should relax, stay centered, breathe, and have gratitude.

After all, I know it’s in the Bible somewhere, maybe worded slightly differently, that we should deal with our own check engine lights first, before we point to those in others.

Makes good sense to me.