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.

Homeless Men on Father’s Day

It’s Father’s Day and my three children are all grown and literally thousands of miles away. I miss them terribly. My own father died a few years ago, at age 93. I know it’s a contrived type of holiday but it did get me thinking about fathers and father figures. To a large degree when I was growing up father figures – coaches, uncles, scout leaders – at times had a bigger role in “raising me right” than my own father. Some had their own kids and some didn’t. Some were wise and inspiring like Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird and others were wilder but taught you lessons that you still needed to learn. I remember the poet Robert Bly saying something like: if you’re a grown man you should find a way to support young men and boys. Show them you care and be a role model for them. And if you are a boy or a young man you should find older men who can guide you, teach you things and who care about you. I see an example of this once a week when I gather with friends at the Pipe Smoker’s Club. The ages of men and women attending range from 18 – 92. They come from all walks of life, races, religions, political spectrums, but all of that is put aside for the pleasure of smoking a good pipe or cigar. And let me make this clear to any young people reading this: DON’T SMOKE! But what I like about the group is the caring, comradery and general bonhomie of the attenders. They welcome everyone. You don’t even have to smoke to join the group. (The second hand smoke is free.) People in the group have helped each other with getting jobs, learning new skills and information, and, I know with me, helping me when I was feeling a bit down. When my own kids were growing up I was both a good role model and a bad role model. The good is easy to guess; the bad, well, at least I could say to them: “Let this be a warning to you. Don’t do as I do.” My kids received lots of these warning while growing up; still get them. And that’s okay. I remember the Baptist Minister Will Campbell, in one of his books, has a character define Christianity in 10 words or less. I like the definition he came up with: We’re all sinners but God loves us anyway.
Which finally brings me to my motorcycle ride today. It was time to get my 2004 Harley Road King, Big Red, out of the garage. Having ridden across the country twice I’m pretty comfortable meeting strangers. Since I couldn’t hang out with my kids I decided to ride to a nearby town and visit a free meal program, a place I had visited a few times before, and maybe talk with other fathers, ones that were homeless and probably not feeling that great today. I don’t want to try and appear saintly. The two women who organize the place and serve meals 3 times a week are saints. I’m not a saint and I can give you plenty of personal references that will say that I’m not. I just thought it might be a nice thing to do. I didn’t know if anyone else would walk away feeling better after the conversation but I knew I would. So I went.
I ended up chatting with four men over plates of food and iced tea. One told me that he was a father. That one of his kids had died and the other didn’t speak to him. He was helping another older man find a suit to wear as his father had just recently died and he needed it for the funeral. He didn’t want to talk. Another man said he had kids but didn’t elaborate. His arm was in a sling due to a shoulder injury at work. He was waiting for workman’s comp to kick in. One of the women running the place gave him some information about a nearby place that helps people get the medicine they need. The man had been brought there by a woman who was staying at the same motel as he was. She was from Alabama and she and her husband had moved here looking for work. She said the price of food was more expensive here and also that the rent was so high. Her husband had finally gotten a new job and they were going to move to a nearby town if they could find a place to live. She didn’t eat anything. She had wanted to help the man in the sling out. The last person I chatted with was a young man who was maybe in his early 20’s. I had met him a number of times before. He asked me to rub some alcohol on a spot on his back where he had been stung by a bee. I did that. Then he sat back down and put his head on a table. Later on he lifted up his head to tell me that his real dad had died when he was 15. Then he put his head back down.
It was past time for the place to close and the two women there began packing up. One told me about the new water cooler and plastic capped bags they had for people who were living rough in the woods. They had hooks on them which made them easier to carry on a bike and were better than just using water bottles folks had contributed. It was 96 degrees outside. I thanked the two women for the work they were doing and said goodbye to the young man. I took off on Big Red with a lot to think and pray about.

Some Concluding Thoughts, for Now. What I learned from the Ride.

Some Concluding Thoughts, for Now. What I learned from the Ride.

“The real cycle you’re working on is a cycle called yourself.”

Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

 In Tao of the Ride, Garri Garripoli writes: The Ride is the metaphor I use in this book for how we move through our life…For me, the Ride is best played out on a motorcycle. It speaks to every aspect of how I see life in that poetic way – the need for balance, confronting your mortality, accelerating, breaking, refueling, tune-ups, repairs, accidents, accepting passengers and so forth. The bike becomes a mirror that reflects the whole of my life.

I like Garripoli’s quote (and his book). Here are some  of my conclusions about my ride.

Look where you want to go. When you’re are on a motorcycle you need to be focusing not immediately in front of you, but instead looking in the direction you want the bike to go. The bike will go where you’re looking. If you get fixated on some hazard in the road, or that your bike is heading off the road and you are worried about a wall or a ditch and you stare at them, that’s called object fixation. Staring at them you’re more likely to hit them. As in life, you have to not get too hung up on difficulties in your path, but instead, have a vision of where you want to go. Proverbs says: “Where there is no vision the people perish.” Lots of times in life we get stuck focusing on the problem that is making us unhappy and forget about the things that do make us happy. Let’s head toward them.

Don’t worry about what you’ve already driven through, or become preoccupied with what’s coming up that you can’t yet see. This is part of staying in the present. Having an awareness and mindfulness of what’s happening around you, what your senses are telling you. If we focus too much on the past, which we can’t change, we’re daydreaming and not paying attention. Similarly, if we worry about the future too much we can miss important things that are happening in this moment. And this moment, this day, is the only one we have. We have to present to win. This links in with the Zen concept of mushin no shin which means “the mind without mind”. Jeff said a similar thing to me when he mentioned that when he was riding it was like he had no mind. Mushin happens when the mind is not preoccupied with thoughts or emotions and thus is open to the present, to what is happening now. It’s similar to the flow that artists experience in very creative moments. You don’t rely on your thinking but on your training and intuition.

Stay calm and breathe. It’s so important not to over-anticipate and overreact to things. I’m still working on this as I tend to tense up a lot, with a rough road or wild winds. If I see a bump ahead, or debris in the road I would often tense up in anticipation. Instead, I need to look and see what my options are. This illustrates the constant lane awareness you have to have. If I can shift in my lane or change lanes to miss the obstacle then I need to stay calm, look where I want to go and make the subtle movements to go there.  The last two days of my ride I felt this happening more with me. I wasn’t always trying to plan my lane position for curves, I would catch myself tensing up and I’d relax. Toward the end of the ride I was feeling more and more the flow and energy of the bike and the Ride.

The Taoists have a useful concept called wu wei. Essentially it translates as effortless action. It means to flow with the situation rather than trying to force things. Resistance is futile! Find the energy and go with it. This works effectively with difficult Harley Davidson service managers or challenging folks at work. And the principle can be seen in the actions of dancers, artists, musicians who have relaxed into their artistry, trust it and follow it. You can also see this with motorcyclists in how they manage a curve in the road. They might manhandle the bike, bank it with force, grip the handlebars extremely tightly (like I have so often done) or they relax into the curve, sense the bike and the road, look where they want to go, feel the flow and balance, and manage it all gracefully with wu wei, effortless effort.

This leads into the next bit of knowledge I gleaned: Lean into the Curve. I’ve written about this already. I even bought a Harley shirt in Victorville, California, where I was getting my Harley repaired, and the shirt says: “When Life Throws you a Curve, Lean into it.” Don’t fight it, or become fixated on it, or try to overpower it; just trust that you can go into it, through it and survive. You will make it through it and come out safely the other side.

Silence is healing and holy. We are bombarded with noise all the time. The radio, the television, music we listen to. When do we actively engage with silence? Elijah, Jesus and Mohammed journeyed into the desert so they could more clearly hear the voice of God. Buddhist, Christians and others meditate in silence.  Quakers worship in silence. Psalm 46 says: Be still and know that I am God. When are we ever “still”?

Even with the loud hum of the V-Twin Harley engine on my Road King, most of the time I felt as if I was in silence. The sound was a hymn that was being written as I rode.

Love the Ride. Be grateful. This was my ride but we’re all on the Ride, our life’s journey.

The eighteenth-century Christian writer Jean-Pierre De Caussade wrote “The present moment holds infinite riches beyond your wildest dreams …The will of God is manifest in each moment, an immense ocean which only the heart fathoms insofar as it overflows with faith, trust and love.”

I know my life works better when I express gratitude for what I have and show loving kindness and compassion towards others, beginning with myself. I tried to do this as much as possible on the the ride.

I hope you enjoyed riding along. Thanks for reading and following us.

I’ll conclude with a quote from one of my favorite writers.

Homecoming is the goal, but our home is not out there, a geographic place, the protective other, or a comforting theology or psychology. Homecoming means returning to a relationship with the Self, a relationship that was there in the beginning, but from which we necessarily strayed in our obligatory adaptations to the explicit and implicit demands of family, tribe and culture. Homecoming means healing, means integration of the split off parts of the soul, means redeeming the dignity and high purpose of our soul’s journey. When we are here to live our soul’s journey, we can spontaneously be generous to others, for we have much to give from our inner abundance; we can draw and maintain boundaries, for we have learned the difference between their journey and ours; and we can sort through different value clashes because we have found a personal authority that helps us discern what is authentic for us. In short, we have recovered a relationship to the soul (psyche) from which we lost contact, but that nonetheless continues to hum beneath the surface of our lives and never, ever loses contact with us.”

James Hollis, What Matters Most