Jeff’s Latest Blog: Riding With Gene When I’m Not Riding With Gene

I couldn’t ride with Gene on our second annual cross-country journey. I had a first grandbaby due in May, an illness forming, and my usual means of fundraising had fallen short.
Gene allowed me to help plan his trip and the rough draft seemed straight forward: a) ride two lane roads from Georgia to b) Sturgis then LAX c) following the Mississippi River north to Iowa, turn left to Sturgis, maybe travel by Mt. Rushmore, head to Los Angeles to see Hannah, his daughter.
But he was a little vague on the details so I pressed him. The answers I received were even vaguer. “Are you going to ride a road that runs parallel to the Mississippi?”
“Yep.”
“Well, which road? What side of the river?”
“I haven’t decided yet. I’ll wait and see what feels right when I get there. Besides it don’t matter what side of the river as long as it runs along the river!”
“Don’t you think you should identify the road you want to be on so you don’t go crossing the river several times and maybe get lost?”
He stared at me out of one eye. “I never get lost. Least ways not accidentally. I won’t get lost crossing over the river unless I want too.” (For the record Gene actually crossed the Mississippi River 5 times on the way over. But no, he doesn’t get lost.)
“Are you going to camp out or stay in cheap hotels?”
“I’m going to camp out mostly. Just pitch a tent somewhere out under the stars.”
So, our planning his trip with me helping didn’t last very long. He apparently had his own “non -plan plan” in mind.
Gene wrote a blog about crossing from California into Arizona during his return from LAX. Within an hour he ran into the fiercest crosswinds he’d ever encountered. A sandstorm quickly joined the windstorm hitting Gene and Big Red like God’s own sandblaster. I could only imagine half of Big Red stripped to its naked polished steel and half of Gene shredded to the bone, a howling silent scream shrieking through his nasty half face. I later asked him what he did and he advised that he hunkered down on top of Big Red with a jacket shielding him from a wild, avenging dust spirit. In my techni-colored mind I imagined Gene and Big Red hobbling behind a shutdown pre fifties roadhouse, Gene unpacking his sleeping bag to protect them as he also fired up a premeditative crooked cigar.
In my heart I rode with Gene across the country and back. I saw things a bit different than he did but we do have separate eyeballs and brains to process memories with. When we ride with freedom, gratitude, and an open heart we are bound to ride roads made of bliss.

Day 21: Dust Storm, Zero Visibility, Gusting Winds = Dangerous Riding, Tumbling Tumbleweeds, World Cup, Watercolor Sky: 367 Miles Traveled.

All day long I was thinking that this was going to be a rather boring blog entry. The heat index today had fallen into the 90’s and the ride was reasonably comfortable, especially compared with yesterday. And the scenery of I-10 was still the same: Cacti, willow trees, rough grass, huge stones, mountain ranges in the distance, long stretches between towns, filling stations with Tee Shirts, Mexican and Native American crafts.
I hunkered down in Wilcox, Arizona at a McDonalds and watched the second half of the USA match on my laptop, in Spanish.
Then I headed back out on the road and finished my trip in Arizona and entered New Mexico. There were signs warning of dust storms, zero visibility, and asking drivers to not stop in the travel lanes. I looked to the north and south and could see dust devils spinning in the distance. No problem here, I thought.
I stopped at Deming, and for some reason, found myself just driving around the town, looking at the old buildings and shops. Cops were frisking some guy outside an auto parts store. Farther down the road another cop was taking witness statements by the side of the road. Time to leave. Gassed up and saw a huge dust storm coming out of the north. This storm stretch for miles, just a golden cloud heading my way. I took off and headed towards Las Cruces. It looked like I was going to outrun it and I did. I watched in the rear view mirror as the sand colored and black clouds swept the landscape behind me. But 10 miles down the road, the wind suddenly picked up and a huge dust storm closed in. I flipped my helmet visor down, rode for about 5 miles through the dust and battering winds until I reached a spot where I couldn’t see more than 10 feet in front of me.
I had to pull over on the interstate shoulder. I leaned over the gas tank of the bike and steadied it as the wind kept trying to blow the bike over. This lasted for about 15 minutes until the rocking winds died down. I cranked Big Red back up and she ran sluggishly through the remnants of the dust storm. (Air filter?). I stopped at a service area, got an orange juice, calmed my nerves and checked on my phone, the weather at my next destination: Las Cruces. Severe thunderstorm warnings. I could either go back about 15 miles to Deming or try and get to Las Cruces, 40 miles away, before the storm got me.
I took off toward Las Cruces. I could smell rain in the air, petrichor, (Wikipedia: “Petrichor (/ˈpɛtrɨkɔər/) is the scent of rain on dry earth, or the scent of dust after rain. The word is constructed from Greek, petros, meaning ‘stone’ + ichor, the fluid that flows in the veins of the gods in Greek mythology.”) Love that word! It’s alchemical.
The rain fell intermittently but the sky, the sky was amazing. Behind me, to the west, the sky was a golden ochre color. To the north there was a swath of blue, with gunmetal grey clouds. The south looked like a Chinese watercolor with a wash of grey on the horizon, and above, indigo clouds descending. Then I topped a hill and headed down into the city of Las Cruces, the city of the crosses. Looming high behind the city are the Organ Mountains and at this moment the setting sun from behind me was illuminating the foothills of the mountains, painting them an electric golden color. It was majestic. Holy. Wow.
Then I headed back to the mundane and secular and got a room at a Super 8

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.”

Day 13: Monterey to Yosemite National Park. Hollister and Time Literally Flies

Day 13: Monterey to Yosemite National Park. Hollister and Time Literally Flies

 When I woke up this morning I wasn’t well. My head hurt and my brain was a bit fuzzy. I was still reacting to yesterday’s trip. Today’s goal was 200 miles and Yosemite and we almost made it but I was getting too fatigued. We had hoped that today would be a smoother ride but it wasn’t. The crosswinds returned and the roads were bumpy. The wind causes you to be extra vigilant, and tenser as you hold the handle grips tighter. Jeff said: “Bud you don’t look that well. Let’s hole up here and do Yosemite tomorrow.” I’m one of those people who normally want to just keep going but Jeff was right. I wouldn’t enjoy the ride, plus it wasn’t safe. So we stopped at Mariposa, 40 miles away from our goal, hunkered down in a Burger King and checked hotel prices through the Wi-Fi. All of which led us to the Monarch Inn at 2:30 pm. In a matter of minutes I was in bed and slept for two hours. I feel much better.

One nice stop we had was at the Country Rose Café in Hollister. Hollister is famous for a 1947 4th of July motorcycle event that got way out of hand. 4000 motorcyclists descended upon the town of only 4500 residents. This is where the “bad biker” image began and was cemented in the film based on Hollister, The Wild One, which starred Marlon Brandon.

But back to the café. When we came in we noticed posters for the next 4th of July motorcycle rally. The townspeople and the bikers have clearly made up. We had a hearty (not healthy) breakfast and coffee. The usual menu items plus the Mexican twist. For example, Huevo Rancheroes and a Sante Fe Omelet. Chillies, jalapenos and salsa were standard; ketchup was for babies. Well I was one of them staying safe with eggs, chorizo sausage, cottage potatoes and toast. The folks were friendly and the service was great.

And what about time flying? I hit one too many bumps and heard something fall off the bike, the sound of metal clattering on the asphalt. There was too much traffic behind me to stop. I double checked to make sure my bags were there, my phone and camera still in their magnetic bags clinging to the gas tank and I rode on.  A few minutes later I noticed a hole where my clock used to be. Tempus fugit.