The photo is of my odometer just after it had turned over 100,000 miles. I was exiting I-75 at exit 312 in Calhoun, Georgia, pulled over and snapped the photo. I bought Big Red from my good buddy El Jefe Stafford, who nurtured her for her first 25,000 miles. When I moved home to Georgia after being in Ireland for 16 years I didn’t have any vehicle to drive. My buddy loaned me Big Red. I eventually bought a Jeep Wrangler and an old BMW but Big Red has been my lifeline, physically, mentally and spiritually. I have put 75,000 miles on her in the last 5 years, riding to work, taking trips and going cross-country 4 times, including Alaska once. (Stories from those trips are in this blog.) That’s a lot of silent miles to think, reflect, give thanks and pray. And I’m hoping to stick around to watch her cross the 100,000 mile mark again. The mileage is no huge deal. I met a guy out in Arizona who had 250,000 miles on his BMW and a woman passing through Rome, Georgia who had even more than that on her old Harley Shovelhead. And she did all her own repairs! At the end of the day, all we have are our own little challenges, goals and victories and with a grateful heart, that should be enough for us.
I checked into a nice motel in Maggie Valley, with screen doors and rocking chairs out front. The owners were busy with other tasks and the interaction was brief and all business. Not like my earlier reaction with Dale that I wrote about in part one. I couldn’t get him out of my mind especially the gratitude he expressed for simply being alive. Despite being troubled by the relentless ghosts of his PTSD, the loss of his friends and marriage, he was still thankful, still felt blessed. He reminded me of the woman Nancy I wrote about in my Day 15 blog from Deadwood from South Dakota. 80 years old and homeless, trusting God and feeling blessed.
So anyway, it got me thinking a lot about gratitude. I decided to go get a drink a Boojum Brewery in Waynesville, North Carolina and explore this idea of gratitude. On the way there I nearly dropped the bike. It was my stupid mistake in mishandling the controls on a hill, while holding my phone in my right hand and being in neutral. The bike kept slipping back and I struggled to keep her upright. I finally got her in gear and headed out. I kept thinking: Don’t relax your guard when you’re on the home stretch. One of my best buddies had a terrible accident after a long ride when he was just pulling into the driveway of where he was staying. You have to be vigilant on a motorcycle.
Fortunately, the beer at Boojum was terrific. I decided to do an experiment on gratitude. While sitting at the bar I got to talking with some of the others there. After sharing and joking around I began to ask each one what they were grateful for. The bartender had moved here from Statesboro, Georgia to work on a graduate degree in sustainability. He was grateful for the program, his girlfriend and that he got to look at that mountain behind us as he worked. (We were on the outside deck). Another guy, from Texas, who told me he had recently turned 60 years old, tinted windows for a living. He was grateful for the drumming circles he played in and the good women he had known. An attractive middle-age nurse beside me told me that she was grateful that she can make everyone feel better. I bet she was probably a very good nurse but she didn’t seem too interested in me and that wasn’t making me feel better! Her mother, on the other side of her, added that her daughter had been nurse of the year. She was thankful for her children. She and her daughter were thinking of heading to the Elk Club that evening for karaoke. They didn’t invite me to come and, of course, that didn’t make me feel better either. Someone surprised me and asked me what I was thankful for. I said the first thing that came into my mind, which was “my children”. But I have so much more. I try and give thanks for things each day. It puts me in a better mood. What are you thankful for?
I didn’t stay long at Boojum and rode back to the motel where I sat and rocked in one of the rocking chairs, smoked a cigar and did a lot of thinking.
I started the morning grabbing a McDonalds takeaway and hurrying down to the Harley Davidson (HD) dealer to get an oil change. I try and change the oil about every 3-5,000 miles. The folks there were very friendly, had no one waiting, and I was out within an hour. 96 Bucks ($)! But that’s typical. Everyone knows that HD stands for ‘hundred dollars’ because you’ll spend at least that every time you walk into a Harley shop.
I continued on I-80 until I reached the town of Wells and decided to head north on Highway 93 toward Idaho. Last time I was in Idaho was in 1981. I had been staying with friends in Seattle and decided to hop a train and hitchhike home. I remember going through Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado. But that’s a story for another time.
Today, I had beautiful blue skies and more of the same terrain all the way to Wells. When I made it to Idaho the first thing I noticed was how flat it was. Almost like Kansas. Next, I noticed a succession of folks being stopped by Idaho state police. Then the land grew more fertile and verdant, with the long arm irrigation systems spraying water into the air. Then there were waterways and rivers, canyons.
I don’t try and conjure it up (that would be cheating) but always within a few short miles on the bike out in the country, a feeling of thankfulness and gratitude overcomes me. I thank God that I am alive, that I have this motorcycle, time and money and that I’m healthy enough for the ride. Then I thank God for family and friends, and pray for them, and their individual struggles. The list gets long, but hey, I’ve got a lot of time. Then I return to just looking out at the scenery as it goes past, and I find myself smiling. Even when times are tough, there is so much to be thankful for. And thank you for reading this and following along on my journey.
Bishop was getting ready for its annual Mule Days Celebration and folks were swelling into town so it was time for me to hit the dusty trail. The road started climbing as we ascended the Sierra Nevada and the scenery began to change. There was still the light green sagebrush but now there were more pinyin pines and junipers. I passed the road to Tioga Pass, which was closed, due to snowfall. This was the road my buddy El Jefe and I took years ago when we visited Yosemite. Highway 395 crosses five mountain passes, including Deadman Summit, at 8,036 feet (2,449 m) in altitude and Conway Summit at 8,138 feet (2,480 m), the highest point along US 395. Mono lake came into view and I snapped a picture of Big Red from above it. Snowy mountains accompanied me as I rode the entire distance.
It reminded me of a Zen poem. I forget who wrote it.
In spring hundreds of flowers,
In summer, refreshing breeze.
In autumn, harvest moon,
In winter, snowflakes accompany you.
If useless things do not hang in your mind,
Every season is a good season.
Part of this trip is about letting go of the useless things that hang in my mind, and focusing instead on gratitude.
I was growing weary and having a hard time concentrating so I decided to find a place to rest. I pulled off the road at a rest stop and lay down under a cottonwood tree and took a nap. I slept for a while until I heard a sound from above. It was a woodpecker pecking on a dead branch above me. Time to get up.
I rode down into Carson City, Nevada and stopped at a Starbucks for some coffee to wake me up. I decided to bunk for the night at a Motel 6.
Where am I going next? I don’t know. It’s a weird feeling waking up in the morning and not knowing where you’re heading. To not plan something and instead head out and just trust. For now, I’m just enjoying the road and being a saddle tramp.
I’m all packed up, sitting in my Motel 6 room, hoping to watch the first half of the Northern Ireland football match before housekeeping kicks me out.
It was hot again when I left Mesquite, Nevada. The temperature on my phone said 107 degrees, so I prepared myself for another rough day riding. I put on my long leather gloves to protect my fingers (yesterday my fingers were air roasted because I had on fingerless gloves).
It was rough at first and I managed only about 40 miles before I stopped at the Black Bear Diner in St George. Best homemade sausage patties I’ve eaten on the trip so far!
Prior to getting to St George I drove through the Virgin River Gorge. Desolate desert and high hills. The only things growing were bleached green shrubs and pale pastel colors.
I cut my speed to 65 mph so as not to strain the engine in the heat and limped down the interstate. The desert mesas were clay colored with sparse patches of green shrubs on them, looking as if the mesas hadn’t shaved in a few days. In this heat, who could blame them?
After St George brighter colors began to appear among the high mesas and buttes. I was never bored with the changing scenery and colors and canyons similar to the Grand Canyon. I passed through the San Rafael Swell. Imagine your image of Mars or the planet Vulcan, because this is where they filmed it for the Star Trek movie. Limestone, shale and sandstone. Red rock canyons, deep valleys and gorges. Dome shaped rocks and buttes shooting up into the sky like fossilized rockets or abandoned chimneys. In the distance I could see snow still hiding on the mountain tops. Amazing. I felt very humbled and grateful.
I nickel and dimed my way down the hot interstate, stopping every 50-80 miles to get a break from the heat. I found a store with a beer cave and spent about 10 minutes inside in the cold air until the clerks started to stare at me. I gassed up Big Red and filled myself with water. Even stuck some in my pockets. The road gained altitude, climbed to 7000 feet and it began to cool down. “No Services for 100 Miles” a sign read. What the hell, let’s go.
The last hour of the trip was awesome. The sun was setting and the sky was filled with hues of pink, honey-apricot, Spanish moss grey and various blues. I stopped and took a photo which I’ll try to attach.
Made it to Green River.
Today, Day 29 I’m going to continue on I 70 to Grand Junction then I’m going to hop on Hwy 50, The Loneliest Highway in America.
PS: Northern Ireland lost 1-0 but still have a chance to make the playoffs. Tonight the USA plays.
Switching from Two Wheels to Two Feet; Venice Beach
A few days ago I went with my son and daughter to Venice Beach.
The boardwalk was filled with people walking, riding bikes, skateboarding, roller skating and using Segways. There were street musicians playing guitars and pianos, singing, folks selling art, henna tattoos, massages, t shirts, cds, Harley merchandise, and every kind of food or drink you could imagine. Sweating people were playing basketball, paddle tennis, handball and lifting weights. The sand was the color of oyster shells and the sea so blue it must have borrowed some from the sky. The sun beat down but a cooling zephyr of a breeze blew across the boardwalk. The air was fresh and heartwarming.
Judging by the accents there were people from all over the world traversing the wide path. So much beauty, eccentricity and energy! When we were having lunch at an open café, I watched the stream of consciousness pass by, sipped my Firestone 805 beer, glanced at my kids and was overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude.
But it was bittersweet, because we also passed folks searching through trash cans and plenty of people who were homeless and/or had mental health problems. A woman sitting on a bench arguing with an imaginary person, a man coming over and speaking a string of sentences that didn’t make sense to me and then abruptly turning and walking off. When you meet one person at a time like this sometimes you can do something about it, even if it’s only a kind word, a few bucks to ease today’s pain. When you see so many people in this condition it’s overwhelming. It doesn’t really matter what religion you are or aren’t, which politician you support, whether you’re a Harley or a BMW rider I figure we all want to see suffering reduced. For them and for us. Yes, it’s not only for the good of the person needing help – we have to get past that narrow notion – it is for ourselves, our own sanity, our own sanctity. I know I need it. The Dalai Lama nailed it:
Experience has shown me that the greatest inner tranquility comes from developing love and compassion. The more we care for the happiness of others, the greater is our own sense of well-being. Cultivating a close, warm-hearted feeling for others automatically puts the mind at ease. It helps remove our fears and insecurities and gives us strength to face obstacles – it is the ultimate source of success in life.
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.
Latest Map Update: https://secure.travellerspoint.com/member_map.cfm?user=kierk1&tripid=894952
Yesterday was the most beautiful motorcycle ride I’ve ever been on, especially the section from Canmore to Banff to the Saskatchewan River Crossing. The huge snow-riddled Rocky Mountains were looming on both sides of the road for a hundred miles. The piercing freshness of the freezing air was exhilarating. The scent of the fir trees, the gorgeous white birches, the trembling of the leaves on the quaking aspen, and the sheer silence, all combined to make the place feel serene, magical and sacred. It’s not often I feel in awe but I was on that ride.
We passed signs warning of avalanches and could see huge dammed bodies of snow high on the mountains just itching for a reason to fall. We stopped as a herd of bighorn sheep passed through us for inspection.
We stopped at the restaurant at the Saskatchewan River Crossing, took a break and gassed up. Next fuel stop wasn’t for over 100 miles.
The next half of the ride to Jasper shared the same beauty only with added wind, snow on the side of the road, and a glacier you could see, (Big Red wanted to ride her but I said: no. I have to draw the line somewhere. Glaciers are a good a place to start as any.) But it got colder, the road way too bumpy, bouncing me out of the saddle now and again. Then the rain started to fall. So the sheer magnificence of the unfolding scene became slightly tarnished the wetter I got. But only slightly. Still, nothing that couldn’t be healed by a fake fire in the hotel room and a pint of pilsner beer at the Jasper Brewery.
For me, motorcycle riding is a spiritual experience. I don’t plan it out, it just naturally happens. In less than two miles of hitting the countryside a feeling of gratitude comes over me. Gratitude for the countryside I’m riding through – whether plain or magnificent – and gratitude for the things in my life: family, friends, my job, my students, and of course Big Red, my Harley. I don’t wait on the feelings to come, I don’t anticipate them, or start them off with a little prompting. They just naturally descend on me like the satiny dew that covers the morning grass. Did the grass conjure the dew up? Was it waiting for it? Nah, it just appeared when the grass wasn’t looking, leaving one blade to say to the other: “Hey, guess what’s back?”
Once the gratitude arrives I start expanding it to things I see and smell: the fresh mowed grass, the colors of the sky, the drifting oyster colored clouds that sometimes remind me of Eeyore, that old leaning barn with the rusted tin roof, the brown horses grazing in the buttercups, the crimson clover looking like strawberries on a stick, amidst the uncut roadside wildflowers. Then I start praying for family and friends, the ones I like and the ones that have really pissed me off recently. Fortunately, there’s not too many of the latter. Lovingkindness has to travel down both sides of any divided highway. Then I just center into riding. Sometimes it’s like the bike is standing still and the road is rushing underneath, the trees running beside me on their tiny, spindly legs. Other times, I’m accelerating and listening to the staccato thunder of the engine, or I’m leaning into curves trying to find that sweet perfect balance of speed, gear, lane location and leaning. Motorcycles will teach you, or else you’ll fall off them, that the only way through curves and problems is by leaning into them. It’s an act of faith to lean into them, and coming out on the other side is a gift of grace.
At dusk, riding home on Big Red, the alluring scent of the purple wisteria, mingling with the aroma of the wood fires almost made me dizzy. The skyline wore a peach-apricot glow with cloudless brilliant blue above. The sun chased alongside me through the trees. A train passed under the evening rising mist. It was cold but I didn’t care. The sunlight was retreating and cool shadows and fog had started to claim the road. The cars had their lights on as they hurried toward the future. I was fine riding through the present.
I’d left home this morning not quite realizing how cold it was. It was 41 degrees (5 Celsius). I’d forgotten to charge the batteries on my heated gloves so my hands were freezing. I had to hunker down at the Hardees in Adairsville and warm my hands and soul with some coffee. My heart was already warmed from the friction of gratitude rushing through me. Away from the music and news reports, enveloped by nature and especially the newly blooming dogwoods, it’s really hard for a boy not to feel grateful on a motorcycle. Even if it’s cold.