Day Twenty: Huntsville, Alabama to Rome, Georgia; 5708 Total Trip Miles; Concluding Thoughts.

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

https://www.amazon.com/Hope-Bats-Last-American-Irish-Philosophical-Romance-Murder-Mystery-ebook/dp/B00UNVATA2/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Gene+Powers+Hope+Bats+Last&qid=1561135331&s=books&sr=1-1

Hope

https://www.amazon.com/Hope-Adventures-Buddhist-Ninja-Detective/dp/1090295529/ref=sr_1_4?keywords=Gene+Powers+Hope&qid=1561135267&s=books&sr=1-4

Days Fourteen and Fifteen – Total Trip Miles 4549; Steamboat Springs, Colorado to Beatrice , Nebraska; Crossing the Rockies.

Day Fourteen: Steamboat Springs, Colorado to Sterling, Co. – 279 miles; Amazing Ride -Beautiful Highway 14 Across the Rocky Mountains; Bad Luck -Lost Vest; Subaru – State Car of Mountainous Colorado.

My free day in Steamboat Springs was primarily spent sleeping. Later I wandered around the town and walked by the fast-flowing river. I could live here.

The scenery on Day Fourteen was incredible! I took highway 14 and cut through the Rockies, crossing Cameron Pass at 10, 276 feet. Snow was still on the ground and the road was lined with conifers, pines and quaking aspen. A rushing, whitewater river ran alongside the highway. This was hands down my favorite ride so far. I found myself shaking my head in disbelief over the beauty of the countryside, and feeling immense gratitude. The road was challenging as well, with lots of sharp curves and switchbacks.

Somewhere along the way I lost my nice Harley vest. It was a present from my old riding partner, El Jefe. Called the restaurant I had stopped at and the place I topped up the air on the tires but no luck.

Subaru appears to the state car of the Colorado mountains. Jeep seemed to come a distant second.

Day Fifteen: Sterling, Co to Beatrice, Nebraska – 402 miles; Fate vs. Destiny

I took Hwy 6 out of Sterling and eventually switched to 34. I’m still trying to avoid the interstates. With rare exceptions, interstates are just soul-less roads to help you get through places quickly with meeting as few people as possible. Sometimes that’s what you want. But you’re not really ‘there’; you don’t get a feel for the place. The goal seems always to want to ‘be’ somewhere else, as if this place isn’t good enough for us. Often, it seems we do this with our lives as well.

I’m not great at staying in the present. I focus on the smells – lilacs, cattle, sheep, roadkill, water from a long armed irrigation rig (reminds me of drinking out of a green hose when I was little), something cooking (BBQ!). The meandering streams, the flat prairies, the way the deep cloud shadows drift across the rolling hills. The colors! But I can only do this for so long before I drift into the past or the future,  into praying and giving thanks, into just thinking about things.

Yesterday, it was fate vs destiny. What do you think?

Day Ten: Heading Thataway; Abandonment to Divine Providence; Hwy 395 California; Sierra Nevada Mountains; Ask Rocinante; Bishop, Ca. 267 miles.

Since this is my fourth round trip to California and back to Georgia over the years I’ve hit all the roads I’ve wanted to – mainly the blue highways. I love the Pacific Coast Highway, but I have a soft spot for US. Hwy 395, mainly because of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  Here’s a picture of what you can see for mile after mile. Takes my breath away.

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Mount Whitney, at 14,494 feet (1448 meters) is the highest in the lower 48 states, but there are also 12 other peaks over 14,000 feet along this road.  I just glance at the mountains as I ride and can’t help but smile. I’ve written about my journeys on this road in earlier blogs. If the mountains are too high for you, you can head east over to Death Valley and Badwater Basin, where it sits at 282 ft/ 86 m below sea level.

I am leaving my direction and roads up to Divine Providence, or God or the Tao, whatever term you want to use. I’ve done this before and you can read about it in previous blogs. Weird to set off in the morning and not know where you’re going. You rely on hunches, words from people you run into, various signs and portents. Sometimes I just ask Big Red, my Harley, which way I should go. I know this sounds a bit quixotic but what the hell. I figure its kind of like what Don Quixote did when he asked his horse Rocinante:

He now came to a road branching in four directions, and immediately he was reminded of those cross-roads where knights-errant used to stop to consider which road they should take. In imitation of them he halted for a while, and after having deeply considered it, he gave Rocinante his head, submitting his own will to that of his hack…

 

Resting Days: Pregnancy Salad; New Baby; Bike Problems; Bike Miles -114,920.

The day after Big Red and I arrived in Los Angeles, I went with my daughter out to lunch. She wanted to go to this restaurant on Tujunga that was renowned for their special salad. I know that doesn’t sound like much but this salad, and particularly the dressing, was supposed to induce labor in pregnant women. When the waiter saw my daughter in her condition, he said: “You’ll be wanting the salad.” Indeed, on the menu it was listed as “The Salad”. After a while four more pregnant women walked into their place, all quite ready for “The Salad”.

A small journal was passed around where people had recorded their thoughts. One guy wrote about driving two hours to get this salad and that: “I want the baby out of her!” All in good fun.

Five hours later my daughter’s contractions began and less than 24 hours later she had delivered – Henry Arthur… Here’s a picture of me and the young whippersnapper!

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Meanwhile, heroic Big Red’s battery finally bit the dust. I had been having problems with the battery before I took off on the trip – not so much just the battery but the charging system. I had to jump start her twice since I’d gotten to LA. Today, after she failed to start, I had to get her towed over to the Harley dealer in Glendale. I’m at a Starbucks down the street, right now as I write. Hopefully, the bill won’t be too much.

Big Red and I both have still a few miles to travel left in us yet.

Day Six: Gallup to Flagstaff, Arizona (190 miles); Things Started Well for the Most Part. Omens; Porky’s Pub and Sports Bar.

This will be a short blog. I am holed up at a motel in Flagstaff, ready to go, just waiting for it to stop snowing. Yes, snowing. The average high temperature here in Flagstaff on this day historically has been 72 degrees, but it was 34 degrees when I woke up. The high today is expected to be 38. Not much better immediately west of here for quite a ways. A few years ago, I took Big Red, this 2004 Harley Road King I’m riding, up to Alaska and had a devil of a time when we got caught (my buddy Kevin Grigsby accompanied me in a heated car!) in snow and freezing temperatures. I was woefully unprepared then, even though I had planned for the possibility. I’m completely unprepared now. I keep thinking about the title of a book I wrote – I Should Have Seen It Coming (Gene Powers – available on Amazon!). Well, anyway, I’m going to wait an hour and then nickel and dime my way down Route 66 and see how far I get.

Yesterday, Day 6, started well except for the wind. Gusts again up to 20 mph, this time from the south west which really blew the bike all over the road. Had to be especially careful when passing, or being passed by, the huge trucks – they have their own wind dynamics. I had hoped to reach Williams, Arizona -230 miles- but the last 30 minutes of yesterday’s ride proved my undoing. It got really cold and rainy, and though I have waterproof gear on, it was wet and freezing with the wind chill. I decided I wasn’t going to push myself and pulled off I-40 at Flagstaff. I rode past a motel, that looked alright but the clincher, what felt like an omen, was that it had a place named Porky’s Pub and Sports Bar out front. My whole being shouted “yes!”. I’d get a room and then walk the few steps over to Porky’s to have a draft beer. I stopped at a McDonalds just past it for coffee and to check the reviews. They looked very good, so I booked it. Did I want cancellation insurance? Hell no, I thought, I can see the damn, warm motel, and Porky’s, right out the window! I rode over to the motel, but they said they didn’t have my reservation. I showed them my text and the man said: “Oh, that’s the other Rodeside Inn. I can show you how to get there.” They couldn’t transfer my reservation and I couldn’t cancel it. So, I rode over to the other one, that DIDN’T have the heated pool, or Porky’s, and it was good enough. Later, after a nap, I had the best meal of my trip at a Texas Roadhouse across the street. No one at the bar wanted to talk, and for once, I was grateful. Grateful, for everything.

 

Day Four: Elk City, Oklahoma to Tucumcari, New Mexico (286 miles – 1296 trip total); Route 66; No Baby Yet; Lovingkindness, Three Dogs; Amarillo.

The day started out windy, with gusts striking up from the southwest. I can handle rain and heat, I’m not great with cold, but I hate random wind gusts and crosswinds; the kind that blow you across a lane of highway and then blow you back. Winds that try to yank your helmet off.

The countryside changed too as Big Red and I slowly moved from verdant crop fields to scrub brush, grazing cattle, and rolling prairies, with distant mesas on the horizon.  We moved from Oklahoma to the Texas Panhandle and into Amarillo. The interstate crosses over a huge area of freight trains. And, if you want you can stop at the Big Texan Steak Ranch, where if you can eat a 72 ounce steak in one hour it’s free. Yeah, good luck with that. Leaving Amarillo on I-40 you pass the Cadillac Ranch where 10 caddies are half- buried, nose down into the ground. Some call it art. They were buried there in 1974 and you can walk out to them from the highway. Next, were the enormous stockyards. The winds died down and the speed limit picked up to 75 mph.

I found a McDonalds and stopped. McDonalds get a bad rap but I have found them everywhere to be a gathering area for locals who meet regularly, sip their coffee at an unhurried pace, and share stories. They are a place of fellowship and support. The regulars know all the staff and they, in turn, look after them. I spoke with a harried cashier and asked her: “How are you doing today?” She looked at me, rolled her eyes and said: “I got a new dog yesterday. Kept me up all night. I wasn’t supposed to work today but they called me in and I am so tired. My brain is not functioning. You want any cream and sweetener with that coffee?”

Later, I ran into a woman with a dog who was hovering around a truck stop. She looked like she was trying to catch a ride. I found myself closing down emotionally, limiting my conversation. Why? What was I afraid of? She wasn’t going to ask me for a ride. If she wanted money I was happy to give her some. I wasn’t showing lovingkindness to strangers and I knew it. “Ever ride in the mountains?” She asked. “Some.” I replied. She continued. “I’m from the mountains of North Carolina. Ever hear of Tail of the Dragon?” I stared at her and noticed how straight and white her teeth were, but her trouser legs were stained. “A few times. It’s a very challenging ride.” (318 curves in 11 miles). She smiled. “Last time I was up in those mountains at home, they were so beautiful, I cried.” Then she turned away to forage in her pack for something. I cranked the bike up and when she looked up I wished her safe travels.

Cruising at 75 mph really sucked the gas out of my tank and twice I almost ran out. For a number of miles I shifted down to 60 and took it easy. I coasted into one gas station and filled Big Red up with 5.2 gallons of gas – she holds 5.

Eventually, I made it to Tucumcari, and found a motel. Later I ate supper at Del’s restaurant. Waiting at the cash register to pay my bill I saw these two older ladies (okay- a few years older than me.) both wearing the same red shirts. One was really cute. They had matching tee shirts they were buying that said Route 66. “Those are nice colors.” I said. The cute one turned toward me and said: “We’ve been friends ever since we were children. Across the street from each other. We’re traveling together up to Yellowstone and then going to Minnesota for my granddaughter’s graduation. Then we’re heading back to Florida.” She smiled and then saddened. “It’s been rough since Packie died.” She paused. “He was my dog.” I smiled tightly and nodded and then as they were leaving I said: “I expect to see both of you wearing those shirts next time I see y’all.” They giggled, wished me a safe trip and scrambled out. Another man jumped ahead of me and paid and when I left the two women were waiting in their mini van for me, smiled and yelled across the parking lot. I waved. They took off while I got ready to ride. They rode past the restaurant, yelled, waved and honked. I headed out, back to the motel.

 

Winter into Spring: Transitions and Preparations; Divine Providence; Road Whispering.

I think we’ve reached the last of the cold mornings. When I took off to ride to my job the other day at 7 am it was 42 degrees (5 degrees Celsius) and when I returned it was 80 degrees (26 Celsius). It’s as if winter hasn’t wanted to let go, that it’s shouting “put up your dukes” to Spring. They fight it out with rain and tornadoes, swollen rivers, blustery winds, and thunderstorms. It’s as if winter has no memory of all the seasons before, despite the shouting blooming all around trying to get its attention. There are the dogwood trees, and red buds, cherry trees, magnolias, and azaleas. How can winter not notice the garlands of purple wisteria draped among the trees? The yellow buttercups in the field with the romping chestnut roan and the leaning shack with the bright red door?

Winter is a slow learner, like me. I ride the same stretch of Interstate 75 for twenty miles to work and keep forgetting the pothole in the right of the middle lane near Resaca. Bam! I always think I’ve probably blown a tire or damaged my rim. Other times, I forget to charge my heated gloves for the morning ride.

I’m excited now and counting down the days (May 12th) until I head off on my cross-country trip to LA. Researching possible places to stop along the way, where I might stay in LA, has my head spinning. I think Big Red (my 2004 Harley Road King), and I will just leave it up to Divine Providence – The Tao. I’ll do some road whispering while I ride. And, thinking of the hot days ahead of me, the heat lines rising off the baking roads in Texas, I’ll probably miss winter.

Next Two Chapters, Five and Six, of My Motorcycle Novel- Hope Bats Last; Light the Fire, Get a Cup a Tae, Bring the Wee Dog in, an Relax.

Chapter Five

Day 2 – Somewhere in South Carolina

 

We are significant, precious, and needed, not just for the choices we make and the actions we take, but for our very presence. The scriptures of every major religion attest to it: the love in which we exist loves us for our very being. These words from Isaiah are one example: “I have called you by name and you are mine. You are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.”

Gerald May

 

I answered the phone early the next morning.

“Dad, how’s the trip going so far?” Colin asked.

“Fine son. No problems. How are you?”

“Good, good, good. Where are you?”

I honestly couldn’t remember. I looked out the window and could make out part of a number in the flashing neon motel sign. There was a restaurant across the street with a sombrero and a cactus painted on the window. “I’m at some motel with a number in its name and there’s a Mexican place across the street.”

“Well, that narrows it down quite a bit.” He laughed.

“How are Siobhan and Stephen?” I asked.

“Good. Siobhan is on Skype with her mother back in Ireland. Stephen’s online playing some internet game with his buddies.”

“Well, I’m doing fine here son. Things okay with you?”

“Yep, yep yep.”

“Well look son. I want to hit the road so I’ll give you a call later.”

“That’s fine dad. Just wanted to make sure you were okay. I heard there were two shootings over in South Carolina yesterday.”

“I heard that too.”

“Well, you be careful.”

“I will son. I love you.”

“I love you too dad.”

 

Last night I drank five Coronas at the Mexican restaurant hoping in vain that each one might help dull the memory of yesterday’s horror. It didn’t work. Alcohol and age seem only to take away the good memories. Why can’t we choose which memories we lose?

Before taking off this morning I did some mindfulness exercises to get my mind back into the present, to let go of what had happened yesterday as well as some painful memories from the past that had been stirred up. Violence begets memories of violence. To ride safely your mind has to be in the here and now. You have to let go of thoughts about the past and worries about the future. You can’t ride with a bunch of ruminations like mental billboards distracting you from the road. Each day is a gift in the cosmic raffle of things and you have to be present to win.

Heading west I cut back into Georgia and rode the old blue highways. On the ancient Rand McNally atlases, the back roads were drawn in blue. These were the tiny roads, the now almost forgotten roads that once stitched the USA together in the early motoring years. Now it’s all interstates. Generally, roads that have even numbers go east and west; odd numbers usually signify a north and south route. So as long as I’m on an even-numbered road and following the sun I’m heading west. That’s all I need to know for now.

I rode for about an hour, came into a small town and stopped for breakfast at a place called the FWW Cafe. It was about half filled. I nodded to folks as I entered, sat at the counter, ordered up some coffee, took off my gloves and jacket and scanned the menu. Grits. You know everything’s gonna be all right if they’ve got grits on the menu. I ordered, “The Widowmaker” which consisted of three eggs, bacon, and sausage, red-eye gravy, a biscuit, pancakes and grits. I closed the menu, handed it to the waitress and glanced around. There was a skinny old man a couple of chairs down from me who saluted me with a forkful of pancake.

“Howdy.” He said.

“Howdy to you too,” I replied and glanced around the place. Old Georgia license plates adorned the walls like trophies celebrating a better time. There were farm and tractor calendars and high school yearbook photos in black and white.

“Where you headed to?”

“California.”

“You couldn’t have started out anywhere closer?”

I smiled. “Nope. Had to start in Savannah.”

“How long do you think it’s gonna take you to get out there?”

“Not sure. I’m not in any hurry. Just want to take my time. Why’s this place called the FWW cafe?”

“Stands for farmers, workers, and widows. Those are the main customers. Get a biker or two like you in now and again. He slid over a chair. My name’s Mike. Mike Crawford.” He offered his hand.

I took it. “Monk.”

“That’s an usual name. Monk what?”

“Just Monk.”

“You a Catholic monk or one of them Buddhist monks?”

“Yep.”

“Well, which one?”

“Both.”

“You can’t be both.”

“Who says I can’t?”

“It’s in the rules somewhere.”

“What rules?”

“The monk rules.”

“I’ve never seen the monk rules.”

“Well, I’ll be damned.” He shook his head and looked away but then glanced back. “But why ‘Monk’ anyway?”

“A friend thought I acted like a monk. He called me that and it stuck.”

“You married.”

“I was. Twice.”

“Divorced?”

“Nope. Both wives are dead.”

“That’s bad luck.”

“Yep. You?”

“One wife. Just made it to our 50th wedding anniversary last week.”

“Congratulations.”

“Thanks. She’s a hoot. Said to her last week: ‘I’m proud of you.’ She pretended not to hear me and said: ‘I’m tired of you too.’ Ha! Great sense of humor.”

“You hope so.”

“What? Oh, ha! I get that!”

I grinned at him and then my food came.

We chatted off and on between bites and he told me that he had a daughter and a grandson but that his daughter was married to a “no good peckerwood son of a bitch”.

“That’s rough man. Do you get to see your daughter and grandson much?”

“Yep. She drops him off and we babysit while they’re working.”

“At least you’ve got that.”

“Yep, could be worse.” He looked away and warmed his hands on his coffee mug.

 

Chapter Six

 

We must overturn so many idols, the idol of self first of all, so that we can be humble, and only from our humility can we learn to be redeemers, can learn to work together in the way the world really needs.

Oscar A. Romero

 

I couldn’t finish the pancakes but the rest of the meal was great and soothing. Especially the grits. Nothing like connecting with a memory from your childhood, unless your childhood had been awful. Having said that, grits alone, usually made by a kind grandma, have redeemed many a bad childhood. When I lived in Ireland, every once in a while I’d start jonesing for grits and I’d have my sister send some over. For Colin, she’d throw in a couple of bags of candy corn, another delicacy and southern staple you couldn’t find over there.

I paid my bill, left a tip, said goodbye to Mike and got some recommendations of his for back roads to take.

The clouds to the north and east were gunmetal gray, the wind was stirring and it was decidedly colder. My boots crunched on the gravel as I walked over to the bike and circled it to make sure everything was okay. I pulled on my helmet and gloves, cranked Big Red up and headed out the blue highway that Mike had recommended. I figure that the more I left things to chance the more easily God, Fate or the Universe could intervene.

I hit Dahlonega late in the afternoon and hopped onto GA 60. I leaned into the curves and tight turns and felt a strong connectedness with Big Red and the road. Curvy roads challenge you and bring out the best or worst in your riding skills. I passed the rock pile grave of a Cherokee princess and a place called Woody Gap where the Appalachian Trail crosses the road. Colin and I used to do some hiking on that trail years ago. The bike managed the curves almost effortlessly, which is, of course, the secret to good riding.

Daoism has a concept called wu wei which can apply to motorcycle riding. Wu wei happens when you use your natural abilities and intuition to flow with the environment. Its actual translation is “no doing” but it’s better understood as a kind of effortless action. Applying this to motorcycle riding means finding the flow, going with it and then taking no action or thinking beyond what’s needed. You learn to position yourself in the lane correctly for the curve, trust your intuitions, look where you want to go, relax and just lean into the curve. Inexperienced riders think too much, panic, focus on the obstacles ahead instead of the path, tighten up, overreact and manhandle the bike, often resulting in a crash. If you find a metaphor in there for life you’re welcome to it. I’m too old for metaphors.

Here’s the place I was looking for. I pulled off the road into the parking area of Two Wheels of Suches, a rustic wooden lodge and motorcycle campground I had visited off and on over the years. It had a long porch filled with rocking chairs and picnic benches. The gravel crunched as I rode over it. I backed my bike into a parking area. I put the stand down, switched off the engine and the lights, tapped the tank with my knuckles, thanking God for my safety and climbed off the bike. Next, I pulled my helmet and gloves off, stuck the gloves in my saddlebag and put the helmet on top of my handlebar mirror.

“That you Monk?” A voice hailed me from the porch.

“It’s me.” I headed up the path to the steps. “Who’s that?” I said toward a grizzled, bearded man in a leather vest heading toward me.

“It’s me, Skunk. I ain’t seen you in years.”

“Monk,” I said extending my hand while at the same time recognizing the redundancy of my introduction.

“Don’t you remember me, Monk?”

“Skunk, my memory ain’t what it used to be. Never was actually.”

His eyes narrowed and a worried expression swept over his face like the shadow from a Sunday cloud. “You got that Alltimers Monk?”

“The doctor thinks I do but I think I have something else.”

“What’s that?”

“Buddhism.”

“What the difference?”

“Not much from what I can tell. Both say ‘Live in the present’. With Alzheimer’s you can’t remember the past very well; with Buddhism, you want to let go of it.”

He took a step back. “This Buddhism, is it contagious?”

“No, not really, unless you want it to be.”

He waved his hands. “No thanks Monk. I’ve got that shingles and that’s enough for me.”

I smiled, sucked in and let go a deep breath. The air was fresh, smelling like fir trees and the aroma released by freshly dug soil. There was the sound of a nearby waterfall and the tinkling tabulations of a stream.

We sat down in the rockers. “It’s so beautiful up here Skunk. Why don’t we just live here?”

“Dang Monk you say that every time we meet up here. We’d start to lose our ‘preciation of it if we lived here all the time.  All things wear out. Even good things.”

“Especially good things. Where are you staying?”

“I got me a room upstairs. Too old to be camping out anymore. You?”

“I’m in the tent.” I pointed to the little bridge. “Gonna pitch it over there by the stream. This is my last trip.”

“Tent huh? Wait, what do you mean it’s your last trip?”

“Well, uh,” I stuttered, not wanting to say much. “I’m getting old. Not sure how many bike trips I still have ahead of me.” I raised my shoulders. “It’s just a feeling.”

“Huh.” He sat back in his rocker and got a faraway look. “Remember that time when my wife and I met y’all up here? You had that old BMW. Your wife was on the back. Was it Clare?” He leaned toward me and stared.

“Yep, you got a good memory Skunk. That was Clare. Hell, that was a long time ago I had that BMW. It was a black 1966 R60/2. I’d forgotten that. Thanks.”

“No problem Monk.”

“Hey, what did you ever do with that thing?”

I paused and searched my mind but couldn’t remember. “Can’t remember Skunk.”

“And how is Clare?”

“I’m afraid she’s passed. About three years now. Cancer.”

“I’m real sorry to hear that Monk.”  He was shaking his head and I felt like crying.

“What about you? You were married, weren’t you? Sorry, I can’t remember her name.”

“April. Her name was April. She’s fine Monk.”

“I remember her now. She was pretty.”

“Pretty as a speckled puppy under a shiny red wagon. That’s what I used to say.”

I laughed.

“Where’s she now?”

“Busy babysitting the grandkids. We got five. You got any grandkids?”

“Just one, Colin’s boy. Name’s Stephen. Smart as a whip. My daughter Hannah’s married but they don’t have any kids yet.”

“What are your kids up to?”

“Colin works at the public defender’s office in Savannah. Hannah is living out in LA. She’s studying to be an elementary school teacher and is trying to get into some modeling, last I heard tell.”

He smiled, sat back, looked into the distance, rocked a few times and shook his head slowly.

“We’re lucky our kids turned out well Monk. Thank you, Lord.”

“Amen to that brother.” I sighed and looked around. The Lord thanking mood had come and gone off me over the last few years. A steady diet of loss and grief can do that to you. It’s a sad but tireless companion, which you can quickly grow accustomed to having around. And it’s hard to let it go when you don’t have anything to replace it with.  But this trip was about letting go of the siren sadness of the past, and instead riding in the present, where things reveal themselves, and being thankful.

“Well, look Skunk, I’m going to go set up my tent and everything, take a shower and then I’ll be back up here later for dinner.”

“Sounds good. But if you want a steak, let me know. They sell out fast.”

“Nah, I’m okay, thanks.”

I walked down the steps to the bike, took the bungee cords off my gear and carried it over toward the tent area. I clomped across the little bridge over the stream and onto some grass and pitched it right there. Thank God the instructions for setting up the tent were still attached to the tent bag because I had poles and pegs heading every which away until I spotted them. After it was up, I threw in my gear, sleeping bag and opened the self-inflating foam pad. I am too old to sleep on the hard ground. I glanced over at the stream and watched it burble and roll. The sound of the water was soothing. You can’t step into the same river twice. The river changes but so do I, moment by moment. Each time I step in I’m a different person. I climbed into the tent.

100,000 Miles on my 2004 Harley Road King Classic

WP_20170712_13_06_25_ProThe 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.

Day 1: Over 500 miles. Beautiful Ride, rain, sunny, lost, rain, found, more rain, windy, motel doesn’t have my reservation, wow, gratitude.

These are the comments I wrote when I stopped.

Left at 7:45am. 70 degrees. Cool, misty, beautiful creamy white magnolia blossoms. Soft pink primroses. Fill me with joy seeing them I feels myself smile each time I see them. The bike is riding great.

Abandoned chimneys have always fascinated me. Deep breaths and feelings of gratitude.

Old men meeting together to socialize at a McDonalds. Beautiful ride through Lake Weiss. Gadsden, Alabama.

Horse Camp. Beautiful horses romping in a field. Camp? Maybe they will learn archery and go canoeing?

Rain. Slashing. Stopped at an overpass to put my rain suit on. Road on.

4 miles south of Memphis it poured. Rain splattered on my windscreen, my helmet visor and my glasses. Hard but not impossible to clean them while I’m riding. Rain starting to slip into the nether regions. Raining so hard I can’t see, so I find an exit.

Off ramp is flooded so I have to ride carefully.

Dairy Queen! I say to a woman in the parking lot: “Nice weather.” She replies: “My Harley friends say they love to ride in any kind of weather.”

“Yeah, well, any day on the bike is a great day.” I mumble.

With the water falling off my clothes I make a big puddle on the Dairy Queen floor. Radar looks bad. More rain ahead. About 150 miles to Little Rock.

Rain died down eventually. Headed back out.

Okay. I get lost a lot. If you’ve read my blog before that you know. I don’t have a GPS or a map. And maybe I reentered Mississippi and Tennessee a few more times than necessary and maybe added about thirty more miles than I needed but eventually I found I-40 West. I crossed the Mississippi (once!)

More rain. Got soaked. Then it cleared. I dried out some. Then it rained more.  Finally, made it to my motel. They didn’t have my reservation. I phone Expedia. 45 Minutes later it’s finally sorted. I have my room, only the TV isn’t working. The desk clerk comes down and can’t fix it. She moves me to a room a few doors down.

Finally here, now. And I feel grateful. And pleased that I had no expectations for how the day would go. No expectations = no frustration. I went with the flow. More than the tautological ‘It is what it is’. It’s letting go of expectations, accepting that what happens was meant to happen. This Buddhist thing is working!

Feel grateful, thankful for even such a wild day.