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.
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.
It’s been a tough month, riding the 90-mile round trip to work, on Big Red, my 2004 Harley Road King Classic. The bike wasn’t the problem though, it was me. If you’ve read some of my stories from the last few years you’ll know that I’m one biker who makes a lot of mistakes. It’s not unique to my motorcycling either because I make a lot of mistakes in pretty much every area of my life. At least I’m consistent. So, it came as no real surprise to me when I left my lights on and had to get a couple of guys to push me, which didn’t work and then I had to get a car to jump me off. I ran out of gas two times, and yes, Big Red does have a warning light, and I was watching it, but she died on me. Each time though I managed to shake the bike left and right enough to get some gas flowing so I could ride and then coast into the gas stations. Running out of gas on the Trans-Canada Highway last summer should have taught me a lesson, but I’m a slow learner. I also forgot to bring my rain trousers and so I got soaked a few times. I’ve decided to just call it all” “Practicing for my Trip”. The only thing I haven’t practiced is getting lost, but then I don’t really need any practice with that. I’m an expert. This year I’m heading to California for my daughter’s graduation from university. When I leave California, I’m going to leave my next destinations up to Divine Providence, which has at least one thing going for it: you can’t get lost if you don’t know where you’re heading. I’ve gotten the bike all spruced up in preparation. She’s just shy of having 92,000 miles on her so she needs tender loving care. I got all the oils in the bike changed, two brand spanking new whitewalls and I replaced my windscreen, so she’s ready to go.
And hula girl is properly installed. Doesn’t she look good for a 13 year old bike!
I’ve been practicing too. I’ve been eating granola bars and beef sticks and dining at some sketchy restaurants. I also bought a new Saddlemen S3500 Deluxe sissy bar bag to hold all my belongings and a Nikon Coolpix P900 camera so I can get good photos of the graduation and the trip. To top it off I bought 10 nice Acid Kuba Kuba cigars to put in my travel humidor for the trip. I like to smoke a good cigar when I’ve achieved something or when Big Red’s broken down and I need to Zen out and think.
We head out on May 12th. Last year we rode from Georgia to Alaska and then down the west coast along the Pacific Coast Highway to Los Angeles. After that we headed home. You can read my previous blog entries if you want to see how that trip shaped up. As Hazel the maid from TV used to say: “It was a real doozy.”
This year, after California, I don’t know where I’ll end up. When you abandon yourself to Divine Providence and Fate you can’t pick and choose your destinations. So, stay tuned.
With my kids in LA. (not Lower Alabama!) and London, I decided to skip the local family reunion and head to Tybee Island, Georgia on Big Red, my Harley Road King. I needed to clear my mind (get my “head showered” as they say in Northern Ireland), think and work on my latest novel. My last novel: “I Should Have Seen it Coming” is out now on Amazon.
So I took off Wednesday and, despite a bit of traffic, after 340 miles I made it safely to Tybee. It has been beautiful here! Highs in the mid 70’s, clear blue skies and the ocean as welcoming as ever. So I’ve been walking the beach, soaking up the sun, writing some and enjoying the comfort of a few friends. Doc’s Bar helps too. When inspiration isn’t flowing you can be sure the beer there is. I took Big Red on a tour of the island, including where I used to spend my summers, and we also caught the golden rays of the setting sun as they languished in the reeds and grass of the salt marsh. Why would the rays want to leave? So beautiful.
So tomorrow I plan to do much of the same. I have a lady friend who’s coming later to meet me and we’ll walk the beach and grab some dinner. Why she would want to spend time with me is beyond my comprehension but we have to be thankful for such gifts, as unearned as they may be.
And Saturday, head showered or not, Big Red and I’ll have to head back to Rome, Georgia. Thanksgiving is never about a day plucked out of the calendar. It’s about stopping wherever you are, and whenever, and giving thanks for the unearned graces you have received; that we all have received. And it’s about somehow transmuting this thankfulness into kindness towards others.
At least that’s how Big Red and I see it. Kickstands up.Ride safely.
I’m packing up Big Red, my 2004 Harley Road King Classic, and heading out on a trip tomorrow. Here in Georgia USA the weather’s supposed to be in the low 70’s. I’ve got hula girl standing and swaying on the bike where my clock used to be- she’s there to remind me to have fun and not take things, myself included, too seriously. In my windshield bag I’ve got a cross and some prayer beads – to keep me reverent, and I’ve got a medal celebrating the patron saint of motorcyclists – St. Columbanus. Tomorrow is his feast day which should augur well for a safe trip. But who decided he was the one who would be the patron saint? Apparently, the Vatican and the Harley Davidson company who made a medal promoting him. And just who was this St Columbanus of Bobbio?
Despite the Italian ‘Bobbio’, this guy was an Irish dude! What a surprise! During the dark ages in the sixth and seventh centuries when the Irish were saving civilization and Christianity, he ventured away from Ireland wandering up and down Europe starting monasteries and spreading the word about Christ.
How do we know he was Irish? Apparently what cinches it is that that we know he lived at home with his mother into his 30’s, he wasn’t married, and he didn’t have a job. Ha ha! (Old Irish joke).
Seriously though, the story goes that he was tall and good looking and the girls chased him (I can relate to that except for the tall bit, and the good looking part and, well…). He was also a bit of a wild guy with the ladies, who chased after him -okay, okay so there’s no resemblance between us at all! Gimme a break. Anyway, a holy woman put the fear of God in him and he decided to change his wild ways and become a priest. When his mother found out she tried to block the door physically with her body, but he just stepped over her, signed up and got his traveling orders. He traveled throughout Europe, to Germany and Switzerland and ended up living in decadent France for 20 years, establishing three monasteries there before he moved to Italy. He carried his Celtic Christian ideas and practices with him.
He lived in a cave for years, was very pious and is said to have wrestled a bear. But unlike Davy Crockett he didn’t kill it; instead he tamed it and yoked it to a plow.
He is quoted as having said, “Love is not orderly.” You gotta love this guy!
Miracles credited to Columbanus include:
Once after being surrounded by wolves, he simply walked through them
When he needed a cave for his solitary prayers and a bear lived there he asked politely for the bear to skedaddle and he did.
When the Luxeuil Abbey granary ran empty, Columbanus prayed over it and it refilled.
He cured several sick monks and gave sight to a blind man at Orleans
But my favorite is that he multiplied bread and beer for his community. We’re talking about craft, micro-brewed beer here! Bikers love their fresh beer!
If Columbanus were alive today I imagine him riding a Road King like mine. If not, maybe a Harley Fat Boy. The Fat Boy is a living legend. Arnold Schwarzenegger rode one in “Terminator 2”. Its got a 1,584cc pushrod V-twin engine, six gears, massive torque and you’ve got to love those shotgun-style tailpipes. It’s nimble, has no saddlebags and is perfect for itinerant monks flying around on those twisty heathen roads in Europe. Combine all this with Christianity and you can’t be beat! Love and a Fat Boy can conquer all!
I like what the Monk Jonas wrote in the seventh century about one of the miracles of Columbanus.
A while after, Columbanus went to the monastery of Fontaines and found sixty brethren hoeing the ground and preparing the fields for the future crop. When he saw them breaking up the clods with great labor, he said, “May the Lord prepare for you a feast, my brethren.” Hearing this the attendant said, “Father, believe me, we have only two loaves and a very little beer.” Columbanus answered, “Go and bring those.” The attendant went quickly and brought the two loaves and a little beer. Columbanus, raising his eyes to heaven, said, “Christ Jesus, only hope of the world, do Thou, who from five loaves satisfied five thousand men in the wilderness, multiply these loaves and this drink.” Wonderful faith! All were satisfied and each one drank as much as he wished. The servant carried back twice as much in fragments and twice the amount of drink.
So I hope you will celebrate his feast day on November 23rd in some appropriate fashion. I’ll be hitting the highway.
May he always help us keep the shiny side up and the rubber side down.
(Some of this is taken from one of my previous blog entries.)
It’s been hot in Georgia (USA) the past month with temperatures up into the high 90’s (35C). It was so hot at times that chickens were laying boiled eggs. So hot that when I went outside to smoke my pipe the tobacco lit itself. So hot that men have been spotted marrying tall women just for the shade. That kind of hot. So it was a relief for most of us these last few days when the temperatures dropped overnight into the 40’s (7C). I almost went out last night to throw a blanket onto Big Red, my 2004 Harley Road King. By the way, I added her mileage up and we’ve ridden over 38,000 miles in the last three years. She deserves some tender loving care. I was thinking about this while I was watching a woman I know from a nearby community who was handing out blankets to some of the homeless that sleep rough in the woods in tents. One man said to her: “you’re my angel.” and she responded, “wait till you get to know me better!” I imagine that’s the typical angel response that they teach you in your Introductory Angels class.
Now, in my reckoning, saints are easier to pick out of a line up. Mother Theresa, for most people, was clearly a saint. Dorothy Day was a saint. Some are campaigning that the great baseball legend Roberto Clemente, who died while trying to help others, was a saint. (Babe Ruth was clearly no saint.) Angels, as we know, are harder to identify. They may be doing angelic things, which makes it a darn sight easier, but they can also come like Elijah the prophet, in disguise, what Emerson called, “disguised and discredited angels”. Elijah, in the old stories, was often found using various disguises such as a beggar, a prostitute, a court official, and an Arab. And though he was taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot (I’m guessing a Harley Road King with the Screamin Eagle upgrades) people still claim to see him today. He’s still wandering around in disguises testing our commitment to showing compassion and hospitality to strangers.
So you might not be an angel, or a saint for that matter but don’t worry, you can still be in the running for being one of the Lamed Vav. “Who are they?” you ask.
In an old Hasidic story it claims that throughout history at any one time there are 36 people upon whom the survival of civilization depends. If not for all of them, the world would come to an end. The 36 are described as humble, modest, righteous, anonymous people who appear when an emergency comes, somehow avert the disaster and then return to anonymity. They don’t have any superpowers, they’re just unassuming people in various disguises who use their innate talents and abilities to help others. They could be a beggar, a teacher, a pastor, a monk, a candlestick maker for all we know. They themselves don’t know that they’re one of the 36. In fact, thinking you’re a Lamed Vav is considered proof that you aren’t. The real Lamed Vav are too humble to believe that they’re one of the 36. They appear when they are needed, do their thing which is really about being who they are and then they disappear. So how do you recognize them? They don’t wear masks like the Lone Ranger. The simple answer is that you don’t. But the fate of the whole world rests on their shoulders so we had better treat them well.
In a reading I found on the Internet, a Rabbi Raymond Zerwin questions how we might act if we went around suspecting that the people we meet might be one of the Lamed Vav? That somehow hidden inside this person are the talents or resources that will be needed someday to save the world. Would it affect how we treat others? Who might these Lamed Vavs be disguised as? What if we might be one of the 36 ourselves? If you don’t think you are then that means you’re still in the running. Just in case we are one of the 36 we should go easy on ourselves, not be so critical of ourselves, and not so critical of others.
So who knows? The people you meet could be disguised and discredited angels, saints, the prophet Elijah or maybe the Lamed Vav. I don’t know about you but the possibility of it makes me want to look at people a little more carefully.
The Road Taken: A Tale of Two Motorcycles
In 1989 I sold my 1971 BMW R60/5. I could have cried and almost did. I didn’t want to sell her but a rite of passage was knocking at the door and I had to let the bike go. I was going to be a father for the first time. I remember my wife saying: “You’re gonna be a father soon. You can’t go gallivanting around on that bike anymore. Plus, we need some money to fix up the nursery.” (She was Irish and a red head with a fiery temper so I knew I’d better listen!) But it’s hard to let go of a good bike, especially when I’d had her for 12 years and she’d ridden or followed me in my moves from Georgia to Florida, to Kansas and to the frosty hinterlands of Pennsylvania, Minnesota and finally Wisconsin. She was a great motorcycle. The reliability, the thumping sound of the engine, the smooth ride, the easy maneuvering, the great balance and the slow but steady acceleration.
I didn’t buy another motorcycle for 24 years, until after the kids were grown and out starting their own lives. Last year I bought Big Red, Jeff’s 2004 Harley Road King. And then, six months ago I managed to buy another old BMW R 60/5, same model, but a 1973 one. As soon as I hopped on the bike I was transported back to a different time: sensations, feelings and memories flooded back.
The BMW is lighter and more nimble than the Harley and I began to use her mainly around town, saving the Harley for long distance driving. But it got me thinking about the differences between 1989 and now; how much bikes had changed, and I had changed.
The 1971 model was the first BMW with an electric starter. But the short wheel base of the bike allowed only for a small battery which was next to useless unless the temperature was over 70 degrees (In 1973 BMW added a longer wheel base to the bike which allowed for a bigger, stronger battery). Under 70 degrees I had to rely on the kickstarter. Until the mid-1970’s this was the main method of starting any motorcycle. Kickstarting doesn’t really involve any type of kicking motion. It’s better described as putting one’s foot up on a ratcheting lever, like stepping on a stair and then pushing down. You push on the pedal until you hit maximum resistance; you release the pedal and then push down with all your weight, keeping your knee slightly bent in case the engine backfires (in which case it could break your leg!). Repeat as necessary, which was often. The final way of getting the bike started was to roll it over to the top of a steep hill, hop on, put her in second gear, let gravity take over and pop the clutch. Somehow I always got it started. And when I did the ride was always smooth, balanced, and nimble. I had a wind screen to protect me from the elements: rain, stones, Atlanta pedestrians and Wisconsin cows.
The 2004 Harley has an electric starter and fuel injection but no kick starter. It makes for a smooth and effortless start as long as the battery’s not dead. If it is you have to get a charge from somewhere else. And believe me, it doesn’t like to be pushed down the road and have the clutch popped. Not that I’ve tried such a foolish thing.
In the 1970’s the BMW was the heaviest and most powerful bike I had ridden. She had a 600cc engine and checked in at 463 pounds naked, right out of the shower.
The Harley is a Goliath comparatively. She has a 1400 cc engine and tips the scales at 731 pounds.
It got me thinking about all the changes that had happened over the years, with me and with motorcycle technology. I’ll start with the bikes. Surprisingly, not all the changes have been in favor of the newer bike. Here are some pros and cons.
The 2004 Harley’s range is from 37-46 mpg.
The 1973 BMW ranges from 48-57 mpg.
The Harley has a gas gauge with a warning light so you can tell when you’re running low. On the BMW you just open the lid on top of the gas tank and peer in. If you can’t see gas, you shake the bike sideways and listen to how much it splashes. It doesn’t have a warning light. But don’t worry the BMW compensates by having a reserve gas tank. Start to lose speed? Flip the petcock over to the reserve tank and you have another half-gallon.
The Harley has a side stand.
The BMW has a side stand and a center stand that you can ride off.
The BMW came with a RPM gauge though the dial got funky after a few years. Mine moves up and down faster than a fiddler’s elbow. No RPM gauge on the Harley.
Better balance in the BMW but more speed in the Harley.
Maintenance was easier on the BMW. With the cylinders sticking out at a 90 degree angle it was easy to change the spark plugs and adjust the timing. The Harley you’re safer taking to the dealer and having them hook her up to a life support machine.
Vibration is another issue. Set my helmet and glasses on the BMW while I crank her up and the slow hum of the engine ensures that they’ll stay right where they are. On the Harley, in seconds they’re flying off the bike like popping popcorn.
So who cares about any of this? Who cares to spend time comparing the past with the present? The past was slower, like the BMW, and things are faster and more efficient now, like the Harley. I too was lighter then and much heavier now, but we won’t go into those measurements. You probably have your own yardsticks with which you measure the passage of time: people, places, times, blessings and tragedies.
In 1989 I gave up the BMW for the sake of my daughter. She’s 24 now and doing great. It was a good trade. She was followed by my two boys who are also now grown and studying at university.
We all look back on the roads we’ve taken; some were filled with potholes, some with dead ends, many were roundabouts, and then there were the smooth rides which seemingly promised to go on for years. I can see that path and I’m grateful. It all brought me to this place in time, this way station. It’s all about the journey. The roads and passengers of the past and those new ones trickling off unknown toward the mirages glistening in the future. But I find that I live best in the present, in the here and now. The past is gone and the future has yet to be. God, friends and motorcycles can only reach you in the present.