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!). 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.

Dead Battery, Running Out of Gas (petrol), Getting Soaked Equals: Practicing for My Cross-Country Trip

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.

WP_20170417_17_54_36_Pro

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.

Thanksgiving: Tybee Island; Doc’s Bar; Head Showered, and Kindness.

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.

 

 

Patron Saint of Motorcyclists -St. Columbanus of Bobbio’s Feast Day! November 23rd.

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.)

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Angels, Saints, Elijah the Prophet, the Lamed Vav, and Big Red, the Harley Road King.

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.