Day 34: Hannibal, Mo. to Peoria, Il; Total Trip Miles 8448 (kilometers: 13,595); Kids Playing Baseball on a Sunday Afternoon; An Early Happy 4th of July Message.

WP_20160626_14_16_46_Pro

Updated Map: http://www.travellerspoint.com/member_map.cfm?tripid=894952#/tripid/894952

Yesterday, on my ride to Peoria I hit the back roads again. Highway 24 was a bit bumpy as I rode past fields of soybeans and corn. The corn was dark green and lush. So tall that sometimes I couldn’t see over the top of it. “Knee high by the fourth of July” my old pappy used to say and this corn would have no problem beating that goal. Scattered along the roadside were beautiful wildflowers: buttercups, black eyed Susans, Queen Anne’s lace, some purple flowers that looked like asters, and coral colored lilies. I love riding through the small towns. Coming into Rushville I spotted a bunch of cars parked near a baseball field, and I pulled over and parked. It seemed like you had a choice of a purple tee shirt if you were a Rushville All-stars fan or an orange Macomb Bomber shirt if you were a supporter of the visiting team of 9 and 10 year olds. I stood out a bit with my long hair, thick bike trousers, big boots and a sleeveless black Harley shirt with a skull on the pocket. Nevertheless, the men and dad/coaches were friendly and the women smiled as they pulled their youngins in closer to them as I walked around. Then silence descended, a young girl started singing the National Anthem, folks stood up and put their hands on the hearts and a cheer went up at the end. The umpire called the coaches to home plate, lineup cards were exchanged, local rules explained and a batting helmet was tossed out because it had a crack in it.

I love baseball. Not necessarily watching it but going to a game, and the smaller the game the better. Little league matches. Semi-professional – where you can get close to the field, hang on to the chain link fence, smell the cut grass and remember when you were a kid.

I thought about my time in Northern Ireland and how some of us got a little league team going. It was a challenge trying to explain the rules to kids who had never seen a game before. To constantly remind them that no, they weren’t allowed to actually throw the hard baseball at, and try to hit, the opposing player in order to get them “out”. It wasn’t easy teaching the Irish kids how to throw a ball overhand since all their sports involved kicking balls or batting them. Over and over we had to show them which hand to put on top of the bat they were swinging. There were no designated baseball fields in Ireland (we brought our own bases and put out cones), no fancy uniforms, though that would come later (once we found a team to play – our nearest competitors were two hours a way down in Dublin.), no announcers, no anthems but every kid would play.

I thought about how wonderful a gift baseball was –not only to the kids playing, the grandparents watching but an unarguable gift and blessing to the world, since it is now played internationally. Ireland itself has had a very successful child and adult national team for quite a few years now.

In this time of political divisions in our country and a sometimes sullied reputation abroad it helps to remember that three of the greatest gifts the USA has given to the world are: The American Constitution, Jazz music and baseball.

The vision of democracy and equality, the thrilling inspiration of the arts and the sheer joy of respectful competition, good sportsmanship and camaraderie.

Ride safely this 4th!

One Day Until I Head off to Alaska: Saying Goodbye; Thoughts on Mortality

This week has been a tough lesson in saying goodbye. First, my senior students graduated on Saturday and so I rode Big Red up to Dalton and donned the cap and gown and walked in the procession during their ceremony. I’ve known them for three years since they took my Introduction to Social Work course. I’m so proud of their accomplishments and yet so sad to see them go. All 20 have gotten job offers and over 75% have been accepted to graduate school.

Then we had to pack our offices up. They’re remodeling. It reminded me of my last packing in Ireland,  when I left there 4 years ago with just 4 suitcases, after having lived there for 16 years. That was a tough goodbye, but it taught me some profound lessons; letting go, trusting, risking, humility and compassion, to mention a few.

Then it was saying “goodbye” here in town to the many kind friends I’ve made since I moved to Rome. I’ve been told they’re taking bets on how far I’ll make it. How many times I’ll stop at Harley shops along the way. It’s the usual ribbing, the taking the Mickie out of me, by friends, mates or “muckers”, that lets you know they care. Okay, well some of them. (You know who you are!) I know that I should be back in a few months’ time but motorcycle trips have a way of causing everyone to think about the rider’s mortality, especially the rider. Still, there’s nothing I’d rather be doing. All true adventures have an element of peril in them.

I am excited and optimistic about the trip. I figure it’ll take me about 14 days to get to Alaska and I hope to keep posting everyday along the way. From Alaska I’ll head down the west coast and spend some days on the Pacific Coast Highway all the way to LA.

But for tomorrow, I’m aiming to get to Paducah, Kentucky!

 The Summer Day – Mary Oliver

… I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

St Columbanus! Irish Patron Saint of Motorcyclists. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

According to the Vatican and the Harley Davidson company who made a medal promoting him, the Patron Saint of Motorcyclists is St. Columbanus of Bobbio. Despite the Italian ‘Bobbio’, this guy was an Irish dude! What a surprise! During the dark ages when the Irish were saving civilization and Christianity he ventured away from Ireland wandering up and down Europe in the sixth and seventh centuries, starting monasteries and spreading the word about Christ.
But who was this man? 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).
Unusually, 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…). He was also a bit of a rogue, as they say. A holy woman put the fear of God in him and he decided to change his ways. When he decided to become a priest his mother 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 and was always riling up “the Man” (the Popes and Bishops).
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 happy, hoppy beer!
If Columbanus were alive today I imagine him riding 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 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. And so he knew that faith is more deserving of the divine gifts than despair, which is wont to diminish even what one has.
His Feast day is the 23rd November
May he always help us keep the shiny side up and the rubber side down.

God, Trust, and Motorcycle Journeys: Part One

God, Trust, and Motorcycle Journeys: Part One

Some time back I wrote about the Patron Saint of Motorcycles. It’s in this blog and I won’t spoil your suspense by telling you who was chosen for this honor. Bikers pray, like most people do, for things they want and don’t want. “Oh God, don’t let a part of me or Big Red end up on the Tree of Shame at the Dragon’s Tail!” is an example of one form of the most earnest prayer recited by thousands of bikers in North Carolina each year. I recited it just recently. Some of us pray, like beauty contestants, for world peace. Some bikers see a handsome man or a beautiful woman ride up on an incredible motorcycle and “Oh God” is often mumbled under the breath. Don’t know about you but I always thought there was a fine line between some prayers we utter and coveting. By the way, just to make sure we are on the same page, we are talking about desiring the motorcycle, aren’t we?
Prayers of gratitude are often uttered by bikers as they realize their blessing at being able to ride through the astonishingly beautiful world we have. Prayers of thankfulness are soulfully felt, including the slow sideways shaking of the helmet at the hard to believe realization of one’s good fortune. All the religions I know about declare that you have done nothing to earn this privilege so feel humbled and fortunate, incredibly and eternally thankful. That old Danish philosopher Kierkegaard used to say that people relate to things of only relative importance (cars, money, homes etc.) as if they were of absolute importance and relate to absolute things (like God, loving others) as if they were only of relative importance. I know it’s a mistake that I often make. Being out on a bike in the silence and nature helps cure me of that, if only temporarily.

But not all bike rides are purely joyful. Sometimes in our lives we are going through what St John of the Cross called: The Dark Night of the Soul and if it only lasted one night we probably could knuckle down, put our kickstand up and ride through it. But if you’re like me these nights (and days) can go on seemingly forever, with no end in sight. That happened to me two years ago when my marriage of twenty five years fell apart and my life in Ireland started to crumble. I was completely disoriented, had emotional and spiritual vertigo and eventually moved back home to Georgia.The disorientation didn’t stop there. Sartre said: “Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.” I was both dizzy and anxious.

The bike provided me with a way of spending time alone, wandering physically and spiritually that helped get me through this dark night. Family and friends, letting go, being in the moment, reflection and prayer saved me. And not the good old Irish prayer: “May the road rise up to meet you….!” No biker wants the road to rise up and meet them! That’s surely a way to get yourself on the Tree of Shame! Instead, new prayers came, new ways of looking at the world.

But sometimes the dark night, like the road can go on seemingly forever. You feel lost, adrift, and can’t see beyond the flotsam and jetsam of your past which is constantly floating around you, reminding you of what your life once was. Though it can be terrifying at the time there’s great value in being and feeling “lost” and I, and plenty others have written about it. It’s important to not give up hope for you will come out of it; you will find a new and better destination.
Barbara Brown Taylor says it perfectly:
“God puts out our lights to keep us safe, John says” (St John of the Cross), “because we are never more in danger of stumbling than when we think we know where we are going. When we can no longer see the path we are on, when we can no longer read the maps we have brought with us or sense anything in the dark that might tell us where we are, then and only then are we vulnerable to God’s protection. This remains true even when we cannot discern God’s presence. The only thing the dark night requires of us is to remain conscious. If we can stay with the moment in which God seems most absent, the night will do the rest.
Taylor, Barbara Brown (2014-04-08). Learning to Walk in the Dark (pp. 146-147). Harper Collins. Kindle Edition.

Stay tuned for part two. Join me if you want to go for that ride. Kickstands up.

12,541 Motorcycle Miles Last Year. Reflections on My First Year in Rome, Georgia and Thanks

DSCN0089 DSCN0107

12,541 Motorcycle Miles Last Year. Reflections on My First Year in Rome, Georgia

Last July I moved over here from Ireland. The kids had grown and my marriage had fallen apart. So after some painful reflection I decided to go home. I squeezed 16 years of my possessions and memories into four suitcases and said “goodbye” to a beautiful country and great friends. When I arrived back in Georgia, Jeff loaned me his Harley, Big Red, and eventually, reluctantly, he sold it to me. They are still on good terms. I promise. He can ride her whenever he wants to.

I had a tough time adjusting when I first got here. New land, new people, mixing with old memories, reflections and dreams. The dreams were the worst bit. I’d wake up feeling vanquished and shipwrecked, tossed onto an unfamiliar shore. I went through a period of mourning, which Freud says is love’s rebellion against loss. He was right. I viscerally lived out all the various meanings of the word: bereft. What has helped me survive and prosper has been my family, the incredibly hospitable folks of Rome, messages from friends in Ireland, God, prayer, and, of course Big Red. They all gave me hope and encouragement. I’m not there yet; I still have quite a few miles to go.

Big Red especially helped me stay in the “here and now”, practice my mindfulness and distracted me away from painful memories. All those miles, the long cross country trip, gave me time for peacefulness, silent reflection, centering, letting go of the past, prayer, forgiving, gratitude, redemption and for hope to spring anew. Prayer comes easily on a motorcycle, especially a Harley. Hope, for Emily Dickinson might be “a thing with feathers” but for me hope comes on two wheels, barreling down open and unknown roads, where sometimes you can see only as far as your headlight shows you. And that’s good enough for me.

Thanks everyone and thanks Big Red.

Dads and Daughters and Heart Drives

Hannah and Her Dad

Hannah and Her Dad

Dads and Daughters and Heart Drives  

It’s been great these last few days visiting my daughter and her husband, of whom I fully approve. Not that my opinion matters, or should. She was raised to think for herself, to trust herself, to be independent and strong and to follow her own path. I told her that she was not in this world to live up to my expectations, though in fact she has exceeded them. I’m one lucky dad.

Bill is a great guy. Funny, witty, talented, kind, but most of all he’s great to Hannah. I love watching how playful and loving they are with each other.

It’s going to be hard to leave. Harder on her because all her family is so far away; I’m in Georgia and her brothers, mother and closest friends in Ireland. Thank God Bill is such a wonderful and supportive husband. I hope to be like him when I grow up.

But tomorrow we hit the road again. A bit of my heart will stay here and a bit of hers will go with me. In computer terms these bits go into our “heart drives”. That’s the way it is. Hopefully, the bit of my heart will remind her that she is always loved; loved simply for who she is, not what she does. The bit of her heart that goes with me reminds me that I am loved, no matter how silly, clumsy and lost I can be at times.

In about 12 hours we’ll be back on the Harleys again, heading up the Pacific Coast Highway while Bill and Hannah are back to work and school. But we are here now, savoring these last moments, storing them in our heart drives.

 

Biker Mind in a Cage and Enlightenment in Piggly Wiggly

I was having problems with my Jeep about a month ago and I took it to Mike’s to have it checked out. Mike has a reputation for doing good, honest work and he’s a nice guy.

“I’ve got good news and bad news for you.” I was told.

“What’s the good news?”

“You only need one part replaced.”

“And the bad news?”

“It’s your engine.”

So began the journey of various Jeep engine parts to Rome Georgia, an odyssey which is still going on.

No big deal, I thought.  I’ve got the bike and over the last few weeks, rain or shine, I’ve ridden her faithfully and wetly.

But today was different. I had to run a few errands (“messages” in Ireland) and I needed a car. I’d been asked by a friend to drop off some food for a housebound woman. No big deal for me, I was honored to do it.

My nephew Matt loaned me his and it was a strange experience. First of all I tried to get in on the wrong side of the car because my old reflexes from Ireland kicked in. (The steering wheel is on the opposite side of the car over there because they drive on the wrong side of the road!) I finally managed to get into the car, something we bikers call a “cage”.

Now, how do I operate this thing? Right, take the parking brake off. It’s already off. Again, I have to remember that I’m not in Ireland where they always use it. I crank her up and since it’s an automatic I reverse easily and then head out. First thing I have to do is roll the window down. I have to have the wind on me. There’s a great quote I heard which says that only a motorcycle rider understands why dogs love to stick their heads out of car windows. I mosey up to the main four lane. I’m thinking: There’s a cage turning, probably not paying attention. What about that lady driving talking on her phone? (Illegal in Ireland.)  I don’t try and make eye contact with her to confirm her driving intentions instead I stare at the car’s front wheel to make sure it’s not moving. It isn’t and I pull out onto the highway.  I realize what I’m doing. I’m driving a cage like a biker. I’m scanning the area looking for hazards, especially people who don’t see you and cut in front of you. I had the biker mind going in the cage. It was weird. I relaxed a bit and I thought: hey this isn’t too bad. Got a roof over my head, listening to some blues music. I can take a sip from my coffee cup. Smoke my pipe if I want to. (But not in Matt’s car!). This is kinda cool.

But I still had the biker mind going and found myself waving a salute to other bikers as they passed by.

I had to pick up some groceries for myself and while wandering around in the Piggly Wiggly I was thinking: better not get too much I don’t have a lot of room in the saddlebags. Then I realized again that I wasn’t on the bike. I could get anything I wanted; there’s plenty of room! This was great. But I didn’t like how my mind was shifting back to the idea of “buying stuff”. I used to be quite a collector of things: books, old coins, baseball cards, bad habits-you name it. But when I left Ireland after 16 years I gave most of my stuff away and managed to pack my life into four suitcases. It wasn’t easy or fun. In fact, it was painful because I was attached to all the things I had and the people I knew and loved. And yet it was freeing at the same time. It helped me to realize how little I really needed; what was important in my life and what wasn’t. It reminded me of what the Dalai Lama said: Attachment is the origin, the root of suffering; hence it is the cause of suffering.

Non-attachment means letting go. It means recognizing that all things are impermanent: material things, our bodies, even our relationships. This might sound depressing, but it isn’t. It’s actually liberating. “When you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose”. You don’t suffer from worrying about getting something or losing someone. When I can keep this kind of awareness in my mind it helps me to appreciate every moment, to be centered and content with what I have, to be aware and grateful.  I’m much happier and healthier now.

I bought the few things that I needed and got back into the car. I drove over to the house, dropped the food off, rang the doorbell and left. On the way home I reverted to biker mode: watching for potholes in the road, tar snakes, inattentive drivers, road gators (bits of shredded tires from semi-truck tire blowouts), and steering aids (Bikers hate these! They’re gouges/ruts in the road from trucks. The ruts can guide your front wheel in a direction you don’t want to go.) None of us want to get into ruts. To go in directions we don’t want to go, because of someone else.

Surviving these hazards today, I came home. If I can stay centered I might survive tomorrow as well.

It was fun driving the car. But I still prefer the bike.