The Road Home; The Majestic Diner on Ponce de Leon in Atlanta; 40 Year Reunion; Existentialism, Eggs and Grits.

On my way back to Rome, Georgia Big Red, my 2004 Harley Road King and I decided to stop at Griffin. I had earned enough frequent visitor points from a hotel chain that I got a free room at the motel. Then I had a Mexican takeaway and watched TV for a change. The Dirty Harry movies were on.

Next morning I headed to Atlanta to meet my two old buddies Jeff and Kevin for breakfast at a place we used to haunt years ago: the Majestic Diner. This was when all three of us worked at Peachtree Psychiatric Hospital. Sometimes we worked a 3-11pm shift and it was the only restaurant open. I figured that it had been forty years since the three of us had sat together in one of the booths. Back then we had talked about women (problems with or lack of) and what we wanted to do with our lives. Now, forty years later we were talking about women (problems with or lack of) and what we wanted to do with our lives. The difference was that we had forty years of existence since we had first discussed philosophy over eggs and grits. I’m not sure that any of us felt like we had learned very much. We got to talking about existentialist philosophy, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Sartre and Marcel. Our memories were rusty, which was okay because existentialism had grown pretty rusty too. Regardless of the roads we had ridden on over the years the young, naive, arrogance and hubris of our twenties had been battered, scarred and smelted into a more pure vulnerability and humility, which was a good, albeit painful, thing.

After two hours it was time to hit our different roads and talk about when we might get together again. Maybe at Huck’s Cove right on the bayou in Gautier, Mississippi where we had ridden to once before?  Who knows? We’re more patient now. And more trusting.

Paving Over Memory Lane; Chico’s Monkey Farm; Nowhere to Go and No Hurry to get There; More Motorcycle Adventures on Back Roads Georgia Highways 17 and 341; Wooden Nickels.

I’ve never had a great memory. That’s why I write things down. Old photos of family and friends, and places I’ve been help me somewhat, but actually seeing the old things helps me the most. Highway 17 used to be the main conduit between Florida and Maine and was filled with fascinating, and sometimes troubling, roadside entertainment. When I-95 was completed, the roadside services, motor lodges and entertainments began to dry up. Highway 17 is still an important road linking communities but it’s become a four lane. That came at a further expense as when they widened the road they knocked down many of the old facilities. The rest were left derelict.

So here I am driving down the highway and trying to remember where things were. Where was  Chico’s Monkey Farm and the Dixie Jungle. Once you could see their bright pink advertising signs with garish colors and wacky designs every half mile down the road: “See the Monkeys!”, “Pet the Alligators”, “Pecan Logs” and “Souvenirs”. Men were boiling peanuts by the side of the road and there was scent of barbecue from Mammy’ Kitchen and Howdy’s Restaurant where they had the wild pink flamingos. And there was Archie’s Seafood Restaurant in Darien.

Leaving Darien this morning I decided to head north and took Highway 341, which I took all the way up to Griffin, Georgia from where I’m now writing. Got in moments before a thunderstorm hit.

Here’s just a list of observations for my memory lane:

Homes: Shotgun cottages, clapboard houses; small brick homes, some fancy, single and double wide trailers.

Trees: Pine, willow, maple, magnolias, mimosas, cypress trees in blackwater swamps.

Farms, pecan trees, peanut farms, peach groves, the scent of newly cut pine trees on a logging truck.

Peach ice cream at Dicky’s Peach Farm.

I just enjoyed the ride. I had nowhere to go and there was no hurry to get there. I daydreamed, meditated, prayed and gave thanks. Aren’t all our journeys, whether down memory lane or the four lanes of new adventures, ultimately about love? Remembering it, discovering it, preaching it?

Oh, and I passed lots of signs for Vacation Bible Schools. If they don’t teach those kids to love everyone, regardless of what roads they’ve taken to get here, then those classes aren’t worth a wooden nickel.

I remember wooden nickels.

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Day 35: Peoria to Paducah; 315 miles; Total Miles So Far: 8763 (14, 102 km); Follow Your Dreams.

I left Peoria around 11 this morning. So hard to say goodbye to my great friend Kathy who had made the days there so wonderful. Last night we went to the Peoria Brewing Company, which was great fun. We tried a few of their beers, had some pizza and lost badly in the Hawaiian Trivia Night Quiz. (See photo). Yesterday I also had to visit the Harley deal in Peoria. Routine maintenance for the most part. Big Red needed a new back tire and, apparently, the rear brake pads needed to be replaced. $386, before tax, on the tire. And $73.70 for the brake job. That’s the way things roll with a Harley. I had planned in my budget around $1000 in repairs for the trip and so far we’re under that at around $900 – but that’s for 8000 miles, so I’m happy with that. (Knock on wood).

I hope to make it back to Rome, Georgia tomorrow. My phone tells me I have about 340 miles to go. That will put me over 9000 miles for this trip. Wow. I wasn’t sure I could do it, old man and all, and with all the medical problems I have. Don’t ever talk yourself out of your dreams! One step, one day, at a time. You can do it. WP_20160629_19_19_01_Pro

Day 28 Recap: Green River, Utah; Watching Northern Ireland play Germany in Soccer (on the internet); Much Better Ride Yesterday.

I’m all packed up, sitting in my Motel 6 room, hoping to watch the first half of the Northern Ireland football match before housekeeping kicks me out.

It was hot again when I left Mesquite, Nevada. The temperature on my phone said 107 degrees, so I prepared myself for another rough day riding. I put on my long leather gloves to protect my fingers (yesterday my fingers were air roasted because I had on fingerless gloves).

It was rough at first and I managed only about 40 miles before I stopped at the Black Bear Diner in St George. Best homemade sausage patties I’ve eaten on the trip so far!

Prior to getting to St George I drove through the Virgin River Gorge. Desolate desert and high hills. The only things growing were bleached green shrubs and pale pastel colors.

I cut my speed to 65 mph so as not to strain the engine in the heat and limped down the interstate. The desert mesas were clay colored with sparse patches of green shrubs on them, looking as if the mesas hadn’t shaved in a few days. In this heat, who could blame them?

After St George brighter colors began to appear among the high mesas and buttes. I was never bored with the changing scenery and colors and canyons similar to the Grand Canyon. I passed through the San Rafael Swell. Imagine your image of Mars or the planet Vulcan, because this is where they filmed it for the Star Trek movie. Limestone, shale and sandstone. Red rock canyons, deep valleys and gorges. Dome shaped rocks and buttes shooting up into the sky like fossilized rockets or abandoned chimneys. In the distance I could see snow still hiding on the mountain tops. Amazing. I felt very humbled and grateful.

I nickel and dimed my way down the hot interstate, stopping every 50-80 miles to get a break from the heat. I found a store with a beer cave and spent about 10 minutes inside in the cold air until the clerks started to stare at me. I gassed up Big Red and filled myself with water. Even stuck some in my pockets. The road gained altitude, climbed to 7000 feet and it began to cool down. “No Services for 100 Miles” a sign read. What the hell, let’s go.

The last hour of the trip was awesome. The sun was setting and the sky was filled with hues of pink, honey-apricot, Spanish moss grey and various blues. I stopped and took a photo which I’ll try to attach.

Made it to Green River.WP_20160620_19_48_08_Pro (1)

Today, Day 29 I’m going to continue on I 70 to Grand Junction then I’m going to hop on Hwy 50, The Loneliest Highway in America.

Trip Map:

https://secure.travellerspoint.com/member_map.cfm?tripid=894952#/tripid/894952

PS: Northern Ireland lost 1-0 but still have a chance to make the playoffs. Tonight the USA plays.

3 Days before Leaving; Do You Believe in Fate? Destiny?

3 Days before Leaving; Do You Believe in Fate? Destiny?

In 3 days I’ll hit the road again. I kind of know where I’m going and I kinda don’t. I’m hoping to stop in Lindsborg, Kansas to see an old friend of mine that I hadn’t seen in over twenty years. Lindsborg’s nickname is Little Sweden USA because it was founded by Swedish Immigrants and the language and traditions continue there to this day. It also was also the location of my first college teaching post at Bethany College and I really enjoyed it. My second stop will be in Peoria to visit with a woman Facebook friend that I had met, in person, at the beginning of my trip. Some mysteries need to be cleared up there. When I left Georgia on May 9th I hadn’t planned to stop at either of these places on the way back. That’s the way I think fate/destiny works. But you have to trust it, go with it.

What do you think about fate or destiny? Call it whatever you want to – God’s will, the Tao, the Universe, Synchronicity, Yuanfen? Have things happened in your life that seem as though they were meant to have happened? People you met, maybe married. Schools you went to. Books that came to you at certain times of your life? Events that somehow changed the trajectory of your life?

Were these just coincidences? And are coincidences, as some would say, just God’s way of remaining anonymous.

And where does free will fit into all of this? What does it mean to “follow your heart”? What does it mean to “trust”? To let go? We worry so much about what the future might bring; which path we should take.

Tough questions. Some Christians believe that all will be well if we seek first the Kingdom. Taoist, Buddhist and Stoic suggest “going with the flow” but not in some apathetic, hippy way. The poet Rilke has this advice for us who are struggling with our innermost questions.  Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.

Where will I ride? What roads will I take? Will I make it to these destinations or will others suddenly appear and beckon me? And what about you?

Day 21: Leaving Bandon; 856 Miles to LA; Random Reflections; Zen; Gratitude.

Day 21: Leaving Bandon; 856 Miles to LA; Random Reflections.

The good thing for me is that these 865 miles are all on the same road – Hwy 101 in Oregon and 1, The Pacific Coast Highway in California. Staying on the same road significantly decreases my chances of getting lost!

I like Sunday mornings. Especially rides on Sunday mornings. It’s often the church of choice that I visit. Not that I have anything against regular churches – I’ve attended many different kinds: Catholic, Episcopalian, Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran, Evangelical, Pentecostal, Anglican, ecumenical, etc and others that were non-Christian. My thought is that if they help make you a better person in the church and out of it, then more power to you. I always liked it that the Dalia Lama said something like: I don’t want you to become a Buddhist. I want you to take what anything you find useful from Buddhism to help you become a better whatever you are. That’s what I try to do. Anything that helps me become less judgmental and more compassionate I’m all for. Mother Theresa nailed it when she said that if you’re busy judging people you can’t be busy loving them.

My church is the open road where you meet people that need help (sometimes just a smile) or ones that have a message for you. Buddha spent a lot of time on the road. Jesus also ran up a lot of miles. If he could have, I know Jesus would have ridden a Harley Road King, like Big Red. Buddha I see cruising around more on a Fat Boy.

This morning’s ride was holy, full of grace and gratitude. I rode along the magnificent coast of Oregon and stared out at the Pacific, its roiling waves, whitecaps, and the huge determined stones that jut out from it. It reminded me a lot of the coast of Ireland, except in Ireland everything was greener and windier and wetter.

I thought about Robert Pirsig’s line (which others had said in various forms before him) that the only Zen you find at the top of the mountain is the Zen that you brought with you. I agree to an extent. But certain places help bring out the Zen more in me. A peaceful, silent ride like this morning’s has me sinking into the present, letting go of the past and not worrying about the future. A deep sense of gratitude comes over me and I shout: Thank you God! Much like Kerouac did. Zen is a tool. It is not a religion, it’s a philosophy, a method to use to help reach a sense of completeness, peacefulness, love, compassion and gratitude. Whether you’re at the mountain top, riding along the coast or just washing dishes, it helps you see that at every moment you have everything that you need to be happy. You don’t need more, better, faster, prettier, thinner…you need awareness, self-acceptance and compassion (including compassion for yourself as you are). Rub these things together like sticks, and you get the sacred fire of gratitude.

May you ride down whatever road you are on today with the fire of gratitude in your heart.

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?

13 Days Until I head off to Alaska: Motorcycle Riding as a Spiritual Experience.

For me, motorcycle riding is a spiritual experience. I don’t plan it out, it just naturally happens. In less than two miles of hitting the countryside a feeling of gratitude comes over me. Gratitude for the countryside I’m riding through – whether plain or magnificent – and gratitude for the things in my life: family, friends, my job, my students, and of course Big Red, my Harley. I don’t wait on the feelings to come, I don’t anticipate them, or start them off with a little prompting. They just naturally descend on me like the satiny dew that covers the morning grass. Did the grass conjure the dew up? Was it waiting for it? Nah, it just appeared when the grass wasn’t looking, leaving one blade to say to the other: “Hey, guess what’s back?”

Once the gratitude arrives I start expanding it to things I see and smell: the fresh mowed grass, the colors of the sky, the drifting oyster colored clouds that sometimes remind me of Eeyore, that old leaning barn with the rusted tin roof, the brown horses grazing in the buttercups, the crimson clover looking like strawberries on a stick, amidst the uncut roadside wildflowers. Then I start praying for family and friends, the ones I like and the ones that have really pissed me off recently. Fortunately, there’s not too many of the latter. Lovingkindness has to travel down both sides of any divided highway. Then I just center into riding. Sometimes it’s like the bike is standing still and the road is rushing underneath, the trees running beside me on their tiny, spindly legs. Other times, I’m accelerating and listening to the staccato thunder of the engine, or I’m leaning into curves trying to find that sweet perfect balance of speed, gear, lane location and leaning. Motorcycles will teach you, or else you’ll fall off them, that the only way through curves and problems is by leaning into them. It’s an act of faith to lean into them, and coming out on the other side is a gift of grace.

A Cold, Healing, Heartful Ride

At dusk, riding home on Big Red, the alluring scent of the purple wisteria, mingling with the aroma of the wood fires almost made me dizzy. The skyline wore a peach-apricot glow with cloudless brilliant blue above. The sun chased alongside me through the trees. A train passed under the evening rising mist. It was cold but I didn’t care. The sunlight was retreating and cool shadows and fog had started to claim the road. The cars had their lights on as they hurried toward the future. I was fine riding through the present.

I’d left home this morning not quite realizing how cold it was. It was 41 degrees (5 Celsius). I’d forgotten to charge the batteries on my heated gloves so my hands were freezing. I had to hunker down at the Hardees in Adairsville and warm my hands and soul with some coffee. My heart was already warmed from the friction of gratitude rushing through me. Away from the music and news reports, enveloped by nature and especially the newly blooming dogwoods, it’s really hard for a boy not to feel grateful on a motorcycle. Even if it’s cold.

Last Rides. When Will Yours Be? Alaska Trip Planning

Last Rides. When Will Yours Be? Alaska Road Trip Planning.

Just in the last week there have been 4 motorcycle wrecks in this area, caused by drivers not paying attention. No one died, yet, but one fellow lost a leg and things are not looking well for another.

Whenever I ride I do think that this might be my last one. I’m not morbid about things, if anything it helps me to practice gratitude and stay in the here and now. I pray for folks and give thanks as I ride through the beautiful countrysides.

It’s 46 days until I head off on my trip to Alaska. I’m starting to get more excited and more nervous.

You can see my rough trip plan mapped out here: http://www.travellerspoint.com/member_map.cfm?user=kierk1&tripid=861555

I’ve started gathering up the things I want and will need. Too early to start collecting bags of peanuts, sticks of beef jerky and granola bars though. I’m working on the bigger items now.

I’m waiting on my passport. It needed to be renewed and I sent it off in February only to have them send me back my photo and tell me it wasn’t correct. I had my glasses on.

Bought a new tent. Picked a Marmot Tungsten 1person Tent. Got good reviews and looked light and easy to set up, with extra space to throw my pack in. I’d been using a 3 person tent for a few years. Big enough to accommodate my stuff and any girlfriend’s. But the girlfriend’s gone, bless her heart, and I need to travel as light as I can.

Urban Survival Gear X-6 Tactical Flashlight, a great flashlight, waterproof and has self-defense aspects. You can blind someone, strobe light them or wop them over the head (Japanese kubotan) if they won’t leave you alone. Oh, and you can see things really well with it.

I also got a new knife, a Victorinox Swiss Army Swiss Champ with an SOS kit. It’s the biggest knife they make and has 33 functions on it, though I’m not sure I’ll need the fish scaler. The SOS kit has everything you need including, matches, a mirror, and an international distress signal guide. It’s even got a compass in case I get lost and the odds of that are high! (Remember on my last cross country trip I crossed the Mississippi River 5 times just on the way to California?)

I also treated myself to a Saddleback laptop bag. It can hold my tablet (Asus) and keyboard and fits nicely into my saddlebag.

I’m working on my route. Interstates are allowed on this trip. So far my rough plans include heading to Nashville, then Champaign, Illinois, Bloomington-Utica-Rockford, then Madison, Wisconsin, then Minneapolis, Minnesota and Fargo, North Dakota. Even I can’t miss North Dakota!  That will be about 1300 miles and should take an easy 4 days. But I’m open to alternatives. Might want to see Fond du Lac, Wisconsin again, where I taught for 4 years and see the house for the homeless where I used to volunteer.

No GPS for me. I like the adventures that come with getting lost. And getting lost I most assuredly will.