Folks from the southern part of the USA love their porches. If you find a home in the south that was built without a porch the odds are 10-1 it was constructed by a northerner. Maybe we love them so much because they’re hallowed remnants from the long hot summers we had before air conditioning and television came along. Or, maybe they’re from our love of hospitality, good company and storytelling.
Riding my old 1973 BMW through northwest Georgia these last few weeks I decided to concentrate on porches, just porches. The first thing I noticed is that folks are not out on them as much as they used to be. Only twice did I see people sitting out on their porches. Maybe they’re lured inside by the attraction of air-conditioning and taped episodes of shows like Game of Thrones. It is still hot here in Georgia in these waning days of August, so I can understand this decision. But even so, you can’t beat the feeling of a cool breeze under a shady porch, maybe with a whiff of jasmine in the air. Out on the porch it’s easier to let go of your worries and connect with the simplicity of the past.
So while I rode, when I could take my eyes of the road, I perused what was perched on porches.
There were the typical porches with swinging benches, rocking chairs and gliders. Others had stiff plastic chairs that folks had probably gotten from a dollar store within walking distance away. I remember riding past one house a few times that contained a solitary chair on the porch. What must have happened to someone that resulted in their choosing to have only one chair on the porch? A variety of existential possibilities came to mind and none of them were happy ones. Some porches had old sofas and reclining chairs. Most had coffee tables. Many had blooming plants in clay pots, others had hanging baskets. A few had wind chimes. Some had overhead ceiling fans just in case mother nature needed a boost. Many had flags proclaiming loyalty to some college, country or cause. Other porches had expanded beyond their original functions and contained barbecue grills, refrigerators and personal gyms. One had multicolored clothes drying on a line and children’s toys, scattered around like old memories. Twice I saw small statues of St Francis of Assisi.
I remember two quotes attributed to him:
Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.
I have been all things unholy. If God can work through me, He can work through anyone.
Great words to keep in mind in these divisive times. But it won’t do any good just sitting inside chewing on them.
Go on out on the porch, drag out another chair, fix some iced tea and invite someone to sit down and have a chat. Then, just feel that healing breeze.
One photo above is of me recently picking up my 1973 BMW R60/5 from the Blue Moon Cycle in Atlanta. I was one happy boy! Brief back story: I owned a R60 from 1978 until 1989. I reluctantly, but happily because of the reason, sold it in 1989 as my first child was about to be born. My then wife convinced me that an expectant father shouldn’t be riding a motorcycle and besides, we needed the money for the baby’s nursery.
Also above, is a recent picture of my first child and me!
Years later (2013) and that baby was now 24 and the other kids were grown and independent so it was time for a trip down memory lane. I found a BMW on eBay and bought it.
Here’s the original story from a few years ago. https://2cyclepaths.com/2013/07/31/the-new-addition-to-the-family/
I rode her for about a year until I was having clutch and other problems so I retired her to the garage. This year, 2017, I finally came up with enough extra money to get her fixed. And here’s she is! My 44 year old BMW.
I rode her the sixty miles home from Atlanta and she did great. Thank you Blue Moon for an excellent job!
Thomas Wolfe said: “You can’t go home again.” And maybe he was right in some ways. But you can ride your old motorcycle model again. There’s life after the kids have grown.
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.
The last two days I have stuck to the back roads. Highway 47 and then 150. It has been good for my soul to be on the old blue highways. Rusty red barns, grain silos, water towers with the names of the towns on them, red wing blackbirds, small towns with courthouses in the center square, rich, black agricultural fields – first no seedlings, then small plants, then larger growth the farther I headed south. My old pappy used to say: “knee high by the fourth of July” and at the rate we’re going our corn should have no problems reaching that goal.
I’ve been much more relaxed the last two days through just letting go, assuming that wherever I am is the right place for me to be. Find the road you think is the right one and just go with it. And hold onto your hat. What more can you do after you pray and open yourself, but trust? The poet Rilke once said:
“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.”
Embrace the uncertainty.
In our life we can have periods of long stability and happiness and then, all of a sudden, something happens and we’re thrown off balance. Nothing’s permanent. Another Rilke quote comes to mind:
“Were it possible for us to see further than our knowledge reaches, and yet a little way beyond the outworks of our divinings, perhaps we would endure our sadnesses with greater confidence than our joys. For they are the moments when something new has entered into us, something unknown; our feelings grow mute in shy perplexity, everything in us withdraws, a stillness comes, and the new, which no one knows, stands in the midst of it and is silent.”
Respect the silence. Embrace each moment and ride safely my friends.
I had a wonderful breakfast at the 1899 Inn and then rode down to Starbucks for some coffee and to write my blog. I kept looking for Nancy (see yesterday’s blog) but I didn’t spot her anywhere. As I sipped on my coffee and wrote, I noticed the sky was darkening. I checked the radar on my phone and it showed a big storm coming. I looked out the window again and the rain started pouring. Since I had nowhere to go and no time to be there I decided to wait it out. I keep realizing things while I’m on this trip. I was thinking about how I was tempted to say that it was “a bad day”, but where does that idea come from? It means I must have a mental construct of what a good day is and a bad one. Once again, where does that come from? Why do I label one day as good and another as bad? Aren’t all days equally beautiful if you don’t have any expectations? So much stress comes from expectations. We believe that things must be a certain way and get upset when they’re not. There’s certainly something beautiful in watching and feeling a thunderstorm, if we look and just accept things as they are. The temperature began dropping as well. The day before it was in the 90’s and today it had dropped to the low 60’s.
After 2 hours the rain cleared and I thought I’d head out. With it being colder I decided to put on my leather jacket. The only problem was that the jacket was strapped on the bike and the outside of the jacket was soaked. It was as heavy as an anchor. I put it on anyway and then put my rain jacket on top. I didn’t get far before the rain came back, puddling the road and accompanied by a wind that looked, and felt, like it was lost and in a hurry to get somewhere. This resulted in me being blown around on the interstate, and the wind trying to steal my helmet again. What’s so special about my helmet that it’s dead set on yanking it off?
I managed to ride about 98 miles and got off at Wall, South Dakota, home of the famous Wall Drug Store. I decided to find a place there. The lowest price was a Super 8. I hunkered down there, except for a brief spell at Wall Drug and the Badlands Grill and Saloon. In its own way, it was a beautiful day.
Slept late. It was great not having to pack up and leave, as I did most mornings. I walked into town and had breakfast at the Two Medicine Grill. Then I walked back and took a nap. Before noon I headed toward St Mary’s and Glacier National Park, and the “Going – to – the – Sun Road” which cuts across the park. On the way there were signs saying: Road construction: motorcycles should take alternate route. I slowed the bike, looked around and said: what alternate route? So I went ahead. There were about 5 sections where the road had eroded or was being repaired. Loose rocks and gravel. It wasn’t too bad. Then there were some nice twisty roads which were enjoyable being able to lean into the curves. I was about 30 miles from the Canadian border. Finally, I made it into the park and rode along St Mary’s lake. The mountains loomed high behind them and were riddled with snow. I’ll try and attach a photo. The scent of the fir trees was amazing. The road was only open for about 15 miles because they were still plowing the snow from the road. So, I probably missed the best of the park. And while it was spectacular I thought about places that I had ridden through that were even more so: parts of Yosemite with my buddy El Jefe and the road from Canmore, Alberta to Banff to the Saskatchewan River Crossing with my friend Kevin.
According to a recent USA Today article: “The park’s glaciers are estimated at 7,000 years old and “peaked,” the USGS (United States Geological Survey) said, in the mid-1800s during the “Little Ice Age.” In 1850, the park had an estimated 150 glaciers. Since that time, its lost about 85% of its ice area and now has less than 30 glaciers.” It’s predicted that by the year 2030 there will be no more glaciers in the park. I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether you believe in climate change or not.
I gassed up Big Red and packed before I went to bed. As I fell asleep I kept thinking: Where in the hell will Divine Providence take me tomorrow? Come to think of it: Where will It take you?
I was filled with sadness heading out this morning. My eyes were burning. I didn’t want to say goodbye to my kids, Colin and Hannah, and Hannah’s husband Bill. They live so far away. I’d already been feeling sad what with the recent bomb in Manchester and the sudden death of a friend back home. But it’s time to leave.
This is the part of my journey that I’m leaving up to divine providence, so I have no destination in mind. I hope to be guided in my choice of direction by clear omens, hunches and uncertain feelings of certainty. However, it’s one thing to trust that the old signs and portents will appear and it’s another to find oneself stuck at an intersection in the middle of Anywhere, USA and having no clear inclination, or even funny feeling as to which way to go.
In one of my novels, Hope Bats Last, I address just such a possibility and come up with this guidance for the protagonist:
Always head away from bad weather, unless some omen tells me otherwise. When I don’t know which way to go, go left and then right the next time, and then left… If I must choose between two towns and can’t, choose the one that starts with the earliest letter in the alphabet. Trust the journey.
I’ve added a few since:
Don’t book any motels in advance because you don’t know where you’re going.
When you have a choice of motels and feel no preference, choose the one with a number in its name. If there’s more that one, pick the motel with the highest number. If there are no numbers pick the one whose name comes first alphabetically.
Talk to anyone who wants to talk with you for as long as they want to talk.
Don’t avoid homeless people; they could be Elijah the prophet in disguise.
If someone mentions a place I should visit, I must go there.
If I have a funny feeling about something, I should listen to it.
What can go wrong?
I’ll keep this short and sweet. Leaving yesterday from Barstow, I started out by having to fix the bike’s windscreen which had blown loose in the heavy winds. Riding, the winds were rough but manageable. I did about 35 miles before stopping at Victorville, California. It was in this city four years ago that the bike broke down, beginning the saga of the stuck shifter shaft and the leaking shifter shaft seal. (I kid you not! Try and say that 3 times really fast.) El Jefe and I had to put up overnight to have the bike repaired.
This time I stopped to get coffee at Starbucks and then did a quick walk through of the Harley shop.
Leaving, the sky was cerulean and I could see the San Bernardino mountains with low lying wispy clouds at its base, and snow at its crest. About 5 minutes later the temperature had dropped, it was cold, and I was riding through the clouds going over the summit at around 5000 feet. I could hardly see anything, it was so thick.
Then I hit the labyrinth of interstates and freeways that is LA. Nightmare. Not much sense using the heavy occupancy lane if a guy gets on your tail doing 80 mph. I kept consulting my hand- written notes (attached to a small see through bag on my gas tank) and somehow managed to find the routes to my son’s apartment in El Segundo. Wow, was I happy to see him, and my daughter who stopped by later! I needed those hugs! Thank God.
Now, I’ll be here in California for a while and will probably take a break from writing in the blog until I have a few more adventures to retell. Thanks for riding along with me. Stay tuned.
I’m approaching 95,000 miles, which is a lot for a Harley. I probably will surpass 100,000 miles on this trip. But the other day I ran into a guy with 138,000 miles on his bike. Today, I met a fellow who was celebrating 250,000 miles on his 1992 BMW. Someone always does more.
My son Colin is working tonight so I decided to not drive all the way to El Segundo and instead to stop somewhere not far away. I chose Barstow, and the Stardust Motel. I’ve always loved the song and lyrics to “Stardust” and they are eerily relevant to my soul on this trip.
“And now the purple dusk of twilight time
Steals across the meadows of my heart
High up in the sky the little stars climb
Always reminding me that we’re apart
You wander down the lane and far away
Leaving me a song that will not die
Love is now the stardust of yesterday
The music of the years gone by
Sometimes I wonder why I spend
The lonely night dreaming of a song
The melody haunts my reverie
And I am once again with you
When our love was new
And each kiss an inspiration
But that was long ago
Now my consolation
Is in the stardust of a song
Beside a garden wall
When stars are bright
You are in my arms
The nightingale tells his fairy tale
A paradise where roses bloom
Though I dream in vain
In my heart it will remain
My stardust melody
The memory of love’s refrain.”
Checked in to the Stardust and talked with the kind, cheerful owner, Sunny Patel. Changed and rode through the gusting wind to the Pit Stop Bar and Grill. From the parking lot I noticed the bars on the windows. Always a good sign. Inside, concrete walls red, white and azure blue. Nascar and race car signs all over the place. Ceiling fans. 2 pool tables. Mismatched chairs at checkerboard Formica top tables. Cute waitress called Nikki served me a wonderful IPA. NBA basketball playoffs on, along with a LA Angels and White Sox game. Dark brown metal folding church chairs in the back near the band cave. Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl on the jukebox, followed by the unmistakable riff of Smoke on the Water.
Wind advisory again – 20-35mph. One more day and then all sorts of advisories will come into play.
Whate’er its mission, the soft breeze can come
To none more grateful than to me; escaped
From the vast city, where I long had pined
A discontented sojourner: now free…
Writing in Tucumcari, New Mexico, now and reflecting on Day 2. My first stop yesterday was at the Harley Dealer in Toad Suck, Arkansas. Just had to buy a tee shirt with the name on it! There was a beautiful, misty blue sky in the morning. Black eyed susans and glossy golden buttercups on the roadside, along with blue and purple flowers. There were blooming mimosa’s with their pink ballerina flowers. Rivers were full and high, lowlands flooded. I saw a 35 mph sign up to its neck in brown water. Folks out on their boat fishing.
There were so many drivers passing me or crossing into my lane talking on the phone or texting. Don’t do this folks. It’s really dangerous and you can wait. Stay in the present. Enjoy where you are. Cultivate silence instead.
Blaise Pascal said in 1654:
All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.
Consider this from PRI
A new study found people are terrible at sitting alone with their thoughts. How about you?
July 19, 2014 · 5:00 PM EDT
By Adam Wernick
“A recent study in the journal Science found that many people choose to self-administer an electrical shock rather than sit quietly in a room alone with their thoughts. It was conducted by
Erin Westgate, a PhD student in psychology at the University of Virginia,
The researchers brought people into their lab and told them they were going to be asked to sit alone in an empty room for ten to twenty minutes. They took everything away from them — cell phones, watches, iPods, whatever. Next, they showed the participants some random pictures. Finally, they pointed out a nearby button, which, when pressed, would give them an electrical shock.
Westgate says they had each participant press the button, “just for practice,” and then asked them how unpleasant it was and whether they’d pay money not to be shocked again. The participants said the shock was unpleasant and, yes, they would pay money to avoid being shocked again.
The researchers then asked the test subjects to sit and entertain themselves with their own thoughts for ten to twenty minutes. There were only two rules: they weren’t allowed to get out of the chair and they couldn’t fall asleep. They encouraged the participants to enjoy themselves with pleasant thoughts. And oh, yes: if you’d like to receive an electric shock again, go ahead and press the button.
Westgate says the research team had debated this aspect of the study. It was ridiculous, some thought, to think that people would choose to shock themselves. They were astounded by the results.
“They’d already told us they didn’t like the shock. They’d already told us they’d pay not to receive a shock again,” says Westgate, with bemusement. “So we weren’t really expecting that people would do that. But at the end of the study, we found that about 70 percent of the men and 25 percent of the women chose to shock themselves during that twelve minutes, instead of just sitting there and entertaining themselves with their thoughts.”
“Now the big question is, ‘Why would someone do this?’” she says. “Why is it so hard to entertain ourselves with our thoughts that we’re willing to turn to almost anything, it seems, to avoid it?””
So how about you?
Not everyone riding a motorcycle rides in silence. We’ve heard the loud stereos booming. Some can use their phones or talk to their passengers through a system in their helmets. I just prefer the silence.
It was a beautiful, care free ride until I hit Oklahoma City when I-40 went from three lanes to one. Road construction, though there was no one around constructing the road. So it sat deconstructed. Stop and go traffic. For a biker that means: pull the clutch and shift into first, drive a few yards, shift into neutral and coast until you get to the stopped car in front of you. Put your foot down and wait. Repeat and repeat and repeat. The experience is even more enhanced by having a hot engine between your legs. Further down two other lanes from other highways merged into ours, slowing us even more.
At dusk I finally made it to Amarillo but couldn’t find my motel. It took me about 15 minutes of circling around, hitting a deep pothole and worrying I’d busted the tire, until I found the place. Cheap but nice enough. $36 including tax. I gave thanks for having enjoyed and survived the ride. I climbed into the bed and enjoyed the silence. And fell asleep.