Trusting Your Journey: Part One; Why do Bad Things Happen to Good Motorcyclists? Abandonment to Divine Providence? Why Are You Reading This Now? Caution: This blog entry contains spiritual questions. Enter at your own risk.

What does it mean to “Trust Your Journey”? I’m not sure I really know. Every time I try to describe it I get muddled down in motorcycle metaphysics. It starts as a nice ride down a well maintained street then after a while I hit potholes and gravel. To fellow Christians, Trusting Your Journey might mean: Trust in God. Muslims certainly preach it. And so does Judaism. If you are a Taoist it means trusting the flow of the Tao. Buddhism believes in living in the here and now. I’m sure most religions believe in the idea. But what does it really mean? Trust your journey and good things will happen to you? Nah, we know better. I bought a friend a beer the other day and told her she could buy me one someday when I’m destitute. She said: God won’t let you get that way if you trust Him. My response was: Why not? Maybe that’s what God has in mind for me. I asked her: Yeah, well how come bad things happen to good motorcyclists? –A question that every motorcyclist asks at some point or another in their riding career.
There have been a number of books out on the subject of why bad things happen to good people.
Two spiritual classics that have influenced me over the years are called: The Cloud of Unknowing and Abandonment to Divine Providence. Essentially the first one says, and here’s a quote from Wikipedia, “The underlying message of this work proposes that the only way to truly “know” God is to abandon all preconceived notions and beliefs or “knowledge” about God and be courageous enough to surrender your mind and ego to the realm of “unknowingness,” at which point, you begin to glimpse the true nature of God.” The second one, this time from Amazon, says God is to be found in the simplest of our daily activities and especially through total surrender to whatever is His will for each of us. That is the message of this 18th-century inspirational classic by Jean-Pierre de Caussade. Its encouragement to “live in the present moment,” accepting everyday obstacles with faith, humility and love…”
A more modern version can be seen in the words of the Reverend Barbara Brown Taylor:
“There is a sense in which if I will trust that what comes to me is for me (now that’s the hugest faith statement I can make to you), if I will trust that what comes to me in my life is for me and not against me… what I find is that it breaks my idols, that it breaks my isolation, that it challenges my sense of independence, it does all kinds of things for me that I would not willingly do, that are for me, that are for my health.”
So essentially, let me see if I have this right- I have to believe that the bad things that happen to me are really, essentially good for me? Yeah, right. Tell that to Job from the Hebrew Bible. God totally wrecked his motorcycle journey. And this motorcycle problem I’m having now? How is it good for me? Well, it did throw off my schedule yesterday and caused me to be places where I probably wasn’t going to be. I met some interesting folks last night that I probably wouldn’t have met. It caused me to stay an extra night in Destin.

I do try to abandon myself to divine providence when I ride. My destinations are never absolutely fixed. The only GPS I use is a spiritual one. And most of the time I’m not sure I’m picking up the signal. I get lost a lot. If I like the look of a road or the direction it’s heading I’ll take it. Which explains to some degree why I ended up crossing the Mississippi River 5 times last year when 1 would have done rightly. And why it took me 18 days last summer to make it from Georgia to California by way of Sturgis, South Dakota. I was trusting the journey, trusting Divine Providence, trusting what happened to me. It can feel downright spooky to let go of so much.
And it can be mind boggling. For instance, what set of weird circumstances brought you here right now to read this blog? Or me to write it? Heck I was getting ready to walk down to the Hog Breath’s Saloon when something told me to stop and write this now. I would really rather being having a beer right now, thank you very much.
Okay. I need to write more about this but first I’m going to go get that beer. What are you going to do?

Adventures in Motorcycling: Pub Theology. Have We Kicked God out of the Bars Now?

I’ve covered about 500 miles on the bike so far and have ridden through Georgia, Alabama, and Florida in the last two days. Right now I’m hunkering down at the Key West Inn in Fairhope, Alabama. Just back from McSharry’s Irish Pub where I had a really good Sheppard’s Pie and a pint of draft Smithwicks. And for the first time in my life I experienced Pub Theology. Apparently the first Wednesday of the month they bring religion into the pub. But I don’t think this is really necessary. I would argue that at least in the southern part of the United States God has never really left the bar. He’s mentioned in just about every other sentence or at least every other conversation. Come to think of it a woman friend of mine and I were talking about Jesus just the other day in Old Havana Cigar Bar in Rome, Georgia. We didn’t really come to an agreement. I thought He’d be okay with certain things that she didn’t think He’d approve of. Tonight was a bit different. It was more of a lecture by an older man who, along with others, had done some inspirational work in helping folks out. I want to acknowledge that. But frankly, a few other heathens and I decided to head for the smoking area outside.
In the southern part of the USA you can’t go far in any restaurant or bar without some kind of spiritual conversation taking place. This morning, a man singled me out at McDonalds (because of my biker gear) and spoke to me about motorcycles and Jesus. I enjoyed the conversation though I didn’t agree that Jesus had a preference for Harley engine modifications made by the Screamin Eagle Company. Yesterday, In Dothan I met up with a friend at the Waffle House and we talked about Buddhism and she gave me a Tibetan Buddhist charm for my motorcycle. Though I consider myself a Christian I acknowledge contributions and insights from other religions. On my motorcycle I have a medal from St Columbanus, the patron saint of motorcycle riders. The medal reminds me to be reverent in my travels. I also have the Taoist Yin Yang symbol on a bracelet attached to my mirror to help me remember to be balanced and to trust the journey. Now I have a Buddhist charm to remind me to stay in the here and now and to show loving kindness and compassion to everyone I meet. I also have a hula girl which is there to remind me to not take myself too seriously and to be silly sometimes.
I was in a great honky-tonk in Rome the other day; The Sports Page. It had been awhile since I listened to some country western tunes but I’m relieved to know that God is still in many of them. I managed to hear some of my old favorites and the lines: “It wasn’t God who made honky-tonk angels and taught all them good girls to go wrong.” And another I remember from years ago: “One night of love don’t make up for six nights alone. But I’d rather have one than none Lord ‘cause I’m flesh and bones.”
The south in the USA is Christ Haunted so expect Him to pop up not only on Sundays and Wednesdays in the churches but also in conversations anywhere, from the gas station to the bowling alley. And definitely, definitely in bars.

Concluding Thoughts About My Journey

Reflections on My Journey
I spent 24 days on the road, covered over 6700 miles and crossed 18 states. A personal accomplishment for me but many people have ridden much longer and farther than I have. The record apparently goes to Emilio Scotto from Argentina. He holds the Guinness record for the world’s longest motorcycle ride: 10 years, 279 countries and a total distance of 457,000 miles (735,000 km).

So what did I learn?
I don’t know about you but I can easily get lost in ruminations about the past or worries about the future. I have some great memories and some tragic ones. But these worries and memories often rob me of enjoying the present moment. What has helped me over the years has been to try and develop “mindfulness” which is a practice anyone can do. It’s not owned by any particular religion and is no more ‘new age’ than sliced bread. My sister uses it with a cancer group that she runs. It helps the patients let go of their worries and embrace the holiness of their remaining moments.
I have tried to practice the concept of mindfulness when I ride.

Mindfulness – The Chinese character 念 is composed of two parts, the top 今 meaning “now; this” and the bottom 心 signifying “heart; mind”. Beautiful! I’ve included a good quote about mindfulness, and how to practice it, at the bottom of this entry.

So here are some things I discovered, or rediscovered.
1. That silence can be holy and healing. It’s strange to call it silence when you’re riding a 1400 cc bike with a thunderous V twin engine and you can hear its constant staccato hum. But after a while the hum sounds more like a hymn, your holy hymn and you settle into it. There’s a sense of peacefulness and patience. You’re riding through different states but mainly traveling in the state of gratitude.

2. That you have to trust the journey. Whether you believe in God, Mohammed, Taoism or whatever, most of us have a belief that there is some meaning in our lives, that things happen, good and bad, for a reason, which we may never understand. We’re on a journey and our lives have some purpose. But we also have to let go of the illusion that we have power and control over the most important things. It was hard to resist the temptation of planning how many miles I would do each day, where I would stay, what roads I would take. Hard not to use the GPS. As much as I could I tried to “abandon myself to Divine providence” (Similar to that recommended in the book by the great Christian mystic Caussade, Abandonment to Divine Providence). Of course this resulted in me getting lost a lot, like crossing the Mississippi five times when one would have been sufficient! But If I hadn’t gotten lost then I wouldn’t have taken the ferry ride across the river with the kind and generous, young river boat captain (who gave me half a tank of gas as I was about to run out) who told me about his life. Which leads me to the next realization.

3. Getting lost is good for you. I love what Barbara Brown Taylor says: “If you do not start choosing to get lost in some fairly low-risk ways, then how will you ever manage when one of life’s big winds knocks you clean off your course? I am not speaking literally here, although literal lostness is a good place to begin since the skills are the same: managing your panic, marshaling your resources, taking a good look around to see where you are and what this unexpected development might have to offer you.” Lost is the new found.

4. Riding solo was not as bad as I had imagined. I’ll confess to some fear before I left thinking about heading out on my own. What if the bike broke down in the middle of nowhere? I am almost completely incompetent when it comes to doing any mechanical repairs. If it involves anything more than spit, juicy fruit, and the Lord’s Prayer then I am out of luck. What if I had an accident? What if I got lonely? I certainly missed my riding buddy Jeff, and phoned him a few times, but being on my own was actually exhilarating. I could chat as long as I wanted with folks. No destination, no hurry. And I managed to survive without any major mishaps. The trip built up my confidence and sense of self-reliance. Still, in the back of my mind I knew that if I broke down some kind-hearted soul would stop to help me.

5. The people you meet. I went through some amazing landscapes, crossing the Mississippi, the Continental Divide, visiting the Devil’s Tower, slaloming along river hugging roads in South Dakota and Colorado, the seemingly endless holy, sacred deserts of Arizona and Texas; it was all incredible. I thought a lot about God, faith, my mortality and the capriciousness of nature. But the profoundest impact on me came from the people I met and the stories they shared. I’ve recounted most of these in the blog. It is amazing what people will share with strangers, the winsome stories of their hopes, heartaches and struggles; and the strange coincidences that have occurred in their lives, as have in ours, which brought us all to where we are now. (And, of course, as someone said, coincidence is just God’s way of remaining anonymous.) But to hear new stories we have to take the risk of treading down new paths.

6. The thoughts you have. The trip provided me with a great opportunity to practice mindfulness. Through deep breathing, especially after I almost hit the buck, (“Breathing in I calm myself, breathing out I smile”) I was able to stay calm and not overreact to events or bothersome thoughts. I was able to practice letting go of the past and worries about the future and to concentrate on the present. I don’t have this problem conquered yet, but I know what to do about it. God, the universe, can only reach us in the present.

7. Lean into the curves that life throws at you. Don’t overreact, or over control, run away from or pull back from them. You have to go through them, experience them, understand their message to you as best you can and trust that you will make it safely through them. And you will.

8. Try out new roads. We need to experiment with new roads, new paths that take us out of our comfort zone. There’s an old saying that some people prefer the security of misery to the misery of insecurity. We need to abandon the old roads and paths that aren’t working for us and have the courage, and trust, to blaze new ones. Sure, we’ll be insecure for a while but new destinations and treasures are just up the road. Relax and enjoy the ride.

9. Look where you want to go. Some of the best motorcycle advice I ever read is encapsulated in these words. Don’t focus so much on the problem at hand, focus on the solution. If you keep staring at a ditch you’re heading towards you’re likely end up in it. Instead, look where you want to go. Bikers are advised to look at where they want the bike to go, the clear, safe space up ahead, and the bike will go there. It has always worked for me, when I remember it. Have a vision of where you want to go, instead of dwelling on all the obstacles.

10. Don’t forget to gas up. Just because you’re on a journey doesn’t mean you stop thinking and planning. Rest stops on the highway and in life can be few and far between, with the amenities being abundant or sparse. And there are a lot of deserts out there. A whole lot of deserts. Trust your journey but make sure to take care of yourself and your ride.

11. Gratitude on your journey is your best companion. Within a few moments after heading off on any ride I begin to become overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude: To be alive, to have the friends and family that I do, to be on this incredible motorcycle, to feel the wind in my face, the smells, the sounds. I’m not special or unique. All of us have a tremendous amount to be grateful for. I’ve heard it said that at every moment we have everything we need to be happy. It’s our illusions that tell us that we can only be happy when we have ”this” happen, whatever “this” is –money, new job, new town, new relationship. Mindfulness and gratitude help bring us into an appreciation of the sacred moments our journey is taking us through.

What are you grateful for in your life?

Thanks for riding along. Hope you enjoyed it.

“Mindfulness is the quality and power of mind that is aware of what’s happening — without judgment and without interference. It is like a mirror that simply reflects whatever comes before it. It serves us in the humblest ways, keeping us connected to brushing our teeth or having a cup of tea. It keeps us connected to the people around us, so that we’re not simply rushing by them in the busyness of our lives.
We can start the practice of mindfulness meditation with the simple observation and feeling of each breath. Breathing in, we know we’re breathing in; breathing out, we know we’re breathing out. It’s very simple, although not easy. After just a few breaths, we hop on trains of association, getting lost in plans, memories, judgments and fantasies.
This habit of wandering mind is very strong, even though our reveries are often not pleasant and sometimes not even true. As Mark Twain so aptly put it, “Some of the worst things in my life never happened.” So we need to train our minds, coming back again and again to the breath, simply beginning again.
Slowly, though, our minds steady and we begin to experience some space of inner calm and peace. This environment of inner stillness makes possible a deeper investigation of our thoughts and emotions. What is a thought— that strange, ephemeral phenomenon that can so dominate our lives? When we look directly at a thought, we see that it is little more than nothing. Yet when it is unnoticed, it wields tremendous power.
Notice the difference between being lost in a thought and being mindful that we’re thinking. Becoming aware of the thought is like waking up from a dream or coming out of a movie theater after being absorbed in the story. Through mindfulness, we gradually awaken from the movies of our minds.”
~ Joseph Goldstein ~

Day 16 Continued: Carson City Nevada to Independence California, Not Santa Barbara, Plum Tuckered, Highs and Lows.

As soon as I left Carson City, Nevada the weariness began to grow on me. I began to feel weak and rode-hard. A chronic health problem I have is called Trigeminal Neuralgia. It’s a very bizarre problem (what else would I have?) that effects the nerves in one side of my face. I can feel pain in three places, singly, or simultaneously: the left side of my forehead, my ear or my teeth. I take medication every day but I can have flare ups. Most are handled with just increasing the pain medication. That’s what I’ve had to do the last four days. Today, my teeth took their turn. And when it’s in the teeth, I can’t eat. Frankly, after having this for about 10 years I’ve gotten used to it as does everyone with a chronic health problem. Anyway…
After all my planning to go to Santa Barbara, at the last minute instead of turning west I kept heading south on 395. El Camino Sierra. I just had a gut feeling to go this way. So glad that I did!
An amazing highway! Yesterday I was on the route that the Pony Express riders used to take and today’s is more of a ‘gold rush’ route.
Yesterday and today, I was dealing intellectually, emotionally, with the loss of a relationship. It was a good time to practice letting go of “what if’s” and resentments, trusting what’s happening, (Taoism, Christianity) and being in the moment (Zen). Taoism says that there will be highs and lows; take what comes graciously, let go of expectations and, in effect, enjoy the ride.
On Hwy 395, heading south, on my right, I had the magnificent Sierra Nevada mountains and the border of Yosemite Park. They were spectacular, snow still clinging brightly to the higher elevations. On my left were the White Mountains. Heading south I went through five mountain passes, including Deadman Summit, and peaking with Conway Summit at 8,138 feet (2480 m), the highest point on 395. The views were amazing and it was cold. I had my leather jacket on and my heated gloves. There were signs for elk but all I saw was a bear rambling across the road.
Once I got to the Tioga Pass entrance to Yosemite the road grew more familiar. This was the way that my buddy Jeff Stafford and I came last year (See earlier sections of this blog for last year’s trip.). Last year, however, we turned left and went through Death Valley while I’m heading to LA.
As I got closer to the town of Independence (ironically) I thought: “It would be great to stay at that motel Jeff and I stayed at last year, Ray’s Den.” It was our favorite motel of the whole trip! Well I stopped and saw Linda, the owner, who easily didn’t remember me at all from last year. I got a great room for a good price and hunkered down. (I need to take some photos.)
So here’s where I’m at this very moment. Sitting outside my room on a wooden chair, drinking a Golden Trout Pilsner Beer and glancing at old Mount Whitney, the highest summit at 14, 505 feet (4421 m) in the United States (The lower 48). Now, if you were to go just 84 miles east- southeast of Whitney you’d find (ironically) the lowest point in North America : Badwater in Death Valley at 282 feet below sea level.
That’s what this trip has been about. Experiencing, enduring and trusting the highs and lows.

Day 8: Freezing in the Black Hills of South Dakota, Microbrewery, Custer, Big Red, Tao, Deadwood, Cadillac Jacks Casino, Number 10 Saloon, Old Havana Cigar Bar and Surprise!

The sky was overcast, leaden colored when I started out. It was cool but became decidedly colder. I managed about 53 miles before I stopped and had coffee at Dale’s Family Restaurant in Hot Springs. The temperature on one of those bank signs said: 49 degrees. I hadn’t really prepared that well for riding in such cold temperature. While the newer bikes have heated grips on the handlebars my 2004 Harley Road King (aka Big Red) doesn’t. I have heated gloves which last about an hour. After coffee I was back on the bike, the batteries on the gloves were dead and I was freezing. Nothing to do but keep going. I managed another 31 miles to Custer, pried my grip bent hands off the handlebars and sought more coffee. This time I found an old bank which had been converted into a coffee shop, called, surprisingly, The Bank Coffee House. I had a great Americano coffee and kind people that they were, they let me charge the batteries on my gloves.
Then back on the bike, the sun was out and it was warmer now. About 20 miles down the highway I spotted the Black Hills Miner Brewing Company. The folks back at Old Havana Cigar Bar in Rome Georgia would never forgive me if I didn’t stop. I went into the brewery tap room. Here’s a quote from their website: “In 1876, the Black Hills gold rush was in full swing. Most settlers during this time, including Brewmaster Sandi Vojta’s family, were European immigrants bringing heritage and culture from the Old World. People brought and shared food, wine, ingredients, recipes and of course, beer.
During this time, brewers were making beer for the miners. Train cars would come in and deliver special ingredients that were shipped over from Europe to make beer. Beer was instrumental to the Black Hills mining community and because of this important and informative time, owners Matt Keck and Sandi Vojta decided to pay homage to the early settlers and miners of Black Hills with the name Miner Brewing Company.”
I chatted with the staff especially one young, vivacious, blond-haired young woman who told me her life history, which was interesting. While I was there a man brought in a box of flasks/growlers (64 ounce), which he started unpacking. They had the name and logo of the brewery on it and I bought the first one! I asked for a discount since I was buying the first one. “Sorry”. Name on the wall or a plaque somewhere? “No.” Had to try anyway. While sipping on my Pilsner 02, a man came in and gave his business card to the blond waitress. She blushed and giggled. “That’s the second time this week some guy has asked me to call him.” Bless her heart.
I had them fill my growler with Pilsner, asked for directions to Mount Rushmore, tucked the growler in the saddlebag and hopped back on Big Red. I stopped by the side of the road to take pictures of Mount Rushmore, the sculpted heads of 4 presidents. Someone pulled up behind me, hopped out of the car and said: “Hey look there’s some carvings on the mountain behind Big Red!” (ha ha!). Next, I rode down some beautiful twisting, curving roads through the Black Hills. Signs announced: “Warning big horn sheep crossing”. The Harley rode beautifully leaning into the curves with balance and poise. A good Tao ride. I finally made it into Deadwood, got a place at Cadillac Jacks Casino, showered and walked the half mile into town.
I wanted to go see Number 10, the saloon where Wild Bill Hickok had been killed while playing poker. He was holding a pair of aces and eights, which has come to be known as “the dead man’s hand”. I walked into the rustic old saloon, which had sawdust on the floor, and ambled up to the bar. I slapped a twenty on the counter and said with a sorta mean looking grin: “I’ll have some rotgut whiskey.” The huge bartender just stared at me and crossed his arms. I said: “Okay, um, how about that Boulevard Wheat you have on tap?” He nodded and poured me a glass. He was a tall, huge guy with red hair. I said to him: “Hey, it’s funny, but my motorcycle’s name is Big Red!” He just stared at me, didn’t seem to get the joke and I figured that explaining would probably only get me in more trouble. I will say that the bartender and I got to be better friends as the evening wore on and eventually he even gave me a “buyback”, a drink on the house. Why don’t they start this tradition at Old Havana in Rome! Come on Perry, Kenneth, Cary, Elliot?
I pulled up a stool at the bar. Behind me, high on the wall was, purportedly, the chair Wild Bill was in when he was shot. Remembering my friend Marlin’s advice of not having my back to the door I turned a bit on my stool so I could keep a wary eye on the people coming in. I was just sipping my beer, trying not to cause any more trouble and these two women sat down and started talking with me. They were in town to surprise a woman (niece and friend) who was just turning 21 and was getting married. She was getting married nearby and was in town to celebrate turning 21 (the legal age for drinking in the USA). Apparently, she didn’t know that these two (and others) were waiting at the bar to surprise her.
So we chatted and eventually she came and I got to meet her and her fiancé and the rest of the family, including the grandfather, named Gene! That’s my real name, though I have many aliases. “Dutch” is my road name. I spent about two hours talking with them and it was great. A funny, loving, down to earth family, filled with great warmth and South Dakotan hospitality.
Eventually, I had to leave. I said good night to the bartender, who waved and cracked a smile and I ambled back to the casino/ hotel.
I even spent a little time in the casino on the slot machines. I wanted to win some money for a lady friend who needs it, back in Rome. I pledged that if I won any money I would give it to her. Well, needless to say with those one-armed bandits I didn’t win anything. In fact, now my lady friend owes me ten bucks for trying!

Taoheading and Zenheading – Winding up Anywhere, Tao and Zen

“A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.”
Laozi (Chinese: 老子; pinyin: Lǎozǐ; Wade–Giles: Lao Tzu)

This trip will be like no other trip I’ve taken. To start with, I don’t know where I’m going. Normally, not a good idea as the old saying warns: If you don’t have a destination in mind you can wind up anywhere. And I guess that is my goal-to wind up anywhere.

All my life I’ve had goals and destinations, plotted things: college, jobs, cars, motorcycles, trips, kids’ education, holidays. Other times, I’ve been resident in some place, hunkered down and on the annual treadmill calendar of events there. New Years, St Patrick’s day, Easter, 4th of July, Labor day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas. Work, parties, meals, football, baseball and baseball coaching, soccer, basketball and hockey. Taking care of myself, my relatives, my children. One can live one’s life out on this treadmill, not altogether unpleasantly. Along with the death and separations that inevitably come along there are the births and the new beginnings. The revivals of hope.
My buddy Jeff can’t be on this trip with me because he has a new beginning, as of yesterday. He’s a grandfather now for the first time. It’s a girl and dad gum is he proud.
But every now and then I ask myself: What if I did something different? And I don’t mean just taking a class in watercolors or tai chi at the local community college ( both of which I’ve done!). What if I put myself in new places, different places, where I had no plan, where I didn’t have the security of routine, the family and work responsibilities, the usual contours of escapes, distractions and pleasures?
So that’s what I’m going to do. I know I need to be out in LA (not lower Alabama!) by the 12th of June (and today is Monday the 12th of May) but I can ramble any which a way, as long as it’s generally west, to get there. So I’m not going to plan the trip, book the motels. I’m going to get out on the road and see what happens. Have to admit it’s a bit scary. But all true adventures have an element of peril in them.
So what’s going to guide me?
I plan to mix a bit of Taoism and Zen with whatever jams I get myself thrown into.

The Tao (Chinese: 道; pinyin: dào) is a Chinese philosophy and literally means “way” or “path”, but it also signifies a cosmic order of things; that in life there is an underlying flow, rhythm and balance. To follow the Tao means to tune into the rhythms we find in nature, ourselves and those we meet on our road.

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”

Zen is a very popular word that’s thrown around rather loosely. (I have been known to do that!) For the record it refers to a type of Buddhism which relies on meditation as a way to enlightenment.

Derek Lin describes some of the qualities of Zen

“…the closest we can come to describing Zen in words may be as follows:
• Zen is more of an attitude than a belief.

• Zen is the peace that comes from being one with an entity other than yourself.

• Zen means being aware of your oneness with the world and everything in it.

• Zen means living in the present and experiencing reality fully.

• Zen means being free of the distractions and illusory conflicts of the material world.

• Zen means being in the flow of the universe.

• Zen means experiencing fully the present, and delighting in the basic miracle of life itself.”

So I’m getting ready to hit the road. One more day of gathering things, packing and saying goodbye should do it.
I’ll be Taoheading and Zenheading come this Wednesday morning.
Follow me on my journey! I’ll keep blogging now and then, Tao and Zen.

Some Concluding Thoughts, for Now. What I learned from the Ride.

Some Concluding Thoughts, for Now. What I learned from the Ride.

“The real cycle you’re working on is a cycle called yourself.”

Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

 In Tao of the Ride, Garri Garripoli writes: The Ride is the metaphor I use in this book for how we move through our life…For me, the Ride is best played out on a motorcycle. It speaks to every aspect of how I see life in that poetic way – the need for balance, confronting your mortality, accelerating, breaking, refueling, tune-ups, repairs, accidents, accepting passengers and so forth. The bike becomes a mirror that reflects the whole of my life.

I like Garripoli’s quote (and his book). Here are some  of my conclusions about my ride.

Look where you want to go. When you’re are on a motorcycle you need to be focusing not immediately in front of you, but instead looking in the direction you want the bike to go. The bike will go where you’re looking. If you get fixated on some hazard in the road, or that your bike is heading off the road and you are worried about a wall or a ditch and you stare at them, that’s called object fixation. Staring at them you’re more likely to hit them. As in life, you have to not get too hung up on difficulties in your path, but instead, have a vision of where you want to go. Proverbs says: “Where there is no vision the people perish.” Lots of times in life we get stuck focusing on the problem that is making us unhappy and forget about the things that do make us happy. Let’s head toward them.

Don’t worry about what you’ve already driven through, or become preoccupied with what’s coming up that you can’t yet see. This is part of staying in the present. Having an awareness and mindfulness of what’s happening around you, what your senses are telling you. If we focus too much on the past, which we can’t change, we’re daydreaming and not paying attention. Similarly, if we worry about the future too much we can miss important things that are happening in this moment. And this moment, this day, is the only one we have. We have to present to win. This links in with the Zen concept of mushin no shin which means “the mind without mind”. Jeff said a similar thing to me when he mentioned that when he was riding it was like he had no mind. Mushin happens when the mind is not preoccupied with thoughts or emotions and thus is open to the present, to what is happening now. It’s similar to the flow that artists experience in very creative moments. You don’t rely on your thinking but on your training and intuition.

Stay calm and breathe. It’s so important not to over-anticipate and overreact to things. I’m still working on this as I tend to tense up a lot, with a rough road or wild winds. If I see a bump ahead, or debris in the road I would often tense up in anticipation. Instead, I need to look and see what my options are. This illustrates the constant lane awareness you have to have. If I can shift in my lane or change lanes to miss the obstacle then I need to stay calm, look where I want to go and make the subtle movements to go there.  The last two days of my ride I felt this happening more with me. I wasn’t always trying to plan my lane position for curves, I would catch myself tensing up and I’d relax. Toward the end of the ride I was feeling more and more the flow and energy of the bike and the Ride.

The Taoists have a useful concept called wu wei. Essentially it translates as effortless action. It means to flow with the situation rather than trying to force things. Resistance is futile! Find the energy and go with it. This works effectively with difficult Harley Davidson service managers or challenging folks at work. And the principle can be seen in the actions of dancers, artists, musicians who have relaxed into their artistry, trust it and follow it. You can also see this with motorcyclists in how they manage a curve in the road. They might manhandle the bike, bank it with force, grip the handlebars extremely tightly (like I have so often done) or they relax into the curve, sense the bike and the road, look where they want to go, feel the flow and balance, and manage it all gracefully with wu wei, effortless effort.

This leads into the next bit of knowledge I gleaned: Lean into the Curve. I’ve written about this already. I even bought a Harley shirt in Victorville, California, where I was getting my Harley repaired, and the shirt says: “When Life Throws you a Curve, Lean into it.” Don’t fight it, or become fixated on it, or try to overpower it; just trust that you can go into it, through it and survive. You will make it through it and come out safely the other side.

Silence is healing and holy. We are bombarded with noise all the time. The radio, the television, music we listen to. When do we actively engage with silence? Elijah, Jesus and Mohammed journeyed into the desert so they could more clearly hear the voice of God. Buddhist, Christians and others meditate in silence.  Quakers worship in silence. Psalm 46 says: Be still and know that I am God. When are we ever “still”?

Even with the loud hum of the V-Twin Harley engine on my Road King, most of the time I felt as if I was in silence. The sound was a hymn that was being written as I rode.

Love the Ride. Be grateful. This was my ride but we’re all on the Ride, our life’s journey.

The eighteenth-century Christian writer Jean-Pierre De Caussade wrote “The present moment holds infinite riches beyond your wildest dreams …The will of God is manifest in each moment, an immense ocean which only the heart fathoms insofar as it overflows with faith, trust and love.”

I know my life works better when I express gratitude for what I have and show loving kindness and compassion towards others, beginning with myself. I tried to do this as much as possible on the the ride.

I hope you enjoyed riding along. Thanks for reading and following us.

I’ll conclude with a quote from one of my favorite writers.

Homecoming is the goal, but our home is not out there, a geographic place, the protective other, or a comforting theology or psychology. Homecoming means returning to a relationship with the Self, a relationship that was there in the beginning, but from which we necessarily strayed in our obligatory adaptations to the explicit and implicit demands of family, tribe and culture. Homecoming means healing, means integration of the split off parts of the soul, means redeeming the dignity and high purpose of our soul’s journey. When we are here to live our soul’s journey, we can spontaneously be generous to others, for we have much to give from our inner abundance; we can draw and maintain boundaries, for we have learned the difference between their journey and ours; and we can sort through different value clashes because we have found a personal authority that helps us discern what is authentic for us. In short, we have recovered a relationship to the soul (psyche) from which we lost contact, but that nonetheless continues to hum beneath the surface of our lives and never, ever loses contact with us.”

James Hollis, What Matters Most

Day 15: Death Valley, the Leak Again, Henderson, Nevada, Harley Dealer, Casino

Day 15: Death Valley, the Leak Again, Henderson, Nevada.

 “O Public Road
You express me better than I can express myself.
You shall be more to me than my poem.” ~Walt Whitman

We made it safely to Henderson and to the Harley Dealer. I’m sitting outside on a bench there waiting to hear the news on the bike. Normally, what I hear is: “Well, I’ve got some good news and some bad news.”

So far the guy thinks that the cover plate on the inspection chamber for the transmission might be warped and that’s why it’s leaking. He doesn’t have another cover but he could replace the gasket and put sealant on it to seal it up. That would at least get me home. We’ve now come 3500 miles and we have about 2000 more to go. I’m not worried. What was it the guy said to us the other day? ‘Go with the flow and be at peace.’ Very Zen and very Taoist. To me, this trip is about finding “the flow”, going with it and being at peace.

I can’t see my bike but I just heard them crank her up. After a while you know what your engine and exhaust sounds like.

I asked if they could change the oil as well and they said they would. The bike is supposed to have the oil changed roughly every 3000 miles. I had it changed before we left.

Looking at the mileage a short while ago I realized that I had just passed over 10,000 miles since I got the bike from Jeff last July.  

This morning Jeff and I got up before 6am so that we could get an early start on crossing Death Valley. It was supposed to be in the high 90’s there today but the temperature can reach the 120’s. Death Valley got its name from pioneers who tried to cross it in 1849. One died and the others barely made it. As the story goes after crossing it one traveler looked back and said: “Goodbye Death Valley” probably referring to the 23rd Psalm.

We gassed up, loaded up the bikes with snacks and water. I remembered the advice of Anne Lamott who said: “The road to enlightenment is long and difficult, and you should try not to forget snacks and magazines.” Magazines might be tough, but I packed plenty of water.
We had enjoyed our stay in Independence. The night we arrived we had a nice walk and a meal at the Still Life Café which included, French food, French waiters, Billie Holliday music, eclectic photographs, painting and posters and Mojave Gold Lager, which was excellent.

Jeff hit the sack early and I stayed up to write. I sat outside on a bench and enjoyed the cool evening, stars shining in a cobalt sky and the faint, ghostly outline of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Today we encountered another mind boggling day of scenery. It took us over 170 miles to cross the desert. We went from an elevation on 4000 feet to 200 feet below sea level. Gas stations were about 50 miles apart. No phone coverage. Not a place you want to break down. Not a place to have a leaky bike.

True adventures have to have an element of peril in them but I have to admit I’d rather it be Jeff’s peril than mine! Ha ha!

As I was riding it was hard not to think about the leak, the Harley dealer in Henderson and getting the hell out of the desert. But then I realized that I was thinking about the future and not “being here now”, which is really the only game in town worth playing. I slowed down and got back into enjoying the countryside.Treating each moment as sacred, as a miracle. “The true miracle is not walking on water or walking in air, but simply walking on this earth.” Thich Nhat Hanh

The bike is finished. No bad news! They fixed the leak, added a clip for my exhaust, changed the oil and washed her up. She looks prettier than a speckled pup under a shiny red wagon.  Jeff is jealous.

We made it to the hotel and ran a few errands, ate at a casino, which I found depressing and now I’m exhausted.