Cross Country Motorcycle Trip Four! Abandonment to Divine Providence.

On May 12, the Lord willing and the Creek don’t rise, Big Red, my 2004 Harley Road King Classic, and I’ll be heading out on another cross country trip. My first primary destination will be Los Angeles where I’ll be attending my daughter’s college graduation. After that, all bets are off.

In my motorcycle novel, Hope Bats Last, the protagonist talks about abandoning himself to fate, to divine providence and seeing where he ends up. So when I leave LA, instead of having a route planned I’m going to try and listen to the signs and portents and discern my direction. Signs might come through a suggestion of a passerby at a convenience store, a dream, a detour, maybe just a feeling that I should take that road. No, not that road, that road.

You can put whatever name you want on where that mysterious guidance comes from. Is it Fate? Destiny? The Universe speaking? Is it the Tao? Wu wei? Is it the Zen Buddhist idea of living in the present? Is it Hegel’s the infinite unfolding of itself? Or is it God (as you may believe)?

The best description I ever heard of this process comes from Jean-Pierre de Caussade’s, an eighteenth century French Jesuit priest and writer, who folks believe wrote the book, Abandonment to Divine Providence.

“In the state of abandonment the only rule is the duty of the present moment. In this the soul is light as a feather, liquid as water, simple as a child, active as a ball in receiving and following all the inspirations of grace. Such souls have no more consistence and rigidity than molten metal. As this takes any form according to the mould into which it is poured, so these souls are pliant and easily receptive of any form that God chooses to give them. In a word, their disposition resembles the atmosphere, which is affected by every breeze; or water, which flows into any shaped vessel exactly filling every crevice. They are before God like a perfectly woven fabric with a clear surface; and neither think, nor seek to know what God will be pleased to trace thereon, because they have confidence in Him, they abandon themselves to Him, and, entirely absorbed by their duty, they think not of themselves, nor of what may be necessary for them, nor of how to obtain it.”

It’s kind of a mixture of Kerouac’s Dharma Bums and mystical Christianity, but on a motorcycle.

I’ll keep you posted.

Autumn is Coming, Pirates, Hungry kids, Random Acts of Kindness

Autumn is coming. Trees on the hills are gossiping about their changing colors.

Despite having put 10, 000 miles on the bike this summer I can’t stop riding Big Red, my 2004 Harley Road King Classic. I enjoy it so much. We’ve been having a drought here in Georgia so every day’s been dry. And hot too. So hot that chickens have been laying boiled eggs; men have been proposing to tall women just for the shade. You get the idea.

Yesterday, as I headed home from work the rain started falling. It wasn’t too bad at first but then it became heavier. At this point bikers usually look for an overpass they can park under to either wait it out or put on their rain gear. Or maybe they start looking for a gasoline/petrol station where they can hunker down for a while until it lets up. That’s what I did. I knew there was a station just a few miles down the road so I kept going. While riding there, rainbows started to almost crowd the sky. It was like they had been waiting for the damn drought to be over so they could show off their beautiful colors. Rainbows to me are always harbingers of hope, reminding me that we all can learn to be at home with insecurity. Leaving the gas station a drizzle continued and I watched the mist, rising off the hot asphalt and the fields near the road, and watched it kissing the low lying clouds. Romance is everywhere.

Rode Big Red up to work to teach my class, and since it was International Talk Like a Pirate Day I dressed up. Hopefully, I can get a picture attached.

I also rode it up to the free meal program I volunteer at and enjoyed the excitement of the little kids who climbed up on it and tried on my helmet. I don’t do much at that program other than read books, make paper airplanes, talk to folks and mop up. I can swing a mean mop. I offer my students extra credit if they’ll go to the program, not tell folks they’re students or what they’re doing, mingle a little, have a meal and write a paper about it. I usually only get a few students who’ll do it but they always find it a profound and humbling experience. It’s one thing to read about poverty and see it and another to feel what it’s like. No one wants to ask for help, or be seen receiving it.

Big Red brought me over to the river the other day so I could walk on the tree lined path that accompanies it. It was hot and I got pretty sweaty. I had a Harley shirt on and some jeans but I must have looked a little rough when I stumbled into a barbecue joint to get some ice water. After sitting there munching on ice for a while a man walked up to me and said in a low, gentle voice: “Excuse me sir. My family and I are were talking and we wondered if we could buy you a meal?” I was surprised, smiled and told him thanks, that I was alright. What would you have said?

They must have thought I was homeless. That’s fine with me. But heartfelt, courageous, random acts of kindness are so beautiful they fill me with hope, just like rainbows.     wp_20160919_15_08_51_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:

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

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.

Day 18 Continued; Seaside, Oregon; Zen Rediscovered (It was here all the time!); I Discovered the Pacific Ocean!!!

Day 18 Continued; Seaside, Oregon; Zen Rediscovered (It was here all the time!) I Discovered the Pacific Ocean!!!

Strange ride today. I felt better after writing this morning about my melancholy. Today, I slowed down, meditated some, and smiled at everyone I saw. People are always stopping to ask me about my trip. An older guy at McDonalds who was from Poland came out and spoke to me. He used to ride motorcycles so that’s what we talked about. I told him the only word of Polish I knew was “gen dobry”, which means “good day.” He asked me how I knew it and I told him about the time I took 14 Irish kids to Kutno, Poland to play little league baseball for a week. My son Rory came along and we all had a great time.

The ride to Seaside, Oregon was confusing for me, as usual. One of these days I need to start using GPS. But I’m old school. The temperature dropped into the 50’s and the rain began to fall. I stopped at a place and had some oysters and some seafood chowder. It was good. Made me think of my mother who used to bring a tiny bottle of sherry with her to pour into her seafood soups. For some reason, she felt she needed to pour it in when the restaurant staff weren’t looking.

Finally, getting to Seaside I thought it would be easy to find my hotel. I was wrong. I rode all around the town looking for it. My phone had died so I stopped at a restaurant and plugged it in to check my hotel reservation. Turned out I was only .4 of a mile from the place. Turn right and turn left. It turned out to be a great place – The Ashore Motel. My favorite motel so far. And on this trip I’ve stayed in some real doozies (As Hazel used to say.) I checked in, dumped my stuff, grabbed a cigar and headed down to the beach. Damn, if there wasn’t an ocean there! Good place to keep it.

Latest map:






Day 18: Hope to Lynnwood, Washington; Melancholy and Motorcycling; Lost Zen; Onto the Pacific Ocean! Trip Total: 4593 miles (7391 kilometers) so far.

Day 18: Hope, BC to Lynnwood, Washington; Melancholy and Motorcycling; Lost Zen; Onto the Pacific Ocean! Trip Total: 4593 miles (7391 kilometers) so far.

Hope, British Columbia really was a nice town. Great town center with a park, shops and restaurants. I liked it. Until the three buses of tourists showed up. They are certainly welcome to do that but it changed the ambiance of the town quickly. I had a nice breakfast at Sharon’s Diner and then Big Red and I skedaddled.

But I felt road weary. I wasn’t as happy. Big Red wasn’t as happy. My lovingkindness was getting harder to conjure up. I had flat out lost my Zen. These 18 days have been the longest continuous ride I’ve had without a layover somewhere. Two years ago I rode to California (you can read about it in this blog) but the whole trip was 18 days, I did less miles, and I took a day off in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Yesterday, I only managed about 150 miles because I felt I needed to stop more. I’ve got another 1200 miles to go until I get to LA.

But for today, I’m heading for the Pacific Ocean. I’ve been known to get lost but even I can’t miss the Pacific Ocean! So I set a modest goal of getting to a little town called Seaside, Oregon; 200 miles down the road. I’ve already booked a room one block from the ocean. If I like it there, I may take a day off. Try to get my Zen back. And Big Red’s.

Day 5: What’s a Bad Riding Day Look Like? Today. Lakeville, Minnesota.

Right now it’s 38 degrees (3 degrees Celsius), raining and the wind is blowing out of the west at 13 mph. Could be worse though. Could be snowing like it was when I was riding through the Rockies two years ago, about this same time of year. When I left this morning it was 44 degrees so the temperature has dropped. I’m trying to make it up to Fargo today (250 miles away) but it’s going to be challenging.  The rain has already soaked through my trousers.  This morning was not fun – my windshield was coated with raindrops, so was my helmet visor and then I had the spray from the 18 wheelers. Fortunately, I made it to a Starbucks. Yippie! Going to hunker down here for a while, warm up, dry out, change clothes and then try the road again. Only managed 50 miles this morning so I’ll be “nickel and diming” the miles up to Fargo.  Gonna need the protection of St. Columbanus, the patron saint of motorcycle riders, today if I’m to keep my Zen going! (I know- mixing theologies there a bit!). Still, I’m happy! Watch out for motorcycles!

What’s in it for me? Missing the Harley. Compassion.

Yesterday I rode the bike for the first time in over two weeks. It felt great. Here in Georgia, it has been unseasonably warm as it has been in so many places. I ride my Harley all year ‘round, so if the weather is half decent, I’m out on Big Red. I rode a lot in December, back and forth from college, took roads I hadn’t been on in a while and visited that free meal program where I volunteer. These last two weeks I had been in LA (no, not Lower Alabama!) visiting my daughter, son in law and son for Christmas. My other son was stuck in poor old London. Cheap LA flights on no thrill airlines where the seats won’t even go back was too hard for me to resist. A five hour flight, but you know, if I’d had the time, I would have preferred the five day motorcycle ride.
I had a great time in LA. Watching the new Star Wars movie in IMAX 3-D at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, having a drink at Timmy Nolan’s pub, watching football with my kids at the Starlite Cantina, visiting a pirate themed bar, playing cards, a day trip out with my daughter to Venice beach, walking all over the place, and just being with family were some of my favorite things.
Still, I was missing Big Red. I even Googled how much it would cost to rent one of those new Indian motorcycles while I was there. It seemed too wasteful to me so I passed on it, but of course the ad now follows me everywhere I go on the internet. I drank a lot of coffee, did a lot of writing on my new novel and walked every chance I could.
It was a challenge for me walking the streets, because the only people who would make eye contact with me were homeless people. To native Georgians, a man is considered rude if he won’t smile and make eye contact with you. My daughter told me that so many people in LA, not just the homeless, want something from the people they meet, that folks are suspicious of random contacts. My daughter and I talked about how this was like the line in White Christmas where Bing Crosby says that everyone has a little larceny in their heart, that everyone has an angle they’re playing, a what’s in it mentality. This seemed to be true as I overheard a number of conversations (a writer’s obligation) at coffee shops where people were selling something, sometimes selling themselves (for a job), and negotiating deals. It took me bumping into someone in a grocery store or picking up something someone had dropped to start a real conversation. But then the ice was broken and folks were nice.
What’s in it for me? Is that the motive behind a lot of our actions? I had been thinking about this a lot when I was working at the free meal program a few weeks ago. So what was I getting out of it? Then I accidentally (yeah, more like karma) stumbled upon a passage in a book that I was reading that sent the message right to my heart. From Nadia Bolz-Weber’s “Accidental Saints”.
While we as people of God are certainly called to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, that whole, “we’re blessed to be a blessing thing” can still be kind of dangerous. It can be dangerous when we self-importantly place ourselves above the world, waiting to descend on those below so we can be the “blessing” they’ve been waiting for, like it or not. Plus, seeing myself as the blessing can pretty easily obscure the way in which I am actually part of the problem and can hide the ways in which I, too, am poor and needing care. Seeing myself or my church or my denomination as “the blessing” –like so many mission trips to help “those less fortunate than ourselves” can easily descend into a blend of benevolence and paternalism. We can start seeing the “poor” as supporting characters in a big story about how noble, selfless, and helpful we are.
Wow. Don’t get me wrong, acts of kindness when and wherever they happen are great things. We’ve all got to keep them up! But I’ve got some thinking and reflecting to do. Which is okay because the spiritual journey lasts a lifetime (hey, if you’re into reincarnation you might even get a few lives out of it!).
As with motorcycle journeys, spiritual discoveries and journeys are always waiting for us. We just have to open our eyes, trust and keep riding.

Have a happy, compassionate and safe new year.

‘Getting my Head Showered,’ Zen, Out of Gas, Name’s Sid: Buddhist Detective, Destin Florida and the Blue of the Gulf of Mexico

Big Red and I took a few days off during Fall break to hightail it down to Destin, Florida from Rome, Georgia. I needed to get my “head showered”, as the Irish say. Clear my mind. I’m starting work on my new novel: Name’s Sid: Buddhist Detective. It features a brand new “hero” and is set in Savannah, Georgia.

The trip down to Destin, a small town on the Gulf of Mexico, takes about 7-8 hours but is worth it. I guess every ride is worth it as long as you don’t think too much about your destination and instead focus on just being aware of everything around you and loving the journey as it unfolds. I did that as best I could and made mental notes of what I saw and experienced on the way down:
Leaving Rome and dodging the drizzling rain. Stopping to put the rain gear on, take it off and then put it back on again.
Cotton fields with white puffs looking like snow.
Houses and yards decorated with Halloween ghosts, goblins, skeletons and thick spider web.
At the McDonald’s -men with holstered guns on their belts.
Cypress trees in flooded lowlands.
Spanish moss in Live Oak trees.
Shotgun cottages.
Firewood for sale.
The scent of fresh cut pin trees coming from stacked logging trucks.
Deer processing signs
Brother and Sister David’s Holy Ghost Tent Revival. The tent is being set up.
National Peanut Festival
Signs for gun shows.
Good Luck Miss Eufaula signs
Dobb’s barbecue.
Hunts Oyster bar
Bonsai for sale
Included in the journey was a scene that unfolded like this: “There has got to be a gas (petrol) station around her somewhere.” At least the warning light hasn’t come on. Ten miles later the light comes on. There has got to be a gas station around here somewhere. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Twenty-five miles of nothing. Okay, I need to just accept the fact that I’m going to run out of gas. Only a matter of when. So let’s keep calm, just pull out my Zen mind, stay in the moment and enjoy the scenery. Riding at about 65 mph now. I ride to the crest of a hill and see nothing. I smell a wood fire burning somewhere. Balls of cotton are blowing across the road. The engine cuts off and I pull the clutch in and just coast. I’ll see how far I can get. I’m going mostly downhill and then back up another one. I’ve got my turn signal on and cars are passing me. I drift a surprisingly long way and keep going until the bike slowly and wobbly comes to a stop at the top of a hill. I squint my eyes and see a sign about a quarter mile off but I can’t tell what it is. I know that even when Big Red runs out of gas sometimes if you shake the bike from side to side you can free up so more gas that’s hiding in the tank. Had to do that once on the California Freeway in LA. I shake her and bless her heart she cranks back up. I get her up to about 60 and I’m getting closer to the shop but still can’t make out what it is. If it’s a gas station it doesn’t have the usual large sign high in front of it. I cut over into the left lane as I get closer and damn if it isn’t some tiny gas station on the other side. of the road. I signal to turn left at the next opening in the median. The bike cuts out again and I see a chance coming up where I can drift across the road between segments of oncoming cars. I go for it and the bike coasts right up to the gas pump.
Later, I’m smiling and feeling grateful as I ride along the coast staring at the crystal blue, blue, blue water of the Gulf of Mexico.
I start scouting for a cheap hotel, something with a number in its name and I find it.

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.