10.01.2006,2:19 PM
The Aftermath

Where’s my pillow? What happened to my sleeping bags?

I slowly crawled out of a dream state and without conscious thought clutched for my makeshift pillow and mummy bag as I prepared to turn over. Then I realized I was in my bed at home, lying diagonally across the covers and my pillow on the floor, the twilight sneaking through my bedroom windows.

As I neared home yesterday the crowded highway instilled a foreboding feeling, like a child reaching out to touch a hot stove and knowing it will hurt. I arrived home, walked into the house and I was overwhelmed with strong melancholy. I didn’t want to stop; I didn’t want to come back here. I wanted to continue what I had begun.

I ascribed it all to weariness and took a long nap, feeling more refreshed upon wakening. But this morning I was still on the road in my head. Reluctantly I readied to make the transition to my routine life I left 14 days ago.

Starting the truck to drive into town for food, I forgot about the seat belt and my left hand reached for the clutch when I used the brake at the corner. The first thing that reminded me I was not on the bike was the strange claustrophobia in the driver’s seat. The urge to get back on the bike for a ride was visceral.

But I stayed off the bike today for two reasons: to give Whee a break. Near home, the engine was protesting with a hearty growl. I pushed it too hard and it was a hot ride. I remember sitting on the seat after pulling in and listening to the now baritone voice of the engine as if it was protesting: “Enough is enough. Give me a break!”

A check-over showed that the tires and oil level were fine, coolant level normal, chain a bit loose and needing another lubrication. I suspect the change in tone was merely reflecting four hours straight of riding in the heat at a fast speed on open road. After unloading everything and removing all the straps and cords, I let the bike sit and cool off and then put the bike cover over it.

The other reason I fought the urge to gear up and get back on is because I feared I might not come back.

I drove down FM 3325, thinking to myself what a wonderful vista this road affords when riding a bike, and smiling when reflecting how this road makes me smile in my helmet. Entering onto I-20 from the ramp, I’m another two-legged robot in my box on four wheels, blending in with the other boxes of various sizes. And wishing I were back on the bike.

Walking through Central Market with jostling people, nothing seemed interesting or attracted me. Except the bulk coffee bins. I ground my obligatory pound and one-half of coffee beans and tried to think of what I wanted or needed. Except for some dairy products, nothing was appealing. I left the store spending much less than three digits.

The rush of traffic, milling of people, heat reflecting off concrete and tarmac instilled a longing to be back in the cool green alpine meadows or on winding mountain roads bordered by bright yellow cottonwood leaves twirling in the wind. Or riding the gray twisting ribbons meandering through red and beige canyons.

There was a little spirit demon sitting on my shoulder whispering in my ear, “Come ride with me. Leave this all behind and feel free. Come ride with me.” And another silent spirit present, waiting to be plucked from the night sky, putting it in my pocket to share the ride with me.

On the drive home, I reminisced on the myriad of environments I rode through and all the others I missed. At the start of the ride I wanted to go everywhere and see it all. That hunger was soon dampened with the realization that I couldn’t experience everything in the short time I had. John Steinbeck aptly describes the same:

This journey had been like a full dinner of many courses, set before a starving man. At first he tries to eat all of everything, but as the meal progresses he finds he must forgo some things to keep his appetite and his taste buds functioning.

Like bribing a child with cake and ice cream, I promised myself I would return and catch the meals I missed the next time on the road.

During conversations with people on the road, I was often asked what it is like to ride a motorcycle miles and days on end. The first time I was asked that question, I was speechless. How do you describe the variety of visceral sensations, or explain the satisfaction derived from being alone on a journey facing the unknown, the thrills of riding winding rolling roads with the wind pushing you this way and that, or the comfort of a singing engine between your legs, and the complete but fulfilling exhaustion at the end of a day on the road? I can’t adequately express what it all encompasses.

Once, caught in a pensive but gregarious mood, I replied that it was like riding a mechanical steed in and through the Milky Way, and ricocheting off the stars in Orion’s belt, his dog Sirius, and on to other stars in the various constellations. The response was a slowly uttered “Wow!” accompanied by raised eyebrows and a sideglance to check if I was real.

Traveling on the road expands your world in so many ways. Pushed out of your microcosm of reality, you move through the macrocosm of that which surrounds you. You feel so alive and insignificant simulaneously.

Your paths cross the lives of others and for a brief period of time bits and pieces of your life are shared and mixed with theirs. You may never see each other again, but the imprint sometimes remains or fades as time passes. It reminds me of what we really are at the core, the foundation of this country, rather than what we are all delivered in the media. You can scratch the surface and meet the layers underneath the superficiality that prevails today. And it restores my faith in humanity.

Reflecting on my summer in Europe so many years ago, the same friendliness and hospitality prevails, knowing no boundaries or prejudice of land or color. We are different all around the world, but at the core, we are also the same.

Traveling has been a bug in my blood since I was young. I recall when I was a teenager asking my father what I should be when I grow up.

“You can be anything you want to be. As long as you are honest,” he replied.

“What if I want to be a bum and travel all the time?”

Shoulders shrugged, “Well, just do a good job at it. Whatever you do, do it well.”

Robert Pirsig wrote: “The only Zen you find on a mountain is that which you take with you.”

So I put on my traveling boots and rolling wheels and tried to do this journey well. As I rode, the Zen inside found its way to the surface again and I wore it around me like a comfortable and worn old cloak. I think I grinned most of the time, on and off the bike.

And I whispered many times to the surrounding wonders: “I’ll be back. Wait and see; I’ll be back.”


posted by Macrobe
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