Sunday, April 21, 2013

Maybe it’s the isolation, maybe it’s the vistas, maybe it’s the voices in my head, but for whatever reason I often time find myself thinking of little metaphors while riding.  Usually it’s when I am reminding myself of some lesson learned in a basic riding course in an attempt to stay safe.  I end up remember that lesson and concentrating on it, then realize like a light bulb going off that that lessons applies to much more than basic riding skills.  They can be metaphors for your (or maybe just my) entire life!  Funny too that many of these metaphors also apply to music.  Doesn’t seem like much of a stretch since music is only another form of communication that requires practice, listening, awareness of yourself and others and can evoke all kinds of emotions.
                I thought that documenting these metaphors would be a great idea and maybe be the contents of book some day!  Not a novel or anything, but more like one of those book you keep in your bathroom to read while you…take care of business. Sort of like “The Quotable Golfer,” “The Book of Questions” or “Chicken Soup for the 30 something white collar suburban guy with kids a minivan and a mortgages Soul.” (Note to self – start writing that book!!  No doubt a Best Seller).
                By the way, why doesn't Barnes and Noble have a section for these kinds of book?  They have everything else: Sci-Fi, Sports and Leisure, Fiction, Non-Fiction, Teen, Mystery, Kids, Crossword Puzzles, Goth, Gay Issues… You have seen them all.  There should be another section called “Shit that will keep you entertained for about 20 minuets and doesn’t have too many big word or long chapters that you can read while you take a crap.”   Probably because that wouldn’t fit on the sign.  Barnes and Noble doesn’t have that kind of budget for a sign that big.  I am sure they would have to custom order that.
                Anyway…  Here is my list of metaphors so far.  I am sure I will be adding more later, since this was the 1st reason I started this blog anyhow.  BTW… I sure hope these are actually metaphors and not analogies or similes or some other thing I can’t remember from 10th grade English class.

·         You need to constantly being changing your focus from immediately in front of you, medium and far distances
·         Be prepared for a fall, not afraid of one.
·         Choose a destination, not a route
·         Stop and meet strangers
·         God determines the length of your life, you determine the width
·         Know you limits and abide by them for the sake of yourself and the ones that love you
·         Seek out, listen and implement the advice of those with more experience
·         Practice so that your skills are second nature so you can simultaneously be in control and observe the beauty around you
·         Travel light
·         Always ensure that you complete annual maintenance
·         Be sure you have a will
·         Be prepared to be on top of mountains and in deep low valleys and long flat plains
·         Check in frequently with you loved one so they know your status and where you are at
·         Travelling with a passengers requires adjusting balancing points, acceleration and stopping distance
·         Don’t be afraid of a storm
·         Make sure you spend sufficient time with friends and also alone
·         Don’t judge by “brands/manufactures/styles/colors.”  We are all here for the same reasons
·         (Road) rage is for idiots
·         Wash away debris from your visual path
·         Listen for subtle changes.  Giving them attention could prevent a future disaster
·         Obey the law
·         Wake up early and get started
·         Nothing good happens after midnight.  Well… except that!
·         Invite your friends to participate in your joys, but don’t force them
·         Balance!
·         Go to the Grand Canyon
·         Don’t just dream, make plans and take action

Try and spot the ass in this picture!
  “You can wish in one hand and crap in the other and see which gets filled up first”
-Burgess Meredith; from the movie Grumpy Old men

It seems fitting that I would begin my first ever blog/journal entry/whatever this is, with a quote from a movie.  Inherited from my Dad, encouraged by few and eye roll generating to most, I have a “gift” being able to quote movies almost as easily as I walk and breathe.  I feel fortunate to also have inherited from family the love of music, speech, reading/writing, comedy, history, learning and travel.  All of these are very evident in my relatives.  I have a cousin that is well known bass player and college level educator of music, a sister with a great talent for writing, a grandfather who was a preacher, another who was a pilot and a grandmother who had a joy for reading as much as she could about US presidents and American history. And of course, my Dad probably should have been a staff member at Mad Magazine.  He would have loved that too.  When it comes to me, I have an above average aptitude for all of these traits; a jack of all trades and master of none (ok, well master of the movies quote thing). 
                So as you can see, although I am able to write, I could be much better.  After all it is taken me into my second paragraph to get to the point, which of course is the attempt to begin to write about my thoughts and experiences of motorcycling.  Compared to my other hobbies motorcycling is rather new to me.  I have only been riding since the summer of 2006.  But for some reason last summer something clicked and enhanced my enjoyment.  I have no idea how or why this happened, but it did.  Perhaps it was because I put on more miles than any other summer.  Or maybe it’s because I took a few long solo day trips that provided some much needed “me time.” Those trips were extremely meditative, but also gave me a sense of challenge and accomplishment.  It also could have very easily been the fact that I got to have my favorite passenger, my wife Abby, accompany me on several rides both long and short.  She made it easier for me to validate my new obsession with her positives feelings about being a passenger.  She took great pleasure in the luxury of not being in charge and just going along for the ride and the peacefulness that comes with it.  Of course, it is easy to see why she embraces that facet since the majority of her time is spent as a stay at home mom – the best one ever by the way!  And as the parents of two kids, we both benefited from having time together sans kids.  I also think she rather enjoys the feeling of my machine psychically displaying its power between her legs! (The bike I mean… or do I?  You decide. J   Sorry, had to get R rated joke in there.  The opportunity was just too easy).
                Living in Minnesota means that each fall there will be an end to riding season.  Some seasons are longer than others, but inevitably once the snow flies, the bike begins its hibernation.  This past fall, a week or after I put it in storage I began to feel depressed.  That was a little frightening to me.  In the past I have noticed that when the days get shorter, so does my temper.  But this was different.  It was beginning to feel overwhelmed with a sadness that I had not felt before.  I knew I would be able to ride again in the spring, but I was dreading the many months until then. 
So what does a strong minded, independent, oldest child with German, Irish and Scottish blood do?  Self medicate of course!!  But not like you think (ok, ok… a few beers and some fine Canadian whiskey can help too).  The prescription I wrote for myself was to find, read and watch as much about motorcycles and motorcycle travel as I could.  And boy did I ever!  I had already seen and been inspired by Long way ‘Round and Long Way Down by Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman.  It was not hard to schedule a few more viewing of those great episodes.
I also had been able to find some very inspirational reading too.  A conversation with a co-worker about my newly found psycho somatic malaise brought on by the bike’s hibernation led me to a book called “Lessons From the Back Roads” by John Hodel.
As it turns out, John Hodel works for a vendor of my company so there is professional connection too.  A few years ago, he decided to write about his experience riding across the county and back.  My co-worker friend suggested I read it, since John had just published the book about a month prior to our conversation.  I picked up the book and within an hour I knew I was done for.  It felt like what someone who hears God calling them to do something might feel.  They know God is right.  They know what they need to do. But now face the reality and challenges of actually acting on that calling.  The scary part of enacting a change begins and overcomes you.  You begin to ask yourself if you are capable of such a change.  You begin to let fear drive your decisions and not your heart or God’s will. 
There were too many similarities in John’s book to simply chalk up to coincidence.  Although he had just published his book, he had taken his trip about 15 year prior when he was 34.  I am 34 now.  We had many more similarities.  A love my motorcycles, a burning desire for adventure (but too scared or maybe too logical to venture out), and a great job and faith.  It was easy to relate to the "rut" he felt he was in.  What really hit home for me was a description of a poster he once saw of an old man sitting on a motorcycle with a caption that read “Be sure to work really hard so you have enough money to enjoy the things that you will be too old to use.” 
In additional to John’s book, I also read “Ghost Rider” by Neil Peart.  Yes, that Neil Peart.  The drummer from the Band Rush, that was just this week inducted into the Rock and Roll HOF.  His book is a quite a bit more dark as it chronicles his travels on the “healing road.”  He took a few years to travel around North American and Mexico on his BMW as a means to cope with the grief from the death of his daughter and wife with in an 18 month period.  But, still a decent read.
Next, I re-read (for about the 8th time) the classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig.  If you have ever read it you’ll know that is more about philosophy, Classic vs. Romantic thinking and father-son relationships than it is about motorcycles.  However, Pirsig uses the motorcycle as a brilliant metaphor for defining Quality; the perfect marriage of underlying forms with the aesthetics of superficial beauty.  Both of which must be present and generated from genuinely caring about what you do and how you do it to, to come to fully understand and define Quality.
  By January I had watched LWR and LWD (a few times) and read Hodel’s, Peart’s and Pirsig’s books.  I was in jeopardy of become a total poser since I had not read the bible of motorcycle travel and thought; Jupiter’s Travels by Ted Simon.  This book was on my Christmas list and good ole’ Dad stepped up and got it for me.**  It delivered and is an amazing tale of Simons journey over 4 years and 60k miles around the world.  Simon’s insights into human nature are eye opening.
 I was not surprised to sense the same themes of human relationships, fear and independence in Simon’s, Hodel’s and Pirsig’s books.  Not so much with Peart though.  He is a notoriously introverted person and his trip was more about getting away from people than trying to connect.
Now that my reading library has been exhausted for now, I found myself surfing a great website called  It is basically a forum for motorcycle enthusiast that seem to casually quit their jobs, sell their homes and all their belongings (expect what they can get on their bikes) and live nomadically on their machines traveling the world much like Simon.  As you can imagine trolling this site is both inspiring and depressing at the same time. I am most often reading it in my cube (with a window!) while simultaneously on some conference call about real estate financial reform and closing fees.  Here is a link to one of the better ride reports from a couple from Toronto.
But I am not completely naive.  I do realize that I cannot afford to be that selfish. I have made other choices in my life.  But don’t think that I regret those choices at all.  Quite the opposite.  Those decisions include getting married to my wife and having the most beautiful children in the world.  Participating in those conference calls allow me to be the family man that I am and gives me a great sense of professional accomplishment.  I wouldn’t go back and change any of that. Ever! 
However, what is now in front of me is a new challenge.  How to balance what I have, with want I want, without sacrifice, undue risk and guilt.  I have had many great conversations with my friend Erik about this.  All winter long I have been struggling with the need to get out and ride.  I have a great need for freedom, challenges and adventures.  I need these things to feed my soul and recharge my battery so that I can continue to be the foundation of my family and support them the very best I can.  But there is guilt inside me as I attempt to “recharge” with riding.  There of course is risk with riding.  The last thing I want would be to orphan my kids and make my wife a widow.  Especially, if that happened at my own doing.  There is also the obvious physically aspects of being away from my family; miles and the duration of time away that contributes to a sense abandonment.  Obviously I am would not abandon my family, but these additional measures of distance and time away from home are on the forefront of my thoughts.  I am well aware of the strain on my wife and kids because of myself(ishly?) imposed absence.  This in turn adds to my internal struggle.
With that in mind both Erik and I have thought; “What the hell am I complaining about!?!?  I have a great job, a great house, money to meet all my needs now and in retirement, and a healthily, amazing family.”  And here I am pouting because I can’t go ride my motorcycle!  Really? Really?  What a selfish dick I am being!  There are people who have much, much less in their lives.  Less money, less security, less safety, poorer health, bad relationships… the list goes on and on. Of course that line of thinking leads to more guilt and stress, which seems to only be relieved by riding.  Can you see the vicious cycle? (Ha – Cycle.  Get it? Ironical)
So what to do…?  I obviously can’t quit my job, sell my house and abandon my family.  And commuting to work on the bike for 4 month a year doesn’t seem to be doing the trick either. 
I don’t know why or how, but the idea of riding around Lake Superior popped into my head.  It seems to be the most obvious solution.  It’s the biggest dam lake in the world!  So there is a sense of significant achievement attached to circling it (at least there is for me).  It’s close to home and logistically realistic as opposed to say… riding to Alaska or the Grand Canyon or something more destination oriented than goal oriented.  It also will bring be back to Duluth twice which is always a good thing.  The North Shore and surrounding areas of the lake are some of the most beautiful and historically rich parts of the US and Canada. 
There it is.  The history, the problem, the Idea, the bike, my needs, my fears, the risks and the rewards, all just sitting there waiting to be connected.  Cue in Abby.  Her support and willingness to allow me to endeavor out on my “pre mid life crisis” trip is more valuable than anything else.  I am humbled and blessed beyond words to have her as a partner that can both recognize this need of mine and unselfishly condone and support me.  I only regret that I can’t bring her with….this time.  She will come for the next circle trip though.  Because of her encouragement I have already faithfully begun saving money for a new bike that both of us will enjoy for our 40th birthday presents to ourselves.  A happy wife = a happy life J .  I am already planning great trips for us to take together.  And if they aren't too cool for their dad when they are 13 or so, I would love to take each of my kids on a Father-Son/Father-Daughter trip of their choosing.  I would grab a map and let them decide where to go.  Maybe I am foolish to think so, but I imagine that this would be valuable time spent with their dorky dad that that can remember into their adulthood.
So… To the point already.  This blog is intended to be a chronicling of the Lake Superior Trip as well as be a record of whatever nonsense pops into my brain that loosely ties to motorcycling and life.  I hope you enjoy it.  But if you don’t, too bad.  I am doing this for me, not you. ;)
Now, if the worst spring in the history of MN would just end already!!  Geez!!!

  **Footnote… I have been very pleasantly surprised by my Dad’s enthusiasm and encouragement of my new hobby.  He never rode as far as I know.  He doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy that would get a bike.  After all, he notoriously takes 5 minutes to leave any parking spot that he so carefully has backed into.  But only after he has combed his hair, adjusted the mirrors and AC, eaten a chocolate covered almond or two and swapped his reading glasses for his sun glasses.  But none the less he has been extremely encouraging of me despite the obvious risks of riding that his son is taking.  I think he does this because he understand the up and downs, pressures and joys of being a father and knows that a Father’s soul needs feeding too.  For him, his soul needs running (and Starbucks).  Mine needs music, baseball and riding.  He has never wavered in his support of me.  I am super lucky to have him as my Dad and I hope I can live out his example with my kids for whatever feeds their souls.