Not Always Together – But Never Alone

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Certain days have a way of falling into a special place, kept as memories, that are treasured forever. Yesterday was one of those days – filled with laughter, fellowship, brotherhood and determination.

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A week or so ago, a ride was put together to Cassoday Kansas, a small town that hosts bikers the first Sunday of the month during the riding season. The ride, suggested by my dear friend Gary Meadows, was to invite some friends to ride along with him to meet up with Soldiers For Jesus, MC – Kansas City Chapter in Cassoday. Gary has been fighting the fight with cancer, and this was his way of showing cancer the true power of the love and support he has behind him.

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I’ve ridden with Gary before. DJ, a mutual friend of ours asked if he and Gary could ride to the rally with me a few years ago, and since I was going by myself, I welcomed it. That particular trip was thrown together in what seemed like a matter of days, and not knowing Gary on a personal level, it was clear to me he is someone who’s path I should have crossed many years before. His sense of humor and his sincerity is as genuine as his laughter. DJ, Gary and I had a great time and everything about the trip was effortless. We met up with Dennis Webb and Roger Larmer at the rally which only added to the experience. Thinking about this ride always brings a smile to my face and will go down as one of my best memories riding to Sturgis.

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So as Sunday morning rolled around and the weatherman predicting favorable conditions, we gathered with Gary and his wife Charlene and Gary’s nurse Dee, who came along to offer not only moral support but also to monitor his condition for the ride. In this group that gathered, I realized the wide range of lives that can be touched by such a good guy.

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If you’ve read anything I’ve written before, you would know I do some of my best thinking from the seat of my motorcycle. I knew when we pulled out of the parking lot I’d have about 100 miles or so to pull some thoughts together. Sometimes these thoughts can be a mixed bag of emotions, some are reflective, but today it was about being present. Both figuratively and literally present.

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Gary, I can only speak for myself but it was truly an honor to ride with you once again. It was inspiring to see the love and support of your fellow bikers, but also your family. I witnessed the emotions and the power of prayer in the parking lot of a Casey’s. I saw the fellowship with the SFJMC-Kansas City as they wrapped their arms around you. I felt the bond between us when we embraced, and the lump in my throat when we spoke. These things I will never forget. The lives you’ve touched goes beyond the mechanics of the motorcycle – your church family and your community are living proof of that. I know I’m a better man because this path I’m on crossed yours.

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We ride – because that’s what we do. Not always together, but never alone. 

The Cross By The Side of The Road

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It seems like a long time ago, but its only been about six or seven years. I was spending a lot of time on the road with my job and with that comes plenty of time to think. Everyone knows when I’m riding my bike my mind starts to wander so I guess it is also true when sitting behind the steering wheel looking through the windows at the world as it flies by.

During this time I was averaging about 450 miles a day and I began noticing that no matter what highway I was on there were always crosses, some more elaborate than others, memorializing loved ones lost in accidents. Some showing the weather and age of time, while others were obviously placed more recently, still the message was always clear; someone was truly missed. As we all know, the healing process can take many shapes and there isn’t a time-limit to grief. For some, it’s comforting to know that their loved one’s cross by the side of the road serves as a reminder to not only their family but to those who pass by. Love, healing, caring and remembering.

It was during this time I was thinking it would be nice for those lost to be remembered in a way that surviving family members could share their stories in a fitting tribute for others to see – far beyond the cross by the side of the road. When I got home I looked on the internet to see if there were any sites already out there and that’s when I found Jenny Jacobs. She was already in the early stages of putting this very idea together in website form. I contacted her and after a great conversation I knew she was the one who could bring this wonderful idea to life. And now The Cross By The Side of The Road is a reality.

I’m excited and proud for Jenny as this has been a long time coming. When you believe in something and you know that what you are bringing to others will help the healing for someone who experienced a great loss, is a person who truly cares. This website is not only for those who have pushed through the grief and memorialized their loved ones with a cross along the road, this is also a way of helping others who are beginning their journey in healing from such a great loss.

Please take the time to check out Jenny’s website, and encourage those you know to check it out as well.

 

Ready to Roll

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Sometimes you just need to get away and I think that time is coming for me. Lately, I’ve been trying to figure out if a short ride to wherever could possibly put a damper on this feeling but one thing is for sure, that well worn path from home to work just isn’t cutting it. I’m known for saying that we need to travel outside the familiar landscape that surrounds us to truly feel like we’ve gone someplace, and this time of year gets me looking off into the horizon. State lines, mountains and oceans for a Kansas boy would be a good start.

 But the usual routes I’ve taken are getting to look a lot like the familiar roads I travel around home. I can always appreciate the feeling of chatting it up with someone I don’t know at a gas station in a town with no name.

With Sturgis less than sixty days a way, I know the probability is high that I will return to the Black Hills. But the usual routes I’ve taken are getting to look a lot like the familiar roads I travel around home. I can always appreciate the feeling of chatting it up with someone I don’t know at a gas station in a town with no name.

I’m not sure if it’s intentionally that I ride to sort my thoughts and to feel the wind as it blows through my thinning hair, or if all of this happens naturally because I ride. I do know that as I get a few hundred miles from home I feel the gentle release of my home town as it eases its steady hold on me and the overwhelming desire to go even further take its place. I’ve always wanted to travel this great country without an agenda and with the freedom to follow whatever whim comes my way, but the reality of work and responsibilities can make one feel guilty for even trying to.

So back to this year’s Sturgis Rally; I know this year it will be different because of my current frame of mind. By carefully planning to not make any plans, I’m hoping to change it up enough to convince myself that this trip won’t be like any before. Sure, there will be some sort of general plan but for the most part I just want to point and shoot without feeling like I need to be somewhere at a specific time. It should be easier for me to fly by the seat of my pants, and I do a pretty good job of making as few plans as possible, but there’s always that voice in my head secretly planning and weighing my options.

So as I go about my daily routine for the next few weeks, I’ll be planning on what to pack for the trip to South Dakota. Secretly I’ll be making a few decisions on which way to go, but the weather will also have a hand in this. You have to be flexible enough to go around the bad stuff if need be. But other than that, I’m winging it. We’ll see how long that lasts.

Inside This Helmet of Mine

It’s a simple concept really. Write a blog about growing up in a small town and my experiences riding my motorcycles. This is how it all started and, for the most part, still is. As this blog has grown and more and more people from around the world read it, it tells me that this simple life of mine and my reflections on life from the seat of my bike have been enthralling, or at the very least humorous in some way. If nothing else it has given you a look at what goes on in this helmet of mine.

So where do I go from here? I fully enjoy writing and putting these thoughts I have out there, and I would probably still do this even if it was more in journal form. A book with real pages and an ink pen that writes in cursive hidden in the hallway next to my motorcycle helmet sort of journal. But if you know me, you know I don’t write in cursive, but in all-caps. Come to think of it, I type using four or five fingers out of the ten I have but it all seems to work out somehow.

Winter weather, like our age is all subject to perception. I’m still young at heart and there is plenty of beauty and nice days during the winter months – it’s all in how you choose to look at it.

As winter keeps me from riding as frequent, or more accurately my urge to throw away my underoos and pull up my big-boy underwear, I find the desire to ride to be that much more obvious. Winter weather, like our age is all subject to perception. I’m still young at heart and there is plenty of beauty and nice days during the winter months – it’s all in how you choose to look at it. You would think the cold weather wouldn’t bother me as much as I appear to have put on my winter layer of fat. Mind over matter…Blah! Acting like a kid in trouble, I walk past the bike in the garage on my way out the door trying not to make eye-contact with it. I’m sorry for all the nice days I didn’t ride, and I will try harder this year. But the blog goes on anyway.

It really is hard to believe this blog is going on five years now. Five years of letting my thoughts fall out of my head in this random order and putting it out there for anyone who wants to read it. I go back and read some of my past posts and it surprises me that I’m even capable of putting a sentence together. If there is one thing that surprises me the most is the top three post that I’ve written. White City Ks. 66872, Hello, My Name Is Jeff, and A Dip In The Road have been some of the most viewed posts I’ve had and I thank all of you for that. I do have my personal favorites as well and these three are right up there. Some posts are more personal than others and some don’t tell the whole story but for the most part the point comes across. And there are some things I have wanted to write about but just haven’t pulled the trigger. If you could see the draft section of this blog it would truly show how random I can be. Yikes!

 

 

 

The Choices We Didn’t Make

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This morning as I stood upon the steps trying to decide on whether or not to ride my motorcycle to work on this cold, cloudy and windy day, the only thing I could think about was my weatherman Collin missing the mark the two previous days. Not that he was that far off, but it surely wasn’t in my favor. So today I decided to not ride because of it. I thought to myself “I’ll teach him.”

So my drive in was one of deep thought. Just like on my motorcycle, I spend a good portion just thinking about stuff that I don’t get a chance to think about otherwise. This decision on whether or not to ride is something that comes up a lot during the fall and winter months so it really isn’t that surprising. But this morning it occurred to me that I spent so much time trying to decide on something so trivial. Is riding that important to me? It is, but why make such a big deal about whether I’m going to or not? There are way more important life decisions and choices to make that all of a sudden this seemed insignificant. So what’s the problem?

Looking back over a lifetime there are many choices and decisions we make that can literally change the course of who we are and what we do. Fundamentally we are going to be the person we truly are, but I think you know what I mean. Some of the great mysteries of life are a direct result of decisions and choices we didn’t make.

“Some of the great mysteries in life are a direct result of decisions and choices we didn’t make.”

I’ve been riding motorcycles enough to know that the decision to ride or not affects my whole day. It is who I am and what I do so when I don’t ride I’m usually kicking myself for whatever reason. That little voice in my head says many things through the course of a day and when he’s right I can’t argue. You do hear those voices too, don’t you?

I’m not trying to trivialize the choices we make here. But we are faced with big and small decisions every day and depending on the outcome of those decisions it can alter how our day goes. Put it on a larger scale and we’ve all made life decisions that resulted in where we are standing today. Call it fate, chance or destiny – even luck, but life is full of choices. I know I’ve made several calls to not ride when I should have and vice-versa, but in the end it didn’t do any more than irritate me.

I often think about the road that led me to where I am today. I think about those crossroads where a choice was made and things changed, and how it would be different if that life intersection had been just a mile or two further down the road. I think about those future crossroads that I’ve yet to meet and how nobody knows how it will really turn out. That’s the beauty of it – and that’s where those great mysteries of life come from.

2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 9,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Rubberneckers

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It’s human nature for sure. When we see something out-of-the-ordinary, we turn our heads to see what happened or to watch whatever is happening to unfold. Like the proverbial train-wreck. We. Just. Can’t. Look. Away.

We motorcyclist are rubberneckers. We ride as if our head is on a swivel anyway, and because of that we see a lot of extraordinary things in the process. It’s almost as if we’re asking for it. Well, we are. In this particular case, I stopped to watch the fire off in the distance unfold. It’s not every day you have the opportunity – those few magical minutes – to rubberneck the sun coming up over the horizon. It’s all about timing.

But more importantly it’s about taking the time to stop, pause, and to not only see it but to feel it. To recognize the collision of your path and the extraordinary as it happens is key. When it happens, it happens quick. There are no rules here such as documenting it in a picture but it’s only here for those who are lucky enough to take it in. If you’re able to capture it, that’s okay too. It makes a great home-screen.

 But please remember, rubbernecking beauty – good. Rubbernecking misfortune – bad. But you already knew that.

When you find yourself rolling down the highway looking at your surroundings and you see that rubberneck-worthy moment, take it in. But please remember, rubbernecking beauty – good. Rubbernecking misfortune – bad. But you already knew that.

Life is truly made up of extraordinary moments strung together by ability to put ourselves in the middle of it. To see, feel and appreciate our surroundings requires a bit of rubbernecking. Without taking it in, we risk passing it by.

The Hands of Time and Leather

 

There was a time when things were handmade and built to last, and when you held quality in your hand and you could feel it. We’ve strayed far from quality and caring to somehow accepting a short life expectancy from what we purchase – so much for passing it on to our kids.

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As a kid growing up I was fascinated by my fathers watch. Something he wore daily, and that rare moment when he was standing still, I would look it over. It wasn’t anything special, but I remember looking at it and thinking how old it seemed even then. It was worn and hard to read but the best way to describe it is to say that this watch my father so dutifully wore was standing the test of time. It must have been a faithful watch, keeping the best of time or my dad wouldn’t have worn it. To this day, I still catch myself looking at my fathers watch.

What once was a land of handmade, no-two-the-same, can’t buy it just anywhere products – we’ve digressed into a mass-produced, everyone has it environment. But it’s not the artisans fault. What’s the old saying? Oh yeah, something about you get what you pay for. The hands that crafted have grown tired and retired and have been replaced with machines that have no creativity, no pride or heart.

So it was March of 2012 when I received an email from Stephen Berner. He was contacting me to write a blog for his website, and after checking it out, I wasn’t sure what I was writing was good enough. I was completely blown away by Steve’s angle on the American V-twin lifestyle and all that surrounds it, and me being a small town guy who can’t seem to get out of said small town, had doubts on my abilities. But he believed in me and there was nothing to say but “yes, I’ll do it.”

I’ve learned a lot from Steve. Without knowing, he pushed me to be more creative. He gave me an opportunity to think beyond the city limits I’ve grown comfortable with and to try harder, think harder, and look at things from a different angle. And for that I owe him a “thank you.”

Steve has a thing about closed and long-abandoned factories where men and women not only built these factories but everything that came out of them. They took pride in what they manufactured and it showed on their dusty clothes, dirty faces and callused hands. A symbol of America that is slowly being forgotten and left to die one brick at a time. The hopes and dreams of these workers forgotten when they were carried out the front door in their lunch pails for the last time.

Steve has taken his passion and his love for quality, hand-made-in-America, to crafting it into leather. With the effort of those who have paid their dues and rightfully passing on their skills and knowledge to someone who cares enough to carry on a tradition, Steve has taken it upon himself to produce what he so believes in. Beauty. Quality. Handmade.

You can’t rush this kind of work and mistakes can’t be covered. Do it right or don’t do it at all, I say. And what’s that old saying again? Right. Get what you pay for. To pick up the tools of a trade that has almost been forgotten is admirable. Not everyone can do it, and sadly so few even want to. It can’t be easy, as it requires creativity, patience, a steady hand and the ability to see the end result before you’ve picked up a tool. Slow and deliberate, but worth it.

I suggest you check out Steve’s goods and see for yourself. Support those who take the time to do it right, right here at home, and carry with you something that will only get better with age.

SteveB Leatherworks Facebook

SteveB Instagram

Etsy

 

A Birthday Gift for Me

Kelly Sanderson

Kelly Sanderson

I remember like it was yesterday; sitting on the edge of the hospital bed holding you in my arms. You were wrapped up tight in a baby blanket with a stocking cap on your head just looking at me. Looking at me! We were alone in the room and while I’m sure I was mumbling something to you, without any warning, I cried.

There is something special about that moment we shared. We didn’t have any history to look back on and with only our future ahead of us I knew we would be okay. How could I be responsible for something so small and precious? I’m not used to this as I can barely take care of myself. I mean, it was the ’80s and is this stone-washed denim I’m wearing? Really?

It’s hard for a father to tell his daughter how he feels. While there are so many ways and lots words to say, it all gets lost in general conversation. But life is to short to not tell you how a I feel. Without trying, and at that moment you gave me a purpose. A life-changing moment that rearranged my priorities and gave me a reason to work hard and set a good example. After all, I wouldn’t want to embarrass you. Okay, it was the ’80s and some of that wasn’t my fault.

I’m so very proud of you. You have grown into the woman I always thought you would be. A great mother, a wonderful wife, a great sister and of course, a beautiful daughter. You have an effortless way about you and through it all you have an amazing sense of humor. I know how you deal with bumps in the road and humor is one of them. Your laughter makes me laugh and if nothing else in life, we have that. You recently sent me a text that you’ve come to realize that when so many things aren’t going your way, you have to come to appreciate the little things in life. To also be happy and thankful for what you have and how quickly we forget that, and how things always seem to work out. When you said that, it felt like a shift had come from me giving you advice to you telling me “everything’s going to be okay.”

You will always be that mop-topped little strawberry blonde that danced around in the dresses you insisted on wearing. It’s crazy how you have grown into a beautiful woman and remained my little girl all at the same time.

Today is your birthday and as hard as it is for you to realize this, it is you who gave me the gift. Happy birthday Kelly, I love you!

A Second Either Way

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Well, it was bound to happen again I guess. I’m speaking of another close call with a deer on my chilly ride to work this morning. Almost a year to the day I wrote about how a deer stepped out of the ditch and stopped suddenly before crossing (read; “Motorcycle Crossing”) as I was rounding the first curve in Skiddy on my way to work. Close enough to touch (or so it seemed) I remained calm and continued on. What this deer did after I passed is unknown, but I’m sure she was thinking those damn motorcycles are dangerous to her health.

I don’t know if we motorcyclists are just oblivious to the dangers of riding or if it’s the acceptance of those dangers that keeps us riding. Surely a close call, and I mean close call, with any deer or car would stop me from riding a bike. But close calls are a part of riding and quite frankly, the deer reminded me of this. I’m not saying it didn’t startle me. But at that exact moment when I came around the corner and saw her standing there on the road, several things went through my head in a very short amount of time. But not once did I think I was going down. Chop the throttle? Apply the brakes? Swerve? Scream? I did none of that. In fact if you could have seen the look on my face I probably showed no emotion. Nerves of steel? Of course not, but it happened so fast there was little time for panic. I can’t speak for the deer.

I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about how risky motorcycling can be. If I thought about it like that it would take the fun right out of riding. When something like this happens, (fewer times with deer, more often with cars) it shows me I’m living in the moment – and this moment only took about a half a second. Once it’s over, it’s down the road until the next close call happens. Not if, but when.

I’m not sure if this was the same deer or not, but they were both wearing similar fur coats. It did happen in the exact same place as before and if she is anything like me we’re both creatures of habit. As long as her and her friends make a habit of staying out of my way, I’ll do my best not to hit her and ruining both of our mornings. So after I passed her and proceeded to work I realized how close this close call was. A second either way could have yielded different results and I thought to myself how many times in our lives do we have these encounters and don’t even realize it. Whether we ride motorcycles or not, life is full of “a second either way.” So why worry?

I ride for that feeling of complete vulnerability to my surroundings. If this deer and I had met any other way (read collision) I might think otherwise. But part of the experience of riding is being on the edge of out-of-control with a few obstacles thrown in for good measure. So here’s to our anniversary and I hope we don’t meet again.