Over-Meditation

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Once in a while my mood will change. My head gets foggy and I lose focus, and the usual daily routine doesn’t help the situation. Is it a full moon, or what? The ebb and flow of life in general can pull you into a funk that creeps in and takes over, but right now the tide must be in. I’m usually a happy-go-lucky guy and very little gets to me – but the last few days have been a struggle. Even the ride to work and home again isn’t enough to blow the frustrations off of me. Whenever I ride my motorcycle, it only takes a couple of minutes before the knot in my head is gone, but for the last week or so, even Houdini can’t seem to untie the rope behind my sunglasses.

 Maybe it’s not the miles ridden, but the attitude in which they are ridden. Either way, I won’t complain about the ride, just the results.

So what does a biker do when he gets in a mood like this? Most casual riders use the escape of hopping on their bike to clear their head. They take advantage of the solitude of riding to sort out their problems of the day and their motorcycle is the escape they need to outrun the madness. So when this cloudy frustration envelopes me, what do I do? I ride almost every day now, so when this mood comes over me it would seem the logical thing is to ride even more? You would think. When you get a headache, you medicate – but when that doesn’t work, you wouldn’t dare over-medicate.

Yesterday, after logging about 200 miles on a particulary beautiful fall day, I still couldn’t get the fog in my head to clear. I found my thoughts bouncing around to so many different things that it was hard to find any clarity, which is very unusual for me. I don’t over analyze, but when I need to sort some things out, it doesn’t take me very long. This time appears different and without any explanation as to why, I can only say a longer ride didn’t help. Did I just say that? Maybe it’s not the miles ridden, but the attitude in which they are ridden. Either way, I won’t complain about the ride, just the results.

This mood will pass just as the countless miles roll beneath the wheels of my bike. At some random mile marker the knot in my head will miraculously become undone and all will be right for the time being. In the meantime the fog remains and my thoughts aren’t as clear as I would like them – time is all it takes. Anyone got an aspirin?

Common Denominator

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It started for me before 1974. An exposure to motorcycles through magazines, I allowed myself to be consumed by an ongoing urge to ride on two wheels. In my early days, it was about horsing around, pulling wheelies and power-slides, climbing hills and getting air-born while honing my skills and learning that hitting the deck can hurt – not enough to keep me off my motorcycles, just enough to teach me a lesson. As time moved on the competition side of me took over and I raced a little motocross only to realize I was just on the verge of being average at it before I broke my leg on the third lap of leading my moto in 1987. A fast, sweeping corner with a nice berm, I tried cutting inside, got cross-rutted and went down. Did it end my enthusiasm? No, it just changed my focus from dirt to street. It was an easy transition, and going places on a bike felt pretty good. Still in the early days, I was riding for the fun of it. Nothing to deep, just getting on and going places just for the sake of going. No rhyme or reason, or a plan in place, just riding to ride.

I can’t remember any time since the early 70’s that motorcycles weren’t a big part of my daily routine. Reading about them, riding when I could or just talking about bikes with others when we weren’t riding. Growing up with friends that ride helps considerably and learning to work on them was a plus as well. But still, at that age it was impossible to understand exactly what kind of effect this would have on me through the years. As constant as the ringing in my ears, the thoughts of motorcycles and everything that surrounds them, I’ve carried with me.

A lot has changed over the years with technology, style, performance and price – but the one common denominator through it all has been how the motorcycle influences me. The people involved within the industry – whether professional racers, moto-journalists, photographers, builders or enthusiasts all have an impact on our perception of this sport, but it’s the motorcycle that pulls it all together and brings it all to life. I ride motorcycles for transportation, recreation and meditation. It isn’t a hobby – it’s a passion, and with passion comes inspiration. That feeling I had the first time I let the clutch out, when motion turned into emotion, was truly a memorable moment. Although the reason I ride has evolved into a more complex explanation, it can always be broken down into passion.

No matter what you ride, remember why you ride. As I get older it has become apparent this is my fountain of youth, because when you’re young you don’t think in those terms. Riding motorcycles allows me to never lose that feeling of letting the clutch out for the first time and it’s also a vehicle from which to reflect on all of the miles and memories I’ve experienced over the years. We all have something we’re passionate about and mine just happens to be motorcycles. I wouldn’t change it for the world and I would do it all over again given the chance. Well, maybe I would change one thing; I would probably have taken a different line in that corner back in 1987.

Twists and Turns

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This road I’m on, much like a book, has a story to tell. Whether built out of commerce or curiosity, it is here to take me to a place only the author knows of. Each chapter changes as the storyline becomes real. The harder the road is to build, the better the story gets, and it takes longer for the story to be written than ridden, so like a good book it will have its ups and downs and whirlwinds of emotion, taking us chapter by chapter until we reach the end. We can feel the hard work the author experienced and we can see his intentions of bringing this book to life. So we ride on.

Traveling through the hills and valleys on a motorcycle can tell us of the trials and tribulations of building a road this difficult. I can appreciate the difficulty and both the builder and I know that it isn’t easy to finish something that can withstand the test of time. His way of bringing the landscape to life with the sweat of his brow gives all that read his book the best seat in the house. Like every story, you can always flip back through the pages to read certain passages over and over, and as this road twists and turns, I may have to return to ride this road again. It’s that good.

Who knows how this ride will end? The suspense is building and the road only gets better. The way the author placed the sunset in just the right place and the tree line of pines with just the right amount of backdrop. Beautiful in a way, that only the one who had a hand in building this road could do. He must have been a motorcyclist as the curves come at the right time and it all seems intentional. This must not be his first time of building suspense and putting us in a place of his choosing. But we are here, immersed in his interpretation, and I think I know where this story is going to end; I think.

As you would expect, this book ends with a happy ending. I’m glad this story ended the way it did, and it has only added to my experience and imagination. I will ride this road again and I’m sure I will pick up something I didn’t see the first time and as all stories go, it leaves us in a better place. Much like a road we discover, regardless of having ridden it before, something as simple as the seasons changing can put a new twist on the story. Whether you ride a motorcycle or not, ride the “Story of Life” and see where it takes you. If nothing else, the ending may surprise you.

A Guiding Light

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The night has come. Too soon for me but it is what it is and I must keep going. It’s not often we ride into the night but the full moon is pulling me West beyond any control I have. It’s mesmerizing. I can’t look away. As if hypnotized by a cheap magician at the circus trying to get me to reveal some inner most secrets for all the world to see. It is big and beautiful but I must watch the road for any dangers that might present itself. But while I’m at it, I let the flood of memories hit me, and boy do they hit hard.

Moonlight can do funny things to you. It can bring light to even the darkest places and it can give you visions that are only reserved for dreams and angels. The daylight hours can’t reveal what only the night can bring, and the moon is the beacon of light to which they surface. Rolling down this back road I realize that as a kid chases fireflies after dark, I have been chasing something from my past. As the firefly lights up you know where to run, but as the light goes off you are once again running in circles trying to find your way. On, off, then on again, we are just two steps behind what it is we a trying to reach. Then, without warning, we see another and then another only adding to the frustration of which way we are heading.

But tonight the road is straight and the light ahead of me is not fleeting, but rather as constant as the hum of my motor. The darkness is split by the fence on either side and the only movement I see is the tops of trees as they sway with the wind – dark as shadows, moving as if they hear me coming. How far does this road go? When will I lose sight of the moon ahead of me? How could tonight be the night when the road I’m on is heading directly into something so beautiful? It is bright enough to cast tall shadows of objects to the left and right of me and for once it all seems to be in slow motion. My thoughts don’t match my speed and it seems I have all night to think about what things I would change given the chance and what things would stay the same no matter what. But I don’t have all night, much like a dream appears so real but only lasts minutes, this too will end.

So where is this road taking me? Just like all roads – it is my destiny. Whether a road is random or planned, it takes us where many have gone before. The unknown. Tomorrow will be another bright and sunny day but it is not guaranteed. With each sunrise and sunset we have just a few minutes – just like our dreams – to make those slight adjustments to the direction we are headed. With any luck at all we’ll have a little light to guide us.

 

Roll On

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Did you ever notice how riding these motorcycles make you see things from a different perspective? Those folks that don’t ride can see things the way a normal person would and those that just ride occasionally see things slightly different, and those that ride and ride all the time see it completely different. Take for example, the convenience store hot dog machine. You know the one – it rolls your hot dog or the random sausage, back and forth in a constant state of turning to keep it warm, and I suppose appealing to eat. Maybe it’s the Ferris wheel type of unit that is fun for all ages to watch and is quite the novel way of getting your food. As a motorist, you wouldn’t dare eat one even though deep down they don’t smell that bad – or is that the nacho cheese? Thoughts of how long or are they done come to mind, let alone what might happen if you actually ate one. The occasional rider would look at them and probably move on to a bag of chips and a fountain drink and be happy. But somewhere during that epic ride you’re on, you will eat one. There is something about traveling on a motorcycle that will make you eat stuff like that, but it will also cause you to drink a hot bottle of water in your saddle bag, eat beef jerky just after the expiration date, (if there is one) and chew a stick of gum that you can barely get the paper off of. It’s delicious.

Is it the wind in your face that makes us do things like that? I know dogs stick their heads out of car windows, and quite frankly, they eat some things I would never eat, but I don’t think that’s the reason. Is it direct exposure to the sun? Maybe. We’ve watched movies where our hero is crawling through the desert when he sees an oasis in the distance, only to find when he gets there he is putting sand in his mouth instead of water. But I’m still not convinced that is it. I know I have walked past these contraptions many times thinking do they really sell that many hot dogs? Every time the shift changes, do the hot dogs get replaced? Are they forced into a life of constant motion until they finally get picked? So many questions and never enough buns.

So many questions and never enough buns.

After a long day in the saddle, you stop for gas and you think you might need something to tide you over until you can eat a meal. Chips, candy bars, beef sticks and jerky are tempting – I’m not sure about the chicken salad sandwich in the cooler that comes pre-cut and in a wedge shape, but it did catch my eye. How about a microwaved breaded chicken sandwich? I’m only sixty seconds away from enjoying that. But wait, Look over there! In the corner, right next to the coffee and cappuccino machine, in-between the nacho cheese, the tiny sink and the condiments, and in all its glory – the roller machine loaded with hot dogs. They’re already done (I hope), and there isn’t that horribly long wait of sixty seconds before I can eat!

So the real reason we bikers would ever take a chance on eating a meat product that has the first ingredient listed as “Mechanically Separated Chicken” is because at some point or another we have had a bug, big and small, make it into our mouth while traveling at highway speed. It’s as simple as that. There are times when the bug gets spit out, but there are times when there isn’t enough of the bug left to spit out. I refer to these bugs as “Motorcycling Separated Bugs.”

 

Are Your Jeans Dry?

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Just like the wash hanging on the clothesline snapping and flapping in the breeze, a biker gets restless waiting to jump on the bike and go. Straining against those small wooden clothes pins just waiting for them to give way and set that pair of your favorite, faded old jeans free from what’s holding them back, dry or not, they’re gone. Whether it’s a weekend ride or a week-long trip, the closer it gets, the harder it is to contain the excitement. Who needs dry jeans anyway? Lets go! And “go” we do. Near and far – wherever the wind blows us. This time of year when the weather is a little more predictable, we gas up the old bike and load it down with whatever we think is necessary, just to feel that road through the seat of our pants.

Where do we go when that day comes to ride? I know we all have dreams of where we want to go, and for some of us those dreams will come true when we hit the road. For others, we settle for that ride to somewhere, or anywhere that gets us out of here. It doesn’t take much to make any biker happy, but just knowing there is a possibility of some road-time in my future starts the motor running inside of me. The closer I get to leaving, the higher that motor revs as anticipation is a powerful thing. That leads to the bigger question here – Is it the ride or the anticipation of the ride that cranks you up? I enjoy that anticipation as much as anyone but once I get on the road I realize that the ride is what it’s all about. When the day comes to leave there isn’t enough clothes pins to hold me back, even though the days leading up to my departure had me feeling like I was being held against my will; those jeans are finally dry!

We all have our reasons for when we leave and where we go, and in the end it doesn’t matter to the masses what those reasons are, as long as your laundry is done. Get excited this year and ride somewhere you’ve never been on your motorcycle. Go where you’ve always dreamed of going and don’t let anything hold you back. Those little things that hold you back are usually no bigger than a clothes pin anyway, so just go. You’ll be glad you did.

Ride Like the Wind

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Somewhere in a pasture deep in the Flint Hills of Kansas is a limestone rock standing upright placed there by early settlers. Upon that limestone rock are these words; “Man, the wind sure blows hard in Kansas, hang on to this here rock.” When you’re raised in Kansas it really doesn’t seem that noticeable, but I guess you could say that the wind can be a little stiff sometimes. I often think the barbed wire fences that crisscross Kansas were put there to keep your stuff from blowing more than a mile away. As a kid growing up I don’t remember the wind blowing like it does now, but of course then I was a little closer to the ground and usually preoccupied with kid stuff. At least now I don’t have to worry about the wind messing my hair up.

Riding into work this morning on my Road King it was obvious this was going to be one of those days the weatherman warns about, “wind from the South at 15-20 with gusts up to 30 today,” sounds like a warning to most, but here it’s just like any other day. Now if the weatherman said it was going to be dead-calm today, I would be alarmed as that is out of the ordinary.

As a motorcyclist we often hear the phrase “ride like the wind.” I will tell you that if I rode like the wind today, I would be arrested for assault as the ride in was brutal. Normally heading with the wind isn’t bad, but even that was a handful. Riding West was like my world had tilted to one side with the horizon angled sharply while my shirt collar was slapping my face faster than a hummingbird flaps it’s wings. Okay, so maybe that was an exaggeration, it was more like a meadowlark flapping it’s wings, after all that is our State Bird. But, what do you do? We ride motorcycles and that is just part of it. If it’s cold or hot, windy or raining, we ride – at least some of us do. I didn’t say it was fun all the time, and there can be those days when you just have to convince yourself that even if you would have driven the car, you would have hated yourself. I sure wouldn’t want to hate myself.

So next time you are driving through, or better yet, riding through Kansas, don’t let the wind bother you. It’s going to blow no matter what and there is usually a limestone fence post somewhere to hang on to, so just get used to it. As native Kansans are, we just lean into the wind when it blows; hence the earlier comment about being alarmed if the wind stops blowing. That’s how you determine a native Kansan like myself to someone just visiting – if the wind stops, us Kansas folks fall down.

Puzzled

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Life happens and as it does, it changes us. Daily. The morning’s ride to work is usually something that is ordinary and uneventful, but as I put my kickstand down after arriving at work, I stopped and realized I couldn’t remember the ride in. Twenty minutes had gone by and although I was coherent and aware of the ride, all I could remember was that two miles of Skiddy where the temperature dropped. The smell of cedar trees and how they reminded me of the pencils my mother would bring home from Anderson’s Lumber and Hardware where she worked part-time. I used those pencils in school and as I was leaving my teeth marks in them during Mrs. Stenstrom’s class, that smell of cedar must have stayed with me. Or was it the lead in those pencils?

I thought about a life-long friend of mine, Russ, who is moving back to Skiddy in the near future and how it would be to move your life back to where you grew up, after so many years of living in Wisconsin. Not difficult in the sense of moving your stuff, but in the emotional sense. I often think I should have taken the chance and moved outside of White City and experienced something else. Sure, the community made me who I am, but would moving have changed me? Again, life happens every day, so would it have been that big of a deal to move? Hmmm. Even so, I thought about those friends of mine that I grew up with and how some have stayed, but most have moved on. I still feel that connection with a few of them and it feels good to know that no matter where someone is in this world, we’ll always have that going for us.

The ride continued past the Skiddy Cemetery and I noticed how the sun was coming up over a bank of dark clouds in the East. The edge of the clouds filtered the sun just enough to make this particular morning look a little different. Or was it one of those life moments when I was changing. To see something in a different light might have a new meaning here. Maybe there is a scientific reason for the different light and how it affects you but I’m betting it’s more of a spiritual reason. The ride continued on, and I thought about how our lives are kind of like puzzles. The big difference here is we don’t know what the finished picture is going to be. Each piece we place in our puzzle of life changes what the picture will be and eventually the outcome, and each piece is represented by those people in our lives, our jobs, our environment, etc. A subtle change is all it takes to completely change the entire puzzle of life. It’s not necessarily a good or bad thing here, it’s just the way it is. As we get about half way through our puzzle, we can start seeing the cabin by the water (or apparently a forest of cedar trees in my case) and the puzzle seems to be falling into place. Then a few more pieces are placed and you realize that this puzzle may be harder than you think. One thing is for sure; those that “fit” into our puzzle will be there to stay. A lot to think about on a twenty-minute ride. Or in this case; what ride?

So I made it to work safe and sound. In summary, science says when you ride into a valley the temperature will probably drop a few degrees. Also, someone decided cedar trees make good pencils, and you must have patience to put a puzzle together. But for twenty minutes I thought about friends that are dear to me and how we fit into each other’s lives. Friends near and far will always be friends, and some are very close to me no matter how far away they are. They are an important piece to my puzzle and without them my life wouldn’t be complete.

A Little Bit of Epic

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Some people have a way about them. There are those who are driven and challenged to be something bigger than the moment they live in. I believe Neale Bayly is this kind of person. I haven’t met Neale, but I understand him from a motorcyclist’s point of view. As bikers, we are always looking for “epic” in every ride but end up finding so much more than that. Neale has a series airing on MAVTV this month about his ride on BMW GS series motorcycles through Peru to the Hogar Belen Orphanage. The ride takes Neale and his friends from Lima to Moquegua to visit this orphanage where Neale has visited before. He was inspired enough to start the nonprofit organization called Wellspring International Outreach to help orphans and abandoned children.

It becomes about the surroundings and environment you’re in and it changes you. There is something about traveling on a motorcycle that brings the people to you.

The world can seem so big but so small at the same time. Neale has traveled this world and along the way has had plenty of time to think and take in all the sights, smells and sounds that travel can put you through. As a biker myself, I can tell you it runs so much deeper than that for him. I have taken week-long trips and as the ride goes, your mind will take you further into the trip than any motorcycle ever will. It becomes about the surroundings and environment you’re in and it changes you. There is something about traveling on a motorcycle that brings the people to you. No matter where you are headed, you are the one traveling into their world where you are welcomed with smiles and waves, and complete strangers are coming up to you to talk about your trip. Now take that to a global stage, where language and barriers require you to be dedicated to the trip at hand. For that I admire anyone who can take that on. At this point, language becomes secondary as compassion takes over.

 To simply say “it changed my life” does not do it justice, and in Neale’s case it inspired him to change other people’s lives.

Epic trips take the ordinary and familiar to an extraordinary level. When a trip becomes epic it transforms you and all those involved. To simply say “it changed my life” does not do it justice, and in Neale’s case it inspired him to change other people’s lives. Now that is epic. I would like to think as I have traveled on my motorcycle and I’ve taken the time to say a few words to someone I have met, they will take something away from our chance meeting – I know I do. The faces, the words spoken and the handshakes and smiles are forever burned in my memory and I did nothing but ride into someone’s life and say hello. Now picture yourself taking the time to actually change someone’s life for the better and the impact you can have on a community and the people who need the help. Epic.

I look forward to watching Neale Bayly Rides when it airs. I’ll watch because it is about Neale and his group riding motorcycles through Peru on an adventure of a lifetime. But let’s face it – it’s not about the motorcycles, it’s about everything around the trip that makes it epic. If motorcycles are the reason you check it out, that’s okay too. But as you’re watching take a minute to look at the people and the faces in the background. Watch Neale’s reaction when his fellow rider’s Troy, James, Laura, Brandon and Bill meet the children of Hogar Belen; that is when the trip just became an epic adventure.

I said before that I haven’t yet met Neale. I say “haven’t yet” because as a motorcyclist our paths may cross at some point. As bikers we ride with our heads up looking at all that is around us, eager to meet fellow riders and locals along the way. Every ride has a little bit of epic built-in and I know Neale’s epic rides will continue. They have to – because the inspiration he gives to those of us that do ride and the impact he has on those because he rides can’t be measured. Thanks Neale, and ride safe!

 

The Same Mistake Twice

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The further I get into the future, the more I reflect on the past. It’s funny how the older we get the more we say “I remember when.” We often use that term when it comes to cars, motorcycles and even our friends because the history we are creating while living our lives often requires us to look back to tell the story. So that’s what we do – we tell stories, stretch the truth and laugh about the good times. We look back and laugh because even those bad days weren’t that bad after all.

I’m as guilty as the next person when it comes to this as my tall tales get even taller and in most cases it always ends up being funnier than when it actually happened. Case in point; it was 1976 and me and my trusty Yamaha DT175 were out to the Katy trails just behind the White City Cemetery for a little fun in the dirt. Disregarding all common sense for my own safety, I would usually ride alone and not once in my Bell helmet did I hear my mother saying anything about clean underwear or “wait until your father gets home.” So off I went the two miles or so as the crow flies, (of course I felt like I was flying as any teenage boy would on his motorcycle) to spend the afternoon jumping and climbing a few hills.

Who hasn’t ridden a motorcycle only to suffer a mechanical break-down? Not me. Over the years I have become very keen on what is a real break-down compared to a road-side fix. But it wasn’t an overnight education. After the first few minutes of getting to the Katy trails, I laid my motorcycle over on the left side. Not a real bad crash by any means, but it was enough to get up and dust myself off. I picked up the DT to find my shift lever bent underneath the engine case. Not knowing what to do, I pushed it more than two miles home (I’m not a crow) back into the yard. My brother Danny was a huge help in pointing out the obvious solution to my problem – grab hold of the shift lever and bend it back out. There, problem solved. Why wasn’t it obvious to me? It sure would have saved me a lot of effort and it would have kept me riding for the afternoon. But from where I was standing the problem seemed to big to handle on the side of the trail. I was apparently more concerned about clean underwear and if my dad was home yet I guess.

Looking back at the situation now I can laugh about it. Not only did it not seem funny at the time, it also gave me plenty of time to think about it as I pushed it home. But it’s a lessened learned and it definitely builds character. It also gives you the satisfaction of knowing that you won’t make the same mistake twice. Fast forward to 2008 and I’m riding my Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail. For some reason, every time I shift gears up or down, it takes excessive force. What in the world is wrong with my transmission? After talking to a friend of mine, he told me I need to put a little lubricant on the pivot for the heal-toe lever. Hmmm, lubrication. Who would have thought? At least I had my clean underwear on.