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  • I feel my trip winding down. This wonderful fantasy is slowly ending and the angry face of reality is peering at me with malice from just over the horizon. Like the child I once was cowering beneath the covers slowly waking from a fading dream where I was calm, happy and safe, I try to lie motionless hoping stasis will hide me from the horrors unfolding elsewhere in the house and keep them from knocking at my door.

    But they always came knocking. My mind begins to dread what's waiting for me when I get home. Reality.

    "Was any of it real?", I wonder as the sharp memories of moments along the way begin to fade into a smeared collage of feelings, good feelings.

    "The man who returns will not be the same man who left.", I keep thinking wondering if I really have changed anything. I do feel differently. Strangely, I feel that I exist. That's different. Previously, even as recently as before I left on this trip, I believed to my core that I didn't really matter. My thoughts, insights, ideas and presence had no lasting value or impact. What I said was irrelevant. I think I've learned that maybe this was a Toxic Belief. I've been simply floored time and time and time again by what people have told me. Old friends, strangers, new friends. Comments on facebook. Emails and text messages I've received, even as recently as today. I realize that I haven't been listening, or maybe better said I've been listening but not hearing. The words were there, even Her words, but I could not understand them. A verse of a Simon and Garfunkel song keeps going through my head:

    And a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest

    I disagree. A man hears what he expects to hear, what has been drilled into his head over and over again since childhood. It's very hard to get past that. But I think I'm beginning to hear and understand and I have to admit I feel offbalance because of it. The impact is too great, the change in perspective, in emotional identity, to drastic.

    I am back in the United States now. The transition has been instantaneous and brutal. The open faces of interested people who acknowledge your presence with a nod and a smile as you walk by have been replaced by frowns and angry grimaces. It's as if my very presence in their field of view is an unwanted inconvenience. Most walk by completely removed from where they are, their minds anywhere but right here and now.

    The Harley Riders no longer wave. There is endless traffic and the sounds of horns. The Stress can be felt everywhere.

    What strikes me most are the women. You can feel the Fear and Distrust even from a distance. It's striking and bothers me.

    Canadians are not afraid. It was so good for my soul. I loved it.

    The distance got inside me quickly. I remember distinctly the first face I saw, a man walking out of a gas station convenience store glared at me. Without showing anything externally, I was taken aback and instantly retreated, remembering how not to smile. I found myself thinking that maybe I'm like an amphibian, unshielded from the environment. It flows through me. If the environment is healthy, I'm healthy, but if it's toxic, I quickly get sick. A man is not supposed to be like that.

    I'm just outside Boston now in a place called North Andover staying with Phil and his fiancee, Valerie. They have been so nice, so generous and accommodating. I'll be here for a few days while I try to repair my fractured and much older feeling motorcycle. In the mean time, I finally have some quiet time to write.

    Comments on the blog have died down a bit because I haven't been posting, but I continue to get encouraged to write. An old friend sent me a message on facebook saying that some of my posts inspired her to take an Emotional Risk, something that she would never have felt confident enough to try, and it worked out ok for her. "Not great but not bad.", she said. As I read what she wrote, I found myself thinking the really important part, the part I have to remember, about taking emotional risks is what happens when they go badly. What happens when the rejection, the misunderstandings, and the bad feelings come? "If it hasn't gone badly you probably haven't tried hard enough.", I found myself thinking paraphrasing an old motorcycle adage.

    I found myself thinking, mostly addressing myself, that the important thing to remember when a risk goes badly, when you're left with an open gaping wound, is to not to let toxic beliefs cloud the event to make it a statement about yourself as a person. Maybe it went badly and it hurt. Does it mean you're a failure, too ugly, too fat, too skinny, too dumb, too smart, too short, too extroverted, too introverted, too whatever? Does it mean you're unworthy? It's so very easy for me to let my mind wander in the direction of the negative where I hear long dead voices speak to me from the grave to tell me I'm a failure and that this event, whatever it is, is just another manifestation of the existential failure I represent. "Yermo, do me a favor. Whenever you think that, whenever you hear your old man telling you you're a failure, remember some of the stories you told me about the venture capitalists who thought you were amongst the best.", Phil said while we were sitting at the bar one evening revealing a more insightful and compassionate side of himself than you would think possible.

    Maybe it went badly and hurt just because you tried and occasionally that happens?

    I find parallels in everything. I've often said business is just applied psychology. During the dot-bomb era I used to talk to venture capitalists. Everyone would tell me, "If you don't have three failures under your belt most VC won't talk to you.". Interesting parallel. If you didn't risk it three times and acquired the failures, they wouldn't talk to you.

    Maybe it went extremely well but it still hurt because you're left with a hole that used to be filled with the presences of a wonderful person. It's easy to fear pain. It's harder to let the hurt come, to feel it and to move on without letting it fracture you inside. But what do I know? I'm still an emotional coward, well maybe a little less of one now.

    Days ago we made a short stop over at a nice Best Western resort in Michigan on Lake Superior to wait for Phil's friend Charlie to arrive before heading up and over the Great Lakes.

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    You could tell Phil was excited to see his friend. Whenever he talked about Charlie there was this unusual respect and admiration in his voice. That he looked up to Charlie was evident. Phil went out of his way to secure Charlie a room with a lake view. He also made certain that a bottle of Wild Turkey was waiting for him.

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    There was a little balcony. "You got him a much nicer room that we have.", I mentioned.

    "You see this view here, over in that direction where you see nothing but water.", he commented.

    "Yea, I see that", I replied.

    "Well, I've spent enough of my life looking at that. I don't need to see it anymore.", he explained. Yea, I had forgotten for a moment how many years Phil had spent on the ocean.

    Charlie eventually arrived. He had ridden something like 600 miles that day to get here. He was older than I had imagined from Phil's descriptions and talked like the trainer from the Rocky movies. He had a gruff and ball busting demeanor to him. The way he spoke often made him difficult to understand.

    Invoking a feeling I had when I walked into Dancing Rabbit, I thought, "What have I gotten myself into now?" as I imagined every Harley riding stereotype I had been exposed to. The first impression he made was rude, aggressive and very very old school. In some ways he initially fit the stereotype of an old construction worker or truck driver. He talked about fights, drinking, and getting into trouble. And this was all in the last 5 days. He had escorted a friend of theirs to Sturgis for the annual Harley gathering out there. From the stories it sounded like their time was "eventful".

    "Then this idiot took a swing at me. So I knocked him down and started punching the guy while holding the other four back with my other arm.", he would say. You were never quite sure when he was talking what was true and what was exaggeration. As I got to know him better and realized that first impressions can be very deceiving, I began to understand more of his stories were true than not.

    What he had to say about women fit the stereotype as well and took me aback. Phil had explained the blog to him in surprisingly positive and insightful terms, clearly showing that he had not skipped over all the "mushy parts" as he put it.

    I explained to him how this blog came about; how I had all these female friends who wanted me to touch base to let them know I was still alive; how one suggested to make it easier I should write a blog. Since the initial audience was mostly women that set the tone for what I wrote. "Friends? She's only my friend if she's on her knees <fill in inappropriate comment here> You only have female friends if you're gay.", he said. But then he went on, hinting that there was more to him than what was visible, "But it's a generational thing I guess." He would joke later on in a self-defacing way about some of his female friends. You could just never tell when he was serious or when he was trying to get a rise out of you. 

    Over the last many years I've had to deal with the consequences of the actions of Bad Men. I realized at this moment that as a result of this I've become closed and will quickly dismiss anyone that even slightly invokes anything that reminds me of those Bad Men. How I evaluate men has a lot to do with how they treat women and I am too quick to judge and even quicker to dimiss, to my own detriment.

    I'm trying not to do that anymore. I'm trying to be more open minded and less judgemental. At times it's caused me to cringe as I thought about how some of my very important female friends would feel if they heard some of these comments.

    I'm glad I stayed open minded. There's a big difference between appearance, bravado and action. In the case of these guys, it's important to separate out the three. Charlie, once you get past the surface, past the gruff exterior, is a surprisingly complex, helpful, intelligent and compassionate guy and I really enjoyed his company.

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    We headed out with Phil taking the lead. I was in the middle with Charlie taking up the rear. We had 1300 miles to cover in three days. This was not horrendous but there was the constant stress of having a goal with an implied timeframe. The calm was gone and we needed to cover miles.

    There was little time for stopping. Phil kept trying to tell me I could stop and they would wait but my own beliefs on the subject got in the way. I hate being left behind especially when I don't know exactly where we're going. Phil would pass multiple cars leaving me stuck behind slow moving vehicles. His bike easily out accelerates mine and I found it difficult to pass when he did. These incompatible riding styles combined with my broken exhaust and questionable brakes caused it to be a ride with little calm and no time to think.

    We did end up talking about it and he slowed down the pace to accommodate my riding style and I tried to speed it up staying well within my abilities but going outside of my comfort zone.

    I was concerned about Charlie. On his way to Sturgis he had hit a slick of diesel fuel that had been spilled in an off ramp. He managed to keep the bike upright but had to put his foot down. He twisted his hip and was in a lot of pain but hardly showed it. You had to pay attention to notice it. He's one tough bastard, as he would say.

    We eventually made it back into Canada. Even the border has flowers.

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    I like Canada, as I keep saying. We rode on for quite a while to reach North Bay. Route 17 up to North Bay is a busy traffic laden opposing traffic highway. It was not a quiet ride. Until this leg of this trip, it had been an internally focused journey. Riding in this way I found I couldn't lose myself in thought. I had to remain externally focused.

    We eventually reached North Bay and found a hotel and something to eat. Phil's work is challenging and events at work were conspiring to keep his mind elsewhere despite his best efforts not to let that happen. We got two rooms. Phil had his own room and Charlie and I split one.

    Phil had to work so Charlie and I sat outside, he with his bottle of Wild Turkey and me with a bottle of Johnny Walker Black. As we sat there and he talked I realized that there was much more to this man than meets the eye. "Books and Covers", I thought as I listened to him.

    "The computer industry has changed. I used to do device driver programming in assembly. Back in the day you could get good money programming. But now, now it's not so easy. You have to have a niche.", he commented. He was an x86 assembly language programmer. For those that don't know what this means, it means he was a hard core professional programmer, a geek like myself.

    It also turned out that Charlie had work as an elevator mechanic and I believe was somehow involved in a trucking company. He's also an accomplished auto and motorcycle mechanic.

    And he can ride a motorcycle.

    He's not brand loyal in the least. "Maybe I'll put on my power ranger suit.", he would say meaning his Aerostich Roadcrafter. I've never heard of a "Harley guy" who owned a Roadcrafter. Roadcrafters are owned by long distance touring guys who ride BMW's.

    He had also ridden up to the Dalton Highway. He made it as far as the Yukon River Camp on his Harley but because of rain decided to turn around. We talked about the roads up there and various places he had stopped. "I love the women up there. I can talk about cylinders, pistons and crankshafts and they know what I'm talking about. It's heaven!", he would say while in the same breath mentioning he's been married for 40 years. Not many people can say that.

    "Why didn't you ride the Aprilla?", Phil would keep asking him. Charlie owns an Aprilla sport bike and a Ducati Monster cafe racer, the same bike that Ian rides. 

    Charlie is not a Harley guy. He's just a guy who happens to own a Harley and had chosen to ride it on this trip because his friend, Red Dog, is immersed in that culture and wanted to be seen with anther Harley rider. So Charlie dressed the part.

    Like so many, Charlies eventually asked me why I was out here. "So what's your story? Divorce? Lost your job?", he asked. "None of the above. It's a bad story. You sure you want to hear it?", I asked trying to do something new and not burden the evening with my darkness. "Yes.", he said.

    So I told him trying to maintain a more "guy appropriate" detachment from the story. I glossed over the really bad stuff but gave him enough of a run down for him to get it.

    "That's horrible. I'm truly sorry. But now you're 42, starting from scratch and life's half over.", he said. He went on to ask how I felt about being alone and facing old age without any one to take care of me. "It is what it is.", I replied thinking about my future prospects and the reality waiting for me. His comments kind of woke me up to a reality I've not been thinking about.

    "42", I thought.

    I managed to sleep fairly well that evening, finally. They let me sleep until past 8:30. Phil's rear tire had worn out so he had gotten up early to get it replaced. I worked on trying to re-patch my exhaust. It had been getting louder. The #1 tube was loose again. I used some tin and a clamp along with some bailing wire to shore it up.

    4_patch.jpeg

    The wrap had turned into something that looked like a blood soaked field dressing.

    Phil came back and we started the ritual of packing the bikes. Phil's work still dominated his thinking despite his best efforts.

    Phil and Charlie were constantly busting on each other. "Why are you busting my balls?", was a frequent comment each would make. Charlie and Phil would give me shit from time to time but I would often misunderstand it as serious criticism. It took a while for me to catch on.

    I'm slow like that because, like I keep saying, I'm a fucking genius.

    The weather was warm but beautiful. The roads were less crowded on this day. We had agreed, since I had been having trouble sleeping and had been the walking dead over the last few days, to take breaks every 100 miles. Charlie seemed to appreciate this.

    On one of these breaks we stopped at a lake. We had been seeing Harley riders in droves all day. They were all going to Sturgis, the huge annual Harley gathering out West.

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    Phil and his bike with water in the background. He always seems drawn to anything having to do with the water.

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    Maritime customs and insights dominate this man. It's evident in how he packs his bike to how he navigates. If there's something involving naval history he's automatically drawn to it.

    I remember some days previously at the Edmund Fitzgerald Bell display at the museum how he became strangely reverant and deeply respectful. "You always know it can happen but to see this. It raise the hair on the back of your neck.", he would say.

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    At the next 100 mile stop Phil approached some divers. It turned out that right there next to the shore was a wreck that they had set up as a dive location.

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    There was a line secured to the beach that led to the wreck. Looking out from the shore you there was no indication of what lay beneath the water.

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    We rode over the bridge that led back to the USA.

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    We crossed the grate bridge slipping and sliding over the steel mesh. I took one wistful look back knowing that it was going to be some time before I will see Canada again. I'm going to miss that country and the wonderful people in it.

    11_lookback.jpeg

    We found ourselves in New York state in a changed landscape. The roads were even more crowded as we weaved our way around small mountains and through beautiful valleys. The intention had been to reach Lake Placid so we would not have to do too many miles the next day. Unfortunately, there were some events in town and all hotel rooms were booked.

    Phil eventually found three inexpensive rooms in a large Bed and Breakfast without the Breakfast part. It was an old building with awesome balconies but with shared bathrooms. The rooms were very small but comfortable.

    There was a nice Italian restaurant down the hill. We managed to get a table just before they closed. "Dinner's on you tonight.", they said. Yup. They had treated the nights before. No problem. 

    As has been the case on this trip, dinner cost some money. It wasn't too bad but it wasn't cheap either. "Shit, I don't have glass for my bourbon.", Charlie complained. Phil threw me one of the glasses from the table and said, "Hide this.".

    Grand Theft Drinking Glass. I put the glass in my jacket and with an extremely guilt laden expression on my face snuck outside with it. "I haven't stolen a single thing, not even a salt shaker, since I was a teenager!", I said. As a teenager sitting at dinner with Mimi I once stole a salt shaker. Yea, I'm one of those guys.

    Phil and Charlie thought this was hilarious. "How much did you pay for dinner?", Phil asked. "Yea, you didn't steal the glass."

    We went back to the B&B without the B and hung out on the balcony and talked. I've been trying to remember how he phrased it, but talking about my bike with an almost reverant tone, Charlie said something like "She proved herself well." It's been a very long ride. It's funny, Phil and Charlie refer to almost everything as "She".

    Charlie had accidently left his alarm set to 5AM. When it went off in the next room I woke up and couldn't get back to sleep. I was up and out of the room around 8AM.

    We packed up the bikes and headed out.

    12_charliebandb.jpeg

    "Charlie hates ferries. He hates boats.", Phil explained.

    "You sure the bridge is finished?", Charlie asked incredulously.

    "Yea, it opened last month. The ferry's been shut down.", Phil replied emphatically.

    Some hours later we found ourselves on the ferry. "You bastard.", I could just hear Charlie thinking. "Damn ferries. What is it with you and damn ferries?", Charlie complained.

    "If I hadn't told him the bridge was finished he would never have agreed to go this way.", Phil said chuckling at his deception.

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    We were now in Vermont. The landscape had changed again.

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    The roads here in the Adirondack mountains and surrounding area were simply great motorcycling roads. For sheer "sport of motorcycling" nothing beats the East Coast. These roads would rival the Smokey Mountains if it weren't for the ice heaves and tar snakes everywhere. It gets cold up here.

    The roads were great nevertheless.

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    The roads alternated between small twisties through gentle sloping peaks to long stretches through green valleys.

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    We took our mandatory 100 mile stop at a small pond.

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    It was extremely pretty hear. "Serene.", Charlie said.

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     There was this floating flower garden.

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    We rode on. Phil said that his fiancee had gone shopping to accommodate my diet and was making a chicken dinner. "Wow, that's really nice.", I thought as I found myself a bit concerned what she was going to think about this guy who was invading her house.

    We rode on for another 100 mile stretch rushing a bit to make it to Phil's house before it got too late. I was starting to get used to the riding style. There were a number of times we were riding well outside of my comfort zone. There's always this conflict between not wanting to slow people down and not wanting to get yourself in trouble.

    I thought about how disquieting all this was. We had a fixed goal and I felt like I had to accomplish this goal. Toxically I found myself getting distracted by other feelings of not wanting to let Phil down or disrespect his hospitality. I was pretty tired though.

    I found myself thinking quite a bit about the nature of goals and how goals can take on a life of their own when they are held onto too tightly. Deadhorse was a goal, but because it was a goal I could abandon at any moment I was able to take the time to be calm. It allowed me to consider alternatives. It allowed me to be at peace. As a result, as a result of not holding this goal too tightly, I was able to approach something others considered difficult and enjoy it.

    And I think that's the distinction. We are taught to be goal oriented. We are trained to pick a goal and put our all behind it to achieve that goal with laser narrow focus. Most goals are choices. And it's important to distinguish a goal that's a choice from a goal that's not. During my Nightmare, I had one all encompassing goal that was not a choice. But somewhere along the way I lost the understanding that this goal was not a reflection of my identity. Accomplishing this goal took over my life. It became everything. As a stresses mounted, I withdrew more and more to focus exclusively on accomplishing this goal. I terminated relationships. I pulled back from friends. I lost others. I put everything I had into this and I accomplished what I set out to do.

    But what do I have to show for it?

    I have seen friends go through this with choices. They let jobs, careers or other goals consume them to such a degree that achieving the goal has become core to their identity.

    For me, I don't think I ever want to choose a situation where I have to be so driven towards a goal that I make my life toxic. I've done that for far too long. Hopefully, from here on out any goals I take on will be ones that are of my own choosing. I hope that I will be able to approach them the way I approached the Dalton.

    I want to hold on to these things loosely so that maybe, just maybe, I can maintain this calm and peace I have come to enjoy so much. At least for me, I find it much easier to achieve what I set out to achieve when I allow myself the emotional option to stop at any moment. Otherwise, for me, the goal becomes toxic and comes to mean more than it should.

    The Dalton Highway is just a road. It's not a statement of identity, or worth or status. It's just a road. I hope to do in life, in relationships and in work what I did on that road.

    Lance always says, you have to give problems the time they need. I want to give Life the time that it needs.

    We stopped at our last 100 mile stop for the day. Charlie had decided not to join us for dinner. We said our "see ya laters" and he was off.

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    I followed Phil through dirty rundown city sections and beautiful tree lined neighborhoods to his house in North Andover. We rolled into the garage. It had been hot. Having been riding in my leathers for weeks on end now, they reeked.

    We unpacked our bikes and walked upstairs where I met Valerie, his fiancee. She's an attractive slender woman with red hair and that Boston accent one would expect. She had gone shopping and had spent some hours cooking up a chicken dinner. She told Phil in a barrage of information fashion about the events that transpired while he was gone. She made a bubbly cheerful and social first impression. I unpacked my gear, changed and pulled out the laptop.

    They have a carrot eating dog. Have you ever seen a carrot eating dog?

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    Dinner was really nice. I was concerned that my reserved and introverted nature would be misunderstood. She, like Phil, is really outgoing. I was also dead beat tired. Again I thought about books and covers.

    After dinner, with a demeanor completely different from the one she had when talking to phil, she asked me directly with a seriousness and intelligence that had not yet been revealed, "So are you going to write a book based on your blog?" The evening took a very different turn from what I expected.

    Phil had turned down the lights and I mentioned offhandedly, "Candles would be really cool now.". Apparently I had said a magic word. The next thing I knew, Valerie pulled out a bunch of candles and we were all bathed in that comforting flickering glow.

    Phil went to bed so Valerie and I moved out onto the balcony.

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    She works in sales for a datacenter company and demonstrated that she has alot of experience doing sales and establishing funnels for larger organizations. It was impressive especially considering how young she is.

    She had been reading a few installments of the blog and was very complimentary. "I mostly skip the motorcycling parts.", she said preferring to focus on my musings. "There's something in there for everyone. It's really not just a motorcycle story." She described what she liked. "If you had any idea how uncomfortable I feel when I write. How it all feels wrong. How I cringe sometimes at what I write, I think you would be amazed. But I decided early on just to write about whatever happened, whatever I happened to be thinking about.", I replied.

    She went on to explain how I could provide more backstory and detail on my musings in a book format and that maybe I should include the commentary from facebook and others in each chapter. She seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say. We talked about goals and how toxic they can be. We talked about the renovations they are doing to the house to her thoughts on marriage and friends of hers. She's also living a Non-Standard Plan.

    She talked about Phil quite a bit with insight and compassion. "I really liked how you said he walks into a room, surveys it and then picks a target. That's so him!", he explained. She went on to explain how excited he was about my trip. "He read your blog every day. Once he decided to go out and meet you he got really excited. It's nice for him to make a new friend. At you guys age making new friends doesn't happen very often. I think it's so cool you guys were able to do this together.", she explained.

    She seemed genuinely excited for the both of us. "That's pretty cool.", I remember thinking. I went on to think about my life and how it's true, at this age, with lives settled as they are it's difficult to make real new friends. Will I see any of the people I met on this trip again? Maybe I'll see Dani or Rick. There's Hans who's been following me on facebook and comments from time to time. I really appreciate that. Will I see any others? I don't know.

    I thought about romantic relationships. At this age, if it's difficult to make new friends, getting into new relationships is nearly impossible. Lives are so fixed and constrained by obligations, goals, lifestyle, habits, distance and other things that get in the way of two people just being able to enjoy each others company. One would have to find someone who's life is already structured in a way that would work. But when you are on the Non-Standard plan the way I am and your life is this broken there are few compatible lives out there.

    "If two people in their 40's get together in some kind of substantive way, it would be when one or the other is going through an Upheaval, some great change in their life. It would have to happen when what they've built their lives on has come crumbling down and needs to be rebuilt.", I thought as I considered how undefined my existence moving forward is. Maybe this is why single older men get together with younger women. The lives of those women are not yet fully formed. Maybe it happens because it can.

    Then again, right now my life is fractured and lying in a pile of shards on the floor. I wonder how I can reforge it into something that I might be able to enjoy. I think that's the challenge.

    All options are open to me now, I guess. I feel it a bit more now than before but still not clearly enough.

    My exhaust system arrived a little while ago. It doesn't look like I'm going to be able to secure new brake rotors quickly so I may just have to run the rotors I have. The brakes are deteriorating but it doesn't look like I'm going to be taking any passengers.

    I was hoping to spend a few days riding with Rachel. She has the distinction of travelling more miles as a passenger on my bike than everyone else combined. Many years ago on a very different, much darker and troubled motorcycle trip where I was fully burdened by endless Artificial Rules and Toxic Beliefs, she flew out and we rode through the big trees on the West Coast.. Those moments are some of my fondest memories. Even though we lost touch after that summer, I have kept her photo on my wall all these years. We reconnected on facebook not too long ago. When she heard about my trip she was going to join me for a leg of it, but life got in the way and those plans have fallen through.

    Rachel is one of my favorite people.

    Maybe I'll be able to at least visit her for a day next week as a last stop before I return to what's waiting for me in the place I call home.

    I'll be here a few days yet. Phil had mentioned that maybe we would ride up to a cabin in Maine over the weekend and the possibility of going sailing some time this week is still on the table I think. I think it would be really cool to go sailing with Phil. That's something I would really enjoy.

    When the time comes to leave here I think I'll ride Southwest and take a look at the Eastern Grand Canyon after all. I may even, say it isn't so, camp.

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