I said goodbye to Rachel and headed off on the last small leg of my journey through the traffic, humidity and oppressive heat.
I think I'll see Rachel again. She lives pretty close. I wonder if I'll see any of the new faces I met while Out There. I sincerely hope so, as I realize I'm very hungry because I haven't had breakfast.
"I tried to warn them, I tried to warn them all, but did they listen?", I thought as I chucked. I imagined a country peppered with "Do Not Feed the Yermos" signs. Feed a Yermo once and, like an insatiable little gremlin, it will probably come back clawing at the door demanding to be fed again.
"It didn't work out so well for Duncan and family. 24 years later and they still haven't gotten rid of me.", I thought as I remembered how good the steaks they grilled for me when I got back were.
The road away from Rachel's condo was a nice winding tree covered road that carved it's way along yet another small stream in a gorge which this time was in the middle of a large East Coast city. There were sadistically few pulloffs so opportunities to snap photos were nonexistent. It was hot and the Toxic Suit was living up to it's new name.
The bike continued to run warm causing the radiator fan to kick on which bathed me in a whole new level of heat.
Eventually, I made my way out onto the interstate, where of course, since this is the East Coast after all, traffic was horrible.
This kind of riding with all these distracted cell phone talking drives flanking me on all sides is stressful and risky. Traffic was "stop and go" for some time which caused my bike to run even more warmly. I hadn't had a chance to get the fuel injection adjusted to match the new exhaust. The radiator fan punished me mercilessly.
The ambient air temperature was not much cooler.
There's quite a debate in motorcycling circles about at what point does full protective gear become more of a risk than a protection. In this kind of heat, the potential for heat exhaustion goes from an abstraction to a distinct possibility. Thankfully I had had alot of water, which helps, and I wasn't anywhere close to the dangerous point yet. It was just really uncomfortable.
I merged onto Interstate 95, one of the absolutely most horrific motorcycling roads in the country. The stretch from New York City to south of Washington DC is just "'orrible I tell you! Simply 'orrible!!!". It's also uglier than sin with industry belching toxic fumes skyward.
"She would not like it here.", I would think as I surveyed what now seemed like such an alien and inhospitable landscape. "It's somehow fitting that this last leg would be the worst, the worst of the whole trip.", I thought thinking about symmetry.
Eventually I got even more uncomfortably close to home and crossed into the state of Maryland, my so called "home".
There are sections of Maryland that are beautiful. The stretch down I95 is not one of them. The heat continued to punish me.
I stopped at the last rest stop, filled the gas tank one last time and drank copious quantities of water. I skipped the coffee. It was that hot.
I approached the city of Baltimore and rode through the Fort McHenry Tunnel. The new exhaust note from my bike could be heard echoing off the tunnel walls. I've always liked riding through this tunnel.
Another great ride is across the huge Chesapeake Bay Bridge. I may have to do the Delmarva Loop and cross both bridges with Duncan before the season is over.
I was now in full avoidance mode. I so did not want to go home. Indulging my desire for procrastination, I stopped at Bob's BMW just to check in and say hello to Daryl, one of the service managers I know. We chatted about the Deadhorse trip. Of course, to these guys trips like that are common place. They had a couple in the parking lot that were on their way All the Way Around. In comparison, a small trip to Deadhorse is hardly worth writing home about. I had wanted to say hello to Bob, but he wasn't around. I had bought my bike from him 18 years ago and thought it might be nice to mention that one of his bikes all these years later made it up there. Of course, that is not a unique occurrance.
Despite the minor issues I had along the way, the bike held up well. It really did.
I got back on the bike and continued my way South, now less than 20 miles from "home". I rolled off I95 onto Route 1 and instead of turning left into my neighborhood I instead headed down to a diner that I rarely go to. "I still want road food.", I thought as I rolled into the College Park Diner. I haven't eaten there in years, but I've gotten so accustomed to diner food on this trip I have a feeling I will go back more often.
It was mercifully empty as I sat down at the counter still dressed in my toxic suit. "One more omelette after all the ones I've had on this trip won't kill me any faster.", I thought as I ordered. A very attractive woman waited on me. "You must be European, maybe German", she asked in a wonderful Nigerian accent. "Yup. Both my parents are German.", I replied. She smiled and said, "I knew it!". Her name is Busola, a very pleasant and infectiously cheerful person. I found myself thinking she should be a model and not a diner waittress. We got to talking and soon the whole staff and owner were asking me questions about the trip and my perspectives
The owner said, "I would be too afraid to ever do a trip like yours. Motorcycles are too dangerous.". I told him the story of the white car and of my sister. "There is always a reason to be afraid. Life is over when it's over. If you risk nothing you will experience little.". He agreed and the conversation moved to travels of his and places he would like to see, but he could not leave the diner. "The last time I left this place there were nothing but problems when I returned.", he said. I said, "There's always a reason not to do a thing" as I thought about the consequences of my trip and the disasters I feared waited for me.
I wouldn't trade the experiences I've had and the memories I now carry with me for the world.
As they worked one member of the staff or another would come by and chat for a bit. I can't remember ever having moments like this here in College Park. "I'm still open. Still on the road.", I thought as Busola asked how long I had been home. "I havent' been home. I live across the street but don't want to go back. I just rolled into town.".
We all talked for quite a while about life, risk, travel and consequences and then it came time for me to leave. As I paid my bill, Busola said, "Every day I learn something new here. But today, today I feel like I've really learned something important."
I still didn't want to go home, so off to Starbucks I went. Thanh and Jonathan were there. There were more stories of the trip. I got a cup of coffee and sat in the air conditioning for a while preparing myself to go back.
I wondered how I would feel walking into that place again having been gone for so long.
Remembering what I had learned Out There and realizing this Moment, this wonderful Moment that had lasted so long was now almost over, I donned my jacket, gloves and helmet one more time and headed across the rude and erratic traffic filled street into the small old neighborhood where my brick rambler sits waiting for me to return.
I turned left off Route 1. Evidence of the storms that had ravaged the neighborhood could be seen everywhere. Power and communication lines were down. Trees were down. Debris could still be seen everywhere.
I turned the corner onto 48th Avenue and there stood my house. It's a very small and old brick rambler set up and back on a small embankment and concealed by a tall wall of weeds.
My very first thought was the realization that my house embarrasses me. It hadn't dawned on me until this very moment that I've always had this toxic feeling of obligation to maintain it to a certain standard, a German standard. But I never have. It's as if my failure to keep it to an immaculate standard somehow reflected badly on myself as a person.
"Now that's just silly.", I thought as I remembered back to a time sitting in a bar dressed in my toxic suit, sipping wine and talking to Her.
I stood there with the bike idling for a while taking in the scene, trying to feel through that moment, these last seconds of being on the road. Looking at it it felt in some ways just like another stop on the road, as if I would soon be leaving. It did not feel like mine. But I also realized, almost immediately, that for the first time in 77 days, I felt like there were things I had to Do.
I rolled up into the driveway. Lance was there.
Lance took care of so many things while I was gone despite living in another neighborhood. He fixed the cottage refigerator for my renter, Wendy, when it broke. After the storm, he repaired the fence and took care of other issues.
Wendy, more friend now than renter, took care of my mail and watched out for the yard.
I have very good friends. They watch out for me.
From my perspective looking at this house and garage with new eyes, I realized that I have lived my life somewhat unusually. I have said many times that this space, this house, garage and yard, do not feel like mine. At this moment, they felt even less like mine. Somewhere my subconscious, or was it my heart, wanted to believe that soon I would be packed up and back Out There.
Lance is one of the most generous people I have ever met. Whenever anyone has a problem, no matter what it is, he is always there putting his life on hold to help someone else out. Sometimes the projects he finds himself working on take months. He's rebuilt engines, done head swapped, body work, fixed AC units, done wiring, and so much more. If it's mechanical or involves materials, he's the man. His abilityto concentrate and understand some new system has always impressed thehell out of me. He has helped me and so many other people I know that I always wanted to show some kind of appreciation, something substantive beyond just the words.
Lance does not have a garage or other covered space to do his projects. Realizing it was something I could do, I got a set of shelves which we put along one side where he can store parts and tools. I gave him a key to the garage and my car so he can come use the garage any time he wants. At least someone is making use of it.
Our mutual friend Micro had bought a used truck when his car died. At first it looked like it would take minor work to get it to the point where it was reliable. Unfortunately, it ended up taking months to work through all the things that broke on it. So it stayed in the garage for quite some time while they got it up and running.
Another very good friend of mine, Yun, who often works on BMW cars, also has a key to the garage and free reign to use it any time Lance doesn't need it. Because of the truck project, my car had been outside for some many weeks.
Yun used to detail cars professionally and is extremely good at it. Actually, he's extremely good at anything he tries.
He detailed my car. It looks like new!
Now if I can just con Lance into helping me fix the AC.
The final odometer reading was 68,798
Compare with the first day when I left.
So to answer a question I've been asked alot, I rode 15,647 indiciated miles on this trip.
I walked into my house. My house is set up more like an office or server farm than a house. I looked around and contemplated the poor bastard who was imprisoned here for so long. The din of all of these servers permeates the house and, for the first time, I was aware how it made me feel.
I looked around. I saw all these Things everywhere. Outside there was debris. Inside there was evidence of the time I left. There were packages and piles of bills.
For the first time in 77 days I was in a world of Things and I became almost immediately aware of how each Thing I saw here would steal another small slice of my life and pull my mind away from the here and now.
The basement is wet because the demudifier failed. The cottage water heater broke. The AC in the car is broke. There are endless bills to pay and a bathroom to clean. There's a yard with a broken fence to deal with. There are long term projects that really need to get done. The doors have to be replaced and insulation blown into the walls.
It's too hot here.
And it's dark. The lighting in this place has always been dim. The oaks outside conspire in their beauty to prevent much light from getting into the house.
And the sounds in the house imply money is being spent. Electricity. Gas. Water. Insurance. How much of my life do I slice off just to have these Things?
I spent a time, a wonderful time, with few Things. My physical world narrowed to what I could pack on my bike. Things broke, but it was so manageable that these physical things never drained the creativity, the feeling or the openness out of my mind. I was free to be Out There body, mind, heart and soul in part because I had few Things to worry about.
But here, here I am almost immediately overwhelmed by the hours that each thing I have implies. Thoughts of Things invade my mind preventing me from being completely present in a conversation, in a moment, like I was Out There where I could be doing what I wanted to do.
Thinking. Seeing. Feeling.
I begin to understand why some people choose to let all Things go, their lives fulfilled in other ways. She said her life fits into the back of an F350 pickup. I now envy that. I have many friends to aspire to possess greater things. I look, no I feel, around me at each Thing I possess. "Is this a thing I want? Does it help me? How much life does it cost me?", I would ask myself as I surveyed my surroundings. Immediately I feel how I did before. I feel this unbelievably long Todo list filling up again. Already, if I worked 7 days a week for the next few months I would not finish everything I feel I need to.
I remember talking to Phil about the rennovations he intends to do on this house. He had an enthusiasm for it. It was his place and it meant something to him. I recently visited Josh who has a overwhelmingly gorgeous house. No one lives like that. It's a palace. He talked about all the work and the money he put into it. It's gorgeous and he seems to derive alot of satisfaction from having it the way he likes it.
From early on, I was taught that this is what you do. A house is a good investment. You need a place to live. Being North German, you pick a place and you move forward assuming you will always be there without really thinking it through whether it makes sense or not.
Around me I have set up, or let be set up, a life that doesn't really match how I live. I have all the trappings of someone on the Standard Plan. I have crystal and dinner plates. I have a dining room and a sidebar. I have wine glasses. I have fine art. I have couches and a huge TV. Most of these things I did not buy but were given to me.
But I rarely invite anyone over because I am embarrassed about the condition of the place. The bathroom desperately needs renovation. It's disgusting.
And I have servers. The din of the machines overwhelms any sense of calm this place might have.
How many conversations, how many times, have I not had because of theseToxic Feelings? Have I let this just be another barrier that keeps me,in my day to day life, from Seeing, Thinking and Feeling differently? Have I allowed myself consciously to get caught up in the Toxic Beliefs of materialism despite my best efforts? Have I let myself feel badly because of how my material life compares to others? Of all people, did I let this happen to me without realizing it?
Most people on my trip seemed to approach me because of my bike or my suit. Confirming an unconscious belief, they saw the symbols and realized I was the kind of person they would want to talk to.
"But I didn't see any of those things.", She had said implying a meaning I have not yet fully internalized but one that gives me, dare I say, a glimmer of hope.
I aspire to more Thinglessness or maybe better said, I aspire to a shorter Todo list which I may be able to achieve with fewer Things.
Maybe my unhappiness with this place has less to do with the place itself and more to do with the Toxic Feelings of being overwhelmed by how much I have to do for all these Things.
It was a Thursday and I had arrived home early enough to shower and change.
Not far away there is a Tavern, a very silly Tavern, that I often go to. It's a Pirate themed tavern filled with people dressed as Pirates and walls covered in swords and skulls. I remember the first time I walked in there thinking that it was some cringingly cheesy theme bar like you would see in Disney Land and that there was no way I would ever go back. That first impression quickly faded as I began to survey the people there and realized that I could hear five distinct languages being spoken. In the corner, there were a couple Germans. The guy sitting at the bar was Russian. Portugease could be heard out back. A couple in the corner were speaking Castellon Spanish. And of course you could hear English. The food was simple yet excellent. And there was something about these silly Pirates costumed people, something genuine. I got to know the bartender at the time, Claudia, who had given me the cactus task which I failed miserably at. There was Dallas, the bartender who describes himself as what happens when you combine a korean and a redneck. Dallas is great and can sing like you wouldn't believe. There's Nipper who is enchanting in all of her 4'8" glory. And there is Kyrin, a regular, who actually came out to see me off when I left.
What I've liked about this Tavern more than any other place here around DC is that you can go there and there is always someone interesting to talk to. DC folk are a closed, antagonistic and rude bunch. However, there's something about the silliness of the Piratz Tavern that opens people up. Maybe it's the unusual demographic they attract there which ranges from wounded military, to business men, to endless numbers of theatre and re-enactment folk, to costumers and renn-fair types. Whatever it is, I have come to truly enjoy the place. They keep telling me, "You're one of us in disguise."
I mentioned that I would show up. People were there waiting for me, even Duncan and Ann.
And yes, they have belly dancers there, on Thursdays. Maria, a mother of one and soon to be two, was the one who upon hearing about my trip gave me the rules. "No getting eaten by grizzly bears. No tagging guard rails. No dying.", she listed out for me. She was also the one who suggested, somewhat forcefully as is her style, that I write this blog.
If it weren't for her I would never have thought to do any of this writing and my trip would never have turned into what it was. So many things turned out differently because of that one event.
And, as I posted on Facebook, there is something very correct for my idiom about coming back from an epic journey and having the belly dancers rejoice.
My days would be filled with numbers of people. The next night Duncan and Ann threw me a cookout welcome home party at their house. Stacie was there and we played pool until late. Even Kyrin, from the Tavern, showed up. There were stories of the road and of course I got grilled about various events I wrote about. I, unfortunately, don't remember much from that evening.
I went to the Laurel Outback a day or two later and saw Rachel K, Dale, Patrick and Holly. I wanted to treat Lance to dinner as another thank you for everything he did. There were more stories of the road. I told Patrick how much being in Canada was good for me, how the people up there are somehow less stressed, more genuine and focused. Nicer.
"That's because they are not a god fearing folk.", he said surprisingly. Patrick is brilliant and tries hard to conceal it, but it comes out. "Because we live in a god fearing puritanical society, even if you're an athiest, it gets inside you. And you stress. You fear the future. But if you are not god fearing, like the Canadians, then you can just be in the moment. It makes you nicer.", he went on to explain.
Interesting hypothesis. I'll have to give that one some thought.
There has been an almost overwhelming call for me to write a book. At least 40 people, if not more, have said I need to do it. I talked to my friend Jeff just the other day who drove all the way down from Frederick to talk to me about the blog and ask me about the people and places I mentioned. It was as a result of that meeting that I got the inspiration on how to turn this into something resembling a book.
I don't know if I can do it. I don't know if it'll be worth reading. But I will try.
I sit, a week later, surrounded by my endless array of Things.
I am still at a cross roads.
I still have no clue what is Next.
Anatoly, my business partner, who I met with yesterday asked me, as so many have, "Why didn't you stay?".
But I am back now and there are people here, many people. who I care deeply about. People to whom, whether they know it or not, I feel Connected.
I may stay. I may leave. But, whatever I eventually decide, I will try to keep the lessons of the road inside me and learn to like myself here first.
But, at some point, I will travel many miles by motorcycle to find myself back Out There again ...