"Do not ship to Canada.", the stickers read.
It was 1982 and there was very little humor that summer, as was the case with most years of my life. It was filled with a lot of being yelled at. I remember the vice president coming into my staging area at 1 AM yelling at me because I was taking a break. I mostly remember the yelling. 14 years old and I was being forced to do 80+ hour weeks for the summer, most nights working past midnight, because the old man's company was going bankrupt again and he didn't have the money to pay for staff. I was too numb to know that I hated it. I just did what was asked of me. I did it all. Successfully but I paid a very heavy price for it. It was all against my will. That's been such a common theme in my life.
I also remember the stickers. One day a shipment of computer parts arrived. I was pulled from what I was doing to help move them. Each box had on it a long thin yellow sticker with black lettering which read:
Do Not Ship To Canada
That may have been the only time I laughed that whole summer. I guess maybe you had to be in my head at that moment, but I could just imagine these shippers coming and trying to randomly ship me to Canada because no one had told them not to. I took one of the stickers home with me and put it on the headboard of my bed, just in case those confused shippers showed up when I was asleep
Why not Canada?
"Maybe its my turn to leave.", I've been thinking now slightly more seriously. "Where would I go? Why would I go there? Have I gotten too old? I don't have that much life left. What would I do?"
I could sell everything, get the company sold, let Anatoly go and make the real money he can somewhere else, and have enough money myself to stay on the road for few years, if I didn't worry about retirement.
I could go live someplace else.
I could get my EU citizenship and live overseas.
I could wander and become software ronin.
I stand at a crossroads. All options before me. I guess this is freedom, freedom from Artificial Constraints, Obligations and Rules.
Freedom is a bit of a bitch.
It was nice here. Peaceful.
I didn't want to be on the bike. I didn't want to go in the direction I was going. I stopped in Jasper and got a hotel early. It's a nice but touristy town. It was warm.
I spent the vast majority of the next day writing trying still to capture what I thought, felt and had learned. I sat there in the hotel for over 8 hours trying to write so I could remember.
I hit the road well after 6pm.
Eventually I crossed into Alberta. Ian had suggested that I head down to Calgary instead of going to Edmonton so I could ride through the Columbia IceFields.
I stopped at the side of the road and saw what I initially thought were stakes pounded into the ground in this field. Using the zoom on the camera, they were more of the funny little critters. Dozens of them in this wide field down in a valley just standing around looking, all motionless as if frozen.
I stood there for a while wondering if the critters would move, but none of them did. They all stood perfectly motionless for as long as I watched.
The mountains here were steep and one could see the angle at which the mountains were pushed up. It was pretty striking.
There were more rivers. The camera did not capture the color right. These were aquamarine. Almost green.
There were glaciers. Lot's of glaciers.
I kept thinking how much fun it would have been to take her riding through this landscape.
This was the first glacier that looked like what I thought glaciers were supposed to look like. It was late otherwise I would have ridden down to see it up close.
There were striking valleys. Notice the road.
The mountains here were steep. Crazy steep and tall.
There were bears. A couple crossed the street in front of me.
And there were incredible lakes. I stopped at this one.
I marveled at this scene for a while when a KLR rider rolled up.
His name was Shawn (sp?). He was about to go into the second year of medical school meaning that the next 8 years of his life were going to be spoken for. He decided a mere couple of months earlier to do the ride up to Prudhoe Bay and back. We compared notes and shared stories.
Then he told me he learned to ride only two months earlier!
Ok, now that's impressive. Riding the Dalton Highway without experience would be very challenging. But he made it and was on his way back to Washington.
He kindly snapped a photo of me.
He was looking at his bike when he noticed that his oil filter cover bolts were coming loose. I said I would hang out in case there was some problem.
He tightened the bolts. I looked over the bike with him when I said, "Oh, that's not good!". One of his frame bolts was virtually out. We pulled the bolt out, cleaned the threads and put it back in for him. Those thumpers vibrate bolts loose. I've lost a few screws on my four cylinder bike on this ride.
I rode on. It was late and the sun actually set behind the mountains.
The next day I continued on to Calgary and descended out of the mountains onto a plain. I have been in mountains for weeks. It was a sad moment as I crossed this boundary.
I was going to put in some serious mileage today, but I chose to write instead. Rain on the horizon. I'll probably do a couple hundred miles, grab another hotel all the while thinking about what I've learned, trying to ask a question to each questions I've been given.
Based upon a recommendation posted to the YML.COM forums by Ian, I opted to head to Calgary to an independent BMW service shop called Anderwerks. They have a reputation for being traveller friendly and they certainly lived up to that reputation.
It's located back in a warehouse district. The front door is a bit confusing as it looks like a photo.
I desperately needed tires as these Michelins had over 6,000 miles on them. Anderwerks hooked me up setting up an appointment for me the same day for tires, oil filter and to install an air filter I had brought with me. It took ages so I hung out in the shop. The wireless was having some kind of routing issue. They let me mess with the network but I think the router itself had developed a problem. Thwarted, I just hung around the shop.
They finished everything up just as the shop was closing at 6pm. OMG it was expensive. It was probably more than 30% more expensive than the same job in the states. Ouch. At this rate I'll be bankrupt before long.
I grabbed a hotel in town. I heard from Dani the adventure rider that he was in Calgary as well but we didn't manage to be online at the same time to figure out a place to meet. I think he was in a more interesting section of Calgary than I was based on his recent video.
The next morning, again troubled by thoughts and having my mind wander back to places I've been, sitting in the hotel lobby I wrote well into the afternoon. A big storm was brewing on the horizon and the winds were kicking up. The hotel clerk took pity on me and made me some coffee.
I have been thinking about verses in this one Led Zeppelin song pretty much the whole trip:
For now I smell the rain, and with it pain, and it's headed my way
I went to start the bike and a rare but recurring electrical problem presented itself. The bike was firing only on two cylinders. I shut it down. Let it sit. Tried to restart it and to my shock and horror the problem persisted. I tried this a few times and thought that maybe I was screwed wondering if I was going to make it to meet Phil and Geo.
I called Anderwerks and loped back to the shop. Half way there, of course, the other two cylinders started firing and I've been unable to reproduce it after that. The guys at the shop are very knowledgeable, even about my old sport touring machine. They gave me some insights into what to look for and gave me a 24 hour number where I can reach them if I run into trouble on the road. Very cool.
So late in the day I grabbed a quick bite to eat and headed off towards the east. I stopped for a moment to glance back at the mountains I have come to love so much.
There's alot of traffic in Calgary.
The wind was picking up even more. I was sure to get dumped on.
The TransCanada highway is just that. A highway that alternates between interstate like sections and slow sections through towns filled with traffic lights.
I continued East and the mountains faded over the horizon becoming but a dim memory in my rear view mirror. Ahead approached a huge storm.
The wind was serious. I strained to see if I could notice a tornado in the center. Lightning bolts could be seen flashing in the center.
Storms are a constant in my life. During the '92 cross country trip and virtually every motorcycle ride I've ever taken I run into storms. I always get rained on. It sucks.
As I approached the edge of the storm, miraculously the road bent to the South and traced it's away along the edge of the storm. In places the road was soaked but not a drop of rain fell on me.
The wind continued to pick up. I thought, as I drove past the storm, that I could see the outline of a tornado in the distance but I wasn't sure. There was enough wind for it though as the bike leaned into the wind to compensate.
"This never happens.", I thought as I marveled at missing the storm, "it's wrecking someone else's life today. Not mine."
I was making really good time, but it was very flat out here. Flat like Kansas and at first I was not happy about it.
But it gave me time to think.
I ran through a tank of gas and stopped at a gas station, the storm still raging menacingly on the horizon.
"I wonder what the birds know that I do not?", I thought as I saw dozens of seagulls just standing on the ground motionless.
I tried to pay for gas but it was declined. I had to spend some time on the phone with the credit card company to get it straightened out. As I was getting ready to leave a guy with his family in an SUV rolled up and asked me if I was travelling solo.
"Yup, all by my lonesome.", I replied like I usually do. "Wouldn't it have been more fun to travel with a buddy?", he asked.
"Sure, but I didn't know anyone who could take this kind of time off.", I answered.
"Don't you get lonely?", they asked.
"Yea. Alot of this trip has been very lonesome, but less so than I expected. I have met so many amazing people along the way.", as my thoughts wandered back to the faces of people I have met and to one person in particular.
I have met so many people on this trip.
The sun could be seen shining on the edge of the storm in the direction I wasn't going.
I got back on the road and continued my journey over the oppressive boring flatness when, still tracing along the edge of one storm, another storm appeared on the horizon, this one worse than the last.
"Ok, now I'm going to get pissed on for sure. My luck can't hold.", I thought as I approached the storm.
And has been the case for the last hundreds of miles, just as I approached it the road turned and went around the edge.
"This just never happens.", I thought as I remembered how surprised I was that I missed those two storms outside of Yellowstone.
As I approached the far side of this larger storm, I stopped.
As improbable and cliche as it may sound, along it's edge I could see a rainbow. The camera for whatever reason didn't capture it well. It was much brighter than the faint outline you see.
I remained there for some time marvelling at how rare this is. Such a raging storm and this beautiful rainbow and sunshine in the distance, and for once the storm isn't dumping on me, ruining my life.
I thought about my demons and how they have followed me all the way here.
Matt always said, "You know Yermo, for as long as I've known you it's been the worst it's ever been. I'm not saying it hasn't been, but it's the life you have been dealt and you have to live it". He had known me since the 7th grade.
I thought about the last time I had this feeling, this feeling that maybe things will change and it's a terrible story. I have not allowed myself this feeling again since.
Duncan and I were at Starbucks. It was March 26th, 2008 and things had gotten as bad as I thought they could probably get. It had been horrible without any good news of any kind for ages. Even Duncan had started saying, "How are you going to fail today, Mr. Lamers", jokingly. Duncan likes being an annoying optimist just to bug me, but even his feigned optimism about my circumstances was beginning to fade.
Duncan was telling me about some good fortune in his life. It was looking like things were going to go well for him.
"Maybe this is a sign.", I remember fatefully thinking outside of Starbucks. "Maybe things have gotten as bad as they can get. Maybe this means things will get better." At this point Gesa had been dead for little over an hour, killed by an out of control SUV, but of course I would not find out about this for a little while yet finding only screams of anguish on the answering machine when I got home.
I remember the moment with absolute clarity. For the last two years it has been burned into my consciousness along with every detail of the hell it unleashed.
Over the weekend, many bad stories came out. The look of horror on her face at some of them made me stop and for the first time, the first time ever, I could feel the stories were real. A door opened inside me. "I have mostly just bad stories.", I told her trying not to show too much pain.
And I do. I have horrible stories. I have lived through storm after storm. Belina, my sisters best friend from Medical school, composed a piano piece for me entitled "Storms" based on, what she calls, a poem I had written some years ago describing the '92 cross country trip. When I get back, I'll post the poem.
And here I stood wondering if the storms in my soul will continue to haunt me, whether these demons will ever be laid to rest and what that means for what kind of person I am. I always focus on the negative. The pain. The storms. It overwhelms me and makes me No Fun.
"I like to take the good from meeting you - there is much.", she texted from over the mountains.
As I stood there, along the edge of this huge painful storm looking at this improbable rainbow, I realized that is what I have never been able to do, especially with myself. I only see the storms, the pain, the flaws and have not been present enough, calm enough, open enough, to really see anything else.
"It's a huge nasty storm.", I thought, "but the rainbow is pretty."
"I don't think I'll ever meet another one like her", I thought before focusing forward to the next moment. And then, in a moment completely out of character and new for me, I thought, no, I felt, "Then again, I don't think she'll ever meet another one like me either."
I got back on the bike and continued my ride East along the edge of the storm really not caring if my luck ran out. "I had a good run today.", I thought as the road turned again and I found my way into the sunshine.
It never rained on me. There was no hail. Only some bugs.
"Ok, this NEVER happens. Not once have I ever, in as long as I can remember, had this kind of good fortune riding.", I thought.
But then again, on this trip, that seems to have been a common theme.
"Maybe things will get better.", I thought as I realized they were already getting better. Of course I immediately thought, with my luck, I'd have a terrible accident or get some terrible news. "Someday, but not today.", I thought quoting one of my favorite movies.
"This is not the worst it's ever been. Far from it, Matt.", I thought as I continued to ride eastward to meet up with Phil and Geo, the riders I met in Deal's Gap, itself being a completely improbable event in my life.
Having read these ramblings of mine, I wonder what they will now think of this emotionally complicated deeply flawed long distance rider. They've completely reworked their schedule and route the accomodate mine and I'm surprised and humbled by that.
I'm heading to meet them for a few days of riding and maybe seeing the yacht Geo captains.The sun set over the horizon.
And once again I found that calm, that peace, that I have been looking for out here.
I do not have the time to develop the ideas in this post to the degree they need to be. In a few hours Phil will be here and I will have to focus my attention elsewhere. If, as so many of you have suggested, I do write a book the themes here will be much better developed and will form the basis of the book.
I've been travelling for three days across epic flat under challenging skies all the while waiting for the storms to return. Thinking about perception. No, thinking about feelings behind perceptions that form the basis of what we think they mean.
I now sit in a motel in a small town of Ignace, Ontario, my bike's exhaust system broken. The #1 cylinder header pipe has completely split free. The bike now sounds like some kind of sick Harley with a nasty sputter.
Unfortunately, the machine cannot be ridden in this shape. Insufficient back pressure from the break will cause me to burn up the #1 cylinder long before I reach home.
Ignace is a small little town in the middle of nowhere. There are no auto parts stores here. The nearest large town, Thunder Bay, is 150 miles away and I fear running the motor that long to get there. I don't know at what point the exhaust broke. It may all already be a moot point.
I had to ride quite a few more miles than I was planning. I had realized some things, come up with what I wanted to say and wanted to write. I had really wanted to write, but all motels were booked solid for hundreds of miles. I eventually made it to Ignace, late, found a tavern that was open even later, grabbed a bite to eat and tried to sleep, but was completely unable to. The phone rang early. It was Phil. He had already gotten exhaust header tape, which is not available where I am, and other supplies and was offering to ride all the way out here. Half asleep I was stunned once again. "This is so messing with my world view.", I thought.
I did some calling around and tried to solve the problem myself. I checked with a towing company and a small autoparts store. Nothing.
Breaking Artificial Rules, since he's going so very far out of his way and it's going to be a rough ride for him under unpleasant circumstances, I agreed to the help.
As I write he's fighting holiday traffic, I believe in the rain, and making his way here. It'll take him till close to midnight to get here. Damn. I've gotten him a room here at the hotel and will try to get some food and drink for him shortly.
A couple of days ago, after I had been out in the epic flat dodging storms and chasing rainbows, doing more thinking, I got up to leave. The bugs out there are really something to behold.
I had cleaned the face shield less than 20 minutes before finding the motel. They were just awful, but I didn't mind. There were also these larger bugs, monster bugs, that would flit by. Sometimes they would hit and when they hit you could feel it through the armor. It was late and dark. Dragon Flies? Locusts? Alien Baby Snatchers?
I had slept later than I had intended. I packed up all my gear in the hot July sun, the temperatures here approaching 90, got on the bike and attempted to start it.
The electrical gremlin recurred. Firing on only two cylinders and the tachometer reading 0, the bike sounded ill and would hardly run. This has happened before. I shut the bike off, let it sit and tried to restart it.
After many attempts including letting it sickly idle for 15 minutes I began to fear I wasn't going to be able to meet Phil. It wasn't going away. I thought to back before this trip and the calm I experienced on Atigen Pass and in other places along this Journey and wondered why I felt so differently now.
I can remember thinking that if this had happened Before, I would have been completely stressed out about it. I would have felt responsible, ill even, at the prospect of another failure.
But today, under this heat, I was calm. "If I can't fix it, I'll just have to tell Phil. It is what it is.", not realizing yet how different this feeling, this calm, was.
Anderwerks had given me some suggestions on how to diagnose the problem. The first suspect was the coils, which provide the spark to the spark plugs. There are four exhaust pipes, one from each cylinder. One way to figure out which coil it might be is to run the bike shortly and see which pipes are hot. 2 and 3 were hot. 1 and 4 were not. 1 and 4 are on the same coil, so maybe the coil is bad.
They had suggested then, if that was the case, to swap the coils to see if the problem followed the coil. If I swapped the coils, restarted the bike and the other cylinders ran then it would be the coil and I would know what parts I had to have shipped.
I had forgotten what a job it is to remove and replace the coils. As I unpacked my gear, pulled off the bags and side covers I noticed something on the ground. "Funny, I didn't think I was around DC", I chuckled.
The little gold shiny thing in the center is a bullet.
I had already checked out of the room. The cleaning lady, more like cleaning girl actually, came by to fix up the room. She left the door open for me so I could run in and drink water. It was hot and I was sweating profusely baking in the hot sun. "Parking lot bad. Garage very good. I envy my past self, I really do.", I thought as I roasted thinking how fortunate my past self had been.
Because one bolt holding the coils in at the top is too long to remove without removing the battery, I had to remove the battery, which of course sits under the fuel injection computer which can't be removed unless you remove the ABS computer which can't be removed unless you remove the seat and so forth ...
I pulled out the coils and swapped the wires. It was now maybe an hour and a half later. But I was not stressed. I was not rushed. I was not expectant or angry. I was just hot and uncomfortable wondering how long I would last out here in the heat before I had to find shelter.
I put the coils back and and reassembled the minimum I needed to to finish the experiment.
The problem did not follow the coils. "Good information. I know it's not the coils now.", I thought thinking that some time ago I might have thrown my hands up thinking that this was hopeless, stressing endlessly about implication and what it meant about who I was. But not on this day.
"There are two other possibilities. The ignition control module or the pickup sensors.", Anderwerks had told me if I had gotten to this point.
The ignition control module is located on the side of the battery box next to the coils. It has a large connector that goes to it. At Anderwerks we had tugged on it and pushed it in and but it didn't budge being firmly connected to it's socket. I looked at the cable again very calmly, not rushed, just observing when I noticed that it seemed kinked more than usual. I tugged on it in a slightly different direction and noticed that the connector moved. It had not been as firmly connected as we had assumed. I pushed the connector back in further and started the bike.
It immediately started and ran fine.
This has been a recurring problem for as long as I have owned the bike. 18 years. What an interesting analogy, letting go of Artificial Thoughts, Constraints and Rules to focus on this moment after the nightmare and to be able to, as a result of what I have learned on this trip, easily solve a problem whose solution has eluded me all these years. "Interesting.", I can remember hearing her say.
I have struggled with the concept of Artificial Rules, Thoughts and Constraints. "Those analogies don't really capture what I think, see or feel.", I remembered thinking.
I packed up the bike my leathers completely soaked through with sweat. I got some more water and headed back out onto the road.
The sun was shining. There were no storms to be seen anywhere. It was hot but beautiful. The breeze felt good. The road was straight. Endlessly straight and it was flat, flatter than Kanas. It gave me much needed time to think.
"What a nice and appropriate ritual separation from the ecstacy of riding all those mountain roads. I have the time to reflect, to maybe, just maybe, learn something from my journey so far and all the improbable things that have happened.", I would think as I rode.
There were pretty flowers.
"He's so sensitive.", I chuckled. "Yes, I guess I am and I'll kick your ass if you say otherwise!"
At one point I approached what I thought at first was snow, which didn't make any sense.
It was a pile of some salt mineral on a field of salt next to an evaporating lake.
Eventually, after hundreds of miles, a thunderhead loomed in the distance looking like a mushroom cloud.
But it was far away yet. I was sure to get rained on but by the time I approached it had dissipated.
It's amazingly flat out here.
Such a brutal contrast from the mountains. "I love the mountains. They are good for my soul.", I found myself thinking out of character. I never really consider what's good for me, what makes me feel better or worse. I just endure whatever and I'm very good at it.
I stopped to get gas. I haven't mentioned it before but it's been happening more frequently. There have been quite a number of gas stations up here that haven't had any gas. In this particular large town most gas stations didn't have gas.
I found a station that was open, got gas and some water. Chatted a few moments with a cruiser rider about his trip west and then headed back onto the road content to just make miles and think.
As I rode I kept thinking back to places and events over the mountains. I was riding East but wanting it to be West. Was it that I wanted to head West? Or was it that I so didn't want to be riding East? It was probably a combination of both. "Why?", I wondered.
I crossed the border into Manitoba. I do not like Manitoba.
I hadn't really talked to many people. There are few riders out here. This epic flat is not a place where you ever see Adventure Riders, they preferring other routes across. I thought about symbols. How easy it was, for the very first time, to meet so many people and how affected I've been by all I've met.
I've been open out here in a way I don't think I've ever been, but it has felt good. It has felt like Me, a Me I have not known. I think it's the Western Canadians that really opened my eyes, how friendly they are. They all seem to smile invitingly and are interested, curious, polite and most importantly, I realized, unafraid. Really unafraid.
"I like Canadians.", I thought as I realized that I am not done with Canada yet. I think I need to return to ride those roads again. There are more stories here I need to experience.
I thought more about symbols. Why did I meet the people that I did? Most I seemed to meet because of the bike. Most were riders or interested in riding. Many, like Dani, recognized me as a kindred spirit because of the gear I had.
"But I understood and noticed none of that.", she had said, a comment which I would think about endlessly and eventually come to understand. "Such a wise woman.", I would later think.
Was it the place? The culture? Maybe things are just different out here. Western Canadians are a positive albeit walled in bunch, but I like that. It's comfortable for me. "My politeness and world view seem to match them more up here than they do at home.", I thought as I considered so many conversations I had.
The sun was fierce.
My GPS started to flake out. It's a car grade GPS that is not suited for outdoor motorcycle use so I put it into a water proof bag. It flops in the wind badly and tends to break the power cable confusing the GPS something fierce. I've already replaced the cable once on this trip and it was looking like this new cable had given up the ghost quicker than the last.
Then I remembered that I'm a fucking genius. How many thousands of miles has it been?
The answer was "duct tape". The question was "What simple easy fix could Yermo have come up with to make his whole trip more pleasant.".
Problem for the next cable solved. I would have to get a new power cable though.
The sun set on the horizon once again and it was beautiful, and there I stood on the side of the road alone, no one to share it with. But it was ok. I was at peace with that fact.
I rode on into the darkness marvelling at the fact that I have not gotten rained on despite thunderstorms being all around me.
I eventually found a hotel after searching quite a bit and a restaurant that was open. Very bad food. There's a lot of very bad food out here in the flat. But then again, there's alot of bad food on the road in general.
I went to sleep but was not able to sleep well once again.
The Next Day
I had overdone it on the previous day. I guess all that time baking in the sun took it out of me more than I realized. I woke up looking old, older than I have at any time on the trip, my face badly swollen and I felt ill, ill the way I felt on the last cross country trip.
I had only done maybe only a little over 400 miles the previous day but I looked and felt like I had done 1000.
I got up very late, checking out of the hotel a half hour after checkout time and sat at a diner trying to wake up drinking lots and lots of coffee and water.
On the horizon a very bad storm was brewing and heading my way. Normally I would rush to see which way I needed to head and try to run away from the storm. But I didn't, not in a self destructive or depressive way, it was just that I didn't care.
"If it rains let it rain.", I thought as I sipped another cup of brown colored water they call coffee. I sat for some time, some very long time, considering how I felt. My thoughts went back to Rick who is now on the Dalton Highway. I hope he is not being eaten alive by mosquitoes too badly.
I remember how he had posted on Facebook, talking about the Dalton Highway, that he hadn't thought about it being beautiful up there, only focusing on the hardships. "What a tragedy.", I thought, "for him to go all that way."
So I posted:
"I'm still on the road. Outside of a Calgary now on the sad route back to what I call home. Stop. Take a moment. Breathe. Enjoy the moment. Ignore the mosquitoes, the mud, the hardship and let the beauty of the place you are about to ride to get inside. It would be a tragedy to visit this place and, despite it's hardships, not appreciate how special, how foreign, it is. Enjoy it."
I would think about this for some time coming to realize that I need carefully listen when I speak.
Why did I dread going home so much? What was so different out here? Was it the people I met? The culture?
I had dreaded the return trip since I started this journey.
I thought about one thing she said, that at first I had completely misunderstood, "And then on to my favorite part, NEXT!", talking about my journey home.
"Next.", I thought, sadly, not understanding, so wishing I could avoid going home and turn in some other direction.
Then suddenly I got it.
Change. Motion. New experiences. That is what's so different about the road. Every day begins anew and there are new faces, places and experiences to be had. I have seen and experienced so much new on this trip. Motion is good for the soul.
There are so many souls you meet out here. For the most part you just pass through these lives a momentary blip on the radar. But rarely, oh so rarely and you are blessed if it happens to you, you become part of a life for a brief moment that Changes Everything and you see as if with new eyes.
I have always known that I liked the time on drives that have a destination but I don't like to just randomly drive around. I have to have a goal. I realized, that I too need a "Next", a sense of End in order to enjoy the Next Now. At every point on this trip where I have truly enjoyed myself there was in it a sense of "End", of "Next".
That was one aspect of the weekend that was so powerful. There was motion and change. Left to my own devices, I sit and contemplate and do not move for hours. She, on the other hand, is always in motion, but not in a hurried or stressed way. It's just motion. Dinner is done, it's time to go outside and sit in the sunshine for a little bit. Then walk to the horses. There is no sense, none, that this is a sin, that somehow one should be doing something to accomplish a goal, get the next task on the endless todo list done, to move closer to that irrational goal, whatever it is. There is only now, and now it's time to go sit outside and bask in the sun for a short moment. During the day she decides not to go to work so it's off to the beach at the lake, then without staying too long it's on to dinner, then drinks. The next day, after working hard for a few hours and going for a run, her dinner plans cancelled, let's go for a ride. Always motion, fluid natural unhurried motion letting each moment last as long as it should and not longer. Each moment has a beginning a middle and most importantly an end.
Next. Now I understood.
I really need to listen to what I say to people. Back in Ouray, talking to one of the noise makers who did not want the fire to be put out, I said:
"In order for there to be a beginning, there must previously been an end.", I said.
"I get it. We put the fire out tonight so we can have another one tomorrow!", he said enthusiastically accepting now that he had to go to bed.
There are so many lessons that I have known, but have not internalized, have not felt.
I now know a big part of why I feel like I have nothing to go back to. My life has no "Next". I have not paid attention to how I feel. It has always been ingrained in me that to feel is to be weak, pathetic, and needy. You force yourself to endure whatever. I am very good at it.
My nightmare and it's effect were real. I look back now with these new eyes on that person that sat in that house for all those years. Few knew the many many nights I would sit alone in the dark on my couch panic attacks making me feel like I was having a heart attack. Or the times, the endless expanses of time, when I would work so hard I would be in the house for a week straight never stepping foot outside. Or the times, doing nine month workaholic stints trying to achieve something for reasons I did not understand, where I would not meet a single new person.
Looking at it now, and the life I have to go back to, it's no wonder that I dread it with all my being and want to go back to that sunshine and light and "Next" that I experienced in that special place over the mountains and now very far away.
Sitting there in the dark in my house working away hours and hours on end, there is no next, just more of the same day after day. With saddistically few exceptions, my childhood was like that. My teenage years were like that and much of my adult life has been like that. Strange and sad that I have never thought, never understood, that's why I have hated my life so much.
And now it looks completely insane to me. I was always taught, brainwashed, that work and only work is valuable, and that was a lesson that has to change.
I think about the lifestyle in Washington DC. Get a job. Move up the company ladder. Work like a fiend. Acquire stuff. Stress. Each day like that last, but more importantly each phase of life like the previous from beginning to end.
In a way it's it's own kind of a Nightmare, and nightmares are times when you have no Next. I thought about culture, the North German culture I admire and value. Build a house with your own hands and have it last 250 years. There's a permanence to Germany that's not present in the States. But maybe, given how my life developed, those concepts are no good for me?
I guess maybe with children there is always a next. Each day they grow and become different leaving parents to experience a new event.
But we, we who are not on what Tanya calls the Standard Plan, we have to develop our own Plan, a Non-Standard Plan. This is something that until today I have not seen clearly. She is not on the Standard Plan. She's single and has been for a while and her friends marvel and worry at the fact that she's single. My friends wonder the same about me. Find someone you like and be with them. That's the standard plan. But when you grow up like an oak on crooked and broken ground the standard plan does not work for you. For people like us, we have to invent, we have to create, we have to develop our own Plan. And often times these self created Plans are not compatible, well maybe, not yet.
Even though she's working like a fiend right now to accomplish a goal she said, "It's good for now" implying that maybe soon she would change. She is internally free to choose in a way I have never been.
"Interesting.", I thought. "My company. What if it does fail? What if it's over? 12 years we put in ... how badly have I let Anatoly down?", when I realized that's just fear thinking and still part of my nightmare speaking loud and clear. "Hmmm. Maybe I am afraid of Next in the bigger sense of the word." Maybe the industry has changed and circumstance was to blame? Now that's a thought I've never had. But then again, if I can muster the calm of the Dalton in business, maybe I can come to see the obvious solution in front of me that has eluded my sense for 18 years, like a loose connector.
I wonder. Can I rework my life in DC, take responsibility for it, so that there is always a sense of Next? I pondered that for some time thinking about how I don't really know what I like left to my own devices. So I asked a different question, "Can I make my life at home more like my life on the road. What do I like most of the road?".
Meeting people, learning from their stories, being open and letting the occasional very special person in.
"Silly universe.", I thought wondering if that symbol too would give me an insight that I needed to learn. I found myself wondering about how the mind looks for symbols. "Do I just find the symbols I need or are they random and I would not learn what I need to. Would I never have learned about Next if it wasn't for her?", I questioned realizing that the answer was definitely no. I was just fortunate. Improbably fortunate but ready to learn what I needed to.
Ian said travelling is good for the soul, but you have to open and willing to explore those parts of you you like the least, the places that hurt. The road is a very good place to do that.
"I feel differently, I really do.", I thought as I considered that maybe, thinking of the silly rainbow, maybe I could learn to do what she does. Not to be crazy optimistic like someone who just denies the bad stuff in life, but instead have a balanced view, to rationally accept the bad but decide not to let it hurt too much and then /choose/ to feel the emotional impact of the good, to not doubt that it has value and what it meant. "I wonder if she feels anything about the fact that I chose to spend an extra three days with her?", I mused as if to consider a thing forbidden to consider, and I allowed myself the rare feeling, "I bet she does.".
To do with people, with events, with endings, what I could so easily do on the Dalton Highway, but haven't been able to do with this. Enjoy the moment, cherish it, learn from it and then move on to the next moment freely.
"I feel differently. Something has changed.", as I pondered what it might be. The universe seems different today.
I walked outside and looked at the storm.
"I am beginning to feel like I will be able let my Nightmare and it's effects lie.", I thought as I misread the GPS and thought I was going to head into the storm.
"Maybe my future will not be so bad. Maybe Duncan is right. Maybe the storms and the nightmare are behind me.", I thought as I considered what a silly symbol it would be if the storm were on the other side.
Then I realized I had misread the GPS and headed off into the sunshine.
"Ok, this is truly ridiculous.", I thought being slightly embarrassed knowing that I would feel compelled to share this.
I rode off never getting rained on, the large beautiful storm in my mirrors the whole time.
I rode on for a while but the GPS started flaking out again. I believed it was the cable so when I stopped to get gas I checked the GPS, fully expecting the bitch to lie to me like she had done so often in the past, and she led me to a Walmart.
I never go into Walmart. I hate it. It's an Artificial Rule.
They did in fact have a power adaptor for my GPS.
I baked once again in the hot sun and fumbled with the GPS. It turns out it was not the cable but the power connector in the GPS itself. "$10 wasted.", I thought but had no desire to go back into the place. "I'll just use it as a charger when the need arises. I've spent so much crazy money already.", I thought and moved forward.
I was overheating. I drank the last of my water, got on the bike and headed onward.
Leaving the parking lot I saw a Starbucks, remembered the previous day and thought, "I'm on no schedule. I've got plenty of time. Let me stop, be kind to myself, drink lots of water and have a cup of coffee". So I sat at a Starbucks for an hour rehydrating.
For those of you who know me best, please don't panic.
I don't think I'm going to be as much of a fan of Starbucks as I have been. I may not go there that often. As I sat there I kept thinking how it just did not feel right. The last time I was in a coffee shop, I had enjoyed it so much more. It was the company I had, but the indelible mark it made made me feel like this shop I was in was just not right.
"I wonder what things I have not explored in my own neighborhood?", as I sipped my coffee and glugged water pondering why I've never taken the calm time to explore the place I have lived for 15 years. "Crazy.", I thought.
After I had enough to drink I rode on for a couple hours. I stopped at a rest stop. A guy on a Gold Wing trike rolled up. I had not met anyone new in some time and was feeling closed. "People here are just not as friendly. There are no smiles. There is no openness.", I thought as I considered whether maybe my soul simply doesn't match the place I was living.
A couple of women walked up and asked me about the bike. They said, "You're far from home".
"Not nearly as far as I have been.", I replied and we got to talking about the Dalton Highway and my journey. They left. I looked towards the guy with the Wing. He had an unfriendly closed nature to him, but, out of character and mustering a social bravery I rarely have, I walked up to him. "I've never seen one of these up close.".
His demeanor changed as he said in a thick French Canadian accent, "Really? I can't believe that.".
He had built the thing himself. The rear end was made of a combination of, I believe it was, Chevy and VW parts. He had custom engineered his own indepedent rear suspension so the thing leans a bit. "I have a heart condition so I can't ride the two wheelers any more.", he said. It turns out he used to work as a mechanic for a Formula 1 team in the 70's.
We talked about the Dalton, Prudehoe Bay, Alaska, He had come back from touring the tar sands and diamond mine operations in North Canada. "They are worth seeing. You should go.", he said.
Another destination in search of a Journey. I found myself thinking that I just might. I don't think I'm done with Canada yet. I think I have to return. This place is good for me.
We parted company and he headed on his way. When I got back to the bike I noticed the side stand had sunk into the pavement.
"If it's this hot here I don't even want to imagine Washington DC.", I feared.
I rode on after taking a pause, a moment, to read about wildfires in Canada. How unlike me.
I rode for miles on straight endlessly flat roads eventually crossing into Ontario. The further East I go in Canada the less friendly the faces become. It's palpable. I don't think I'm making it up.
I tried to stop in a town called Kenora. They were having a huge lake fest and every single hotel was booked. A huge storm loomed on the horizon. A Harley rider, who had been soaked by the storm, mentioned the rain. "It's bad.", he said.
I was under a hotel overhang when it started to rain. A man from the lower 48, as they call it up here, asked me if I was going to be ok in the rain. "It is what it is.", I said. "I hope it's not too bad.", he replied.
"Even if it is it'll be ok too.", I replied matter of factly.
"True enough.", he said.
I have to remember to value the small interactions. I've recently had a huge soul altering Interaction that has changed my world view. Leaving it has left a hole in me and it would be a tragedy to let that hole close me to value the small interactions along the way. When travelling do not Expect. Just let yourself be and find a way to enjoy and value the small interactions along the way, even if they are just a few seconds conversation with a stranger you will never see again.
I put on the tank bag rain cover and my rain mits and went to head out when the sun appeared. "Fuck. Ok this is just getting completely ridiculous.", I thought almost annoyed.
I pulled out.
I'm not making this up.
Ok, universe, I think I get it.
But I did not. Not yet.
I rode away from the storm. It was HUGE and fierce but I did not see any of it directly.
I just saw sunshine.
"Ridiculous.", I thought as I figured anyone who knows me would think I'm making this up.
Ok, this NEVER happens. ENOUGH ALREADY!
The landscape changed. There were now rocky hills and trees. "Ok, now it's time to get into the storm.", I thought as I was clearly about to get pissed on.
It drizzled on me slightly never raining really hard. The road was soaked through. I continued on, still not quite grasping the lesson I was about to learn.
The sun came out and set on the horizon.
I rode on for a while eventually needing to get gas. The gas station attendant girl, not quite the most beautiful attendent ever but still very attractive, said, "I can't believe you're not wet. If you had been in this storm you would have had to pull over. It was HORRIBLE."
I thought for a while longer about the rainbow and the storms. I thought about what She had said. "I refuse to let cirumstance pull me down." fearing there was a lesson in here somewhere.
I had expected the storms. They have always been there. "Everything I have touched has gone badly.", I thought as I considered my life and the motorcycle rides I've taken. I've done so many miles in the rain and so few on this trip. It's been nuts.
I thought about the Nightmare as I considered the rainbow and the storms. "Why did I never defend myself? Why did I endure all those years, all those terrible years. Why did I just not simply leave when so many people told me to.", I asked myself.
The old man tortured me. I was put to work and given responsibilities at a very young age that turned me into a very responsible, very adult child. "But no one wants to interact with a child that acts like an adult.", Tanya would say.
I was told over and over again for most of a lifetime what a failure I was, how I was responsible for the failings of the company (I was 12), how my I was responsible for the fact my mom would die a cold and lonely death in the gutter and so many other things. I have told these stories so many times, but not until I have put them down into words in this public forum, forced myself to do it, has it become clear to me how insane that is. I was 12.
But I learned to endure. I could force myself to do anything and I now, with a strange clarity, realize why I could never walk away from the Nightmare, why I had to see it to the end and Finish it. Get it resolved when no one, not even my lawyers thought it could be done.
Because I had to prove to myself in some kind of vein effort that they were wrong. I was not the man they said I was. I got it done against overwhelming odds. My friends who Saw will tell you that. The professionals who worked with me will tell you that.
But I cannot yet accept it.
And today, because writing helps, I wrote a message. Personal. But in it I realized something as I put all this into perspective.
I have been struggling to describe thoughts, feelings, constraints that bind your possibilities and restrict your world. It's the kind of thinking that makes seasoned adventure riders with knobby tires crash on the Dalton when I can ride it in the same conditions with ease. It's not an ego thing. It's a perspective thing. Change how you Think, change how you See and you can change what you can do.
I wondered if I could do with Life what I can do with riding.
And then it hit me. Out of the blue it hit me as I was typing. What I have been trying to grasp is not artificial Constraints, Thoughts or Feelings.
It's beliefs. Things you were taught to believe. Things that you were taught to believe that hurt you, that restrict your possibilities, that close you to the beauty around you. The beliefs that turn a wonderfully beautiful road like the Dalton into a slog that one dreads.
No, Toxic Beliefs.
And then I understood. In a moment of rare clarity I understood. I have been handed down a huge set of Toxic Beliefs that color how I experience the world. With life I am like the adventure riders so concerned with things that they believe, that they toxically believe, that the time they spend is squandered and the point is missed.
I was toxically made to believe that I am bad to my core by deeply damaged parents who used me a symbol for all their failings. I was left to clean up one of the most anatagonistic evil messes that anyone has heard about. When these things happened, when any bad thing that hurts me happens, feelings that I have been handed down arise that I had not realized where there. A bad event happens, such as a motorcycle breaks and I hear the words on the old man, "You are a failed project of mine. I dont' know where I went wrong with you."
For the first time I take a huge risk and ignore the toxic beliefs, which in many instances turn into Artifical Rules, and I have one of the best weekends of my life.
Toxic beliefs are beliefs that hurt you, restrict your opportunities and prevent you from experiences, realizing and most importantly /ENJOYING/ the moment at hand. They are handed down to you by parents, by the wider culture, by religion and other sources.
When you are living the Standard Plan, wife, kids, house, retirement, it's less clear because everyone around you is living with the same beliefs.
But when, as I am, you are living the Non-Standard Plan, making it up as you go along, Toxic Beliefs are more problematic. They are more harmful because they do not free you to explore the freedom you have.
But even if you are living the Standared Plan there are toxic beliefs that can constrain you and make you No Fun. Things like never taking a moment for yourself because you are too stressed taking care of your family worried about what will happen if you are no longer around. I have many friends living this kind of, what I would call, Nightmare. It does not have to be that way.
"Life sucks and then you die.". What a horrible statement. Cowardly. Fearful.
Like the Dalton, I see now that Life can be ridden, travelled, and can be enjoyed,valued and learned from despite it's risks, despite the epic suck. It, like the mosquitoes, mud, rain, water trucks and huge gravel will always be there. Don't let those emotionally detract from the enjoyment of what is there. Prepare for the suck but do not let it rule you. Take care of your family, but examine your own beliefs, about what is possible, what you can allow yourself, not irresponsibly, but practically, rationally, about what is toxic and non-toxic. Then, after you've allowed yourself to feel, really feel the impact of those beliefs, to figure out which are good for you and which aren't, take a risk. Take a shot in the dark.
You may end up being a better person for it.
I think maybe now I finally, after a lifetime, no longer have the pressing need to talk about my nightmare and what was done to me.
Maybe I understand now.
As James, the bear of a trucker said, "And then you have to get on with it''.
I just haven't had the kind of time I've wanted lately to write or think about writing. Riding with new people who have very different styles makes that kind of introspection challenging ... my apologies in advance.
During a very different kind of motorcycle trip earlier this year, Duncan, Bruce and I met Phil for the first time at Deal's Gap. We were sitting at breakfast talking about how the three of us were becoming known as "those BMW riders". A group of guys had just called over to us "Are you them BMW riders? You sure look like BMW riders." when we saw a BMW R1200RT pull up being followed by a Suzuki 'Busa. "You don't see that too often.", we commented.
Shortly thereafter, we noticed the guy who rode the BMW walking in. He surveyed the room and headed straight to our table introducing himself. His name was Phil, it was his first time here and he was from Boston. We got to talking. He was very outgoing constantly telling stories and making a strong impression. His friend, Geo, was more reserved and didn't say much initially. As it would turn out, we would spend most of our Deal's Gap trip hanging out and riding with those two.
Over the next few days, I watched Phil simply and boldly approach people left and right. He would survey a scene for a few seconds, choose a target and then lead with some appropriate, or as the case might be inappropriate, opener to get a conversation going. We had been at the Gap for a few days. Within hours of arriving, Phil already knew more people there than we could possibly hope to ever meet.
It was through Phil that we met Mike and Angela, who he had just met hours before. Mike had been having some trouble with his Triumph and as soon as Phil heard this he was on the phone making connections. He had a few friends who were bike mechanics and was trying to line up help as quickly as he could. I saw him draw on connections he had several times during our time there.
I remembered thinking, at least at that time and probably still to this moment, I would /never/ approach or talk to someone like Angela at a place like Deal's Gap, or nearly anywhere else for that matter. It's a Toxic Belief of mine. I could only imagine the kind of attention she was getting there and would have thought she would probably just want to be left alone, like a pretty woman sitting a few seats down from me at a bar. "You're too nice.", Phil would say. But Phil, Phil's got none of these concerns. He just barrels through and the next thing you know Mike and Angela are at dinner.
I thought a lot about that and how many memories that I am very fond of I would not have if it weren't for Phil barreling through and bringing these people into my life. There's a lesson in there that I attempted to learn early on in my trip, which I now think about as I've been texting Angela planning the next trip to Deal's Gap in the fall with her and Mike.
"This guy is a natural born networker.", I found myself thinking, "I can learn something here." He was constantly meeting people, figuring out how and where they fit, what he thought about them. His mind was always working.
Honestly, I think one of the reasons my trip was not nearly as lonely as I feared was because of some of the things I learned by watching Phil's example. It's extremely rare that people who are that outgoing would prefer to spend time with someone as reserved as myself. It's usually oil and water, but there's alot more to Phil than the first impression he makes.
I forget at what point it was, but sometime after he heard about my planned trip to and from Deadhorse, Alaska he wanted to stay in touch. We did.
He had invited me to join him up to Nova Scotia at the tail end of my trip. I was tempted to go. Phil had been a professional sailor racing in the America's Cup. He's been involved in almost every capacity in the maritime industry. He's done crossings. He's delivered boats from San Diego to Sydney, Australia. He had a very unique and very different view of the world than I did.
"Different is good.", I thought as I considered joining him.
Because I spent more time in Fairbanks, Valdez and especially Prince George, I no longer felt like I had the time to join him up and back. I was going to head down to Salmon, Idaho as a random redirection when he sent me a message saying he was going to scrap his plans, ride out West to meet me somewhere around Thunder Bay, Ontario and join me on part of the last leg of my journey.
He had sent me several emails and text messages during the trip to check in and offered a number of times to help me get parts, information or even, if need be, a truck to haul my bike somewhere. "Very cool.", I remembered thinking. Phil was always trying to help.
I didn't really know Phil well at all beyond the time we spent in Deal's Gap, but he seemed to really want to ride with me a ways. Since I'm out here to See and Think differently, my thought was it would be good to hang out with Phil for a few days. I was sure the time would be filled with all kinds of new faces, ideas and perspectives.
That was not something I could easily say no to. I've done a lot of riding alone on this trip. It would be good to ride with someone else for a while, even though Phil's riding style is very very different from my own.
So I scrapped plans to go to Salmon before I really understood what had been set up and made plans to head East across Canada. Sorry to the folks in Salmon. I hope to make it by that little town on the next trip.
A number of days have passed now. One thing about riding with someone else is there's little time to write or to think about writing. So I now have a little down time as I sit in a Best Western in Michigan on Lake Superior to see if I can capture some of the snippets from the last few days. Where as normally I spend my time riding being internally focused, during this time I've had to be externally focused. Phil rides faster than I do and in a style I'm not used to, so the simple act of riding takes more effort, more concentration.
And combine that with the fact that I'm running on iffy brakes and a broken, albeit patched, exhaust, and there's not so much time to think about the written word. There's also the sleep schedule issue which is becoming somewhat of a problem. Between being three timezones over now and getting up 3 hours earlier than I'm used to I haven't slept much these last several days. So much so that Phil started getting concerned about it as well. But I managed to get some sleep last night finally.
Back several days ago, I was stuck at the Westwood motel in Ignace, Ontario. My exhaust system had split completely. One of the header tubes was separated from the muffler completely and the bike sounded like some kind of sick Harley. And as I had mentioned, in this shape the bike could not be run. To make matters worse, there were no parts available in Ignace and the nearest town was 150 miles away. Towing the bike was going to cost over $780 and by the time we got there it would a 4 day holiday. All in all things were not looking good.
When Phil read the report of my problems, he had already been on the road for a day or two. He offered to stop by Canadian Tire to pick up exhaust header tape and other materials needed to patch up the exhaust so the bike could be ridden. I had thought he said he was only 400 miles away. As it turned out Phil rode 740 miles through holiday traffic and pouring rain to reach me. He arrived at the motel around 10:30.
I believe that is the longest day he has ever ridden. He was sore, tired and in need of food. I had secured him a room and had gotten him some food. He mentioned he was an early riser so he crashed and I returned to my room.
I felt bad that this guy, essentially a stranger, who had put himself through so much hardship just to help me out. He rode 250 miles more than I've done on any day of this trip and he did it essentially cold turkey. That's even harder.
I couldn't sleep and early morning came too soon. I heard his bike start so I got up. We went to breakfast. As I had mentioned in a previous post, I was a little concerned about what this guy would think about my emotional and introspective posts. "I mostly skip over the mushy parts.", he said. "Whew.", I thought.
We went on to talk at breakfast and I began to get a sense there was alot more to this guy than I had initially thought. "The way you are able to describe internal states is impressive. I could never do that. You're a phenomenal writer and I agree. You should write a book, not that you'll ever make any money off of it, but it would give you something to have.". I was floored. Phil is kind of what you would of as a "tough guy.". Very Boston. Very maritime. But also intelligent, insightful and surprisingly complex.
He also knows more about motorcycle mechanics than he believes he does. After breakfast and my fifth cup of coffee we got to work on the bike.
It was a good thing he was here. I had never done this kind of repair to an exhaust system before. He brought bailing wire, tin, snips, header tape and other materials. He showed me something he learned from working on sailboats to tie the broken headers together.
He jumped right into help. Instant teamwork.
Exhaust header tape is a temperature resistant tape with an epoxy that melts as the exhaust system heats up sealing up cracks. Unfortunately the break and cracks on this exhaust were just where the four tubes go into one so all that could be done was wrap it best we could hoping that the wrap and what we stuffed between the tubes would provide enough back pressure to prevent cylinder #1 from frying itself. This process had to be done with the exhaust system warmed up. I was prepared to burn my hands when Phil produced a pair of mechanics work gloves.
I was feeling very fortunate. The sun was obscured by clouds so it was not too hot.
To finish off the repair, Phil suggested that we cut and bend some tin and hose clamp it to hold the tubes together. The problem was the tin needed to be formed into a roll so it would more easily fit around the exhaust tubes.
"Aha!", Phil exclaimed as he started using a fence post for this purpose.
It did the trick.
The final patched result didn't look too bad. The exhaust leak could still be heard but the popping and cracking that had been happening before was minimized.
The problem is that if I use the engine to brake as I normally do especially at highway speeds, it will pop and backfire. So Phil suggested I change my riding style to no longer use engine braking at all until the exhaust system can be replaced.
What this means is that if I'm passing and then need to decellerate I can't just go off throttle. That'll cause a backfire. I have to instead either pull in the clutch so the engine is not being dragged by the bike or I have to do what's called "Trail Braking" which is where you pull in the front brake and then slowly reduce the throttle. This was the engine is always pushing and not being dragged.
We packed everything up and then got onto the road.
Getting a handle on not using the engine to slow the bike down took a while. Eventually I gave up on the "using the clutch" method and just started using the front brake and then slowly turning the throttle down. After some practice it got to be second nature. With the broken exhaust and the iffy brakes and not wanting to slow Phil down I opted not to snap photos unless we were stopped.
We headed towards the bed and breakfast in Rossport where we were originally supposed to meet and crossed the Eastern Time Zone boundary.
There was an older couple that we asked to snap a picture. Phil had been using the "This guy over here just came back from Deadhorse." opener to get people talking. When he said that to this couple they responded, "Yea.". You just never know. It turns out they had just ridden their Goldwing on a tour roughly as long as the one I was in and were intimately familiar with Canada and Alaska.
We laughed as Phil commented afterwards, "Yea, every single road we mentioned they were like 'yea ,been there, done that'".
The landscape changed again and now we were in amongst the trees.
Phil likes to go at a very good clip, actually much faster than I am comfortable with. I like to keep things no more than 20 over whatever the speed limit is.
At my request we stopped at an overlook.
The scene over this vast lake was beautiful.
There was also a tribute to Terry Fox, the Canadian who lost a leg to cancer who ran from one end of this vast nation almost to the other. The statue marked the point at which he could no longer proceed because the cancer had returned. He ran missing one leg 26 miles a day day after day.
"Now that's a real Nightmare.", I said to Phil. I felt very small and moved by what I saw. It was not only the thought of this young man whose fate had been sealed but despite that was doing something meaningful, helpful and deeply moving with the last days of his life, it was the way Canadians reacted to him. The gas station attendant at the gas station where we filled up mentioned to me, "You know the Terry Fox monument is up around the corner. You should go see it.". He said it in a reverant tone. There's something to being Canadian, I think, something deep and compassionate. There's a pride, but not boastfulness. There's an honor without conceit.
"All Nightmares are relative to how you react to them.", I recently told a friend who was surprised to hear that, in her words, I had it so much worse than she did. "I don't know about that. And I don't think it matters. It's not what happens to you that matters, it's the lessons you learn from them. Sometimes you learn things that are toxic to you, as I have."
But I was humbled by the statue and the tribute. I'm rarely moved by such things, but this one seemed so honest. There was no spin, no posturing. It just honored a man who did, with the last days of his life, something meaningful that touched and inspired many lives.
On the way back to the parking lot, still moved by what I had read, we ran into a guy who was on a trip to BC. I think his name was Jeff. He had done long tours before including riding out to the Coast road outside of San Francisco and down through the West.
He was doing this on a cruiser. Phil told him about my trip and I mentioned the blog. "I'm writing articles for a new travel magazine. I saw the articles in there and thought to myself 'I can do that.'", he mentioned.
"I am so envious of your trip!", I exclaimed easily revealing my enthusiasm. Incredulously, he said, "No, I envy your trip!'.
"My trip is in the rear view. I too envy my former self. He did not know how good he was going to have it. But I envy your current self and the adventure you're about to have. I do wish I could turn around and head back that way with you.", I said letting my mind wander for a moment West and North over the mountains ... so envying my former self.
He seemed to get and appreciate what I was saying. I do envy him and wish him well on his journey.
There were pretty flowers in the parking lot.
Yea, I know.
At every chance Phil told stories and I listened. Phil talked about sailboat racing, about rigging boats and cranes. About running a sailboat services company and the thought and energy he had put into that. He talked, without being really aware of it, about his deep insights into human nature. In his current and former occupations, he dealt with every strata of society from top level politicians and CEOs of major corporations, to lawyers, accountants, doctors, to blue collar workers, trucker drivers, mechanics, laborers, to the shadier side of life. He talked at some length of the psychology of gangs and the types of people drawn into them. For each observation he had a story, often a funny story. Phil has led a more interesting life than he realizes, I think.
I mentioned to him the influence watching his outgoing nature had on me at Deal's Gap. "I think I had a desire to change but watching you gave me the tools. I think maybe it's because of meeting you that I was able to change my perspective and meet all those people along the way.", I explained. He seemed really complimented by that. We talked about openers and about engaging people in conversation. I talked about symbols and the way people decide whether or not I'm someone they want to talk to.
Phil is a very outgoing guy. He often crosses lines I don't think I'll ever cross, but he's got a compassion and an open mindedness to him that if you didn't take the time to see past the first impression you might miss. I was often very surprised how non-judgemental he is, especially when it came to conversations about my Nightmare, things that have happened and how I reacted to them.
He stopped at another overlook to have me snap a photo.
He rolled up next to me joking, "Now, as your next exercise, go up to that pretty woman and get her to talk to you", as he pointed to an attractive woman who had just stopped to walk her dog. I bust out laughing as I considered, "Yes, Master Obi-Wan" and I could just imagine him say "Remember your training!". It was too funny
No, of course I left the poor woman alone.
I think it's going to be a while yet for me, my thoughts on that subject being elsewhere now very far away.
The landscape changed again and the hills returned.
And we finally made it to Rossport to the Island Shores Bed and Breakfast. Phil is a master planner and researcher. He found this place. It was inexpensive and was by far the nicest place I've stayed at in the entire trip.
I mean this place is just beautiful. They were also very motorcycle friendly and had two paver covered areas under the deck where we were allowed to park the bikes.
And of course, there were more flowers.
I call this one, "Phil, the Fixer, with Flowers".
The inside was very nice. There was an open kitchen and sitting room.
Once we got settled in we headed over to a Cafe for dinner. It was very nice albeit very warm. I had steak and a greek salad.
The place was packed. They had a trout special that I had wanted, but unfortunately it came breaded. I had asked whether it could be done without the breading, having to deal with my silly diet again, and the waittress said that normally they would be able to but that the kitchen was backed up. "Ok, no problem, I'll have the steak.", I replied.
Phil seemed bothered by this and afterwards said, "I wish you had insisted and gotten the fish.".
As I've said before a few times, it's not important to know yourself. You know who you are alone in the dark. What's important is to understand how who you are and what choices you make are different from those around you. Phil is very different from myself along an axis I haven't been aware of before. I am conciliatory and attempt to find consensus with people. I seem to have an empathy for the context that people operate in and am perfectly willing to abandon my wants to find something that will work for everyone, even if that person is someone I am paying, like a waittress at a restaurant or even an employee or partner.
Phil has a wider range of approaches. Sometimes concilliatory, sometimes forceful he is entirely willing to convince others to see things his way. If he had wanted the trout special instead of simply taking no as an answer and moving on, he would probably have managed to game his way back into the kitchen to talk to the Chef himself if need be to get what he wanted. This ability of his serves him well in the line of work he is in. Essentially, he's a Fixer. He fixes problems both big and small that occur in his company regardless of what they might be. Usually they are lawsuits, but often times they are also problems in operations, or machinery. He's been known to use his maritime skills to pull boats off the beach or move garages. If there's a problem he fixes it, but in order to do that he has to have the ability to convince others to comply with his needs and wants.
Someone with the ability would have been incredibly beneficial to me during the practical aspects of my Nightmare and I told him as much. "Yea, I can see. I could have really helped.", he said to that. And I believe he could have helped and I am also completely convinced he would have bent over backwards to help.
Phil is drawn to the water. If there's ship or something having anything to do with the maritime industry he's immediately drawn to it. He saw a Hinckley boat docked at a nearby marina. Drawn to it, he walked down and I followed him.
There was training sailboat there. We talked to the owner for quite a while. Phil, being a seasoned professional sailor with an incredible depth of knowledge, talked to her about crossings. He would later laugh that she did not know what she was getting into attempting to cross the Atlantic in a 38ft boat. "I've been hit by waves on 200ft boats that were 38ft high. A fish hit the windshield so hard it cracked and we had to work to keep the instruments dry during a gale.", he would explain. (I can't quite capture Phil's speech patterns so the quotes are a bit off. He's got a Boston accent and an 'all over the place' kind of speaking that has many interruptions and redirections ... )
One of the students walked out.
Mr. Kelcher, FROM ACCOKEEK!!!!
For those who don't know, Accokeek is a small town southeast of Washington DC in the state of Maryland where I grew up. I spent my first 18 years there. My mom still lives in Accokeek.
No one is from Accokeek.
A few hours ago Phil called from downstairs. He had, while I was writing, rewrapped the exhaust. The exhaust system on my bike is in sorry shape. The cracks are getting worse. Basically it's falling apart. It was really cool of him to take the time to do that to let me write. I just didn't have the time to put the kind of effort into this article that it really needed. There's so much more to say, so many stories, insights and perspectives to share from these last few days. The maritime museum we went today where Phil's real depth came out. It was interesting to watch his reaction to the Edmund Fitzgerald Bell and the stories of ships that went down. "It kind of makes the hair on the back of your neck stand on end.", he would say. Of riding these roads. Of stories, so many stories that really bring out this complicated character.
But, alas, there is no time for me to write about it all, so for today this will have to suffice.
Phil called. Bike repair finished. "Time for you to meditate. The wrap instructions say the bike has to be ridden for a half hour.", he said.
So off I went for a half hour alone to meditate while riding my machine ... and the odometer turned 66666.
Phil's friend, Charlie, has shown up on a Harley. From here we are going to do three moderate days to make it to Boston where Charlie, a professional mechanic, has offered to let me use his garage to bolt on the aftermarket stainless steel Remus exhaust I ordered today. I managed to get one of the last two aftermarket exhausts available for my bike in the country ... my return will be delayed for probably a week as a result. Phil wants to ride up to a cabin in lower Maine over next weekend. There's also mention of a possible evening sailing trip sometime this coming week.
As improbable as I think it is, if you know anyone who you think might enjoy this blog please send them the link.
Phil and his friend Charlie, left a while ago get a new rear tire put on Phil's bike. The tires he had selected were fine for a twisty place like Deal's Gap but were not suited for thousands of miles of highway. Last night we noticed chords showing.
I've spent the morning futzing with my bike's exhaust system. The patch we had put in place hasn't held and the leak is getting worse.
The reason this is bad has to do with cold air. The break is only 20 inches or so from the cylinder. Exhaust valves in the head become very hot. If there isn't enough length of pipe between the exhaust valve and the outside world, it's possible during decelleration to pull cool air from the break back up to the hot exhaust valves.
You know what happens to hot glass when you pour cold water on it? Yea, like that.
So I fear cracking exhaust valves. It may be a moot point as the valves on cylinder #1 might already be damaged. Once I reach Boston, which is still 1000 miles away, I should be able to tell.
A new exhaust system should be waiting for me there as well.
We're in a place called North Bay, Ontario. Phil had wanted to avoid the long straight roads of Michigan, opting instead to go up and over the Great Lakes. Tomorrow we descend into New York.
These are travelling days filled with cars, traffic, passing, and disquiet. Riding styles matter and our styles differ. Phil has a "every man for himself while being together" kind of style. He'll ride on ahead and leave others behind but will wait for them to catch up if he gets too far ahead. He'll decide to stop and wave us on to ride on ahead and then catch up later.
I, on the other hand, have a more military unit style of riding. We ride in formation each rider occupying half a lane in a staggered pattern. We ride together. Everything gets done as a unit. If I'm leading and want to pass I wait until there is enough room for those behind me to pass as well. I signal to them my intention and we all go, the leader lingering in the passing lane long enough to show the followers there is no oncoming traffic. The leader is responsible for those behind him. Those following are responsible for paying attention to the leader. No one gets lefts behind.
Phil's friend, Charlie, a man who is challenging preconceptions that I did not know I had, seems to be somewhere in the middle between Phil and I.
Between a broken exhaust, trying not to use the engine to brake which means I can't just let off the gas I have to think it through carefully and be very smooth, traffic, keeping up with Phil and watching out for Charlie behind me yesterday really took it out of me more than I realized.
But at least I've been able to sleep for two nights. Phil, to his credit, is concerned and is being accomodating. We'll all do our best to meet somewhere in the middle.
Like I've said, I'm out here to See and Think differently. It's been very many years since I've ridden any significant miles with guys who ride differently than I do. So while challenging, this is good. It shows me how, in this particular realm, I'm different and gives me the vocabulary to describe myself when people ask.
It's also a good challenge to work with someone else taking their position into account to find a compromise that works for everyone.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Phil and his bike with water in the background. He always seems drawn to anything having to do with the water.
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.
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.
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.
We rode over the bridge that led back to the USA.
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.
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.
"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.
We were now in Vermont. The landscape had changed again.
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.
The roads alternated between small twisties through gentle sloping peaks to long stretches through green valleys.
We took our mandatory 100 mile stop at a small pond.
It was extremely pretty hear. "Serene.", Charlie said.
There was this floating flower garden.
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.
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?
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.
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.
I feel uninspired today. The words refuse to come to me. Doors that were open now seem shut or maybe it's simply that I've learned what I've needed to. I'm not yet sure. This feeling different continues.
"You know how you describe Phil walking into a room, surveying and picking a target? Yea, that's how I am with shoes. I walk in, scan, select a target and go.", she explained laughing. "Silly, I know.", she said as we both laughed. Valerie wears heels, even around the house. Very tall heels. We talked about shoes and back problems for a while, but I don't think she's going to give up the heels any time soon.
Not only have I not gotten the feeling that they want me to leave, they are making me feel like they want me to stay longer. "Now I've got a drinking buddy!", Valerie says to Phil, who doesn't drink. Tentatively, the plan is for me to stay here until Sunday. We might go sailing tomorrow or Saturday. I think Phil has secured access to a 40+ft sailboat and has picked a route. I haven't been on a sailboat in years and am really looking forward to spending some time with him on the water. Valerie and possibly a friend of hers will join us. It should be a good time.
Phil is already talking about doing a hard trip up to North Eastern Canada, the "Labrador Trip", that he wants me to join him on. I'm not sure whether or not I'll join him, but he's pretty insistent. There's a big difference in our styles across the board. My wants, when I'm even aware of them are muted and held onto lightly. I am very quick to compromise for the common good. His, in contrast, are pursued forcefully and he rarely gives them up. It's an interesting dynamic. "I'm concerned that you're too passive.", he has said a few times. This forcefulness is part of the culture up here. What I initially mistook for disapproval, this "ball busting", is more jovial in nature and an attempt to find peoples limits. "I know other guys for whom it's about confidence and is alot more serious. They'll push and push to see if you'll stand your ground. They'll tell you something false just to see if you'll call them out on it. And you have to push back but do it very carefully or there's consequences.", Phil would explain sensing that I don't yet understand how things work. He's very perceptive.
The projection of unwavering confidence is also part of the cultural identity up here. It can at first be misunderstood as a lack of compassion, anger or disapproval, but is to some degree just a front.
As I've spent more time around these people and gotten to know a wider circle I've come to understand I'm once again in a very different world, one, like the truckers in Alaska, I've never had any exposure to before.
The closest thing I can think of that might give a vague sense of what people around here are like would be the HBO series, the Sopranos. Actually, I think they mentioned at least one episode was shot around here somewhere. There are stories, endless stories of people with nicknames. Red Dog, the Harley Rider who is on his way back from Sturgis. Johnny Sprockets who is always willing to turn wrenches to help a rider in need. Rocko, Vinni and other names are thrown around, no one understanding how foreign all this sounds to me. There are stories of fights, tragedy, people rotting in jail and of every strata of society. In the company of these people one feels only one degree separated from CEO's of major corporations and also almost uncomfortably close to a side of life one might like to keep some distance from. "And they were staking out the funeral tryin' to take pictures ...", Valerie would explain. Phil, having to deal with every strata in his work, is an endless source of psychological insights to what drives people.
The stories are all externally focused. They are about anecdotes, events, facts and opinions. When feelings are discussed they are also approached from an external point of view. "Yea, he has it hard.", might be a comment one would make. Internal feelings are not discussed openly. Darkness, sadness, guilt, pain and self doubt seem taboo here. Only ever so rarely is there any sense of introspection. Most stories are presented with a great deal of Northeastern humor, even the tragic ones. Phil had been in business for himself in the marine industry when a series of three simultaneous disasters forced him out of business right before being able to cash out. "I can laugh about it now, but I was cryin' about it then.", he explained completely lacking any of the darkness I have.
As has been a theme for me on this trip, I'm amazed that these people have accepted me into their lives. I am surrounded by people here who are so fundamentally different from myself that it's surprising there's any common ground for conversation, but there is.
I've come to understand that this is all largely because of Phil. He decided I was alright and pulled favors to get me the help I needed to fix the bike. He "vouched" for me so his friends accepted me. "You know, I had to pull favors to get you this help. If it went badly, it would reflect badly on me.", he explained to me afterwards.
My hope is that I reflected well on him.
There are, of course, lots of stories of sailboat racing and the maritime industry. Phil showed me a poster from one of his races. He's the guy at the highest point in this photo.
These top class racing vessels are made as lightly as possible with the assumption that they will be sailed by the best of the best. They push the envelope of sailboat engineering and sometimes Bad Things Happen. Phil is also on the boat in this photo where things went Badly.
I guess you don't know how light you can make a boat until you break one.
Phil has worked on tugboats. One that he piloted had been built in 1929 and the processes they had to go through to run that boat were simply nuts. He would talk about delivering fuel in 30ft seas or pushing pitching container ships. He told a story where a sailboat he was piloting got flipped over.
Years ago I used to do contract software development. As a professional courtesy never to leave a customer hanging, if I build something and they are willing to pay my rate I will drop what I'm doing and help out when issues arise. There are systems out there I built 12 years ago that I still maintain from time to time. On tuesday I got a call from my very first contracting customer. A third party she had to deal with had some issues. Luckily I was in a position with a laptop and good WIFI access so I could help her out and save the day. It's the first time I've made any money for the company since I've been on this trip.
Phil had conferred with Charlie and set up a time on Wednesday for me to go over there to install the new exhaust, change the oil and deal with any other issues the bike might have. "Be there at 11. You'll want to motivate at 10.", he said with an unusual sternness. I picked up on the fact that it was Important.
I hate working on a dirty bike so in between setting up SQL databases and futzing with permissions, I went out into the midday heat to wash my bike. Phil had some S100. If you own a motorcycle and do not know about S100 become familiar with it. It's the best way to clean a bike quickly. After two hours of getting the grime off my bike while sweating profusely in the 95degF sun, I once again had a reasonably clean bike.
I guess between working at the computer and having overheated in the hot sun cleaning the bike, I fell asleep in a chair that evening. I woke up around 4AM not knowing where I was, then moved to my room and slept pretty well until 8.
Waking up to an empty house, I got motivated. The stainless steel and aluminum Remus exhaust I ordered had arrived on Tuesday. I came up with a way to attach it to the bike and off I went with just enough time to reach Charlie's.
I arrived at Charlies at 11:02AM. Charlie and another guy were sitting on the front porch waiting for me. I had thought they would be doing something else and that I would just use the space to do this repair. They had other plans.
And I can't believe I did not take a photo of the house and garage from the outside. Charlie built a steel frame house and a 60ft by 60ft by 30ft high garage using steel I-beams. "I know how to weld steel, but what do I know about nails and wood?", he commented.
Charlie opened the garage and I rolled the bike in and onto a huge truck sized car lift. The man that was with Charlie was Johnny Sprockets, a jovial, talkative, extremely helpful and enthusiastic guy.
I don't know which came first, the tattoo's or the nickname. Johnny had been a tank mechanic in the army and loved all kinds of engine powered machines. He had this infectious positive energy about him. "Life is good.", he would say. He talked non-stop and told story after story. They had been working on a Triumph the day before that they got up and running. I never really got whether or not they ever got paid for any of this work they did.
"I just like helping people.", Johnny would say.
The garage was nuts. I've never seen a privately owned garage like this one.
It was huge.
Phil had said the Charlie and Johnny were the two best mechanics in the Northeast. I know good mechanics as well. Lance is amazing. However, Charlie is in a league of his own.
Charlie used to build engines for racebikes. He worked on large ships. He worked on elevators. He welds. He also cast the cylinders and fins that he bolted on to this Honda engine.
He had also created a custom electrical system for this bike. It ran AC current instead of DC.
Charlie is not an arrogant man at all. It takes a while of careful listening to begin to understand the depth of knowledge and experience this guy has. I had not doubted Phil at all, but what I had not expected was how helpful they were. Both Charlie and Johnny dropped what they were doing and helped me work on my bike the entire day.
We pulled off the belly pan and lower bracket to expose where the exhaust bolts to the cylinder head.
NOT GOOD! If you look at the left most tube you'll notice something isn't right. There's a hole without a bolt in it. Actually, what's missing is a stud. A stud is a like a bolt but it's threaded on both ends. See the little hole in the next to the exhaust top in the top center of the photo? What's happened is the stud broke off in the hole so there's no easy way to get it out. This is kind of a nightmare scenario and one that I would not have had any chance whatsoever of resolving on my own in some parking lot somewhere.
The challenge is that a hole needs to be drilled into what remains of the stud up inside the hole. However, you have to be really careful to drill it straight because you don't want to go in at an angle and drill into the sides of the hole. Furthermore you don't want to drill too far up because you could drill into the engine and destroy it. All in all removing broken studs like this is a risky operation.
The mood was a bit dampened. Charlie was concerned that removing this stud could become a major problem.
I found myself once again thinking about focus. It's entirely possible that if this went badly the majority of the engine would need to be dismantled. I felt absolutely no stress.
"We don't want to rush.", Johnny Sprockets said. "Dude, seriously, like a good friend of mine said You have to give a problem it's own time. It'll take however long it takes and we'll do it carefully.", I replied. We were on the same page from there on out.
I tried to, gently, convince the both of them that I could do the work. I felt guilty that they were putting so much effort into this problem of mine. It was not how I had imagined the time going. I figured I would do the work and if I ran into some problem I didn't have the experience to handle I could ask them questions as unintrusively as possible.
But they both pitched in and we worked well as a team.
"You fucking nitwit, make sure you don't drill too deep!", Charlie would bust on Johnny. I had gotten used to the style. It wasn't what I had first thought.
Johnny, strangely, would say he didn't know what he was doing and was just here helping out to learn. He was a very accomplished mechanic and it came through loud and clear. I felt I was in good hands.
We pulled off the exhaust. As I predicted the exhaust came off very easily. It was more damaged than I had thought. Three of the four tubes were broken through. There was no saving this exhaust.
When we pulled the exhaust off one of the other studs came out. The nut had frozen to the stud. This was actually a very good thing as it alllowed us to get a sense of how deep the holes go. Charlie grabbed a special reverse rotation hardened drill bit and put a piece of tape on it to mark how deeply the drill bit could go in safely.
I was going to do the drilling but Johnny wanted to do it. I had to monitor the drilling to make certain it was centered. We didn't want to drill through the stud remnant at an angle.
It worked like a charm. He managed to drill through the stud into the void above but no further. He sprayed penetrating oil called PB Blaster up into the hole and let it soak for a while. "This is the big difference between us and some shop. We can take our time and do it right. In a shop where time is money, they'd try to get it out right away without letting the penetrating oil work it's magic.", Johnny commented. He seemed pleased that I had no sense of rush about me.
The next tool to use was called an "Easy Out". Basically, you just screw it into the hole you drilled in the stud remnant. It's reverse threaded so you turn it to the left, as it grabs deeper and deeper into the hole it forces the remnant to turn in the lefty-loosey direction.
And the stud remnant came out without damaging the threads in the hole. There was this feeling of "Whew!" in the room.
The lower right is the stud remnant. Above that is what a complete stud looks like.
The nuts used on the exhaust studs were one time use only nuts. We also needed a couple of new studs, so off to Maxes BMW we went. I had thought it was close but it took a good 25 minutes or more to get there.
We picked up the parts I needed and then we headed over to a Harley dealer to pick up some filters and plugs for the bikes Charlie and Johnny were working on. On a shelf I saw some S100, so I picked up a bottle. Charlie asked me why I was buying it so I told him I wanted to replace the bottle of Phil's I had used. "You're a good man.", he said. "I try to be. I really try to be.", I replied.
I had suggested that I take them out to lunch. "Somehow to me just saying 'thank you' isn't enough.", I explained. I like to try to do something, some gesture, beyond a thank you to "back up my bullshit" as I like to say. I don't ever want someone who goes out of their way for me to feel that I don't appreciate it deeply.
On the way to a grill where they are regulars, Johnny asked me, "So what are you doing out there?". Having told Charlie my tale of woe in some detail I didn't want to repeat myself in front of him. "I had some bad shit happen and I'm out here getting my head screwed on straight.", I replied.
"You know I never listen to music on the bike and I don't like radios. The whole point to motorcycling is to wash your brain out.", he replied. He would use the analogy a few times. He talked for a while about his relationship to motorcycles.
"Each kind of motorcycle is a key to meeting people. Triumphs are one key. BMW's another."
He and Charlie joked about removing the stud and how engineers make it difficult on mechanics. "Any time you need to use an angle drill there's some engineer that needs a punch in the face.", Charlie would joke.
Johnny went on to talk about how he enjoys helping riders. There had been a group of Hells Angles, HA guys they call them, standing on the side of the road earlier with their "chaindrive pocketbooks" as Charlie would call them. Johnny on his way over stopped to see if they needed a hand. "I just stopped to see if they needed anything. I like helping people. Even those HA guys. You just gotta be careful. I think they were prospecting. So you stop, say 'hey, you alright' and then go on your way.", he explained. The Hell's Angles were mentioned often. I'm not sure what Prospecting is but I guess it's some initiation.
Johnny talked about hubs and wheels and how he saw Charlie as a key figure that drew people to him. One big wheel where each person in it is a spoke. He talked about a guy he knew down in Virginia that he could call if I ever needed a hand down there. "He's another spoke in a big wheel. You know these triumph guys, good pot, no girlfriends, no job so they have bunches of time to run out and help people.", he joked. He had mentioned being single a number of times.
We arrived at the grill. The food was good.
Johnny ordered a drink. "You fucking nitwit! You have a drink and you're worthless.", Charlie would later joke.
We went back to the shop. Charlie has an array of bikes, a Ducati Monster, a Harley and an Aprilla.
We went back to the garage parts in hand. Charlie and I got to work bolting on the new exhaust. It fit perfectly.
We put on the muffler and tightened everything down to spec. All in all it the repair job worked out very well. Actually, it went much much better than I had hoped.
"Damn that's beautiful. You have a beautiful bike. What a nice machine.", Johnny would say multiple times. Even Charlie seemed impressed with my flying brick.
I fired it up. Below three thousand RPMs this exhaust is noticeably louder than the stock exhaust. I have a feeling passengers are going to need to wear earplugs, but I rarely have passengers. Maybe that'll change, however.
I prefer very quiet bikes. I have no need to make my presence known when I arrive. So I'm not sure how I feel about this more aggressive, throatier sound the bike makes. I'm a little self conscious about it, but unfortunately my options are to use this exhaust or get another bike. And I'm not about to get rid of my bike yet. I love it too much.
Strangely, Charlie, Phil and Johnny all refer to my bike as "she". Interesting.
I remembered thinking, if I was with someone who developed cancer and needed an operation that would make them look different would I trade them in because of it?
I let the bike warm up and then did an oil change. The lift was lowered and I took it for a test ride. It was nice to be able to engine brake again. I hadn't realized how much not being able to do that was dampening my enjoyment of the bike. I guess I'll get used to the sound of the exhaust and will just make sure to carry spare earplugs for passengers.
Every Wednesday, bunches of riders gather at Charlie's for an evening of food, drink, turning wrenches and swapping stories. About 10 people showed up. Usually there's more than 20 I was told.
Phil arrived to change the oil on his bike. So up on the lift it went.
Other riders arrived. I have forgotten everyone's name already. One guy rode up on an Aprilla that had over 100k on the clock. Instead of repainting it he covered the bike in Rhino-coat, which is a product used to harden pickup truck beds. It created a nearly indestructible surface.
The evening progressed. More riders showed up. I was distracted by problems with my customer. The third party needed some more work done and I knew she was behind schedule. However, after all the kindness and work they had put in the last thing I wanted to do was to be rude.
At one point Phil walked over and chided, "Man, you gotta put that droid away. These old timers think that's really rude.".
I put the thing away and sat down with the others now very concerned that I had offended them.
I sat and listened to stories of barges, engines, tug boats, sail boat incidents, motorcycle races, parts, machining and all manner of other "guy stuff". More than once Johnny could be heard saying to Charlie, "Man, I didn't know you did that. You're a fucking Einstein." The humor was ever present. There was alot of laughing and busting each other's chops. But there was also this very strong sense of a code of conduct, a set of unspoken rules I had not yet been introduced to. Think Sopranos. There was this feeling that there are just some things you have to know in order to get along with these guys and I often felt out of the loop. I guess it's something you have to grow up with. There was alot of joking, but it was in a style I wasn't comfortable trying to emulate. It's too easy to make a mistake and have it come across wrong. So I withdrew into my introversion and just listened.
Concerned as always how I came across given the generosity I received I checked with Phil. He seemed to think they all liked me. It came time to leave, but Johnny was insistent I watch some race footage of some bikes he had put together. It was pretty cool. I'll have to get the link from Youtube. Before I left he gave me all of his contact info. Phil said, "If they didn't like you they wouldn't have given you the send off they did.".
As we were about to leave, Charlie and Johnny came up smiling to shake my hand and wish me well.
I do hope to see both of them again.
My unbelievable streak of multi-week rain luck has run out. The last 5 or so hours were spent driving through one of those annoying soaking New England rains, the kind that inexplicably penetrates through that which had been impervious during the worst downpours.
To add insult to injury my Garmin Nuvi GPS has completely given up the ghost so I stood there in the rain with paper maps trying to figure out where to find a motel.
I had wanted to ride further to get a more convenient and less isolated motel near something to eat but darkness, poor visibility and the blinding light of relentless oncoming traffic conspired to make riding downright dangerous. I pulled off at the first motel I could find.
But I digress.
I am very tired so we'll see how much of this I get done.
Thursday evening Phil suggested we take a ride over to a bike meet that takes place at a motorcycle safety gear cafe. Yea, I hadn't heard of such an establishment either.
Phil was having some trouble with an oil filter on his BMW. When he pulled the old filter off the old gasket stuck to the block and he didn't notice at the time. So he installed the new filter, with it's own gasket, on top of the old gasket. This is a serious leak and fire hazard waiting to happen. To make things more difficult, he couldn't get the filter off with the tools he had.
So he decided to dress the part and ride his cruiser instead.
Brain-bucket helmet and all. As has been the case since I've returned to the East Coast, traffic was just horrible. It took forever to get to the cafe. But once there, as described, it was a shop specializing in motorcycle safety gear and included an espresso bar.
I was pretty tired so I ordered an Americano which they served in porcelain. I walked around and took a look at the assortment of odd bikes that had assembled outside. There were a number from the Italian manufacturer Motoguzzi. Motoguzzi has almost a cult following. This model, which I had never seen before, led me to believe Motoguzzi is finally trying to join modern times.
I've never drawn to this brand.
I also happened on a Honda VFR700, which happened to be the bike Leonard rode to the Arctic Circle back in '92. That was the trip on which I got sick and had to drop out in Bellingham, Washington.
There was also a custom "street fighter" bike which I guess was based on a Suzuki GSXR.
There was even a Ural with a side car.
Ural is a Russian manufacturer that currently produces bikes that would have been behind the times in the 1940's. The model shown here was built in 2009. The paint was already faded and the thing was rusting.
There was quite an assortment of machines and a number of people. I was listening to one old guy talking on his cellphone trying to help someone diagnose some computer problem.
As I try to pay more attention to how I react to things emotionally, I began to awaken to the fact that I really didn't enjoy this meet. It was difficult to engage people in conversation. Most riders we observed coming into the parking lot had trouble handling their bikes.
It was as if the entire gathering had nothing to do with "motorcycling". I don't mean to be critical but it seemed to be a bunch of guys squawking at each other, "Look! I have a thing! It's such a pretty thing! I like my thing. You have a different thing. It is not as good as my thing. Look at my thing.". I imagined a bunch of seagulls.
I too have a thing. I like it because it helps me think and takes me to places in my own soul that I have found no other way to reach. I do not care if anyone looks at this thing of mine. I feel a bond to it because of experience and an appreciation for the ethic, insights and design sense of the men and women who created it. If I were to design a motorcycle it would be much like the one I have. It fits me. The aspects that are important to me don't seem to have much to do with the "thing" itself. It's not jewelry for me. It's a place and a doorway. Sometimes. I like to invite guests into this place so they can get a glimpse of what it is that I experience here.
Phil calls it my meditation chamber.
We headed back and met Valerie for dinner.
The next day was much as the previous days. Phil was done with work early and suggested that we take a drive down to the yacht club where his friend Thomas had a sailboat. We fought traffic for what seemed like an eternity to get there. On the way Phil made a few stops including one at a Snapon Tool Van to see about getting a proper tool to remove his oil fiter wrench.
I can't remember ever having been inside a Snapon tool truck before. Snapon arguably makes the best mechanics tools in the world. The joke is they are more expensive than their weight in gold.
This truck could be very hazardous to my wealth.
Things! Lot's of things! And with them I could fix so many more of the problems you and I don't have.
After a tour through the most prestigious yacht clubs that Massachussets has to offer, we arrived at the club where Thomas had his boat, a 1982 Tartan 37.
I had some phone calls to make which I took care of. They were all pleasantly patient with me. I had mentioned to Phil, after hearing more of his sailboat racing stories, that I thought it would be interesting to go sailing with him. I don't think I've been on a sailboat in over 10 years. He had explored several options and Thomas had agreed to take us all out the next day.
Thomas's girlfriend, Cinthia, who was extremely nice, always made certain that we had drinks in our hands. Unfortunately, Cinthia is allergic to dogs, so Phil and Valierie's dog, Bella, needed to stay on the dock.
I like this photo of the three of them.
We hung out for a while and then headed off to an Italian restaurant. I had wanted to take Phil and Valerie out to dinner as a way of saying thank you for all their hospitality. I had stayed with them much longer than I had thought I was going to.
The next day rolled around far too quickly. I was up and ready to go by 10AM as per Phil's instructions. Promptly at 11:30 we headed off to the boat. Phil had been concerned that there wouldn't be any wind on Saturday. Luckily for us, the weather forecast had been wrong.
What I did not know is that Thomas had only owned the vessel for two months and had not really sailed it properly. The boat had not yet been really shaken down and Phil flitted about with a dexterity that had to be seen to be believed, given how big he is, to get issues resolved prior to leaving the dock. We got underway surprisingly quickly and were soon in position to raise the main sail. Thomas mentioned that he had not yet raised the main since owning the boat.
Phil has a real talent for direction unskilled labor. Together we raised the main and before I knew it we were under sail.
Thomas and Cinthia were so nice and accommodating. There was an easy going nature about the both of them that was refreshing. Unlike the owners at the bike meet, they did not seem to be all that involved in the "thing" Thomas owned. They were so much more concerned about the experience, the moment, the having guests who appreciated the time.
The sun was shining. There was wind. The scenery was beautiful. Thomas, Phil and Cinthia were endlessly pointing out one major historical land mark after another.
Valerie, on the other hand, seemed to understand what sailboats are supposed to be for. Lounging.
Cinthia was alway ready to make someone a drink.
I have to admit I liked the boat, but sailing does seem like alot of work. Thomas had been in a very nasty accident some time ago. He fell off a roof three stories up and is badly damaged. He is in constant pain and walks with a cane. Phil was endlessly moving about expending all kinds of energy trimming the sails, adjusting things and generally supervising to make sure everything went smoothly.
Occasionally, Phil would get me involved in pulling lines and helping set things. I have virtually no sailing experience and what little I have is from decades ago.
But mostly I was allowed to just sit around and follow Valerie's lead.
Cinthia sat up on the highside rail as "railmeat".
She has a little web design company but I failed to get the URL for it.
At one point, Thomas asked if I could take the wheel. I have hundreds of hours behind the wheel of power boats but less than 20 behind the wheel of a sailboat. Steering this boat under sail on the open water proved to be challenging. It would move in unexpected ways and I found myself constantly overcompensating.
Once I was behind the wheel, Phil promptly went below and tried to go to sleep.
We pulled into a harbor and after some trial and error found a place to tie up and eat. The harbor was pretty.
A friend of Cinthia's joined us at the restaurant. His name was also Phil. An esoteric individual.
We stayed for quite a while but dinner seemed to be over before it started. We were back under sail before we knew it. I was keenly aware of how hard Phil was working to make everything a smooth experience.
As the sun started to set and the waves got choppier I decided to move to the bow.
I didn't get spashed much. With the sun setting and Thomas exclaiming, "I love life.", I said aloud, "Let us take a moment to consider those out there less fortunate than ourselves. At the present moment, that would include most of humanity."
This particular rare moment in life really did not suck in the least. As I sat on this rocking boat being moved erratically by rolling seas and a brisk wind, I once again considered the fact that I was sitting up on the bow alone, no one with whom I could say, at some future date, "do you remember that moment, there in the glow of the setting sun on that wonderful sailbot ...". There are just some moments in life that are really not supposed to be experienced alone.
I think Phil and Valerie understood this better than I did..
They put me behind the wheel again. With these larger seas, keeping the boat straight was even more challenging.
Thomas suggested a photo of the two of us. We really got along. Despite his agony and ill fortune his outlook is so much more positive than mine. He doesn't seem to have any of my darkness, but then again I didn't get to know him very well.
Eventually a sailboat started gaining on us and was on a course to cross our path too close for my comfort. I gave the wheel back to Thomas to let him deal with it.
The sun started to set over the horizon.
We sailed into the night.
We arrived at the dock around 8:30PM or so. Cinthia's daughter, Stephanie, showed up with her boyfriend. I think his name was Al, but I could be mistaken. I couldn't decide who she reminded me of. I kept coming up with the name Angelina Jolie, but that isn't right. It continues to bug me. I often have a talent to match patterns and can point out who someone is similar to. I've seen someone who looks and acts strikingly similar to Stephanie but for the life of me I can't place it.
We all hung out and chatted until well past 11PM. Phil was getting really tired having worked hard to make all of our lives as easy as they had been. So we left and headed back.
It had been a very good day.
I woke up around 9:30AM the next day, grabbed a shower, did a load of laundry and then packed up the bike to get ready to go.
Phil wanted to joiin me out to the New York State border. After some futzing with my exhaust, off we went.
There was alot of traffic at first and has been the case during all the rides with Phil, the pace was disquieting. If we end up doing significantly more miles together some more compromises in styles are going to have to be reached. He just rides too fast and aggressively for my comfort level.
But with the new exhaust in place and being able to engine brake, it was not nearly as challenging to keep up with him as it had been. Initially, the bike had been running alot warmer than before the exhaust had been installed. On this ride, however, the engine seemed to slowly cool down over time. I'm not sure why.
While I feel guilty about the fact that the new exhaust does not have a catalytic converter on it, I have to admit I'm enjoying the boost in power. It can really be felt.
We rode out route 2 West through Massachussets. It's a beautifully scenec road bounded by lush green fields and forests. I didn't want to stop to take photos since I was riding with Phil. After some hours, we arrived at the destination he had chosen. This wonderful little restaurant ontop of a hill with a spectacular view.
It had started to drizzle a bit.
We had lunch and I had copious amounts of brown colored water.
After a while it came time to part company. With a, "See ya, buddy", he was off. I futzed with my GPS for a while seeing if I could maybe coax it into reviving but being thwarted I suited up and headed to points West and South.
It began to rain within minutes. My luck, which has been unbelievably improbably, had finally run out.
Imagine the smell of a dog lying in the hot sun for 10 days dead after a rain. The toxic fume emanating from my Transit Suit is worse. Even the most battle hardened carrion loving flies now avoid me.
Phil had mentioned the suit smelled bad, which it did. After having worn it almost every day for 70+ days now it's to be expected. But after the cycles of rain followed by endless hours of being stuck in slow moving traffic under sticky humid sunshine over the last two days, now it truly reeks.
The comfort Inn I'm staying at serves a real breakfast. I'm wearing the shorts Bruce gave me in deference to the other guests. I never wear shorts.
Yea, it's that bad.
I'm going to be visiting Rachel in Philadelphia tomorrow. I'm tempted through simple human compassion to get a hotel somewhere near her place, shower, change and walk over instead of arriving in all my odiferous glory.
I think I figured out why everything got so soaked in the rain the other day. On these country roads so filled with slow moving traffic I wasn't able to maintain anything over 35mph for any length of time. During the first leg of the trip when I had spent days on end being dumped upon it was all at highway speeds. That creates a wind buffer around the bike which prevents the rain from getting behind the fairing. But at these slow speeds the rain comes down and just soaks everything. Water pooled up on the seat, over the tankbag, everywhere. It also explains why visibility was so poor. There just wasn't enough wind to clear the faceshield. All in all it made for unpleasant riding.
The previous day riding in slow traffic in the rain had taken it out of me. I was too tired to write and ended up sleeping late. The motel I had found in the middle of nowhere was nice. There were pretty flowers.
I had not had dinner the previous night and subsisted on nothing but cashews and pecans. The clerk at the hotel mentioned a diner down the road. It was "Happy Days" themed. I should have taken a photo of the inside. Strangely, much of the memorabilia they had inside seemed authentic from the era. It felt old.
I didn't really have high hopes that it would stay dry. The clouds menaced low over the trees. I hit the road with the intention of making it to the Eastern Grand Canyan in Pennsylvania. It was already pretty warm and humid. The stickiness still hung in the air from a early rain. I got on the bike and rode on. Route 55 through New York is a slow road filled with small towns and traffic, lots and lots of slow moving traffic. There was, however, the occasional cool bridge.
I like old impressive bridges.
It seemed like every attempt at forward progress was thwarted by yet another slow moving vehicle. Mercilessly few passing zones combined with geriatric drivers intent on doing 10mph UNDER the speed limit while randomly braking due to imaginary hazards would conspire to frustrate even the most patient riders. Then there was the tractor trailer doing 20mph for nearly half an hour when finally a two lane passing zone appeared. A pickup truck with yet another geriatric driver who was all of 30 years old, decided to prevent all traffic from passing the tailer and a line of cars 10 deep were stuck in the mid day heat for yet another 30 minutes. Temperatures would at times reach the mid 90's. I roasted.
Have I mentioned I don't seem to do well in the heat?
I felt none of that calm that I felt Out There. I want to hold on to that calm but I am too affected by my environment and today it was really getting to me.
If it hadn't been for the traffic these roads would have been really nice.
At times they traversed hills and could have been alot of fun.
20mph corners are frequent on these roads.
There were also pretty vistas.
It would alternate between a solid rain and hot sticky sunshine. In the sun, this landscape lit up and one could really get a sense of how overwhelmingly green everything is.
I find myself once again in a very different landscape. "How many have I seen thus far?", I would think.
It started to rain again. I happened upon a small pond where a strange mist hung low over one section.
It looked like a setting you might see in a horror film, the mist concealing an approaching evil.
I rode on and came upon a group of deer chomping away at some grass around a transformer. Despite the rain I snapped a photo. I had thought deer would be such a larger part of this story.
There were a number of reservoirs behind earthen dams. This one had a pulloff and cruelly where I stood it was raining steadily and not more than 10 yards away over the water it was sunshine.
Eventually I made it to Pennsylvania. "Too close to home.", I thought as I realized from this point I could easily make it home today if I wanted to. I was already pretty tired from the alternating rain and heat cycles.
I've always liked Pennsylvania. There's a blue collar practicality to the culture here.
Overheating I stopped at a gas station to drink copious amounts of water. This car rolled up.
I didn't talk to the owner.
Much of the infrastructure in Pennsylvania seems really old. A number of bridges like this one can be seen.
There are also incredible vistas of farms and fields as far as the eye can see bounded by thick dark forests.
At times the road would curve down through gentle tree covered valleys.
It would cross tall passes with the occasional awe inspiring scenic overlook.
At this particular overlook a treacherous trail extended out onto a ledge. This precariously perched tree was more impressive in person than in this photo.
Forward progress was just not being made. The traffic lessened for short intervals only to get my hopes up. As the rains stopped the temperature rose. I started to roast in earnest. I had been on the road for hours on end and had managed to average less than 25mph over the day. Realizing I was near exhaustion from the heat, I decided to call it a day over 50 miles from goal.
Because of traffic, heat and conditions, I didn't find that calm I need to "meditate". The only topic I found myself considering as I rode behind yet another Ma and Pa kettle was my relationship with possessions, with Things. I think I aspire to have Less. More on that another time.
I'm going to go downstairs wearing the shorts Bruce gave me and get some breakfast. I have considered bailing on the Eastern Grand Canyon to just start the trip to Philadelphia, but I think I can probably still make it to take a quick look, do some back roads South and then superslab it for the latter half of the day. If I don't run into too much traffic I should be able to get close enough to Philly to make it an easy ride in tomorrow to meet Rachel after noon some time.
My journey is nearly over. In three days I'll be back at home mired in the Stress and surrounded by Obligations and wondering what I'm going to do with the rest of my life. All options are open to me but I have few real answers. Just glimmers of ideas. At some point I'm going to have to stop hemorraghing money and start earning some.
Phil said to me on my last day with him how fortunate he thought I was. "Not everyone can do what you have done. Few have the means to go away for as long as you have.", he said. "But the price I've paid to be able to do this is too high. It's not been worth it.", I replied.
"Many who have lived through Nightmares like you have never resolve them. They're stuck in them until they die. But right now, you are very fortunate. I can't afford to do what you are doing.", he replied.
He's right. If I discount the past and focus only on this long moment, I have been extremely fortunate. This journey has turned out to be so different than I ever expected. So unbelievably Improbable.
There's such a big part of me that wants to pause to regroup and then turn around and head back Out There.
I liked myself out there. I don't think I've ever liked myself before.
My journey came to an end yesterday. Far too quickly the memories, the calm and the focus from the road are fading. Words are already becoming far more difficult to craft. Was it all just a dream?
Rolling up to my house, I paid careful attention to my initial reactions, my first feelings. In ways, it's nicer here than I remember. In other ways, it's some of the ugliest scenery of the whole trip. Walking into the house, the din from the racks of servers I manage there was very disquieting. Stress. There is so much stuff everywhere.
I've come to understand very quickly that I am more affected by my surroundings, by my environment, than I would ever have allowed myself to accept. My old man always considered that weak, so I learned to deny this fact about myself. I walk through the house thinking about the man who was imprisoned here for so many years. Poor bastard.
I couldn't think with the din of those machines, so I'm now sitting at my Starbucks in College Park. There are familiar faces here, Thanh and Jonathan, who welcomed me back with big smiles. Yun, a good friend who helped watch for things while i was gone and who detailed my car, just arrived. He's a very good guy.
Back three days which already seems much longer ago ...
After an early breakfast I donned my odiferous leathers, packed up my gear which by this point has become a well practiced motion and continued on my way in the heat along Route 6. Crossing a bridge, I came upon a scene that captures how I see Pennsylvania.
Very green. Hills. Small quaint towns situated inbetween trees and not the other way around.
It was hot and the traffic was still ever present. I cooked in the heat.
Traffic let up a bit a few miles on and I started making good time. The geriatric drivers doing 10mph under the speed limit were no where to be found. The breeze felt good.
I clicked off the 50 miles to Wellsboro in no time flat.
I was pretty well cooked and bathed in sweat. In addition I needed to get gas so I stopped at a gas station, grabbed a couple huge bottles of water. Looking up, there were interesting clouds overhead.
At this point I was only a few miles from the so called Eastern Grand Canyon. There is an observation tower on the edge of the canyon from which you are supposed to be able to see 100 miles out. My intention had been to go see this but I missed the exit and found myself in one of the state parks around the canyon. After all the incredible landscapes and beautiful scenery I have seen while Out There, this seemed more like a small ditch. Then again, for the East Coast with all it's gentle slopes this is a huge canyon. Calling it a "Grand Canyon" is overstated, but it is nevertheless beautiful and worth the trip. The lower elevation and the fact that it's a lower latitude East Coast feature means that the vegetation is different. There's little that beats the kind of dark lush impenetrable forests we have here.
Meandering about the park in the heat and being eyed suspiciously by young children as they scurried about I came upon a trail head.
It's 90+ degrees outside with something like 1000% humidity so my former genius leather clad self thought, "Hehehe. I remember Telluride. 'Note to self, down is harder than up'. I'll do down first.". Of course, I failed to take into account that down is harder than up only a motorcycle.
For some reason, the option of not going down the path never really dawned on me.
I did, however, have the foresight to ask a very nice shop keeper whether I could drop off my helmet and jacket for safe keeping. He very nicely agreed to hold on to them for me.
So my odiferous leather pant clad self started the easy stroll down hill. I found myself wondering, not really knowing, "At what point does a stroll turn into a hike?". I still don't really know. I figure if you don't have a backpack filled with survival supplies, it's probably a stroll and not a hike.
The environment here really is gorgeous. The canyon walls are steep with what I guess is slate rock sticking out in places. Trees can be seen eeking out a precarious existence on the outcrops.
I happened on some other park visitors and offered to take a photo of the whole lot of them. They returned the favor.
"Unlike getting eaten by grizzly, getting crushed by boulders is thankfully not on the list of disallowed activities, so I can have some fun.", I thought chuckling.
It was pretty hot and I had figured out that if I unzip the transit suit pants a bit around the ankles it was much cooler. My legs were started to hurt and tremble a bit.
There had been a lack of rain in this area so the waterfalls were a mere trickle. The slate strata made for an interesting stepped effect.
The path continued it's slow descent. As I strolled through these woods I found myself remembering how much I like walking in the woods. "A requirement! If I ever have another girlfriend", I thought chuckling artificially trying a new thought pattern on for size, "she's gonna have to like walking in the woods with me."
Requirements. I've always been loathe to think about "requirements" when it comes to human beings. So many people I know "shop" for significant others, friends or other connections, the way they shop for a car. They have a check list. I guess those are the kind of people for whom dating sites work. I am not one of those people.
I'm just not someone that thinks about "requirements" when it comes to human beings. This is not just when thinking about romantic entanglements but also just in terms of the kinds of people in general.
Being open, being flexible, being willing to defer opinion and just accept regardless of how uncomfortable it is has been such a powerful part of what I've tried to learn while Out There. I never imagined I could meet and get along with so many radically different people with backgrounds and viewpoints so far removed from my own. Many times I've had to stray far outside of my comfort zone and stretch the limits of what I think is acceptable. I've even broken some of my most core Artificial Rules and now I Feel differently.
But if I had kept to my artificial "requirements", I would never have had these experiences nor would I have learned what I so desperately needed to. There's a lesson in here somewhere and maybe not just for me.
There is, however, a fine balance. There are still many things I won't accept or tolerate, but there are fewer of them than before and they are more along my true core values as opposed to my fear of consequences.
In places the walls of the canyon were impressively steep.
I made it to the canyon floor.
So beautiful, but hot so very hot. I was pretty much cooked by the time I got here.
I walked down to the river.
It's a canyon like so many others I've seen, just much greener.
It was at this point I began to curse my former self. My former self had decided it was a good idea to stroll down 1500 feet. My current self now had to suffer the consequences of this ill-begotten choice.
Did I mention the steps? A little girl who passed told me that there were 263 steps. Did I mention I was wearing leathers? I unzipped the sides of the leathers even more in a vane attempt to cool down.
I climbed back up pouring sweat and getting hotter and hotter. At one point, I decided to take a short cut and scramble up vertically for a bit. I was completely wiped out by the time I reached the top. Unfortunately, there were bacteria warnings on all the water fountains so there was precious little water to drink and I had no change for the machines.
My thought had been to leave quickly but I was in no shape to ride. I had a little bit of water on the bike which I went to get. A couple with whom I had crossed paths on the way down greeted me in the parking lot. "I can't believe you're already up here. You must have been really moving!", the woman exclaimed. "I guess I went down and up in 1:15.".
Maybe I had been moving too quickly. Her husband, Jay, is a electronics engineer and designs computer circuitry.
"I've been programming for about 35 years now.", I said to which she commented, "Oh, you two will have alot to talk about. I think I'll go sit in the shade".
"I started out at the age of 7 learning the machine language instruction set of the Texas Instruments SC/MP processor.", I said which really got his attention. He was an old school engineer who was in the industry as well back in the day. Very few people my age go that far back.
We talked a bit about my trip. I mentioned Camp Coldfoot without mentioning the Dalton Highway. He had been following the Ice Road Truckers show so immediately knew quite a bit about the area. He talked about his wife and how good she had been in getting him to slow down a bit. "At this age I'm only doing about 55 hours a week. I used to think nothing of working 80, 90 or even 100 hours a week.", he said. This is all too common in the computer industry. Since all we do is sit around in front of a keyboard few outsiders understand that it's work and takes effort.
I too have done far too many stretches of months and months on end of 80, 90 and 100 hour weeks. For what?
"With all those hours I've spent in this technical and somewhat exclusive domain, it leaves me with little to talk about. How many people are out there that are actually going to care about stories of developing software? In the end, it's the times that you lived that give you the stories to tell", I said. "Exactly.", he replied.
We talked about money for a while, about generational differences, about senses of entitlement.
In some ways I found myself thinking that what I've been doing is very scary. I've put any and all sense of obligation, duty and work on hold. I realized since I was 7 years old these 75 days have been the longest stretch of time I've taken off. Since I was /7/.
Then again, Phil's words continue to echo, "You are very fortunate.". Yes. I believe I see that, despite all the life that has passed me by.
The truth is, if I can hold any fear of the future at bay, I could turn around and go Out There for another year or maybe even two if I wanted to.
Jay and I actually talked for quite a while. It may have been a couple of hours. He talked about trying to teach people, "I know what I want to say and what I want to get across but I get so frustrated when they don't get it.", he mentioned. That got me to thinking about a conversation I had with Valerie of what goes on inside the minds of technical people, software developers and engineers, when they work and why it seems like they don't have "social skills". I was thinking I should write an article on that topic from both perspectives. I've spent a great deal of time trying to get over my own "technical bent" and see things from very different perspectives.
It has not been easy.
We parted company. I was still pretty cooked and decided to bail on the tower. I rode out with the intention of finding a gas station and convenience store and drinking a great deal of water.
I came upon a station and parked my bike near the door and purchased a bunch of water bottles. I was fully intent on performing the time honored motorcycle ritual of loitering at the gas station when I noticed ...
So I sat down on the ledge in front of the sign and proceeded to illegally loiter with reckless abandon proud of my act of rebellious defiance.
"Good Geeks Gone Bad.", I thought as I laughed aloud maniacly. Passers by avoided me a bit more than usual.
After drinking copious amounts of water and, wisely, diluting it with even more coffee I headed off. It was much later in the day than I had wanted it to be. I was supposed to meet Rachel in Philadelphia the next day but she was more than 250 miles away from my location.
I wanted to do some good roads. On the map I had noticed routes 144 and 44 heading south from route 6. It looked like they might be good roads. Despite the lack of time I decided to keep with the plan and do the little roads. After the days of traffic, heat and suffering, I'm glad I did.
Finally, some good roads.
Route 144 turned South off of Route 6 and headed through the Susquehannock State Forest. I rode on for hours hardly seeing a single car. It was a wavey curvey beautiful road. The pavement wasn't quite to the quality of what you see in the Smokey Mountains but the scenery was comparable.
Most of the trip has been about scenery, introspection and new experiences. Roads out West are often too treacherous to really have fun on. Corners inevitably are covered in gravel because it doesn't rain enough. Large critters often camp out in the middle of the road.
But here in the East on roads like this it's about pure motorcycling enjoyment. I will have to take a long weekend and ride these roads again. Maybe I can talk Duncan or Josh into joining me.
Route 144 turns into 44 and the fun continues.
There were hills and valleys, all covered in trees.
Unfortunately there were few places in the really curvey bits to snap photos. 10mph corners and 25mph switchbacks were not uncommon.
There were sections of forest here that were so dark peering into them all you could see is blackness only occasionally interrupted by solitary beams of sunshine that penetrated the canopy in the distance. "Mirkwood.", I thought.
Pennsylvania has always appealed to me.
In places you could get a sense for how hilly this terrain is. After being out West I have a hard time calling them "mountains", but I guess technically they are.
I eventually found my way back to the Interstate and started making some time. By the end of the day I had ridden well over 300 miles, most of them on wonderful back roads.
It rode all the way to Allentown but all the hotels were booked solid. They sent me over to Vogelsville, or some such town, where I did manage to find a Comfort Inn with some vacancies. Tired, thirsty and very hungry I made a mad dash over to the only grill in town that was still open. Demonstrating compassion for my fellow human beings I sat as far away from everyone else in the bar as I could.
The bartender was very kind and asked me, of course, where I had been riding from. She too had watched the Ice Roads Truckers show and when I mentioned I had ridden the haul road she said, "You're crazy!".
She would come back by the table every once in a while and ask me more questions about the trip. Unlike many of the places I've been to in Pennsylvania this woman had a very hard core work ethic. That's something I always hold in high regard. Unfortunately, I've forgotten her name.
I went back to the hotel with the intention of writing but between scrambling down and up canyon walls and doing all those back roads in the heat I was completely wiped out ... I was asleep before I knew it ...