Saturday, October 3, 2009

Going Places

Go expressly to enjoy the moon and it turns to tinsel,

but discover it on a necessary journey and

its beauty bathes the soul.

--Ralph Waldo Emerson

Every new bike comes with a warranty card, which you mail in, and an urge to travel, which you hang onto. It grows. Now, in the fall, I am overcome with an almost painful wanderlust. Remembrance of trips past, perhaps, triggered by the peculiar length and feel of these days. But no matter why, this is the season—the slant of a burning orange ball in the sky, a wash of brown and red leaves across the road from right to left, or a miniature cyclone of dead foliage chasing itself around and around—that makes me want to go find new motels. Too bad it comes in a life that is little suited to this enterprise anymore. I look in the pages of the agenda and flip them back and forth: here? No, drat; there’s that thing I have to be here on Saturday night for. Here? Shoot. The schedule got changed, and I’m a parent that weekend. The next clear one is in November, and I have been thinking Adirondack-y thoughts lately; probably too cold. And on it goes.

But I will persist, and drive a wedge somehow into the calendar, split it clean through with the adze of determination and make a space into which I can insert this novel idea: I will go away. For two days, I will be on my bike and going somewhere for the simple purpose of going and seeing what it looks and feels like.

Where? Well, that’s what god made the Rand McNally Atlas for, didn’t he? (“America’s Love Affair with the Road,” US $9.95.) I stare into its pages, too, trying to imagine myself on those thin red or black lines, preferably the ones edged with little dots (Scenic Routes). There are too many to make a choice, and I am rapidly approaching the stasis I embody before the nine-page, eight-pound laminated menu at the Greek diner: after reading entry after entry, my brain getting slower and slower like a logey computer loading more and more, I end up ordering the same damn omelet I’ve ordered for the past thirty years in Greek diners. Rye toast, please.

Where I've really been longing to go is the Grand Canyon. I want to spend the night at the soaring lodge--an architecture that meant to mimic the scenery outside, and because it was from a period in American history when we cared about aspiration as much as we did about craftsmanship (I refer to the time of, gasp, socialism's brief flower), it comes close. But two days to get to Arizona and back? Not even the Iron Butt fairy could wave her wand and make that happen.

I will probably choose someplace familiar, then, Pennsylvania somepart, or Massachusetts. Soon will come the moment I will turn out the driveway and not look back. For two or three days I will answer to no one, pace myself to no one, talk to no one, dine with no one. By necessity and circumstance alone, and potentially by choice. I will know that, though, only when I get back.

There’s a strange alchemy that sometimes works itself on the material of the lonesome trip: it can be a great movement outward, an opening that seems to propel you forward toward a boundless horizon. Or it can suck. Then, it quickly reveals itself as the dreadful mistake you just have to get through, forty-eight long hours of What Was I Thinking. This is when, paradoxically, the great act of freedom becomes a self-created prison, the close walls made of loneliness and fear. Have you never felt them both?

I am reading Neil Peart’s Ghost Rider, and it’s both fueling and cautioning my wanderlust. It is a raw and perfect cross-section of grief; it chronicles a long, aimless road trip undertaken because there was nothing else he could possibly do, having lost his daughter and his wife a year apart. Inconceivable. How does the human mind deal with loss of that magnitude? Well, he tells us how. Basically, it is not built to do it. It’s like asking a perfectly good canoe to take off from a forty-foot cliff and get you to the ground safely. It’s like taking a disconnected rotary telephone outside and pointing it at the sky and expecting to get a signal.

If he didn’t have motorcycling . . . Well, god forbid. He just had to ride it out. Having all that stuff to do—navigating, calculating, performing all the mechanical tasks of operating the machine, regulating speed, every second thinking defensively, all in a continuous, multivalent flow—protected him from being eaten alive by corrosive, overwhelming grief. It saved him.

That is why I am getting so tetchy with people flinging the danger card down on the table in front of me. Don’t they know that when you reach a place where there is nothing to eat anymore, and the cupboard is empty and you’re out of everything, then something appears that is suddenly full and ripe and tastes so good, it would be insane not to save yourself, not to fill yourself up again? What is a bit of danger on a full plate next to starving? Not a choice, but a necessity.

The weekend of October 16, then, destination to be determined. Warmer gloves to be bought, electric vest to be tested. Bags to be packed; not much is needed beyond pajamas and two sets of underwear. Book, paper, pen. Credit card. Open road, opening.


Tina said...

What a great post! You capture it, even for us scaredy cats in our mini-vans who wouldn't dream of getting on a motorcycle. We would, and do, dream of all the rest, though. Thanks for the inspiration.

Steve said...

Not loneliness for me but rather aloneness; solitude. I feel lonelier when I'm at home and not able to really make a connection with friends that have drifted away. But solitude is a good thing; I get to be alone with my thoughts or have them turned off by the single minded focus of a properly negotiated twisty road.

No fear for me when on 2 wheels, either. At some point in my riding life I discovered that the most awkward, dangerous situations that I encountered were when I was paralyzed by fear. If I allow the situation to flow through my brain and out to the bike a solution occurs. Focus on a challenge too long and it becomes an obstacle that can harm me. When the motorcycle is completely an extension of my thoughts, and proved to be so by solving the problem, is when I enjoy it the most.

I envy your getaway; I won’t be able to do it this year. Enjoy!

ren said...

Go to Lake Ontario, north of Syracuse. Go to Oswego. Nice college town, great access to the shore from the campus. See if these people are still open and stay there in one of their cabins:
The cabins are spare but delightful and right across the street from the lake and you will hear the waves all night long.

Scott Carpenter (from Devon) said...

Since my daughter was born 4 years ago I have not been able to do those wonderful 2 week trips that I used to do, it would be unfair on my wife.

So instead I target the odd weekend or 4 days, at least 2 times a year where I can just get away and feel the road under me. This year was the Peak District for 4 days, and Newcastle and back in 5 days.

Though freinds were present on both trips from time to time, the parts where I rode alone (like I used to mostly in the old days) meant so much to me...I hold onto the memory very tightly. Stop when you want. Eat when you want. Ride at your own speed in contentment.

Right!! I'm off to plan the next escape. But not really an I often burst into tears when I walk in the door and my daughter leaps into my arms...

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Scott, what you've said--on the sweetness both of leaving home, and the different sort of sweetness upon returning--is so perfectly tuned. The greatest travels allow us to feel centered between two opposing points (in & out; away & here). Then there you are, alive from the tension of being stretched along an invisible cord.

Of course you'll hear about it when I get back, from wherever . . . perhaps indeed to Oswego. Because if Ren the Solitude Traveler says it's good, it's good. Lakeside, especially in fall, is full of happy melancholy. The sort I like.

Tina, you are not scared. You are a hell of a brave person. I know it.

And true, Steve. I too have felt moments of loneliness at home far greater than I could ever feel out in a place where no one truly knows me--because I'm not expecting people to, and thus suffering disappointment when I realize it isn't so after all.

Hey, I bought some winter riding gloves yesterday--it's a start.

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Oh, yeah: You're also right, Steve, about worry fixation, as I found out yesterday. When a voice in my head spoke out loud, "This feels all wrong"--the person I was riding with; the fact that I was tired, reluctant, underconfident--I began to worry. And when I worried, I rode like s**t. When I told myself to let the worry go, blow back in the wind behind me; to relax my upper back; to look ahead onto the road and the upcoming turn and the mountains turning color all around, then the worry released. Things flowed smoothly again, at least until I started fretting again. Yet I knew the day would come to an end, I would have another day that felt different soon, and this would change. Because everything does. Another of motorcycling's life lessons: unless you're at a stop sign, nothing stays the same.

Kevin G. said...

I'm amazed by the dichotomy of the motorcycle. Both a high risk machine with dangerous qualities, and yet a vehicle with a power plant and a self sustaining system, capable of re-charging so much more than what is tangibly measured on gauges.At times for some, a lifeboat on two wheels.
Danger card? During the circle check, maybe that could be attached to the spokes for extra horsepower!Then, as has been suggested by others "Just follow your front wheel".

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Yep, ain't that it, Kevin? Bikes always provide multiple uses for *everything*, be it emotions, projections, years, or danger cards.

Who could not love them?

Steve said...

I know what you mean about when it just doesn't feel right. It can be difficult to go past that point.

I thought about it and decided that I was probably wrong to think that I don't experience fear while riding. I think that it is the one area of my life where I recognize why it happens, take it in stride and allow the solution happen. Fear is probably there but desn't get in the way. If only I could apply that in other situations!

With your riding history, and some track time, I'm sure that you have experienced your skills taking over and doing the right thing when you let them. Fully aware of the situation, receiving the information from your senses, you and the bike synchronized, listening and responding to each other; and the resolution opens in front of you.

I don't think that the skills disappear, but they may need to be exercised a little after some rustiness has set in. It just takes some miles, and with new winter gloves it just became easier.

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Is that why we love riding so much? Because we can re-do our failures in other areas of our life, and make them come out right this time? I think so.

Can we try to generalize this experience of success to the other parts of our lives? Dang, I hope so!

Every time I go out I have the opportunity to improve, and that's what I think is happening. Thankfully now there's an abundance of teaching materials--people with their own methodologies in courses, books, videos; there's lots on YouTube, too, I just discovered--that didn't exist a decade ago. I've got plenty to work on. And I'll take it slow, until I can take it fast.