RoadRUNNER Zen Motorcyclist

Zen Motorcyclist: The Means to Notice It All

Sep 22, 2016 View Comments by

This past Mother’s Day, my girlfriend Erica and I rode to a farm not far from my home that she had lived on for a time. We were visiting the owner, Sally, who Erica had grown close to during the time she spent there and who she’s remained friends with ever since. As I approached on the cycle down a long, narrow, winding gravel driveway and under an idyllic train trestle, I spotted horses and donkeys in the fields, chicken coops and tractor barns, all the stuff of a working farm. The sky wasn’t looking so good, but it was a May day, I’ve ridden in the rain before, and besides, the dark clouds and winds created the kind of weather I’ve always loved riding in.

Zen MotorcyclistSally, a strong, no-nonsense woman, appeared to be close to my mother Mary’s age. She actually reminded me a bit of my mom. A bird had made a nest in a broken light fixture on her porch and laid eggs. Sally saw to it that the switch to the light was disabled and a sign was posted warning visitors to use the side door lest they suffer the wrath of a mother protecting her young.

I sat on the floor as we spoke, petting Sally’s huge, fleshy-faced English Mastiff. We covered a lot of topics. Sally is sharp, up-front, an avid reader, and direct, the sort of person I love talking to. I got the feeling that with her there are no games or fear of offending, just smart conversation. Eventually the talk turned to motorcycles, and she started to tell me a story about her son. When he was young he had announced his intention to take an extended motorcycle trip out west, which Sally supported and encouraged, though it was in direct opposition to the stance her husband had taken on the subject.

As she spoke about how she had thought it would be wonderful for him to experience and how excited she had been for him to expand himself, I detected her joy at retelling the tale start to turn to sadness. In my heart I hoped the trip hadn’t ended badly (I’ve heard my share of sad motorcycle stories), and to my relief it hadn’t. Her son took his trip, had a great time, was profoundly affected by it, made it back safely, got married, and had children of his own. Her sadness came not from a tragic accident but rather from the recent news that her son, close to my own age and in good health, had passed away suddenly in his sleep.

That she was able to share that with me not 45 minutes after we met was moving and something I’ll not forget. It’s what motorcycling does in a way not many things do in my experience: acts as a bridge between people that can cut through the initial mistrust and feeling-out we tend to experience in deciding what to share and how soon, which wounds to expose and which to protect. There’s a sort of invisible thread that weaves itself into the fiber of anyone who rides, loves someone who rides, or, tragically, has lost someone who did. I’ve always believed there is more that bonds people than what they allow to keep them apart, and for whatever reason motorcycles remind us of that.

I got the sense from Sally that she was confident in supporting her son’s decision to take that trip because she knew she had raised him to be strong enough and capable enough to handle it, to grow from it, and to come back ready to face the world better because of it. I never met the man, but his mother is nearly single-handedly maintaining a working farm and caring for an ailing husband, all while making time to look out for the family of birds nesting on her front porch. I’m pretty sure her son and I would’ve taken a ride together and may very well have been friends.

As we left the farm, hail started to fall and I thought about my daughter Devon, who I helped raise and have watched grow into a strong, sensitive, compassionate, capable adult. I also thought about my mother, who has always unflinchingly supported and believed in me even on those long trips during which I know she feared, in admirable silence, for my safety. The connected loops of family care and concern, of fear and trust, belief and support, were deep within me, and I was, once again, ever grateful that I had found motorcycling as my means to notice it all.

Text: Bud Miller
Photography: Erica McHugh


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