Zen Motorcyclist: A Little Bit of Everything
“Whether one moves slowly or with speed, the one who is a seeker will be a finder.”—Rumi—
A couple of years ago I was touring Shenandoah National Park in Virginia with my friend Ken and his wife Cindy. I used the occasion to extend a solo trip and rode south through several state parks to meet them. If you’ve attended a RoadRUNNER Touring Weekend, you’ve no doubt met Ken.
We met several years ago at the Touring Weekend in Maggie Valley, over the course of which he told me all about his son Chris, who was close in age to my daughter Devon. Chris, he told me, spoke fluent Japanese and had been living in Tokyo working as a video journalist for Reuters since finishing college there in 2010. Sometimes I wish I had more than one page and 800 words for this chronicle. This is one of those times; because at last year’s Touring Weekend Ken explained Chris had passed away from a brain tumor in 2016 at just 28, leaving behind his wife, Yuki.
Now, if you’ve read anything I’ve written in the last six years, you know that I lost my father prematurely, so this news hit me hard. Obviously, those we’ve lost can never be replaced, but it’s a certain comfort riding with someone who has experienced similar devastation. My friend has always been the fatherly type to me, giving me things like tire patch kits and books that I’m to read and send along to others. I guess it’s my nature to be the person who is more of the son, and from what I’ve read and heard of Chris, he and I have certain similarities, resourcefulness and humor among them. Good friendships work that way. Givers must give, and some need more help than others.
On this ride, Ken and I had a definite plan in mind, which was to have no plan at all, no route to follow, no timetable to keep. Our only goal was to meet Cindy for dinner along Skyline Drive. So, after a quick hello over breakfast we picked a hilly region on the map and headed out to wander. We took roads that looked fun or challenging, mindful of direction only, not route. Before lunch we rounded a corner as a deer rocketed into the road from our left, and we reacted instinctively, hard on the brakes, no swerving. Ken clipped the deer’s hind leg and kept his bike upright while the deer flipped off the road. We pulled over, took a breath, and examined his bike; no damage. We walked up the road; no deer.
After lunch, armed with a hand-drawn map of local roads given to us by our server, Betsy, we returned to exploring. Later, over dinner at Skyline Resort, while sharing the deer story with Cindy (in person as agreed), we noticed the view of the valley below us vanish as a violent storm rose up out of nowhere. I still had 40 miles to ride back to my hotel in Front Royal, VA, so I was mildly concerned, but as the storm receded (and after Ken offered me a pair of rain pants I’d failed to pack for this trip), we said our goodbyes and I set off.
Memorable rides are a lot like life—they have a little bit of everything. Near-tragedy, foul weather, friendship, help from others, joy, sadness, challenges to overcome. In addition to the time spent with a couple I’m quite fond of, another reward of this ride was the last 40 miles, basking under stunning post-storm skies while reflecting on the rest of the day. Along the way, I thought about getting lost, maps drawn by strangers, about Chris Meyers and Mr. Bud Miller, the near collision, the nasty storm I had just missed, and the kindnesses motorcycling has gifted me.
There’s a song by Dawes with the lines:
I want a little bit of everything. The biscuits and the beans.
Whatever helps me to forget about
The things that brought me to my knees.
Ken and I had the biscuits and the beans on that ride and have suffered losses that have brought us to our knees. Hell, haven’t we all? We all have a certain kinship in that regard, and we all feel it riding with a friend or in a group. Sometimes the best therapy is not talking about it for a while and filling yourself with a little bit of everything. The best place I know to seek that out is most certainly on a motorcycle with a friend. As Rumi said, the one who seeks will find.