When my daughter was little, maybe six or seven, I took her outside on a summer night and we climbed a ladder up to the roof of our house to look at the moon and stars. I’ll never forget it; she looked at me with wide eyes and said, “are we allowed to?” I said, “of course, we can do whatever we want.” Devon’s in college in Manhattan now, and I ride motorcycles.
Motorcycles are an extension of the self. People ride to express what they are feeling; at least I know I do. Sometimes it’s an expression of joy, other times it’s an escape from pain; but both are beautiful in their own ways. Riding along on a bright, warm, clear day you can make your peace with the past, and with the universe. You can think it through and, arriving back home, always feel better even if things haven’t been settled. Sometimes the mere act of moving is enough.
I think maybe we’re born with this natural inclination to be soothed through movement, like a baby being rocked and calmed by the motion. I’ve read that when being rocked a baby’s breathing and heart rate actually match those of the mother. As motorcyclists I think we go through a similar process. Our breathing and heart rates catch up with the world, with the universe, and with life at the frequency we’re supposed to, or need to, resonate with. Moving to slow things down so to speak.
I’ve ridden horses on occasion and each time I felt intimately connected with the horse, the ground, and nature. You can feel the power of the animal and as a novice you know you’re just along for the ride, and there’s little you can do if the horse decides to think for himself. On a bike you feel the same power but the motorcycle only has the power you give it. The control is entirely in your hands.
I think all motorcyclists are feelers; we all seek some plane of experience that we can’t reach any other way. Like anything else, it’s a matter of degrees. Some riders are filled up with a ride around the block, others need to go cross country, some need to race, others still need to create the machines themselves, and still others need to write about it. The machines become extensions of ourselves.
I try hard to grasp why I love it so much and why it never gets old; I guess that’s why I enjoy the opportunity to write about it. I started riding when my father died. When I began I took the MSF class with my brother Dave. So it was pleasure from pain, an escape, and a sort of coming home at the same time, celebration and mourning. As I ride now I think about past pains, current joys, and future plans and let my heartbeat keep time with that of the universe. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Originally published December 9, 2012
Want more Zen? Check out Waypoints, Vol. 1, a short collection of some of Bud Miller’s most touching introspections and lessons learned during his more than 200,000 miles traveled on a motorcycle. Available in paperback and Kindle.