RoadRUNNER Zen Motorcyclist

Zen Motorcyclist: Dandelion Rides

Jun 04, 2018 View Comments by

Zen motorcyclist

“So, raise a glass to 
turnings of the season
 and watch it as it arcs 
towards the sun”
—Don’t Carry It All, 
The Decemberists


It’s the beginning of February as I write this. February in eastern Pennsylvania is usually a bitter month for me and this is always the most difficult chronicle to write since my best ideas and thoughts frequently come to me while riding. I often must pull over and jot them down lest they pass through me as quickly as the road ahead. And since February riding is usually not possible here, I often find myself thinking back to the rides I’ve taken throughout the year.

Last summer I had the experience of taking several trips. On one of them, across the Arizona/Nevada desert, I happened to bring along a book I’ve always wanted to read, Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury.

The main character, Douglas Spalding, during the summer of 1928, realizes for the first time that he is truly alive. Bradbury, through Douglas’s character, reflects on the dandelion wine his grandparents would make in their basement. To him, each bottle of wine represented a certain day of a special “summer of unguessed wonders” that he could open in the winter and remember.

It occurred to me that it’s the same with motorcyclists, at least it is with me. The rides taken are “caught and stoppered,” not as wine of course but rather as memories. Unlike regular memories though, these are sense memories—the ones that, when remembered, vividly illicit the smells, sounds, and sights you experienced then and put you in that place again if only for a moment.

I recall with clarity riding along through that desert, completely alone, with no cellphone, no GPS, under Douglas Spalding’s “untouchable” and impossibly blue sky. I remember being surprised by how chilly and wooded the high desert near the Grand Canyon is. The elk that stood just off the road was easily the largest animal I’d ever been that close to in the wild, so large I remember thinking I could’ve ridden under him had I ducked my head a little. He was majestic, slow moving, unaffected by my presence. These were his woods. I was just a visitor.

Dandelion Wine begins with Douglas high up in his grandparents’ third-story cupola in the morning, pretending he has the power to put out the stars, direct the sun to rise, and, by pointing, wake the town up and usher in summer by his will. If you’re anything like me, you know what it is to ride along feeling that the sights and sounds and smells are a product of your will and the scene was set just for you alone.

Children think that way, so do motorcyclists. Aren’t we all Douglas Spalding in some sense, summoning the sun to rise and feeling the imagined power of bringing everything before us to life? Riding is the one place I can feel that powerful and revisit that youthful feeling of the past. The bonus of adulthood is that we can not only recall these memories but also bend the past around us and extend it into the future, imagining summers and rides, and the tastes, smells, and sounds on trips yet to come.

The motorcycle is, to those of us who ride, the pair of sneakers Douglas needs to usher in the miracle of summer and to summon the magic that summer requires. I could go on and on about how beautiful and nostalgic and poetic Dandelion Wine is for me. It’s difficult to limit such a gift of a book to a mention in a short column. Hopefully, though, the metaphor of capturing summer in a bottle to drink under the iron skies of February resonates with you as much as it does for me.

Douglas’s grandfather describes the dandelion as “… a common flower, a weed that no one sees, yes. But for us, a noble thing …” Isn’t it the same with a motorcycle? We ride, mostly unnoticed on a noble thing that lets us bottle memories to drink again later. We can, if we think hard enough with a child’s innocence and whenever we wish, recall any ride, and as Mr. Bradbury so eloquently writes “change the season in your veins by raising glass to lip and tilting summer in.”

When spring finally convinces winter to let go of its grip, we also let go of the memory of the rides that got us through and prepare room on the shelves for the memories of dandelion rides to come. I’m looking forward to it as I do every year.

Tags: , , Categories: Chronicles, Zen Motorcyclist

About the author

I have been motorcycle commuting since 1998. I created Zen Motorcyclist (formerly Commuting Motorcyclist) in 2011 and work as a motojournalist, software developer, CAD designer and IT/CAD manager in the Surveying and Civil Engineering field.