RoadRUNNER Zen Motorcyclist

Zen Motorcyclist: Adventures All

Jul 09, 2019 View Comments by

Zen Motorcyclist, motorcycle riding.

It seems like every February, when I begin working on my article for the May/June issue, I start this chronicle by saying it’s always the hardest one to write, and this year was no different. I awoke to an ice storm, which kept me at home. If you’re anything like me, you can get a bit of cabin fever and become generally restless. On occasion I head out to the garage and work on the bikes, but that night, there was nothing that needed to be done, and my wife, Dawn, was also iced in an hour away at her New Jersey condo, riding out the same storm. As it happened, I found the Oscar-nominated rock-climbing documentary Free Solo available online, so I settled in to watch it.

The film chronicles what I consider one of the greatest athletic accomplishments of all time, Alex Honnold’s free solo climb (meaning without ropes or protection of any kind) up the 3,200-foot vertical face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park in California.

I’ve always been drawn to adventure films. I’ve attended the Banff festival of mountain films every year for the last 20-plus years. Adventure films always allow me to vicariously enjoy some of the feeling of riding at times when it’s impossible for me to get on the road. Adventurers—and motorcyclist are certainly among them—do what they do and seek what they seek because to do otherwise isn’t really living.

That’s not necessarily to compare the dangers free soloists face with what we as motorcyclists do, but I’m certain you’ve met people who find your riding somewhat insane. I hear the comments all the time. In more than 20 years of riding I’ve had one significant crash and injury: a broken collarbone from a deer strike. The effect of the crash, for me, was an analysis of what happened and how, when I eventually got back to riding, I could prevent it from happening again. Never did the thought enter my mind that riding may not be worth the risk and never once did I consider giving it up, though there were others who thought I should.

There are scenes in Free Solo in which one camera operator simply can’t watch and has to turn away. It reminded me of how my own mother, Mary, couldn’t watch me when I was a competitive runner. She couldn’t stand to see me suffer and has similar fears about my riding, though those go unvoiced. The suffering though, is what it’s all about and the reason the effort is worth it. Riding toward the unknown, confident in your ability to handle it, is admirable and life affirming. Alex’s mother says at one point in the film, “When he’s free soloing he’s the most alive, the most everything. How can you even think about taking that away from somebody?”

When asked about retirement, singer and actor Colin Hay said he doesn’t understand the concept and described his two hours on stage as his “salvation.” The “Freedom Calling” his song bespeaks is, to me, about making your way, fulfilling your purpose, and finding your own salvation. Acknowledging that motorcycle riding is a skill that requires practice, attention to detail, and training, all while accepting that it involves an element of risk—risk that we are willing to accept as debt owed for the experience—is to live your truth and to share the feeling common to all adventurers. When you do it, and others see you do it, you become an inspiration, whether the goal is changing a career, pursuing a dream, or simply filling a blank page.

The view from some particular place; time away with only a loved one’s arms around you and only their voice in your ear; time spent with a good friend sharing personal truths you’d not share in any other setting or circumstance; the memory of a loved one you hadn’t thought of in years; time away from the workaday world that can make the pursuit of dreams seem selfish; finding that place of experience shared by all adventurers where you allow yourself to find your bliss: all these things are well worth what it takes to experience them.

I spent some years rock climbing but I’ll never free solo; neither will I perform musically for a large audience. I will, however, always derive inspiration from people like Alex Honnold and Colin Hay, who although they couldn’t be more different, can’t imagine a life spent doing anything else. As a motorcyclist, I can easily and wholeheartedly say “neither can I.”

noun: an exciting or very unusual experience;
participation in exciting undertakings or enterprises.
verb: to risk or hazard.

“Suddenly you’re on an open unknown road
Passing all the heavy, long wide loads
It is time to make your great escape
And you can hear your freedom calling”
Freedom Calling by Colin Hay



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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.