It takes about an hour before I leave behind the exurbs of Minneapolis, MN. The riding is easy—lots of straight roads and not a lot of traffic or navigating. There is space in my head to scroll through the 50 million things that one thinks about on the first day of a big trip. Are the bags balanced and tied down well? Is the phone charging? Did I pay the utility bill? It’s still busy in there.
Robert Pirsig wrote about the intersection of western analytical thought and eastern Zen philosophy in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. But it’s 2022 and the Honda CBR650R I’m riding won’t need much maintenance at all for this trip. So, instead of writing about checking tire pressures and lubing the chain—likely the only maintenance my Honda will need—I will write about the Zen of motorcycle travel. This is my Chautauqua.
“The road winds on and on … We stop for rests and lunch, exchange small talk, and settle down to the long ride. The beginning fatigue of afternoon balances the excitement of the first day and we move steadily, not fast, not slow.”
What is Zen? In its simplest form, it is meditation that helps practitioners learn to exist in the moment and, by doing so, grasp their connectedness to the world. That sounds suspiciously like riding a motorcycle to me. Even on these docile, traffic-free backroads, I am engaged in the ride, present and part of the world that I ride through.
Motorcycle & Gear
2021 Honda CBR650R
Helmet: Scorpion EXO-ST1400
Jacket & Pants: Klim Induction
Safety Gear: Klim Ai-1 airbag vest, Spot Gen4
Boots: REV’IT! Everest GTX
Comm System: UClear Motion 4
Luggage: Rigg Gear Hurricane Dry Duffle (40L), Hurricane Waterproof Dry Tank Bag, Nelson-Rigg Mini Expandable Sport Motorcycle Saddlebags
Navigation: OSMand on Samsung Galaxy S9+
Cameras: Panasonic Lumix G80 and G100, DJI Mini 3 Pro, Insta360
The land stretches and the sky grows. From a drone, it looks like graph paper with the boxes filled with green, gold, and brown. The traffic of Minneapolis is long gone.
“I suddenly notice the land here has flattened into a Euclidian plane. Not a hill, not a bump anywhere. This means we have entered the Red River Valley. We will soon be into the Dakotas.”
The miles grow too, thanks to detours. There’s still a lot of light left in the day when I get to Hankinson, ND, but here’s where I’ll spend the night. I pitch my tent at the town campground downtown and walk over to the Dakota Drive-In for a simple, deep- fried dinner to cap off a simple first day.
The night was interrupted by a couple of big trucks stopping for their own 40 winks, but they’re gone by the time I unzip the tent door and see the sun rising into a clear blue sky. I walk into Hot Cakes Cafe and find three men (old enough to have seen Pirsig and his companions) playing dice at a table by the door. I give them a nod and take a seat at the counter. In between filling my coffee mug and taking care of other customers, the waitress organizes the flatware for the day, rolling up dozens of sets into napkins and securing them with paper collars with precision and familiarity.
The day is already warming as I pack up and hit the road. There’s a steady breeze and dark clouds in the distance. I amble along, enjoying the feeling of being on the road again. The theme of the day is quiet two-lane roads connecting small farm towns.