It finally happened. My father lost his part-time job last night when he simply walked off during his shift. It didn’t happen because he hates the job or because he’s got a bad boss. It happened because the dementia of Alzheimer’s finally bit deep enough into his mind that he simply got confused. In that moment, my Dad did what all lost people do. He tried to go home. My Mom found him walking down a highway a few miles from his workplace. It’s the same highway on which my Dad taught me to ride his motorcycle.
My father taught me to ride 34 years ago. His instruction, patience and trust while teaching me to ride are some of my most joyful and vividly pure childhood memories. I bought my first motorcycle in 1984. I proudly rode it home that night just to show it to Dad and offer him a chance to take it for a spin. I’ve ridden and owned several motorcycles since then. My experiences have been occasionally disappointing and sometimes thrilling. Each ride satisfies an undefinable desire for something I can’t seem to put a name on. At a simple level, riding just makes me happy. It clears my mind and lowers my blood pressure. It also often gets me remembering all of the people I associate with riding. Chief among those is my Dad.
This motorcycle thing is great, but one important experience has eluded me. Ever since college, I’ve wanted to take a long solo motorcycle trip. The idea has taken on an almost mythical presence in my mind. I think of it as an aging, beautiful object that spends most of its time in storage. Every few years I dig it out and mentally dust it off. I pick it up; testing the balance between responsibility and opportunity. Each time I’ve said to myself that someday I’ll get around to The Ride as I place it back into the storage space of desire. My reasons for not taking The Ride have varied over the years. While the kids were young I didn’t even own a motorcycle. Those were the hardest years. Before then, I didn’t own a cross-country-capable motorcycle. Since then, I just haven’t been able to find the time.
Well, I’ve finally got a great bike and it occurs to me just now that I’ve given more of my vacation time back to my employer than I’ve taken over the last few years. I won’t let that happen this summer. In fact, I’ve got a 14-day period in which I can finally make something happen. My desire to take The Ride has new immediacy because of a growing variable; my health. Recently, I’ve been experiencing a lot of lower-back pain. It is sometimes incapacitating. My bad back episodes are happening more frequently, and they seem to be lasting longer. I’m starting to worry that if I don’t make a trip happen this summer – it might never happen.
The idea of a long solo motorcycle trip is exciting. Me, the bike and nothing but open road sounds fun and carefree. I wish you could see the face of each of my friends as I’ve told them about my plans. Almost every guy smiles but also looks a little sad as he expresses his wish to go too. Most women react in a much more practical way. They usually ask if I’m going to camp or stay in hotels. They ask how my motorcycle can carry all the stuff I’ll need. My response usually elicits eye-rolling, a scrunched-up nose, and some variation of, “That doesn’t sound fun.” I’ve come to believe that this trip is probably a guy thing, and that’s why I was okay when my wife said she didn’t want to come along.
There is a moment when a hope becomes a plan. I’m talking about the mental threshold you have to cross in order to make a long-held collection of dreams change into something real. It requires list making, gear purchases, map research, etc. Figuring out the logistics of The Ride suddenly feels daunting. I feel overwhelmed to the point of near paralysis as I begin considering all the bad things that can happen somewhere out there. The bike could break down. I could crash. I could get lost. I could get caught in extreme weather. My back could go out. Something as innocuous as hitting a bird could have a catastrophic effect. The list goes on and on.
The only way to deal with all this is to first admit that an extended solo motorcycle ride involves risk. For the next two months I will minimize potential problems by considering worst-case scenarios and plan for the things that are most likely to happen. Hopefully, preparation will prevent foolish surprises, and I’ll roll safely through all 3,000 miles of The Ride. If everything works out, there will be a moment during The Ride in which I roll right down that same stretch of highway my Dad walked last night. I could avoid it by taking the long way around, but I won’t. Because at some point, we all need to head for home.
Updates to come as I prepare for The Ride in August.