Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Why Not?

For the past few years, this time of summer involved an extended road trip with my motorcycle. For the past four years in a row, the destination has been Sturgis, SD, for the annual grand-daddy of all motorcycle rallies, the Black Hills Motorcycle Classic. While that has been the destination recently, it is but a very small part of the journey. My first year there, in 2014, that destination was the primary focus of the journey, and it lived up to everything (and more) I’d heard about it - the legend - and it was every motorcycle rally I’ve ever attended, but super-sized. I have experienced a lot of motorcycles in one place before (many times), but Sturgis was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. The stories were true - upwards of a half-million motorcycle enthusiasts descending on one small South Dakota mountain town for about 10 days in early August. In 2015, that spectacle was pumped up by a factor of two for the 75th annual rally.

That first year, the destination was the focus. However, every year since, including the mega 75th, the destination was not the story. Sturgis, for me, is a been-there-done-that kind of thing. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the gathering of so many like-minded souls, but I am still not a people person, I still do not like cluster-fucks and, although the event is worth enduring some of that - indeed, it is unavoidable - it hasn’t been the focus of my annual pilgrimage since that first year. The focus has been the pilgrimage itself, and each has been unique, each has presented different experiences, different routes and each stands out on its own. The only thing each of my four journeys has in common is Sturgis itself.

I could go on and on about what the mecca of (primarily American) motorcycling means to me, to the industry, and the like, but what makes Sturgis special, and why it was selected for the annual rally so many years ago, is the magnificence of the Black Hills and everything else within a short ride of Sturgis. And, while I prefer to explore new roads - especially those less traveled - some are worth riding over and over again. There are numerous roads in that part of the country that fit that bill. Although it would be nice if there were not literally hundreds of thousands of others riding those roads when I am, the destination, even during rally week, is worth it. Add to it the spectacle that is Sturgis during rally week, and it’s a good time even for someone like me who doesn’t really like “people.”

But if it was just that spectacle and nothing else, it’s a hard pass for me. Like I mentioned above, been there, done that. However, it is so much more - so much “so much” more that I anxiously await getting on the road all year long. That day for me this year is less than 48 hours away - a bit later than I wanted to hit the road (I’ll get there when the “festivities“ are just entering a full-on 10-day frenzy), but it’s the road, not the destination that makes this trip worthwhile year after year. This year I’ll be riding there and back solo. I have done that before (in 2016), but this time around I am taking on a challenge that I ordinarily would not, but it’s a bucket list thing I want to be able to say I’ve done.

My first day will be more than 1,000 miles from my home near Sacramento to Silverthorne, CO - just past Vail. My route will take me on much of the same route I returned home last year, but, obviously, going the other way. I should be on the road for about 16 hours. When completed, with the appropriate documentation, I will have earned a “Saddle Sore 1000” (1,000 miles in 24 hours) from the Iron Butt Association. The IBA is an organization dedicated to ultra-long-distance motorcycle riding. The next day I’ll ride the 500+ miles to Sturgis, completing the entire 1,500+ miles in less than 36 hours for a “Bun Burner 1500” (I know, I didn’t make up the names…). That second leg will take me on roads I have not yet traveled, but if it’s anything like other parts of Colorado I have ridden, it should be spectacular. But there is a rub…

To make these distances in the time allotted (and there are much, much more challenging rides that, properly documented, the IBA recognizes), it is necessary to travel at a pretty good clip. The IBA stresses rider safety and they are adamant that these rides are not “races,” they are endurance challenges. In fact, they will not certify a ride in which the average speed exceeds the speed limit. That doesn’t mean normal speed excess liberties that we all take will disqualify a ride, but a several hundred mile stretch at 100+ mph will probably disqualify a ride. However, gas stops take time and those speeds kill mileage, so it’s a bad idea if only for that reason. But it is necessary to stick to highways that have high speed limits - 75 to 80 mph is ideal. Of course, that means using the Interstate Highway System as much as possible. And, those roads are typically boring.

But not all. US-50 through Nevada and Utah before merging with I-70 is a nice ride. It’s not crowded, its scenic and it’s fast. When I road it last year I was amazed at the variety of the terrain and how absolutely stunning it was, sometimes in its grandeur, sometimes in its starkness. One down-side of doing it as fast as I am is that all those times I stopped to “smell the roses,” sometimes right in the middle of the barren highway, will not be possible. To quote the immortal words of Jerry Reed, I “have a long way to go and a short time to get there.” I will be, in fact, “East Bound and Down.” I have five gas stops planned at a little less than 200-mile intervals, but I'll have a one-gallon can of gas with me, just in case.

I will arrive in Sturgis on Friday afternoon. Even if I fall short of the 1,000 miles in 24 hours, I’ll easily make all 1,500 miles in two days. My single day max is almost 900 miles in about 16 hours, and I’ve ridden back-to-back 700 miles days more than once, and none of those rides were particularly taxing. I am fairly confident that this goal is achievable, but once I get it, I will be done. That’s not to say that I’ll never ride that far in one day again, I most likely will, but I will probably not bother with the necessary documentation that the IBA requires to “certify” a ride. This is a one and done thing. I like riding roads less traveled, at my own pace and go where I want in the moment. I like to get lost and I hate rides along pre-planned routes. But I do and will log a lot of miles; this time I have to opportunity, the time and planetary alignment to get the patch and the pin. The question is not “why?” but “why not?”

Friday, July 13, 2018

The Power Of Love

Six years ago, today, I was two days away from my second wedding. Despite numerous “red flags,” I was committed to that union. Indeed, red flags should not influence commitment, they should, however, influence unions. Those warnings turned into patterns that I found not only unacceptable, but also unsustainable. My commitment, perhaps, could be admired, my judgement, however, could not. The union part of that marriage lasted about nine months, the legal entity would keep breathing for another year-plus. I know what the final straw was, but I’m not sure when I became aware that it was, indeed, the last straw. However, once I knew, there was no turning back.

That marriage was so short that some conclusions must be drawn, some questions are begging to be asked. Probably the most obvious is how I did not see it coming. Well, I did. But I ignored it in the name of “love.” The red flags were not warnings of potentialities, they were actual indiscretions that I rationalized, forgave, overlooked and ignored. In the name of love, “it will never happen again,” was good enough. Why? Because love is all you need. Because love conquers all. Because love is a many splendored thing.

Bullshit. Love is not all you need. Love cannot conquer all. And while it might be a many splendored thing, there are also many things about it that are anything but splendorous. Love is blind, it is also deaf and dumb. In the name of love, I made some very serious errors in judgement. When I finally finished with all of that and two other far less committed forays into the world of relationships, I’d had enough. Too much trouble, too many headaches, too much heartache. Who needs that shit?

Besides, being single meant being free to do what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it. While I did (still do) have to plan around the time my job requires, even that, my dream job, comes with large blocks of uncommitted time. And I love my job, planning around it does not feel like freedom limitation. My kids are grown and, although the job of parent is life-long, the daily minutia has long since disappeared. In fact, two of my three are living that daily minutia themselves. I did my time. Freedom. The more I embraced my singledom, the more I liked it. Fuck relationships - who needs them?

Here is where it gets a little weird. First, to be perfectly clear, when I speak of relationships here, I am talking about romantic relationships. It is impossible to live a human existence without relationships with other humans. Done. But romantic relationships? That is a different story. The answer to that question is that we don’t need them. That is, we are capable of getting along in the world without a significant other. There are too many examples to show this reality, they are not simply anecdotal. Surviving in the world without ever having an “SO” can be done, just one example is proof enough, but there are thousands.

But aside from those who early and actively live a life of celibacy, what about the rest of us? It seems to be that something can be said of instinct, the drive to preserve and perpetuate the human race. That is surely a drive in all living things, to continue living, to survive not only our own lives, but also the survival of our posterity. However, procreation and romance are not the same thing. The former is the mating of the bodies while the latter is the mating of the hearts, minds and souls. The former certainly does not require the latter. And the latter has no need for the former, either. While I made the clear distinction between sex and love many, many years ago, this ingrained idea that we all need this romantic sort of love in our lives was subliminal and pervasive. It drives many of us to jump into relationships that have that elusive element of love, but nothing else. And, to repeat without equivocation, love is not all you need. Love does not conquer all and, if love is all there is, love may well show up as a decidedly not splendorous thing.

Yet, here I am, happily committed in a loving relationship that has breezed through two years - so far. For romance, there must be romantic love, but for a relationship to thrive, there must be so much more. Look at just basic, boiler-plate wedding vows - they don’t say “to love…” and that’s it. There is a whole lot more that can be condensed to simple virtues that anyone would do well to live by generally, but are absolutely required for a successful relationship. Honesty, loyally, integrity, trust, fidelity, empathy… I could go one, but without all that and more, there is no relationship. There might be love, but there is no romance.

And I wasn’t looking for it. I was happy with my single life. I am happier now. I didn’t lose any of what made my singledom so great - it’s all still there. I am just as free now as I was two years ago - my girl trusts me unconditionally. Does that mean I go off and ride my motorcycle into the sunset when she needs me? No, but I am not making choices based on what I have to do, but on what I want to do. So, I am still doing whatever the fuck I want whenever I want to do it, but what constrains those things are things that I value. My job is one, my relationship is another. Having said that, I put just as many miles on my bike now as I did before I met Christine. Many of them are with her on the back.

So, do we need romance? Do we need that sort of love? I don’t know that “need” is the right word, but I can say that it certainly adds to my life in ways nothing else (including too many unsuccessful relationships) has. Could I have gotten by without it? Sure, and without knowing what this kind of ├╝ber-compatability feels like, I never would have thought I was missing a thing. But having a partner - true partner - to walk through life with is nice, especially when considering that walking it alone isn’t so bad, either.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

The Fifth of July

I intended to write in this space much more often this year. I wanted to post some newly arranged words at least once a month. If this one makes it to The 25 Year Plan, it will be only the fifth so far this year, and July is the seventh month. So much for intention - this is not the first time, nor will it be the last that good intentions, good ideas and even good fortune have slipped through my fingers. Welcome to the life of the of the pathologically lazy. Be all that as it may (or may not), this morning I woke up thoughtful, as in “full of thoughts.” Being full of thoughts is an invitation, if not always a motivation, for me to write. Today I am so motivated and, as a result, have accepted the invitation.

Today is July 5th, 2018. Just looking at that year, “2018,” makes me feel a strange combination of nostalgia, disproportion and some degree of regret. All of it stems from the ability to look back over more than a half century of life. My life. My life in America. I have a lot of stories, more chapters than most, perhaps, and a book that has been simmering for about 10 years now.

Independence Day, AKA “The Fourth of July,” was, historically, one of my favorite holidays. As a kid, it meant summertime, hanging out with friends, swimming, barbeques, neighborhood block parties, and, of course, blowing shit up. Many of those elements have been more or less prominent as I passed through the various stages of life, but I always enjoyed seeing things blowing up - whether or not I had a hand in it. Other holidays have changed for me over the years, too, but today, and likely for years to come, the Fourth of July will be less… let’s just say less explosive.

So, what did Independence Day 2018 look like for me? Well, I was invited to a handful of celebrations along with those “standing invitations” where a traditional annual celebration always has room for me and mine. My girlfriend and I committed to one that was an all afternoon and evening affair. Our kids - hers and mine - had their own things going on as they venture out in their own lives. We didn’t plan to stay for the “safe and sane” California legal home fireworks display, thinking we might catch one of the bigger community or commercial displays later.

Sidebar: The so-called “safe and sane” fireworks are a joke that has become less funny over the years. Why bother? It’s a racket for fundraising by both legitimate and illegitimate “good causes.” Good luck figuring out which is which. Now, back to our regularly scheduled post.

My girlfriend got to the party a couple of hours before I did because I got hung up at the local tattoo shop bringing a 25+ year-old, badly faded and blown-out bald eagle tattoo back to life. The two-hour job went past four hours and it’s still not finished; suffice it to say that I was late to the party. When I figured out that the tattoo appointment was going to fall on, and conflict with, Independence Day, my initial reaction was to reschedule. But my tattoo artists said she was happy to work on the holiday and what is more appropriate than a bald eagle tattoo on the Fourth of July? At this point, the thought of shit blowing up is residing very quietly in the back of my mind.

Which is where it stayed. By the time we both got home from the barbeque, we were content with staying there. Despite the state-wide ban on private use of illegal fireworks, there are plenty to be found here. And this despite penalties that are way out of proportion to the crime (a rant for another time). In my quiet little suburb of Sacramento, it stayed relatively quiet. In some neighborhoods it was a veritable war zone. We and our dogs slept peacefully.

That was our Fourth. No big deal and, for myself at least, a paradigm shift in that blowing shit up (personally or vicariously through others) was not motivation enough to leave my house. And it was good. So, why is this even worth writing about? Because of that last part of the date as we write it - 2018. That is now 18 years past the dreaded “Y2K,” it is long enough for those who were born in the 21st century to have reached adulthood. It is a long, long way from 1962, the year I was born. So much has happened in the world. So much has happened in my own life. If I remove my earliest years, those before any solid memory could be formed, I have 50 years of what life was like stored in my head. This is part of the ongoing project of getting it on paper (or its virtual equivalent).

I try to remember and tell those stories for a number of reasons, but maybe the most important is personal. I don’t want to view the world through the fog of the historical bubble I grew up in, but at the same time I do want to use that history as a lens to sharpen my understanding of the world around me. To the extent I can share that insight, so much the better, but if I cannot see around myself to the bigger picture - in terms of geography, history, politics, social constructions and institutions and so much more - then the history I share is not historically accurate.  

Beyond all that, I am feeling like most of my life is behind me, not ahead of me. At just 55 years old, it is not all doom and gloom, there is still a long road ahead and I am truly looking forward to living it. However, I am also crystal clear about the many and sometimes significant mistakes I made. For the past almost 14 of those 55 years I have made changes that eliminated most of the “significant” variety, however, this aspect of “wasted time” becomes more profound as my own time crosses midway on the lifetime continuum. I still do it. I still waste time. It seems to be part of who I am. But I am not doing it like I once did and, more importantly, I am not wasting others’ time. And, while 55 years is a long time, so is 13 years, 10 months, four weeks and two days. They say, “one day at a time,” but those days add up to weeks, months, years, decades and lifetimes. But I live it in the now and that now is in the year 2018. It makes me think all too often, “when the hell did that happen.”