I finally got to editing the videos I took with the helmet-mounted camera while riding through Yosemite National Park. Three weeks went by since I got back, but the images on the screen feel like they were shot months ago if not years. I forgot how powerful the experience was on that day. The sights bring back the intense feeling of immersion in a multitude of colors and textures: carpets of pine forest spread over a quilt of blue water, white snow, and bald grey rock. And they brings back the feeling of being on the road for weeks.
Riding from Las Vegas to Lone Pine was possibly the best day of the cross-country trip. The sharp contrast between the the decadence of Vegas and the quiet hills of Lone Pine, where Roy Rogers and John Wayne shot some of their best films, is buffered by Death Valley National Park. Death Valley is a harsh, dry desert decorated with vast sand dunes, unique, sometimes odd-looking vegetation, and surrounded by majestic, snow-covered mountain tops.
Riding through the park was a bilker’s heaven, alternating between meditative straights and challenging downhill tight curves cut on the side of steep cliffs. This short video, shot with the helmet-mounted camera, fails to deliver the magnitude and depth of the riding experience (as is often the case). But try to add the dry wind against your face and chapped lips for a few steady hours, and you get the feeling that the year is around 1875 and you are riding your steel horse through new frontiers. A real cowboy.
(PS – the music in the background is mine, the lyrics talk about the emptiness of a big city, and “the mystic sky”. The sky in Death Valley was truly mystic.)
On Monday morning I leave Groveland just outside Yosemite National Park and head west towards San Francisco. The past two days have been an incredible flood of scenic rides – Death Valley and Yosemite. A rare mixture of sand dunes, dessert, lakes, forests, beaches, cacti and snow – all within 48 hours. I ride slowly through the scenery of route 120 and try to take it all in, but something seems to be on my mind that distracts me. When I pull over to get gas it suddenly hits me – even though the trip is not over yet, today I will get to the Pacific ocean, completing a a full coast to coast ride. In one hour the sights (and smells) of Oakdale’s cows and horses will change into the glorious California freeway system and in two hours I will be climbing the Bay Bridge entering the city. I have been so occupied with the rides, interviews, and writing, that I have not realized that I am already THERE, on the other coast.
And indeed, in less than an hour I was gliding through the 4 lane interstates. Riding these highways reminds me of walking in New York: a river of people, and each and everyone of them rushing off. As if they all know exactly where they are going but you. I go onto I-80, see the Pacific waters to my right, and starting to realize the magnitude of this moment for me, and then minutes later I am on the Bay Bridge. It’s a beautiful sunny day and San Francisco opens up like a postcard with the Golden Gate Bridge, the Coit Tower, Transamerica Pyramid, and Alcatraz, all in the same frame. I get on The Embarcadero, and stop in the first small parking lot I see. The parking attendant is excited to hear about my trip and offers to take pictures from different angles, making sure he is getting all the important landmarks.
I made it. I’m here. There are almost two more weeks to go, but that major experience of riding the back roads and the small towns is behind me on the east.
Riding on old Route 66 in Arizona was a great experience. The following video may just seem like a bunch of old cars and the Wigwam Motel, but there’s much more to it (which is hard to convey on film). As soon as you get off the interstate it’s America in its 50s and 60s again. The people along route 66 are the some of the friendliest I’ve ever met, and the road itself is just a calm wonderful ride.
Here’s a short video. Some thoughts and insights coming tomorrow…
Wednesday morning in Flagstaff the weather was not looking great. The forecast includes an assortment of rain, winds, and thunderstorms, and for dessert the morning news reports a tornado alert for the area. Riding up to the Grand Canyon was supposed to be one of the highlights of the Ride, but a tornado was not in the plan, so I decide to go by car, and pretty happy I did. On the way up I see lumps of white frozen hail on the ground, and on the way back trees rooted out by the violent storm. The next day riding through Bellemont, west of Flagstaff, I also see an entire RV park with all RVs lying sideways like a deck of cards, smashed by the tornado. But the rough weather also brings with it a surprising gift – a concert of full size, colorful rainbows that appear above the Canyon each time the sun comes in for a glimpse.
Here’s a short video showing the sights. Notice the “enlightenment” on the last picture
Day Five of Ride Of Your Life feels like the first “real” day of the journey. Starting at Chapel Hill, NC where I met with positive psychologist Brbara Fredrickson, through the fields of Greensboro, and northwest to Blue Ridge Parkway, to see the majestic scenery and meet the “mountain people”.
There is lots to write about and many experiences and interesting conversations with people. Will post thoughts tonight, but in the meantime here’s a short video of the day.
So far the weather has been great. No rain, sunny skies, no humidity, not too hot… I carry a big rain suite and rain boots in the back, waiting for the rain that is bound to come at some point on a five week trip.
Before leaving this morning I checked the weather forecast and realized that it’s going to be a very hot day, almost 95 degrees in the afternoon. Definitely no full-face helmet and no long sleeve jacket. I pulled out the black “shorty” helmet and the leather vest, put on some sunscreen, and headed down to I-95 Towards I-85. Tonight I’ll arrive at Chapel Hill, NC, where I will be interviewing Dr. Barbara Fredrickson. The ride is a little shy of 30o miles.
Sitting on the bike and cruising down the highway I am starting to feel a strange feeling of burden. The miles continue to pile and the road does not end. The knowledge that I am continuously getting farther away from my family is troubling me, and thoughts start to roam in my head. I-95 is loaded with huge trucks and each pass and lane switch is accompanied by turbulence and strong side winds. The constant attention that the highway demands, the heat, and the thoughts wear me off, and I pull over frequently to drink some water and rest.
I go back on the highway and put some music on, let Apple’s Genius mix surprise me with some classic rock. It turns out it’s eighties hour: Judas Priest, Scorpions, Ozzy… With the full-face helmet off I can hear the music rising above the roar of the engine and the sounds of the wind and the trucks. With the full jacket off, I feel the sun warm my skin, and the shorty helmet lets the the wind rush through my face. The road is long and never ending and I lose track of time. Suddenly I realize that I am singing along with the music at the top of my voice.
Time goes by and I notice that my mind is empty. All thoughts have been flushed away and the ride now synchronizes to the sound of the music, with the miles cycling in a way, as if rotating endlessly without going anywhere. I turn onto I-85 and the trucks are replaced with trees, bridges, and rivers. I turn the music off, and time now stands perfectly still, in a picturesque postcard that floods all five senses.
In his seminal work, the famous psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, (who I hope to talk to on my way) discovered a psychological state he calls “Flow”. Flow is achieved under conditions of high challenge levels, when practicing a task you are very skilled at. It’s an optimal state of intrinsic motivation, when the person is fully immersed in a task, things like hunger, ego, and time awareness disappear, and time “stands still”. Riding a motorcycle on a long haul trip is definitely a challenging task, and it may be that what I was experiencing riding down I-85 is indeed Flow.
Approaching Chapel Hill I thought about my experience on this steaming hot day. I took off the full jacket and the full helmet because of the heat. Peeling off the layers that are designed to protect me exposed my senses to the full experience of the road. I wonder if this is something we do all the time in our lives: wearing shields of protection around us that keep us safe from the hazards of the outside world, but in turn blocking and numbing our senses to the full experience. Over the years one moves to a house, buffered by land from the disturbance of neighbors. Defended from harm by airbags, and alarm systems, protected from embarrassment by social codes of conversation. These walls that keep us safe and comfortable also keep us isolated, and when protection is excessive, it could turn in to Sylvia Plath’s Bell Jar. I believe that once in a while one needs to break out of the walls of protection, let go, and get a breath of truly fresh air. Air that is available only when you leave your comfort and safety zone and allow yourself to take risk.
No doubt, I am going to use that shorty helmet and the sleeveless vest much more…
Here is today’s video again. My thought of the day: once in a while break out and let go. Good things come to those who do it.
With the first night behind me, a major milestone has been conquered. Filled with confidence and assurance I leaped out of bed ready for adventure. Today, I thought to myself, I will plan it all and work all the details out, no surprises like yesterday.
I started by following my planned daily agenda: 3o minute walk, light breakfast, short meditation. Then, went to the bike. I already cleaned it up last night, and it was time to give the shining beauty its morning pampering: check the tire air pressure, oil level, brakes. Then, with careful attention I put the bags on the passenger seat and luggage rack, using a masterpiece of colorful bungee cords. Rode to a local Auto Zone and got some ratchet straps, and viola! The luggage stopped moving around and was solid as a rock. “Quality”, I flattered myself, “this is exactly what Robert Pirsig talked about in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. You put your mind to it, take your time, focus, and get a job well done”.
Proud of my conscientiousness I rode to my first agenda item: the Harley Davidson plant in York and from there on to the next item: route 425 – recommended by one of the motorcycle sites as a nice twisty back road. I found it and started riding, and then a heavy feeling fell on me like a 5 ton steel blanket. Something was wrong. But what was it? I continued riding around and every now and then stopped to take some pictures. But maneuvering the bike to stop and park each time as difficult with the heavy bags in the back. I tried to ignore the feeling but like a persistent itch it would not go away.
And then it daunted on me: Too much planning resulted in a feeling of “are we having fun yet?”. Instead of experiencing the road and the scenery I felt like I am trying to match the way I envisioned it when I planned it. I also kept thinking about good spots to take pictures and videos. Too much past, too much future, too little present. I went about the day like an actor following a script, instead of writing my very own script for the Ride.
I took a turn to a random street and started riding randomly with no destination and no plans. Then, interesting things started happening. All of a sudden details started surfacing from the scenery. Fields, churches, schools, farms. At some point I was following an Amish buggy, and waving back to the kids in its back, feeling like Michael J. Fox in “Back to The Future”, riding a futuristic form of transportation in the farms of the 19th century. It looks like I earned the important insight of the day “make detailed plans, but when you go on the road throw the plans out”. My humble interpretation to the ancient wisdom of the Tao Te Ching and the Bhagavad Gita, telling us to “focus on the action and not on its fruit”. You plan for the fruit, but when you start taking action you just forget about them.
Content with my insights for the day, I put the helmet-mounted camera on, and headed south towards Maryland. No more stopping for pictures. And when traffic was heavy I just took the next exit and let it take me to new places. After a few hours of riding I found myself in a small town in Maryland. I pulled into a shopping center and looked for a place to spend the night.
The Buddha said that the source of all human suffering is attachment. We desire permanence, not willing to accept that things fluctuate and go through cycles, never staying the way they are. Starting tomorrow I’m embracing uncertainty as an additional means of building inner strength: no more careful planning. There will be thunderstorms, rain, heat, and winds. Inner strength is built when you go on the road and put yourself out there, exposed to challenges. In turn, each challenge is a little victory leading you one step closer to a triumphant ride through your life.
Here’s the video of the day. Ride safe!
I’ve been picturing this moment to myself for months now: sitting in the motel on the first night of the Ride and writing about the first day. When I imagined it, I kept thinking about how I would feel, what would happen that day, and where I would be. and of course, I feel very differently than I thought I would, different things happened, and I am not where I thought I would be.
First off, I thought I would be immersed in loneliness and guilt on the first night. I do miss my wife and kids and still have the urge to turn back and surprise them at home tomorrow, but the flood of excitement masks it all and the sense of adventure dominates. It’s only now that I realize the sheer magnitude and scale of this journey.
The day started with saying good-bye. The kids gave me a big hug and went to Sunday school, then my wife followed me in the family van until we reached the Tappan Zee Bridge. We spent another hour or so together and then parted ways. I’ve never been away from Gili and the kids for more than a week, and both of us became very emotional when we said goodbye.
I left and headed west, and during the first two hours just felt very strange. Riding through New Jersey into I-78 and Pennsylvania was dull. But then after getting off the highway onto Route 222 I immediately saw what I’ve been waiting to see: vast corn fields ready for harvest, tall silos. The flatlands of Pennsylvania, a first glance into the many faces of the the real America. It was beautiful. Time simply stopped and for an hour or so there was no more navigation, no thoughts, just the miles humming along in a constant soothing rhythm.
Trained as a picture-taking dad though, I decided that I must document this moment and climbed to the top of a hill on a side road. The view was perfect and as I was getting off the bike I realized that with all the excitement I forgot to push the kickstand down. This motorcycle weighs about 600 lbs and has some additional 100 lbs racked on its back. It was impossible to pull it back up. All I could do is allow it to get to the ground gently. It almost felt like after putting it down I should have tucked it in and read it a story.
Long story short, some nice guy came in and help me pick it up. No damage, and I even used the toolbox under the seat for the first time, to fasten one of the mirrors that went loose. Boy, did I feel proud… This was an interesting experience. I wrote here before what I think about building strength – that it involves facing challenges of gradually increasing magnitude. I think that my journey should follow the Five Steps to Inner Peace; before I start reaping the benefits of mindfulness, flow, and all the other goodies I expect down the road, I must get accustomed to the road, study it, and adapt to it. When you throw a 40 year old dad out of his suburban habitat straight into a scene from “Easy Rider”, some stuff will happen. The good news is that these challenges build reservoirs of strength, so it’s definitely a good thing.
From this point on things took a few turns for the best. I accidentally found the Wright’s Ferry Bridge, a ruler-straight beauty crossing the Susquehanna River. On the west side of the bridge, right next to the water was a biker bar taken out of a movie scene. Solid doors and covered windows, cigarette smoke, poker tables, and pool tables. The real deal. when I asked for coffee or something else to help keep me awake they suggested “shots”. I took a Diet Coke, drank it quickly, and left. I am probably the only nerd this place has seen in decades.
Day one of Ride Of Your Life was packed and made me think about a lot of things. Tomorrow morning – Route 425 for the fun of riding, and then down towards DC where I will be speaking with best-selling author and coach Caroline Miller.
Here’s a little video with some bits of my first day: