Rhode Island

Love to Hate: There and Back Again

“I write because I’m too afraid to steal, too ugly to act, too weak to fight, and too stupid in math to be a Cosmologist.” ~ Paul Beatty

 I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what it means to change our nature, to do something drastic to better oneself. What comes with that and how it effects things around us. In turn I’ve also been thinking about one of my favorite poets and what his writing meant to me the first time I read it. So I’ve been delving into some of those readings and some new things here and there. To some extent the past few months to a year have been interesting. Life has changed a lot. Change used to frighten me, I downright hated it. More the unknowing nature of it and what it meant to give up a space where you are comfortable and know the world around you, how it operates, and how to bend it to your will to some extent. What I realized though is that fear was based way more on thinking I had a vision for my life, for who I was, or maybe should be. When it came down to it I am what the Lord made me to be, no more, no less, and that’s okay. What I came to see is that sometimes you have to give up comfort to learn who you’re meant to be. Comfort can make us complacent and complacency can often be an anchor weighing us down. Now I’m trying to see what it means to carry that weight around (no pun intended) daily, and make it part of me, allowing it to strengthen me each step along the way.

“But in that coming day no weapon formed against you will succeed. You will silence every voice raised up to accuse you.” – Isaiah 54:17

 

I have a ride planned in a few days. I can’t say I’m terribly excited about going, which is strange for me. Its not that I think it won’t be enjoyable, but its real hot outside, and its real far, and I’ve done nothing but travel the past two months. Family stuff and helping out some people I love has kept me moving, but that’s okay. It’s been worth it because its for people important to me. It all started a few weeks ago with a trip planned over a year ago.

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I’ve luckily connected with some riders online and over the years we’ve followed one another, talked, and checked-in. This of course is a strange extension of the nature of riding with others, many times you form bonds that seem to go beyond location and familiarity. Last year they planned “Top to Bottom” ride, leaving at the end of June 2019 for 4 days, beginning in Ft. Kent, Maine and ending in Key West, Florida. Essentially this ride would run the entire course of US-1 from its 0 mile to 0 mile markers. This would be an undertaking to explore the twists and curves of the northeast coast and cutting inland before back out again. K-Solo and Reef, managed to bring a number of riders, though only 5 of us actually set out on the eventual journey due to to weather, mechanical issues, and other concerns.

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Lets back up for a second. The two of them ride like no one I’ve ever known, particularly Solo. This dude will be on one coast one day and the other two days later. I don’t get it. He just rode to Deadhorse, Alaska… seriously look that up on a map, I still can’t wrap my brain around it. I’m honestly not sure these two have a life outside of riding. Lol. Anyway, that information will come into play later.

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For me this meant this trip didn’t start in Ft. Kent, it started with wrapping up teaching a workshop, and MFA courses in Nashville and literally leaving from class to start my trip north. My stops along the way were Cleveland OH, Littleton MA, and onto Ft. Kent. Along the way I ordered a new rain suit and had it sent ahead to Massachusetts. Luckily I had some real friends who came through and let me stay along the way, special thanks to Alicia and her husband in Mass who I haven’t seen in years but opened their home, garage (basically auto shop) and fridge to me as long as needed. Having other friends with bikes is awesome, and even better when it comes as an unexpected surprise.

The day came to head up to Maine, which was big for me as its the only state in the Northeast I haven’t rode through. Unfortunately waiting for the rain suit held me up a bit and I got underway late. Maine was a beast that day, rain, cold, heavy fog and highways that didn’t offer much of anything in visibility. I pushed as hard as I could but realizing I was another 3 hours out, I realized my safety was a reality. This was the moment I came to a realization in life, at least in my motorcycle life. I love what I do, but I don’t have anything to prove to anyone… not even myself. The hardest decision to make is sometimes knowing that you’ve done enough, even when you naturally feel the need to do more. Bangor, Maine was the furthest north I could safely make so that would have to be it, and I was okay with that.

After getting in touch with Reef and preparing to meet up the next morning, I had the opportunity to run some quick errands. Getting some new hex wrenches for the bike, tightening a few bolts, getting glove liners, and topping off tire pressure. I was lucky to meet George McNeese, a gentleman in his late 80’s headed to Jacksonville to visit his daughter. He’s been riding for almost 70 years and has covered most of the United States, we chatted and laughed, photographed one another, and as he wandered across the street to grab a bite with some of the Harley Davidson employees I thought how rare it is to have these moments to meet someone like him. Someone so different than me, connected by this passion and that supersedes everything else.

I’d learn this even further as I would head to meet up with the crew for the rest of the ride. Heading out a few short hours northeast I pulled into Ruth and Wimpy’s parking lot ready to begin the official Top to Bottom.

I’m not going to go very far into details of the trip itself. Let’s just say it was more than I expected. If you can imagine, up in the northeast US-1 is curvaceous, its winding roads, and small town stops and starts. You can ride 6 hours and only have gotten 150 miles under your belt. That’s a struggle both physically and mentally after doing that for 18 hours. The trick was we had just over 3 days to complete the trip, so every mile and every hour counted. Day one ended with 12 hours of riding and 3 tired bikers in Warwick, RI… and two crazy men ready to push on.

There were 5 of us; Solo, Reef, Paul, Matt and myself. Coming together from various parts of the country meant some riding had already been done to get here, and most of them made it to Maine some time ago and explored Southeastern Canada and got to know one another if they hadn’t already. Paul and Matt knew each other, Solo and Reef, Solo and I online, but I felt somewhat like odd man out. I usually do in situations like this, the whole getting to know new people falls into that change category I mentioned earlier. Usually I’m in control of a classroom or situation somewhat, here I was thrown into the mix. Midway through day two we were still weaving hard and fast down the coast, and as the day came to a close the frustration was mounting. 18 hours ended us just outside of Baltimore, MD, it was 2am and we wanted to sleep. No hotel rooms available, exhaustion full on set in, Matt, Paul, and I needed to sleep. Some phone calls ended us at some pretty questionable motels in Perryville. Needless to say I didn’t question for one moment this motel is where I’d end up in a shoot out or a serial killer would come for me in my sleep through a hatch in the floor… the Relax Inn was far from that.

The morning came quick and we were down one man. Matt was done. Bike issues with a tire and exhaustion had taken its toll, at 6am we pressed on. Virginia was the first sign of relief. As we questioned how we would ever pull off the timing to Key West, the roads began to straighten and open up. Day three was much more mileage friendly. Stopping briefly in South Hill, VA for lunch at a great Mexican restaurant, El Saucito was a much needed break from the heat that was now beating down. IMG_20190625_142853_371

It was picturesque as well, so it was nice to get a moment to myself for some shots, but it was also the first time I began to connect with everyone else. Nothing like a meal to make this happen. Not to mention Paul vocalizing his need to have a bed to lay in that evening for more than 3 hours. I had found a kindred spirit and co-conspirator! The day would “end” in Jacksonville, FL, 19 hours after it had begun.

Now this is where the previously mentioned information on Reef and Solo is essential. Day three, hour 17, Paul and I had formed an alliance. We were traveling at our own pace and looking forward to a good night of sleep somewhere. We’d catch up and stand our ground, we were going to sleep. Reef and Solo were ready to roll through the night, apparently sleep is completely optional for them or they’re literally the undead and require no rest whatsoever. Lol. After agreeing to disagree at midnight, they rode on while Paul and I found rooms a short few hours ahead, and energizing for a final push for the evening. 2 hours later we were in Jacksonville and checking into a motel for what was the full night of sleep we needed. To make a long story short, the next morning we picked up another rider (Snoop, Reef’s cousin) and the three of us ended the day at mile marker 0 in Key West just before midnight after another 15 hour riding day.

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Due to the distance over the timeframe we pushed hard everyday. All in all this was the hardest ride I’ve ever done, in the sense of being physically, mentally, and emotionally drained by the end. Key West was a relief, and a day to take it all in was just what I needed. While everyone else got back on the road, I enjoyed a day on my own taking in the city and recuperating. While its not the longest trip I’ve done in time or distance it as the most time sensitive and that was exhausting. At times I was uncomfortable, frustrated, angry, and baffled by components of the trip. Other times I was blissfully at ease, or laughing with strangers quickly becoming friends. It was a strangely and positively bi-polar experience that forced me out of my comfort zone and into the control of someone else. This may have been the most valuable part of the experience as a whole. While I was walking away a mixed bag of feelings, I found myself joking with someone that drove me crazy a few days before, discovered someone else who carries their own toilet paper, and overall gained 4 brothers on the road.

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Being forced out of my control and comfort meant I had to adapt. I couldn’t let a situation break me, I have to learn to bend. Bending allows you to flex without failing. For this lesson I’m thankful. What was by far one of the hardest trip, maybe turned out to be one of the most important in many ways.

Now back to this week, tomorrow morning actually. I’ll be taking off for the National Biker Roundup, this year in Gulfport, Mississippi. I’m riding with a friend from Woodbridge State Burners and in classic fashion we can’t do anything easy. Instead of heading straight there, we’re going first to Denver, CO then to Las Vegas, NV then after tiptoeing into California, turning and burning across the Southwest and South to Mississippi. Yeah, we may be crazy people. But we’re crazy people on a mission apparently. There will be some more long days ahead, but this time in a little more of our control as we’re hoping to just enjoy the ride and head to some places we’ve never been. Catching up with old friends along the way, and undoubtedly making some new ones. If you see us be sure to say hey.

July 2019 Route

Ps. Special shout out to Sid’s Cycles here in Nashville who got me in real quick today and replaced my rear tire and pads. Definitely makes peace of mind a little more solid for the 9 days ahead!

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Strange Yet Familiar

Discontent is a powerful spark. When you’re filled with a sense of dissatisfaction that isn’t easily resolved, you may start wondering about making some changes. On its own however, discontent is not sufficient to start a fire – or inspire a quest….” ~ The Happiness of Pursuit

So this statement sat with me a bit. Discontentment. I think there is some of that involved here. I’m not sure completely in what fashion or if I’m dissatisfied with life, but I will say that I’m not happy in all components of life. Which is maybe impossible. I get that that everything isn’t going to be perfect, I’m okay with that. But I don’t like the lingering sense of incompleteness. That’s what I feel like is the issue right now, I feel like there’s something in my life that’s not where it needs to be as of yet. I thought it was my career for a long time. That teaching wasn’t where I was supposed to be, just where I ended up. I’ve come to find that’s not really the case. I like what I do, I’m good at it. I serve a purpose for a reason, that serves beyond myself. I think the problem is I’m searching for that thing that I find in myself is lacking and I’m not sure what that is. So it’s possible discontentment is in the not knowing, that I look into myself and I know there’s more to be found, more to dig into, more to put out into the world – but I’m unsure how to do that or what to do about it. I think maybe it has to do something with the world right now. I feel like I’ve taken some of the issues in society really personally recently (as many of us have) and that I feel lost and disenchanted, discontent, almost alienated at times. That’s painful, at the same time when I feel that because of where I am, I feel alone and I fall into my own pain and dig deeper into the hurt instead of being able to vent and find the other side of it until it works it out on it’s own. Maybe that’s part of this quest of mine, the trip becomes a searching for self not who I am, but who I’m not in some way. Or maybe who I am as part of a larger whole. I don’t really know. I feel like I’m being challenged to look at my faults and be real with them, own them, or confront and change them.

Day Five Today begins the haul north. I’m heading out from Frederick, MD and had all intentions on seeing the ride through to Worcester, MA. Though a repeated look at the weather and an overwhelming tiredness took a little of my steam and I also wanted to make a special stop I have heard about which was a little out of the way. So I decided instead of heading as far up as expected, I’d try to catch up with a friend who lives in the Baltimore / Annapolis area for a bite and head further north to an undetermined location for the night. After a start for the day and a little bit of riding I found that after some texts we realized with her work schedule for the day we weren’t going to catch up, at least for lunch and I didn’t want to end my riding for the day that shortly into the trip. So we decided to try and meet up some other time and make a special weekend of hanging out, I think it would make a good weekend trip to D.C. anyway as I’ve been wanting to go to the African American History Museum, I think I could even talk someone into making a road trip with me and have a solid weekend of fun. That being said we figured it was just a better stop for another time and northward I would head.

I had been hearing of a place outside of Lancaster, PA called Shady Maple, a crazy huge Pennsylvania Dutch buffet. A student told me about it years ago and I still haven’t been so this seemed like the perfect occasion. Even though it was a little out of the way I figured this was a great stopping point for a bite and to figure out my next move. So besides the threat of rain, I headed on out and up. The ride to Lancaster got a little wet along the way. There were sporadic showers, and then a downpour. I rode through it all and kept trudging along toward the meal I had heard about years before and somewhat for the novelty of it all and somewhat for the need to put food in my face hole. Onward I went, and eventually after the rural roads of Pennsylvania I ended up at Shady Maple, and having dried out from the first rounds of rain for the day I was ready to sit down to a meal.

What I was unprepared for was the sheer massive scale of the Shady Maple enterprise. It’s not just a buffet, but an enormous banquet hall and a “campus” of areas for shopping, farmers market, crafting, and a number of other things helpful things for the residents in the area, I’m assuming in particular the Pennsylvania Dutch / Amish community in the area, and in that sense I guess I understand the magnitude of the place.  20170717_153659I still must say I found it surprising though. Either way the meal was subpar at best and while the selection was huge, it felt like a lot of mediocrity versus items of quality. There were some things that were better than your usual neighborhood buffet or local spot and the desserts were on point for real. I kept it to a minimum though since I had to keep riding for the day, at least a few more hours. During the meal I sent a message to my friend from undergrad, Ed, and asked if they could put me up for the night. Kindly he said yes, and the plan to Jersey City was underway.

When I left the restaurant I could see the rain was coming and by the time I got the bike ready to head out again it was on me. So bundling up for the wet weather I got ready to hit the road. Headed to Jersey City I couldn’t help but think of the situation I was heading into. Which don’t get me wrong, is a great one. Ed was my friend from undergrad in Cleveland, OH and we (by happenstance) went to France together for the first time for a semester while in school. We ended up roommates while there, eventually along with two other guys and it was a life changing experience for me that’s led to multiple times abroad and an understanding of life that I never would have had otherwise that’s made me a better person. Nevertheless for Ed it was life changing in a different way because while there he met his would-be-wife Bilyana and the rest has been history. A life together they’ve built has brought a wonderful little girl, successful careers in the NY area in photography, design, activism to some extent and the laying down of roots of a beautiful family.

Looking at the situation from the outside. It’s odd that it’s something that I always wanted, and I see it in my friends, that family. For so long I wanted that, for so long I built and hinged everything on that until I fell apart when I felt that I couldn’t have it. So over the years it’s taken a lot to move beyond that to realize that what I want is what I have. That I’ve been given plenty and I’m happy and blessed to have it, even if it’s not what I imagined, but that in itself gives me the ability to have a much deeper appreciation for those in my life who do have it. Instead of being jealous and or hurt, I finally find myself at a point in life where I feel like I can enjoy their happiness genuinely and deeply, not too mention experience that happiness through and for them.

So the remainder of the ride I was looking forward to this time with old friends who I hadn’t seen since about 2009. Unfortunately New Jersey was not going to make it easy on me, particularly the turnpike. While there was some confusion in getting to the right road, there was also some confusion on the turnpike. While most highways have mile markers and exits that align, for some reason the turnpike has about 19 miles between exits! Essentially making what I thought was going to be a 20 mile road into a nearly 80 mile one. Thanks Jersey. So between that and then navigating the city traffic once I got into the area at evening rush hour I was a little frustrated with the road. Between Philly and Jersey traffic was a beast and the bike was getting hot sitting in that sun as anyone who’s ridden long and sat long knows. Needless to say I was glad to pull up at their apartment.

I have to say that it ended up a perfect stop though. They have a beautiful place and even though there wasn’t a bed, there was a crazy comfortable big couch and delicious salad which I hadn’t had in way too long. There was also of course plenty of laughs and good times catching up. Not too mention a beautiful bubbly little girl who I had never met and a overexcited dog who made the stay feel welcoming and warm.  Emma and PupAfter a night of stories and reminiscing about the time at Lacoste, dreams of going back, and filling in the gaps of the years since its been a great end to the day. It reminds me that the bike life isn’t just about the bike, but about all the stuff that it opens up the doors to, like reconnecting with old friends and parts of yourself that you lost somewhere along the way. Hopefully this time we can manage to keep them intact.

20170718_105458Day Six puts me back on track is a rather uneventful day other than getting my butt up to Massachusetts. It’s a catch up day as yesterday the original plan was to end up here, but the stop in Jersey changed that. It’s okay though, an early afternoon departure got me onto the NY Turnpike and headed north. Along the way I have to admit that once you get out of the city it’s a pretty drive, and headed up that way you can’t help but notice the fading of the city and the increase of nature coming back into its own. I really can’t complain, it’s a pretty sight. On the road I met a great guy enjoying a cigar, taking a break on his drive home. Bill, a retiree from Old Saybrook, CT. We talked about photography, his wife and their sons move to North Carolina, his friend in Clemson, SC, and a little about the idea of taking time to enjoy life before it’s too late. It was a good midpoint of the day on the way to Mass. The ride was good, but hot, the sun was no joke today and I got the color to show it. My normal milk chocolate has quickly worked its way to a rich bitter dark chocolate with the farmers tan in full effect to go with it. I still have yet to figure out this whole, “how often to put on sunscreen thing.” Black people problems. Lol

I did the Air BnB thing again making it a few uses already on this trip. I can’t say enough about that service, for a quick overnight stay it really is a perfect situation. I’m staying in a family’s home and that’s always weird, but a private bathroom usually wins me over. The reason I’m going up that way though is it’s a good stopping point before heading to Canada and it also isn’t far from Woonsocket, Rhode Island where a company is that I do some technical work for from time to time. My boss lives just outside of the city so we’re meeting for dinner. She’s one of the best people I know, as far as having a heart that would give the skin off her back if she could and you needed it. Unfortunately she gets taken advantage of from time to time, as anyone in her position would. When you run a company people want to cling on, and you always have a few of those until you shake them off. She’s a great woman though and an inspiration in her own way. Honda 4 She’s also a stockpile of photographic knowledge which is always fun for a photo geek like me. She also has an old bike in the garage, a ’72 Honda Four with a copper tank that I’m trying to get my hands on. A man can always dream!

Either way I got to town after racing the rain for awhile. I also got a great shot of a young couple about an hour outside of town who more than happy to pose for me. So after quickly getting settled in having waited out a little rain in Connecticut I was pushing for time a bit. I changed and headed to meet for dinner. She had just moved back into her house after doing some remodeling and wanted to show me around. While I have seen it before it was nice seeing it all complete and cleared out of things she was getting rid of and all the amazing art on the walls. Its interesting seeing all of the different types of neighborhoods and homes on a trip like this. From Midwestern suburbs to New England classic home styles, it’s such a huge variety and a nice representation of time seen in the styles. The inspiration of English classics being represented in the U.S., to the functional family farm homes of the Maryland countryside, down to the affordably manufactured pre-fabs of new neighborhood developments in the Midwest. That could be a photo project all in itself. Once I arrived though, dinner was the first thing on the agenda and after a quick tour and dodge of the many cats, we headed out.

We sat down at Bella’s, one of her local favorite Italian places that had been there for decades. Since we were on a short schedule, we ordered quick, plus she knows the menu like the back of her hand. Spicy calamari, and zucchini flowers for appetizers… who knew you could eat zucchini flowers!? I mean what isn’t edible though when wrapped around proscuitto, fresh mozzarella, and then flash fried. Followed up by a meal of salad, vegetables, roasted potatoes, and a boneless ribeye topped with a garlic chili butter sauce. 20170718_172711 Can’t complain at all… not even after she forced me to take home some Tiramisu. Twist my arm, fine! After getting back to her place the rain clouds were starting again as were the sprinkles so I got myself back up north for the night. All in all not a bad day, time for a shower, decent night sleep, catching up on conversations, and prepping for a ride into another country in the morning.

On a side note, I have to say the best part about this trip so far is the worst part of this blog. Not saying that I don’t enjoy writing it because I do. But it’s not quite as full of the turmoil and misery of last time and that makes for a very different writing experience, the struggle isn’t in the day to day chance of moving forward, but in the long haul of exhaustion. I can tell you, I don’t sleep great. I’m on teacher hours and like it or not I wake by 6:30 every morning if I’m lucky. So a late night means I sleep less and I’m exhausted in the morning. I’m barely hanging in there on some days but either way I ride. So this is turning out to be a trip about perseverance. Some days, especially in someone else’s home, I don’t sleep well at times, so 4 hours of sleep doesn’t do a lot. Some would say I’m adverse to sleep as it is, which isn’t true. I just don’t generally require as much as some people to function, repeatedly it takes its toll though and I’m beginning to feel it. Even before this though I was getting up at 5am, and heading to the gym almost daily to jog a few miles (slowly but still doing it) and get a solid workout in. I’m trying to change myself for the better, that can’t just happen on one level. I’m realizing as I get older I need to be serious, not that I want to be a different person, I just want to be a healthier person. So starting small and building up. For months I’ve been at this and somedays I feel great and other days like I’m what the cat dragged in and threw up on the living room carpet. I guess change is never easy, of any kind. I’ve always been the big guy, I don’t mind that. Though I do want to be the big guy who doesn’t want to die at the top of a hill. Haha. I honestly started working out to prepare for Thailand this past February. I knew I’d be walking and would probably climb some ridiculous high temple steps. I did both of those things, and on a torn meniscus it’s not easy. Neither is feeling like the world is passing you by though. Life was starting to tell me I needed to change, my body, my mind, my heart, all of it needed a transformation. I’m hoping that this is just one step in that process.

I guess there’s a little bit of something to learning when to listen to outside forces though and the toll they take on you, they lead you. If you let them. Last time it was the bike and I fought it to a failing end, this time it’s my body and I won’t fail, even if it means going to bed early on occasion and continuing to wake up early to take my ass to the gym. On as side note, who’d have thought at 41 years old I’d still be fighting sleep. Shenanigans.