The Tranquility of Motorcycle Road-Tripping
Recently while doing some much-needed yard work, a song came over my ear buds that took me back, on a ride down Memory Lane, so to speak. The song, “Clocks” by Coldplay, caused me to pause and reflect on a moto-road trip I took with a childhood chum a couple of years ago. Yes, I know, that song and that band aren’t the first ones that come to mind when thinking about motorcycle riding, but I remember that song playing in my head while riding a long, tranquil stretch of the Natchez Trace Parkway with my friend Lyle. The tune and voice are almost hypnotic, and it was the perfect backdrop to the state of mind I was in as we wound our way down that gently undulating road through south central Mississippi. I stood there in the middle of my yard, propped on my rake, eyes closed, riding that breathtaking stretch again in my mind, probably even swaying, not so much to the music as to the memory of the big Yamaha underneath me on that strip of blacktop. I was there again, in my head and in my heart. An acute case of wanderlust was once again welling up within me.
Carving curves on the Cherohala Scenic Byway, Robbinsville NC to Tellico Plains, TN.
There is a state of mind, of spirit, that long miles and hours in the saddle can bring to a rider. A state of peace, tranquility, relaxation, yet complete focus, awareness and control that a rider settles into out on the open road. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi proposed the concept of “flow”, a mental state experienced when so totally immersed in an activity that a feeling of complete focus, engagement, and enjoyment is achieved. I’ve heard it called “the zone”, “moto-nirvana”, “zen” and “motorcycle heaven” among riders. Whatever the moniker, this state of being is something not experienced in many other aspects of life. A long trip in a four-wheeled “cage” can get tiresome, monotonous, even tedious, after hours and miles on the highway. Yet on a motorcycle, every moment, every mile, every sensation, can bring pure serenity, pure harmony. As the late singer/songwriter Rich Mullins once penned about riding, “Let the road wind tie our hair in knots; let the speed and the freedom untangle our lives.” I know that feeling.
A section of the “Tail of the Dragon”, Hwy. 129 heading west out of Deals Gap, NC to Chilhowee Lake, TN.
I remember finding myself in this state while on another road trip, with my friend Mike. We were heading west out of Amarillo on I-40, making for Tucumcari by nightfall. We practically had the interstate to ourselves, as we chased the sun toward the western horizon. As we descended off the high plains of panhandle Texas, toward the desert and mesas of New Mexico, the setting sun was splashing a kaleidoscope of color across the skies. Behind us, as darkness crept over the canopy above, a nearly full moon was rising behind our right shoulders. With Mike riding lead, his silhouette framed by the sinking sun, I fell into that state, almost like a trance. I rode, I sang, I prayed, and I found a stillness, a centering, had come over me. It was a mystical, mythical peace, with the setting sun in my face, the wind blowing by my ears, my hands gripping the handlebars, the big Yamaha pulsing out a rhythm beneath me. That particular trip was in late 2010, yet I remember those moments, and many others on that trip, like they were yesterday.
Atop the Lookout Mountain Scenic Parkway, north Alabama.
On yet another trip, one I took with my father back in ’08, we rode the fabled Blue Ridge Parkway for several days. Weaving and rolling across this ribbon of blacktop heaven in the Smokies, the beauty of the mountains, coupled with the gentle tempo of the road around vistas and through tunnels, I found myself in that state as well, feeling the rhythm of the road, the bike, the fellowship with my father, and the breath-taking surroundings. I even remember the morning we were up early enough to witness that spectacular moment when the morning cloud cover suddenly floats up, from below the Parkway to above it. Riding through that was nothing short of spiritual, almost divine to me. Being a Christian, I find an intimacy of fellowship with my Creator in those moments, which is hard to duplicate in other settings and activities.
Westbound on I-40, across the wide open prairies of Oklahoma.
Many people wonder and question why we ride. Do we crave adventure? Did we never grow up? Do we have a death wish? Often we who ride will simply give the answer, “the freedom.” And yet, when I find myself in that perfect riding state, that “mystic rhythm” if I may borrow from rock legends Rush, simply saying that I ride because of the freedom doesn’t even come close to capturing it. I’m addicted to that state like a drug. I am easily reminded of those moments, and so many others, so often in my everyday life. I find myself reflecting on them, discussing them with friends who know that place as well, and yearning for the next time I can saddle up, hit the road, and search for it again. I guess that’s why I ride.
Roll, roll me away
I’m gonna roll me away tonight.
Gotta keep rollin’, gotta keep ridin’,
Keep searching ‘till I find what’s right…
-Bob Seger, “Roll Me Away”
Chasing my friend Mike across east Arkansas.