More than 8 Years Ago, I still Remember this Ride

life and motorcycles

It was June; the early morning sun was warm to the touch and I awoke to a reality of a dream. For a year my motorcycle sat in storage in Golden, Colorado awaiting my triumphant return. My family moved to the east coast from Golden, Colorado and, due to a lack of space, the motorcycle could not join our eastward trek. I attempted to formulate a plan to retrieve my motorcycle and drive it from Colorado to New York. This would be a 1400 mile trip that I have been anticipating for 34 years. As long as I could remember, it was my dream to have a motorcycle and ride for days on end with only the wind, sun and moon as my companions. However, there was always something stopping me. The lack of money for a motorcycle, college, work, family and whatever else kept me off a cycle. In 2004, after serving 14 months in Iraq, I came home and bought a brand new 2003 Honda Shadow 750 ACE. My new bike, in many ways, symbolized who I was. It was simple, dependable and modest yet had a sense of character all its own.

For three years of riding my Honda, it had not once seen a single rain droplet and had only accumulated approximately 4000 miles; most of which were received on short trips up the numerous curvaceous valleys of the Eastern Foothills of the Rocky Mountains. I had exactly zero amount of experience riding long distance, let alone from Denver to New York. In early June of 2007, I left Rochester, New York via a US Airways Flight which was bound for a final destination to Denver, Colorado. Once in Denver it was my plan to pick up my bike and drive it back to New York via an obscure path not yet planned. Rather than a planned route, it was more about heading east and finding my way home.

While in the military I was taught that piss poor planning resulted in piss poor performance. As it turned out they were partially correct. The long sleep that my motorcycle took during its time in storage reeked havoc on its running condition. After a fuel change, oil change, replacement of the fuel filter and battery the bike was ready for the 1400 mile jaunt. This unplanned maintenance took a full day. Fortunately, my plan was to have no plan so there was no real damage to my travel itinerary. With a working cycle, wet weather gear and change of clothing, I progressed east on my Shadow towards my home in Rochester, New York.

The first two hours of the trip went well, but then I noticed a few rain drops on my helmet. The scattered drops eventually became a down pour and, for the next two days, the skies did not dry up. Driving through Eastern Colorado and into Nebraska, on the back roads leading east, was like an oasis of views for one’s soul. The openness of the Great Plains is expanded tenfold while on a motorcycle. Not a dry fiber on my body, no windshield to divert the wind, the rain splashing down upon my legs likes mini daggers yet I simply wore a smile. It was a smile bred from being content and upon finding one’s place in the world. Maybe it was mild hypothermia, but my mind began to drift. I began to ponder actions done in the past and events not yet fulfilled. I became lost in thought while I drove through the prairie. It was like the openness of my surrounding somehow opened my mind to places long lost forgotten.

After my first 10 hours on the road, I decided to find a hotel, get a good meal and dry off a bit. I didn’t have camping gear and decided to just find cheap hotels on the road. It must have been the warmth of the hotel room because I did not know how sore and cold I actually was until I started to dry off. I ended the night with some really bad Mexican Food and a warm shower. Tomorrow was waiting.

The next day, I was a couple of hours into my trip when I found a Motorcycle Store about 45 minutes from the Iowa boarder. Just for a break off of the cycle I went into the place to have a look around. Twenty minutes later I came out with a SpitFire Universal Windshield and a leather jacket. At the time, I did not understand how precious of a commodity these items would be for the rest of my journey east. The little windshield really did not look like much, but it diverted at least 60 percent of the wind and rain away from my body. This protection increased my riding comfort tenfold. The leather jacket was on sale for sixty dollars, but was perfect for the warm summer. I never had any idea what a seventy dollar windshield could accomplish, but I will never again buy a motorcycle, which I plan on taking long trips on, without one. For the rest of the day it poured, but I found out something which was unexpected. A motorcyclist that is soaked, from top to bottom, but who still has a cheerful disposition breeds a curiosity in people. I found that every time I stopped to rest individuals would stop by my bike and ask me questions or make a funny comment about riding in the rain. It was strange. The standard social norms had seemed to be thrown out the window. People would just approach me and start a discussion. Was it because I looked like a drowned rat and they felt sorry for me or could it be that they found it fascinating that someone could be so content while being so bloody wet?

In Iowa, on the second day of my trip, I stopped at a Truck Stop and Diner. As I walked into the place I left puddles in my path. I picked a booth near a window so that I could keep an eye on my ride and ordered a BLT. I saw an elderly gentleman, obviously retired, walk across the restaurant and take a seat in the booth adjacent to me. At this point he asked me a few questions regarding my journey across country on a motorcycle. Those few questions transformed into a two hour conversation. John ended up owning the Truck Stop, but had relinquished operational control of it to his two sons. He was a teenager during the Great Depression, a World War II Combat Veteran, crop pilot, over-the-road trucker, farmer, Truck Stop Restaurant owner and family man. Throughout our conversation, I found that he lived a life filled with adventure, loss, joy, hardship, sorrow, fear and hard work. Also, I realized that he did not observe life as a spectator, he lived it.

I wish I could tell you the names of the roads that I traveled or the hotels in which I stayed, but I cannot. I kind of just drove east hoping to not run out of gas like I almost did so many times. Another lesson that I learned while on the road is that if you’re going to drive across country it’s a good idea to have a large gas tank. My gas reserve warning light would go off at approximately 120 miles and I would need to look for a gas station. In the city this is not such an issue, but in the middle of Iowa it could be a problem. Luckily I never did run out of gas. If I had, it would have been just another interesting situation.

Somewhere near the Iowa/Illinois boarder I began to ponder memories long hidden. In 2003 I was part of the invasion force into Iraq from Kuwait. The memories of the invasion often bring me night tremors and, at times, sullen depression. The thought of the war would strike at random times and would often be triggered by loud noises, smells but mostly by large crowds. It is actually pretty tough for me to even write about this, but I have figured out that if one speaks of the ills of his past that he will less likely be suffocated by the negative memories of yesterday. On the ride, I began to ponder the war and the part I played in it. The difference is that I thought of these issues on my terms and in my own way. For the first time in since I got back from Iraq, I found that I had control of the past and not vise versa. By no means am I saying that this motorcycle ride cured me of my past recollections and skeletons, but I can say, without a doubt, that I was able to get in a place that I felt like I could handle those memories and put them to rest. Do I still get a nervous twitch when I hear a loud noise? Well, yes but I am able to deal with it and continually move forward. For me, the trick is to vent these negative emotions, with a person who cares when the time is needed and not become consumed and transfixed by what occurred. With all experiences in life, one must progress forward along his or her chosen path and hope to learn and gain wisdom along the way.

The sun decided to show its’ fullness on the third day of my trip. I was content riding in the rain, but the sun brought a new perspective on riding. Instead of the people in the cars looking at me thinking, “How could he be on a motorcycle in the rain”; I was thinking, “How could these people be in a car on a beautiful day such as this.” Everything seemed perfect. By this time I was heading southeast towards Indianapolis. I remember getting lost a few times along the way. However, “lost” is a term that I use loosely because if one has no plan than where ever one ends up is exactly where he’s supposed to be. I approached the Indiana/Ohio boarder on my 3rd day. I found another mom and pop hotel to rest for the night.

Waking up on the 4th day I found that riding in the sun brings with it a nasty burn if precautions are not taken. The burn was not as bad as it could have been given the clothing I was wearing and the full face shield on my helmet, but I knew some sun block was needed. So I pulled into this gas station to fill up my tank and get some SPF 40 sun block. It was really early in the morning and I did not pull away from the gas pumps when I was putting on my protective lotion. Well, to make a long story short, while I was rubbing it onto my neck and face about ten mutant motorcyclists surrounded the gas pump. I looked up, with white lotion all over my face, neck and hands, and saw every one of those bikers staring at me. One guy, who looked like Andre the Giant, say’s to me, “We need to fill up, move your bike”. A personal pet peeve of mine is when someone doesn’t move away from the pump promptly after getting gas. So, I understood the situation from my large friend’s point of view and moved along. I spent six straight days on my motorcycle during my trip and this was the only negative experience that I witnessed and ironically it came from a fellow motorcyclist.

The next day of my trip brought me running north towards Cleveland, Ohio. I can tell you that I must have been deep in thought because, once again, I found that I was just about out of gas. It was around 8pm and it was a Sunday night. I was in a rural area and approached 4 different gas stations; each of them closed. During my quest for a gas station, I passed several different horse and buggy carts and was quite certain that I was deep into Amish Country. Though the scenery was great, I was really concerned that I was going to run out of gas. I eventually passed a couple of kids playing in one of the horse and buggy carts and I stopped and asked them for some directions. They gave me a perfect route to the only open gas station in the area. Once filled up, I thought of how ironic it was to be asking for directions for gas from a couple of kids who may never have been in a gas combustion automobile in their lives. That night I could not sleep all that well. I knew it was the last night on my dream ride.

The sixth day brought me home to Rochester, New York. My dream ride was better than I thought possible. I learned a lot about being a motorcyclist and about long distance riding. In some ways, I was able to learn about myself. Before returning home, I began planning my next long distance bike trip. Next time I will hopefully take my wife as well as some camping equipment and forgo the cheap hotels. For me, I really think it was the lack of a travel itinerary and the vastness of the Midwest that made my adventure so terrific. For some a perfect place may be in Aruba or a cabin in the Alps, but I feel most comfortable, on my motorcycle, facing the open road.


Just My Thoughts on PTSD- Always Look Forward

PTSD

There are a higher percentage of deaths from suicide among Combat Veterans as compared to the general population in America. According to research, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) may be a fundamental cause of this increased suicide rate. My experience with PTSD stems from a tour in Iraq more than a decade ago. PTSD is real and has tangible and damaging side effects. It manifests its self among us in different ways and levels of severity. PTSD may be an outcome of any traumatic event from a car accident, to witnessing a crime, to being attacked by a dog, to being a victim of sexual abuse. Anyone can suffer from PTSD; the ailment has no social, economic, religious, gender or racial biases. Anyone is open to its dark shadows.
My thoughts below have no scientific merit nor are based upon research or psychoanalysis. They are just my ramblings that I felt necessary to put into words. When reflecting upon the escalated suicide rates of those whom have served in combat roles, I can’t help but dwell upon the environment that our troops lived in for such long periods of time. In my Unit the average Combat Tour was a year, for other troops it was less and some more. For many troops multiple combat tours were the norm. Could the amount of time which people are submerged in a traumatic environment have a direct relationship on how severe their PTSD symptoms could be? This could help explain the increased suicide rate among combat veterans.
In 2003, I can tell you that Iraq was nothing like the world that I live in today. The best description of the place was a maelstrom of violent deliberate organized chaos. For me it was a place where nightmares vacationed. For a year, the smells, sights and sounds of the place became an integral part of my conscious; the place became a part of me. We did all we could to keep the environment out but there was no stopping it, the place became you. When you are besieged into that chaos, there is an opportunity for one to become an uglier version of oneself and potentially be more vulnerable to making decisions which would be looked down upon back home. It’s these life choices as well the incredible amount of violence witnessed which tend to linger in our souls long after we leave the war. It’s these experiences and memories which often bind us to guilt and loss. For soldiers, the guilt and sorrow for those we lost and possibly harmed, aggravates the symptoms of PTSD and makes it harder to recover from it. For me, once I found peace to my inner demons within, I was able to better navigate the pitfalls’ associated with my PTSD. Peace comes from many different approaches. Religion, meditation, nature, support groups, therapy, animals, education, karate and family are all great constructive tools for individuals to use on their journey to come to terms with their experiences. The important thing to understand is there is no road map or set of directions; it just takes time, patience and a loving support network to lean upon while taking that journey to find oneself. Unfortunately it takes a while for soldiers to get in touch with their feelings and often turn to self-medication in an effort to chase away their mental affliction which often only worsens their anguish and increases their burdens. It’s not just heavy drug use, abuse of alcohol but violence and other such type of behavior which chases away those we love and support us. A lack of such a support network only makes the symptoms of PTSD harder to endure.
After a few years of making things right in my own mind regarding the war, I was able to begin seeing improvements surrounding my PTSD. It took me more than 9 years to be able to see a fireworks show with my family but now I can go without negative side effects. My nightmares are very rare almost negligible and my temperament is back to prewar conditions. I am able to socialize in public and find myself to be more socially active. These were all issues that I have been dealing with since my return. I’m still working with my issues of crowds and noises such as horns and crying children but all is manageable. Believe it or not, my biggest issue is visiting others in their home. For some reason I feel very uncomfortable going to someone’s house for a visit. It’s a work in progress.
Trust me, my story was filled with ugliness throughout the healing process including trouble with the law, violent behavior, abuse of alcohol, marriage problems and a ton of other nasty items but I kept one constant. When I woke up despite my many setbacks, I kept on moving forward one step at a time. There were terrible moments and steady moments and even joyful moments but every day I kept trying to look ahead to a brighter day.
There are so many more folks out there that have witnessed more ugliness then I will ever dream of and others who may not have witnesses as much but at the end of the day, that does not matter. What matters is we never judge and that we only strive to support. I know in my heart of hearts that I will never understand how others suffer with their memories, afflictions and symptoms of PTSD. This issue affects all of us differently so it’s crucial that we walk our own journey to find a way to heal and not compare our situations with others suffering from PTSD.
What I can do is be a friend, lend a helping hand, and feel empathy for their turbulent struggles. I think this is something we all can do and not just for those who suffer from PTSD but for any person who is struggling with any type of issue. It’s about being a good human being and neighbor to those we interact with.
“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.” ~Edward Everett Hale

PTSD 2


Can We Do Better- Veterans Losing at Home

blood Type

Supporting our Veterans should be the responsibility of every citizen who lives in our country. It should not be left to our Government or Non-Profit entities alone; it should be sewn in the fabric of who we are as a society. Have you ever heard people pound their chest about “Supporting the Troops” but show zero action on the issue? “Supporting Our Troops” is not about verbal lip service, it’s about taking an active role in helping and assisting those who Serve or have Served.
I have never been one who believes in statistics because they are often misleading and used for some type of agenda or scheme. I try to use common sense, research, impartial views and conversations with others to be analytics which steer my moral compass. With that said, the recent alarming statistic of 22 Veterans dying of Suicide daily is overwhelmingly heart breaking and can’t be ignored. To be honest, I did not need some statistic to inform me of this travesty. It’s in the obituaries and the veteran’s blogs who share their stories of inner conflict.
If you really care about “Supporting the Troops” then actively participate in taking care of them when they come home. There is nothing wrong with giving to a non-profit on the matter but getting your hands dirty is where we can really impact the net results. Find something you can do, to enrich and empower a Veteran. It’s not about a handout or free rides, it’s about truly caring and forming relationships that matter. This is how we create real change. What can you do for a Veteran? The answer is anything that makes a difference. Use your own skills and innate abilities to help those who once took an oath to defend you.

19 and Own Will


Running Out of Gas in Wyoming

Devils Tower 3

Devils Tower

Have you ever been alone? I don’t mean feeling alone, I mean being in a location without anyone or anything else around. It’s an eerie feeling but one that everyone should have every so often. Last week I took a trip out to Mount Rushmore, Devils Tower and Bad Lands National Monument. While driving through Wyoming there was this location which was totally desolate. There was no cell phone reception, no buildings, no people or no trees. The only things around were a cool strong breeze and a view which stretched as far as the eye could see. It was desolate and lonely but yet peaceful. I lived in a desert for a year oversees and found that there was a subtle beauty to the vast emptiness. The desolate environment has a way of transforming ones senses as a way to camouflage  the bleakness of the landscape. Every noise is more loud and every color more vibrant. The wind actually has the power to chant an impressive verse which tells its own story of the countryside. There is power in truly being alone without the comforts of technology. Society and the ways of the world often have a corruptive influence to our morals and beliefs. Maybe we all should take a few days to be away from it all to reflect upon all that is most important.

The photos are of Mt. Rushmore, Devils Tower and Bad Lands National Park which I took last week. If you get a chance to go, I would highly recommend. I am sure to go back.

Mount Rushmore 3

Mount Rushmore

It was actually Bad Lands National Park which took my breath away.  I cannot begin to explain its breath of scope so I wont even try.

BadLands2

BadLands


Beach (2)

Here are some photos I took while working in Maine and New Hampshire over the last few weeks. I love the beach, even in the winter. My suggestion, go find a beach and watch the sun as it rises beyond the horizon. Let your mind drift while you listen to the waves sing their majestic melody. It’s a song filled with splashing dreams and wondrous sounds. I walked the beach for a predawn sojourn the other day and my gift was a most splendid peaceful sunrise. Despite the chill, the experience was absolutely amazing. It was glacial cold but I did not even notice because the sunrise took me away from myself. Sometimes all we need is just a little change in scenery.

Beach and Faris

Beach

 

 

 

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Kick Failure in the Mouth

Army Bobber

Failure

An act or instance of failing or proving unsuccessful; lack of success

We often take photos and selfies of the moments in our lives that seem most precious. Photos of weddings, graduations, parties and other positive pleasant moments are the popular choice for most personal pictures. It makes sense, we want to remember the good times. We want to be able to reflect upon those moments of great triumph and happiness. Maybe are society should make a paradigm shift with this positive snapshot philosophy. Instead of taking selfies and photos during the good times, maybe we should take them during the bad times to make a historical record of our personal failures. If we could better remember all those letdowns and disappointments, then maybe we as a society could better appreciate the good times we have. I was born a pessimist so this goes along with my natural inclination to be negative. I have fought to think from a Positive, HALF FULL perspective my whole life, but my mind often drifts towards that Half Empty theory of thought.

Today I shall be negative but only to celebrate my failure.

Can someone really celebrate failure? I believe we all can. Take ownership of the task not completed and share it with the world. Have fun with the disappointment and make everyone wonder why you are still smiling. Then reevaluate the situation, analyze why the battle was lost from a macro and micro level. One can’t fight the battle using the same strategy when failure was the previous result. To change the conclusion, one must play another hand. It’s also important to contemplate the value of your objective and ponder its own merits. Then sit down and really pray, dwell and evaluate whether that task is worthy of a second attempt. If the answer is yes, then get back on that horse and tackle it.

So my goal is to run a marathon. My plan was to train for a year and run the race in early 2016. I spent the month of December running, exercising, dieting. I was a 30 day fitness fanatic. It was a month of success but shortly after the New Year, I just fell off the fitness horse and settled back to my slothful like tendencies.

Over the last week, I have re-evaluated my goal of running a marathon and came up with the below questions and answers.

Question-            Is the goal of running a marathon still worth fighting for?

Answer-               Yes, I want to accomplish this task

Question-            Is the goal of running a marathon feasible?

Answer-               Yes, but I must segment the task into smaller blocks, focus on a mile at a time

Question-            Why did you stop training?

Answer-               I was focused on losing weight more than running and doing too much too soon

 

So it’s time to start training again. This post is about my set back, blogs can’t always be good news. Moments of pixies and dandelions are great but let’s be honest; in life there are moments of failure, worry, toil, hardship and scorn. I am sad that I have let myself veer from my own convictions but feel proud that I have the courage and motivation to give it a second chance.

Circling back to my first paragraph, there is no need to take photos of our failures. Our memories are all too good at committing negative recollections into our psyches. If anything, undesirable remembrances persist for far too long in our minds. They normally do us more harm than good. Reflecting on the sorrowful times of yesterday, only guarantees us more of the same in the future. I will celebrate my failures, learn from them, and endeavor to discard them. Anyone for a run???

 

The good news is that motorcycling season is right around the corner. Lets Ride!!!!

fai


Try Paintballing

Paintball2

It’s cold and blustery outside today, so we took off to an indoor paintball arena. It was me and my two sons out to find some needed adrenaline. Winter has a way of making one cranky so one needs to find a way to get out of the house and do something nutty and fun. Paintball is awesome because it has a sense of danger, mixed with competition and exercise. The danger comes from the dreaded paintball hit. When you get shot, it feels like someone slapped you across the face. Not only does is sting but it can leave a nasty bruise as well. But it’s that burst of pain when the paintball finds your body which makes your adrenaline flow. I am in my mid-forties but I was out there with teenagers, twenty something’s and teens and having a blast. Any Paintball facility will make you wear a safety mask which covers your eyes and ears but wear gloves as well. A hit to the tip of the finger is robust pain. Wear gloves to help protect your digits, they will save you some embarrassment when you start crying from a hit to the index finger. I am slow and out of shape but I still had a pretty good kill ratio. Maybe I did not forget all of that military training.

I have been exercising pretty much every day over the last 27 days and have only eaten healthy food. With the exception of one glass of milk, all I have drunk is water. I lost approximately 9 pounds but have done so without going hungry which is great. While playing paintball, I got extremely winded.  I believe it would have been 15 times worst if I have not been training every day in December. So I just have to keep on taking those baby steps forward to 26 Miles. What is most important is having fun along the journey.

How can I mix my love of paintball with my passion for motorcycling? Maybe some sort of Mad Max Style Motorcycle Jousting Tournament. Just substitute the horse for a motorcycle and a lance with a Paintball Gun. It could be massive fun with a ton of crashed cycles and broken bones. Maybe it’s not my best idea but it would be fun!

Paintball


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