Soul searching on a motorcycle

“The unexamined life is not worth living,” Socrates.

“Whatever you do, wait a week before making any big decisions” my wife, Lin, said. “I don’t want you making a decision now and then regret it next spring.”

People often ask me what I listen to when I am on a motorcycle tour. My answer has always been the same, “Nothing. I ride only with the thoughts in my head.” Some would consider that dangerous. My wife can spot when something is on my mind while I’m driving the car. I will have a concentrated look and I’ll have my left arm resting on the door with my index finger up to my lips. In my mind, I am solving some kind of problem or planning or revisiting a decision or …. On the motorcycle, there is no visible clue, and if there were, there is no one to see it.

Chimney Rock, Nebraska. The Oregon Trail from Kansas City to Portland, Oregon, was only a portion of the 19-day, 6,000-mile journey on the 2008 Suzuki V-Strom DL650.

My travels have always been solo. I prefer to ride alone because it increases the opportunity to engage people in conversations on the road, just like the soldier, farmer and cop of my most recent tour. But riding alone, there is a big piece of me missing, her name is Lin. We are great travel companions, but the motorcycle is not for her. We accept that. I often find myself on the road thinking, ‘I wish Lin were here.’ And likewise, she is thinking, “I wish Brent were home.’

“Oh the joy. Pacific in view.” The words Captain William Clark wrote in his journal, Nov. 7, 1805, upon seeing the Pacific Ocean. Two hundred years later, Lin and I visited the Pacific Coast during the 200th Anniversary of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. We arrived Nov. 7, 2005.

This latest tour was the hardest one on me. Rain five days out of six. Heat. Charged by a pit bull. Stung by something below my eye while riding 70 mph on the Interstate in traffic. I was miserable and kept asking myself, ‘What am I doing out here?’ THAT became the focus of my soul searching. Yes, I was filling in my states. Why? For what purpose? Was that all?

Last year, after completing my Oregon Trail ride, I returned home and said, ‘I don’t know if I am going to do any more long distance riding.’ After this ride, I returned home and said, “I’m not going to do this anymore. I want to be doing something else.” I even said I was going to sell the motorcycle. Something was missing, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

For the past couple of years I have been looking for something else to ride—a second bike. I began to think that I was tired of the V-Strom and wanted something different. What I have really been looking for is a different experience, not a different ride. I want to do something else, something more meaningful and fulfilling than riding a motorcycle around the country.

Having sat on this post for quite some time, pondering whether to push the “publish” button or not, the reason—that thing that seemed to be missing—came to me. What I discovered: I have lost the joy in motorcycling. It seems to have disappeared and been replaced by defensive caution while riding, constantly looking into vehicles approaching intersections or passing me, to see if drivers are on their cell phones or looking down texting. How can I see the magnificent landscapes or architecture, the farms and environment when I am looking into cars and trucks to see what the drivers are doing? Are they distracted?

Diagnosis: It’s all in my head. I am riding with my own thoughts.

Prescription: Somehow regain the joy of motorcycling. As my Grandpa would say, when I was bucked off the horse, “Get back on that horse, Brent.” And then, he would laugh. I can still hear that distinct laugh. I have always gotten back on the horse.

Still, there is that one unanswered question, “What am I doing out here?”

2013-05-04 06.25.33
Sunrise in SW Ohio.

Many days, I am blessed to watch an incredible sunrise from my kitchen or office window. It is an amazing way to start a day watching something as magnificent as the sunrise, to see the glorious colors and feel alive. To feel God’s presence and love as a new day begins. Yes, I am blessed. To find my soul mate, Lin, has been my greatest blessing and reward. Our 27 years of marriage seems like only a few. Lin is my best friend, confidant and rock. She keeps me grounded and provides wise counsel, and has managed to say the right thing when I have consulted her looking for answers. It also works the other way around. We are a team. We are partners. We are one. And, we often look for answers together.

Soul searching is universal. Have you ever asked, ‘Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going?’ Why am I here?’ It is that last question that may be the most important. Why are we here. Why am I here? THAT is the question. I am revisiting that question for the umpteenth time, and even if I do find the joy again, motorcycling is not the answer.

I am looking for purpose and meaning. That is the next adventure, the next sojourn.




14 Replies to “Soul searching on a motorcycle”

  1. Good post, Brent. I hear ya…as I’m certain many other LD riders do.

    I’ve said the same thing after multi-week grueling rides. But I always do it again!

    My thoughts on your dilemma–if it is one–are this: If not out riding your bike, them what? Golf? Swimming? Bird watching? We gotta have something and LD riding is likely it.

    And your comments about some of the things you’ve seen on your rides struck a chord with me. Reminiscent of that scene in Forrest Gump where he describes to Jenny all of the sights he saw while running, I still remember this New Mexico sunrise leaving Deming on my last leg of a 3-week ride. That’ll stay with me. Good post!

  2. Oh, the sights and sounds. Such as riding across Nevada on US 50, the Loneliest Highway in America. It was surreal. Or, reaching the end of the trail on both the Pony Express Trail in Sacramento and the Oregon Trail in Portland. And, all the people and conversations along the way. Yes. Good memories, the stuff for writing about. Right now, my internal GPS is telling me where I am; the navigation is a little vague. –Brent

  3. Hi Brent,

    I feel your restlessness and striving. It’s part of being human. I look at purpose and meaning from a different angle. Purpose is something you fulfill every moment you live, just by following your intuition. It never guides you wrong. You never know when a seemingly innocuous act of kindness will touch a stranger, make a difference in their life which sets off another chain of positive events. 10 years ago I went on a 2 month journey and when I returned, my mom asked if I’d found my purpose – like it was hidden under a rock somewhere. Perhaps it is time to get off the motorcycle, and if that’s so, it’s because there is something new that wants to take over. Change sets off an inner struggle but trust your own wisdom. You can’t see the outcome now but you will when the time is right.

  4. Hi Brent,
    Truly appreciated your comments, thoughts, post. I believe that you’re not missing the purpose, because you mentioned how blessed you are. To me, that means the purpose really is God’s purpose for you. In all your travels, God’s purpose has been for you to witness God’s creation and really enjoying it; realizing that through all that you were wishing Lin were there (her being that great blessing – soul mate) and vice versa; and being able to write about it for others like us to read about it and through your words, we can say, “Hey, that’s great !”
    Thanks for sharing, Brent.

  5. Oh, Brent. I feel your pain. And it is a pain, or sense of loss, that we feel deep in our soul. Like you, I had lost the magic of riding. But mostly because of no time to ride other than daily commuting for two years. It became a chore associated with all the rest of the dull lifeless life I led.
    I regained some of that magic back this summer when throwing camping gear on the back of the bike, with no real schedule or even destination to go. And rode, camped, hiked, got rained on, tent leaked, and still…….. It was a magical tour. The old magic came back, along with some of the heart and soul I had buried and partly lost. Just like fly fishing, I cast out the line, with myself as the hook, my bike the line, and reeled in the joy, the magic, and caught myself a fish: my heart and soul.
    If we don’t have ourselves, we can’t share what we really are with others. Especially loved ones.

  6. Thanks, Dave. Yes, the stories have some purpose. The stories take readers along for the ride, and to see through my experiences. That’s one of the things Lin said to encourage me. The motorcycle has been the catalyst for so many conversations. Would my travels be the same if I were in a car or truck? It’s the loaded motorcycle that starts the conversation, “What kind of bike is that? Is that a BMW? Where you from? Where you headed? –Brent

  7. Thanks, Elzi. Yes, I’m looking for that magic again, that joy.

    And this: “If we don’t have ourselves, we can’t share what we really are with others. Especially loved ones.” is wisdom from the desert. –Brent

  8. It all makes sense, Brent. You’re in the middle of a deeply personal journey but I’d guess every thinking, feeling person has to make the same hike at some point. Life will lead you to the next thing.

    That it comes now kind of makes sense, too. It sounds like motorcycling at some point might have become less about fun and more about keeping score (seeing X place or hitting X number of states). If that’s the case, I can relate. I know what it feels like to continually push goals and then, at the finish line, feel a let down. Where’s the pot of gold, the marching band, and — most importantly — the personal enlightenment? And why the heck was this once so important to me?

    No problem if you walk away from the bike for awhile (“if you love it, set it free…”). Or maybe you’ll see things with a new lens after some time away. Exploring the other side of your neighborhood on a Lambretta might be just as (or more) fun than traversing the continent on a V-Strom. It’s all a matter of perspective.

    Safe journeys, – Jim T.

  9. Thank you, Jim. You know that pair of Vespas at Metro Scooter that you suggested we buy? Sorry. The red one was sold today, as reported by Metro on their FB page. And yes, it is all a matter of perspective. Maybe I have been “keeping score.” Some time off the bike might do me good. –Brent

  10. Brent,
    I also wonder how long I will ride. Lots of other things I want to do, and since I’ve retired from teaching motorcycle safety classes I no longer “commute” on a bike. This was the second summer of very low miles on the DL650, different reasons, but low miles none-the-less. Went on a 160-mile ride yesterday, Portland to the Pacific and back, beautiful day, couldn’t have been nicer. I miss riding, but not sure I’ll ever do another long trip. Guess we’ll just have to see. Getting ready to head south next week, won’t ride again until May.

  11. Brent, my friend, I think part of it is the passing years. We arrive at the second half or last third of life with just about as many unanswered questions as we started with long ago and with somewhat reduced energy for finding the answers. Our old friend King Solomon said the whole purpose of Man is to fear God and keep His commandments. But he also said to eat, drink and be merry. One will be more satisfying to the soul than the other but doing both are acceptable.

    As to the bike, sell it. See how long it takes to get the shakes or bike fever or realize that something that has become a big part of you over time isn’t there. As you know, I sold my V-Strom back in December and was unsure about replacing it anytime soon. By July I knew what was missing and thus arrived the Gold Wing. Once a rider, always a rider. I don’t ride like I used to, no 600 – 900 mile days anymore, but I can’t just walk away entirely. And I have learned to appreciate and study much closer the shorter rides and see their beauty.

    So sell the bike. Bank the money for the next one. Go take pictures and see what develops. Pun intended.

  12. Pat and Doug, I’ve wondered if this might be an age thing, but at almost 63, I can’t image that I’m “too old” for motorcycling. We all know riders who have kept going well into their 80s. But perhaps at this stage in life, there are other things to focus on. Maybe this is why I have been looking at Vespas–something to ride, but giving up long distance. Lin says, “Keep the V-Strom. It’s paid for. It’s a solid bike that you love. So what, if you don’t ride it as much as you used to? It will be there for when you want to ride.” She is my rock.

    Although not mentioned before in print, I have talked with a few friends that there is more to life than motorcycling. YES, there is more to life than motorcycling, and that is something I have considered writing about. It is about a balanced life rather than living for a single thing.

    This morning, I’m going fishing with the Veterans. I think I’ll stand in the middle of the river and think about all this for a while. Thank you for your comments. –Brent

  13. Good ol’ helmet time. Can’t say what I’m thinking about when I’m riding. Focusing on what’s going on around me. The road. The scenery. Photo opportunities. Places to stop. Food.

    I have to admit though that solutions to whatever has been bothering me seem to come to me. Almost as though I knew it all along.

    And there’s the relaxed state of being I have when pulling into my drive, unloading my bike and getting on with whatever is next.

    It’s not just the ride. It’s the feeling after. That’s why I love riding.

  14. Thank you, Guy. Yes, sooner or later the answers come. Just like it took me several months to figure out what I was feeling. How could I possibly admit that I lost the joy of motorcycling. But, now that I know what it is, I can work on getting that joy back. Sooner or later, the answers always come. –Brent

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