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.