Day 20: Back on the Road Again. Last Days in LA, 110 Degree Heat in Arizona, Han Shan Eccentric Poet, Trying to Practice Non-Attachment but Not Doing Very Well.

Writing right now at Dana Point, California at a Starbucks on the Pacific Coast Highway. Already 100 miles under my belt this morning. Three or four hundred more to go if I can take the heat. This’ll be the hottest ride I’ve ever been on as it’s supposed to reach 110 in Arizona today. I bought a camel pack that holds two liters of water and has a long hose that supposedly I can drink through while riding. Anyway, we’ll see about that.
I’ve spent about 30 days enjoying the gracious hospitality of my daughter and son in law. And for two weeks my son Colin and his girlfriend, Chloe, from Northern Ireland were visiting as well. So sad to see them go.
Loss reminds us of loss stored
In the cold, hallowed halls
Of our heart.

I had a great time with my son in law and my daughter the last two days. My daughter and I went to LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) as I wanted to see the Chinese paintings. Amazingly, they had ones of those 8th-9th century eccentric monks, Han Shan and Shide. Han Shan inspired some of the writings of Jack Kerouac and the poems by Gary Snyder.
I climb the road to Cold Mountain,
The road to Cold Mountain that never ends.
The valleys are long and strewn with stones;
The streams broad and filled with thick grass.
Moss is slippery though no rain has fallen;
Pines sigh but it isn’t the wind.
Who can break from the snares of the world
And sit with me among the white clouds?
Han Shan

Yesterday we all went to the Aroma Café and to the Star Lite Cantina which were both fun. And today, at 5:30 am I said “goodbye”.

Feels good being back on the bike, riding down the Pacific Coast Highway, 71 degrees and occasional sea spray, the whirling spindrift, following the shore through Huntington Beach past the surfers, and through Laguna Beach.

Missing my kids and practicing non attachment, but not doing very well.

Day 19: Motorcycles, Heidegger in LA, Thrownness, LA Traffic, Splitting Lanes, Devil’s Highway, Out of Gas, Synchronicity.

Heidegger, that pesky German philosopher, had a lot to say about existence. My hacking of his thought goes as follows. We find ourselves as a being in this world. This, I imagine, is like us coming to our senses, patting ourselves down: Hey, I got arms, legs, stomach. I touch my head; there might be a brain in here. Next, he says we always find ourselves in a mood. The mood has to do with how we are relating to the world; happy, sad, fearful, anxious. Every guy who has ever gone to pick up a girlfriend has thought at least once, if not more: I wonder what kind of mood she’ll be in. But our mood is more than this. It’s pitch, tune and timbre. It’s how we find ourselves attuned to the world. It can be like a sound track playing in our head. For me, when I think of heading out into LA traffic I hear the soundtrack from the movie “Jaws”. Heidegger also talks about thrownness, the idea that we are thrown into this world into a concrete, historical time and place where choice and possibilities are always limited. There used to be a TV show called the “Time Tunnel” where scientists Doug and Tony went traveling into the past (and future). Whenever they landed in a new place they fell down onto the ground and rolled. Why? Because, like us, they were thrown! We are thrown into this world. Can’t help here but think of Jim Morrison’s lyrics from “Riders On The Storm” (The Doors).
Riders on the storm
Into this house we’re born
Into this world we’re thrown
Like a dog without a bone
An actor out on loan
Riders on the storm

In many ways what we make out of life is what we make out of our “thrownness”.
And when you ride a motorcycle it’s like you’re trying to take a little more control over this “thrownness”. You ride it. At the same time you’re maximizing your openness and vulnerability to your environment. Not just the sights, sounds, smells of the road but also you open yourself to meeting folks everywhere you put your kickstand down. No drive throughs or take aways for you.
Sometimes the “thrownness” can be a bit scary as in yesterday when I chose to hurl myself at LA traffic. Granted, I was on my trusted Road King but this environment was different. Not the peaceful back roads of Hwy 50, the “loneliest highway in America” but instead, the California interstate, the Devil’s Highway. I needed to get an oil change for Big Red and thought I’d see the Pacific Coast Highway again as well. I was on the road before 7 am, but so was everyone else. Uneven surfaces and folks in a tremendous hurry not to be late for a job they don’t like. In California, they allow “lane splitting”, sometimes called lane sharing or white-lining, when you can ride between lanes of cars. I had to do this a few times because the traffic was so slow, or stopped and my engine was over-revving and over-heating. I made it to the dealership, had the oil and filter changed and “You need to get that exhaust looked at. It’s leaking a bit but it should do you till you get back to Georgia.” I guess we will see about that.
Then I “threw” myself down the beautiful Pacific Coast Highway riding along the turquoise ocean. I stopped for coffee a few times and walked out onto the Santa Monica pier (remember those Rockford episodes!). Then I had to head back onto Interstates 10 and 405 and finally the Ventura Freeway. I was so busy avoiding bumps and uneven pavement that I didn’t notice that I was almost out of gas. I shouldn’t have been. Normally I can go another 20-30 miles on a tank of gas but then I remembered the over-revving and over-heating. I decided to take the next exit and cut over (carefully) three lanes of traffic to get to the exit lane and I did. I just didn’t get off the freeway. The bike died. I stopped and did what most bikers do and shook the bike sideways a few times to see if there was any more gas I could get into the system. I cranked it up and rode down to where the exit hit a main road. Then it died again. More shaking, cranked her up and I got a quarter of a mile down the road to an intersection where there wasn’t a gas station but there was a parking lot. I coasted into a space, parked it, turned around and there was a beer shop. Synchronicity!
Since it was after 5pm and I was hot, sweaty and exhausted I “threw” myself at the beer store and bought an Anchor Steam lager, took a few swigs and called my daughter who was just 10 minutes away.
I plan to engage in more “thrownness” on this trip but I’m hoping to stay away from the Devil’s Highway.

Day 18: Motorcycle Helmet Irony, Mindlessness, Santa Monica, Venice Beach, Tattoo, Met a Nice Woman, Lost in LA


Since I was back on the bike yesterday I feel I am justified in writing another entry. It’s taken a few days to get adjusted to not riding the bike every day. The first night here in LA I had a dream I was walking by the side of the road at night and a car was trying to hit me. I had to jump and roll to get out of the way. My dreams are pretty real sometimes. In this one I actually did roll to get out of the way. Rolled off the bed, and whack, hit the floor. The irony was that I hit my head on my motorcycle helmet! I tell you they need to put padding on the outside of those babies.
Yesterday, I took the bike out on the freeway to Santa Monica. It was probably around 11am and the traffic was already lethal. Everyone in a hurry to get somewhere. Mindlessness, not mindfulness. My traffic skills had grown soft because of the back roads I’d been on, the rolling hills, the snowy mountains, prairies, and deserts. It’ll take some time and it’s an adaptation I don’t want to make.
And folks on the sidewalk are in a hurry too. I don’t want to judge them because that makes it harder to love them. Still, I’m used to the ways of the deep south where you make eye contact and say hello to folks. Even in Ireland you’d get that weird head shake I never could master. (When I tried it I think people were worried I was having a fit.) But I still say “hey” here as I walk the streets and some people respond. The friendliest people I’ve met have been the homeless folks or the one’s digging around in trash cans. But that’s just life here, neither better nor worse.
In trying to maintain mindfulness Barbara Brown Taylor says: “If someone walks by or speaks to you, you may find that your power of attentiveness extends to this person as well. Even if you do not know him, you may be able to see his soul too, the one he thinks he has so carefully covered up. There is something he is working on in his life, the same way you are working on something. Can you see it in his face? You are related, even if you do not know each other’s names.”
I walked out to the end of Santa Monica pier and had some Mexican food, and listened to an impromptu high school jazz performance. The sea was a beautiful sapphire color and folks were fishing. Then I rode over to Venice Beach. Lugging my helmet and my laptop bag, and in my motorcycle boots I walked across the sand to the Pacific and felt the cool warmness of the water. Back in Ireland the water would still be freezing. I walked back a hundred yards, laid down, listened to the gulls, kids playing, laughter and folks chatting and soon fell asleep. I have a sunburn to prove it. Then I went for a walk down the Venice Beach boardwalk and admired the glorious diversity of humanity. I decided to mark the occasion of the trip by getting a tattoo! I found the one I wanted: a yin yang sign-to emphasize the trusting of the God and the universe and the balance I’m trying to maintain on the trip. I’m so brave I went with the henna tattoo which might last three weeks! By this time I needed a beer and found a bar called Larry’s where they had an amazing assortment of beer, including my favorite, Czeckvar/Budvar. I had hoped to watch a baseball game but all they had on was girls’ softball and a biography of Bo Jackson. Still, it beats the sheep herding shows I had to sometimes settle for watching back in Ireland.
Then a nice woman came and sat down beside me and we got to chatting. She was delightful with a warmhearted smile and dancing energy in her eyes. She was waiting to get a massage from the Chine man around the corner. We swopped stories about our kids and our jobs (we both teach college) and it was fun.
Then back on the bike and heading back to my daughter’s house. The traffic was still heavy and I this time I only got lost three times.
My daughter laughed at me because the first words out of my mouth were: I want ice cream. What’s so strange about that?