Saturday, October 13, 2012

The End of the Road

It doesn't really seem like much, when you look at the one sentence summary. "We're taking a two week motorcycle trip." If you don't ride a motorcycle or scooter, the idea of riding hundreds of miles a day is a vague, abstracted notion of open roads and loud engines. It doesn't really seem like much.

Even amongst motorcyclists, our trip is not exactly on the top of the heap when it comes to craziness. There's the famous "Long Way Round" of course, in which Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman rode around the world and filmed the whole thing. Or Nathan "The Postman" Milward, who piloted a 110cc Honda scooter from Australia to England, and after writing a book about it (The Long Ride "Home"), rode the same bike from New York to Seattle. Or the Toronto couple we met who were on an 18 month motorcycle journey to South America. In contrast, we were (mostly) on paved roads within reach of civilization, and weren't exactly circling the globe.

But it sure felt like something big, like we set ourselves a stupidly ambitious goal and then somehow triumphed against all odds. It sure felt like a big deal to us...

Maybe that's the trademark of a good trip, that realization that is best or most profound moments of the experience are impossible to adequately describe: "You just had to be there" and all that. I've tried to give some sense of those moments in my posts here, but I'm no Hemingway or Thompson. It's beyond my skills to make you experience that feeling of descending out of the mountains of Oregon and leaning into a turn at seventy miles per hour as the world tilts and the wind from the semi truck next to me physically pushes the bike toward the Jersey barrier, and I have no good options but to just lean further into the corner and give it more throttle. And then I look farther into the turn to see Natalie accelerating away, her body slid off the bike into the turn and the Bonneville's pipes still almost touching the pavement, making it look like she's been doing it forever. That moment of jangling fear and profound love and total concentration... it's impossible for me to convey anything more than a faded, smudged copy of those moments.

A few nights before we left on our "Border-to-Border" trip, we had dinner with Nathan "The Postman" Milward at Café Racer. We talked about the concept of "adventure", and how there's always someone else out there having a bigger, better, more daring adventure than whatever you're attempting. I pointed out that our imminent trip was no big deal compared to Nathan's around-the-world journey, which he protested mightily by saying that it was certainly a big deal for us! After a few minutes of good-natured bickering, we started to realize one of those rare profound truths that still seems somewhat profound the next morning:

What makes an adventure an adventure is the fact that it pushes you outside your comfort zone and pushes the limits of your endurance, or skill, or guts, or whatever. The measure of "adventure" isn't how it compares to someone else's adventure, it's how it compares to your own sense of what's possible. When you think "this might be more than I can handle...", you're on the right track, and to hell with whether someone else is taking the same trip in a shopping cart or walking the whole way on their hands.

If I accept that idea as truth, and look back at the last two weeks, I really believe that we had a proper, fully certified adventure. We had a hell of an adventure.

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