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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Friday, November 03, 2006

The Magic of the Open Road*

Johnstown Tribune-Democrat 7/30/2006

Copyright © 2006 by Ralph Couey

The other day, I was passed the URL for the website of an acquaintance, actually a list member of the Internet motorcycle group I belong to. He embarked on a trip that is the stuff of legends. Between July 2 and August 13, he rode 10,000 miles.

According to his online log (updated daily courtesy of WiFi) he traveled from Tennessee all the way up to Dawson and Skagway in Canada’s Yukon Territory and back.

Most of us in the motorcycling community know someone who has taken long, epic trips. I think for the rest of us the reaction is universal; a tinge of envy, yet sharing the excitement of the journey, and with today’s global interconnectivity, living the day-to-day adventure, if only vicariously, via the Internet. For those of us left behind, the walls and ceilings that make up the invisible boundaries of our individual lives seem to close in. For the first time, we sense the prison of obligation and responsibility we’ve built.

Traveling by motorcycle is altogether different than any other method of conveyance. The risks are higher, of course. But the tremendous feeling of openness inherent in riding, the feeling of actually living and breathing the world as it passes by trumps the dangers. Most riders know where they’ll stop for the night. Some roll the dice and travel until the sunset finds them, wherever that is. But the time between sunup and sundown, is a day filled with endless possibilities. No agenda, no schedule, no plans; just pointing the front wheel in the direction most desired by the soul. A physical journey, to be sure. But also a spiritual one as well.

A few years ago, I took a 9-day 3,500-mile sojourn through the American Southwest. I still recall it as the 9 greatest days of my life. The incredible natural beauty I saw, the hazards I faced and survived, and the powerful sense of independence I gained marked the days permanently in my memory. At the end of the trip, while unloading the bike, I felt the usual conflicting emotions. Proud that I had survived the trip; happy to be home; sad that the trip was now history.

Monday morning would come soon enough; along with it’s prosaic, sometimes stultifying routine. The dull sameness of work and the reality of home, bills…responsibility. For nine unforgettable days and 3,500 glorious miles, I had existed within a special realm, answering only to the longings of my soul. I knew that I couldn’t do that forever. A man’s drive is defined by the love of those who depend on him. Knowing that within the walls of home was a loving wife and devoted children to whom I was irreplaceable gave me reason to live. It was good to be home.

Nevertheless, lying in bed that night, I stared at the dark ceiling, kept awake by the memories of mountains and deserts, deep forests and wild river valleys, and a night sky flooded with stars calling my spirit into the limitless expanse of the universe; an invitation to come face-to-face with God. The memories of this trip had created within me a refuge; a place to which I could always return when the weight of life became too heavy to bear. No matter what adversity lay before me, I could for a few brief moments, take myself to Arizona and the Valley of Cochise, lean back, close my eyes, and just listen to the lonely, restless voice of the desert wind….

There’s a horizon out there. On the far side are things I’ve never seen, places I’ve never been, people I’ve never met, and experiences I’ve never had. All day long I chase that horizon, freed by the knowledge that I have nowhere to be and all the time in the world to get there. It’s that restless desire within to go there, see that, do that…feel that... which pushes me down the road.

And the best part of all? Every morning there’s a brand new horizon out there. Calling to me…

It just doesn’t get any better than that.
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