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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.

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Singing the Song of the Open Road*


Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

*Johnstown, PA Tribune-Democrat
June 5, 2011
as "Road Trip Memories"


The sun is just rising into a clear sky, the day still fresh, new, and unspoiled.  After one last check of the loaded bike, I turn the key and punch the starter.  The engine roars, and with a final good-bye, the bike rolls down the driveway and onto the road.  My spirit soars; I have answered the call of the open road.

Every spring, I suffer the pangs of adventure.  I try to satisfy, or at least allay them with 200-mile Saturday rides, and taking the long way home from work.  But as the weather warms, and the day lengthens, I cannot help but open a road atlas and dream.

Dramatic landscapes float through my mind, much like a high plains thunderstorm gliding across the sky. In those visions is a voice, subtle and seductive.  It calls me to escape the box of my everyday life for the lure of the unknown and unexplored; the realm beyond the far horizons. 

I love maps.  A map is the canvas upon which my dreams are paintedv; a portrait of limitless plains, powerful mountains, shifting deserts, and shoreline highways. My eyes follow the multi-colored lines on the page, but in my mind, I feel the sun on my shoulders, the wind in my face, and the exultation of a questing and restless spirit.

Even in my childhood, the horizon always beckoned.  For some, that line between earth and sky is a barrier, a protective wall surrounding the known and familiar. But for me, the horizon is a gateway to places I’ve never been and things I’d never seen; people I’d never met and experiences I’d never had.  I am irresistibly drawn to the unknown beyond the known.

We traveled far as a family. Before I was 15, I had already been to 26 states, Canada, and Mexico.  But it wasn’t until I began my relationship with a motorcycle that I discovered the real joy in the journey.

My first long road trip was a Labor Day escape to the shores of Lake Superior.  I remember that day well.  The heat and humidity was already oppressive by 8:00 in the morning as I headed north, crossing the farmlands of northern Missouri and Iowa.  Departing Minneapolis in the evening, I raced the sunset for Duluth, cresting the hill above that port city just after sunset.  Below me, the city glittered like jewels scattered along the shore. 

But the best moment was when I reached my campsite at Two Harbors.  After 700 miles and 14 long hours, I beheld a huge full moon rising over the still waters, its soft light bathing the world in silver.  Even today, the memory still leaves me breathless.

Two years later, I embarked on an epic 9-day sojourn through the rugged beauty of the American Southwest.

I can close my eyes and remember the easy grace of Kansas’ Flint Hills, the torn and beaten land in Oklahoma and West Texas still scarred from the dust bowl.  There was the sad sight of an old weather-beaten shack; the wooden gravestone of a broken dream.

In my memories are the verdant valleys of New Mexico’s Sacramento Mountains, and the stark, empty desert of the Jornada del Muerto.  There was a lovingly restored Tombstone, Arizona; the natural artistry of Sedona, and the raw beauty of Oak Creek Canyon.  Through Colorado’s Rockies, I careened along twisted mountain traces under a flawless sky, balancing the centrifugal against the centripetal on a knife-edge of lunacy.

There was the retired couple outside Durango, Colorado who really understood the “why” of such a journey.  The 4-year-old boy in Tombstone, how wide his eyes were, sitting on the motorcycle’s seat.  And the longing in them as his smiling father led him away. 

So, it is in these days of new life that a thousand memories visit, leaving behind a familiar sweet ache.  I want to go again.  It does not matter that I am not the young man I once was.   Age has bequeathed a certain urgency; a realization that time is dwindling. 

Perhaps soon, the rising sun will find me once again on a bike packed for adventure and discovery, joyfully riding to the distant horizon.  And in the voice of the wind and the pulse of the engine, I will hear once again the glorious sound of my personal anthem.

The song of the open road.
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