Friday, June 30, 2017

Trip West - Day One

My buddy, Brad, and I headed west, with a final destination of Seattle, Washington. We took the PA Turnpike to get started, because the first couple of days driving in the east are crowded and tedious. But, we were making good time, so we hopped off onto some twisties and broke up the monotony. 

Our first stop was the Flight 93 Memorial in Somerset, PA. It's an appropriately somber place, and it was completely devoid of people. In fact, it was a bright, blue-sky day, probably very close to what it was on September 11, 2001, when the passengers of the fourth plane overpowered the highjackers that were flying to DC, and instead crashed in a previously unknown field in rural PA. Courage is rightly regarded as the highest of virtues, for upon it, all others rely. 

Kickstands up, we got back on the road. Let me just say, Brad has an uncanny knack for bringing rain. Everywhere. All the time. There could be one cloud in the sky, and if Brad and I are riding together, you can rest assured that our path will go under it, and it will be raining. In buckets. Rob + Brad + Motorcycles = Water. It's so predictable Vegas won't even give odds on it. So, it came as little surprise, that with the U-Boat commander in the lead, we found water. Still, it was not an unpleasant rain, and a quick stop and transition into rain gear and we were quickly on our way again. 

The road rolled away below us. I was reminded of Robert M. Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, in which he said: 
"In a car you're always in a compartment, and because you're used to it you don't realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You're a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame. On a cycle the frame is gone. You're completely in contact with it all. You're in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.”
And, I forget this, almost every time, until I am on board my bike, and seeing just how real everything is. Bicycling and long-distance hiking are real in the same way. Fly-fishing, too. It just puts me more in touch with what you are doing, makes you part of it. 

We arrived at our first day destination, Champaign, Illinois, where we were to stay with Brad's brother, Dan. But first, just minutes from his home, we were stopped at a train crossing, which is fantastic, because I love trains. It's a love my father gave me, and it never ceases to make me wonder, seeing those behemoths of commerce cross-crossing the country. Where are they going? What are they carrying? And there is a no small hint of adventure, in seeing them, in hearing that horn and the steady clickity-clack of the wheels on the rails. 

Riding a motorcycle is a multisensory experience, when done properly. As we pulled into the street of Brad's brother's home, I smelled barbeque, a sense heightened by the pang in my belly. For a relative simple task, motorcyycling can build an intense hunger. I was overjoyed when I discovered the smell ended at OUR destination, and that ribs were on the grill and on the menu, cooking for some 6 hours before we got there. Dan is a hell of a cook, and this was, quite possibly, the best rack of ribs I have ever eaten. I cannot remember one even comparable. 

Dan is a police officer, and we spent the rest of the evening doing a video police simulator, where you are an officer responding to an emergency call. At each point in the simulation, I had to decide when and if to shoot, then Dan cross-examined us like an attorney. I have always had the utmost of respect for law enforcement officers, and this gave me a deep and new-found respect for just how difficult this job is. I was actually doing okay until I had to decide what to do about a 15 year-old girl in a library, potentially with a gun. Even after I "saw" the gun, I still couldn't decide to shoot her, and I was late in reacting when she killed the teacher who was talking to her. It was an incredibly powerful lesson, one which will stay with me. Sometimes, there just are no right answers. 

I spent the night on the couch under some beautiful handmade quilts, and slept like the dead. 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Centralia, PA

In 1962, a mine caught fire in Centralia, PA and it has been burning ever since. The government oredered the evacuation of the town, and, in a form consistent with humanity, a few stalwart citizens refused to move, living there to this day. The mine continues to burn, and upheavals and fissures billowing smoke and steam are not uncommon, though we didn't see any that day.

One of the more interesting parts of the town is the Graffiti Highway, a section of road that has now been closed off. People have taken to spray painting messages and images on the roadway, and it continues to change and evolve.

A walk along the road reveals a thought tableau as diverse as the people who traverse the road. Profane? Beautiful? Vulgar? Thoughtful? Sad? Ironic? It's all here.

The walk is short, but can be surprisingly introspective. Why did this phrase impact me? What was this person thinking when they spray painted that? I wonder if they're still together? Happy? What does that even mean?

It's also a good place to sit and cool off, on a hot day. Or, if you're riding with my buddy Brad, whom I only half-jokingly refer to in equal parts as "The Rainmaker" and "The U-Boat Commander", get out of the rain.