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A Story Worth Living

A Story Worth LivingA Story Worth Living is a new motorcycle documentary premiering in select theaters nationwide on Thursday May 19th. I’ll be attending the showing at my local theater The Promenade 16 in Center Valley, Pennsylvania. Show starts at 7:30 PM.

The film follows six novice riders father, sons and friends as they take on the Colorado backcountry on BMW F800GS adventure bikes to create a film about life, meaning and the longing to be part of something epic that is written on every human heart.

John Eldredge, author of the New York Times best-seller Wild at Heart (4 million copies sold) and his three sons are joined by two friends for a thousand-mile ride through the best dual-sport tracks the Centennial State has to offer, serving up a thoughtful documentary on life’s deepest questions.

“Everyone is looking for a story worth living,” is the line that opens the film—an adventure narrative that captures the highs and lows of dual-sport riding, including a bone breaking crash on Engineer Pass. “We set out to tell a story about story,” Eldredge explains. “Too many adventure films are high on great footage but desolate when it comes to content and meaning. You can only watch so many Red Bull adrenaline shots till you want something meatier—a film that talks about something worth hearing.”

Anyone who’s dropped in and read any of this blog over the last four years knows this is just the kind of storytelling that get me excited. Hope to see you at the theater.

To Each His Own

March_April“To Each His Own”, Zen Motorcyclist’s latest column can be read in the March/April 2016 issue of RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring & Travel. Available now.

This article is now available on my RoadRUNNER blog

The issue is available here in both print and digital versions. RoadRUNNER can also be purchased for Nook   Apple and Android devices and at Barnes & Noble and other bookstores. As always my Zen Motorcyclist blog for RoadRUNNER can be read here.To Each His Own

The Evolution of Motorcycle Safety

Did you know that the very first motorcycle was built in 1868? While popularity of the motorcycle didn’t quite catch on until the early 1900’s, it wasn’t until 1967 that the first helmet law was passed. Since 2005, not much has changed to enforce the law throughout the United States. In fact, according to this new info-graphic, it seems that motorcycle laws have become more lenient over the years. More and more states went from a universal helmet law to a partial helmet law by 2005, raising the age limit so that riders 20 and under (up from 17) are required to wear a helmet. This leniency has resulted in 17 states seeing an increase in motorcycle-related mortality rates.

Most states in the southeast and southwest saw higher mortality rates than the rest of the country. The most recent data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has determined that over 4,000 American motorcyclists died in traffic accidents during 2013, which is 13% of all motor vehicle deaths for that year. If the mortality rate for motorcyclists makes up more than ten percent of all accidents, why isn’t the law being adjusted to keep those motorcyclists safe?

The answer might lie in the mortality rates of the rest of the states. Click the graphic below to find out.


Coming Alive

Coming Alive“, was originally published in RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring & Travel.

Motorcycle Meditation –

coming_alive3Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” —Howard Thurman

I like the mental exercise of thinking and writing about the ways in which motorcycling has made me come alive. Riding started for me as an exercise in redirecting pain from a loss. It has become so much more and has been a conduit of change that has allowed me to become more rounded and open—and to seek challenge rather than retreat from it.

On a thousand mile solo round-trip to visit my sister, something changed in me; and when I got back, I wasn’t the same person I was when I left. I came back feeling I had something to say that wouldn’t be contained. I didn’t know how, but I knew I’d start giving it voice in one way or another; and just a few short years later, I find myself writing this column for my favorite riding magazine. I always think of this quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.

I think a lot of us, maybe all of us, go through a similar experience. Sometimes it’s the first ride, other times it’s a long, solo ride; but in either case, being alone inside your own head (I’ve referred to it as a meditation of sorts) has a tendency to allow things to settle, for priorities to realign, and for true desire to manifest.

Paulo Coelho’s boy in The Alchemist says, “My heart is afraid that it will have to suffer.” The Alchemist responds, “Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams …” I am still (by no means) an extrovert, but the on-going process of learning to ride proficiently has spilled over into other areas of my life in positive and profound ways. I now find it easier to see, and seek, dreams that I never realized were within reach.

To me, it has something to do with having to pay attention to so many continuously changing variables on the road. Each moment on the motorcycle has to be of the utmost importance. Focus has to be on the here and now, so we riders are in a perpetual state of mastering throttle, brakes, balance, coordination, road surface, traffic, weather, wind, and a million other variables. It can’t help but make you feel alive and inspire confidence in someone who does it well and knows it. Once that seed of confidence is planted and nurtured with increasing experience, knowledge, and skill, it grows deep roots and branches that reach out into work, relationships, and life in general.

The fact that the learning process continues for as many years as you ride means we can constantly strive to be better, yet we never attain perfection. There will always be adjustments to make, unique situations and scenarios to consider, and obstacles to overcome. That means we’re always striving for improvement, growth, and new experiences. When are we more alive than when we’re feeling those things?

In my case, I’m not sure if riding was a byproduct of reaching the point in life where I was ready for something to make me come alive or if it was the cause of that feeling. I don’t stop to question it very often. I do know for certain that there is no other place that affects those parts of me that motorcycling does—the places that make me feel most alive. When I’m riding, I’m acutely aware of the desire to move ahead, to get somewhere in the distance, or around the next bend and as good as the last moment felt. I can’t wait for the next one and the one after that.

Some people never take to riding. It doesn’t appeal to everyone, and for them there are other ways to find that life spark that riding provides; but I’ve been fortunate to meet many motorcyclists whose infectious love of life and uplifted spirit have been an inspiration. You can see that they have come alive. They can’t hide it, and as Mr. Thurman said, the world needs more people living their passions and serving as examples to others to live theirs in turn.

Memories and Outer Space

Cajun Burgers, Memories and Outer Space“, was originally published in RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring & Travel.

CajunOccasionally when I sit down to write, I stop and think, What would I like to come across in these pages that would make me stop and spend a few minutes reading? Today I thought I would recount a ride I took one Memorial Day, the kind of ride where the universe sneaks up on you and gives you something you hadn’t counted on or expected.

My day started glumly. My girlfriend was away on a girls-only weekend, and I found myself dwelling, as I am wont to do at times, on what was missing rather than what was present. It was a beautiful day, the start of summer. I had no particular place to be and no schedule to keep. I decided to just ride to the hardware store for some supplies for a bike project I had been putting off.

Supplies procured, I headed toward home but inexplicably kept going. My sights were set on a burger at Moo, a local joint up the road. As fate would have it, Moo only takes cash and the ATM was out of order. I’ll just head down along the river until I find someplace to eat, I thought. An hour later, I was in Frenchtown, NJ, at an outside table enjoying a Cajun cheeseburger and watching the bikes and people go by. I saw an artist carving a tree stump and helped another shopkeeper close up for the day. Mostly I wandered around thinking about my father (who had served in the Navy) and about my friend Jack who had seen combat in WWII.

These aren’t things I stop and think about all that often, but a motorcycle ride can take you places you hadn’t intended to go. The seemingly mundane ride to the hardware store can quickly become a contemplative process that flattens out and exposes tucked away folds of memory. I thought of the many stories I’d heard my father, “Mr. Bud,” tell me a hundred times. My favorite involved him and his shipmates cheering the bulls in Spain, a stunt that got them chased from the bullfighting ring. The posters they pulled from the walls as souvenirs of the event are framed and hang on my walls some 55 years later.

Jack’s stories, while also tending to be humorous, often left me with the feeling that he’d seen horrible things. I think in the 13 years I worked for him, I’d only seen him angry once. I imagine that after having been through the horrors of war, the mundane things people get upset about can seem pretty silly.

As I rode out of town on the pegs and I crossed over the bridge spanning the Delaware, I spotted a man on a bicycle watching the traffic go by. He was largely being ignored, and as it happened I stopped directly next to him as I waited to turn left for home. We nodded to each other and he said, “When was the last time you was in outer space?”

Never been,” I said back to him. He grinned a wrinkled, friendly, hug-of-a-smile, happy to have been acknowledged as I waved and rode on.

Riding home along the river, I thought about how I almost let this day slip away from me. Later, relaxing with a cold beer, I couldn’t help but smile and feel a sense of gratitude for the memories, the sunshine, the characters I’d come across that day, and my satisfaction for having ridden out to let come what may. Motorcycling gives back some of what life and time consume. Sometimes all it takes is deciding to head out the door, mount up, and let the universe fill you up with all the things inside you that you forgot were there.

You Can Go Home Again

You Can Go Home Again“, was originally published in RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring & Travel.

Home_AgainAll that he knew was that the years flow by like water and that one day men come home again.” – Thomas Wolfe, You Can’t Go Home Again

Last Sunday I left a friend’s home early in the morning. I had ridden my motorcycle there the night before with a suit and dress shoes neatly packed in my top box. I was her escort at a lavish party. Many would have taken a car, but it was late September in Pennsylvania with the temperature in the 60s. I’m a motorcyclist and, as I explained to her, “That’s what we do; we ride and find a way.”

As I left for home, the engineer in me thought, “I can jump on the interstate and be there in an hour.” But I decided to take advantage of the cool, foggy, gorgeous morning since I couldn’t pick up my boy, Spud, at the kennel until later that day. So I set the GPS to avoid toll roads and highways and set off to explore northwestern New Jersey. As I rode, my thoughts turned to my former hometown and how, in less than a month, I would be returning to it after a few years away. I had purchased a house in this little community I called home for 15 years. It was where my daughter, Devon, was raised, and it had always reminded me of the town where I was brought up. It’s the sort of place where the mailman also owns the general store, the hardware store clerk knows your name, and the bank tellers know you ride a motorcycle and shake their heads in disbelief when you arrive in December with your helmet under your arm.

One of my favorite movies is About Time. In one scene a father giving a best man speech for his son says, “I’m not particularly proud of many things in my life, but I am very proud to be the father of my son.” It always takes my mind back to my daughter, whom I had the good fortune to have helped raise. As I rode along that misty Sunday, I thought back to that tiny town and the experiences we had there, both on and off the bike. Devon will never be the toddler again whose sleeping weight I gently lifted out of the car countless times (which I am sure anyone who is a parent remembers very well and still wishes to experience one more time). When I move back, it will be with a head full of memories. I will ride past the ice cream stand we used to frequent and where she would carry her helmet with pride as if to proclaim “I’m a motorcyclist.” I’ll ride past the spot where we pulled over to usher a tiny weak-kneed fawn out of the middle of the road and into the woods. I’ll look for the adult male deer we spotted often and nicknamed Ibis (for some odd reason).

I think of those things from time to time when I’m not riding, too. But, for me, there’s a big difference between remembering and feeling. And when I ride, the memories climb up my spine and take residence in my bones and share the ride with me. That’s a hard thing to explain to non-riders. I like to think it has something to do with the level of physical and mental engagement riding demands. When we ride we are living in the moment, not merely moving through it, so the memories are more vivid and the bridge to and from the past seem much more extraordinary.

So I look forward to, once again, being a homeowner (and motorcyclist) in the little town that I’ve always missed. I’ve been ridiculed in the past for wanting to return, as though it was a hindrance to growth. But sometimes the surest path to growth is in recognizing where you grow best and what soil you’re best planted in. You can go home again. Home will have changed of course, and you will have too, as all things do. If you don’t expect it to be the same as it once was, though, you may get to discover new things to love about it. There will be new people and new places—all layered atop the delicious, dripping memories of your past. If you’re careful not to compare it to what you knew, it can be an exhilarating experience, especially from the seat of a motorcycle. I suspect there are memories I’ve forgotten, and I can’t wait to get on those old roads where I cut my teeth as a rider and invite them to come find me.

Advancing Is Perfection

Advancing Is Perfection“, was originally published in RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring & Travel.

2-14-Zen-Motorcyclist-772x515What’s Your Dakar? –

Advance, and never halt, for advancing is perfection. Advance and do not fear the thorns in the path, for they draw only corrupt blood.” – Khalil Gibran

I once saw Kevin Muggleton, founder and president of Redverz Gear and Dakar Rally competitor, give a talk at RoadRUNNER‘s Touring Weekend. Kevin spoke about the challenges of not only applying for permission to take part in the Dakar Rally, but also the financial and logistical challenges of preparing a bike to ride and the intense physical training involved. He described what it’s like to compete in the toughest race in the world and how he ultimately crashed from atop a 100-foot sand dune, broke his back, and endured months of recovery and rehabilitation, which included learning to walk again.

I had a feeling that Kevin’s talk would end with him telling us that he had applied to race the Dakar again the following year, and that’s exactly what he said. As I write this, Kevin is training for the next Dakar. By the time this column makes it to print, the Dakar will have been completed. For me, riding 300 miles on smooth pavement can make me feel physically battered, so it’s beyond my ability to comprehend the sort of mental and physical toughness it must require to ride up to 500 miles a day in sand, dirt, and water in blistering heat and freezing cold for two straight weeks. It got me to thinking about what makes us want to take up riding in the first place, and what makes something like the Dakar so appealing despite the inherent danger and barriers to entry. I wait for the race to air on television every year; I devour the coverage of each day’s stages.

It’s not dissimilar to those of us who simply, at some point or another, decided to take up riding motorcycles—although the Dakar is obviously at a much higher risk level. It can’t be explained in any rational way to anyone who doesn’t understand it. There’s a voice you start hearing inside that taps you on the shoulder from time to time and whispers in your ear, “You have to try this.” If you don’t listen, it keeps calling; and life starts to feel a bit un-lived until you finally decide to take action. No one would blame you if you didn’t; no one would even know about the urge unless you told them. But deep down, where the heart wants what it wants, you would feel something has been left un-done, un-attempted, and not yet dealt with. I’ve run marathons and mud runs, raced biathlons, and climbed rocks, but lately the voice I hear tells me only to ride and to write about riding.

In the documentary Man On Wire, high-wire artist Philippe Petit explains sitting in a dentist’s office and seeing a picture in a magazine of the proposed World Trade Center towers years before they were built. He said he knew in an instant that once they were built, he would walk between them on a tight rope, which he did in 1974. The man spent six years planning the walk, spent the night prior hiding under a tarp in the unfinished upper floors to elude security, strung the wire, and then made his dream come true by making eight crossings between the towers in 45 minutes.

Whether you are Kevin Muggleton racing the Dakar, Philippe Petit walking on a wire, someone who dreams of taking that first ride (or a long, solo ride to reconnect with lost loved ones), or someone trying to recharge themselves and breathe the wild air, the voice is the same. We all have that slow burning flame inside us in varying degrees that has to be tended to. The dominant emotion is never fear; the dominant emotion is always love—that and a yearning to be moved and to reach, to return to the bliss of youth despite the voices of those who would rather you didn’t take risks or pursue your joy. That’s the corrupt blood Kahlil Gibran was talking about—all the voices that would have you avoid doing what you are called to do and who would say it’s dangerous and irresponsible.

Petit said in a recent talk, “Remember, when you see mountains, mountains can be moved,” and that when we inspire ourselves, we inspire others. It’s one of the great joys embodied in the spirits of Kevin Muggleton and Philippe Petit who, when you hear them speak, seem only to have inhaled inspiration and cannot help but inspire others as a result.