To get the full value of joy you must have someone to divide it with. —Mark Twain
As I sit down to write this, summer is over and we’re well into autumn. I try to ride all year here in eastern Pennsylvania, but from late fall until spring I have very little company on the road. Fall is a time when, on solo rides, you recall the trips of the past year. Today I was thinking about riding at the RoadRUNNER Touring Weekend this past August, and of one route in particular.
It had been a while since I’d attended the Touring Weekend and I was happy to be back helping out, meeting new people, and catching up with Christa, Florian, and the rest of the staff. I loved the journey across my home state to Bolivar, PA, although it was smoldering hot with temperatures near 100. No matter, I had four days to do nothing but ride, have fun, and talk motorcycles.
On the second day of the event I had the opportunity to ride with Yuval Naveh, who writes RoadRUNNER’s “Motorcyclist’s Guide to the Galaxy” series. Yuval is a software engineer, avid rider, and friend to everyone he meets. We were also roommates for the duration of the weekend. On this particular day we ended up in a group with three other riders and the five of us set off in the blazing sun to do the Flight 93 memorial tour. If you’ve visited the memorial in Shanksville, PA, I’m sure you found it as moving as I did. I didn’t expect to be as affected as I was; but walking on the path the plane took and reaching the viewing platform I was struck by the beauty of the place. It was hillier than I had imagined, breezy, and beautiful. I could smell summer in the air, and the wildflower scent carried on the wind.
That such obscene and inhumane ugliness could happen in such a place really affected me and I felt nothing but sadness. I heard my friend Yuval say quietly, “beautiful, very respectful,” and we spoke about the tragedy that took place there as well as others he had lived through in his native Israel, where, sadly, such things had happened more often.
Out on that platform overlooking the crash site I had a sense that everyone felt a similar sadness and so the smiles among strangers came easily. Everyone spoke softly, respectfully, conscious that this was a place to share and process grief for people none of us had known but whom we nonetheless hurt for. Sometimes just being in the presence of others feeling the same confusing rush of emotions is a great comfort. That’s certainly how it was for me.
When we rolled out on that bright, cloudless day, I was happy to be with our group but also thankful to have the silence inside my helmet for a while to make the transition from sadness back to the joy of the ride. I was glad to have visited the memorial and rode away moved but grateful for the day, the weather, the trip, that evening’s dinner with new friends. I felt eager to experience whatever came my way. Visiting a scene of such tragedy has a way of inviting joy, or at least making you appreciate life in a way few other things can.
A few hours later we passed an idyllic, calm lake, so we stopped for a break. It didn’t take long for us to agree that a swim was in order, so (with consent from our female companion whom we didn’t wish to offend) we stripped down and jumped in to cool off, scaring away a pair of fishermen in the process. After a few photos and some time to dry off we hit the road again.
Miles later and with a storm closing in on us, our GPS systems failed one by one. One failed to charge and the others routed us in circles. As the storm engulfed us we took refuge under a bridge for the 10 minutes it took to pass and for the sun to return. Then we were off again to find our way back home. What made this ride memorable was the range of situations and emotions the five of us (who for the most part had never met each other until that day) experienced together. We went from the excited anticipation of a day of riding, to sadness at the memorial, to quiet reflection, to the childlike joy of jumping into a lake, to getting lost and caught in a storm.
The ride reminded me of why we do this; why we ride firstly and why we seek out others to ride with secondly. It occurred to me that two things are most certainly better when shared: sadness and joy. One is to be divided, and the other to be multiplied.
You can never prepare for what may come your way during any ride, but that’s part of the fun. On some you find out more about yourself, on others more about those you’re riding with. Mr. Twain was right, but his sentiment can be extended. Whatever you experience in life, be it sadness or joy, is always better when shared.