The article “Stay Gold” by Bud Miller was originally published on the “RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring & Travel” magazine website on 3/24/2013.
One of my all time favorite poems is “Nothing Gold Can Stay” by Robert Frost. I’ll admit I know it by heart because of the movie The Outsiders in which it figures prominently. As much as I love the poem I think I love the song “Stay Gold” by Stevie Wonder even more. As I understand the poem it’s about the transience of beauty and the passage from one phase to another in nature. In the movie that transience is from childhood to adulthood. Childhood is beautiful and innocent in its way, yet in the blink of an eye it’s gone and you find yourself in adulthood mourning those carefree days of youth. The poem, I believe, points out that while you mourn the loss you gain in becoming more mature, by growing, learning, and becoming the whole of who you are meant to be. A loss to be mourned because of its beauty creates a positive effect and change. You are glad to have gone through it and you miss it; but without having gone through it and having it end you would not be who you are and there would be nothing to look back to. Like the transience of the dawn; which in the line “so dawn goes down to day” recedes and gives rise to the day.
There’s a parallel in motorcycling (I find a lot of parallels in motorcycling and life). I started riding partly as a means to spend more time with my brother. We took the safety course together and I think back to those days often. I look back after 13 years of nearly daily riding which has left me somewhat skilled. The “dawn” of discovering motorcycling had to fade and pass for me to be able to appreciate how far I’ve come and to find myself in the “daytime” of my abilities.
I’ve written a lot about the paradox of riding and contemplation. Riding is complicated, drawing on all the rider’s senses, yet once the body is so fully engaged the mind, part of the mind, is free to wander the hallways and back rooms of memory. We are lucky, as motorcyclists, to be able to go back, if only briefly, to youth, to carefree days without responsibilities when we were gold.
When I was young we lived on Friedenstahl Avenue at the base of a hill that, at the time, felt like a mountain. I used to pedal or push my bicycle to the top, turn it around, and pedal down towards our house. Do you remember the first time you went so fast on a bicycle that pedaling had no effect on your speed? I remember that feeling and can vividly recall the butterflies and near panicked feeling that I might roll straight across the road and into the cornfield on the other side.
I can also remember the first time I went 60 miles an hour on a motorcycle. I looked down at the road, then at the speedometer, and realized that I was completely and utterly responsible for my own safety, just like on that hill on my bicycle. It’s an empowering thing to realize. Many people are frightened by it and never take to motorcycling. I happen to have become addicted to it. I still feel that rush I felt riding my bicycle down the huge hill on Friedenstahl Avenue and find myself happy to have come through the gold years of riding.
Looking forward I realize this phase will eventually pass into another too; but just as Robert Frost points out, everything changes and becomes something else, something new, something better with its own beauty. I look forward to putting words to the experiences of the past. I’ve written a lot in this past year about riding, but I’ve left far more words by the side of the road than I’ve brought home with me.
When I started riding my thoughts were of what my body had to do next, what was in the road ahead, what actions the traffic situation called for. Those things still demand attention but have become second nature. When I ride now it’s with a certain confidence in my skill set and I get to do a lot more thinking out there on the road. Sometimes I am filled with appreciation for nature, for my life, and the place I find myself in. I think about when I was gold and I find myself thankful and grateful that I was moved to take up motorcycling; which has so profoundly affected my life.
Robert Frost is right, nothing gold can stay (nor should it); but astride a motorcycle, it is possible to revisit the gold of our past as often as we like and that, my friends, is one of the many things that keep me coming back.
Nothing Gold Can Stay – Robert Frost
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leafs a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.