Tag Archive: joy

The Road Not Yet Traveled

The article “The Road Not Yet Traveled” by Bud Miller/Zen Motorcyclist was originally published on the “RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring & Travel” magazine website on 7/31/17.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”  -The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost

 

When I started blogging for RoadRUNNER five years ago or so, I used the title “The Road Often Traveled” for my first few posts. Commuting by motorcycle was what I thought I knew something about, so I borrowed and butchered a line from Robert Frost’s 100-year-old poem. I often heard it referred to as “The Road Less Traveled,” but the title is actually “The Road Not Taken.”

I recently had a phone conversation with the head of marketing for a sports eyewear manufacturer. It turned out to be an unexpectedly in-depth conversation not only about how I started riding but also writing, as well as my professional career path. It got me thinking about the Frost poem and about how decision leads to decision and one path leads to another. After a bit of research, however, the poem has come to mean something new to me.

You’ve no doubt heard the phrase “the road less traveled” used to sell everything from cars to vacations, to self-help books. You’ve seen it inscribed on mugs and on inspirational posters. While Frost’s poem is easily one of the most searched pieces of literature ever written, it is also one that is almost always misinterpreted.

The poem speaks of a traveler coming upon two roads diverging in a yellow wood. In most cases (car commercials, for instance), the words are used as a celebration of rugged individualism and people boldly choosing the path that not many do; but the poem isn’t about that at all. Rather, it’s about reconciling our decisions later in life, looking back and coming to terms with our choices long after they’ve been made. As the poem says, both roads are equally worn and there is no difference between them—a fact many eager to push product always miss.

Frost initially wrote the poem to poke fun at his friend, English critic Edward Thomas, who had the habit of regretting whatever path the two happened to take during their walks in the countryside. After coming across this fact about the poem, I felt better about it. I had always thought the poem somewhat sad, since the narrator says he would speak of his choice of direction many years later with a sigh. I’d always thought that sigh meant that he’d lament having not chosen the other road, that, given the chance, he’d want to go back to see how things might have turned out had he chosen otherwise.

As a motorcyclist, I can point to the specific events that prompted me to start riding, of choosing that “road.” I’ve written about them often in the last few years. In the broader sense though, I’ve given thought to the other “roads” I’ve taken in life. Recently my friend and coworker Brian asked if I’d ever thought about what career path I might have chosen if I hadn’t pursued computer-aided design. As is the case with my decision to start riding, I couldn’t help but smile and say, “No, actually, I am where I’m supposed to be.”

The decision to begin riding motorcycles was the most natural I’ve ever made. I needed my brother’s company after our father’s death. To look back with a sigh and imagine having not decided to ride isn’t a question at all—never was, never will be. Truth be told, I can’t think of a path I’ve been down that I’ve regretted or would choose not to go down again. You are the sum total of the roads you’ve traveled, and if you love yourself (and you must) then you must love those roads, those choices that made you who you are. Rather than an arbitrary choice to be re-examined with a sigh years hence, I’ll look back on riding, as I do now, as a liberating decision that expanded my circle of friends and created a vehicle of expression for feelings that might otherwise have gone unexpressed.

Riding itself can be seen metaphorically as “the path less traveled,” and, my friends, it certainly has made all the difference. When I hear advertisers get Frost’s poem wrong, I have to laugh. More than 100 years later he’s still having fun with us while at the same time making us think.

Wherever you find yourself on your road, I hope that you are looking ahead to your next choices and content with those already made. After all, that road, your road, really is the road not yet traveled.

The Means To Notice It All

The article “The Means To Notice It All” by Bud Miller/Zen Motorcyclist was originally published on the “RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring & Travel” magazine website on 9/22/2016.

This past Mother’s Day, my girlfriend Erica and I rode to a farm not far from my home that she had lived on for a time. We were visiting the owner, Sally, who Erica had grown close to during the time she spent there and who she’s remained friends with ever since. As I approached on the cycle down a long, narrow, winding gravel driveway and under an idyllic train trestle, I spotted horses and donkeys in the fields, chicken coops and tractor barns, all the stuff of a working farm. The sky wasn’t looking so good, but it was a May day, I’ve ridden in the rain before, and besides, the dark clouds and winds created the kind of weather I’ve always loved riding in.

the-meansSally, a strong, no-nonsense woman, appeared to be close to my mother Mary’s age. She actually reminded me a bit of my mom. A bird had made a nest in a broken light fixture on her porch and laid eggs. Sally saw to it that the switch to the light was disabled and a sign was posted warning visitors to use the side door lest they suffer the wrath of a mother protecting her young.

I sat on the floor as we spoke, petting Sally’s huge, fleshy-faced English Mastiff. We covered a lot of topics. Sally is sharp, up-front, an avid reader, and direct, the sort of person I love talking to. I got the feeling that with her there are no games or fear of offending, just smart conversation. Eventually the talk turned to motorcycles, and (more…)

The Best Lessons

The article “The Best Lessons” by Bud Miller/Zen Motorcyclist was originally published on the “RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring & Travel” magazine website on 07/19/2016.

4-16-zen-400x264I have a tendency to meet people at the supermarket when I take the motorcycle for my weekly supply run. I like the looks I get carrying my grocery bags and helmet; people wonder where I’m going to put everything. I’ve written before about others feeling at ease walking up to me when I’m dismounting or packing my purchases in my saddlebags. I’d like to think it’s my countenance that puts people at ease, but I think maybe it’s just the bike that draws them in. I’ve had interesting (and occasionally bizarre) conversations with complete strangers who always part by telling me, with a smile, to be safe. I love that aspect of motorcycling.

I recently met a young aspiring rider who works for the store where I do my shopping. I was packing an eight-pound bag of dog food into my side case and heard Wow, that thing is huge!” from behind me. The young man thought my V-Strom was a big bike, which made me smile.

It’s not that big a bike, tall maybe. The luggage makes it seem bigger than it is. He went on to tell me with wide, enthusiastic eyes that he was planning on getting his first bike. He was thinking a small bike to start, despite his friends’ insistence that (more…)

To Each His Own (full text)

The article “To Each His Own” by Bud Miller/Zen Motorcyclist was originally published on the “RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring & Travel” magazine website on 03/15/2016.

In life, one has a choice to take one of two paths: to wait for some special day—or to celebrate each special day.”

—Rasheed Ogunlaru

I’ll admit I was at a bit of a loss regarding this column. I had the “bones” (as I like to refer to the overall theme), but the structure was lost on me. Then, I visited my dentist, and by the time I left his office, I had the rest of the column in place in my mind. Today, for once, I was happy to have visited him.

3-16-zen-e1458047262598-772x472Sitting in the chair, our usual banter somehow turned to base jumping and paragliding while skiing. My dentist recalled a documentary about an athlete who had lost several friends to these same endeavors. Moments later, I’m shot up with Novocaine, and the ridiculous (and uncomfortable) plastic prop is placed in my mouth. It was then that my dentist and his assistant made the not so obvious, yet all so predictable, leap to discussing the danger of motorcycles. As if on cue, the obligatory statement comes out about how we have responsibilities to our loved ones to give up such dangerous pursuits. I couldn’t respond. And it irritated me (more…)

A Story Worth Living

A Story Worth LivingA Story Worth Living just isn’t worth seeing (and certainly not worth paying to see). I considered deleting this post but instead thought it a better use of my time to advise readers to avoid it.

Eight day camping trips do not equate to “Epic adventures”. Talking about story might be fine for a podcast but this movie was billed to the motorcycle community (including flyers I received in recent purchases from motorcycle parts distributors) as an adventure film (including enticing lines like “…can we get off this mountain…?”). What it amounts to is a disjointed, wordy mess that tells no story at all. I’m insulted as a motorcyclist that I was duped into paying $14 to see what I can see better versions of on youtube for free. The incessant talking about (rather than showing) the adventure had me squirming in my seat and wanting it to end. What little actual riding footage there is in the film seems to be the same repeated shots and totaling very little of the actual film, although if you like awkward cigar smoking shots there are plenty of those. Near what seemed like the end there is an interminable bull session in which the “actors” talk about the “adventure”, this went on so long I actually turned to a friend and said aloud “they have to stop talking now”.

I’m all for adventure but why do admittedly inexperienced beginner riders need heavy BMW800’s with fully loaded panniers if they have support vehicles following them for most of the trip? 1,000 miles in eight days (a lot of which was on pavement) just doesn’t qualify as epic. I’m at a loss to understand how this film was green-lighted for wide theatrical release by sponsors once they’d seen the final cut. This film felt forced, contrived, badly scripted and the religious overtones were uncomfortable and out of place; although it’s been admitted the deception was a deliberate attempt to dupe the riding community into hearing “the gospel”. I’ve never walked out on any film, let alone one about motorcycling; but this was very nearly my first.

In response to the growing criticism the producers are offering refunds here. (Note: I’ve received my $42 refund).

ADVrider or Long Way Round (the claimed inspiration for this film), Dream Racer or World On Wheels are better places to go for examples of motorcycle adventure.

 

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Under Asian Skies – The World is Colorful, Complex and Beautiful

Under Asian SkiesIf you had spent any time lately watching any of the mainstream news, it is easy to begin viewing the world as a diabolical, scary place, occupied by either victims or perpetrators.

However, not everyone ascribes to the mainstream media’s view. The recently released audio version of Sam Manicom’s Under Asian Skies provides one of the best alternatives.

The book is a sequence to Manicom’s debut travelogue, Into Africa, and picks up right where Into Africa left off. After spending a year as a relatively new motorcyclist touring the African continent, Manicom and his trusted companion, BMW R80GS motorcycle, known as Libby, take a cargo ship to Australia and then travel together from Asia to Europe. It would be an understatement to say that a lifetime worth of adventures and a few misadventures ensue. To name a few, there is an encounter with an Australian Hells’ Angel; a no less scary run-in with maddening Indian bureaucracy; smuggling of tractor parts into Iran on an ancient Setra bus; rides through world’s most breathtaking and most dangerous roads (with little distinction between the two); and sharing harrowing train rides with hundreds of strangers, crammed by a stroke of fate into the same rail car. There is even a love story to boot and many encounters with generosity, kindness and raw beauty of the universe.

Through his adventures Manicom does not wear paisley colored lenses. Far from it! Whether he chronicles back-breaking work of fruit IMG_0020 psrpicking in Australia or relays the frustration of dealing with the Indian port officials, who work with all the efficiency, enthusiasm and philosophical detachment of a turtle out in a mid-day sun, Manicom spares no color in painting a real picture of what he sees. Yet, he is also careful to place the picture in a proper historical, social and cultural context, thus removing the gaudy frame of judgment and arrogance so prevalent in the reporting of many of the “traditional” information sources.

What distinguishes Under Asian Skies from myriad of other travelogues is the sense of compassion towards all living beings; acceptance of the world without a grain of self-righteousness; and deep gratitude for the opportunity to experience the universe just the way it is. These qualities are especially evident in the audio version of the book, read by the author, where Manicom’s enthusiasm, sense of wonder, and basic humanity really shine through. In fact, while Manicom is clearly not a voice actor, it is impossible to imagine anyone but the author reading this book.

And, because Manicom not only describes what he sees, but makes an attempt to understand it, what emerges is a narrative of a world far different from the one seen on the evening news. The World according to Sam Maincom is colorful, complex and beautiful. Like his book, it is a multidimensional and rich tapestry, woven together by the experiences, joys, sorrows and extraordinary adventures of ordinary folk. What a joy it is to be a part of this World!Crating psr

Ride Through the Twisties and Bhagavad Gita

DSC_0571As I twisted the throttle rounding a particularly exhilarating curve along my favorite twisty road and heard the satisfying exhaust burble of my Teutonic sport tourer, I thought of the first chapter of Bhagavad Gita.  Bhagavad Gita is one of the most sacred Hindu texts and a literary masterpiece that served as the source of inspiration for among others, Einstein, Thoreau and Emerson.  The epic poem traces the dialog between Arjuna, a decorated warrior, and Lord Krishna, the Divine who presents Itself to Arjuna as his charioteer.  The topic of the dialog between Arjuna and Lord Krishna is the life in Yoga.  As I strengthened my bike I saw the smiling face of my Guru.  A profound truth was about to be revealed to me.

I took no hallucinogens before my ride and have not been diagnosed with any condition of the body or mind associated with randomly appearing visions.  It is just when I am on a motorcycle alone with the wind and fully present in the experience, things, important, often deep things, come to me.

Nearly three months ago I got back from India after spending three-and-a-half weeks studying yoga and meditation and absorbing the wisdom of the Himalayas with my youthful Master, extraordinary Yogi, and a fellow motorcyclist, Anand Mehrotra.    My experience in Rishikesh, a small Indian town on the banks of the Ganges River, at the foothills of the Himalayas was beyond powerful.

Yet, upon returning I had no idea what happened to me.  Sure, I felt uplifted and inspired and to anyone who would DSC_0515listen I would tell how trans-formative my journey was.  Inside though I felt more dissatisfied than ever with nearly every aspect of my life.  As the pressures of everyday routines began to mount, I quickly fell into the same destructive patterns I thought I had left behind long before.  Even though I maintained a daily yoga and meditation practice and even taught these powerful disciplines to others, the disconnect within seemed as deep as ever.  I often wondered if I felt into the trap Anand warned so much about – acquiring a new vocabulary and a few ideas, but no depth beneath.

Then, on that motorcycle ride I thought of the first chapter of Bhagavad Gita.  In it, as Arjuna surveys the two armies about to engage in a bloody battle with each other, he tells the Great Lord that he does not want to fight; that he finds the bloody battle he is about to engage in utterly pointless; and that he likes the great men on both sides of the battlefield and feels sorry that they will lay their lives down in a useless feat.   Krishna, the Almighty Presence, the God of Yoga, tells Arjuna to fight indeed and do so fully without caring the slightest bit about the results.  And only then, Krishna begins to tell Arjuna about life in Yoga.

You see, what I got on that ride is that true change begins with awareness which then turns into presence with whatever is.  It is only after awareness and then presence that we can even begin the teachings of Yoga.

As my iron stead settled into the rhythm of a serpentine road – I understood.  After three and a half weeks in the Himalayas I simply began experiencing awareness, not yet presence.  But, I was transformed indeed, as I took the first tiny step towards life in Yoga.