To Feel Normal Again (Full Text)

The article “To Feel Normal Again” by Bud Miller/Zen Motorcyclist was originally published on the “RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring & Travel” magazine website on 05/03/16.

I believe that half the trouble in the world comes from people asking ‘What have I achieved?’ rather than ‘What have I enjoyed?‘”

Walter Farley, author of The Black Stallion

I’ve always loved movies with first-person narration, one character telling a story and his thoughts about the events. I’ve quoted The Shawshank Redemption before and recently watched it again during the El Niño-inspired storm of the decade here in southeastern Pennsylvania. A favorite scene is the one in which the main character, Andy, negotiates for his crew to receive three beers each in return for some accounting work done for a guard. When others question Andy’s motives, the narrator says, “. . . me, I think he did it to feel normal again, if only for a short while.”

Winter RideThe analogy stuck with me, as so many things do, and I thought about riding and the places it takes me that have nothing to do with the stuff of daily life. Normal, for me, is that space where I am one with the task at hand and thinking of nothing else, and that’s certainly true of riding. Normal is the place where rubber meets road, where your dreams are visible ahead of you, where your memories sit on a shoulder and share the ride and your worries can wait.

This started out as one of the mildest winters in recent memory that had me riding on Christmas and New Years Day, but a few weeks later we were hit with 30 inches of snow and riding ground to a halt, or so I thought, until the spring thaw. But, to my surprise and joy, a little more than a week later I was able to take my usual ride over Blue Mountain to visit my parents and was struck by how clear the route had become in such a short time. Nearly all 30 inches of white misery was gone within a week and the roads were begging to be ridden.

Somewhere in between the rush of the holidays, the spending and the visiting and the hurrying about, you can lose focus on what it means to really live, to be in the moment, and when I can’t ride I don’t feel entirely normal, like something is missing. Upon leaving my parents’, I wandered around the area at the foot of the mountains where I grew up pedaling my bicycle to the general store. I passed that store and turned onto a street I’d only been on once before; coincidentally, when I was 10 and a friend of my father’s offered to take me on his motorcycle. I doubt I’ve thought about that since that day, but on this ride the memory was fresh in my mind.
Just before I turned, another rider coming toward me turned onto it first. He was riding a sportbike and quickly put a bit of distance between us. As if by instinct, though, I set off after him. I closed ground quickly and watched as he leaned way off the bike into each turn, thinking how unsafe that was given the amount of salt and debris on the path. I must have learned something in the last 18 years of riding to be able to keep up with such little effort and still sit mostly upright. I thought, Let’s see if my experience can match his muscle.

We rode that way for a few miles without a wave or a nod, just one rider in pursuit of the other. Maybe I was the only one who was aware of the game of cat and mouse being played, but it didn’t matter. I was in the moment then, stealing glances of the road ahead and calculating where I could make up time, where his line was off and I could improve upon it.

Eventually I gave up the chase and turned off onto a dirt road to take some photos of my bike against the snowy landscape. As I did, I felt exhilarated and happy, euphoric almost. I realized I hadn’t thought about work, worried about a bill, missed anyone, fretted over my retirement balance, or paid any mind to what repairs and upgrades the new house needed; I simply chased another rider doing exactly what I was doing, living in this moment through this particular series of curves on this particular unseasonably warm day in which neither of us expected to be riding. Both of us pursued, for a short while, enjoyment over achievement, and like Andy Dufresne on that roof in Shawshank in the spring of ’49, I did it just to feel normal again.

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