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.