Monday, July 29, 2013

Reflections on the divine presence in creation from the saddle of a Harley Davidson

Sunday marked my 102nd day of riding.  My last entry about angels with wheels pertained to a very prominent part of my Saturday ride, but was by no means the entirety of the experience.  The weekend brought me to 118 hours and though I would have like to have ridden more than I did, I am very thankful for the time I did have.

Saturday was a gorgeous day.  My ride out 108 is always very special.  I have driven that road countless times over the past thirty years and I never saw it, as when I am driving, it tends to be all about the car.  I saw a meme that opined that driving is like watching a movie of the world on a screen while riding puts you in into the middle of the action.  In alternating between the car and the bike, I have found this to be very, very true. 

Almost as soon as I am on Rt. 108, I leave housing developments behind and am surounded by woodland.  Though I know that there are houses about a quarter to a half mile away on the other side of the trees, I am for that time, surounded by trees on both sides with no sign of development.  It doesn't last too long, as the north side of the road opens up into a soccor field within a half mile and the south side opens up to a new housing development after a mile.  This part of the road puts me into the right frame of mind to appreciate the rest of the ride.  It is always nice and cool in that little stretch, having a calming effect.  While I don't subscribe to fairies in the sense that some do, the woodland definitely has a spirit that is distinctly feminine.

The trees eventually give way to hills and pastureland, and as I crested the hill by the nursery and beheld the sky, I again had that sense of the Heavenly Father looking down on creation.  It wasn't as dramatic as it was a few weeks ago, but it was just as real.  There was no message of any sort, no sense of a particular feeling or attitude.  It was like being in the room with a loved one just listening to music or riding in the car with a loved one just enjoying the time together.  No exchange of words, no articulate communication of any kind.  Just the pure enjoyment of their presence. 

I have made the observation that the sky is not above us.  It is all around us.  The atmosphere doesn't exist above the earth; it surrounds it and touches it, enfolding it and protecting it.  Jesus said that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand and he is correct.  We touch it and move through it for the duration of our lives.  The Earth is often personified as a mother, and this makes sense; we are all born of the Earth.  The Earthmother, Mother Nature, and any other names we give to her are all meant to communicate the feminine and motherly role that she plays in creation.  The Heavenly Father surrounds her, protects her, and in turn nourishes her with rain and sunlight.  It is the perfect illustration of the unity of masculine and feminine principles, synergy and harmony.

Sunday, I rode to church.  The day was a bit overcast but the cloud formations were dramatic and beautiful.  It sprinkled a bit on the ride home, but the sky in the east was amazing.  But it was the time at church that I wanted to touch on.  Church is a place that I have always been comfortable in and the church I attend has a loving and welcoming atmosphere.  The presence of Jesus and of the Father is palpable and real.  It isn't because it was concecrated by a bishop or because of the tabernacle with the hosts.  It isn't even because it is church.  It is the divine spark that each member brings, the leaving behind of worldly concerns to come together to acknowledge that there is indeed a divine presence and that we are all a part of that presence.

Those of you who know me know that I have a strong belief in Jesus.  His presence is always with me on my rides, leading the ride and simply being there as a companion.  No words.  No gestures, no dramatic signs or wonders.  For years, I yearned for dramatic signs and wonders, but I realized that it wasn't the signs and wonders that I really wanted, but simply His presence.  And I have had it all my life.  Signs and wonders can make you blind to divine love.  Divine love doesn't distract.  It doesn't blind you.  It illuminates your spirit and opens your heart to love others and to see the divinity in others and in the world around you.

As my weekend concluded, I considered that when I am out in creation on the bike, it is every bit as spiritual and holy as being in church.  In a very real sense, it is my church.  Lessons are taught without words, directly from divine parents.  Going to "church" be it a Christian church, a synogogue, mosque, temple, pagan gathering, or any place where people gather to worship (even if it doesn't involve a brick and mortar building) is about connecting with the divine spark in others and then together, connecting with the divine.  In that time together, the congregation is truly connected with the entire world and all life in it.  It isn't just about the local spiritual community, though that element is certainly present.  It is for a brief time, communion with the divine and with collective humanity. 

And so a new week begins.  I wish you all grace, peace, and many blessings.

Rock hard & ride free!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Angels with wheels

Today is day 101 for me.  If you've been following my blog, you know that I have been wrestling (not very hard) with a charging system issue.  I wheeled the bike out and put the bags back on and decided that if it started strongly, I'd go over and see whatever event Battley had going on and if not, I would simply take a nice ride without any stops. 

I turned the key, switched it to run, and pressed start.  The starter had that hesitant sound that tells me that if I get another start out of the battery, I'm darned lucky.  Just a ride, no stops.  Not the best of plans, but that was as much planning as I did.  I set out west on Rt. 108, planning to take it to 650, then go east to Georgia Avenue then south back into town.  The ride was beautiful.  The sky had that wonderful glow that you get from the sun backlighting the clouds and I could feel the presence of the Heavenly Father smiling down on creation. 

When I got to about midway between 108 and Georgia, I noticed that the bike was handling funny.  A bit wobbly, as if a wheel were loose.  I knew that that wasn't likely, but there was definitely a problem.  I slowed and when I got to Georgia, I pulled into the old gas station/store.  I checked the back tire and found that it was soft.  Very soft.   The gas station portion of the store has been closed for years and no air was available, leaving me in a position where it was either limp or leave the bike.  I chose the former and began limping it down Georgia at about twenty to twenty five miles an hour.

I would pull off in driveway or intersection aprons to let traffic by, as the speed limit is fifty.  On one of these stops, two bikers pulled up with me, a lady and a gent.  She was riding a Harley Davidson Sportster and he a Yamaha V-Star.  She asked what the problem was and I explained the situation and what I was trying to do.  She said that they didn't live far and if worse came to worse, she had a trailer.  They offered to follow me to the BP, where the air is free.  I gladly accepted.

She rode ahead and he behind, as she would signal if it were clear ahead and he could direct faster traffic to pass us.  Riding the bike on a soft tire was challenging.  Turning meant slowing a lot and turning by turning the wheel rather than leaning the bike.  The most challenging part was the sharp uphill curve and 90 degree turn in Brookville.  The rest of it was a straight shot.  They stayed with me up to the 108 and Georgia intersection, where the BP is, at which point we parted ways and they went east on 108.

The end result was that I got into BP, filled the tire and got home before it went flat.  When I got into my driveway, I listened for the escaping air and found the hole.  It was a 1/4" diagonal cut in the center of the tread.  I called Connor, my younger son, and got out my tire repair kit and gave him a lesson on tire repair.  I used a bicycle pump to refill the tire and checked it with soapy water.  No bubbles.  The leak was fixed. 

The lesson?  Angels are not always spirits, but are also people, like you and I.  Any of us can be an angel to anyone else.  These two angels helped me to get to my destination safely and gave me the reassurance that if I couldn't make it, I wouldn't have had to leave Comet.  These two made my day.  What could have been a major pain became an opportunity to encounter two very wonderful people.  A lot of groups like to talk about brother/sisterhood and community, but most of the time it's just talk.  But when it comes to bikers, it is the real deal.  The brother/sisterhood of bikers is real.  It goes beyond waving and a shared aversion to being hit by cars.  Bikers really are there for one another.  And have a reputation for being there for motorists as well.

Not all angels have wings. Some have wheels.  So to whomever it is that helped me today, you are both angels!  Blessings be upon you and may your rides be ever safe!  You have my thanks!  And more importantly, my own pledge to 'pay it forward' to whomever I should encounter in need.

Rock hard & ride free!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Day 100 of my own daily ride.

Day 100.  In spite of the recent electrical issues, I did manage to ride today.  I felt it very important to ride on my 100th day.  I was very pleased this morning to find that the bike fired up willingly and quickly settled into a relaxed 'potato-potato' idle.  Riding in was a pleasure with the cooler weather and beautiful skies.  The sun shone in the east and the moon in the west.  The beauty of the earth was all around, life evident in the green of the trees and grass. 

My one hundredth day will bring me to 115 hours of riding.  A year ago, just getting the bike was a nebulous, 'it will happen within a year' commitment.  In April, it became a reality.  Now riding is as much a part of me as being a dad, driving, kendo & fencing, taekwondo & hapkio, and many other parts of my life.

In a way, it takes me back to when I cycled literally everwhere and literally everyday.  But it isn't a going back, so much as it is a bringing forward something good, some part of me that was special and had been left behind, to the present.

I remember when I used to love hanging out at the bitcyle shop, always checking out the new bicycles and the new parts that would come in, strategizing the changes that I would make on my own bike.  I would go everyday to the Bicycle Place on University Boulevard (Dorsey and his crew were much more personable than the Schwinn shop across the street) and on the weekends, I would visit Georgetown Cycle Sport, which later became Olney Cycle Sport.  That was a special and magical time, one that I had thought gone.  But here it is again, back and just as special as it had been, though now, instead of the bicycle shops, it is the motorcycle shops.  I don't visit daily, as I simply do not have the time, but I do visit weekly and ride daily once again.  I still bicycle and still love the bicycle shops, but I also now have the wonder of the motorcycle shops, which combines the unique experience of engines and car parts with the charm of bicycles and riding. 
Everyday, I find myself thinking of what I want to do with the motorcycle and plotting out how I will do it.  As with bicycles, the project may go in directions that I hadn't orginaly planned but which present themselves as things unfold.

Also, I have a convention of naming my vehicles.  I christened the motorcycle, "Commet" like the reindeer from The Night Before Christmas.  Commet is proving to be a lot of fun.  I am very much looking forward to the next hundred days!
Rock hard & ride free!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Freedom isn't (maintenance) free!

To a motorcyclist, riding is synonomous with freedom.  And it is probably the same for those who ride horseback.  It is also the case with bicyclists, though it isn't as effortless and commuting on a bicycle is more risky in most populated areas due to lack of well laid out bicycle routes.

For the first time since I purchased my motorcycle in April of this year, my freedom to ride was impacted by an issue with the bike.  Given that the bike is nearly two decades old, this isn't as shocking as it may seem.  But if I wanted that freedom back, I would have to either fix the problems myself or pay to have them fixed.  It was a tight month monetarilly, so I couldn't just rush in and get the bike serviced. Since I have a car, it wasn't an emergency, so I chose to make figuring this out part of 'my daily ride,' as maintaining the motorcycle is as much a part of riding as the act of riding itself.

After my battery wasn't charging on July seventh, my daily ride experienced its first hiccup.  I did buy a battery only to find that by the eleventh, the problem was not only recurring, but my taillamp was also out.  This precipitated an interruption to my daily ride, as I chased out the problems.

It has been a long time since I have had to do vehicle maintenance beyond oil and filter changes, so part of the process was clearing off my tool cart and going through my tool box and taking accounting of what tools I presently have and what tools I need.  Firstly, I had to buy a multimeter, as my old meter was long gone.  I still had a test light, however, and a fairly complete set of metric and standard sockets and allen wrenches, and I still had a full set of vicegrips, screwdrivers, adustable wrenches, and various pliers and wire cutters.  I even still had my fancy wire stripper that I purchased from Radio Shack about twenty years ago.  Last month, I had also purchased the shock preload adjustment tool.  I was off to a good start.

The initial replacement of the battery was easy, much easier than on a car.  Housed in the compartment with the battery is the wiring harness for the tail light, signals and brake light.  I was able to determine that power was going into the harness.  I went to the taillamp itself and found that power was going into it, but the bulb was still not lighting.  With my test lamp, I was able to determine that there was a grounding issue inside of the socket.  The socket was, unfortunately, pressed into the lamp assembly and was not replaceable.  This brought me to the next part of the adventure with the tail lamp.

Battley said that they could order one, and did.  The part was about seventy five dollars.  Not surprising on an OE lamp assembly.  However, I got a call the following day that the part was obsolete and the Motor Company no longer manufactures it.  With a near twenty year old bike, this was again, not surprising.  They did locate one at another dealer, but it didn't arrive until Tuesday the following week. 

While waiting for the part, it was time to get my work area into working order.  I cleaned the windows, evicting the spiders.  I took the old AM/FM/SW radio that I haven't run for years and plugged it in.  It worked very nicely.  With that and accounting of my tools done, I organized my tool box and car, threw away the junk and relocated the various non-tool items that had accumulated on it in the years since I worked in automotive service.  By the time I was done, I had a clean and organized work area.  Now to buy that meter.

Meters at Radio Shack really haven't changed much since I worked there.  I left there, in fact, the same year my bike was built.  Freedom from Radio Shack coinciding with the year my motorcycle, which would afford me a level of freedom not experienced in a car, was built.  Symbolic.  In any event, I opted for an analog meter, as the only meters that ever broke when I worked there were the digital ones.

With the meter purchased, I set to testing the charging system, which was putting out only 12.5 volts.  I got optimistic that it was putting out about fifteen, but then realized that I was reading the wrong range on the scale.  The light finally came in and I was able to install it without issue.  My old Snap On soldering iron held its butane and fired up after a decade of disuse.  Over the years, I'd accumulated several duplicates of box wrenches so I took the standard ones along with a ratchet and a standard socket set and put them into my tool pouch.

Last night, I was finally able to take the bike out and ride for about an hour.  It was a wonderful feeling to be free again.  But just like our national freedom, freedom to ride must be maintained and sometimes repaired.   Having the skills to do this makes the task easier and less expensive, but more importantly, it affords you freedom from being dependent upon the garage to keep your bike running.

Rock hard and ride free!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The day I was touched by God

I debated on whether or not to share this when this blog was merely Facebook statuses copied to a note.  It was a brief but profound experience that I initially felt was one that I should keep to myself.  It wasn't a 'this is so crazy that I had better not tell anyone' experience, but a special one that I initially wanted to guard and keep just for myself.  I debated whether to share or not to share and ultimately came to the conclusion that if I'm blogging about such things and don't share a moment like this then I am simply being selfish.

It was a Saturday, June 29th 2013, and I was riding to Battley Cycles to pick up a seat strap for my '96 Super Glide.  The weather was as perfect as it could be and I was riding out Route 108 in the early afternoon.  I ride 108 everyday as part of my ride to work, which takes me from 108 to Mucaster/Redland Road out to Research Boulevard, with a brief time on two connecting streets.  I've found that my ride has places that are very special along the way, most of which are on 108 and Redland prior to Redland opening up into a two lane each way road and the woods and pasture giving way to commercial buildings and concrete.  I savor each part of this ride, making my daily ride to work much more than simple commuting.  One of the greatest parts of appreciating the creation around me is the element of being fully open.  I can see the sky, unbordered by the sheetmetal around the windshield, undivided by A-pillars, and unobstructed by the tint of the glass.  I wear goggles, but they do not filter and mute the scenery the way vehicle glass does.

All of that brings me to that Saturday in June.  I was riding on 108, going past the soccor fields on my right and a tall stretch of woodland to my left which has been there since before I moved to Olney in 1969.  The soccor fields end and more wooded area comes up on the right with a corn field-turned-housing development on the right.  As I rode through this coridor and ascended the hill, I was struck with a view of the sky like none I had ever seen.  The clouds had a golden, almost bronzy glow about them that had not been there when I had set out and the blue of the sky had become even more rich and vivid than it had already been.  A powerful presence came over me.  There were no words; spirits do not communicate that way.  But I knew the message immediately: "I am here and you are loved."  The presence lasted the entire ride, though not as intensly as in that brief moment. 

I have had experiences that affirmed the existence of our Heavenly Father, and I have had experiences where I have encountered Jesus, but none quite like this.  The most amazing thing about it was that there was no condemnation, judgement, or sense of worthlessness in the face of the Father.  I have always wondered about accounts, both Biblical and extra-Biblical that portray men and women as feeling lowly and worthless in the presence of God.  A loving father should never prompt such feelings in his children.  The sense of magnitude and majesty of the Father was inescapable, but rather than looking up at God like a lowly worm, I was caught up in His love and grace, bouyed as though on wings instead of wheels.  I have been on airplanes, in a hot air balloon, driven convertible cars and stood high above the earth on the Empire State Building and the Space Needle.  This experience was like flying without the aircraft, standing high without the building.

It was one of those amazing moments, perhaps once in a lifetime moments, that you read about but never expect to happen to you, no matter how hard you may wish for it.  You also read about how sometimes, after having the experience, people are never the same and feel a sadness that they had to go back to normality.  But this was the ever-satisfying presence, the wellspring that wells up inside of you and satisfies your spirit, leaving you to go back to normality with a satisfaction that cannot be met by any worldly source.

We go through life asking for and looking for signs. A sign that a divine entity exists, a sign that this entity cares about us and is watching over us.  As I said earlier, I have had other experiences that were not this intense or profound, but which were equally real.  We have these experiences everyday.  But we live our lives in such a busy way that we miss them and miss the lessons that they are meant to teach us.

So get out of your spiritual cage and onto your spiritual bike (pick a model, it doesn't matter which one) and ride through your life with the appreciation of the world around you.  No matter where that world is, no matter what that world is.  Find the beauty.  I hear about people who want to get away from their local area to see a really beautiful place.  The sky I see everyday and the beauty of Mother Earth beneath it is as gorgeous here as it is anywhere.  Every place is special.  But sometimes, you have to look for it.  When you find it, you'll appreciate it even more.

Rock Hard & Ride Free!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

My daily ride: The first one hundred days.

Welcome to the Daily Ride!  This started out as daily statuses on Facebook and then I made it into a note on Facebook.  Well, I ran out of space on the note and my musings were starting to go beyond daily statuses.  I have preserved the first three month’s worth of entries for those of you interested in seeing them.

I began recording my thoughts and impressions after I purchased my motorcycle in April of 2013, but the journey began almost two years before then.  Or maybe it began decades ago and was placed on hold.  Either way, in July of 2011, it began.
Every year, I go to Otakon with my kids.  It is a large anime convention and convention-goers dress in colorful costumes from their favorite shows or movies.  The dealer room has lots of anime and anime related products, and some of the video retailers have grab bags.  In the grab back I got was a season one set of the anime, ‘Ah, My Goddess.’  The anime is a comedy and was fun to watch with my kids, but it is in watching this anime that the dream of motorcycling took hold.  The main character, Keiichi Morisato rides a BMW motorcycle with a sidecar.  As I watched the video, I realized that a motorcycle would be well suited to the majority of my travels.  The sidecar was particularly appealing, but for the most part, not needed. 
From this day, I began my research into the practicality of motorcycling.  I started off looking at a Suzuki Boulevard S40.  My search expanded to the Harley Davidson Sportster 883 and the Honda Shadow 750.  I was trying to stay under a litre.  I voraciously read motorcycle reviews and began buying magazines to read up on the various bikes.  I was relatively unfamiliar with motorcycles, but I was very familiar with cars and their specs, having worked in automotive parts and service for years and having been a regular reader of Car & Driver and Motor Trend.  I knew the kind of information that I was after and it didn’t take me long to find it. 
After much reading and research, I took the next step and obtained a Motorcycle learners permit in September.  I began visiting dealerships and actually sitting on the bikes and questioning the salesmen.  It surprised me at how few dealerships remained in Montgomery County, as remembered at least seven in the area that had been around for years but were now gone.  Cycles USA, which had been on Georgia Avenue ever since I was a child was gone.  Wheaton Yamaha, where I had looked at a Virago when I was eighteen, was gone.  There were others that I remembered, all of which had simply vanished.  But one that hadn’t vanished was Rockville Harley Davidson, though they had moved to the Airpark and changed their name to Battley Cycles.  They were also a Yamaha, BMW, and Ducati dealer.  Of all of the dealerships that I visited, they were absolutely, far and away the most helpful and the most welcoming.  They were also the least pushy. 
Around this time, I also began dating a lady with whom I had been friends for several years.  Her name was Carina, and she was a motorcyclist, though at the time, she was between bikes.  I ran a lot of bike choices by her and asked her a lot of questions, which she very patiently answered.  Most importantly, though, she was incredibly supportive of my decision to ride.  Though we no longer are dating, we have remained friends and she continued to be encouraging and supportive.  I ultimately have her to thank, as I’m not sure I would have followed through without her encouragement.  I had other good friends who were also very supportive as well and who frequently would engage me in conversation about how my search was going.  By April of 2012, I took the Harley Davidson Rider’s Edge class at Frederick Harley Davidson.  I learned on a Buell Blast, a 440cc sporty standard bike.  The course was about six hours a day for three days and it was, like the name of the bike, a blast!  As a child and as a teen, I was an avid cyclist and had raced BMX bicycles for several years.  I had ridden mopeds and minibikes as well, and have continued to cycle ever since then.  These experiences all came back to me when riding that little Buell.  The last day was the test and I passed.  With a total of about twelve hours of riding under my belt, I went to MVA and turned in my paperwork and was presented with my M class endorsement.
It would be another year before I would buy a bike.  I continued to research and now, go out and ride the bikes that I was interested in.  Unfortunately, most of the dealers won’t let you test ride the bikes.  The exceptions?  All Harley Davidson dealers.  I test rode several bikes and concluded that unless I got one with forward controls, a Sporster would be too small.  The Suzuki Boulevard S40 was actually much smaller than the Sportster in spite of having the same wheelbase.  This is because it has a much greater rake angle to the forks, which makes it resemble a mini-Wide Glide.  The comparison tests I was reading were consistently putting Harleys ahead of most of their competition as well, particularly in the areas that interested me, speed not being among them.  By this point, the other bike that had drawn my interest was the Kawasaki Vulcan 900, but without being able to ride one first, buying it wasn’t happening.  Also, I was trying to stick with an air cooled engine for simplicity’s sake.
By the end of 2012, I was in a new relationship and thankfully, with another lady named Lynda who was very encouraging of my intent to ride.  We went to the bike show in January with my younger son and I got to at least sit on a good number of bikes.  At this point, I was coming to the conclusion that I would need a larger bike due to my height.  At 6’4” with a 36” inseam, many of the bikes that initially interested me as a new rider were simply too small for me to comfortably ride.  By April of 2012, I still hadn’t found a bike and had ridden less than a full hour since taking the class.  But that changed on April 19th.
On April 19th, I looked at a used 1996 Harley Davidson FXD Super Glide at Battley Cycles.  Sam Yang, the salesman who had been patiently answering my questions for over a year, had informed me of this bike.  It was in near mint condition.  It looked almost like it had just rolled out of the factory.  Only the faded leather bags gave away that it wasn’t brand new.  The test drive was my first ride in several months, but I was immediately comfortable on the bike.  I was initially concerned that a 1340cc engine would be too much, but its power delivery was very well modulated.  It never gave too much and power built slowly and progressively.  Handling was very predictable and the ride was nicer than any of the Sportsters.  It had a windshield, saddle bags and a tool bag.  I went back on Saturday to finalize the purchase.  It was at this point that I began regularly keeping my riding journal.

Rock hard, ride free!