Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Journey As a Metaphor - Day 7

Every day of this motorcycle adventure I think about how it constitutes a metaphor for life; specifically, my life. Today, as we traveled 400 miles (650 kms) from Cody, Wyoming, through Yellowstone to Dillon, Montana, was no different.

As with life, every new day, no matter how similar to another day, brings with it unexplored (or maybe unrecognized) experiences that we can learn from. Today, we climbed the steep grade outside town to travel Chief Joseph's Scenic Highway headed towards Yellowstone Park. I was feeling disappointed we were missing Beartooth Pass, having decided to avoid the roadwork we were told about at this morning’s coffee by two Toronto bikers. Roadwork takes away the fun of riding. It is like deciding to take a jog around the neighbourhood only to be confronted by some hardened woman authoritatively holding up her STOP/SLOW sign like Moses’ staff and demanding that you get down on hands and knees and crawl for a few blocks. We have done some “crawling” on this trip, as you might expect (although one traffic delay gave me a chance to nap). Despite the frustration of the route change, the simple, rugged beauty of the arid landscape quickly captured me. I had seen this exact route before, but I had forgotten its silent, almost spiritual, feel. The swooping corners and sparse traffic added to the total pleasure of the morning.

Of course, landscape splendor was not the only interaction with nature, as we saw deer, big horn sheep (wandering across the road as I was approaching at 65 miles per hour – I think that was the speed limit), elk, a fox, prairie dogs, hawks and eagles, moose, buffalo and even this bear, which totally ignored the gawking tourists and “growling” Harleys some 30 feet away). Then there was the temperamental weather; one moment we were sweltering with not a cloud to give relief, while an hour up the road we were racing between two black-bottomed clouds so as to avoid a repeat drenching disaster. These sightings were marvelous reminders of how we are so blessed in our part of the world, where nature in all its finery is so evident and accessible.

Perhaps the most fascinating interactions of each day come in the form of people. Take the scruffy young man, with old torn jeans loosely belted and wrinkled shirt hanging out, who checked us in at the motel tonight in Dillon, Montana (population 4000). Obviously well spoken and capable of being nearly professional, he spoiled the raw ability he evidenced by only exercising it when the phone rang or someone forced him to abandon his computer game for a time. Then there was Shelby, the 18 year old who works summers as a server in the family run Blacktail Station, found in the converted basement of a building on Montana Street near the motel. She was admittedly new on the job, but tried very hard to be professional, and pulled it off for the most part. Formality and pretention were not part of her character. She told us the Bread Pudding on the menu was made by her grandmother “Bootsie” and then brought the shy woman out of the kitchen, bread pudding in hand, to be introduced with obvious pride. Isn’t it odd that most folks seem to have no difficulty talking to 5 “older” men who, though unshaven and a little rumpled, clearly do not present as gang members. Doug, a 75 year old quiet man at the Chevron station in West Yellowstone, seemed only to happy to discuss motorcycles he had owned before his knee gave out. These three were just people who stepped into and then promptly out of our lives. Everyday we have similar serendipitous meetings that can be handled caringly or carelessly.

Finally, there are the dynamics of my own “helmet time”. Riding a motorcycle is different than taking a car trip. Bikers must (1) watch the road for potholes and tire-slicing metal; (2) sweep both sides of it with careful reconnaissance for bounding deer or even a panicked chipmunk determined to become road kill; (3) watch unblinking any and all other vehicles that, through a driver’s split-second of inattention, could make a mess of rider and bike; and (4) listen constantly to what your bike and body are telling you. But despite these serious sensory demands, there are plenty of alone times when the silence is marred only by wind blowing past your helmet. In that secure compartment I find my thinking trying to sort itself out. I forgot, there is a 5th thing that must be diligently performed while driving a motorcycle. You cannot lay a map beside you on the seat, as in a car, therefore you must watch highway signs, remember the directions to your destination and, contrary to what I did getting lost twice in 20 minutes this morning, look ahead instead of down at the GPS.
We can learn much through experiencing travel as a metaphor for life. As St. Augustine said, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”


  1. I think that might qualify as one of the most unusual and uncomfortable places to take a cat-nap! Sounds like it's been a good trip so far...

    ps. If you haven't heard of it before, is a great way to transfer your blog entries into book form. Might be a nice souvenir from your trip(s). :)

  2. Crawling through construction brought back memories of my 3 children and mine first trip to DC, via North Carolina to visit Tarheel land. The first year we took I-40 all the way to the coast, and it was constant construction, crawling, and irritating. The next year, we got a good map that showed lots of off roads and we took the scenic route, as we called it. Ended up in some little town one day that had one motel, one restaurant, and that was it. The man at the gas station told us that during WWI, no one there knew it was happening; that's how "out of touch and isolated" this place was. We really enjoyed that trip and the lack of road construction. For the life of me, I can't remember which route we took the third year.