End of the Ride: Summary Thoughts
Every summer since I retired four years ago I’ve explored parts of North America many people dream about but never see. And I’ve done it on two wheels. Nearly 50,000 miles of riding, exploring, discovering and learning have led me to some of the most beautiful places in the world and, more importantly, have led me to people whose brief but extraordinary intersections with my life have made it exceptional and far more interesting than it would have been without them.
I’ve used “Alaska Redux” several times during the writing of this blog over the past 43 days and will probably use it again as the title for the consequent blog-based book. It means, of course, Alaska “brought back.” More than simply a return to places visited three years ago with Marilyn on my first post-retirement motorcycle excursion, this year’s ride has “brought back” to me the adventuresome spirit of Alaska, the always-present possibility of discovering or rediscovering something or someone that enriches my quotidian life. It has “brought back” to me the awesome and endless wonder of nature. It has “brought back” to me the critical reality that the vast majority of people are good, kind, generous and caring.
Anyone who rereads the blog or flips through the pages of the book to be produced will see what I mean. Look carefully at the pictures published in the blog and you’ll see the breathtaking wonder of soaring, rugged, snowy mountains, the tranquil but powerful cascading of glacier-fed waterfalls and the enticing beauty of small but hardy flowers blooming with unmatchable colors in a harsh environment. Look again and you’ll see a few of the many creatures whose presence in the vast wilderness reminds me of my own small place in the scheme of things and of generations of people who lived harmoniously with nature. Look again and you’ll meet amazing people whose small contributions provide essential and complementary addenda to my conventional and unremarkable life.
Some people I met remained nameless: helpful strangers who pointed me in the right direction or cheerfully guided me to a surprising discovery. Others, whom I met for the first time and whose names I learned–think of Rachael the traveling physical therapist or Greg the outstanding fishing guide or Näntsäna the information-filled Tutchone woman or Mikel the optometrist–offered small lessons in how to live a good life by doing the right thing and caring deeply about what they do. And family and friends–Jon and Ulla, Kent and Josiah, Linda, Jaylene–who reminded me of good times past and the promise of memories yet to be created.
Riding a motorcycle 12,000 miles isn’t about wearing out rubber and thoughtlessly consuming hundreds of gallons of gasoline. It isn’t about desperately trying to remain dry and warm when everything around you is wet and cold. It isn’t about successfully avoiding untoward encounters with giant potholes and wayward critters large and small. No, riding a motorcycle 12,000 miles is about “bringing back” the excitement of living, the joy of learning, the exhilaration of discovery, the enthusiasm of adventure.
This ride differed from the last two adventures that took me to Newfoundland and the Rockies because I had a riding partner. Mark Stevens had followed along on earlier blogs as I rode to Alaska, to the Maritimes and Newfoundland, and to the mountains of mid-continent North America. He decided when his time for retirement came, a long-distance motorcycle adventure had to be part of his new non-working life. Mark and I have ridden together for more than ten years, with an increasing number of shared miles in the past few years. No two people get the same experience out of an adventure like this, even when they cover the same roads together, but I think Mark returned home with new perspectives. We mostly rode quietly, without communicating with each other, enjoying that elemental sentience only true motorcyclists can appreciate. We shared thoughts at the end of each day, but we also mulled alone our silent thoughts. Throughout the 43 days together, Mark’s frequent “Wow!” succinctly suggested he was glad he made the trip.
Next year Marilyn and I will embark on a two-week, 50th Anniversary river cruise down the Rhine, the Main, and the Danube from Amsterdam to Budapest, so a long motorcycle ride is unlikely. But I’m already formulating my next extended, two-wheel trip, and this one may be my most challenging yet.
I’m planning a ride that will begin with the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail from Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, to the Oregon coast, serving up a huge portion of history accompanied by a substantial helping of beautiful scenery. From the Oregon coast, I want to head to Vancouver Island, British Columbia, and there begin a cross-Canada ride ending in St. Johns, Newfoundland, before returning home. Depending on side trips, that ride could equal in length my 2013 Key West to Fairbanks jaunt. I have plenty of time to plan this two-month adventure, but right now it sounds like a trip worth taking.
I continue to be an evangelist for retirement. I’ve had jobs I enjoyed and that were fulfilling, but other than raising two daughters, nothing has brought me more pleasure than these long motorcycle rides. It’s probably a good thing my financial resources limit me to one trip a year or I’d be gone all the time. Anyone thinking about retiring and who is close to it should make the move sooner rather than later and should use their newly unencumbered time to explore the world around them in ways that weren’t possible when the demands of a job held them back.
As I sit here sipping a small glass of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey and write this final post, I can only say “Thanks again” to everyone who followed this year’s blog, who kept Mark and me in their thoughts. If I made anyone envious, I’m pleased. Knowing friends and family waited for the daily critter count or pie report or foul weather update made sitting with a glass of Jack at my laptop and writing at the end of a long day much, much easier. My audience was small but loyal. Thank you.