Last week, the world lost a true icon. Neil Peart was arguably the best drummer to ever wield a pair of sticks, playing at the top of his game in one of the most respected bands in the world for over forty years. He was also a gifted writer and rider, riding his BMW motorcycle alone across the country, 55,000 miles in 14 months.
Pretty impressive, huh?
But what many don’t know is the reason he was riding. He had lost his 19 year old daughter in a car crash, and only ten months later, his wife died of a broken heart. His own depression drove him onto the open road, and the resulting book “Ghost Rider” is a guidebook for anyone dealing with crippling grief. At times, the book was hard for me to read, as it carved a bit too close to the bone. What struck me is how vulnerable he was emotionally at that time, only to make himself even more vulnerable physically and mentally by riding solo.
Yin and yang, positive and negative; without vulnerability, there can be no display of courage. When Alex Honnold climbed El Capitan without any safety equipment, he was as vulnerable as anyone could possibly imagine; one tiny miscalculation and he would have fallen thousands of feet to his death. But he didn’t, and his willingness to put himself “out there” showed his courage to the world.
This is why many of us ride motorcycles; not as a “look at me”, adrenaline-fueled social activity, but as a form of transcendental two-wheeled meditation. Is it dangerous? Of course it is, and to be honest, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Expensive and exposed, often filthy and frustrating, a car is much more practical. But then there’s that unique opportunity to be two things at once: sitting still while sweeping swiftly. Heavily armored but completely vulnerable. Fully involved with where you are but often miles away inside your helmet.
However, this is riding, not rapture, and bad things can and do happen when you’re far from your comfort zone. But that’s where the life changing moments often occur; real life always trumps still life. Forward movement has its risks, but that vulnerability is infinitely preferable to always playing it safe.
So today, Charlie and I took the bike out for a ride. It was cold and blustery, and it would have been much smarter to stay at home in front of the heater. But if I had been “smart” five years ago this coming week, I would have never gone for that ride, and Zach and I would have never found Charlie. Talk about vulnerability; barely two months after major surgery, sporting a colostomy bag and a partially open abdominal incision, “smart” is not a word one would use to describe my actions…
While heading back towards the Casa tonight with Charlie huddled against my back, it made me think; is our fascination with dogs based on this vulnerability? First, even the hardiest breeds are infinitely vulnerable to the actions of we humans, not because we deserve it, but because their ancestors made themselves so. Then again, we are the vulnerable ones, as we carry with us always the knowledge that their lifespans are roughly one-tenth of ours, and we will suffer the soul-tearing seperation many times over. As smart as she is, Charlie is not harrassed with these feelings; she lives totally in the moment, with dad to herself on the motorcycle, and nothing else matters.
I realize that I am blessed among all men to be able to combine these two necessities of life, dogs and motorcycles. Then to be able to add writing to the trinity; when all three come together, well, it just doesn’t get any better. The day will come that one or all of these things are no longer part of the picture, but today is not that day. Until then, we’ll keep rolling, Charlie will keep flouncing and CHARKing, and God only knows what’s in store beyond the next horizon.
See you on the road…