There are things to learn looking in the mirror, or at a photograph. Especially when we’re the subject. I’ve always felt some mystery or lesson lurked just below the surface, just out of reach but close enough to sense that there’s more there than meets the eye. My friend Paul Ruby made this picture while I stared out the window toward the Juniata River as we arrived for breakfast after 94 miles on the road. Looking at it now I can see I was somewhere else, lost in thought in a manner that riding can produce and can leave me drained.
Long before I parked the Vespa outside I had been having a conversation; one I call talking with God.
Like so many rides they begin with the shimmering joy of being on the road. Morning, sunshine, cool air and a road rolling out ahead, I feel a sit up straight and ear to ear grin excitement of being alive in the world — a world that seems to belong to me and no one else. In this solitude, even when riding with someone else, I find myself making observations of the landscape sweeping by, puzzling over imagined route choices ahead, and entertaining questions that during most other times remain unasked.
Just beyond the curve at the end of the road in this picture a friend lost his leg in a motorcycle crash some years ago. I’ve often asked if something like that will happen to me. What would I do? How would I react? And before long I’m open to a host of existential questions — those concerns of human existence. Riding provides space to ask “Why?”. Questioning ourselves, our existence, that’s nothing new. Human history is filled with examples of questioning in art and literature. It’s one thing to read about the experience of others coming to terms with existence. Another matter when you’re doing it yourself.
Regardless of your personal beliefs, avenues of spirituality or any other process of questioning or enlightenment, I suspect many riders find themselves coming face to face with themselves on the road and asking questions that don’t always have easy or comfortable answers.
I call it talking to God.
Pennsylvania has an incredible diversity of roads through myriad landscapes and geography. It’s estimated that there are a quarter million miles of roads in Pennsylvania ranking it 11th in the nation. I don’t suspect I’ll travel them all.
Paul and I stopped to admire a small stream gently tumbling through a gap along Bearpen Hollow as we rode down over Stone Mountain and into Belleville, Pennsylvania.
Just 12 miles to the east is a faster route, one with four lanes of controlled access that allows for speed and efficiency. Speed and efficiency. For me, something I choose to escape from rather than embrace. I have few thoughts save for how to deal with the boredom of riding on the super slab.
Rich agricultural scenes and thriving Amish communities make Big Valley almost seem like something from another time. I don’t bother the Amish with my camera but I can say I never tire of seeing horse drawn wagons and buggies trotting along the farm lanes and paved roads. I’ve wondered many questions about a life I’ll never know.
The view from the summit of Jacks Mountain is always breathtaking. I look out over the expansive space and feel the tiny space I occupy in the world. The sense of anonymity also creates a bit of freedom in my head to address the fear and regret that inevitably shows itself during a ride when you talk to God.
I’ve spoken to riders who claim to never question themselves, past, present or future, but instead travel through life sure and certain what the road ahead will bring.
That’s not me.
With four times the horsepower and little additional weight Paul’s Ducati Hypermotard seems a fine riding partner for the Vespa GTS 250 I ride. I’m often asked about the scooter’s ability to “keep up” and from first hand experience it will keep up with any motorcycle traveling the legal speed limits. Anything else is, well, not important. To me at least.
What was to be a quick route to breakfast turned into a long route to lunch. Parked here on the east shore of the Juniata River not far from Mount Union there was still 31 miles to Lewistown along lovely winding roads.
The weather was perfect for riding. And the ride was perfect for talking with God. I asked a lot of questions and released a lot of baggage.
What more could I ask from a ride?