Standing naked in my kitchen one day, making some salmon fillets and a microwave baked potato, I was forced to think about my life and my choices. Ok ok. It had nothing to do with the salmon. Or the baked potato.
Most people have something they don’t like about themselves. Mine is an apparent inability to figure out what I want out of life. Ok that’s not entirely true. I know exactly what I want, I just don’t really have any faith in its existence, at least this side of the veil.
I’d been sidetracked in my writing for several months. Several amazing journeys filled with pictures and experiences I wanted to get posted, but somehow just couldn’t. I’d been riding but not writing – hoping somehow the curves in the road would straighten out the bottleneck that my emotional landscape had become.
So I got on my bike (don’t worry, I put chaps on 🙂 ) thinking I would do my usual loop of cleanly paved, twisty roads that often help to quiet the arguments jockeying for positions inside my head.
I didn’t intend to go so far, but it was a beautiful day and the road just felt right underneath me. I needed those miles. I needed to keep driving. Keep feeling the turns under my seat. I needed to chase down the fears and the agony that had been eating me alive.
I needed to come back to myself.
So I rode up the back of Mt St Helens along Windy Ridge, past pristine mountain lakes and sweeping vistas of pine covered hills and valleys reborn since the 1980 eruption.
I rode through countless miles of gorgeous twisted roads with canopies of birch and pine so thick that only dappled sunlight made it through to the road below. Speeding through those speckled pockets of light made it feel like being cranked through an old time movie, where the light changed so fast it was altering my perceptions.
The roads that climbed the mountain were not so easy or forgiving as their lower counterparts. Frost-heaved and far less-traveled, many areas were downright dangerous for a motorcyclist and could have used some major repair, but then again, staying on the well-maintained roads will only give you half the story, and I needed to know the whole thing.
The mountain was visible most of the way up – a bonus for me since the last time I rode up there – up the other side of the mountain – it was wet and cold and shrouded in fog. But today was not that day. It was bright and clear and you could see for miles. Once I climbed up onto that ridge and started riding up above the tree line, it was like the fog began to lift from my head and heart as well.
I didn’t mind having no one else to share my thoughts with. In fact, I was glad to be alone. It was a great day and I was happier than I’ve ever been on a bike. That day, those thoughts, that experience – were mine and mine alone. I realized, rather suddenly, that at some point I’d started allowing other people to define my sense of self. Not only that, I’d lost a part of my joy in being who I was, how I was made. I guess sometimes when you spend a lot of time down low you just get used to not being able to see the top of the mountain anymore. Maybe you forget the mountain is even there.
Unfortunately, lack of planning has its downfalls. I had one bottle of water with me that I had already finished, no snacks and no extra fuel. Deep into the national forest service roads, I rarely saw another vehicle, so I went as far as I felt comfortable, then looked at my fuel gauge and ended up turning around. I would have to save the rest of that road for another day.
Part intentionality, part spontaneity, part chance. Life twists and turns and bends on itself in ways you rarely expect, but if you want to get all the way to the end of the road it isn’t going to be easy.
Will there be danger? Probably. Are there practical things to consider? Absolutely. But the prize is an entirely new perspective, and sometimes you just can’t get it any other way. You have to get out of the house. Out of your comfort zone.
And most of all, get of your own way.
Previous post: Going Toward The Mountain