Motorcycles

Old school

“What are the three bowsers for?”

The muffled voice came from behind my right shoulder. A snowy-haired man, of average frame, perhaps 75 years or more, bearing a vague expression, seeming somewhat nervous, uncertain in his gait, and apparently struggling to catch up with my longer yet slower strides, gestured in the direction of my Harley-Davidson resting alongside bowser number five.

Removing one of my ear plugs to hear him more clearly, I smiled, in part to put him at ease, and in part simply because his face was pleasing, before briefly explaining that the numbers written on each of the nozzles — 100, 95, and 91 — represent that fuel’s octane rating; further, that “E10” written on the nozzle represents 10% ethanol, and, what is the relevance of all these to various kinds and ages of engines.

Seeming satisfied with this, the old man mumbled something about having bought his car “about 10 years ago”, turning to point back towards a dark blue Toyota Camry parked across the way at bowser number two, then simply doddered off in its direction without further word.

This little interaction was the highlight of my day. It caused me to feel a long lasting surge of inner happiness, and satisfaction.

And that joyful feeling prompted a time of reflection, as I rumbled homeward bound.

It is truly, such a wonderful thing. Simply to be able, to help someone else.

To be of service.

Often times, helping can entail little more than the sharing of information gained, not through any great effort or expense, but simply from having been blessed with experience of living.

Life experience.

Indeed, it was this somewhat paradoxical aspect of my interaction with the old man that most provoked my contemplation. Because here, a younger person was able to help an older one, by virtue of having and sharing basic information that the older man had not, apparently, otherwise gleaned, despite having many more years of life experience.

For some time now, I have lamented the ever-growing encouragements to worship of youth. There are, I think, far too many harms arising from such worship, to even begin to explicate them in this, what was intended to be, just a little anecdote.

Even more so, however, I have lamented the coincident — or perhaps, consequent? — ever-growing encouragements to loss of respect, of reverence, for the hoary head of experience.

You see, I really like old people. Always have done.

I see every old person as a fascinating mystery, and one holding great opportunity. A rich beneficiary, of a great and limitless universal trust fund, established for all of us, by a wonderful benefactor named Time. A beneficiary whose relative riches have been increased in proportion, more or less, to the Time they have known, loved, and held on to. A veritable storehouse of unique and rare pearls of simple wisdom, and little glittering jewels of useful knowledge. Received through Time, and now hidden amongst the clutter of foolishness and falsehoods, and the cobwebs of forgetting; which is only human, of course. A treasure trove of gems, gathered together, one by one, from across their ages, or passed down from their ancestors’ ages.

Some, or many, of these riches may soon be lost to us. Never to be discovered, by you or I, through our own experience of Time.

Unless we ask for directions.

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180 +/- 180

Look now forward, and let be backward;
and see what thee faileth,
and not what thou hast,
for that is the readiest getting
and keeping of meekness.

It occurred to me today, while reading the 14th century Christian mystical work The Cloud of Unknowing, that most of us see things exactly 180 degrees out of whack.

On two levels.

It also occurred to me that these two levels are, and should be, naturally, 180 degrees out of whack to each other.

In the quote above, the author of The Cloud is speaking of things spiritual, or “ghostly”, as he prefers to say.

It seems to me that, in ghostly things, too many of us have reversed his instruction, acting as though this were our mantra for personal virtue:

See what thou hast,
and not what thee faileth,
for that is the readiest getting
and keeping of Pride.

On the other hand, in physical things — whether possessions, or body image — most of us act as though we have applied his “ghostly” instruction to the wrong level, making this our rule for the world of “things”:

See what thee faileth,
and not what thou hast,
for that is the readiest getting
and keeping of Discontent.

Would it not be far better, to turn our physical and our “ghostly” worlds, up-side down and down-side up?

It seems to me that both our worlds would be enhanced, if we first chose to accord our ghostly (inner) world with the instruction:

See what thee faileth,
and not what thou hast,
for that is the readiest getting
and keeping of Humility.

And our physical (outer) world would be enriched, if we chose to act always according to this instruction:

See what thou hast,
and not what thee faileth,
for that is the readiest getting
and keeping of Contentment.

Where we choose to look — to focus most of our day’s attention — seems to me to be the key.

The key to bringing our upper (inner) and lower (outer) worlds into natural alignment.

It also seems to me, that what we should look at — and not look at — in our higher (“ghostly”) world view, needs to be 180 degrees opposite to our lower (physical) world view.

Just as Nature urges free air to “look now forward, and let be backward” in opposite directions, above and below the equator.

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And with increasing gusto, the higher (or lower) one moves towards the poles.

Spiritual:  See what thee faileth, and not what thou hast…

Physical:  See what thou hast, and not what thee faileth…

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These go to twelve

So there was I, queued up bleary-eyed at Aldi, having — happily — just discovered that there is a new “12” strength Expressi coffee, named “abruzzo”. Beat that, Spinal Tap. I had no interest in the title, or the roast, of course. Only the strength number.

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Excellent. That will be the usual purchase then. A full 6 pack tray. Easier to carry with no bag that way.

A pretty young lass of no more than 20 years or so, wearing a badge bearing the word “Kayla”, went through the motions behind the till. I could not help but notice her sullen and disinterested demeanour as she scanned and swiped for the customers ahead of me.

When my turn came, I received a pleasant surprise. “Kayla” breezily sent me on my way with a sunny smile (*shock!*) and the words, “Have a good day darl.”

How nice to hear.

Of course, I have little doubt the addendum was of no significance to her, and was rather a simple matter of habit. But I am only a little embarrassed to confess that … well … it felt good.

And that feeling, got me to pondering.

About the power of a single word.

Spoken at the right time. To the right person.

Here, a good example.

Here, by happy chance, a bored young girl crossed paths with a tired old bloke who, having long since turned his back on the futility of relationship games — and the word “games” used here with intent — had, in consequence, not, in many a year, enjoyed the small pleasure of hearing a comment directed his way that might, in other context, be construed as a mild expression of personal affection.

And so, with thanks likely due to nothing more than an unconscious habit that some might, unkindly, refer to as “bogan-speak”, one little four letter word spoken aloud served to brighten that bleary-eyed bloke’s morning.

Sufficiently so as to render the 12 strength coffee (almost) unnecessary.

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Motorcycles

A good paddock

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Birds of a feather feature prominently in the fond recollections of my recent motorcycle tour.

Like the Crimson Rosella that, in a stupendous feat of aerobatics, so narrowly avoided taking out an oblivious Rob’s left leg on a densely forested section of Tooma Road, as we descended from an epic ride through rolling grasslands, steep ravines, and the haunting vista of snow gums, up to Cabramurra, Australia’s highest populated town.

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Or the pair of Crimson Rosellas that alighted a mere handful of feet away from us, quietly observing as we sat on the deck of our cabin a hundred metres or so behind the Tintaldra Hotel, in the sharp chill of early morning, bare feet, sipping Rob’s superb coffee, earnestly discussing matters metaphysical, and reverential, by way of analogy to the pond across the road.

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Indeed, from the moment that Rob and I rolled into town and pulled up in front of the famous biker’s hotel, birds were to become, for me, a highlight of the trip.

It was around midday. Alf and Maija, the publicans, exchanged pleasantries with us. As our accommodations were not yet readied, they kindly offered to let us drop off our gear — I declined, since mine was serving as valuable lumbar support — and told us we should aim to be back in time for a beer on the verandah watching the kingfishers.

Apparently, they are something of local celebrities. There’s two of them, that come down most afternoons to sit on the electrical wire out front of the hotel, and perform aerobatics for the audience.

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They disappointed us that day. But on the following afternoon, they came. Such exquisite little birds they are. My apologies for the photo quality. They are so small, optical zoom was insufficient; I had to resort to the use of digital too.

As we sat on the verandah chatting with the locals, the conversation, as is a not uncommon tendency in such environs, turned to bird spotting of another kind; identifying who of the women employed at the General Store in a nearby town had served us breakfast.

They were all most interested because, alas, Rob had described her as seeming “a bit fierce”, and not so friendly as the cheery woman who had served us the day before, when we stopped in to refuel our bikes. The situation was quite interesting and amusing for Alf and Maija and the locals; Rob’s observation perhaps representing fuel for future small town gossip, were I to hazard a guess.

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So there we were, sitting at the front of the hotel, in audience for the kingfishers.

Terry, a stereotypical Aussie farmer — faded jeans, flanno, weather-beaten Akubra, leathery dark-tanned skin on all sun-exposed areas and lily-white elsewhere (I noticed his gut when he stretched!), and possessed of a wonderfully soothing laconic drawl — was perched up on the verandah railing, slouched forward a little from the waist, stoop shouldered after a hard day’s work, beer nestled in one hand, and the other loosely gripping the verandah post. His mud-spattered Toyota Landcruiser tray back ute softly tinkled behind him, as it slowly cooled on the baking hot asphalt.

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They were all — Maija in particular — enthusiastically quizzing Rob about what she (the “fierce” one) looked like. Rob was asked how old she appeared to be (“early 50’s”).

Terry the farmer piped up, “Been in a good paddock?”

I smiled immediately.

Even more so, when it took Rob several moments to get it.

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Motorcycles

No Man’s Land

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Picking myself up, I brushed off the dust and small stones, the leaves and broken twigs, then returned to my starting place near the big stringybark tree.

I suffered no injury, felt no discomfort from the fall. Only the pain of yearning.

Facing down the hill, diagonally, to the right, following an invisible path across the concrete driveway and onto the lowest expanses of the front lawn, I stood quietly for a few moments, gathering all my powers of concentration.

I focussed intently on the landing area — for that it was, since I so rarely achieved take-off. The place where frequent experience said that my little legs would carry me to maximum velocity. I shut out every thought. Concentrated every fibre of my being, solely on believing. Then, I broke into a sprint.

Faster. FASTER. FASTER!

Leaping forward … and upward … with all the remaining energy that a five year old at full sprint can muster, head first, chin up, back arched, chest proud, legs together, arms thrust out with palms downward, in mimicry of the wings of an eagle, for the merest split of a second it seemed that I might soar.

But at that critical moment, my concentration failed.

Once more a thought had dared to trespass. Just then. In mid-air. On the cusp. Breaking through, to close off that brief opening in time. That fleeting opportunity.

Again, again, and again, I raced to the bottom of the hill and hurled my body up and out and on to the hard ground. Again, again, and again, in the very moment of flight, a stray thought reached out, shattered my concentration, and plunged me back to earth.

“Now!”

“No.”

“This time!”

“You can do it!”

“You can’t do it.”

“Fly!”

“Impossible.”

“Air.”

“The ground.”

“Wings!”

“Too heavy.”

Rarely, came success. Rising surely and turning swiftly — for the trees bordering the road were barely 10 metres away — I soared in spiralling orbit, climbing above the treeline.

In these moments following take-off, I always experienced something that, it must be said, far surpasses the capacity of words to fully and accurately convey. An indescribable calm joy, and yet, one mixed with a kind of trepidation. A sense of the need, nay, the requirement, for absolute reverence. An awareness; a Knowing; that all this now, this “place”, this state, was most delicate, most exquisite, most subtle; like the glittering of the purest, most perfectly faceted diamond; a brilliance that may be extinguished in a moment by the casting of a shadow; that as easily, swiftly, and without any act from me as it had come, similarly then, that in the presence of any shadow of “me” it might as easily and swiftly depart once again. A profound awareness, that I must not do any thing, think any thing; only fly.

Or, more correctly to say, only continue to allow “me” to be carried.

What was the secret? The difference between fall, and flight?

At the critical moment … Acceptance.

Trust.

A giving up.

A letting go.

A letting go of every thing.

All hows. All whats. All ifs.

No thought of mechanics. No thought of forms.

No words. No labels.

No doubts. No certainties.

In accepting all things, all things dissolved.

In letting go all things, all weights fell away.

And that which remains — the Great, Infinite, Timeless, Inexpressible NoThing — “It” carried me up.

When “It” wanted to.

My role, my purpose, then, only to be prepared. Patiently waiting.

To be, continually, if necessary, running down my hill and presenting myself — ready — in mid-air. In that place of highest risk; the nexus of rise or fall. At the apex, in the leap of faith.

In a conscious sense of powerless-ness; of surrender. Of giving complete consent, to whatever may come; or, not come.

On those nights when I flew — for this recollection, you may have surmised, is of a recurring dream; the only one I can still recall; one long left behind in early childhood — I discovered that the longer I simply let “It” carry me, the higher and further I flew. The higher and further I flew, the more that all “things” below — things seen and heard, smelled, tasted, or touched, and, even the memory of them — grew distant and “grey” to me, the easier flying became. That is to say, the acute sense of how easily any act of “me” would cause “It” to recede and “me” to descend; or, as at times, suddenly, almost instantly, have me grounded once again, returning to my mark at the top of the hill near the big stringybark tree; that sense, it slowly receded, the higher I ascended.

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I was reminded of all this recently, when, on the final day of our touring by motorcycle together in the NSW-Victoria border region, and more particularly, in the Kosciuszko National Park — Australia’s highest mountain — my friend Rob kindly offered to loan me his copy of an excellent little book titled “Zen in the Art of Archery”, by Eugen Herrigel. First published in 1953, it is the personal account of a German philosopher who came to Japan and there took up the practice of archery.

Herr Herrigel recounts with a simple vividity his struggles to “attain” the goal of what is, in Japan, in a traditional sense, not a sport, but rather, a religious ritual:

“Day by day I found myself slipping more easily into the ceremony which sets forth the ‘Great Doctrine’ of archery, carrying it out effortlessly or, to be more precise, feeling myself being carried through it as in a dream. Thus far the Master’s predictions were confirmed. Yet I could not prevent my concentration from flagging at the very moment when the shot ought to come. Waiting at the very highest tension not only became so tiring that the tension relaxed, but so agonizing that I was constantly wrenched out of my self-immersion and had to direct my attention to discharging the shot. ‘Stop thinking about the shot!’ the Master called out. ‘That way it is bound to fail.’ ‘I can’t help it,’ I answered, ‘the tension gets too painful.’

‘You only feel it because you haven’t really let go of yourself…’

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One day I asked the Master: ‘How can the shot be loosed if “I” do not do it?’

‘”It” shoots,’ he replied.

‘I have heard you say that several times before, so let me put it another way: How can I wait self-obliviously for the shot if “I” am no longer there?’

‘”It” waits at the highest tension.’

And who or what is this “It”?’

‘Once you have understood that, you will have no further need of me…'”

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Reading this, I was reminded not only of my childhood recurring dream, but also of two little aphorisms that, shall we say, came, to my nom de plume ‘The Blissful Ignoramus’, four years ago, out of the blue, while meditating by a lake:

I Don’t Know why we strive after certainty.

I do know, God waits for us in No Man’s Land.

*******

I Don’t Know why we struggle after certainty.

I do know, to be in No Man’s Land is to be in God’s Own Hand.

*******

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Motorcycles, Mysticism

Gold and silver coins

Rounding the corner and accelerating eastward, I could not fail to notice a very large, and unusually lonely expanse of billowing white cumulonimbus, extraordinarily thick, like a monstrous cauliflower, roiling slowly heavenwards over the distant coast. Alas, my choice had been found wanting once again.

Minutes earlier, as is my common practice, I had checked the weather forecasts before deciding on four wheels or two for my journey to work.

“Morning Clouds. Warm; Rain –; Humid 33%; Max 29*;” said one.

“Mostly sunny; Chance of rain 40% (1-5mm); Humidity (a.m.) 76%; 25*;” said another.

“Take the rainsuit; just in case,” said the little voice.

Having turned out of the steep-sided valley in which I reside, it was now abundantly clear that the unspotted blue skies visible directly above my home had, once again, misled.

The rainsuit waiting expectantly in the throwover bag behind me now offered little by way of reassurance. Getting wet — or not — was of only minor concern; the rear tyre being worn right down to the tread bars rather more.

No matter.

After all, what chance of that solo white cloud in an otherwise vast expanse of blue actually giving forth rain? Much less, my happening to be under it at the time?

Rather high.

Around 25 minutes further into my journey, now heading roughly northwards, the perspective — and the prospects of avoiding wet roads on a semi-bald tyre — looked decidedly different. What had previously appeared to my gaze as distant and white, was now very near and very dark. Several large wispy fingers reached down towards earth, partly obscured by a telling curtain of misty haze.

Moments later, I observed the first oncoming vehicles rounding the next bend with windscreen wipers on. Just around the same bend, a watery sheen on the recently-blackened road greeted my arrival.

“Don’t waste time stopping to put on the rainsuit. You never know; it might not actually rain on you. Besides, you will look like a bit of a wuss,” said My Ego.

“Stop,” commanded the still small voice.

I pulled off the highway and quickly suited up. A wise decision. Barely 500 more metres had ticked over on the odometer before the cloud burst.

Emerging from beneath the gloom and into bright sunlight some five or ten minutes later — dry, upright, and unharmed — I soon became aware of an enthralling spectacle laid out before me.

About two inches in front of my nose.

The happy sunbeams now raining down on my silver iridium bubble visor were having a remarkable effect on the many water droplets that had chosen to resist the temptation to fly off in company with the passing breeze.

Whether to credit the curved shape of the visor, or its reflective iridium surface, for the apparent transformation of clear, unremarkable dots of water into glistening, multi-faceted coins, each one changing momentarily from gold to silver, silver to gold, and back again, on that I cannot speculate.

Suffice to say, I am grateful that the road passed over was a highway, one with few fellow travellers.

For I can readily confess, that I found the treasures on the tip of my nose to be far more interesting and beautiful to watch than most anything at all beyond it.

Sadly, all too soon those same transforming beams of warming light began causing my gold and silver coins to slowly disappear.

And then, the highway ended.

With a roundabout.

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“Good luck with your ministry”

Around 2 hours and 180km into my first experience of motorcycle touring, I broke free from my Thunderheader-inspired reverie just long enough to become aware that the air flowing through my perforated leathers was making me decidedly chilly.

And that Nature was calling.

Beneath overcast skies I pulled into a highway-side rest area near Douglas Park, gently rumbled past the rows of fellow travellers, before pulling over parallel the curb, right down the end just before the exit road; a lovely and slightly elevated spot, overlooking a modest dam on the left, and, most importantly, only a short walk from a door marked with the symbol of a man on the right:

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Hume Highway NSW, Douglas Park rest area, southbound (-34.157157,150.73903)

I briefly contemplated leaving my helmet and gloves behind, perched nonchalantly atop the sissy bar.

Too many folks about.

A few minutes later, as I rummaged through my new leather sissy bar bag — US$59.95 at Jafrum.com — for my 100% pure merino wool long sleeve motorcycle undergarment — $30 at Aldi — a rather tall and slender older gentleman of somewhat distinguished silver-bearded appearance and dignified carriage walked over from a large 4WD that had pulled up immediately behind, and engaged me in conversation.

It’s a 1995 model.

Yes, these old Evolution engines are better than the new Twin Cams.

No, the ape hangers are actually very comfortable.

Et cetera.

As we talked amiably together, perhaps, I confess, somewhat discourteously — or so it seems to me on reflection — I continued with donning my slim woollen jumper, re-packing my bag, re-fastening the small cargo net over top my packed bike cover, and re-zipping my leather jacket.

Although not my conscious intention — although, perhaps, subconscious, given I had over 400km further to travel that day — the friendly stranger identified a hint in my actions, and neatly segued our conversation towards a conclusion.

Then came his parting words.

“Good luck with your ministry”.

I guess he noticed the licence plate.

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Presumably he was unaware that the Carlini Design handlebars — with which I change direction — bear the moniker “Evil Ape”.

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And perhaps he had failed to notice the words “Bad Boy” — my chosen steed’s model name — clearly inscribed on the air cleaner.

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But I digress.

Setting aside my affinity for incongruity and the coincidentia oppositorum, thank you, kind Sir.

I had not thought of it that way.

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