I found my bliss last weekend while on the back of a motorcycle. Mind you, I ride behind the driver and I would never claim that I’m Zen. But as a weekend biker chick who spends a part of each ride taking pictures at 70 miles an hour, surely I was close while at the summit of Colorado’s Independence Pass.
Last weekend’s ride followed the Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway, from Copper Mountain, to Leadville, over Independence Pass, to Aspen. Most of the 115 miles of this route are chock-full of ooh and aaaah-inspiring vistas in country first used by native people as an abundant summer hunting ground. Silver lured new immigrants when it was discovered near Leadville in 1879. Legend has it the town of Independence was founded that year after a prospector struck a rich vein of silver about 3 miles west of the summit of today’s pass. In its prime, 1,000 people lived there and had a part in processing silver worth 100,000 in those days’ dollars in the one year that the local mill operated. By 1882, it shrank ghost-like until its last full-time resident left in 1912.
The enticement for my ride across Independence Pass last weekend was not silver, nor the promise of abundant wildlife, but merely the chance to ride above tree line on the back of a Harley with my Nikon in hand. Mayhem it wasn’t, except if you consider the unruly yoga practitioner and photographer friend who disregarded signage asking all to stay on the path out of respect for the fragile fauna.
Mayhem, it wasn’t, despite a sizeable throng at the top. Rather than chaos, I found a Zen-like moment at the summit, much as I do each time I ride through the Rockies on a motorcycle. From that moment and other such moments come some truths……………
Some Life Lessons I’ve Learned from the Back of a Motorcycle
Simplicity leads to happiness. Until you’ve perfected the art of packing for a weekend in the space of a saddlebag, you carry too much baggage. Spend less time managing possessions and you’ll have more time to enjoy the view.
- Savor the journey. Some of the best and most interesting roads are those that are unknown and unexpected. Take the scenic byways, explore the out-of-the-way places, slow down and enjoy the ride. And so, with life. Sometimes it is the unexpected or unplanned path that is the most interesting and rewarding.
- Open up and feel more. You are completely open to the elements on the back of a motorcycle. There is no air conditioner, no heater, you feel the hard sting of rain on your face. Prepare for all possibilities but allow yourself to feel a bit uncomfortable. Smell the pines, feel the breeze, see the clouds churning not far above and hear the soft, unexpectedly meditative hum of the engine. Being open connects your senses in ways you might have forgotten.
- Always pay attention to where you are going. Watch for wildlife ahead, gravel on the roadway, bumps, careless drivers, wet pavement, oil and other potential dangers. Motorcycling can be dangerous. So can life. Concentrate on where you are headed and be alert for hazards along your path.
- Lean into the curves. Rather than fight the hairpin turns you meet in life, follow their momentum till the path straightens. Because it will.
- Don’t let fear get in your way. Riding in the open at 12,095 feet on a slightly oversized one lane road with only a beaten-up guard rail between you and a very deep drop-off can be scary. But if you close your eyes, you’ll miss the beauty. Learning to control the impulse of fear means you can fully enjoy where you are at. Think not of risk but enjoy the moment you are in.
- One is never too old to remember how to play or to learn to fly. I always wanted to ride on a motorcycle through the Rockies and now I’m doing it. Better late than never. It is wildly playful and feels like flying.
- Stop often. Whether you’re day tripping or on your life’s journey, the change of pace gives you time to reflect and does you good.
And finally, my last pearl of wisdom is an observation from Robert Pirsig, author of the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. “The only Zen you find on the tops of mountains is the Zen you bring up there.” So go ahead and ride to the summits. Love the crystal clear air, the alpine flowers, the bluebird sky and the pulsing clouds. Sure, it’s spectacular. But what you have within is more so.