Today was a wonderful day, the sun was shining bright with nary a rain cloud hanging in the periwinkle blue Kansas sky. A most excellent day to enjoy a motorcycle ride where I could enjoy the wind in my face, while leaning into the many winding curves of our county back roads, setting my soul free from all of life’s worries. It was a time to reflect on how greatly fulfilled my life has become over the years, despite the many ups and downs that have happened along my twisted trail. Being a gorgeous Memorial Day Weekend, it was also a time to reflect on those who have passed. Those who have served our great nation which has given us our many freedoms. Freedoms not enjoyed in many other countries around the vast globe. As a retired Veteran, I feel an obligation to honor my fellow Vets who have passed on to Valhalla. Tomorrow, I will visit Leavenworth National Cemetery where my loving wife and I will be buried one day among my brothers and sisters in arms. Folks that I have never met, yet I still have a special kinship with. A tight bond of camaraderie that can only be forged through military service.
After chowing down my favorite breakfast of catfish, rice and eggs, I finished getting my ass dressed into my faded blue jeans and sleeveless t-shirt. Standard apparel of bikers across the country. I tied my long hair back into a ponytail in order to keep it from getting tangled in the wind, retrieved my shades and dew rag off the fireplace mantel and proceeded down to my garage where my iron horse was ready to be ridden into the wind.
I rolled my Hog out of the garage, temporarily blinded by the sun glistening off the chrome. Taking a moment to wipe some dust off the burnt orange gas tank and tins, I thought about plotting out a ride, and then said fuck it, I will just go where ever the road leads. If and when I would meet a cross road, I decided I would simply flip a coin to decide which direction to take, one direction or the other. No pre-set plans, I was just going to live vicariously for the day. Determined to enjoy the many freedoms of being a proud patriotic American citizen.
Straddling this beast of Milwaukee Iron, I turned the ignition switch and depressed the starter button, always thrilled at the sound and feel of her coming to life. Feeling the vibrations from the massive engine between my legs and taking in the exhaust notes from that twin cam motor. That familiar thumpety thump thumpety thump sound of a Harley flowing from the Rinehart Racing exhaust. God, I love the sound of a thumping V-Twin American motor. The distinct sound of that cammed out ninety six cubic inch motor is music to my ears. Better than any symphonic orchestra, as it represents freedom. There is only one piece of music that means more to me than this, and that would be the National Anthem. And yes, I am not ashamed that the Anthem brings a tear to my eye when I hear it. After all, I did dedicate my adult life to military service. Which was my desire and plans from early childhood. As far back as I can remember, I wanted to serve in the military just like my war hero grandfather SSG John Herbert McCollum had done many years before me in World War II. Grandpa was my hero who had served under General George Patton in the Battle of the Bulge along with many battles beforehand.
Once my ride had warmed up a bit, I pulled in the clutch, dropped that Hog into gear and pulled out from my drive into the street. The beauty of living in Leavenworth, Kansas is I can be on a country road in five minutes or less, no matter which direction I head out from my house. In a matter of a few minutes, I had left town and was pointing the front Dunlop tire southwest on County Road Five towards Tonganoxie, Kansas. Still no plans where I was going, but southwest seemed as good a direction as any. As soon as I turned onto County Five, I rolled on the gas hard and jammed through the gears, quickly running up to seventy five miles per hour in the fifty five zone before throttling back to sixty five for the curves that were just down the road. I have been riding motorcycles since I was eight years old, I will soon be fifty five, and I must say, I still get the same thrill of a hard acceleration as I did in my youth. I guess maybe I never completely grew up.
County Five is a nice road with some good curves and beautiful scenery. It is Kansas farm land where corn and soy beans are the most common crops along with numerous dairy farms scattered about. Speaking of dairy farms, I never could fully understand the governments big problem with raw milk products. My grand parents were farmers, and I grew up on raw milk with zero health implications as well, no one else in the family ever had problems from it. But, that is another topic for another day.
Abut twenty miles down the road I came upon the small town of Tonganoxie where I needed to make a directional decision. I stopped at the local Casey’s General Store to buy a bottle of water to quench my thirst and flipped a coin. Heads, I would go south towards Lawrence, tails would take me west to McClouth and beyond. I flipped tails and shot down Kansas Highway Sixteen.
This piece of highway took me through the small towns of Mclouth and then Oskaloosa where I then found my way out to Perry Lake. It was a peaceful ride despite being a holiday weekend. There was very little traffic to act as distractions and I was able to re-center my mind in much the same way that I get re-centered and focused through my grueling weight training sessions. Because of post Traumatic Stress, my mind never shuts down. Even in sleep it never quits racing. I can find myself waking from a deep slumber with my mind racing full bore on a serious subject. Nothing calms this except vigorous exercise and motorcycles. This is how I find inner peace, and thankfully my inner peace is always good despite the ugly which can often times occupy my soul .
Jamming down these country lanes with the wind in my face, I enjoy taking in the beautiful scenery of tree lined roads and the Kansas farmland. Listening to the musical exhaust notes and having the total experience soothing my soul. It is my time where I think back on all of my vast life experiences and truly appreciate how blessed my life has been despite set backs that would destroy others. I have a fight in me that not everyone has. No matter how much life might pull me down by circumstance, I revert back to the old military saying to learn to “Embrace the Suck, and drive on”. It helps too, that I live my life in all aspects with the principle of the serenity prayer always in my mind. Lord, grant me the “Serenity” to accept that which I can not change. The “Courage” to change that which I can, And the “Wisdom” to know the difference. Guess what, this is not just for recovering drunks and junkies. It works for everyone. One of the things I have learned over the years which stems from the Serenity Prayer is to learn to “Make my world small’. What I mean by this is to as much as humanly possible, block out all the unnecessary chatter and distractions. If something does not have a direct impact on me, I am not going to let it bother me. I do not allow anyone to rain on my parade, ever. Getting my mind centered gives me an even greater appreciation of living a self actualized life.
What does it mean to live a self actualized life, a life filled with eternal gratitude? To me, it has nothing to do with scenarios of winning Powerball and living on the beach sipping on Mai Tai’s. It is not about being wealthy and having anything I want at the snap of a finger. What it is, is having excellent health and physical fitness at almost fifty five years old. It is being able to get up every day and go to a job I love which provides an excellent standard of living for my family. It is about not getting caught up in the gossip and other negativity that drags others down every day. I do not suffer fools in my life for any reason. As I am riding and taking in the great outdoors, I feel blessed that my life, even with unexpected twists and turns, has turned out exactly as I wanted it too from my youth. As a small child, I wanted to do two things in life which my grand father had done before me, Grandpa was my hero in so many ways. He had served our country in the military and had been a trucker. I never wanted to do anything else even though I could have easily done about anything I wanted. I hated school even though I was an honor roll student my last year and a half of high school, and had no desire to go off to college in order to land myself a job in a cubicle or office where I had to wear a suit and tie and all the other bullshit that comes with the corporate world. I enlisted in the Navy in nineteen eighty one at the age of seventeen, My parents knew that was what I wanted to do with my life and they signed the papers allowing me to do so. I wanted to be a trucker, and began driving heavy trucks after I left active duty in the Navy in nineteen ninety seven. Both of these career paths have allowed me to take excellent care of my wife and children. My path has allowed me to assist my children as they became adults to ensure my grand children have also never gone without. Being self actualized means I have been able to take care of all my responsibilities as a man. It means that I have the respect of my wife, children and grand children as they know that no matter what, I have always gave them my very best.
Living a self actualized and fulfilled life of gratitude means I have never felt the need to hang my head in shame for any reason. It means that I have held myself to high standards and will never accept mediocrity out of myself or anyone close to me. Quite frankly, if you are satisfied with mediocrity, accepting the lowest common denominator life has tok do. I live a life of discipline and do not relate in any way to those who do not. I am every bit as hard core as they come, but also have maintained a human side to me as well.
I have done well in my life and have contributed not just money to many charities, but I also have been involved with assisting folks in first time home ownership through Habit for Humanity. I have donated countless hours of unpaid labor to this cause in order to help others have a better life. I have lived a life of serving others which has been a greater reward than anything else I could ever imagine. I may not be wealthy, but I feel richer with life experience than had I won the Powerball. I have traveled the world and visited many third world countries where I have witnessed first hand true poverty. I have been involved in some of these countries with helping to rebuild and or refurbish schools and orphanages in the Philippines, Kenya and Mexico. Helping others brings many rewards that no amount of money could ever buy. I love my life for all that it has been, through bad times and good. Every circumstance has shaped me into the man I am today. I am grateful for my every experience, including being down for a year with my spinal injury as it was a painful year long learning moment even after spinal surgery. Did you get that? It was a learning moment in time. Teaching myself to walk normal again took a year to accomplish, but it made me a stronger individual for having took the time and effort to do so. If you look, even unexpected tragic events can bring good to life in ways that can not always be immediately understood.
After I departed the lake, I found myself at one of my favorite biker bars in Lawrence Kansas. Pulling into Slo Ride’s parking lot, they were packed with bikes already. I went inside, took a seat and ordered three tacos and an unsweetened iced tea. While waiting on my food, I pulled out my phone and checked my Facebook page to see that my Uncle Jerry had just posted that he and his significant other, Linda, were also at Slo Ride. I turned to look, and lo and behold, they were at the table just behind me. It was a wonderful day, having enjoyed a beautiful ride on my Harley, then running into loved ones and having lunch with them. We had a great visit for a little over an hour. I would guess the waitress was likely ready to have that table opened back up once we left. But it was great seeing them. After exchanging hugs, I climbed back on my bike and pointed her back home towards Leavenworth. It was getting plenty warm and me being a smart guy of above intelligence, I had no sun screen with me. Yeah, my arms are burned pretty good this evening, but the ride was worth it and they will be good and tanned by the morning.
I hope all who have been following my blog have a great and safe Memorial Weekend. Thank you and God bless for the tremendous support, my blog is taking off like I never pictured it would.