I have found a certain type of spirituality in practically everything I take enjoyment in, that is one of the determining factors for enjoyment, really. Last Sunday I accompanied a friend to her church service. As a matter of opening ones mind I have taken it upon myself to attend a few of these services of faith which play a large role in the lives of many people I am getting to know.
Dad always used to say “Why go to church? My god is here.” He would look up at the trees and hold up his arms, giving an all encompassing swath of the beautiful piece of nature we called ours.
Why indeed. I am not entirely certain where my Dad falls religiously, but I know what he taught me. I grew up thinking that the world around me held the secrets to the universe. Take a step out the front door, get down on bended knee and examine a bit of moss or lichen. Check out the sprouting grass after a hardwinter, or the complexity of a dandelion’s structure. Look up to sky, check out the pink hue of a rising sun, or the scattered clouds that change formation as they get licked by the breeze. A simple act of nature holds as much, or more, wonder than a sermon for me. If I am puzzled by something I see in nature I can go find a book that explains the phenomena with facts and science. This makes my church problem-free because one can not debate or argue with science.
Last Sunday was a new experience. I was glad for it but found that it wadnt exactly what I would want to do for coming Sundays. This Sunday I had the pleasure of being invited to another friends ritual. A monthly shop ride scheduled for the first Sunday morning the month. Would I like to go along? Why, YES!
Little Wing needs work but not enough to keep him and I off the road. Saturday I spent a day wandering around to different motorcycle shops in the Bay Area. I got around to six of them but only four were open. It was neat. I got to check out motorcycles and gear. Slobber over things I couldn’t afford and then move on to the next shop. It also was great way to get in a tour of the city. I had purpose to where I was going but it was really an excuse to ride around. I saw graffiti (my favorite!) and murals (my bigger favorite!). I saw other interesting shops that I may go back to. I saw architecture in San Francisco and people. The many different classes and shades of the people in a big city that is slowly gentrifying, fascinating stuff Maynard.
Friday night I had found myself in Oakland, looking for First Friday. It was nowhere to be found. The internet had told me it was happening, but the bouncer I approached at a bar along the First Friday Walk told me it had been canceled for three weeks and he wasn’t sure why the city hadn’t updated the page.
Anyway, I got to walk downtown Oakland at night. There were young men wearing black shirts that said ‘I can’t breath’ and ‘hands up don’t shoot.’ There were cops patroling the neighborhood in police cars. Oakland was the center of protesting here in California just a few weeks ago. It was fascinating to see bits of still hanging on. I made a point to smile at every person I walked past, because that is just what I try to do, and in such a negative atmosphere it seemed like the only control I had left. There was an older black lady who was on the recieving end of my smaile. She had on ragged clothes and carried a reusable shopping bag overflowing with items that weren’t bought at the store. She appeared homeless due to her gaunt features and the way I had seen her wandering from here to there while I did the same in my search for First Friday. Since I was also wandering it would be wrong of me to just assume she was homeless, but the clues seemed to point in that direction. I don’t care what she was, I smiled at her anyway. The third time I smiled at her in passingbshe actually looked at me. She looked straight in my eyeys from about ten feet away and quit walking. After an eight second pause she muttered just loud enough for me to hear “don’t smile at me little white bitch. What gives you the right to smile at me!?” There was such malice in her voice. The last word bit hard. ‘Me’ was said like a rattle snake and it felt like I had been peirced with some poisonus fangs when she said it.
I thought about that. Good question, what gave me the right to smile?
Anyway, First Friday was a bust, but I still was able to see new things so I didn’t mind. Saturday made up for my lack of visual stimuli the night before. Wall art and the art of the mechanics of motorcycles, it was very stimulating. I started the shop visits with a nice ralaxing tea at a place called Motojava. Another one of these motorcycle fixing coffee shops in the big city. I think that might be my new goal for when I get back to Minnesota. What do you think Bemidji? I think we should do it. The coffee shop wasnt quite as fancy or appealing as SeeSee Motorcycles in Portland. That was for certainly the nicest one I have experienced, but Motojava was still neat. I had a tea and took out my Sharpies. I have been customizing the new helmet I recieved around Thanksgiving time with some good ‘ol helmet art. It is a fancy Nolan helmet, but it was all black, it was in need of an artists touch. While sitting in the coffeeshop, door open, good ventilation, I thought what better time to draw? So I did. The barista, a nice young man with a beard walked past and said “ah cool! Your doing that. I saw the back of it when you walked in and thought where’d she get that helmet. That makes sense.”
I smiled back “yeah, costumized.”
“I like it,” he said. And that was all I needed. My head expanded and I drew away, thinking of all the great compliments I might get off my newly decorated helmet, but even more so, I considered how pleased I would be to have something different then everyone else’s.
After a good long stint of drawing and the final sip of tea was gone I hopped back on Little Wing and wandered off to the next destination on the motorcycle shop tour.
Sunday was even better than Saturday though. Little Wing and I got out for a ride in the Bay Area except it was in the less trafficed portion. Less traffic is hard to find in California and is a great treat. We had many motorcycles out but we didn’t see much for cars.
Along with the road being sirene I also had the opportunity to ride with other riders. I haven’t done much for group riding in my short stint of riding, but I have done some. It is different than riding by oneself. Riding by oneself is freeing and religious. It is a high that feels like nothing else and it puts a person at one with the universe. It’s as though anything that one could experience walking is increased as speed increases. The power of the machine pushes one further into the enviroment than a car or a bicycle, and therefore it feels more real… or something. Riding with a group is like that, but combined with a new camaraderie. The person in front of you is experiencing the same thing, as is the person behind you, and as you ride along you can watch the person in their own freedom do exactly what you are about to do. The bike that that rider is on leans into that curve. That bikes forks compress as the suspension is shocked by that upcoming bump. The motorcycle dodges that gravel patch and wavers a bit on that one right there. The riders in the group mirror each other’s motion. It is one of the coolest things to do if one has fellow riders around.
We rode through curve after curve. Some refer to the road we took as the twisties. The leader of the pack compared it to the The Tail of the Dragon in North Carolina. I found myself near the front of the pack and keeping up; something that both suprised and pleased me. After putting 10,000 miles on in my adventure I probably shouldn’t be as shocked as I am, but… we all have our things. California is gorgeous and green right now because it is the winter season and that means rain. The result is perfectly gorgeous scenic ride, one that can only be enjoyed through fleeting glances because all attention needs to be going towards staying on the road, and conquering that curve ahead. The ride landed us at an elevation of about 4500 feet where we stopped at an observatory meant for star gazing. When we started out the ride it felt about 50°. The morning was foggy and the sun took a while to burn it off. Going up the hill to the observatory the air started to warm and the sun started to burn of the moisture. It was about 65° or more at the top of the hill and the fog was less, but there was still some to see. I found some fog over some of the mountains. The sun hadn’t hit as hot on those spots yet and I was glad to finally get a standing second to stare down. Fog is quite lovely.
After some pictures, a gathering of the group, and a few group shots, we mounted up.
We had a good ride further up the mountain to a place called The Junction where we dismounted for lunch. Chuck treated me to an amazing chicken sandwich and fries. As typical of a chilly morning ride I was hungry, and fortunately the food was awesome. We arrived before noon had even struck, but we left well after. The Junction is a biker bar which means that when bikers stop it is filled with good food, smells, and conversation.
When we decided to take off Chuck knew he had to go home so while the other riders doubled back we continued on the loop back to San Leandro, which was a shorter distance. I rode while Chuck followed in his Mini Cooper. He wasn’t feeling up to a ride that morning so he drove along as a sweep. This meant he took many photos.
It also meant the ride back I was being followed by a zippy car as I tried to ride safely on the twisty gravely road. The road on the way to The Junction had some dirt on it but not much in comparison to the road after The Junction. The road was paved, but there was gravel on pretty much every curve, which means I had to round corners a lot slower than I had that morning. Besides having to watch for sediment, the road became a one lane road at a certain point. This single lane road lasted for nine miles. I have to admit that my confidence from the morning was put into question. I felt quite amatuer everytime I hit a gritty patch and felt Little Wing wobble. I had very little space in which to dodge, and one shouldn’t slow much when rounding corners. In these situations it is best to just slow down and watch. Plan the place the tire is going to be when going around that curve. If the bike hits a gravel patch then don’t touch the brake. If anything, use the throttle.
To my extreme pleasure Chuck came out of the ride telling me I had done very well. He told me he could tell I had natural ability. Chuck is a life long rider and teacher, so he knows what he is talking about. My confidence from the morning came back, and I was happy to let it grow just the tinniest bit.
At one point I remember telling one ofthe guys, “What a great way to spend a Sunday morning.” That statement was followed by nods and affirmations from my fellow riders. There is something extremely spiritual about a ride. Being one with nature and letting ones mind do what it will do. Let it ponder the things that need pondering. I learn so much more about the universe on a ride and I love it.
I thought about the woman who had asked me what gave me the right to smile. The answer is simple. A ride is so joyous, so filled with love happiness, I get my fill for days. I think that is what people get at church. I think that is the thing that people search for. I find the same thing when I go on a hike throught the woods. I feel no reason not to share that happiness in the form of a smile. I feel for that woman who would question that kindness. I can only guess that she has been without peace for a bit longer than I. In a neighborhood filled with racial strife how should one respond to the smiling white chick?
Well, I would say smile back. That might be easier said than done. I am living a blessed life filled with my own peace, I wish I could pass that on. The truth is, however one finds that peace they should do it. Sitting in a pew, sitting on a bike, not sitting at all, do what it is you got to do. I hope that woman can find it. But, ain’t no skin off my nose. I’m riding.
And I’m smiling.
And I’m looking up to the sky and checking out the the clouds. I’m checking out the fog and learning new shtuff. It was a great weekend.