Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Mile 9,210: Tilting At Windmills

Someone asked Jackson Pollock how he knew when he was finished painting. (He was the guy who some people describe as, "You know, that guy who does splatter painting.) In a colorful way, Pollock basically said that he just knew. It was his creation, and he knew what he wanted it to look like, what it needed to express. And when the painting was done, it was done.

It's done.

Just shy of all 10,000 truths, my Rocinante and I have reached the windmills. And like those great originals Don Quixote and John Steinbeck who have provided some inspiration to my own incarnation of the wandering adventurer, this story ends in the middle. Still plenty of adventures to come, though this is where this particular one finds its conclusion.

I knew the miles were winding down when my brother, Unky, and I rode through a windmill farm out in West Texas a couple of weeks ago. (I guess he was my Sancho Panza at that moment.) Hundreds of windmills lined up like soldiers in formation, though not nearly as neatly since they faced them in different directions to catch all of the wind. And though I only dismounted my iron horse to take a picture rather than to fight with them, in some ways I realized at that moment that my story was closer to the Man of La Mancha than I even knew when I began this adventure.

I imagine that's true for most of us.

Don Quixote's imagination was his strength and his weakness. On the positive side, he loved his horse, Rocinante, even though it was beat up and ragged. When he looked at Rocinante, he saw an amazing creature and companion. He saw the best.

But when Quixote saw something bad, his imagination got the best of him. Windmills became hulking giants with flailing arms; his most threatening enemies were the ones he made up in his mind.

And that's something I have fought for years. The enemies of my mind.

When newcomers to motorcycles ask me for advice, I always start at the same place. If you want to survive, you have to assume the worst of people. Every car you see is a potential danger. Assume that every car on your side is going to pull into your lane and sideswipe you... Assume that every car behind you is going to ram into you... Assume that every car in front of you is about to slam on their brakes.

Assume the worst of people.

The difficulty is turning that off in the same way that you shut down your motor. Once off the bike, not everyone is out to get you. But it's hard to turn that off when the ghosts of Christmas past refuse to be ignored.

Ever since Don Quixote's story was first told, a phrase caught on that describes fighting imaginary enemies: "tilting at windmills."

At our worst, we fill in blanks when people we love speak or behave in ways that leave too much room for mystery. We assume motives for their words and actions without going to the source and asking to talk it out. Rather than the hard work of clarifying conversation, we make things up. We make up things in our minds and slouch to the side of the negative. We begin to fight imaginary enemies.

Tilting at windmills.

But during these almost 10,000 truths, my experience has taught me something just the opposite. Not just to challenge the things we make up in our minds, but to embrace those I love, and give no emotional energy to those who drain life out of you.

A couple of bikers from Ohio talked to me while we were on top of the world. Literally on top of the world. We were at the Alpine Visitors Center above the timberline in Rocky Mountain National Park. We talked of the ride, the beauty of the mountains, the cold air. And while we visited, we were the best of friends.

Another biker at the motor lodge where I stopped for a night in Greybull, Wyoming came over to me while I was sitting with my feet propped up on Rocinante as the sun went down. I was being quiet, even meditative after a wonderful ride. He stumbled up to me, just a shade past tipsy. He started rambling unintelligibly, even touching my bike at one point, but I found myself unafraid to gently let him know that I needed solitude, and to please just leave me alone. He was neither friend nor enemy, and I just left it at that.

Both kinds of people were plentiful on this journey. The miles were great, but the people stand out. That's also true of life itself. Many I loved, and still do. Some best left to the wind.


So just this past Saturday, knowing that I would finish this narrative painting just a few days later, I sat with some of my brothers in my motorcycle club as we held our monthly meeting out on the road following a good ride. The weather was epic. Sunshine. Cool breeze. Perfect October day.

We sat and talked. Laughed. Discussed. I enjoy being with them. When you are with good friends, those are the moments when the enemies of our souls seem farthest away.

Not too many feet away from where we sat was a windmill. And that was it. That's where this story needed to end. Not tilting at it. No imaginary enemies. Nothing to fear. It's all good.

I think I'll go for another ride.

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