There are motorcycle riders...and then there are folks who are transported by a motorcycle. When they arrive they're aware of a whole new paradigm of freedom. You can quote me on that later. It's all pretty profound, really. Or actually, maybe I just wanted to use the word paradigm.
I've always explored the idea of freedom but never really fully tried to grasp it. I was a total terror during my youth. I made my mom cry a lot, as she often had to pick me up from jail during my out-of-control phase in high school. Sadly, in adulthood I never grew out of my anger and depression that controlled my choleric life and began a lifelong relationship with shrinks and meds. I self medicated with drugs to cover up my constant anxiety and feelings of being trapped in my own mind and of embarrassment, thinking I was different from everyone else.
Heck, while I am on a roll with the secrets, I've even studied Buddhism and read self-help books. Don't worry; I'm not going to get all Dr. Phil on you. If I had written the previous few sentences a year ago, my ego would have kicked my butt and I would feel embarrassed for looking like a sissy just as I used to feel out of place riding in a pack of chrome while I cruised on a PC800. Throughout my reading, my struggles and my journeys, I have learned and am still learning that when it comes to freedom, first and foremost, a man must be free from himself, free from his ego. Basically, you've got to pimp slap it from time to time.
Nothing has hammered that home more so than my recent epic trip, a "Freedom Tour" riding a Victory Vision from the nation's capital down the eastern seaboard to Savannah, Georgia. My mission was to find freedom in one form or another. Obviously, there's a whole slice of independence that comes from riding the open road, but there were other in-your-face signs of liberation, too. After all, I was riding through some of the very lands our nation first took roots and some of the battlegrounds where freedom was fought for and defended.I could run my mouth off about places like Fort Sumter in South Carolina, where the Civil War began, but you can look that up on your own. Go-ahead, I'll wait a sec.
You see; the mind must be clear to ride a bike or to read my articles. Luckily, all the real life horse puckey dissipates as you split the wind. I can't say for the experience of picking through my writing, but as for riding, when I'm leaning through some mountain twisties, the confusion stirred up by life, that often fogs my brain, seems to burn off like the morning mists under a rising sun. After a long journey, and with my head as clear and pristine as a freshly flushed toilet, I rolled into Charleston, one of two cities on the last leg of my trip.
It is there that I met up with the Gullah; African Americans who live in the South Carolinian and Georgian Low Country. I met a grandmotherly lady weaving intricate baskets out of sweet grass. The Gullah has preserved its African roots more than any other African American culture in the states. I wanted to ask her if she could weave some side bags for me. I knew I wouldn't be able to understand most of her words so I kept my mouth shut and smiled. Gullah language is a mixture of English, Creole, Bahamian, and a few words borrowed from West Africa. Most of the words she said were in English, but with the very thick, almost Creole sounding accent, I was clueless.
When I arrived in Savannah, there was a crazy lady on the riverfront yelling at everyone. I was hoping to see her start kicking some butt on random tourists but she never did. Instead I got to chill out by a street performer singing the blues with his perfectly whiskey tuned vocal chords.
I woke the next morning to grab breakfast before dropping off the bike and stopped to explore Forsyth Park. The park was buzzing with action; moms, tourists, crying kids, and a wedding party that was taking photos. Suddenly, a girl out of nowhere started ripping off her clothes (sadly, she was wearing a bikini), jumped into the fountain, splashed around and then posed like the tritons in the basin. The creepy man she was with, clearly very shocked that she had actually done this, whipped out his camera and took pictures. The wedding party looked on, horrified, while a security guard rushed over as the girl quickly tried to get out of the fountain and grab for her clothes. She darted away from the rent-a-cop and left a tiny trail of blood from her foot that she cut during the escape. Why do I always find these situations? She must have done it for a bet or a random act of freedom, but the bikini she had under her clothes didn't impress me as much as it offended the newlyweds.
Ah, freedom, I thought; it's everywhere. It's just waiting for you to find it, whether it's out on the open road, in the wisdom of an ancient culture, in unabashed laughter or a good ol' fashioned double-dog dare. And it turns out the laws that I thought had pilfered my independence at the beginning of my journey--being forced to wear a helmet, keeping my pipes under a certain decibel and not being able to share lanes in most states--have nothing to do with true liberation at all. Your freedom is not taken away because you have to wear a brain bucket; it's about how your brain feels underneath it all. How it feels when you put your stupid ego in check, get to know someone you might not otherwise talk to or do something that's outside your bounds. And most importantly, how it feels to use the word paradigm.
Self-Help Sidebar for Finding Freedom on the Open Road
-Ride a motorcycle any opportunity you can. Any bike will do! No excuses! Unless you're in a sidecar.
-Don't fret, about how others judge you. (buttless chaps, here you come!)
-You'll build plenty of your own obstacles without allowing other folks to set them up for you.
-Live by your own rules. But make sure you understand they apply only to you...and anyone in your sidecar.
-Never fail at being loyal to friends due to inconvenience and always do so without expectation or judgment.
-Have the courage to live, laugh and love, no matter what life or the road chucks at you.
Just Sumtin' About Sumter
For those of you who were too busy to look up Fort Sumter (nps.gov/fosu), here's some info. The best way to visit the site upon which the shots initiating the American Civil War were fired is by boat or swimming--which may be stupid and/or illegal. I was lucky enough to meet an old friend that took me to the Fort on his boat, otherwise I would be stuck on a 30 minute "cattle" boat loaded with tourists.
Zen and Artof Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
Dharma Punx by Noah Levine
Jupiters Travels: Four Years Around the World on a Triumph by Ted Simon
Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life by Byron Katie
The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle
It would be easier to pass Charleston and head straight to Savannah. But, why would you want to? Check out some of the places and stay awhile.
Macaulay Museum of Dental History (waring.library.musc.edu) has a collection of antique teeth torture devices on display. If you have a cavity, I hear they take volunteers.
Charleston has some serious food. From its Coca-Cola Cakes to fresh seafood, you're bound to eat something fun. Queen Anne's Revenge (qarevenge.com) is a pirate themed restaurant and bar with decent food. The best part is that it has a pirate museum as well.
Old City Market where Gullah basket ladies are among the vendors that peddle their goods along with more than 100 other vendors occupying the open-faced buildings, selling a variety of local goods and crafts.
The Kingdom of Oyotunji African Village (oyotunjiafricanvillage.org) is beyond description. All I can understand is that it was built around 1970 and is not considered part of the United States. If anyone goes and can figure this out, please email me. This place really is a must stop.
House with upside-down windows. It is a house with upside down windows. What else can I say? (32 Habersham, Savannah, GA; roadsideamerica.com/tip/20918).
Caution, they don't give out free samples of cookies at the birthplace of Juliette Gordon Low (girlscouts.org/who_we_are/birthplace), founder of Girl Scouts of the USA. I expected to get some of those minty cookies and I was disappointed.
Off The Beaten Path Statesboro U.S. National Tick Collection (bio.georgiasouthern.edu/iap/Tick_collec.htm) is the largest compilation of ticks in the world. They only allow tourist on Wednesday's. I was there on the wrong day, but I am sure it's worth the 40 mile detour from Savannah.
Two Minutes To Freedom?
South Carolina's red light law addresses faulty traffic signal devices that fail to detect motorcycles. Here's the gist:
Notwithstanding any other provision of law, if a driver of a motorcycle or moped, or a bicycle rider, approaches an intersection that is controlled by a traffic-control device, the driver may proceed through the intersection on a steady red light only if:
(a) the traffic-control device is equipped with a vehicle sensor;
(b) the vehicle sensor has failed to detect the motorcycle, moped, or bicycle because of the motorcycle's, moped's, or bicycle's size or weight; and
(c) the driver or rider, as the case may be:
(i) comes to a full and complete stop at the intersection for one hundred and twenty seconds; and
(ii) exercises due care as provided by law, otherwise treats the traffic control device as a stop sign, and it is safe to proceed.