Overheard Under an Overpass

Now that my injured knee is essentially back to normal and I'm getting lots of time in the saddle, I have had time to reflect under the best conditions possible - while riding.  Last weekend a friend and I had a wonderful two-day blitz trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan - one of the garden spots of earth - for the simple reason of riding a newly paved road that ranks among the nicest in the state. While there we took time to smell the flowers also, in the form of admiring waterfalls and viewing the immensity and beauty of Lake Superior from atop the cliffs that make up the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Truly there are few sights that rival gazing out on the cold steel blue waters of this huge freshwater lake, bordered as it is by cliffs and forests. Our short time in the UP provided a booster shot of enjoyment and appreciation that will likely have to carry me through the upcoming months of dark and cold.

The trip also provided time to think back on the scores of trips that began with a ride north on US-127 / I-75 to the Mackinac Bridge. From the north end of the bridge prior trips have taken me in every direction, some ending at the Pacific Ocean, others in various Canadian or US locales. But all a marvelous experience that expanded my experience and knowledge.
I've crossed the Mighty Mac on a motorcycles dozens of times and loved each one (well, okay, maybe two of those fifty or so rides were less than wonderful, and they were both in the last two years. In 2011 it was wet and windy when I crossed and the outer concrete lane was closed for maintenance, leaving the steel grate lane. My bike wandered and dove like a drunk boxer and I was very relieved when the ride was finally over. The other, admittedly a distant second place, was the return trip this year - it was very windy with a southwest gusty wind that presented the worst effects of a crosswind and a head on wind. Not exactly white knuckle riding, but close enough so that I was once again happy to arrive at the Mackinaw City end of the span.)

Much of my thoughts were taken back to trips in the 1970s, '80s, 90's and '00s when we passed under certain overpasses. A great many of these overpasses had memories of the times I stopped under them to wait out a rain event. But the real memories had to do with people, total strangers who temporarily became close friends, that I spent time with under these overpasses. For a half-hour or more those of us who shared the dry space under the bridge like so many biking trolls spoke of adventures, travels, family, and life in general. Each overpass that I had spent time under brought back different recollections and feelings - all of them reinforcing why I so enjoy riding and so enjoy the camaraderie of my fellow riders.
I have shared space under overpasses all across the nation. I'm certain that those folks in cars who observed us shook their heads either in sympathy or in wonder as to how people can be so stupid, but the joke was on them.  It's impossible to explain, but in the same way that people come together under circumstances that take them out of their normal warm and dry and safe existence, bikers waiting out a storm in a temporary refuge see the positive benefits much more than the negative reality. It's a time when normal reticence and mistrust of strangers is dropped completely, replaced with a feeling of shared circumstances, community and mutuality.
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This year I continue to join other Patriot Guard Riders at many funerals for those killed in action or for veterans who died and whose families requested our involvement. These events are somber but at the same time powerful displays of humanity and community at its best. As I have written before, the presence of flag-holding semi-military motorcyclist honor guards is a strong visible manifestation of appreciation and honor. The sight and sound of dozens of motorcycles slowly and respectfully taking part in an escort procession of the deceased from the airport to funeral home, or to the cemetery, is enough to bring entire communities to a respectful standstill. There have been too many this year for young men who were killed in Afghanistan, but what a supportive emotional boost it must be for families to see such a strong and clear sign of  respect by total strangers for their loved one.

Yesterday, while riding to yet another PGR event at the Great Lakes National Cemetery, I reflected on the many lives we have touched by providing this service. I am also so proud that it was brothers from the Vietnam War that started the Patriot Guards to ensure that never again would America ignore, or worse, blame returning veterans, for a war these young men and women didn't start or want. I'm also very proud of the motorcycling community for devoting the time and expense of providing this wonderful service. It's not easy or fun to stand for several hours in blistering heat or biting cold, but it is what we will do as long as families of KIAs or veterans ask us to.

I close with a question - did anyone see the time thief who stole the summer of 2012? It had barely begun when suddenly it's gone!