adventures with Henk the Buell

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Celebrating people, ideas & things that make the world a better place. Kitchen Chemistry, Social Alchemy, Adventure Activism.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

I'm leaving this Sunday for another epic solo two-wheeled adventure, this time from Los Angeles, California to Inuvik in the Northwest Territories. It's just over 6,000 kilometres if I go the direct route. But I never go the direct route. Over a month, I expect to log another 20,000 kilometres with Henk the Buell.

And this time, it's not just purely for the adventure of it. I have a goal. This time, I'll have many angels with me - mine and Suzanne's.

I've formed my own bike gang called "Suzanne's Angels" - Women on the road for Women on the street - in response to a friend asking "What charity are you riding for?"

A bit leery of charities, I've always been more likely to give food or a few bucks to a homeless person. I like to know exactly where my donations are going.

I believe in acting locally, whether it be buying from local farmers, supporting local businesses or helping your neighbour.

Suzanne is a homeless woman I've become friends with who lives in her truck with her four adopted cats. Although she's turned her truck into a funky cabin and lives her homelessness as art, with as much dignity as is humanly possible, it's a constant struggle. She sleeps with one eye open to the dangers of the street, and sometimes feeds her cats better than she feeds herself. Find out more about her at

I'm fortunate to be able to choose homelessness for a month to pursue my passion. I'll be riding in solitude toward the midnight sun in the wind and the rain, camping under the northern lights, sleeping on a gravel bed with a fleece sweater for a pillow. For me, the idea of homelessness for a month is bliss. But I have a home to come back to - a safe place with a warm bed and a cozy duvet and a supportive partner and a kitchen and a shower - things I need to leave occasionally in order not to take them too much for granted.

I've set up "Suzanne's Angels" as a group on Facebook, as well as a blog at Anyone (or group) who would like to help me help her get a roof over her head can leave their pledge of a penny per km (or more, or less) on the Facebook wall or in the comments section of the blog. Or email me directly at

My goal is to return to L.A. with a total of $1 pledged per kilometre for Suzanne. I'm already one fifth of the way there!

I'll be posting regular blogs along the way, with photos and video from my helmet cam, so stay tuned, and join Suzanne's Angels!

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Tuesday, November 22, 2005

I always knew how this journey would end. Perhaps not exactly, but of all possible worlds, I knew this was one. But that's not the point. The point of venturing out is the journey itself, and nowhere in my own life have I felt this to be more true than in this moment of arrival at my destination.

It took 22,000 kilometers, five thousand dollars, a hundred and forty soy lattes, three tires, nine liters of synthetic oil, four homemade grommets, one hail storm, nineteen friends, countless new acquaintances, one Reverend Al Green, two authentic margueritas, several bottles of sangria, a dozen breakfast burritos, a million acres of heart-opening landscape, two countries, four provinces, four states, four hot springs, one beautiful man, one Australian Shepherd, one red-headed adventurer, and a roll of duct tape--but I've arrived.

I suppose it makes perfect sense after three months on the road emptying, shedding, letting go, that by the time I got to New Mexico, there'd be nothing left to contemplate but survival and procreation.

Call it the biological clock, call it unresolved base chakra issues, call it changing hormones or natural order or primitive purpose or god's will. Whatever the phenomenon that makes a thirty-eight-year-old woman previously impervious to maternal desires pay attention to potential partners in parenthood--it kicked in for me somewhere around Southern Colorado.

If you're a thirty-eight-year-old woman with no children, I believe you must, (even if you have no desire for children), at some point while the window is sliding closed, acknowledge that that window is slowly sliding closed and either say hey that window is sliding closed, and I am d e f i n i t e l y ok with that, close baby close, or hey that window is sliding closed, and I'm not entirely certain that's ok with me take your time closing.

I had no idea when I left Toronto at the end of June that I'd be contemplating babies in Utah in October. One simply does not go on a motorbike trip to contemplate babies. Or maybe that's the perfect thing to do on a motorbike. Maybe everyone facing big life changes and wanting to be conscious when they make their decisions should head out on the wide open road where clarity cools the mind with the headwind, sweeping away the distractions of still life that help hold our old beliefs intact that may have been unconsciously programmed and might no longer be valid. Even if you don't yet know what the questions are, it can't hurt to hit the road. The asphalt ribbon has a way of unraveling beneath the rubber and tapping you lightly on the back of your shoulder, tap tap tap, lightly but persistently calling you to attention.

On a motorbike, you have no choice but to empty and ride. It's ecstatic. And the only things you can control are the steering, your posture, and your breath. So you control what you can, but ultimately you give up all control, and you have nothing to focus on but the language of your bike. It's melodic, like Mandarin, only in perfect three-part harmony with the road and the weather, a language created exclusively for your own pleasure. If you listen carefully, you can hear infinity. (The trick, I find, is translating the infinite into finite, discernible qualities on a constantly changing plane.)

I've never wanted children. Yet there's a justifiable conflict within my personality because I believe that there is no higher purpose in life, no higher calling than to be a loving mother. Mothers heal the world. How can a woman not want in to this mysterious and magical club, as ancient as time itself? In a universe that's ever-expanding like an infinitely pregnant womb, how can a woman elude expansion in its most powerful expression?

I'll never forget my wonderful and wise grandmother's words when I told her I was never having kids: "When you get to be my age, dear, all you have is your children and grandchildren." Yeah, that's haunting.

So I rode and listened and slept and sipped tea and looked out over astonishing foreign landscapes and thought all women want babies, shouldn't I? Ok, say I did, follow that thought process through. Do I want the experience of being pregnant? (That might be amazing.) Do I want to breastfeed? (I'd love to have large, full breasts, if only for a year or two before gravity grabbed them, and I've always thought breastfeeding would be the most erotic thing.) But do I want to deliver a baby? (Yikes!) Do I want to change diapers? Do I want to drag a toddler to pre-school? Do I want to wiggle loose teeth and leave loonies under pillows like I'm the tooth fairy, do I want to practice reading and pack healthy lunches and grow my own little human, taking all the mistakes of my parents and doing the opposite, seeing how that works, like an experiment in a petri dish except it would be real life?

I carried on thinking that way (quite seriously) for a couple more weeks. I thought it through grade school and arguments with teachers and high school teenage resentment and first love and fights and university and marriage and careers and successes and divorce and disease. I thought why would the world need a little clone of me? Why does the world just want to duplicate and duplicate until it can no longer sustain itself?

But no, mine would be different. My baby would be a perfect example of beauty and love and everything good and pure. My son or daughter would be a motorbike-riding vegetarian miracle, intelligent and gorgeous, taking up no more space and resources than anyone else; in fact, he or she would end up contributing to the healing of the planet. Yes, I would have a magnificent child, I would have a magnificent partner, and I would be a great mom!

Then I remembered my wise and wonderful sister Lara's comments before I left when I told her I was having maternal mind-fucks: "It's just not you," she said, so matter-of-factly that it came out like an official declaration, a definition of who I was not in her eyes. Yeah, that's haunting too. But not really, because she's right. It's just not me.

Still, I often wonder when I make a decision if I've made it through wisdom or through fear. I often think I possess disproportionate but equal amounts of cowardice and courage, and that somehow they just cancel each other out, leaving nothing driving nothing. As scary as that might sound, it's actually pretty liberating. And even if I do make a decision in fear, I know it's come within the infinite space of the road, in the silence between the harmonics between Henk the Buell, earth, and wind; and I have no choice but to trust the wisdom in that.

For almost five months, in exquisite silence, the pavement has disappeared behind me, blue skies, red rocks, yellow lines, yield signs, mountains, thunderstorms, spine-tingles and tears; then today, with enormous relief and halleluiahs and rounds of self-mocking belly-laughter, I find myself at home where I started where nothing has changed except my perspective--which changes everything.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

The gods were in a fabulous mood when they created Utah.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

For the first time on this journey, I'm at a complete loss for words. It's not writers' block, as I initially thought; it's more a feeling of being on the edge of something HUGE.

Some great chasm sucking meaningless words from my throat before they're uttered, or even thought; an evaporated emotion in the form of orderly letters strewn into the abyss.

There's a silence, a moment of stillness, an eerie suspension of time that happens when universes that have fallen apart begin to slowly coalesce, their fibers and planets and molecules spiraling closer, hushed together, meeting in a way they've never known, holding, resting weightless in mid-air, waiting for the moment of truth, that HALLELLUIA when, in a flash of beauty and magnetism and rightness, in a simple breath, quiet as a whisper, they DECIDE to love.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Getting to know someone in the realm of infinite possibilities is a strange and magical gift. On one hand, the past no longer exists and the future is wide-open, unknown, vast, big, endless. On the other hand, the present moment is limited to my thinking mind--tuned to the past and the future. If I turn off my mind, like in the first few moments of the waking day, or in those one or two seconds where meditation is actually successful, the rest of whatever supposed matter and ether I call “me” knows the way, and the delight of my soul has nothing to do with the past or the future.

I have absolutely no idea where I’ll be tomorrow, and now, more than ever, I’m hyper-aware of the fact that the tiniest shift in thinking, or in not thinking, or the tiniest action, or non-action, changes the course of my life. I’m standing at the end of the springboard from which any direction is brilliant because just the act of diving in implies faith. It’s the reason I’ve taken this adventure: to feel that razor’s edge, that peeling away of the superfluous layers that obscure my spirit’s path, to bounce on that springy end once or twice, maybe a third time, allow my toes and heels to lift off, feel the emptiness of that space and the hugeness of the potential in that action... and jump.

I remember being three or four, standing at the end of the diving board at the deep end of the YMCA pool. I didn’t yet know how to swim, but my dad was in the water with open arms saying, “Jump! I’ll catch you!” Having never tried, I had no reason to believe he would (nor did I have a reason to believe he wouldn’t, but I was still scared). I hesitated for a few minutes, contemplating my only other choice: climbing back down the ladder to safe and solid ground. But other children had lined up at the ladder, blocking the way, so I stood halfway to the edge in the safe middle of the board, waiting quietly, and he insisted, “Come on! Jump! I’ll catch you!” Realizing my only choice was to believe that he would, I somehow managed to stop thinking about it—suspending my fears for a brief second—and leapt toward his open arms. Just as he’d promised, he caught me. And worlds opened.

I’ve carried that gift, that knowledge that everything is going to be ok, that blind trust, with me my entire life. So when someone asks me, with genuine fear for their own future in their voice, “What are you going to do next?” I just smile and try to witness that smile from my present place and say when “next” reveals itself, I will know. The present moment is potent with possibility, but the unknown…the unknown is an open invitation to GREATNESS.

The same question could be asked, with genuine love and support in their voice “When the present moment reveals itself, will you have the courage to leap?”

Henk went to the doctor today. Scott, the “Buell go-to-guy” at Santa Fe Harley Davidson tightened his clanking primary chain and found the problem with the signal lights. After some tinkering and an oil change, he’s as good as new. While Henk was under Scott’s expert care, I snuck out for a little spin on Ulysses. John, the sales manager, wasn’t going to let me take him for a test ride because policy states that you must live in New Mexico. But after I convinced him that I do, in fact, live in New Mexico this week, and after I’d entertained him with stories of my four-month odyssey, an exception was made.

I knew I’d love him. He’s like Henk’s much more refined, slightly more forgiving, and definitely taller uncle. Hmm…What’s a girl to do? There was no way for John to know my feelings, having just met me, so when he uttered the blasphemous phrase, “We could take your bike on a trade,” I managed to hold back my deeply possessive crazy woman’s scream, “Noooooooooooo!” and politely let him know that was not an option. Thank god Henk was not within earshot! But Ulysses is soooo smoooooth. And he could take on the Dempster Highway in his sleep. I know he’ll be in my fantasies.

Is it possible to love two motorbikes? Hmm…I think so. I think my heart is big enough now for two bikes, a dog, a cat, several men, and a whole entire universe of beautiful spirits. Apparently, the Land of Enchantment can do that to you. Now, if only I can tap into that expansive New Mexico energy and get my bank account to swell…

Thursday, October 13, 2005

If letting go implies grasping, then I am still hanging on to some memory or ideal or past life. If we do indeed, as Buddha says, suffer because we are attached, then I must be a masochist. It’s uncanny how many layers of letting go I’ve peeled away on this journey. I thought I’d let go when I closed the door behind me in Toronto. Ha! What a fool! Ron is still, four months later, thousands of miles away, capable of reducing me to tears. Or should I say, I am capable of reducing myself to tears when I revisit old stuff. So I practice…

I sometimes wish I had the seriousness to become an ascetic. Wouldn’t it be great to have ultimate control over desire? Once I got past the solemnity and austerity of it all, I’d be perpetually blissed-out in a transcendental time/space expansion module where infinite perfection simply IS. I would love everyone in that universal “every spirit is beautiful” kind of way and Henk and I would ride around the world spreading peace and love and denying every earthly pleasure that came our way.

As it is, I’ve been dancing in and out of the middle ground between asceticism and indulgence. Perhaps one day I’ll land in the sweet spot—that’s where Buddha found enlightenment—the sweet spot.

The funniest thing is happening here in this strange little town called Santa Fe. Actually, it’s not happening in town at all; it’s happening in the warm little bedroom of this beautiful man, his sanctuary that he’s offered me.

We’ve finally met, after five years, on equal ground. Both of us have let go of any expectations, any need to force an outcome, any desire to be together-- and perhaps because of that letting go, we now get to choose how we will ultimately hold each other. It feels clear. And expansive. And platonic. And loving in that universal “every spirit is beautiful” kind of way.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Henk and I rattled and clanked into Santa Fe on Thursday evening after chattering and sputtering over the 11,000 ft divide between Silverton and Durango. After all this time on the road and all the turbulent miles behind us, it wouldn’t have surprised me to have lost the drive chain that’s been loosening for weeks just north of the New Mexico border. But Henk is a warrior and I’ve become his fearless freedom fighter. It was almost as though, in the final three or four hours, he was saying to me “Pay attention: I’ll get you where you want to go, but are you absolutely certain you want to go there?”

So I paid attention. And the most unexpected, most wonderful thing happened. For the first time in five years, after pretending to let go, and pretending to let go, and pretending to let go, and believing I actually had…I actually…let go. Somewhere inside “The Land of Enchantment” (although I can’t be sure I was actually inside because there was no sign saying “Welcome to New Mexico, Land of Enchantment”), I let go entirely of the need or the desire to see The Man With Whom I’d Been So Enchanted.

And so I rode into this strange vast ancient desert land, almost a country unto itself, with my open heart, an inevitable amount of body armor, and no expectations.