Outriding Your Demons


One of the reasons that I love riding so much is that it fulfills a life-long fantasy of running away.  For any kid who grows up in a household where aliveness is met with violence, the only safe place for spirit to reside is within the fantasy of escape.  It is only recently that I’ve come to recognize the many ways that I attempt daily to run away from things that have already happened.  Whether it’s riding, over working, watching tv, drinking, or general busyness, I seem to be a master of outrunning the past.

In solitude is where my heart feels safest, where my lungs can let in a little more air and my eyes can open a little wider.  In solitude I can come a little more into myself and take in my surroundings with more ease.

Connecting with human beings comes with less ease to me. Although I love spending time with friends and family, dropping into a heartfelt connection with someone brings a terror and panic that I usually try to wipe out with a sarcastic joke.  Although it is something that a part of me longs for deeply, there is a discomfort that comes with approaching closeness that feels like tip-toeing toward a black hole.


Although I feel safest when I am alone, there is another side to solitude that tugs at me from time to time, like a shirt that is tucked in wrong on one side. I first noticed this tug one afternoon as I was riding through a wide open plain on what’s called The Loneliest Road in America. (Huh, I didn’t notice the connection until just now). This road expands across massive stretches of rock and open fields for hundreds of miles with few services in between.

I could see for miles on all sides of me, the enormous snaking road reaching toward the horizon. To my left, way in the distance, I caught sight of a train traveling parallel to me. Our paths appeared to intersect ahead as we approached the distant mountains. I pulled the throttle slightly, feeling the desire to outrun the train on its tracks. I flipped down my visor, gripped the handlebars, and decided to race the wind and the train to the horizon.

For hours we rode side by side, each glance marking my slow but steady gain.  I passed birds in mid flight, grazing deer, and distant clouds.  “I can easily outrun that train,” I thought. And by the end of the 3 hour ride, I had left it far behind me.  A part of me felt victorious, the other part that felt defeated I tried to ignore.


The tug pulled at me when traveling through national parks, where I’d see families and couples enjoying the scenery and sharing triumphant, winded smiles at summits together.  I met groups of people on the trails who would ask me to take photos for them, often offering to return the favor.  Usually I would decline, or if they insisted I would just delete the photos of me later.  After months alone on the road, a part of me curiously longed for someone to share these experiences with.  But no, says my little kid, it’s safer to stay alone.

There are times when I wonder how we know when it is the right time to approach the things that terrify us, to give up the pain of holding our experiences at arm’s length for the pain of walking through them.  When it’s right to run away and when it’s safe to come back home.  These kind of questions patiently persist in my mind and heart as I move through life in between the safety of numbness, and the terror, yet longing for, of aliveness and connection.

Most of the time I try to ignore that tug, that tug that says maybe there’s something on that train worth looking at.  The tug that says maybe it’s ok to stop running away from things that have already happened.  These possibilities sit just above my consciousness as I experiment with dismounting the bike to say hello to the world once in awhile, then quickly put my helmet back on and zoom off into the distant mountains again.


6 thoughts on “Outriding Your Demons

  1. “In solitude is where my heart feels safest”……there is a part of me that is very much a people person, and then there is a part of me that absolutely resonates with that.

    When I ride, I love being alone with my thoughts. A little about everything and a lot about nothing. It’s a wonderful place to be, because it means my mind is peaceful enough to leave everything else behind.

    If only I could take that with me when I’m not riding!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I know what you mean, I wish I could take that feeling of freedom and peace of mind everywhere, too. It’s nice to have space from the normal habits and worries of life. Guess it means we just have to ride more!


  3. Wow, this one is a thought provoker…I bet there are lines within the lines between the lines. That’s good. I’m still noodling it all.

    Though not having ridden as often or as far as you and others have, I do have an inkling of the fear and fancy, the tug.

    I never would have expected the closeness, joy and appreciation I gained from simply meeting and spending a short time with you. Yet, for me, there now exists a little emptiness from the goings-on in life, of living not in your presence, which is turned bright and full by the knowledge we have just that little connection from our short time.

    Yeah, we never really “know when it is the right time to approach the things that terrify us,” as you said. However, there are times it works. The tug can leave emptiness that can be full with the memory. What is that? I do not know, ripples on the pond? Just know it was worth being there when you happened to dismount and explore. Thanks.

    A perspective: Keep riding with the occasional walk-about. There are folks out there that want to meet you, who just don’t know it yet….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for the reply, Jim. As always, your feedback means a lot. I’m glad that our unlikely paths merged- Even if it was only a few days out of the trip, those days had a big impact on me. And I’m looking forward to meeting again.


  4. Your account of outriding the train reminded me of an observation in Running After Antelope, an old radio story by Scott Carrier, a contributor to This American Life and other public radio programs. He tells of seeing pronghorn antelope toying with a speeding train in Wyoming. It’s only a brief reference, occurring at about the 14:20 mark of the audio at the lengthy link below, and the rest of the story doesn’t really relate to this blog post of yours. Yet it’s a great story nonetheless, and Carrier is a fantastic storyteller.

    [audio src="http://static1.squarespace.com/static/54dd0f40e4b084e8da72e7db/t/550b915be4b0c472425ff8e9/1426821493693/raa_podcast_march15.mp3/original/raa_podcast_march15.mp3" /]

    Ugh, we human beings are impenetrable creatures: Many years ago I used to think that people desired mystery–and only mystery–in others, so I tried to be constantly mysterious, ever-remote, inaccessible. Later I would keep all details about myself close, protected, because I feared providing anyone with possible ammunition, with anything they could cite as a mark against me (though as far as I recalled, I had no reason to be like this). While I’ve mostly abandoned this behavior, I still appreciate the value of keeping some details private, of withholding possible ammunition.

    A few years ago I stumbled upon the hedgehog’s dilemma, and it struck a chord with me. Here’s how Wikipedia sums it up.

    “The hedgehog’s dilemma, or sometimes the porcupine dilemma, is a metaphor about the challenges of human intimacy. It describes a situation in which a group of hedgehogs all seek to become close to one another in order to share heat during cold weather. They must remain apart, however, as they cannot avoid hurting one another with their sharp spines. Though they all share the intention of a close reciprocal relationship, this may not occur, for reasons they cannot avoid.”

    Yeah, we human beings are impenetrable creatures.

    On a different note: In August of 2012 I rode out after work on a Friday to enjoy the weekend in Ely, Nevada, one of my favorite towns near my neck of the woods, a place with fascinating history and with tons to offer. Anyway, that Saturday I took the Loneliest Road out to spend the day wandering and photographing Eureka, Nevada, itself a fascinating town. On my return to Ely late that afternoon, I (on my Harley XR1200) right away got into a bit of a cat-n-mouse type chase with a guy in a Subaru WRX. On the valley straightaways, he easily had me, as the XR rev-limits at 7000 rpm (about 122 mph in fifth gear), but in the few passes… Yeah, in the twisties through those low mountain ranges–it was mine.

    When we reached Ely’s main, keeping it at the speed limit there, he rolled up in the lane to my left. I gave him a thumbs up, and he was grinnin’ big. Dang, that was exhilarating! I need another ride like that.

    Spring will be here before you know it, Shadow Rider. Be safe out there.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hey Ry,

    I listened to that radio story while at work today, I loved it! I was touched by the inquisitiveness Carrier narrates as he tries to chase down an antelope. I had heard of that theory of how humans used to catch game, but never thought of actually testing it out. I wonder why the antelope were chasing the train? Are they as inquisitive as we are?

    I can relate to the idea of “withholding ammunition.” I’ve learned over the years that we come by our defenses honestly, so it would make sense that if our vulnerability was used against us as kids that we would feel protective of it as adults. That ammo could even look like reaching out to someone and being met with apathy. It’s really sad when our open hearts can’t be met with equally open hearts.

    I like the hedgehog’s dilemma, it makes perfect sense to me. My dad used to say when I was a kid that I was about as cuddly as a porcupine. I used to feel bad about this until I found a community of people who could hold space for me, even in my “porcupine-ness.” In other words, I could stay as far away as I needed to both physically and emotionally, and they would still have space for me. Kind of a mind-blowing concept! At least for this biker-porcupine.

    That race you had sounds so badass and exhilarating! And what a cool connection to make with nothing more than a smile and a thumbs up. I think for my next trip I’m gonna get a fast bike, the shadow maxes out at just under 90 mph, I’m in no position to be racing anyone haha.

    Also just want to say I always appreciate your responses, I’m enjoying our dialogues.

    I can smell spring in the air!!

    Liked by 1 person

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