The Time Traveler's Dilemma  

Posted by Brock Booher


April 2015

“Who gets this truck when you die?”

I looked in the rearview mirror at my five-year old daughter, Rylee, in the back seat and smiled. “What do you mean?”

“This is a great truck. Can I have it when you die?”

May 2020

My daughter Rylee and I rolled out of our home in Arizona as the sun was coming up, intent on driving to Salt Lake City, Utah, before the sun went down. The fifteen-year old truck carried a load of used furniture, needed personal items, and hopes for the future. I volunteered to drive the first shift.

The pandemic and the early morning combined to make traffic light as we left the valley of the sun. I looked over at my baby girl curled up in the passenger seat with a pillow and fuzzy, blue blanket sleeping in a position that would certainly make my aging body ache after just a few minutes. She seemed at peace with her sleeping position and glad to be taking the road trip. After two weeks at home sheltering in place, I was certainly ready for some windshield time. I left the radio off so she could sleep.

My mind drifted back to my first solo cross-country drive from Kentucky to Utah in a 70’s vintage Mazda RX2. The silver car hummed along Interstate 80 while the sheepskin seat covers my mother made kept me comfortable on the way to my future. It felt liberating to take to the open road with everything I owned stuffed into the back seat and trunk. My listening menu drifted between radio stations along the way and cassette tapes from my personal collection. I kept a signed, blank check from my parents’ bank account for emergencies, along with enough sandwiches and snacks to last me for the two-day drive. The smell of fresh-turned earth filled the afternoon air as I drove through Nebraska with the windows down.

Just like today, life was full of uncertainties, but of different types. The Cold War raged, coupled with the threat of nuclear winter. I only had enough money for one semester of tuition and room and board for a month. I had no safety net other than the meager help the blue-collar parents of ten children could offer. Like my daughter, I was full of hope in a bright future, in spite of the overwhelming evidence of a menacing world awaiting me. It was an act of both blind stupidity and sheer faith.

Now here I sat, more than thirty years later, in the driver’s seat of an old Nissan truck with my youngest daughter curled up asleep next to me wondering where the years had gone.

After a couple of hours and a fuel stop, Rylee woke up. She volunteered to drive, but I stayed behind the wheel for now. We chatted about mundane things for a bit until she plugged in her phone and turned on a podcast. (That would have been a nice option thirty years ago driving across Nebraska by myself.) We listened together stopping occasionally to opine about the comments presented. Together, we questioned the validity of the information offered or validated it. We were two people listening to information in the same space but with very different points of view and nowhere to go if a difference of opinion arose. It was a refreshing change to the social-media-fire-and-forget method of personal interaction.

You would think that an adult child’s opinion about life would not be that different than the parent’s opinion, but you would be wrong. I have found that in the realm of philosophical opinions about life, the phrase, “The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree” is absolutely false. If we raise our children correctly, they will be as independent, stubborn, and full of sheer hope for the future as we were. It is every successful parent’s dilemma: If you teach your children properly, they will be able to think for themselves, which means they may not choose to think as you do. As a parent you are stuck somewhere in no-man’s land between pride at their independence and incredulity at their divergence from your way of thinking. I’m learning to default to pride.

At some point, the conversation drifted to time travel and the works of Neil deGrasse Tyson. “He says that even if we could travel back in time, it’s impossible to help yourself. You could help the various other versions of you in the other dimensions but you couldn’t change your own future. It’s impossible,” she said. (This was an unexpected twist in the conversation, but since I couldn’t go back in time and change it…) “I think I would like to go back in time and talk with myself.”

“Do you think you would listen?” I asked.

“Sure. Because your future self has experienced life and knows how some of your choices will turn out.”

“If that’s the case,” I asked. “Why don’t children listen to their parents’ advice?”

She thought for a moment and then chuckled, caught in my parental ruse. “I guess that’s true.”

“You see,” I explained. “Knowledge is different than skill. I know how to shoot a three-point shot in basketball. I stand beyond the designated line. I toss the ball at just the right arch and send it through the hoop. Three points. But just because I know how to shoot a three-pointer, doesn’t mean I have the skill to do it. Skill is born of knowledge, but they aren’t the same thing.”

I went on to explain how that if your knowledge-laden, future self could have a conversation with your inexperienced past self, the passing of knowledge would not be enough. Knowledge would have to be forged into skill. An addict from the future could pass on helpful knowledge to her past self, but could not pass on the hard-earned skills required to break the addiction. Anyone who has overcome a bad habit can go back in time and impart knowledge to his past self, but not the skills required to overcome the bad habit. That takes repeated effort and practice. A master piano virtuoso is unable to impart the skills honed by hours of effort and repeated drills at the keyboard by simply telling someone what to do. Knowledge can be transferred, but skill cannot. Skill must be earned through effort.

We breezed through the uncrowded streets of Las Vegas amazed at the empty parking lots and shuttered businesses. When we stopped for lunch, I turned the driving over to her. I struggled to keep quiet when I felt she was too close to the vehicle in front of us or when she glanced at her phone, but I managed to let her command the vehicle without my interference (most of the time).

When we crossed over the Utah border, it dawned on me that in spite of the fact that I had owned the truck for fifteen years, we had never taken it on a long road trip. I told her this was the first time. She laughed and recounted all the accidents the truck had been part of over the years. She and her brothers had managed to rough it up a bit as teenage drivers. It was simply part of the developing process, I acknowledged. As a parent, I had expected, even anticipated, the accidents.

“What are you going to do about your car?” I asked. (Her vehicle was experiencing mechanical difficulties at the time.)

She sighed. “I don’t know. I have to figure something out.”

“Maybe I’ll sell you this truck,” I offered.

“I’ve wanted it since I was a little kid.” She laughed.

“Yes, you did.” I smiled. “If you had known that was a possibility you might have taken better care of it as a teenager. Besides, you might not want it now because you know it’s history.”

We both laughed.

Life is meant to be lived. We were never intended to sit still and avoid failure. On the contrary, failure is an integral part of acquiring knowledge, skill, and ultimately wisdom. The dilemma of every parent is teaching your children to be independent while knowing full well that no matter how much you teach them, they will not become who they need to be without failure. You only hope you can help them avoid catastrophic failure, but even that is sometimes unavoidable. Your only recourse as a parent is to be prepared for the crashes and hope that both of you are around to discuss the lessons learned.

It is impossible for us to travel back in time. Even if we could, what would I go back and tell myself? If I could go back thirty years and ride in the passenger seat on that drive across Nebraska with the windows down, could the knowledge I impart make a difference in my life? Perhaps, but knowledge is not enough. Wisdom must be earned. Skills must be practiced. Life must be experienced. The time traveler’s dilemma is the parents’ dilemma.

Here I sat with a younger version of myself at the wheel of my well-used truck making a similar fateful trip. She is strong, independent, and full of hope for the future. I have knowledge. She has youth and exuberance. I have wisdom forged in the crucible of my mistakes. She has her sense of wonder for the future. Try as I might, I cannot pass on all of my hard-earned life skills that make me who I am. She will have to develop those skills using the same process I did.

We made it to Salt Lake City before sunset and she dropped me off at the airport to catch my flight back to Arizona. I hugged her at the curb, grateful for the time we had to talk, to laugh, and to learn from one another. As my baby girl drove away in my rickety truck, I didn’t see her as a child, but as a grown, independent, and capable woman. I could give her the truck, but she would be better served by buying a truck of her own with hard work and effort. I only hope she stays for a few days when she brings it back home to me.

When Will We Live Again?  

Posted by Brock Booher


I did a double take when I read the headline—“Meridian woman arrested during protest after refusing to leave a closed playground.” Sure enough, forty-year old Sara Brady from Meridian, Idaho, refused to leave a playground that had been closed. She, and several in her party, intentionally went to the park and allowed their children to play on the plastic playground equipment that had been closed by the city. When the police showed up and asked them to leave, it turned into a confrontation that ended with the mother of two in handcuffs. She was charged with trespassing. (You can watch the video here - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R-B1qujVjNE)

What would drive a suburban housewife into an act of civil disobedience?

I’m a risk taker. I ride a motorcycle. I’ve been skydiving—twice. I fly airplanes. I have six children. I discuss politics on social media (sometimes). For me, a life without risk isn’t worth living. Risk is an inherent part of life. Death will come for us all at some point, but the life we live before that day is largely determined by the risks we take. If we spend all our days avoiding risk, then we haven’t really lived. Therefore, I take risks.

Like all of you, my life has been turned upside down by the pandemic. I have taken the recommendations seriously in my personal efforts to slow the spread of a deadly disease. I have canceled travel plans and avoided gatherings. My hands are chafed from washing and I wear a mask in public, without any embarrassment I might add. My list of home improvement projects has dwindled dramatically. Binge watching has become a new pastime. Drive-through restaurants are now fine dining establishments. Video conferencing with family and friends has replaced social gatherings. I’m alive and well, but I would hardly call this a life worth living.

When will we sit at a restaurant table with family and friends to celebrate a birthday, a wedding, or the birth of a child? When will we gather to watch a concert, a sports event, or a graduation? When will we gather to worship, to learn, or to simply have fun? When will we travel to see wonders of the world and connect with the people and places that help us feel connected to fellow travelers? When will we play at the crowded beach, the crowded park, or the crowded gym? When will we embrace our friends, our families, and our elderly?

When will we hustle to the office, the store, or the shop to accomplish the work that puts food on the table? When can we launch a new venture, large or small, that will fill the need in the marketplace and increase our personal wealth? When can we learn a new trade or skill that is in demand and increase our earning capacity? When will we restore the supply chain, the hospitality industry, and the travel industry? When can we invest in the market and expect a return for the future?

When will we take risks again? When will we live again?

No doubt, this disease is deadly, but if we allow this disease to bring our lives to a complete halt, then are we really living? Life is inherently risky. Part of living, truly living, is taking measured risks—driving a car, playing a sport, starting a relationship, taking a trip, flying a plane, getting married, having a child, or building anything. Any cure that causes us to stop taking risks has the potential to be more lethal than the disease itself. If we huddle in our homes in fear, we have stopped living already. Apparently, the suburban housewife from Meridian, Idaho, was willing to risk exposure to a disease (along with her children) and potential legal action to start living again.

The most dangerous argument out there right now is that we only have two choices—lockdown our society (and economy) or expose everyone to a deadly disease. We have boiled down a complex, multifaceted issue into a binary decision. The social media mobs on one side try to shame anyone less averse to the risks posed by the disease, or on the other hand activists try to shout down anyone who advocates for restricting gatherings or social interaction. Advocacy groups for each of the two camps are cranking out the memes. When Sara Brady was arrested she told someone to call the Idaho Freedom Foundation, an organization dedicated to promoting libertarian values and less restrictive government. Her arrest also sparked a fake news articles stating that she tested positive for the virus. Both sides dug ideological trenches and lobbed philosophical mortars. She was discounted as an anti-vaccination shill and lauded as a freedom fighter, depending on who you listened to.

This is not a binary choice. We have multiple options and just because we choose one course of action does not mean we are unable to adjust or change our course. We can certainly find a way to protect the public, ensure the rights of the individual, and minimize the risks. For us to live again we must stop thinking of this crisis as a binary choice. We can find alternative solutions that balance the risks and benefits.

Professionally, I am a risk manager. I’m charged in taking a machine into the sky several miles above the earth filled with passengers and bring them safely to the ground again. The risks involved are enormous, but I manage to do it several times a day without incident, because I have been trained to manage the risks. The FAA outlines four basic principles to risk management: 1) Accept no unnecessary risk. 2) Make risk decisions at the appropriate level. 3) Accept risk when benefits outweigh dangers (costs). 4) Integrate risk management into planning at all levels. (Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge, page 2-4) Perhaps we can apply these same principles to coping with this pandemic.

Accept no unnecessary risk. The other day I went for a run through a park and noticed a young couple making out on the hood of parked car. Clearly, they were not practicing social distancing. In the same park, groups of people gathered to exercise and share the same fitness equipment. I kept my distance and kept running. I’m sure you have seen similar examples of people ignoring the call for social distancing simply to satisfy a personal desire instead of a need. Sara Brady could have chosen to let her children play in the open area of the park and avoided the risk of exposure, and arrest. She could have avoided unnecessary risk. On the other hand, a distant family member working in the medical profession has been exposed twice to the disease because the risk was necessary for him to do his job. Sometimes risk is necessary. Each individual will define what is “necessary” risk differently, but avoiding unnecessary risk implies that some risk is actually necessary. For us to live again, we must learn to avoid unnecessary risk while taking necessary risk.

Make risk decisions at the appropriate level. This is where governmental agencies operate. We look to our government to help us determine which risks are unnecessary. Governments impose speed limits, construction codes, banking regulations, and a variety of other federal, state, and local laws determining the level of risk we are willing to take as a society. If I’m out riding my motorcycle, I can choose how fast I want to go, but if I break the speed limit, I know I’m taking on more risk, including the risk of a speeding ticket. The risk decision is ultimately left up to the individual. Similarly, governments have the power to order us to shelter in place or avoid gatherings to stop the spread of the disease based on the perceived risk. Based on my first amendment rights, I have the right to peaceably assemble and expose myself to risk of the disease, even if good reason keeps me from taking that risk at the moment.

Sara Brady felt otherwise. She, and those she supports, were protesting the overreach of government interference in their ability to manage risk at the individual level. The laws allowing for quarantine and lockdown are in direct conflict with some of our basic rights. If we abdicate our rights at the first sign of crisis, we really don’t have any rights. It is a balancing act between what is best for the group and the rights of the individual. However, we must push the risk decision to the lowest possible level. For us to live again, we will have to restore the rights, and risk decisions, to the individual.

Accept risk when benefits outweigh dangers (costs). Thousands die each year in car accidents, but that doesn’t keep us from getting in our cars and driving to work or the supermarket. We accept the risk because the benefits outweigh the dangers. Likewise, we make risk decisions based on costs, like choosing not to break the speed limit because of the high cost of a speeding ticket. Sara Brady accepted the risk of exposure and arrest because she felt the benefits outweighed the dangers (costs).

The cost of shutting down our entire economy will be staggering. Unemployment estimates look to be worse than during the Great Depression. Since the begin of the pandemic our unemployment rate has gone from 4% to over 20% with 33 million people out of work. Every one percent increase in unemployment will cause a 3.3% increase in drug overdose deaths and a .99% increase in suicides.  “If unemployment hits 32 percent, some 77,000 Americans are likely to die from suicide and drug overdoses as a result of layoffs. Deaths of despair.”

The dangers of this disease are real and the measures taken reduce the risk of exposure, but we are foolish to think our current course of action is risk free. We have chosen a path based on the perceived dangers and costs of the moment, but we have not properly assessed the other risks associated with our choice. At some point, the benefits of continuing this course of isolation and economic shutdown will not outweigh benefits. The price will simply be too high. For us to live again, we will have to accept the fact that the benefits of opening up the economy outweigh the dangers and costs of exposure to the disease.

Integrate risk management into planning at all levels. In other words, mitigate risk at all levels through proper planning. When we have to accept risks, we can mitigate those risks by planning and preparing to deal with them. I can plan to mitigate risk at a personal level by wearing a mask, keeping my distance, and washing my hands frequently. Businesses can mitigate risk through extra cleanliness, providing space for distancing, and allowing employees to work from home when able. Hospitals can mitigate risk by stockpiling personal protective equipment, ventilators, and medication. Governments at every level can mitigate risk by educating its citizens, providing resources to combat the disease, and preparing infrastructure for the next pandemic. The mayor of Meridian, Idaho, felt strongly that he was mitigating risk for his citizens by shutting down the playground. (According to current information, the virus can live for several days on plastic.) If we want to live again, at some point we will have to accept the risk, but we can prepare to manage the risk at the individual and societal level.

Instead of a binary choice, we have multiple options to start living again. We can find a way to safely interact without spreading the disease. We can protect those at most risk while allowing others to get back to work. We can continue to practice cleanliness and hygiene without cocooning ourselves in some underground bunker waiting for the end of days. We can risk interaction with one another using caution and measures of protection. This need not be a choice between two evils—complete isolation or the complete chaos of a pandemic. We need not arrest mothers at playgrounds.

When will we live again? As humans, managing risk is in our DNA. Risk is an inherent part of life. Managing those risks is the cost of doing business and actually living. I’m a risk taker, but so are you. I believe that if we follow a few sound principles for managing risk, we can find a way to manage the impact of this disease and continue living, because the alternative is not a life worth living.

I for one am ready to start living again.

O Little Town of Bethlehem  

Posted by Brock Booher


“O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie.”

I love that Christmas hymn! In my mind’s eye I can envision some small desert village with smoke rising from the chimneys of modest homes into a starlit night while shepherds tend to flocks nearby. I can imagine the newborn baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger while the villagers smiled on. I must admit that my recent trip to the Middle East almost ruined the hymn for me. Bethlehem was nothing like I imagined.
Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem (You may notice the red and yellow flags from the tour company.)

As our tour bus entered the outskirts of Bethlehem, we were greeted by a large red sign with a message in Arabic, Hebrew, and English. It read, “The entrance for Israeli citizens is forbidden, dangerous to your lives and against Israeli law.” That was not exactly the welcome I was expecting. Our bus navigated the crowded streets dodging cars, pedestrians, and other tour busses. It was not the quaint, bucolic village I expected. Like most of the area around Jerusalem, it was hilly and roads wound up and down the hillsides lined with homes, apartment buildings, and the occasional inn or hotel. Eventually we arrived at a large parking structure for busses where a man in a paramilitary uniform directed traffic. Somehow, with shouts and hand signals, our driver managed to jam our bus into the underground building with more than twenty other busses. We followed our guide with his yellow flag brandishing the tour company name – “Fun For Less” – through the chaotic parking structure with the smell of diesel fuel in our noses. Even before we left the parking lot, we were attacked by vendors selling everything from women’s scarves to ornate, olive-wood carvings. We climbed the stairs and walked up the street to tour of the Church of the Nativity, the oldest Christian structure, built over the grotto or cave where Jesus Christ was reportedly born. The noisy street was crowded with shuffling crowds of tourists, aggressive vendors, and annoyed local residents hurrying about their business. It was nothing like I had imagined, and the phrase “How still we see thee lie” did not come to mind.

Britt entering through the Door of Humility
We entered the Church of the Nativity by stooping through a very low door appropriately named, “The Door of Humility,” which opened up into the main hall adorned with 44 columns. Although built for Christians by the mother of Emperor Constantine, the site today is divided and administered in parts by the Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Armenian Apostolic churches and is a divided structure. We passed from one area to the other and eventually down into the grotto. The dark cave would have provided shelter to the weary traveling family unable to secure more comfortable accommodations. I imagine it would have been a source of peace and comfort to Mary and Joseph in difficult circumstances. Since that historic night, the site has experienced its share of turmoil – ransacking armies, terrorists holed up seeking sanctuary, and even brawls between monks of different Christian sects. I was reminded of the “dark street” mentioned in the hymn intended to represent our current human condition. “Yet in the dark street shineth the Everlasting Light.”
Inside the Grotto

After touring the Basilica and the grotto, our group moved to an alcove in the courtyard. As we listened to a lecture from the educator Michael Wilcox, the loudspeakers from the local mosques sounded the afternoon call to prayer – “Allahu akbar!” – and were reminded of the religious and political tensions of the region. 
Then, while Christian tourists, priests, and monks ambled by, we began to sing Christmas hymns. We were not professional singers, but the acoustics of the alcove carried our voices. A crowd soon gathered around us. During the singing I looked into the faces of our group and saw the devotion in their eyes. These were good people trying to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ in their lives. The Spirit testified to me, “Where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in.”
A passing monk

After my experience in modern Bethlehem, I imagine ancient Bethlehem differently than I did before. Like today, the ancient city was full of political strife. After all, Joseph and Mary only traveled to Bethlehem because of the decree of an occupying ruler. Like today, it was full of the hustle and bustle of a busy town with street vendors, shopkeepers, and travelers. I imagine it was a noisy, smelly place with its share of discontent and contention. Life, with all of its imperfections and irreverence, filled the ancient town of Bethlehem. Yet, in the midst of all of the commotion and banality, a miraculous child was born. My guess is that many in the town of Bethlehem didn’t even notice the birth because they were so caught up in living their lives. They were so busy building, selling, cleaning, eating, sleeping, and just existing that they had no clue that their best and only hope had just been born in a small cave in their town.

Are we like the ancient inhabitants of Bethlehem? Are we so busy studying, texting, entertaining, eating, sleeping, cleaning, playing that we miss our best and only hope? Life, with all of its activities and demands, can sometimes distract us from the miracles right in front of us. Are we so busy with the demands and distractions of this life that we miss the gift of eternal life that Christ brings us. “How silently! How silently! The wondrous gift is giv’n.”

Bethlehem may be nothing like I imagined. It may not be the scene of peace and tranquility I envisioned. However, in the midst of it all, Christ was born. Bethlehem may not be at peace, but I testify that the Gospel of Jesus Christ can bring us everlasting peace. I testify that He is the wondrous gift given to us today to bring and hope to our lives.

Take a moment this Christmas season to stop and unwrap the wondrous gift of Christ.

The "site" inside the Grotto



The Winding Road  

Posted by Brock Booher



The celebrity on the front cover of the inflight magazine was laughing and the title’s headline suggested that she was “in a good place.” I stared at the cover and sighed before shoving it back into the seatback pocket in front of me. I couldn’t say the same at the moment, but I was on my way to a good place in hopes of lifting my mood.

As I get older, my sense of wonder seems to wane. It isn’t like I stopped caring about what’s happening in the world, but I just don’t see the value of keeping up with it all. That same attitude begins to bleed over into all the areas of my life until I’m no longer fascinated with a sunrise, or moved by a sunset. My whole attitude slowly evolves into one of “been there done that” and I lose interest in the things that once brought me joy, not because I no longer enjoy them, but because I have lost my sense of wonder. The intrinsic value of the event itself hasn’t changed. I just don’t get as excited about it as I used to.

This happens for several reasons. Perhaps I have been disappointed too many times before and no longer expect the world to produce anything that might surprise me. Maybe I’ve done so many exciting things and they no longer feel exciting. Life’s challenges may have numbed me into a state of existence in which I no longer live, but simply exist as I stumble from one crisis to another. The result is the same—I just don’t feel like putting forth the effort to get excited.

Yes, the celebrity may have been in a good place, but at the moment, I wasn’t. My mood tasted like old yogurt, bitter and slightly sour. I wanted to be in a good place also, but instead I felt like I wasn’t any place at all. I felt like I was traveling a dark, unfamiliar road wondering where it would lead in spite of the help of a trusted navigator and pleasant traveling companions. My thoughts and emotions were unsettled by a heavy dose of stress at work, regrets over parental failures, and debilitating self-doubt.

My flight was taking me to Atlanta, where I would rent a BMW K1600 motorcycle and tour the Smoky Mountains and the surrounding states with several family members—a two-wheeled family reunion. I was hoping the trip would help improve my mood.

I awoke before my hotel alarm the next morning. Maybe I was more excited than I realized. When the attendant at the motorcycle shop rolled out the rented BMW K1600 motorcycle and gave me a short orientation, I was nervous. It was bigger than my bike and I was worried about how it would handle on the highway. I shoved all my clothes and gear into the saddlebags, slipped on my helmet, and started north to the rendezvous point.

In spite of being three hundred pounds heavier than my motorcycle, the K1600 handled like a smaller machine. The six-cylinders purred like a jet engine and provided smooth acceleration and ample power at any speed. The adjustable windshield and upright riding position also made it as comfortable as a rocking chair on the front porch. My troubles seemed fewer and fewer with each mile I rode, but I knew there would be some unexpected twists and turns ahead.

We all converged on Fall Creek Falls State Park, Tennessee, and met near a large waterfall. A family favorite for many years, the secluded park is full of wooded hikes and beautiful waterfalls. It certainly qualifies as a “good place.” We took a break and jumped into the cool water before riding on to Athens, Tennessee for the night. We all had a connection to this place, but life had taken us down different roads and across different thresholds. We came together to ride, even though our life’s journey had taken us along different roads.

The next morning, we got an early start on the Cherohala Skyway heading southeast to Robbinsville, NC. For forty-three miles we wound our way along the ridgeline in and out of the low-lying clouds. Built in 1996, this stretch of highway serves only one purpose—scenic driving. It isn’t the straight interstate highway with multiple lanes of traffic carrying the commerce of a nation. It isn’t a mountain road connecting a hidden valley to the outside world. Instead, it takes you to the top of the mountain and gives you a sweeping view of the world around you as you enjoy the motion of every twist and turn. The road invigorated me and I felt a spark of wonder.

We stopped at a graveyard in Robbinsville. My brother-in-law was riding and old green BMW motorcycle that once belonged to a friend now resting in the cemetery, a victim of a violent crime several years ago. His life took an expected twist, that by not fault of his own, cost him his life. I was reminded that life’s difficult journey could end unexpectedly. We paid our respects to a young man whose life ended too soon, but whose memory lived on.

Out of Robbinsville, we headed northwest on highway 129 towards Deals Gap and the Tail of the Dragon. The famous stretch of road with 318 turns in eleven miles calls to riders like a siren from a dangerous coastline. The Tree of Shame (a collection of motorcycle parts left over from various crashes) located at the beginning of the ride reminded of the real dangers found on this section of the road. I elected to ride ahead of the group and face the Dragon alone.

The comfort of the straight and easy road gave way to constant hairpin turns and switchbacks. I eased into the pace of the unforgiving road and then slowly picked up speed trying to challenge my abilities without scaring myself. The large machine purred along accelerating and decelerating at my command and I settled into a rhythm with the road. A few times I pushed harder than I should have and found myself at the edge of my capabilities. I passed a couple of bikers with less ability, and I was passed by a biker with more ability. My sense of wonder may have waned, but that stretch of road demanded my attention. If I was unwilling or unable to give it the attention it deserved, my sense of wonder would have met me head on as I recklessly rounded a corner and either ended up in a ditch or on the grill of oncoming traffic. Towards the end of the stretch I began to throttle back and relax, but then I rounded a corner and slammed on the brakes for a flock of wild turkeys in the middle of the road. Sometimes, life demands all that we have. Maybe it needs to wake us up to its challenge and beauty.

We met up at the end of the Tail of the Dragon and continued our ride together cruising the back roads of the countryside along small creeks and through less-travelled hollers and passes. We paid homage to my parents by spending the night in their hometown of Burkesville, Ky. Most of the trip I lived off of fried food and soft-serve ice cream, but that night we rode the bikes through the cool evening air to our cousin’s house for the best meal of the week. Joe David and Linda put out a spread in their country home that would make a five-star restaurant jealous. After dinner, we watched for deer in the road as we eased our bikes back to the Alpine Lodge above Burkesville.

We got a late start the next morning and headed south before turning east on Judio Road. After dodging a deer, we eased our bikes onto the ferry at Turkey Neck Bend and crossed the Cumberland river. We continued east along Highway 100 passing through the small country towns with their county courthouses, multiple churches, and Dollar General stores dotting the landscape. I remembered traveling the road many times as a child, but now I felt like a stranger. Riding a rented motorcycle with my hi-vis yellow jacket, I looked like a strange tourist in the land of my childhood. After so many years away, my sense of identity with the location had a waned and I no longer felt worthy to call myself a Kentuckian. But what place did I identify with? What “good place” would I call mine if not my childhood home? My feelings were punctuated when we passed my parents farm. With their passing, the farm was sold and now strangers live there. I twisted the throttle as I rode by trying to ignore the piece of land that I once called home.

That evening, I took a solo ride through Simpson County, the county of my childhood. The country road was dark and I rode the rented motorcycle more like a little old lady on her way to church than a man out gallivanting around the countryside of his childhood. I wasn’t in any hurry. Maybe because the night air was cool and comfortable after the hot and sticky day I had experienced, or maybe because I wasn’t excited about where I was going. Either way, I putted along on a machine designed to go twice the speed I was traveling. In the dark I could see my destination, but it looked nothing like I remembered. I pulled off the road onto an old semi-circle driveway with grass growing up through the crumbling asphalt. Once there was a large brick building on the spot—my elementary school. It proudly stood on a small rise along the country road, the flag fluttering atop the large pole in front. Now it was simply a farmer’s field full of soybeans. The playgrounds and ballfields behind the school had been plowed up as well. The only vestige of the vibrant structure was the crumbling section of the driveway I parked on. For a moment I remembered the wonder I felt my first day of school. I slipped the bike into gear and rode away.

We had one last destination together before we split up and returned back to our separate lives. In Marion, Ky, our Granny was about to turn 96 years old, and we vowed to pay her a visit together. She greeted us with strained voice and vibrant smile, happy for our visit. She still manages to live by herself, with a little help. After a short visit and an unsuccessful attempt to get her to ride to the restaurant on the back of one of the motorcycles, we piled into her old car and drove to lunch for some of the best fried catfish and hush puppies in the entire state. She smiled and enjoyed the familiar setting content to be seen out and about with some of her grandsons, grandsons-in-law, and a one great grandson. I wondered if she still enjoyed the twists and turns of life or if the simple act of going to lunch at a nearby diner was enough to excite her about living. We left her sitting in her easy chair with a smile on her face.

My older brother started for home as the rest of us motored south to the Land Between the Lakes. The trip was drawing to an end and we had chosen the bucolic highway through the park as our final stretch together. After four days of twists and turns the meandering stable highway felt peaceful, and boring. The tree-lined highway felt like a Sunday afternoon drive with your grandparents. It didn’t challenge us. It didn’t push us. It barely kept our interest. As gorgeous as it was, the road failed to capture or spark my sense of wonder.

After we traversed the park, riders began to peel off and go their separate ways. I soon found myself alone on the busy highway wishing the ride together could continue. The next morning, I chased the sunrise on my way back to Atlanta feeling melancholy about ending the trip. After I returned the rented motorcycle and boarded a flight for home, the same inflight magazine with the laughing celebrity greeted me.

Maybe I didn’t start the trip in a good place. I really couldn’t say that I finished the trip in a good place either. The stress of work, family, and self-doubt still loomed over me. However, I was reminded that the journey, along with its twists and turns, is more valuable than the place. The road of life is full of surprises. Sometimes the challenging road can scare us a bit. We may not be ready for the turn and might find ourselves at the edge of our abilities hoping we don’t end up in the ditch, or on the grill of some oncoming vehicle. But the twists and turns of life can elevate us more than the long straight stretches of highway. The straightaways have their place, but to a motorcycle rider the long straight stretch can lull us into complacency. Life would also be boring without the twists and turns.

Life is a journey, not a destination. Maybe life is meant to be a ride not a place. I accepted the fact that I wasn’t in a good place, but I realized that I was on a good journey full of challenge and purpose. I wasn't on the long straight highway of complacency and ease.


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