Just before Kenny and I started our ascent up into the mountains on the Col du Petit St. Bernard, the wind picked up began to thrash the trees about. We were going to get wet.
This Alpine trip would be the first long term test in variable conditions of my astronaut suit – the ladies Klim Altitude jacket and pants. While Kenny hopped off of his bike and began to don his raingear, I sat smugly patting myself on the back that I didn’t have to do anything… except wait for him to put his raingear on.
My suit? It’s actually waterproof. *sniffle::wipes tear* GORETEX is so beautiful.
The two of us futzed around at the top of the Petit St. Bernard, watching cows on the hillside, bought some stickers and a postcard and debated how much further we’d travel for the day. With dinnertime lurking on the horizon, we decided to stop in the next town and find a place to stay for the night. Somehow we’d skipped eating lunch and neither of us drank enough during the day. It was time to pack it in.
When I was a kid, we were… “financially challenged.” Growing up that way can leave a residue that clouds your thinking even if you’ve managed to claw your way out of that circumstance. As the years have passed through hard work, luck, chance – my life has changed dramatically. Even so, I still occasionally find myself nagged by thoughts that some things are only for other people and not for me.
When I first started reading motorcycle magazines and seeing advertisements for tours in Europe through companies like Edelweiss – the idea that I could ever find myself riding those roads was out of the question. That was my truth only because I didn’t have the vision or the belief that I could do anything that I really wanted to. I didn’t yet know that I am a force to be reckoned with when there is something in my sights that I want.
Though we’d been in France before (not on motorcycles) when Kenny and I crossed the French border on the Col du Petit St. Bernard, I couldn’t resist stopping for a photo of the sign.
France. On a motorcycle. Can you imagine? It was one of those unattainable places back in the day.
Desire is an incredible motivator. I mean true desire, not just namby-pamby, non-committal “wishing.” I believe it makes you work for something in sub-conscious ways. I hope that I am moved by it for the rest of my days.
Following our last trip through the Alps, there were several mountain passes that we hadn’t ridden that found their way on to my riding bucket list. You know, for “next time.”
In hindsight, it’s really by the grace of the universe that there was a next time. Chalk it up to luck. Or is it something else?
Kenny and I found ourselves at the summit of the Great St. Bernard some time in the mid afternoon. We parked our bikes and strolled around taking in the sights. I bought a sticker and some postcards and resisted the chocolate.
We walked towards the lake and stood there for a few minutes amongst the stillness of our surroundings. The scale of mountains is so tremendous. I find it difficult not to become introspective about my place in the world when surrounded with such enduring majesty. These mountain, hard, unforgiving, beautiful in their strength. And there I am – a fragile, weak, pink thing.
I stood watching a woman walking two St. Bernards on the mountain to my right. It was then that I had a moment. Not quite an epiphany, but I came to some understanding of my existence in the split second. You can move through your life and recite things by habit. You know these things to be truths on a surface level. But then there are moments of certainty when you come to know something deeply. You feel it and know it not by rote but through some acute awareness.
I came to the simple understanding that… this is it.
This life is all there is, as far as I know. And so it’s up to me to make my life be what I want. I can sit around wishing and dreaming and filing things away to see “someday” but no one is going to bring them to my doorstep. The fear that keeps me stationary eats away my happiness.
Four years ago, I tapped away on some keys and wrote out the words “See the Great St. Bernard Pass.” As trivial as that goal might appear, as I stood watching those dogs walking along breathing in the smells of the Earth, I came to know I’d made it there of my own accord. If I can do this thing – Why not anything else I decide I want? My only limitation is my will.
Just yesterday I read an article that pointed out what the author saw as a flaw in the bucket list process as it is often portrayed in contemporary culture:
As popularly conceived, however, the bucket list is far from being a reckoning with the weight of love in extremis, or an ethical or moral accounting. More often, it partakes of a commodification of cultural experience, in which every expedition made, and every artwork encountered, is reduced to an item on a checklist to be got through, rather than being worthy of repeated or extended engagement.
Personally, I think this is oversimplifying the process. We can’t know what goes on in the minds and hearts of men in the quiet moments of their lives. So they said out loud, “crossed that off the bucket list”? Does that mean that whatever that thing, that act, that item from their list was doesn’t dwell deep in their imagination or actively fuel their curiosity for the rest of their days? It could be a moment in time that sets fire to a personal passion that you, as an on-looker, know nothing about.
Or,… maybe it IS gamification of life experiences.
The best part of this conversation, I suppose, is that I don’t have to give a shit about what other people are doing.
On our recent trip through the Alps, I was able to visit several things that are on my bucket list. My list, which is very meaningful to me, helps me stay organized. It helps me to remember that there are things in the vicinity of where I am that are beautiful and wonderful though maybe less than obvious.
One stop in particular seems to have created more curiosity and questions about a man than it answered. I’m not quite ready to write about it yet, so I’ll leave you with this until then…