The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines epilogue as "n. Concluding part, appendix, of literary work; speech or short poem addressed to spectators by actor at end of play. Gk EPI (logos speech)." Which is an appropriate way to end my blog because although it started out as a simple journal of my travels, it has turned into something more literary than that, because the journey itself became much more than a holiday on a motorbike. It became an exploration to find a ghost, not unlike the ghost of Phaedrus in Robert M. Persig's book "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance."
In that book, published in the same year as I got married (1974), the narrator is travelling across the Central Plains of the USA on a motorbike in search of his former self and in many ways my journey across those same Central Plains turned into a search for Terry Cloke. The person I used to be, the person I am now, and the person I want to be in the future. If you've been keeping track of this blog you'll have noticed that there were several points along the way where I stopped for meditation and reflection. There was also time on the open road for my mind to drift. Long stretches of the I90 interstate from Sioux Falls to Rapid City are flat, straight and almost completely devoid of traffic. A good time to settle the bike at a steady 65mph, flick the cruise control switch, relax my grip on the throttle, take in the scenery, breathe in the clean air and let my mind mull over the reasons for my trip.
Which is where I once again refer to Robert M. Persig's book "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance." In the very first chapter he sums up beautifully the appeal of travelling by motorbike. "You see things vacationing on a motorcycle in a way that is completely different from any other. In a car you're always in a compartment, and because you're used to it you don't realise that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You're a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.
On a cycle the frame is gone. You're completely in contact with it all. You're in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming. That concrete whizzing by five inches below your foot is the real thing, the same stuff you walk on, it's right there, so blurred you can't focus on it, yet you can put your foot down and touch it anytime, and the whole thing, the whole experience, is never removed from immediate consciousness."
That feeling of total immersion in the landscape was with me throughout the trip. The effect that such an open landscape of vast plains has on you is to expand your consciousness. You feel totally liberated from the confines of that metal box and you're not hemmed in by buildings in the way that you are in a big city. You can breathe freely and your mind feels very clear. By contrast the lack of mountains gives the sky much greater prominance, and indeed many people travelling through this part of the USA refer to the "big sky". As a result you start to feel a sense of your own smallness, of being reduced to a dot on the landscape. In other words, the perfect combination for a journey of self discovery. Which begs many questions - "What insights have I gained from this odyssey? Did I confront the ghosts I was looking for? What have I learnt about myself that I didn't know before this journey started?"
It's too soon to tell what the full impact of this journey will have on my life. A motorbiking acquaintance who has done a similar trip said to me, before I left, that the full impact of what I've undertaken will only really sink in after I have been back home for a few weeks. I suspect that they were simply referring to the emotional impact, to the excitement of visiting another country, travelling on my own, the fascinating sights I've seen, the challenge of coping with a different culture and the demands of living in a tent without the comforts of home. I've certainly had a fantastic holiday and seen many great sights, both natural and man-made from the buffalo roaming in the Custer State Park to the carvings of Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse memorial. But this journey has touched me much more deeply and personally. I do know already that I have come back with a better understanding of what I want from life and a greater sense of my own worth. I will leave the final judgement on whether I have changed for the better to those people close to me who will see at first hand how I have changed.