Beginning the Westward Journey

Note, if you’re starting here, feel free to click on the “Motorcycle Trip” category on the right to read this account in sensible order. And by the way, I’ll be editing these daily entries over time so sometimes it’s worth checking back. In fact, usually I’ll just throw out a short summary of a given day just as a placeholder, then actually write the entry and add the pictures day or two later. Anyway, now back to your regularly scheduled programming..

This morning we enjoyed breakfast and lunch with Rick and Judy, and I picked up my motorcycle from the shop (actually “The Shop”) where I’d had my rear tire changed. I felt like my bike was in good hands, but perhaps could have done with spending a bit less money. At any rate I was now the proud owner of a brand new Michelin Pilot Road 3. For the record the earlier PR2 had put in 7500 miles. Not bad for a rear. The guy who did the repair (or at least talked to me about it) was a character, long-haired with a beard and telling about a coming (shorter) trip out west on his KTM. At least I had some interesting conversation while transferring cash via my nasal cavity.

Back at Rick’s, we bid our farewells, and left around 2:30 to beat rush-hour on the way out of Milwaukee. We headed north to Grafton and then picked up state highway 60 from there. This proved a mistake, since this started out with 40 miles of mostly four-lane, traffic-lighted suburban hell. The least pleasant type of road on a motorcycle. I was finally about to give up in disgust, but I couldn’t find any alternative roads. Fortunately after another mile or so it cleared up, mostly for good. Finally out, but not easily so. I remember it being tough last time as well.

And so then we were finally able to start feeling what I remembered to be true last time as well – that the journey westward really begins here. I’m not sure quite what it is, maybe it’s partly the fact that we’ve just entered central time in Milwaukee, maybe it is an effect of crossing the water, or that this is somehow the first “unfamiliar” place (I’d lived in Michigan once years ago). Maybe it’s that there are no more friends we’ll be stopping in to see until we’ve made it all the way out to Colorado. But somehow that feeling of leaving home behind and venturing into parts unknown starts heading west into the heart of Wisconsin. The actual physical changes won’t start until Minnesota – no prairie here, just the same hills and valleys, trees and grass, farms and towns. But mentally the shift has already occurred.


We got past the middle of the state and joined up with the Wisconsin river, rolling in to Tower Hill state park as the sun was starting to get low in the sky. Here we were within striking distance of Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous residence, Taliesin. I’d failed to hit this on my last journey owing to it being late in the day, so this time we’d hit it in the morning and should have no problems.

The campground was idyllic, on a bluff with grassy lawns set amidst groves of trees, with the Wisconsin river winding past below. However, as is often the case in such otherwise peaceful settings, the viciousness of the mosquitos nearly made up for anything else. We kept our motorcycle clothes on and threw on our head nets. We got set up, had dinner in our tent, and collapsed off in fairly short order to sleep.

But before that, as I have sometimes before, I worked at finding ways to outsmart the little bloodsuckers. Maybe if I was still they wouldn’t detect me. Maybe if I stayed low they wouldn’t find me. None of it worked, but it got me to thinking how they must be operating according to SOME simple rules. Insects have nervous systems with just a few thousands of brain cells after all. And by the same token, all of the different types of plants I could see, some clustered near standing water, some in the drier spaces between, some usually found together with others, and so on, clearly THESE were following some kinds of rules as well. This is especially easy to see in dry and desert areas like, for example, the Eastern Sierra, where life is spare and simple, rather than tumbling all over itself in variety as it does in gentler climes.

But of course then you can go on to think about the squirrels and the chipmunks, the rest of the bugs, and the birds and all other of the local life in the same way. Underneath of course you may believe there are atoms and molecules interacting according to THEIR fixed rules, and the animals and so forth are only the results of interactions of large groups of them, but that gets to be too much for our brains, and somehow it makes a difference to imagine things in a limited way such that you could understand them, as with the mosquito or desert plant life. This “mechanistic” universe was the dream of the French philosopher mathematicians like Descartes and Pascal, but happens to be at odds with modern science. (We’ll come back to this.) It also illuminates some aspects of the Buddhist point of view.

While neither a Buddhist nor a Daoist would use the words “mechanism” or “rule”, this is more due to aversity to the simplistic machine-like connotations of these terms (not to mention their recent, Western derivation) than the meanings we talk about here. The Daoist speaks of “flow”, “way”, and “nature of things”, and the Buddhist of “conditioned arising” and “karma”, but they are both seeing orderly processes unfolding according to constant laws. Karma, for example, is the results of one’s own actions ricocheting throughout the world and coming back to affect one later on down the road of time. Clearly for this to make any sense there have to be some regularities in the way things ricochet, otherwise any possible effect would be lost instantly in a sea of chaos.

And yet for these concepts to make any sense at all there must be some notion of something outside the logically proceeding processes and interactions. Otherwise we would be simply helpless ripples in the currents of karma, wouldn’t have any choice whether to act in accordance with the Dao or against it. And in Judeo-Christian-Muslim traditions the same issue is wrestled with in the question of free will and the ability to sin. Finally science itself has for now done away with the idea of a universe of pure mechanism in constructing the irreducibly probabilistic quantum theory. In quantum theory it is the probabilities of things happening that change predictably over time according to fixed rules, but the things happenings themselves are fundamentally unpredictable. It is as if the theory tells you that this coin will come up heads 50% of the time if you toss it at time A, but 65% of the time if you toss it at time B, but it won’t tell you whether it will be heads. (Actually it says this about electrons and other particles, not macroscopic objects like coins, but this is the idea.)

And so we see that a number of major traditions within human thought – including both spiritual ones as well as physical science – involve a dualist view of the universe, as arising from the close combination of an aspect that is observable and predictable (mechanistic), with an aspect that is not, but is otherwise left unexplained. We’ll come back to this topic later, but for now if anyone knows anything about a widely followed tradition that does NOT involve this dualism, please let me know in the comments.


143 miles.

About ABR

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