This is the time of year when many people are sending out those online video and photo-montage Christmas cards (although I prefer the old fashioned snail-mail kind, with photos of the family). So, I thought it only appropriate to contribute a little something from my past year. What follows is a video compilation of some of my free time activities in 2012, including videography, photography, motorsports, and the like. I am a trained professional, by the way, so don't try these things at home. Happy New Year everybody! May you live life largely!
Warm sun on your skin, smooth and curving mountain roads, beautiful vistas, delightful acceleration, the rumble of the engine, and nothing on your schedule but hundreds of kilometers of Tuscan roads. That pretty much describes the privilege my friend Tim Marks and I experienced on our recent motorcycle trip through Tuscany. Let's close out this third and final installment with a short video. May you chase down your own dream roads soon! As Orrin Woodward once said, "It's not enough to dream, you've also got to make them come true!"
This bad economy is really poorly timed, mostly because it's happening right while we're alive to experience it.
We've come out of a credit binge where easy money was available at low interest rates. This drove up a false housing market and now that the bubble has popped, millions are "upside down" in their homes (meaning they owe more than they're worth on the open market). Jobs have dried up, income has gone down, and the bills (and the interest they carry) left over from the heady days of the boom are not so much fun now that we're in the bust. Retirement savings are greatly diminished, and people are being forced to work longer than they had planned. While all this makes for some nauseating blame-games at the political level, at the practical level where real people live it's a joy stealer.
Add to all this a materialistic culture that relentlessly sells us on the lie that more stuff will equal more happiness. If we could only have that latest gismo, buy the bigger house, drive the fancier car, watch that latest flat screen tv, play the newest video game, and wear sophisticated clothes, our lives would be more fulfilled and happy.
The biggest reason we believe a lie is because somewhere, deep down inside, we want it to be true.
We actually like material possessions and the latest shiny objects. We would dearly love to believe that they bring fulfillment and happiness. What could be easier? We fall for the lure of pleasure as happiness and pile on the purchases, rarely stopping to wonder why real fulfillment eludes us like the edge of a fog in a morning field.
But here is one thing I've learned: it's hard to be less than happy when you can be happy with less.
I'm no minimalist. I am blessed beyond description and have nice material possessions myself. But I have come to realize that I want to spend my money a little differently than I did when, to borrow a phrase from my father, I was "younger and dumber." After all, what is aging for if not to absorb a little wisdom? Something must accompany the gray hair and wrinkles. Therefore, I made a purposeful decision to spend more of my money on memories instead of on material.
Think about it. Does a new car or a trip with your family generate more special moments and lasting memories? How many memories do you really have of that item you just had to purchase (and likely therefore finance) eight or nine years ago? Yet how many moments with friends, family, and loved ones can you recall from throughout your life? Which do you value more?
Two and a half years into the experiment, here's what I've discovered since making the decision to prioritize memories over material:
1. Life is simpler and less cluttered. Material requires upkeep and attention. Memories are maintenance free.
2. Memories don't charge interest. Instead, merely show them interest to keep them fresh.
3. Memories keep, while stuff wastes away. This is true of our affections, too. Some of my oldest memories are the dearest, while my oldest stuff is just junk.
4. More resources (time, attention, money, etc. ) are available for other (and usually more important) things. Giving and sharing are more fulfilling than buying for one's self.
5. It's easier to focus on one's purpose in life. Orrin Woodward has a fantastic way of looking at this in his latest book, Resolved Primer, page 18, where he suggests that our Purpose is shown to be at the intersection of our Potential, our Passion, and our Profits (or fruitfulness).
6. Life is more stress-free (and therefore fun) when living well below one's means.
7. Money diminishes in importance in your life (and thereby occupies less of your thoughts) when you aren't demanding so much of it.
8. Happiness exists more in little things than in big things, anyway.
How has this economy changed your thoughts about money?
Where do memories rank in your heirarchy of priorities?
What changes can you make today to decrease your material consumption and increase your memory generation?
Part of the beauty of Tuscany is its seemingly endless supply of beautiful roads. While the main towns like Florence and Pisa can be frustratingly crowded, the rest of Tuscany is largely open countryside. It's here, out in the hills and mountains, that one really falls in love with this place. And it's on a motorcycle that one can really get to know it in a fun way.
Tim Marks and I covered more than 1000 km and experienced over 100 towns. Most of this was countryside, mountainside, hillside, sunnyside! At one point Tim said over the helmet-to-helmet radio system, "Man! It's like someone designed this area especially for what we're doing. It feels like one big motorcycle adventure park." A pretty apt description, I think.
Descriptions, however, can only convey so much. Therefore, I invite you to mount up and join us for a few minutes in this video.
(To be continued)
There are times in life when everything just works out great.
In my book, A Month of Italy: Rediscovering the Art of Vacation, I talked a little about riding a motorcycle through Tuscany. That trip, however, was mostly a family vacation, and I only logged about 400 kilometers in the course of a whole month. As any motorcycle enthusiast knows, that's nowhere near a serious amount of riding. It was a family vacation and my top priority was spending time with Terri and my four brown-eyed kids. As you can read in the book, that part worked out wonderfully.
However, while on some of those short outings and zipping around smooth, unpopulated Tuscan curves, I couldn't help erecting in my mind a return trip dedicated solely to adventures of the two wheeled variety . . . .
And so, one of my first calls was to my friend, business partner, and boondoggle buddy Tim Marks. Tim and I have embarked upon many an adventure together, including racing a dune buggy through the Baja, flying fighter planes, scuba diving, snorkeling through swim-throughs (one of the scariest of our capers, believe it or not), shooting machine guns, using kayaks to hunt muskrats, power boating, motorcycling, snowmobiling, and owning and flying an airplane together. So I knew Tim was the perfect partner for some serious motorcycle exploration through Italy. Our only challenge was the calendar. With launching a new company, building our businesses, and being heavily involved family men, the toughest challenge was finding a spot in the calendar. Finally, we settled on September of 2012. We both had over a week available, and the situation in Italy would be perfect that time of year. The summer holiday crowds would be gone, and the temperatures would likely be in the high seventies to low eighties. Perfect.
We reserved two BMW 1200GS motorcycles from the super reliable Ricardo (also featured in A Month of Italy), purchased plane tickets (first class so we could recline flat and arrive rested and ready to ride), and began the process of planning and provisioning. It was decided that we would mostly restrict our touring to Tuscany, with it's thousands of kilometers of curved roads through an extreme range of topography. This would allow us to establish a home base in one location from which to venture out each day, thereby eliminating much of the logistics and wasted time of finding new lodging every night and packing and unpacking. We chose a borgo (a type of village converted to a resort) near Siena. We also decided we'd like to see at least 100 towns in Tuscany, a detail agreed upon by two overachievers with choleric personalities that would come back to haunt us. Tim also indicated he had two additional objectives: 1) to see the leaning tower of Pisa ( Torre pendente di Pisa), and, 2) to obtain some purses of a particular style for his wife Amy. Little did we know how these last two would combine into a story of their own.
To be continued . . .
For anyone who knows me (the "food Neanderthal"), you may already be shocked by the title of this article. So you may not be surprised to discover that I've invited the talented Karen McCann, author of Dancing in the Fountain: How to Enjoy Living Abroad, to share on the simple pleasures of the Mediterranean culture of eating.
For one ghastly moment I looked down at my plate and began to see my dinner as a minefield of calories, fat, salt, cholesterol, mercury, white sugar and non-nutritive chemical additives. And then I remembered Chris Brady’s wonderful line in A Month of Italy: "There is never any talk of ‘low cal’ or ‘carbs’ or ‘proteins.’ For Italians, dissecting foods into these vulgar terms is as offensive as breaking sexual intercourse down into steps and sub-components.” With Chris’s words in mind, I came to my senses and tucked into my dinner with renewed enthusiasm. If my years of living in Seville, Spain, have taught me anything, it is that food should be treated as a welcome friend, not an enemy.
The Sevillanos consider it their God-given birthright to enjoy themselves every day. They fling themselves into their social lives with the same zeal Americans devote to their careers. Just meeting a friend for a café con leche can take two hours, not counting the preliminary debate about where to go for the best coffee at the best price. Lunch is even more time-consuming; my record so far is seven hours one St. Patrick’s Day in an Italian restaurant on the Costa del Sol. Dinners may last until four in the morning. Late nights can run until dawn and not infrequently include walking home through the silent streets, arm in arm with friends, and (if I am to be totally honest with you) singing a medley of old show tunes, Beatles hits, and Besame Mucho. The neighbors put up with it because they know that next time, they could be the ones serenading the barrio.
I have never met a Spaniard or an Italian who was in danger of saying, in T.S. Eliot’s famous phrase, “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.”
The essence of the Mediterranean lifestyle isn’t living in a particular geographic region, it’s about how you live wherever you are. It’s about eating when you’re hungry, taking a siesta when you’re tired and enjoying your wine without guilt or the nagging worry that Merlot really is totally uncool. Like sex, eating for pleasure isn’t something to be done indiscriminately, but it is something you’ll want to stay in practice for, so that you don’t lose your touch.
Guest blogger Karen McCann is the author of Dancing in the Fountain: How to Enjoy Living Abroad. An award-winning journalist, author, editor and blogger, she has been living in Seville, Spain, since 2004. Wanderlust has taken her to more than thirty countries, including many developing or post-war nations where she and her husband volunteer as consultants to struggling microenterprises. A fourth-generation Californian, she lived in Cleveland, Ohio, with her husband for two decades before the couple moved to Seville “for a year” and decided to make it their home. Today, she spends her time writing, blogging, painting, traveling the world and working on her next book.
I was fifteen the first time someone called the police on me.
I wasn’t doing drugs, destroying property, or breaking the law, but rather, I was disturbing the peace. My brother, some neighborhood kids, and I were doing what we did every late afternoon (as soon as the first of any of our parents got home from work) – riding motorcycles.
This may sound innocent enough, but consider the fact that we had hand-built our motocross track on the vacant land next to our subdivision, directly behind a row of houses. Also consider that we were aboard high-powered, very noisy, two-stroke racing machines designed for closed course competition. Add to this the dry conditions and a resulting dustbowl of dirt stirred up into the air and you begin to get a clear picture of just what a nuisance we were.
We spotted them off in the distance making their way down the old gravel road toward our track – three bright red Grand Blanc Township police cars. Either we were big news, or they didn’t have much to do. At any rate, closer and closer they came, ambling down the bumpy pathway in our direction. We waited our fate nervously astride our bikes, engines off, helmets loosened.
I think it was the fact that we had permission that disarmed them. My father had arranged it with the rich property developer years before. The man wouldn’t put it in writing, he said, but if anyone ever bothered us, just drop his name and that should do it. The developer had seemed pretty sure about it all, and now was our chance to put him to the test. At the first opportunity we duly dropped his name to detective Weaver and his fellow officers. They smiled and nodded and chatted with us before departing. And in that briefest of exchanges, a lifetime of summers was preserved for my future memories.
The next occurrence wasn’t as unsettling as the first. It was only one police car and again, it was officer Weaver. He was a nice guy, and, much to our advantage, he lived in our subdivision. He assured us we weren’t doing anything wrong and he just needed to show up to appease the neighbors. We thanked him as he left, and soon settled in to this comfortable summer ritual. After many subsequent reoccurrences, the police officers knew our names, which houses we lived in, and often inquired as to how we had fared in our weekend races. Each time they were called they would stay a little longer to watch us ride. If I don’t say so myself, we were quite entertaining. Fanatics usually are.
Now that I’m, uh-hum, a little older, I feel more sympathy for those poor neighbors. But I am also grateful for the behavior of those policemen who realized a band of teenagers could have been up to much worse mischief than making some noise and a little dust. Nonetheless, this was my introduction to the motorcycle as a “Rascal machine.” Until that point, the whole rebellious reputation of motorcycles had never occurred to me. Unlike weekend warriors who straddle a Harley to pretend to be outlaws for a few hours, I was interested in motorcycles on a more basic level. I loved everything about them; the mechanics of the engine, chassis, and suspension, the smell of the exhaust, the sound of the power-band through a finely tuned expansion chamber, the feel of the grips in my hands, the exhilaration of power, and the confidence of controlling such a weapon – all of it. Then I discovered racing and fell in love with the pageantry, competition, speed, and sheer thrill of the fight.
At one point during those endless summers I promised myself that I would always own a motorcycle. The concept of outgrowing such a passion seemed ludicrous to me. How could one ever become that old?
I am happy to report that even today with the responsibilities of a middle aged man, my head can still be turned by a fine steed parked by the roadside, or, better yet, zipping by me on an open road. I still like all the same stuff – the sights, the sounds, the freedom.
Enter adventure motorcycling, an idea custom made for dirt bike has-beens like myself. The concept is simple: design a motorcycle compatible with every type of terrain and capable of extreme extended rides, even, in some cases, involving circumnavigation of the globe (with the help of ferry boats, of course). Next, offer all manner of provisioning equipment enabling self-sustained long trips, and you’ve got a new motorcycling category. The bikes are generally of large displacement, quite heavy but stable, and a nice hybrid between on-road smoothness and off-road durability. It’s the old enduro concept taken to the extreme, and who, in their nostalgic throws of motorcycle memories, doesn’t like extremes?
Now, I must admit, I understand the rebellious nature of motorcycles like never before. Against all pleas of common sense, appeals to safety and maturity, and the never ending tractor beam of responsibility, motorcycles sit mutely smiling at all of it. “Come on, you’re not too old to remember. Just have a ride. Hit the open country,” they seem to say smugly. The risks, however, are real. All of us know someone or someone who knows someone who lost his or her life on a motorcycle. It’s nothing to take lightly. But still . . . .
And so, even though I kept my promise and have always owned a motorcycle, I don’t really ride that much any more. The pathetic state of my once sharp skills would embarrass the teenage version of myself who lives only in my rearview mirror. Occasionally I’ll dust off the bike and whip through some corners, but it’s merely a sporadic fancy and not even a hobby anymore, much less a passion.
Recently, though, I hit upon an idea, perfectly suitable to the uncommitted nostalgic like myself, and, by its sheer lack of exposure, would be sure to offer safety through statistics alone, if not in reality. The idea? I would rent an adventure motorcycle while abroad on my Italian sabbaticals. A small aspect of this can be read about in my latest book, A Month of Italy: Rediscovering the Art of Vacation. A more perfect embodiment of the concept recently occurred on a five-day trip with my good friend and business partner Tim Marks, who, long-time companion on many of my boondoggles, is also quite capable with a motorcycle. So we rented two BMW 1200 GSs, had them delivered to our Borgo near Siena, Italy, and took to the many open roads of Tuscany. But that’s another story. Stay tuned to this blog for full coverage of our “Towns of Tuscany Tour.” In the meantime, for those of you who share my two-wheeled affinity, may you stay safe; of course, but never lose that rebellious streak to at least occasionally find some open country.
Because . . .
those who ride are Rascals.