Sunday, April 24, 2011

Experiencing Freedom This Easter

I confess that the title of this blog is also the title of my pastor's sermon on this Easter Sunday, but it was so fitting that I had to use it. Often, I feel like I haven't been doing enough as a Christian, even though the Bible clearly says salvation cannot be earned ("For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast." Ephesians 2:8-9).

But, lately, I've come to realize more and more that Jesus loves me no matter what I do, or fail to do. Of course, I want to please Him, but He loves me (and all of us) unconditionally, which is why He chose to die on the cross for everyone.

This morning, my girlfriend Anna and I had hoped to attend a sunrise Easter service in another town, but it was cloudy and threatening to rain, so we decided to attend our regular church, which served a full breakfast before the service. The fellowship and worship were uplifting, but we were especially blessed by Pastor John Wheeler's sermon, What Can Jesus Set Me Free From? Well, four things: guilt over my past; worry about my future; purposeless living today; and, most importantly, having to earn my way to heaven.

By mid-morning, the skies cleared and it became very warm, in the 70s, so Anna and I chose to celebrate our freedom in Christ with a motorcyle ride. Annabelle, my Harley, started right up, and we headed south and then west to Connecticut, for one of our favorite roads, Route 49 through Sterling, Conn., a scenic farm road.

It was invigorating to see the trees beginning to bud and flower after a very long, snowy winter. I could smell fresh mulch. Bugs bounced off my face.

There was very little traffic around 2 p.m., since most people were probably sitting down for their Easter dinner (ours was not until 6:00). A good portion of the vehicles on the road were other motorcycles.

During, and after the ride, I reflected on the works God has done in my life since I accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior in 2008. I had a peace deep down that could come from nothing else but knowing Christ. Anna also experienced an intense feeling of peace today.

"I noticed a lot of praise and worship on my Facebook today," she said, "and not just from the regular Christians. The body (the church) lifted up the head (Christ), and it was a peaceful day."

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Blowing the Dust Off

Man, it's been a looong wait for the kickoff to this year's riding season. Back in February, the last time I posted on this blog, we'd been hammered with one serious snowfall after another, and it seemed like the white stuff would be on the ground until June. Okay, that's an exaggeration ... actually, the snow had disappeared by March, but then, I was waiting for a day that was at least partly sunny, and 60 degrees or better, before I would venture out. Oh, and that day had to be on a weekend, since my girlfriend Anna and I both work full-time (I was blessed to find a full-time job, which I started on March 1). Our New England weather has been stuck in a holding pattern the last few weeks, with most days reaching only into the 50s, so, I decided that today's forecasted high temperature in the mid-50s was close enough. That's right, time to ride ....

My 2002 Harley-Davidson Dyna Wide Glide (nicknamed Annabelle), hadn't been started in four months. I never installed a Battery Tender trickle charger after I bought the bike, because it had started after the 2009/10 winter without one, so I figured it would be okay through another winter. Wrong. The starter cranked slowly, and then the starter solenoid just rattled. I took the seat off my bike, and asked my girlfriend to bring a set of jumper cables, but the owners of the house where I store the bike returned home a few minutes later and graciously produced a pair of jumper cables that got Annabelle's motor purring in a jiffy. After letting her idle for a few minutes, I shut the engine off to make sure it would restart, before I ventured out on the road. It restarted under its own power now. Lesson learned: a Battery Tender is a must-have.

I discovered a curious fact about my motorcycle. A factory quality control sticker on a wiring harness underneath my seat was dated 09/12/2001 - which is the day after the terrorist attack that downed the World Trade Center in New York City. Also, a mouse or mice apparently had taken shelter in my seat at some point in the past, as some shells of sunflower seeds fell out of the bottom of the seat as I lifted it off the bike. Fortunately, the wires seemed to be intact.

Anyhow, my girlfriend arrived at the garage shortly after I got the bike started. She couldn't wait to ride. My bike desperately needed a bath, but this "ice breaker" ride wasn't about showing off - it was about a revival of soul and machine.

Even the route or destination wasn't important. We headed south, riding through West Greenwich, Exeter, North Kingstown and South Kingstown, stopping for lunch in Wakefield. By then, my fingers had started to turn white and numb, even with insulated leather gloves (oddly enough, after I thawed them out under warm water, they didn't get numb for the ride home).

On the way home, we stopped at Summit General Store in Greene, R.I., which bills itself as "Rhode Island's Only Real General Store." Anna had wanted to take me there in the past, but had been unable to find it.

During our ride, we covered a little more than 80 miles and passed a fair number of motorcyclists, though nowhere near as many as we would have seen on a Sunday with temps in the 70s or 80s. Admittedly, 'ideal' riding weather hasn't arrived yet, and true fair-weather riders' bikes are still in hibernation, but I wasn't about to let another weekend go by without blowing the dust off my bike.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Waiting It Out

I'm writing a quick blurb just to let readers know I'm still alive. My motorcycle blog has been very quiet the last couple months because, frankly, I've had very little to write about on that subject. My bike sits, thankfully, in a garage while we endure one snowstorm after another. Already we've had at least three major storms with 10-12" inches of snow, and a few moderate storms of 4-6", and it's only the beginning of February. There has been at least one storm every week the past several weeks, and kids have missed several school days. We're running out of places to pile the snow. It seems like some snow mounds are so high that they will linger on until May (well, I hope not).

There is one positive thing I can say about all this snow, however: I did learn how to operate a snow plow and tractor with a front loader. That was about the closest thing to 'fun' I've had with snow as an adult, since I don't ski, ice fish or ice skate.

Due to circumstances, I can't work on my bike over the winter, so all I can do is patiently wait until spring and occupy my mind with other things. Usually, I'm not much of a big reader of fiction, but I'm reading an excellent book, "Patriots," that is helping the time pass.

Most importantly, though, a relationship with Jesus Christ and frequent prayer is the best antidote for my winter blues, I've found.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

My Motorcycling Year In Review: 2010

My sophomore year of motorcycling, 2010, began with me looking to replace my beginner's bike, a 535 cc Yamaha, with the Harley-Davidson I'd dreamed about. I fell in love with a used Dyna Wide Glide at a dealer, but when the deal fell through, the hunt was on.

In early January, I saw a similar Wide Glide for sale by an individual in Massachusetts, but didn't have quite enough money to buy it. I scanned the Internet the next few weeks and looked at a few bikes, but nothing materialized. But, by the end of that month, I managed to save more money, enough to buy the 2002 Wide Glide for sale by private owner. I wasn't allowed to test ride the bike, so I had to purchase it on faith, but when I first rode it during an unusually warm spell in January, I found the bike was indeed as solid as the owner said it was. The difference between my Yamaha and Harley was like night and day.
But the snow and cold quickly returned, and the hard part was watching the Harley sit in my garage, waiting for spring when I could really ride it. February is a difficult month for a motorcyclist in New England; my visit to the Northeast Motorcycle Expo in Boston that month only made me itch for spring even more.

In March, I did very little riding, but I prepared my bike for the upcoming season by replacing the rear tire, changing the three types of oil and buying tools I needed to work on the bike. More important, though, I gained a passenger, my girlfriend, Anna, who I'd met a few months earlier. She had not been on the back of a motorcycle in more than a decade, but when I took her for a ride over the Jamestown-Verrazano Bridge that month, she was instantly hooked and rode with me whenever possible.

Around here, the riding season really doesn't start until April. My ego at getting a Harley got deflated a bit when I dropped the bike in a parking lot early that month, but fortunately, I was unhurt and my bike suffered only minor damage. The first official event for my Romans 8 Riders chapter of the Christian Motorcyclists Association was the bike blessing for the Blackstone Valley (Mass.) Harley Owners Group, followed by a group ride. The last weekend in April, I went to the second annual Motor Officer Bike Blessing and Rodeo at Rendezvous Leather in Uxbridge, Mass.

May is the month when riding weather gets comfortable, and the 2010 CMA Run for the Son was a very memorable event, even more so because Anna accompanied me. We rode to the Living Stone Foundation in Leominster, Mass., a privately owned and operated homestead where God's Word is carved into numerous stones on the property. The weather was warm and sunny, and except for some tense moments of highway riding on the trip up, the whole day was a blessing and very relaxing. On the way home, we took mostly country roads. Another major event I experienced for the first time was the 25th annual R.I. Blessing of the Bikes on Shipyard Street, near the Port of Providence. I had never seen so many motorcycles converging on one place in my life, and the exhaust rumbles of so many bikes sounded like constant thunder.

Also in May, I rode to Laconia, N.H. as part of CMA's Laconia Prayer Ride, where we prayed at the site of the big motorcycle rally in June (which I did not attend). This was my first long-distance ride. I started the day early, and by the time I got home around 10:30 p.m., I had ridden 426 miles, riding solo. Not having a fairing or windshield on my bike, I was rather tired by the end of the day.

Although I wrestled with whether to keep or sell my Yamaha Virago, I decided to sell it in May, and used the proceeds to pay for some upgrades to my Harley in June, including new exhaust pipes, high-performance air cleaner and a carburetor rebuild. I did all the work myself. The modifications improved the looks of the bike, but more importantly, helped it to run much more smoother.

June was the month of our CMA chapter's second annual Oakland Beach Bike Blessing, and as I did the previous year, I had the assignment to greet people and help them park (as Anna said, I was a "fisher of men.") By now, Anna was beginning to show interest in learning to ride her own motorcycle, and her son Ricky, 11, also enjoyed himself that day, climbing on the motorcycle of my fellow chapter member Bob Levesque (who also happens to be Ricky's computer teacher) and wearing my helmet and goggles as he did his best biker impression.

Anna helped me get out of my comfort zone during the third annual Ride for Tomorrow in June, where she urged me to bless the bikes of a couple she met while looking at bikes before the ride. It was the first time I had blessed a bike without more experienced members of my CMA chapter nearby.

July is prime time for our biking season, and mine started with Hogs and Hot Rods, a fun family event at Ocean State Harley-Davidson, where I took Anna and Ricky. That month Anna rode with me on the fifth annual Ride for Corinna's Angels, a benefit ride I'd done solo the year before. I want to praise God and thank Him for answering my prayer that at this year's ride, I would have a woman to ride with me - preferably on a Harley.

In mid-summer, Anna and I thought about riding on my motorycle to West Virginia, where she grew up and still has a sister. The problem is, we would have only had four days off. After researching the idea, we decided that making the 750-mile trip in one day on a motorcycle, while possible, might not be enjoyable. Instead, we settled on some shorter rides in July, just Anna and I. One ride, in eastern Connecticut, started out dry, but we ended up getting soaked to the bone. On another ride, we rode Interstate 95 to western Connecticut, crossed over the border into New York, and then rode back home through the middle of the state. Anna was surprised we had only ridden 300 miles that day, considering how long we were on the road.

In August, I really didn't do much riding. My focus was on Anna, who learned how to ride a motorcycle by taking the Motorcycle Safety Foundation Basic Rider Course at a local community college. She breezed the classroom portion of the course. The first day of the riding portion of the course, she dropped the bike, and, thanks to a less-than-encouraging instructor, she almost gave up. But she persisted, and completed the second day of riding without any mishaps, and passed the course.

September was a memorable month in a memorable riding season. It started with a ride to Massaschusetts to meet up with other CMA members for a pancake breakfast, followed by a scenic ride to The Cross in Barre, Mass., another site dedicated as a monument to God and Jesus Christ. There were a couple of shorter rides after that, and the month ended with the Station Education Fund ride, which was my first poker run-style ride. There was never a dull moment on that ride, which both of us were greatly anticipating, and we were blessed greatly that day.

The education fund ride was followed in early October by another new experience for us - the R.I. Motorcycle Association's annual toy run. It was by far the largest ride Anna or I had been on, with at least 1,000 motorcycles participating as police blocked traffic on major highways. Later that month, Anna and I went on a smaller, local toy drop, but by this time, the riding season was over for all intents and purposes. Neither of us can ride for long in the cold because our fingers go numb, even with gloves. We ended up getting an early snow toward the beginning of November. After that melted and we had some rain to wash the salt off the roads, I took my bike out one last time to change the oil, and it hasn't left the garage since.

In terms of milage, I rode 6,160 miles on my Harley in 2010, plus maybe a couple hundred more on my Yamaha before I sold it. That is about the same total number of miles I logged in 2009, my first year riding. I will say it took much longer to get comfortable riding the heavier and more powerful Wide Glide, compared to how quickly I felt comfortable on the little Virago. But, I feel like I am hitting my stride with the Harley, and having Anna as my passenger makes my riding experiences more enjoyable. In the fall, members of my CMA chapter elected me road captain for the 2011 season, so I'm evidently not the only one who feels my riding skills have grown.

Anna says it was her "best year ever," and I agree. We owe all these blessings to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. My focus in 2010 was learning to trust Him, and although I have not had steady, full-time employment in a long time, the Lord was faithful to provide my needs in 2010. Although I have to wait a few months for the snow to melt, I am excited about the 2011 riding season, as I'm sure He has bigger and better things ahead.