Snowflake Contemplation

James Murphy offers a contemplation on his motorcycle journey through Mexico. This is the first in a series of stories about Meditation and Motorcycles. 

I can just read enough of the LCD display to tell it’s a little after 8:00am. We are so caked in dirt it’s difficult to tell one rider from another, never mind reading the computer screens mounted on our handlebars. I feel an unusual sense of regret for spending my morning sitting and not using those valuable hours making sure I would be prepared for this, the final leg of our trip. The wind coming from the west is so much stronger now, even the best riders in our group are struggling to maintain balance and relax into the morning ride.

We have just left Nuevo Casas Grandes in the northern state of Chihuahua and are bound for Agua Prieta in neighboring Sonora to make our border crossing. Riding continuously for over a dozen days, seventeen strangers bound together out of necessity, in search of adventure and an authentic Mexican experience. Our motorcycles elicit looks of surprise and loud jeers in every town. I wasn’t sure what to expect in this part of the trip but right now I’m feeling exhausted and somewhat overwhelmed by the technical challenges Mother Nature has posed. Still I have a sense of optimism and humility for having made it this far.

James in Chihuahua

James and some of his fellow travelers riding in Chihuahua.

Heavy clouds loom on the horizon to the northwest and our speed gradually slows as we begin our ascent into the mountains. The dense on-coming traffic impedes my ability to overtake the cars and trucks sharing my path. I use my glove to clean the dirt from the computer one more time. With the possibility of danger ahead, I feel a growing sense of anxiety in my stomach and I check my bike’s vital signs over and over again. Everything looks good but I do feel the temperature dropping and the computer confirms my suspicions.

I push my helmet visor down tight to protect my face from the frigid mountain air. I find myself occasionally lost in thought imagining myself sharing this experience with someone I love. My hot breath quickly condenses on the inside of helmet and I’m temporarily blinded. I quickly push open the visor to allow the cold air in again and the plastic clears instantly.

Even though my body is tense, l make a conscious effort to straighten my back, tuck in my arms and place the balls of my feet on the foot pegs below me.

To survive this day, my body and this machine will need to synchronize and I lean my open chest onto the gas tank as I commit to the oncoming corner.

There is pattern to these corners that I can’t quite follow. More challenging than U.S. roads but still very characteristic of this continent. I start to think of all the possibilities of road, corners, and civil engineering and suddenly remember to label it and come back. Just in time. I suddenly find myself sharing my lane with a semi coming down the mountain at great speed. His trailer slides wild and hard on the corner ahead and blocks my exit path completely except for a few inches. I have no time to panic now and I quickly place my trust in the techniques shared by my teachers. The moment passes and somehow I survive.

The rider ahead pulls onto the shoulder and I follow without hesitation. We have a very animated discussion about our ride and the incident just passed while rummaging through our bags to find every available layer of clothing for extra warmth. With helmet fully open, I notice the light drizzle has transformed into snowflakes and instead of bringing joy to my heart I find myself frowning and wishing there was another now.

My hands are so cold and my summer riding gloves are quite useless but I have two secret weapons – a meditator’s mind and heated electric grips.

I’m brought back to the now by my companion who gestures that it’s time to saddle up. Before we leave our oasis, I briefly converse with a truck driver who shares the space with us. He assures me that it is indeed snowing ahead and calls us “gringos locos” when I tell him our plan is to climb that mountain. I momentarily debate him whether I’m technically a “gringo” but he doesn’t seemed swayed by my arguments and is even more assured that I’m crazy.

We find a gap in the traffic and accelerate hard on the gravel to find our place in a convoy of cars and trucks headed north. My hands are frigid and I squeeze the grips in an effort to warm myself. The thermometer displays numbers that were never meant to be seen on a motorcycle and every time I think they can’t go any lower, the computer proves me wrong.

I feel my heart sink and my head drops but my eyes focus once again on the computer. I notice a new icon on the display, something I’ve never seen before. It’s hard to make it out at first but suddenly it dawns on me that it’s a snowflake, an electronic snowflake! I begin to contemplate this new icon and try to find a way to escape the uncomfortable reality of the moment. Minutes pass as I begin to think of an engineer in Berlin who was kind enough to add this feature and I find myself chuckling when I consider how totally impractical his invention really is.

I return to the present moment in time to notice that we have started our descent from the mountain. The immediate danger has passed and my map indicates that the Arizona border is less than an hour away. In a few miles that snowflake icon will disappear and I find myself smiling again as I feel the fear leave my body.

jamesJames Murphy is an avid motorcyclist and meditator and lives in Newport Beach, CA. He regularly attends meditation class at the Center for Living Peace in Orange County on Wednesday evenings and Sunday mornings.

One thought on “Snowflake Contemplation

  1. I enjoyed reading Snowflake Contemplation and the surprising connection between meditation and motorcycles. I find it quite motivating to see how others apply meditation to not only their everyday lifestyle, but also through life’s experiences and journey. Such dedication are always interesting and inspiring to read.