|A Night in the Mojave
By Martin Hackworth
This article first appeared in the Sunday, January 4, 2009 edition of the Idaho State Journal
Lose your dreams and you’ll lose your mind – The Rolling Stones
Hello Old Friend,
Just got back from the Mojave Desert. It was as crazy as always: cold, lots of night riding, snow-covered sand, not so dry dry lakebeds and endless whoops. At one point I bottomed the suspension of the XR so hard in a dry wash that the resulting compression of my spine numbed both hands for about 5 minutes. I also discovered that when otherworldly bright HID lights go out the world becomes otherworldly dark really fast - an inconvenient feature when you are flying across the desert on your dirt bike in pitch dark. Aside from that and a few minor setbacks (a broken finger, a mild shoulder separation, lots of fear) it was miles of smiles. You’d have dug it.
I have been thinking of you and our old crew a lot lately – though it’s been years since the halcyon days. This trip down memory lane being precipitated by our old friend Rock and Roll Steve’s funeral a few weeks ago. I’ve always figured that any such event I attended as other than the guest of honor is a definite step up from the alternative but Steve’s passing kind of got on top of me. I remembered you and I driving to Red River Gorge to climb, beating dents in the dashboard of your Pontiac to “Turn Up The Radio” and that memory spun me up into a spell of brooding over fundamental questions.
One thing that has not changed since the time that we plied our trade as climbing/skiing bums is that world of social norms still seems almost unbearably dreary without the occasional foray into some crazy deed that makes absolutely no rational sense. I remember very little about even the greatest, most highfalutin dinner party I ever attended yet I can clearly recall everything about the time I came flat out around turn 9 at Willow Springs Raceway, one of the scariest places on the planet, and noticed a T-38 flying upside down about 300 feet off the deck coming straight at me - with the pilot waving through the canopy. Even though I’m well past due I’m still not right for the mild-mannered, settled down kind of guy good at socializing with genteel company – and the prospects for change look mighty dim. You might as well ask me to voluntarily stop breathing.
Out in the Mojave at night, in a universe defined the pattern of a headlight beam and the roar of the bike’s engine - free of anything petty, or ordinary or ignoble - I knew that Steve was out there in the darkness, his gentle soul finally free of the hang-ups of this sad world. I rode through the night not alone but with a lifetime of fallen friends and lost loves – all as corporeal as the Joshua trees that flashed into being in the glow of the headlight before fading into the darkness. The bucking of the bike and the sting of the night air made it all sufficiently vivid that it seemed real enough. But it is on this point I am frequently confused.
What, after all, is real and what is confabulation? Is it the daily world with it’s grind and rules, and conventions and hang-ups and sorrows or the occasional pointless adventure that allows you to soar above the earth for a little while and blow out a few gaskets in the night? Is it quality or quantity? I know that a few things in the normal world are as real as it gets - the time I spend with my son, for instance. But the sober practice of observing the norms that go with trappings of posterity just doesn’t quite have the Zen quality of our old road trip pastime of jumping from the back of one moving pickup truck into another. The one thing of which I am certain though is that it’s the tug between the worlds that nourishes.
So, mi amigo, I think that you can see that I am doing my best to keep the faith in spite of the fact that the creaking of my old bones is sufficiently noisy to occasionally prevent me from falling asleep at night. Still I have not forgotten the nobility of effort spent in the pursuit of wildly impractical dreams and hope that I never do. I have no idea what we are all doing here or really what anything is all about. On this point all I have to share is my own confusion. I’m just grateful for what I have and damned happy to be here. And I intend to enjoy every second fumbling along the path toward enlightenment – which I reckon I’ll find out about one way or another before too long.
Until then, rest well, friend.