Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Chasing the swallows? Not on a Royal Enfield

Watch swallows fly at sunset and imagine being that good a motorcycle rider.
I saw a motorcycle down on my way home the other night. Two other motorcyclists (travelling companions probably) were stopped and emergency vehicles had just pulled up. I didn't join the gapers' block that was forming, so I can't even guess what happened.

But, of course, it makes you think

That morning I had listened to public radio's Krista Tippett interviewing story teller Kevin Kling.

Kling survived a motorcycle accident that left him with a paralyzed right arm. This was especially bad news for him because he was born with a severely disabled left arm.

Kling wasn't riding crazily when he crashed. He had his helmet on. A car pulled in front of him — that's all.

But his choice to become a motorcycle rider in the first place had not been nearly so mundane

What so impressed me about Tippett's interview is when she read from Kling's book, "The Dog Says How."

In it he writes about watching swallows swooping at full speed through the rafters of a barn, "following roads only they could see."

"God, I wanted to feel that," he wrote

"So I bought a motorcycle."

I know what he means. Sitting with my wife on the balcony of a romantic (and expensive!) restaurant in Debrovnik recently we watched the swallows darting gracefully over the old city.

My God, they're good. No Top Gun fighter pilot could match them.

I, too, am envious of the swallows. But that is not why I bought my Royal Enfield.

I'd just wanted to go back in time, to a childhood I had never fully processed — I do remember wanting a motorcycle. The motorcycle didn't need to be fast. In fact, being slow (in modern terms) was what I imagined it would have been like in 1955.

Kling had some thoughts about these feelings, too. He told Tippett:

"You spend the first half of your life running away from home and the second half trying to get back to home."

There are riders out there who chase the swallows, and I admire their skills although I don't possess them. For me, motorcycling isn't about trying to fly. It's about trying to land.

I'm not saying that makes me a safer rider. Not at all. The swallows rarely crash. It's just that I'm seeking a different set of sensations.

Injured as he is, Kling says the strongest feeling his accident left him is gratitude. He's glad to be alive.

No uninjured person would trade places with Kling. But his insights are instructive.


  1. Anonymous5/25/2016

    Thank you so much for putting this story on you're blog. It is about feeling alive in what ever we do.

  2. An inspiring post, Tom. You may like my latest (which concerns Royal Enfields along the way, too)

    1. Thank you for the link to a great blog. Readers, I recommend Avus' item about his motorcycling life. He has owned 51 bikes, and carted his family around in those great hulking sidecars you thought no one really used. Inspiring.


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