During the summer when I was a kid we would take long car trips up the East cost. We’d pass store fronts and parking lots, empty fields peppered with debris, endless stretches of cow fields. We would drive through 8 hours of flat-land Florida until we hit the treeline and rolling hills in Georgia, and then keep on going.Sometimes we’d stop in the Carolina’s, other times it would be straight on until Maine.
When we would finally pulled off the highway to hurriedly pass through some sleepy town on our way to the next highway junction I would look down at the pavement and think to myself, “I’ll never put my feet down on that ground.”
I’d see the waves of heat coming off the black tar, people gathered outside store fronts, dogs peeing on the sides of buildings, and wonder what it smelled like outside. How hot was the air? Is it humid?
Hidden behind the glass of the windows in the air-conditioned car I often felt like I was floating through places. Hurried, disconnected.
I was there, but I really wasn’t. Just slipping by, like some vacationing ghost.
I saw, but I didn’t feel.
Into adulthood I would find myself thinking about this again and again. Peering out the window of my SUV when I made a stop, looking down at the pavement that my feet would never touch.
There are scientists who believe that the earth radiates energies that can transfer up into you if you place your bare feet against the ground. I knew that there was no chance in hell of that energy making it up from the road, through my tires, through the chassis, through the pedal, through my shoe, through my sock, and into my body. I was just a specter drifting around the world, missing out on this easily accessible connection to something deeper, something more powerful, than a stupid commute to a 9-5 job.
Then, one day, popping out for a quick bite on a lunch break, I got into a car accident.
I was fine, not a scratch to my person, but the car was totaled.
I was still in college and living on campus during that time. This allowed me to not need a car for day to day commuting. I got a job nearby I could ride my bicycle to and I began living life as a pedestrian.
I was hoofing it a lot.
You would think I found the “connectedness” that those scientists say you can get from feeling the earth under your feet, but I just wasn’t. There was such a preoccupation in my mind of “getting where I was going” that I was still living as my ghost-self. I was more worried about late buses and trains, about sweaty clothes and rainstorms, than I was about that connection to the world I so desperately yearned for.
It was when I met the first person I’d ever known who rode a motorcycle that my paradigm began to change. He was doing it every day, putting his feet down. Pull up to a stop, down go those feet. These weren’t the same bicycle riding feet that I pressed down against dog-shit and gum covered sidewalks. These were firm, purposeful, strong motorcycle riding feet.
I stopped saving up for a new car and set my sights square on my first bike. I knew next to nothing about motorcycles, but I didn’t care. I just knew, somewhere way deep down, that this was the way to find that connection I wanted. Yea, my feet would still have boots and socks, but that’s it. Just a couple flimsy pieces of material between me and the life-pulse of the ground.
I took the course to get my permit and didn’t sit on a bike again until I was in the saddle pulling out of the dealership on my brand spanking new Suzuki TU250. I knew shit about what I was buying, what I was doing, or where I was going. There I was, a 23 year old girl with nobody to ride with, nobody to learn from. But I knew I was doing right by myself.
You never forget that first ride. It was sunny and hot. I fumbled with looping the helmet straps because I had put my gloves on first. I got on and started up the engine. It was more of a kittens purr than a wildcat’s growl – but it stirred my heart just the same.
I pulled out and after a mile came to the first stop. I laid off the gas, slipped into neutral, and let my feet gently touch the ground. I felt the bike shifting under me as I found my footing, like it was some excited pony who was finally let out to run and then hurriedly pulled to a stop.
The feelings surged through me. I could feel that earth connection tingling up through the soles of my feet and straight into my core. I flipped up my visor and lifted my head, taking a deep inhale. Greasy food, cut grass and gasoline flooded into my nostrils. I was doing it. I was finally feeling the world, instead of passing through it.
Six years later and I still have that Suzuki. Together we’ve fallen down in sugar sand, tumbled across a rain-slicked blacktop, raced under shooting stars and flown like birds over bridges.
I ride because now I can put my feet down wherever I please.
Submitted by Ash Otocki, you can visit her online at ashotocki.com.