Year three of our annual motorcycle trip to the Yellowstone area has come and gone and I can’t believe it’s already over. The first year I didn’t know what to expect and ended up loving everything about the trip. The second year I knew what to expect and was even more excited to go. This year I’ve been eagerly anticipating our trip almost since the day we returned home last year. I’ve yearned for it, first counting the months, then weeks, and finally the days before we hit the highway.
Our group numbered ten this year and for the first time in three years I finally had a female partner in crime to share the fun with. Five of the ten have made the journey all three years, a few have made it one or two times, and there were two newbies joining for the first time.
Besides all the fun and laughter, every year I’ve taken away something different and very personal from this trip and this year was no different. Having solitary time on the back of a motorcycle, alone with my thoughts, surrounded by beautiful scenery, naturally leads me to thinking about many of my thoughts and emotions. I realized that it's very rare that I'm able to be completely quiet inside myself, away from all the stress and obligations of everyday life, just reflecting on my life.
What struck me this year was how close a group of such different personalities and backgrounds can become. Tight bonds are formed that last well beyond our short vacation. This year, like last year, we rented a large house that we all stayed in together. At dinner time on the second night we were all gathered around a huge dining table eating our spaghetti dinner, when someone commented that they felt like they were at a family Thanksgiving. Someone else said, "This is better than my last Thanksgiving when I was alone with some store bought chicken and potatoes." Of course we all laughed and kidded him, but someone also said something to the effect of "Well, we're your family, so it should feel like a family dinner."
The day before someone mentioned how great it was that we were all together as friends, people that we'd chosen to spend time with because of the positive things we bring to each other's lives. We don't choose our families, and some in the group have less than ideal family dynamics, but we do choose our friends and our friends can be our family too.
I realized that on some level that's why this trip, and this group of people, have become so important to me. They feel like my family. I've always loved big family gatherings--having everyone together under one roof, late nights spent talking, laughing and goofing around, leisurely mornings in pajamas drinking coffee while planning the day, and laughter filled dinners at a big table surrounded by people I love.
I do, of course, have a large loving family of my own, but our family gatherings just aren't the same anymore. For one thing, there have been very few of them in the last three years. The last time we were all together under one roof was the week after Julie died. I don't think any of us would have survived that week if we hadn't been together. Little did I realize how much things would change after that. My mom said recently that Julie was our family lynch pin. A lynch pin is something that holds the various elements of a complicated structure together. That was Julie. Now that she's gone our family structure seems to be in a free fall. We're lost without her. When we are together, as Edna St. Vincent Millay said, "The presence of that absence is everywhere." In her absence we just don't get together that much anymore.
During our trip I laughed until my stomach hurt and there were tears streaming down my cheeks. There were long days and late nights filled with fun, but also talking about more serious things with people we all trust with each other's feelings. There were even some disagreements and squabbles, but they were all quickly put to rest with sincere acknowledgements of one anther's feelings and opinions with apologies when needed. I was surrounded by people that Mike calls "lifers", friends that are there for life, through thick and thin. The connection remains strong whether we see each other once a year or once a week, just like family.
I guess my soul has been searching for a way to replace what I feel I've lost. I need those large family gatherings filled with silliness, laughter, closeness, support and love. When I got on the back of our motorcycle and hit the open highway, besides a vacation I was also seeking some peace and solace from my unconscious longing for connection. Lucky for me, I found all that and more.