Proceed As The Way Opens

Proceed as the way opens

My two sons learned to loathe that phrase as they were growing up. Conversations would go something like this:

“Dad, what do I do if this doesn’t work out?”

“Proceed as the way opens.”

“Dad, that isn’t being helpful!”

I picked up the Quaker phrase, which is present at the bottom of every personal e-mail I send, from William Least Heat-Moon’s wonderful travel book River-Horse.

In the book, Least Heat-Moon takes a four-month journey across the United States, almost entirely by water. He starts out in New York Harbor and finishes near Astoria, Oregon. And except for a few short portages and a much longer portage across the Bitterroot Mountains, he does the journey entirely by boat. The boats varied throughout the journey, starting out with a 22-foot c-dory, and later moving on to a canoe, and even jet boat near the end.

(You can watch C-SPAN’s Brian Lamb interview Least Heat-Moon about the book here.)

But on every boat, he kept a little placard with the phrase “Proceed as the way opens,” which is the nature of river journeys. I read the book at least 15 years ago, and it still sticks with me, largely because of its meditation about the nature of journeys.

Motorcycle journeys, much like traveling by boat, are not always under control of the traveler, and so he must always be willing to proceed as the way opens.

I was reminded of that this week as I took my annual motorcycle vacation, meeting up with my old friend Matt Riegel. I had several goals for the trip – to complete my National Parks Tour, to ride as much of the Blue Ridge Parkway as possible, and to spend time with my friend Knowing, of course, that I would need to proceed as the way opens.

Matt and Ralph along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Matt and Ralph at the Mt Jefferson overlook along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

During the first couple of days of the trip, which I talked about in an earlier post, I rode through very hot weather and got dehydrated, leaving me more exhausted than I should be on vacation. During my ride then from Florence, Alabama to Huntsville, I found myself in stop-an-go traffic and realized if I kept on with that kind of riding, I would get myself overheated and dehydrated again. So I decided to skip a trip down through Chattanooga, Tennessee and down into Georgia because it would require a lot of urban riding through stop-and-go traffic. Skipping Georgia meant that I wouldn’t be able to collect National Park stamps from all 25 states required for my National Parks Tour, but I decided it was far smarter to just stay on roads where I could keep moving and stay at a reasonable temperature. Proceed as the way opens.

On the day Matt and I were scheduled to ride the Blue Ridge Parkway, the forecast called for a heavy layer of fog at the parkway’s elevations, so we rode from the southern terminus of the parkway in Cherokee, NC up to Asheville. When we attempted to enter the parkway there, we found that the road was still covered with impenetrable fog. So we hopped back on US 19 and skipped by another big portion of the road and entered the parkway near Linville Falls. So we missed the first 150-miles of the parkway, certainly the best riding of the road, but we ended up traveling a range of roads we hadn’t seen before and ended up having an excellent time. Not what we had planned, but… well, you know.

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