Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Emerging from the Fog

It's hell to get old.  A familiar utterance from my father for as long as I can remember but until recently I didn't fully appreciate it's meaning.  Over the last two weeks I've worked through real and imagined ghosts of aging.

Stood for awhile in the studio today staring at the camera LCD wondering who this guy is. Self-portraits often reveal uncomfortable things.  They're not for anyone who likes to avoid the truth. The recent ER visit may have been the wake up call but I hadn't realized how far down the scale I might have fallen.

And just so you don't think I spend my days at work taking pictures of myself I was working out photographic style issues for a new marketing campaign.  I was just a convenient test model.

Poor Junior. 

Opened my eyes on Sunday morning and peered out the window -- fog.  No long walk on this morning.  Fleeting, vaporous, no time to spare when an enchanted landscape appears like Brigadoon emerging from the mist.  
Fast shower, dog out just long enough for morning responsibilities and I'm off on the Vespa seeking the quintessential magic image.  I've been chasing it for years. My blue butterfly.

Less than a mile from home I realize the fog has already moved off leaving just a gray calmness over the morning.  Abigail, the M4 Sherman tank in the picture, is similar to the ones in a photo album of my father's recording his time in the United States Third Army in the 1940s.  I see his ghost when I look in the mirror and feel the biological clock ticking, reminding me that I have choices to make.

In the past two weeks I've lost 24 pounds.  Fueled by stress, medication and the flu it rendered my less than finely tuned body into what I can only describe as a frail, muddled organism.  A stoic denial of sodium in response to my blood pressure spikes I was so thorough that my arms and legs seemed to constantly be cramping.  Only some insistent advice from loved ones and friends was able to penetrate my hard head and adjust my diet.  The same hardheadedness that makes it possible for me to ride through the winter also makes it difficult to see the light shining.  


I had to cancel my place in the MSF Experienced Rider Course.  I was weak and didn't believe I could withstand the seven hours in the sun.  So much of me wanted to ignore all the data and go anyway.


Riding frequency declined for a number of reasons including the sudden necessity to replace our vehicles.  Bad, bad planning and requiring an amazing amount of time and effort.  So when I was able to ride it was mesmerizing.  Every possible good feeling and nerve end tingling greeted me.  It was good to be home.

Standing along Spring Creek and listening to the water sing almost made me cry.  I don't know why I've been so lucky in life.  Or given so many chances to succeed.


Riding has a calming effect.  Or so I tell myself when I watch my blood pressure numbers decline to their normal levels.  The past week they have pumped steady between 110/65 and 125/75, the range they have been for the past 50 years.

As the early morning wanes I head back to town and cut across campus towards my weekly meeting at Saint's Cafe.  The streets are empty as I ride beneath the last remaining elm tunnels. 

All the magic is gone when the sun is out.  Any chance of depicting Gordon as some sort of character out of a Harry Potter story is impossible in this light.  I'm thinking sodium at this point and what I can eat to give myself a bit of salt.

Mushroom and bell pepper quiche.  Vespa rider fare.  With much encouragement and advice I've moderated my stoic diet.  Weight loss has ceased and I feel good again.  The results from a battery of tests still linger in the future when I see my doctor later this week.  Until then I'll continue to do what I'm doing.

Heavy skies were forming in the west when I departed Saint's and by the time I got to Lemont I felt it wise to stop for a few minutes at the cafe and let the storm pass.  And a good excuse for tea and a cookie.  My first in a long time.

A cool breeze blows across the porch, delicate ringing from small bell chimes fills the air as every suggestion of the heat from just a few minutes earlier is washed away.  As the first drops of rain begin to fall I know I could stand here all day.

In minutes a steady, hard rain makes me smile that I've made a good decision.  Similar decisions loom down the road in regard to diet, stress and exercise.  What, me worry?

My father used to tell me I reminded him of Alfred E. Neuman.  Must have been the ears.

The rain passes and I make my way towards home.  The road stretches ahead and I don't know what's around the bend.  I can guess but mostly it's paying attention to what happens next.  For now I'm ok.  Or so it seems.  

The business of living is moving along.  A new Honda Fit Sport has replaced our old VW Jetta.  My Ford Ranger will make it's debut on eBay later this week with a Honda Odyssey van taking it's spot in the driveway.

I've had no aspiration to be a minivan driver but years of all season Vespa riding has tempered me for the task ahead.

And my apologies for all of you still waiting for me to post my review of the BMW K1600 GTL.  And to make matters more daunting I also have to write reviews of the Ducati Diavel that Craig Kissell and I took a ride on.  The Ducati Multistrada and a second time out on the BMW 1200 RT.

Plodding wins the race.  Look for more soon.

And thank you to everyone for your kind regards and support.  I do appreciate it.


Jack Riepe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jack Riepe said...

I deleted the first version of tgis comment, as it was too rambling.

Dear Scooter In The Sticks (Steve):

If for nothing else, you can be counted on the write the kind of thoughful, penetrating blog episode that makes a reader wish he had invented a cure for something, or perhaps brought about peace in the Middle East.

Your essay tonight is as introspective as a self-induced appendectomy.

You make the fog seem like a cleansing experience, and then ride off to find a Sherman tank reposing in the mist. Are we to find parallels with you doing n battle in the fog, like others fought windmills?

Your self-portrait is a lot different than I anticipated too. It is a bit more sedate than I expected. Yetbthere is this other side to you... I am thrilled to know that in your personal library is a copy of my cigar book, leaking oil into the pristine pool that is your literary consciousness.

I sense more than a touch of the melancholy in you these days. This is more likely the result of the flu more than the lack of salt, no doubt. What I think you need is to get down to the BMW dealers, and pick up an S1000RR. Take it up to the Turnpike, and wring it out. Return it to Kissel with the tires bald and the brakes smoking. I guarantee he won't give a shit. You'll be 26 when you get out of the saddle. And all of the pictures in your camera will have a 26-year-old perspective as well.

I just thought it was a cool perversity that made you ride a Vespa. But Steve... A minivan? Minivans are for old ladies who hate me, and run me over with them.

Getting old isn't s bad... If you give it a good fight.

Fondfest regards,
Jack • reep
Twisted Roads

sewa mobil said...

Very nice, thanks for the information.

bobskoot said...


I don't know how it happened, nor realized how fast time has passed but I find that I am now obsessed with aging and the consequences. Time cannot be stopped and adjustments must be made. It is hard to imagine that we are the "older" generation even though we don't feel like we are. I envy that you are so accepting of your situation while I am still in denial.

Riding the Wet Coast

Charlie6 said...


A very thoughtfully crafted and thought inducing post and self-portrait.

I will tell you what I see in your self-portrait, a man waiting for something outside his control: the final test results, and still bearing up stoically to the stress involved.

I hope for the best possible results for you and I am optimistic that you'll get them.

Yes, please go back to normal diet, perhaps with a bit of moderation of course. That much weight loss in such a short period of time is not good.

I prescribe more riding and less thoughts of things you can't control. Easy for me to say I know but it's the best advice I got.

Enjoyed your pictures, as always. I look forward to many more....


Redleg's Rides

Colorado Motorcycle Travel Examiner

David Masse said...

What is it about life on two wheels and acute unflinching introspection candidly offered up for the benefit of your fellow man? Keep this up and your blog will be neck and neck with Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance as literary masterworks.

I truly admire you Steve and reading your blog offers so much more than insights for riders and fans of topnotch photography.

Do keep it up.

If ever you think that you might be up for a transcontinental ride at a curious toddler's pace, mention it and you might find a small posse of like minded riders prepared to take it on.

Orin said...

The Pulitzer Prize-winning auto reviewer Dan Neil once said of minivans that they are mostly disdained by suburbanites with children who don't wish to be perceived as parents.

New, or used? Junior will surely enjoy luxuriating in the back seat, whatever you choose. The third-row seat that folds into the floor is a work of genius. And if you remove the second-row seats (rather easy, I believe), a Vespa GTS fits quite nicely (okay, you might have to pop off the topcase, but it's a Givi, which is designed for that).

So, instead of riding your Vespa out to "Orin country" which I'm guessing would take a couple weeks, you could load up the Vespa and be out here in a few days. I know a route that goes through the Cascades to Spokane, down to the Columbia Basin, through Portland and back to the 'Ham via Seattle. I'm thinking of doing it in September. You are more than welcome to join me...

Scootin' Old Skool

Conchscooter said...

Take a long Vespa ride.
Of all the cock ups of my life the one thing I don't regret is making memories.
My wife, who is more level headed than I, agrees.
Buying stuff does not make for memories, doing stuff does.
Usually doing stuff involves telling well minded people to mind their own beeswax, so I shall.

cpa3485 said...

This post is further evidence of your thoughtfulness in both pictures and prose. Thoughts of things like bucket lists and mortality have consumed many of my own thoughts over the past 4 months. I often think about the man I was before and the man I am now.
I like what Conch said about experiences. I am a changed person, but, If anything, my desires for experiences have gotten even larger than before. Because of my condition maybe I have to be a bit more selective, but there are always opportunities out there.
Best of continued good fortune on the health front. It's a long slow ride, rather than a sprint. With no intent to insult anyone, a scooter at 50mph is just as much fun as a BMW at 100mph any day, plus you get a chance to see the surroundings a bit better.

Anonymous said...

Dear Kim (Mrs. Williams),
It is with much sadness that I offer my sympathy to you on the passing of your husband, Steve. I hope you find comfort in Steve's last blog post providing him the opportunity to share his parting thoughts with you and his blogger community. And in great Steve style, to spend all those years driving junk vehicles in order to save enough money to buy you two new Hondas just prior to his passing. Live on knowing the world will always have an imprint of Steve in every early morning fog filled field and around every blind curve.

With love and sympathy.

PS. Did he happen to mention to you that he wanted me to have his beat up old Vespa upon his demise. He wrote it on a note somewhere.

PSS. Sorry he couldn't suck it, make some modifications to his diet, and live for another week or so (or decade or three!) - for I have the first cut of a video he inspired me to envision and get put together. Sorry he missed it simply because he needed to eat Creamery ice cream twice a day rather than once a week! He would like the 99 year old Butter, Egg, and Coal Man from Bigler. - see "Journeys" video at http://patterson-brandt.com/projects/journeys/

Steve, want to meet to discuss the video? Creamery? : )

Steve Williams said...

Dear Mr. Riepe: The moment you published the first rambling message I get a copy of it whether you delete it or not. So I had the chance to see the way your rambling mind works. It wasn't so bad for a cigar smoking, K bike riding man.

Thanks for the kind words though I remain uncertain how thoughtful any of it is. I'll take your word for it right now.

Your guidebook for living stands on my bookshelf between Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire and a worn copy of The Deerslayer. It used to be with my DVD collection but I had to move it to a quieter locale.

I'm doing ok. Any news of my demise is entirely unwarranted. I'll let you know if I die.

The minivan is a perfect utilitarian machine. You should know by know I don't put any stock at all into perceptions about machines. And what's wrong with old ladies who hate you anyways?

Steve Williams said...

bobskoot: I think I first noticed getting older when I couldn't walk in barefeet anymore. That happened when I was 25 or so. The next 32 years have been a slow unfolding of surprises.

Even so, it's great to be walking on the earth!

Steve Williams said...

Charlie6: You're wrong about the self-portrait. What you see is a guy getting frustrated that he can't stand in the right place to get the damn picture in focus and wished the art director would arrive so I would have a subject to work with for the tests.

Shooting with an 85mm f1.8 lens wide open has a very shallow depth of field.

I plan to use your prescription of more riding. Time for a ride to lunch!

Steve Williams said...

David Masse: Thank you for the words of support on the post. I appreciate it.

A cross country ride is certainly in my head. Maybe it's time to make more serious plans.

Steve Williams said...

Orin: I think the van will be great for a wide range of reasons. It fills the VW Campmobile experience, dog hauler, Vespa hauler, plants and rock transport.

People have reacted to it the same way they did when I got a Vespa -- as if it is a personal blow to my ego or something. Oh well, I suppose I should be grateful for not feeling that way.

If I were going to Orin country it would be morally wrong to haul the scooter out there. Ride out or nothing at all.

Steve Williams said...

conchscooter: Long rides already in the works with a three day ride on the calendar in July. Full speed ahead.

I agree with your wife about doing stuff versus buying stuff. And most of the time I actually live that philosophy.

Steve Williams said...

cpa3485: So far so good on the health front. Unless they find some organic cause for my BP event it appears that poor diet, lack of exercise, and stress may be the culprit. I've been moderating everything and feel pretty good. Could take that MSF class now without any worries.

I think you're wrong about the scooter vs motorcycle. I think a scooter is more fun than a BMW at a 100.

Steve Williams said...

Dear Mr. Anonymous: You just don't seem so shy in person. And your proclamation of my parting is premature. Sorry.

Also, I was going to talk with Eva about getting the Vespa into the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum since the riding is so close to flight.

The video is great though you will have challenges ahead to make use of it. It's powerful.

Aurelio said...

Hi Steve'
Glad to see you back. Missed your thoughts/posts. Recently I too went through the "wormhole" from ageless to aging. Started to see my dad in every reflection. Started to focus on every ache and pain. Fortunately, I've been blessed with a late-in-life child. A lovely and smart 14 yr. old who only sees me as dad and doesn't seem to notice the grey hair, the groans and wrinkles, the occasional mutterings about getting old. Then there is my Vespa...
Be well,

RichardM said...

Actually, I think you've taken an excellent self portrait and penned a very thought provoking post. I, as many others, have spent some time thinking about getting older and sort of had to deal with my "do anything" mentality. One of the most difficult tasks for me is to meditate on "have I made a difference".

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Steve:

Forgive me if I gave you the wrong impression regarding my admiration of minivans. They are great for:
1) Getting to bingo in style
2) Turing Wal-Mart into a "destination"
3) Marking the point in life where a vehicle is less of a statement and more like acid reflux
4) A great way to stock up on "free" government cheese
5) A way to drink and drive if the cocktail of choice is digitalis and prune juice.
6) The perfect way to rid the road of annoying K-75 riders.

Also, a scooter could be more fun than a BMW motorcycle at 100, if in fact that is all you can manage to straddle at that dvanced age.

I am breathless with anticipation... Does your three-day ride in July include a stop at Bloomsburg? I'll reserve you a seat in the front row.

Fondest regards,
Jack • Reep
Twisted Roads

Pvino said...


Very nice posting and your insights to many things to come...but all good in mind. I have had many challenges be getting back on my scooter each time makes me feel (time machine) youthful and effectively re- energizes my soul. Just remember you are now on the road toward better health.. Tofu can be a tasteless nutrient but hell those soybeans can do wonders.

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