By: Ethan Maurice
One of the most influential books I've ever encountered is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig. I knew I would be retracing part of the path of my cross country bike ride as I drove up to my summer job in Montana, which closely parallels the story line of the book, so I picked it up again for a second read on my trip north.
Yesterday, I was hiding out from a thunderstorm in the mountains just east of Jackson, WY. I read a couple chapters as I laid in this remarkably cozy nest of a bed I made with the back seats down in the used SUV I recently bought.
In the book, the main character is riding west on a motorcycle tour and begins recognizing places he can't remember being. His previous self was this philosophical genius of sorts who lost it and had his personality and memories destroyed through shock therapy. As he retraces his old route and returns to places he'd once been, the things he re-encounters drudge up memories and thoughts of that previous self. This previous self haunts him, almost like – as he says – a ghost.
I just re-encountered the path of my previous self. An hour ago, I drove into Grand Teton National Park and rolled across mile after mile of road I pedaled over three years ago on my cross country bicycle ride. As I write these very words, I sit at the foot of Jackson Lake, looking out across the water at that same epic wall of rock known as the Grand Tetons. I'm sitting on the same beach, staring at the same view that affected me so profoundly three years ago.
I'm running into my own ghosts out here. The feelings, thoughts, and expansive sense of aliveness that I possessed in this place three years ago are being drudged up in the same way the main character experiences in the book.
I know I was here three years ago. I remember it. But for some reason, it feels more like a story told than a place I've been. I think that's because I was living a story at that time. I was a teenage stroke survivor who'd set out to bicycle across the United States raising funds for the children's hospital that saved his life. My thoughts and actions were so deeply invested in reaching that one singular goal. It was the best story I'd ever lived.
Sitting here at the foot of Jackson Lake again feels different than anywhere I've ever returned. It doesn't have the familiarity of going home or revisiting my freshman year of college dorm again (as I just did both in the past couple days).
It's almost as if this beach is sacred ground. A place of personal legend. If my cross country bike ride was my pilgrimage, the foot of Jackson Lake was my sort of mecca or at least a holy land along the way. I was so moved by this place, I hung this poster sized print on the wall of my bedroom upon my return:
These resurfacing feelings and thoughts that once burned in me here are fainter this time around. They're difficult to grasp with solidity. My previous self isn't fully here, but his spirit surely haunts this place. I feel him, I hear whispers of his youthfully untarnished optimism, and I know I've just crossed paths with my own ghost.
I'm a bit unsure of where I'm ultimately heading as I pass through this time around, but I do know one thing – my ghost was proud to see me still alive and impassioned as he was three years ago.
And I'm proud to not have let down my ghost.