Category Archives: 2019: Tour de Solitude

Loss of Mission

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Each stage, system, subsystem and component is analyzed to determine its contribution to loss of mission, vehicle, crew, or other critical objective.

– NASA Tech Brief 68-10252, July 1968

The meticulous three-week itinerary was etched in Excel, a named mission, a route and a list of friends to visit along the way, some of them cherished colleagues I hadn’t seen in years.

Terra Nova was packed and parked in the driveway, perfect; I was suited up and had helmet in hand, GoPro cameras mounted and ready. All I had to do was climb aboard, fire it up, and ride away.

And when I got to the door, I stood there, looking at the bike, thinking about the long miles and days ahead and having only one thought: What’s the point?

And I went back in the house, put down the helmet and unsuited. And I didn’t go1.

That’s…unprecedented. We’ve done one decent long-distance motorcycle ride nearly every year for almost a quarter-century. But I didn’t go2.

That was nearly four months ago and here would be the place to insert something funny about a team of situation analysts reviewing reasons why. The truth is, I just lost the enthusiasm3.

The main reason was family related; my mother died in April 2018 and my father has been struggling alone since then. A sort of creeping dementia has taken hold of him with a climactic scene between us back in May.

I’d gone up to spend a couple of weeks with him since my sisters and brothers were doing the yeoman’s share of looking after him. I live six hours away from him and they all live within minutes, but that’s no excuse. Staying at the house with him would ease some of their burden for at least a while, I reasoned.

Alas, no. Growing up, he and I were not close and two rough weeks in April stretched into a worse third one in May and then it all turned tragic, with him telling me I wasn’t his biological son. Which is patently not true.

Whether the dementia gave him the voice to say what he’d secretly wished over the years or simply made him truly confused, it threw a shadow over the long, bitter drive home4. And the rest of the year, as it turned out.

But things slowly got better. Linda and I went to St. Pete in October, as we’ve been doing, which helped. And now it’s 2020, another year we used to read about in science-fiction stories when we were kids. I’m determined this year won’t slip away.

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St. Pete Beach, October 2019


1 – Not to mention how I tried, during those three weeks, to readjust the ride by cutting a day here, another there, and others. I ended up calling and sending emails to friends apologizing for not seeing them as planned. They must have thought me quite mad, as the British would say.
2 – Because she started a new job and didn’t have enough vacation time, Linda couldn’t have gone with me this time out. But let’s be clear on this point: the mission abort was not her fault, absolutely not. It was all me.
3 – I was particularly unenthusiastic about riding the endless flat dismal desolate stretch of I-70 through Kansas and eastern Colorado. Traveling alone on a motorcycle means lots of time to think in the solitude of your helmet (hence the mission’s name). I couldn’t bear the prospect of those dark thoughts bouncing around the confines of the Arai over that piece of highway.
4 – I can testify to being really pissed. “Spitting nails” would be a useful description.