Steve McAlphabet Motorcycling Music Across America
Pain Persists Through PlayThink

Pain Persists Through PlayThink

Three days after my motorcycle slapped me to the ground like a rag doll, I doubted whether or not I should make the 300 mile trip to my next destination. Nevertheless, that destination was the motivating force behind this entire journey, and I felt compelled to get back on my motorcycle and make it happen. I woke to soreness, and packing the bike only increased it, but I was determined to continue my journey.

My time of healing in North Carolina included a wonderful walk through the Nantahala Forest, playing music with my friend Adam to the delight of his wife Regina, a reading of Jeff Tweedy’s book How To Write One Song, and viewings of The Blues Brothers, The Big Lebowski (both on my list of movies I can watch over and over again and laugh every time), and Smokey and the Bandit (which was another great motivator to get on the road). Although my body probably could have used another day (or week) of inactivity, I was ready to go.

Tuesday night, I wrote down all of the directions to get to my destination, and Wednesday morning, getting to the point where Google said I had 20 mi on a single road, I turned my phone off and enjoyed the ride. The Pisgah National Forest was sensational, and I was so thankful to have avoided the interstates that would have saved me an hour and a half but cost me the ability to see such beauty. From there, the road took me through the meandering hills of Tennessee and onto the Davy Crockett and Cumberland Gap Parkways. Riding through a long tunnel into the belly of a mountain, I emerged on the other side and thoroughly enjoyed the splendor of Kentucky.

Although there were moments of discomfort, it was my best day of riding on the trip so far. Six states in, I am reassured that America really is a beautiful country, and I pity anyone who travels it by interstate and misses the true beauty of it.

Arriving at the grounds for the PlayThink Festival, I waited patiently as the volunteer checking people in looked for my name on his iPad and paperwork to no avail. Fortunately, Paige, the organizer and founder of the event, arrived on a golf cart in that moment, recognized me immediately, and assured the volunteer that I was supposed to be there. I rode to the general camping area, terrain not designed for a motorcycle like mine, and sure enough, got the front wheel caught in a hole which partially felled the motorcycle, but I managed to stay largely upright.

A young man on an electric bicycle help me get Vivian upright again and assured me that I should have no more problems since he had no problems with his 25 lb vehicle. I thought to inform him of the weight difference in our vehicles, but just thanked him for his help and searched for a campsite.

I parked Vivian in the grass and walked along the edge of the forest where so many other campers had already erected their tents, looking for a place to hang my hammock. When I found a spot, the immediate neighbor said, “As a point of full disclosure, I smoke a lot of cannabis. I hope that’s not a problem.” We became fast friends.

After erecting my tent, unpacking the motorcycle, and hanging my hammock, the pain set in. Not only did my ribs hurt as they had for days, but also my back, my chest, and pretty much the entirety of my torso. Although the hammock was therapeutic throughout my nights of rest, getting in and out of it was a challenge, as was getting in and out of chairs, locking the door to the port-a-john, and moving around in general.

Rising with the sun on Thursday morning, I ambled my way to the coffee truck, reckoned with how much money I would be giving him for the next few days, and relegated myself to a chair under my new neighbor’s canopy. The neighbor next to him offered me a breakfast of pancakes, eggs, bacon, and sausage, and I played as many songs as I could muster on my guitar, although singing tended to irritate my pain. So I spent most of the day reading a book by Ken Wilber and waving to folks as they passed by on their way to workshops designed to teach them how to play.

Now in its 10th year, minus the skipped year of 2020, Paige founded PlayThink as a means to celebrate the flow arts and sobriety, unlike many other festivals that largely celebrate the indulgence of altered consciousness. With most attendees bringing their children, the festival is extremely family friendly and encourages attendees to find their flow through workshops including yoga, hula hoops, poi, staffs, fans, dragon sticks, and a number of other toys in which people can lose themselves and find themselves at the same time. Highlighted with conscious hip-hop artists, musicians and DJs, I was honored to be included in such company.

Having already experienced the scorching heat of a 2:00 sun on a Kentucky afternoon in June, I didn’t expect much of a turnout for my Friday afternoon performance, but I was glad to see a number of people clustered underneath the large tree across from the stage when I stepped onto it. My first song, “Another World Is Out There”, hurt to sing, and the following poem continued to make my chest throb, but I prevailed in getting out four more songs and four more poems before giving the stage over to the next performing artist. Poised in my chair and wincing toward the microphone, it wasn’t the performance I had imagined, but perhaps that performance is still in the future somewhere, considering that I have been invited back for next year’s festival.

After my show, the ability to practice non-mobility did much to ease my pain, and I was able to go witness the amazing talents of the workshop instructors in the FlowCase on Friday evening, followed by the spectacle of an open fire jam where a number of attendees used various instruments to spin fire and play with danger. On Saturday, I attended a few of the workshops briefly, but my injuries made it difficult to sit still and to move so I wasn’t a very good pupil. Nevertheless, I appreciated the sentiment of what each workshop offered, and I look forward to returning next year when I have more capacity to move and flow.

Sunday morning, I packed my bike, said goodbye to my new friends, and made my way to Nashville, Tennessee. Not only did the summer solstice give me the longest day of the year to reach my next destination, I also passed into another time zone, giving me an extra hour to enjoy the ride. I spent the evening swapping songs with my nephew, Kyle (who has produced five of my songs), and his pitch perfect girlfriend, Corinna (who has provided background vocals on two of my songs and produced an incredible rendition of my song “Feel”, which I hope she releases soon), before retiring to the studio space of their home where I get to spend the next few days as the crazy uncle who lives in the basement (another dream fulfilled).

While my body would really like it if I would just sit still for a few days and allow it to heal, there is a lot to see and do in Nashville. I’m getting some rest, but the pain persists. I think it’s just something I’m going to have to learn to live with.