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Traveling 'hard,' on the road


Notch Miyake grew up in Hawaii feeling "very enclosed." He wanted to break out and travel. A stint in the Navy temporarily satisfied this wanderlust, but college, a business career, and family obligations put further travel plans on hold.

            He worked for Xerox in Rochester, eventually leaving to start his own optical coating business. When he sold that business in 1992, he decided to take his dream trip: a motorcycle ride across the lower 48 states and into Alaska. He covered 13,000 miles in three months.

            The journal he used to "keep in touch with what was happening" grew into the book Purple Mountains: America From A Motorcycle, published by White Horse Press. City Newspaper recently talked with Notch about the ride.

City:Many people talk about taking a trip like yours but don't. Why were you able to do it?

            Miyake: I was lucky. I'd sold the business, the kids were in college, [my wife] Margaret was supportive. I never felt I wanted more. It wasn't worth it to go through the things I'd have to in order to get more money. I wasn't going to piss away my life just so I could leave an inheritance.... I found myself driving to work without thinking, without noticing things. On a trip like this, it's unfamiliar. You don't know the road, you have to look at things more closely.

            What did you learn about yourself?

            Probably most of all, I learned that a lot of things I thought were important really weren't. I used what I got from this trip to change. Life became more rewarding. I decided I had enough to live comfortably. I came back from the trip, we sold the house in the suburbs, and moved into the city. I didn't get that new car. I didn't need the newest stereo equipment.

            City:Why do you need a trip like this to realize that?

            Miyake: I don't know. Anything you do that's an intense personal and solitary experience will probably do. You have to do something that brings you out of your comfortable environment; thrusts you into the world. That's what triggers the change. You need to do something --- maybe not a trip --- but something solitary and long enough to get out of your usual mindset.

            City: In your book you write, "The best kind of travel is hard." What do you mean?

            Miyake: If you look back on an experience, what you remember are the difficulties; the times you were sick, tired, wet. Those are the times you were called on to overcome something. I tell people to travel like a poor man. If you travel like a poor man, you can't buy your way out of trouble. It opens you up a lot. You learn that you can enjoy something in spite of the misery. Personal challenge is good for you. You shouldn't run from every problem. We spend too much time trying to avoid adversity.

            City: Many people try to take the safest, most comfortable route.

            Miyake: Ask yourself this: What am I going to do at the end? Play it safe, wait to die, or go out there and travel? A lot of what we do is to be comfortable... our HMO's, IRA's, 401(k)'s, retirement communities in Florida, all of that. We don't ever get close to ourselves. We don't get out and experience the exhilaration, the sensations, the cold, whatever. We don't do that. We're driven to get the most comfort and security.

            City: So this trip was about more than riding to Alaska on a motorcycle.

            Miyake: There comes a time on a trip like this when you come face-to-face with yourself.

            City:And then what happens?

            Miyake: Then you really see who you are, what's important.

            City:Do you think you had a mid-life crisis?

            Miyake: I don't really like that term. Maybe it was. A lot of my contemporaries are dying. These people ask, "What's it mean?" A wallet-full of money at the end of your life is no good whatsoever. Their lives would've had more meaning if they'd gone on that trip or whatever. That realization doesn't come until it's too late. We don't understand how all this comfort and convenience, this desire for luxury is in large part a substitute for living. At some point, people realize that all of those things aren't important.

            Miyake: You mention in your book you're a Zen Buddhist. How did that affect the trip?

            Miyake: It made me stay in the present, to focus on what was going on in the moment, not worry about anything else.

            City: Why a motorcycle and not a car?

            Miyake: I love riding motorcycles and I wanted to be out in the elements. I don't like bicycles, walking would take too long. You have to go in a way that makes you vulnerable and as open as possible. If you're in a car you're walled-off from what's happening. You're freer on the motorcycle. To be free really means to be able to take risks. Riding isn't safe. It's dangerous. But is it worth the risk? If you're free, you'll take that risk.

            City: Any plans for another trip?

            Miyake: I'd like to do the Ruto Maya, ride from the Yucatan to the west coast of Mexico, down into Honduras, Belize....

            City: Any advice for someone thinking about a trip like this?

            Miyake: Just go.

Notch Miyake holds a discussion-signing for Purple Mountains on Friday, April 23, at Barnes & Noble, 330 Greece Ridge Center Drive, at 7 p.m. Free. 227-4020. Purple Mountains is available at all bookstores and online at