Two-Wheeling to the Temple

by | Jan. 27, 2003

LDS Life

Who hasn’t experienced the symptoms of road fascination? You know, the compulsive need to get a map and visualize your journey- the urgent craving to move forward, the hypnosis of ever-changing scenery. Perhaps this fascination is rooted in the spirit. It may even have symbolic meaning. In many people, it triggers the hunger to travel- the drive to go driving.

A motorcycle answers that hunger in a distinctive way. A motorcycle seat offers more that a subtle sense of motion. The sensation of air rushing against your face is far more exciting than that faint whisper heard inside an insulated, house-like vehicle. You’re not limited to admiring landscapes obscured by glass windows and steel posts.

Motorcycles put you “up close and personal” with scenery. The breeze from the hills is the very same that brushes your face. It pulses against your arms and flutters your pant cuffs. The temperature abruptly changes as you pass from sunlight into the shadow of an overhead cloud. You smell the dry sage and savor pungent pines and you cruise by. You notice the humidity change when you enter a canyon or valley. Some find this raw contact with nature unsettling. For others, traveling doesn’t feel quite right unless it’s done astride an atmosphere-touching, scent-tasting vehicle.

In 1987, Frank and Catherine Reese combined the two-wheeled lure of the road with their love of good companionship and the longing for spiritual experience.

“Sister Reese and I enjoyed riding our motorcycle,” Frank remembers. “But we enjoyed it even more when we traveled alongside others with similar standards, who also loved the gospel. A motorcycle trip with another couple to do temple work was the answer. It was great, and from that point on, others just kept joining us.”

In 1988, the Temple Riders Association (TRA) was formed. Since then, hundreds of members in many states have joined (see {}.) They’ve ridden to most of the temples throughout the country. Perhaps you’ve noticed members of the TRA riding together. You may have thought TRA stood for “Togetherness, Religion and Adventure,” or “Touching Raw Atmosphere” – or if you prefer, “Tasting Real Ambiance.” If you encounter TRA members in a temple parking lot, a campground, or a restaurant, they probably have your attention. However, they don’t look at all like “Temperamental Road Animals.” You may be intrigued by the brawny machines and the gentle folks who ride them.

Nice and Organized

My first encounter was just a year ago during a visit to Aspen Grove – BYU’s own mountain getaway – with my wife Joanne. It was impossible to ignore the 40 colorful, big, gleaming machines lined up In the parking area. Then all these people exited the lodge after their morning meeting, ready to begin a day of wending through the high Wasatch valleys. It was obvious the TRA people were genuinely warm with each other and with several staring bystanders.

Overseeing all this was Jim Dalton of Provo, then general director of the TRA. He was the fatherly fellow you couldn’t miss, the one with the ready, reassuring smile. I said to Joanne, “They’re fortunate to have him in charge.” She’d been observing the others, and replied, “It looks like good leaders are easy to find in this organization.” I looked around. She was right. We watched the staging process: lining up bikes into groups, last minute polishing of fenders and windshields, warming up the engines. Even onlookers could feel the excitement. Group by group, the motorcycling Mormons finally moved out. The armada left in impressive waves of color and chrome, leaving lackluster Suburbans and Buicks behind.

I’ve since traveled thousands of miles with the TRA, attending meetings in distant wards and doing temple work for ancestors. I’ve driven in staggered freeway formation, wound through country landscapes, and crossed rolling hills with this friendly crew. My first impression about caring for people and loving the adventure was a fair one. Dave Farmer of American Fork, another warm and wise leader, now directs the organization.

Vast Experience

In this group are temple workers and couples between missions, a former mission president, all sorts of men previously or presently serving as bishops, and others in stake presidencies. They share a prodigious amount of scouting experience, and include more former and present relief society presidents than you can count. They represent varied trades and professions, age groups, and backgrounds.

Social moments include monthly chapter meetings – held over a meal, of course. On rides, there are frequent stops to stretch, refuel, or take in a meal or an ice cream cone. On longer trips, there’s a predictable morning routine: strategically packing belongings; hooking up trailers; polishing already-shiny surfaces lest someone think you indolent. A lot of conversation and kidding accompanies this motorcycle hygiene.

A Gentle Giant

The touring bike weighs hundreds of pounds. But with a little momentum and great design on your side, physics turns that weight into an advantage. The machine handles smoothly when under way. In turns and among traffic, it is an adroit and obedient steed – a gentle giant.

Experience is vital to safety. How can a beginning rider safely gain experience? One answer is to ride in a group of experienced riders. You imitate their careful habits, talk with them at the stops, and travel under the umbrella of their numbers.

Visibility and experience won’t keep the motorcycle upright if you forget to put your kickstand down! I made this blunder a few years ago with several co-workers looking on. We’d all arrived for work - them in their sensible cars, my on my big senseless bike. Enjoying the moment, I sauntered away from my machine, wearing a cool smile. Too bad I’d forgotten to put that confounded kickstand down. I’ll always remember the shocked silence of my friends after I heard that dull thud on the asphalt behind me. I can’t erase the image of that poor, steel monster lying pathetically on its side while friends choked on their laughter.

On one TRA ride, a couple missed a turn in a residential area. They tried returning to the group by taking a sidewalk shortcut. However, the sidewalk proved a too tricky. The bike wound up in a flowerbed, instead. As the embarrassed rider and his bemused wife struggled to get that thing out of the tulips, startled residents watched from behind living room curtains.

The rest of the group came looking for their lost members. Twenty or so motorcycles suddenly filled the street as 40 gentle people worked to retrieve the foundered machine, replant the injured plants, and groom other flowerbeds in the yard for no extra charge. The homeowners and their children may still be speechlessly gaping out their front window.

Making a Difference

The TRA has several goals. The aim isn’t just for the members to have a regular change of pace, but to make a difference while they’re at it. Each chapter schedules two or three events per month, and the entire organization sponsors a major activity each year. For 2002, it was “Our Roots”- a July tour staring in Boston and working westward, visiting major Church history sites en route.

TRA believes in meticulous preparation: planning almost every mile; training leaders; preparing for possible emergencies of mechanical problems, assigning morning devotionals; arranging for information at key sites; and designing group assignments so each bike travels with other bikes every day. Other preparations include printing itineraries for each driver, reserving a variety of motels and camp-grounds, making temple appointments, knowing when and where to attend Sunday meetings, and planning family home evenings for Monday nights. Plans must be adjusted for those leaving the route, and 50 motorcycles had to be shipped to Boston from a variety of western locations. All this took fifteen months.

It’s just another reminder that, among Latter-day Saints, gospel living allows a wide berth. Our religion doesn’t crowd us in to one dimension. Instead, the gospel invited wholesome and whole participation in mortal life. We’re here to be faithful – but while at it, we’re allowed to explore. As President Hinckley once suggested, “The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride.” (Gordon B. Hinckley, in “A Conversation with Single Adults,” Ensign, March 1997,58.)
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