This time of the day is so special, that it is easy to understand why the concept of “60 miles” before breakfast is embraced by so many riders. What better way to start the day than to race the dawn and celebrate the daylight with a plateful of fragrant eggs, bacon, and home fries? And so I found myself rocketing along an interstate (binding rural New York State to Pennsylvania) in the sacred hour before daylight is established. My bike was a 1986 BMW K75 (with the rare Sprint Fairing). The needles on the tach and speedo were parallel in 5th gear, indicating a smooth, steady pace slightly above 80 miles per hour. The sky behind me was brightening as the gray, pre-dawn darkness before me gathered in pockets to make a last stand.
Technically this ride had begun after loading my gear onto the motorcycle in front of a chain hotel at 4:30am; but I was on my way home after ten days on the road and the scent of a woman was tightening my DNA. It wasn’t the actual aroma of a delicate perfume warmed by the heat of her body, but something much stronger: the memory of the last night we’d scorched that perfume together. A motorcycle is the ultimate escape vehicle, freeing a rider from the constricting bonds of daily life. Yet there comes a time when the ultimate escape is in the arms of a tanned, flaxen-haired blond, standing in that same driveway that launched the adventure in the first place. And it is the motorcycle that takes you there.
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So I found myself wide awake an hour before first light, in a chain hotel, barely 200 miles from home, dealing with a hunger originating from a point below my stomach. “Time to go,” I thought, though there would be nothing to dull these pangs within 60 miles.
The three-cylinder engine on the BMW K75 is known for more of whine than growl when the throttle is twisted. That is the sound of the Valkyrie winding up for the pitch. It is the sound of an engine that will run at 95 miles per hour all day, without burning an ounce of oil. I didn’t need all day to get to where I wanted to be. At a comfortable 95 miles per hour, I would be home in two hours and ten minutes, barring intervention from the authorities.
Nowhere in eastern New York nor Pennsylvania is it possible to run at 95 miles per hour (for any great length of time, much less two hours) without getting arrested. But I have pushed the envelope more often than is ever wise. I love going like hell on smooth pavement in light traffic and letting the motorcycle hit its performance specs. Virtually vibration-free to start with, the K75 reaches its top cruising speed without the venom of a pavement predator and takes the sweepers as smoothly as a politician tells a lie. I can truthfully say “rare was the ride I didn’t take either of my two K75’s into triple digits,” but I can also make the claim that 85 to 90 miles per hour is my most comfortable gait (circumstances permitting).
Traffic was light to the point of non-existent, despite the fact that it was a weekday morning, and I was east of Scranton. The K75’s whine was more on the throaty side and I toyed with the idea of kicking things up a notch. While the temperature on a July pre-dawn run in eastern Pennsylvania might be a civilized 68º to 72º (F), the humidity can easily make things clammier than cooler. This was the case on this particular morning and pockets of mist lined sections of the road, clinging to the inside of some curves. The fun of running at 95 mph or better was spoiled by the thought of a stupid deer stepping out of some hidden glade, causing me to test the adhesion limits of my new Metzler front tire.
Have you ever noticed that some mornings start out with a burst of energy and a burning desire to get on with things, only to evolve into the conclusion that three hours and forty-five minutes’ sleep just isn’t enough to bankroll the day’s activities? I had barely been in the saddle 45 minutes when my eyes got that blurry feeling that accompanies a fleeting sense of regret that a perfectly good, and now empty, hotel room was in my immediate past. The right eye was worse than the left. It was focusing on a strange, dark, ill-defined mass in the right lane of Interstate 80 (I-80), which appeared to be doubling in size with every second.
The rider’s eye is quick to identify various threats such as oncoming locomotives, ships lost in the fog, flaming zeppelins, stupid deer, and mobs of flesh-eating zombies. The merest hint of these will send the bike and rider into an evasive swerve that will not only demonstrate a masterful handling of the machine, but conclusively prove it’s possible to cling to the seat by a clenched sphincter (which has contracted to the size of a buttonhole). But add a bit of mist or ground fog to something, robbing the image of a discernible shape, and the slightly fatigued rider might waste valuable nano-seconds trying to guess what the hell that thing might be.
I saw a shapeless, black mass looming out of the mist before me, and thought, “How odd is that?” It seemed to have corners for a second or two, and then not. It then seemed to have depth, and then not. To be perfectly frank with the gentle reader, I was also thinking of eggs and bacon, sizzling on a griddle, tended by my tanned, blond girlfriend, who would be surprised by my return, and agreeably padding around bare-assed in the kitchen. Thoughts like these get their talons in me and are not easily shaken, especially as the chances of this actually happening were about zip to none. (Stuff like this used to happen in my thirties and forties. I have been unsuccessful in perpetrating this scam in my fifties, but I’m working on it.)
I was 10 car-lengths away from the dark, shapeless mass (about a second and a half), when the full light of dawn bloomed like an orchid, clearly illuminating the threat in the road. I screamed so loudly into my Nolan helmet that I briefly succeeded in fogging the interior shield (judged to be impossible).
Spanning the full lane in front of me, like the white-trash swimming pool from hell, was the bed-liner out of some piece-of-shit pickup truck. Light plastic to be sure and a black hole for any motorcycle headlight, this unexpected debris would have swallowed the K75 in a heartbeat. My reaction was a vicious half-swerve to the left. A full swerve might have bought me into the side of the bed-liner. I was past it in a flash, with my thoughts on survival, as I chopped the throttle to half and let the dynamic braking slow the bike.
I thought of pulling over on the shoulder, yet to what purpose? This happened in the blink of a dull eye. (I was 5 football fields away when the full impact of the situation hit me.) I wondered what would have happened if I had hit the bed-liner dead on? Would the bike have just slammed through it? Would I have panicked and dropped the rig in the bed-liner? In which case, would I have slammed through the bed-liner with the bike on its side or just slid down the road inside the bed-liner?
I suspect I’d have slammed through the bed-liner, dropped the bike on its side, and come to rest in a ditch, ten feet away from a mob of flesh-eating zombies. Yet it is these sudden obstacles that add to the challenge of riding, and which make us appreciate our hidden skills. For example, I never knew I could say, “Mutherfucker” in 17 languages, until I swerved around that bed-liner.
I arrived home three and a half hours later. My blond lover was on the couch, wrapped in a blanket, sipping a cup of herbal tea. It was the second day of her period... The worst day for cramps.
“I’m just going to spend the day on the sofa,” she said meekly, with the smile that drove me mad. “I’m reading this book called The Red Tent. What are you going to do?”
“I might take a ride with Bregstein later,” I said. “Want anything from the diner?”
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