A motorcycle is a mirror of a rider’s soul. And on this particular day, the reflection was not good. I expected to see the image of an adventurer... A rider of the wind... A man in whom the latent seventeen-year-old was thoroughly in charge. What I saw was an arthritic, overweight, middle-aged wreck, who had not mastered his fears, but who was riding merely despite them.
The bike was loaded and on the sidestand in the garage. The panniers had been packed and repacked. The topcase was layered with gear I might need right away: mostly oil, transmission fluid, a spare clutch cable, flashlight, spare gloves and other stuff like that. The tail contained a complete tool kit, tubeless tire patch kit, pump, first aid kit, manual, and a directory of BMW riders from one coast to the other. The bike had been examined by experts and was in perfect tune. Departure time was 2pm. It was a clear, hot summer day, and the road called to me like a topless dancer from the stage.
But I pretended I was someone else and looked at the ground.
I was three months into my second season as a reentry rider with highly mediocre skills and about to leave on ride through five states. I had been packing for a week and had everything, except a pair of balls. I had been looking forward to this trip for months, or at least telling myself so, and now I had the jitters. The enormity of the whole thing -- strange new highways, remote back roads, changing weather systems, and the fact that I was riding a 19-year-old BMW K75 -- hit me all at once.
Looking back in hindsight, my opening travel plans would have amazed the average touring rider. I planned to cover a whopping 104 miles the first day, spending the evening with my in-laws in Hagerstown. The second day was even better -- 60 miles total -- to a little dump of a hotel in Front Royal, Va., where I was to meet Wayne Whitlock and his wife Lucy.
One hundred and sixty-four miles in two days! This was a new low even for me. My best ride to date was 165 miles in a day. I swear the old BMW K75 was embarrassed to be in the garage with me. Meanwhile, the departure had hit a sour note on the home front. I pretended to have a last minute assignment for work. I found a damp oil spot in the driveway (from a tradesman’s vehicle) and insisted checking the transmission fluid again. (It was fine.)
The 2pm departure time came and left.
Then I had an argument with the love of my life. Her step mom (down in Hagerstown) was preparing a gourmet meal for me and it was becoming apparent that I was going to be considerably delayed. Her point was that I should call and tell her folks that I was pussying-out on this trip and would go to Plan “B.” (I didn’t have a “Plan B.”) This discussion grew heated and dragged on. When I looked at the clock, it was 5:30pm.
I am the master of self-fulfilling prophecies. I had originally planned to leave at 2pm, to beat Friday afternoon rush hour traffic. My route was to have been Rt. 30 (The Old Lincoln Highway) to Rt. 15 at Gettysburg. I had ridden this stretch before. This suited my original riding parameters: daylight, clear weather, reasonable traffic, on a road -- where for the most part -- traffic would be doing about 55 miles per hour.
Here I was, starting a trip to Maggie Valley in North Carolina, with certain restrictions:
1) I would not ride on the interstates -- particularly I-81.
2) I would not ride at night.
3) I would not ride in the rain.
4) I would take it easy and stop often.
Now I had managed to wait until the traffic was at its worst, shortchanging myself on the daylight and creating a less than pastoral frame of mind for the rollout. It was the worst case scenario that I had envisioned and sworn to avoid. And that wasn’t the end of it. The gas tank was empty and I discovered I was out of my arthritis medicine. I’d have to pick up a prescription in town.
The bike growled into life with a tap on the starter button and I was off, only four hours late without a good reason. It was five miles out of my way to get to the drugstore. And in this interval, the damnedest thing started to happen. The seventeen year-old who lives in my head showed up. His name is Jessco, and he is trouble. He was at the bike’s controls when I stopped for gas.
Finally, pulling out of the driveway for a 5-state ride on a 19-year-old BMW
Only 4 hours late!
My normal procedure for getting gas was to pull up to the pump, get off the bike, put it on the center stand, and fill the gas tank like I was defusing a bomb.
“Fuck that,” said Jessco. I pulled up to the pump, switched the bike off, and refueled from the saddle. I was out of the service station in 5 minutes. The pharmacy was next door. I got my pills (anti-inflammatory) and popped one dry.
Jessco swung the bike out into moderate traffic on Rt. 30. The late afternoon was warm but there was a hint of evening coolness. I tried to calculate the number of traffic lights and potential stops on RT. 30 before I got to the faster moving Rt. 15, some 80 miles distant. Jessco said not to worry about it. This was because he steered the bike onto the Pennsylvania Turnpike --one of the interstates I swore to avoid.
This was only my second time riding a motorcycle on an expressway in 25 years. “Fuck it,” said Jessco. “This is a great night to die in a flaming ball.” It was perfectly clear and traffic was light. At 7pm, the sun was getting low in the summer sky, bathing a rural Pennsylvania countryside in soft rose-colored tint. The aroma of manure and cornfields would occasionally ride the breeze. It was positively delightful. No one was more surprised than me.
As you are all well-aware, the smoothness of the slab is an illusion created by your car. A motorcycle always tells the truth about the condition of a road. There are many stretches of the Pennsylvania Turnpike with a corrugated nature to test the nerve-endings in your ass. Mine were working fine, apparently.
The K75 ran flawlessly and virtually vibration free. I was playing with the throttle a little when I found myself gaining on a tractor trailer. I signaled to pass and swung left, only to realize it was a long line of trucks, maybe ten or more. I hesitated, and Jessco said, “I got this, Butter Ass.”
I felt the machine accelerate and we whipped past two thirds of these trucks without incident. There was a broad “S” curve ahead and Jessco twisted on the gas. We passed the last of the trucks shot through the curve like the bike was on rails. Jessco found a line and the K75 just followed it through the turns. When I glanced down at the speedometer, it read, “95 mph.” Jessco held this in the straight stretch for a couple of miles, then throttled down with a laugh.
I stopped at the rest area before Harrisburg just to extend my legs. My arthritis was hurting and I made no effort to get off the bike. Fifteen minutes later, I was back on the slab and arrived at Rt. 15 South, just as it was getting gray. It was fully dark by the time I passed Rt. 30 and Gettysburg. The dual headlamps in the Sprint fairing, coupled with the MotoLights, surrounded the front of the machine with a basket of light. There was no traffic to speak of and the ride in the dark was seductively pleasant. Stars and a crescent moon were out. There were probably two million deer in the fields around me, but I never saw a trace of one.
The dual headlamps of the rare Sprint fairing -- coupled with the MotoLights -- wrapped
the front of the bike in a basket of light!
I crossed into Maryland 30 minutes later, and paused on the shoulder to put my legs down again. The arthritis in my knees was screaming and I wanted to get to Hagerstown as quickly as possible. The shortest line would be to take Rt. 77 from Thurmont, through Catoctin Mountain National Park. But the deer in this place grow on trees and the road follows several hairpin curves above a creek. I opted to stay on Rt. 15 to Frederick, and pick up US-40 instead. (This added more than 25 miles onto the trip and passed country that is at least as deer-plagued as Thurmont, but I didn’t know this at the time.) I took US-40 to Rt. 66, and pulled into Hagerstown about 10pm.
Leslie’s step-mom had a five course meal waiting for me. I was surprised at how easily I swung my leg over the saddle.
“Why,” asked Jessco? “You’re only 17.”
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Copyright 2008 Jack Riepe
AKA The Lindbergh Baby (Mac-Pac)
AKA Vindak8r (Delphi)
AKA The Chamberlain -- PS (With A Shrug)