“You write about riding a motorcycle,” the road said. “You write about places you’ve allegedly been on a motorcycle. You write about friends you’ve allegedly made riding a motorcycle. You’ve even claimed to have one or two death-defying adventures on a motorcycle. But the the truth is you’re a bullshitter when it comes to really riding a motorcycle. You’re ten pounds of shit in a two-pound bag.”
The fact that I hadn’t written a word in this blog for 25 days -- the period of time in which I had thrown in the towel to the raging arthritis in my knees -- seemed to support the claim that without riding, I don’t have much of a raison d’etre. Certainly nothing that I could write about. Certainly nothing I felt like writing about.
At the end of June, it hurt to sit at my desk. It hurt to try and sleep at night too. But now it only hurts when I first try to get up, or walk, Sitting down isn’t so bad, unless my knees are bent really far back, like when I ride. You can hear the joints in my knees crackle and pop when I try and and stand up straight -- like when I take a piss in a bar’s mens room. Guys jump when they hear these creaking and popping sounds coming from me. That’s when I tell them I’ve been riding so long and so hard the “lizard” has to be bent back into shape.
But the road surmised that this was more than just arthritis. The asphalt figured out that I had the jitters too. The pavement knew that I had a hidden fear of crashing and was using this pain to forestall the inevitable. The road showed me its contempt and disgust. “Bullshitter,” it said again, curling its lip.
“Not,” I said.
The time had come to put an end to this. I limped out into the garage on my cane and the saw the red BMW K75 sitting there in the dim light. Do you remember when Richard Dreyfus played the Forest Service fire fighter pilot in the movie “Always?” There is that scene where his plane, a vintage WWII B-25 Bomber, sits shrouded in fog. His girlfriend sees it as a bad omen. Despite the fact it was a clear morning and that I was in the garage, my bike sat shrouded in fog.
The vintage WWII B-25 Bomber flown by Richard Dreyfus in the movie "Always."
“Is this the day that you kill me,” I asked the bike aloud.
“You’d have to ride me for that to happen,” the K75 snapped back. “Right now you stand a better chance of dying of bullshit poisoning.”
Certain members of the Mac-Pac (the BMW group I run with) were assembling at that hour for a gentle ride through Amish country, before meeting at “The Whip Tavern” for an authentic British brunch experience. More than anything else, I wanted to join them. Yet I passed on the ride, knowing that one of their Sunday warm-ups could easily run 250 miles, and figured I’d meet them at the restaurant. Even so I dragged my heels. My last facing-saving hope was the thought that the little digital clock on the bike’s dash would have run the battery down to the point where it wouldn’t flick the starter relay, and that the bike wouldn’t turn over.
The K75 roared to life with the merest pressure on the starter button. It took me three attempts to get my right leg over the seat, and two tries to get my left leg up to the peg. Seconds later I was off. My joints were all dumbfounded. But my right leg worked well enough at holding the machine up at full stops. I peeled onto US-202, found a clear lane, and twisted on the gas. A glance in the mirror revealed an absence of adult authority and I took "Fire Balls" up to 85 mph.
Quite frankly it felt pretty good. It had all the best sensations of getting laid -- but with one foot caught in a mousetrap. Something felt great, while something else hurt. But it was worth the pain. The bike responded to the rider input like a quarterhorse, even though the rider input was mine.
It was beginning to occur to me that I had made built up this situation in my mind to the point where it seemed a lot worse than it actually was. Kipling had said something about taking counsel from your fears. (I believe he was against it.) It was my intention to raise my chin bar at the next full stop and spit on the road. Yet another great poet, it might have been Robert Service in “The Shooting of Dan McGrew,” or Adolphus Murphy in “The Shagging Of O’Rielly’s Daughter,” also once said, “Don’t get cocky, Fat Ass.”
The sun had been shinning fiercely when I left, but it was conspicuously absent 6 miles later when I turned onto PA Rt. 926 and headed west. Route 926 is a highly traveled two-lane road road that runs from stuffy developments to beautiful horse country with stone houses and barns. Verdant summer growth sprang right from the pavement's edge, masking side roads and potential deer ambushes. I couldn’t help but notice it was growing darker and the face shield on my Nolan helmet was edged with fine droplets.
“This weather will probably just squeeze by me,” I thought. "Nothing to worry about."
Rain drops the size of plums slammed into my helmet like I was the guest of honor at a public stoning. “Thank goodness my rain gear is easily accessible back at the garage,” I thought. “I wouldn’t know where it was on any other day.”
Mesh gear has come a long way in the past ten years. The fine mesh of my Joe Rocket jacket would easily strain solid particles of matter carried by the rain, like meteorite fragments, out of the torrents of water passing through it, preventing discomfort to the rider.
As many of you are aware, a pounding thunderstorm provides entertainment for motorcyclists on three distinct levels. The first is the subtle change in visibility. When the atmosphere is approximately 90 percent water, it’s like looking at the world through plate glass windows in Marine Land or at some aquarium. The second is handling characteristics. There is nothing like a raging thunderstorm to raise a rider's appreciation for the performers in the Ice Capades.
Finally, there is the lightning. Random bolts of ten million jiggowatts are the perfect encouragement to pursue an adult education course on electricity. The first of these to crackle overhead caused me to remember that I must not be the tallest thing around. This made me laugh as I was passing under a dense canopy of trees (now on Rt. 841), about 60 feet high. Unfortunately, it was as black as pitch in there and I couldn’t see a damn thing with my face shield -- which is clear -- in the down position. So I opened it up wide, and let in ten or twelve gallons of water. The canopy was behind me a few seconds later and things were much brighter, as the road wound its way through two miles of open fields. I watched lightning bolts cruise around at eye level like eels looking for a good target.
This is a beautiful little stretch of road (between Rt. 926 and Rt. 82) for classic Pennsylvania scenery, encompassing old trees, farmsteads, fields, and brooks. It even has a couple of hairpin curves for those who find classic Pennsylvania scenery somewhat tedious. Two of these are back to back, by a gate to one of the more prestigious horse farms. On this occasion, the first turn was festooned by a conical pile of horse shit about 9 inches high. The pile thoughtfully marked the apex of the turn. Most road-apple mile-markers look like a pile of furry crab apples. This was a perfect inverted cone, like it had been dispensed from one of those machines at Dairy Queen.
Did you ever hear the expression, “slicker than shit?” You won’t believe where it comes from.
The second turn was tastefully decorated in the traditional North Carolina style, using flat piles of pea gravel to form intricate patterns matching my tire treads. I ran through both of these turns so slowly that I was passed by my own backwash.
With less than two miles to go to The Whip Tavern, the lightning started zapping around like mad. I realized I was sitting on an an aluminum can, filled with gas, covered with water, passing through fields where I may not have been the tallest thing, but I was certainly the biggest. My dismount procedure calls for dropping the kickstand, setting the bike, and finally getting off the seat. Allowing a full minute to retrieve my cane from the topcase, my dismounts are a bit of a ritual. Yet it took exactly 2.5 seconds to dismount and hobble into The Whip last Sunday.
Located where Rt. 841 (Chatham Road) runs into Springfield Road, in Coatesville (technically), The Whip Tavern is a traditional English pub situated in the heart of Pennsylvania horse country. It is not uncommon to find patrons wearing jodhpurs, rugby shirts, and Aerostitches (though not all in one ensemble) crowding the bar. There is a delightful selection of bitters, ciders, and the expected Guinness on tap, in addition to dozens of bottled beers and ales from around the world. The menu offers interesting fare such as Irish lamb stew, bangers and mash, shepherd’s pie, bubble and squeak, the Scotch egg, and fish and chips.
Seated at the long table were Mac-Pac royalty Earl Bare, his wife Charlene, Matt Piechota, Andy Terrill, Dave Oehler, his daughter Jessica, and a gentleman that I had met for the first time, “Gerry.” I noted that they were wet too. The discussion focused on the morning’s ride, and how some riders interpreted getting the finger as “follow me.” This confusion turned the procession into a rout and riders found their way to The Whip Tavern like souls moving toward the light.
I ordered the fish and chips, plus a mug of Ovaltine.
The conversation had just turned to “things we would like to get for Christmas,” when two dazzling specimens of pulchritude sizzled up to the bar. Each was garbed in something so slinky that a tattoo would have raised a bump on the garment. Emblazoned in sequins across the front of their black blouses was the legend “Guinness.”
“If that's where Guinness comes from, I'll work the taps all day,” I muttered. “The blonde is mine.”
The pair had just drifted off when an individual in our party said, “Would you like to be introduced to those fine ladies?” I laughed. He added, “I bet they’d love to meet a famous author.” He excused himself and blended in with the crowd. Two minutes later he returned with the ladies in tow, and introduced both.
I was speechless -- for about a second and a half. We had a nice conversation, which ended up with the pretty blonde lady giving me her card. She is a promoter for Guinness and lives ten minutes from here. I sat down feeling pretty pleased with myself, when Charlene leaned over and said, “I can’t believe you told that woman that you're limping because you'd been shot in a bar in Detroit. Furthermore, I can’t believe she bought it.”
To the gentlemen who made this possible, Charlene said, “How did you lure them over here?” His response, “Lured nothing. They were charmed.”
The ride home was a lot less taxing as it had stopped raining. The whole ride was only 40 miles for the day. I’d pulled over for gas and watched Dave Oehler and Jessica flash by me on his tricked out BMW LT. I’m going to ride again today, and I expect it will hurt some. So what? No pain, no gain.
AKA The Lindbergh Baby -- Mac-Pac
AKA Vindak8r -- Delphi
AKA The Chamberlain -- PS (With A Shrug)
©Copyright Jack Riepe 2008