The one that sits there with...
The one that sits there with a crooked little smile on his face, the one that bends over and whispers in my ear Just a little faster. C'mon, just a little bit more--you know you can do it.
After a thousand miles in three days I'm tired and looking forward to getting home, seeing my family and relaxing for awhile. I split from John and Forrest a little while ago, back in Front Royal, and headed south down 340 while they continued on eastward. I'm almost home after another fine trip into the mountains of West Virginia.
Like so many things, it starts with just a bit of happenstance. At Luray, as I turn onto 211, a large group of sportbikes-15 or so- turn onto the roadway in front of me. I trail them by a few hundred yards and watch with interest as we all roll toward the mountain. It's the usual mix-600 and 1000cc Japanese models, with a few standards and a couple of odd Ducatis thrown in. The assortment of gear is equally diverse, with about an equal split between the guys wearing one-piece leather suits of all different colors, and the guys in street leathers. A few just wear jeans, but everyone has at least a jacket, gloves and boots. A reasonably serious group, it seems.
I hold my distance as we approach the Gap. The mountain rises up before us, and upon seeing it, even through my tiredness I can feel it begin. The strumming inside, the ratcheting of my heartbeat and the rushing in my ears. C'mon, just let it be, I tell myself. Don't do this. That is my every intention, to not do anything.
The first curve is delicious, like the first sip from a glass of fine wine, the first drag on a cigarette after hours of abstinence. I don't need to reset my speed, only downshifting twice to get the revs up. The left-hand sweeper curls hard under my wheels, the suspension firming. The feeling is instantly mesmerizing, the lean angle and the pull of the Gs and me meeting them with but a delicate grasp and the merest hint of a downturned knee. My left hand extends a single finger toward the clutch lever, even though it'll be another 200 yards before I'll need it again. No matter. My hands have gone all light on the grips and my boots have slipped back tight on the pegs. That sound has started in my head again, and in that moment I feel it all slipping away, all those good intentions.
That one turn has been enough to string out the pack of bikes in front of me, as a number of them slowed for the turn. I've closed on the bikes in the rear and quickly swing into the left lane-there are two lanes heading up the mountain-and begin cutting past them. I figure the hot-shoes up front will flush out any radar-wielding law enforcement officials lying in wait, and the last impediment in my mind melts away. Rolling into the first tight section, I click another downshift into third and add a little more throttle. Bearing deeper into the rush, I feel the scurring of my peg feelers as they reach down to kiss the tarmac. For the space of a handful of miles I'm in a place I can't escape-grooved, in-the-zone-a place I wouldn't escape from if I could. Curve after curve, a rolling euphoria.
Through the narrowed slits my eyes have become, the bikes in front of me seem translucent, temporal. Ghost images, soft markers in the road as I continue rolling past. As I move toward the front of the strung-out pack I sense a growing umbrage. Maybe it's the saddlebags. For sure, this is not a race-there's no striving within me to get ahead; I'm not trying to beat anybody. The other riders out there just happen to be witnesses.
As something of a forlorn excuse, I can offer only that this is, after all, my mountain. Mine in the way that our heart lays claim to those places we especially love.
One of the other bikes accelerates out as I pass and pulls in behind me, riding my tail. A tag-team partner, he stays with me for the last mile to the summit. There's not much left after that-the long right-hand sweeper that begins the descent, which we ride hard-but then we come upon the brake lights of traffic in front of us. The single lane heading down the mountain will force a sedate pace.
The thing inside me disappears as quickly as it appeared and I sit back, relaxed, once again in cruise mode. At the bottom of the mountain the rider behind me beeps and pulls off at the store, pointing at me and turning a thumbs-up. I nod and wave back, continuing on alone.
"Hello. My name is Jeff and I'm a..." Well. I don't know exactly what I am, what the term would be. Speedaholic maybe? Except that that doesn't begin to capture it.
It's always the same. Riding for miles, striving toward my wife's gentle admonishment before I leave to "be careful." And, now, "act like an adult." Sometimes she knows me better than I know myself. And I keep her wishes in mind, mostly, smiling inwardly at how mature I've become. But then we get to the curves.
Yeah, I'm a sucker for it. And it doesn't seem to matter much which bike I choose- the same nattering voice is as present on my K1200RS as on my GSX-R1000. It seems that a bit of sporting competence is all that is required-that and the addiction.
The track helps. Knowing I've got a number of track days sprinkled liberally throughout the riding season seems to keep the compulsions at bay. Not that the track doesn't have its own little voice-it surely does. If anything, the voice there on my shoulder seems more animated and chatty than ever while out riding a closed circuit. But at least the track is a good environment in which to confront it. Or to let it somewhat have its way. But that's a subject for another day.Forcing myself to ride further back in the pack of whatever group of buddies I might be out with helps, too. I don't pass too often on such social rides, so the pace of the guy in front of me becomes my pace-and please God let him have a quieter voice than the one that insists on nattering at me. Running with the hot-shoes up front is a sure recipe for having that voice turn all excited and happy.
And time. Trying to keep in mind that I'm in this for the long haul. I want to be like that 85-year-old guy I met this past summer at my local BMW dealer, the one who rolled in on a K1200RS, the same blood-red color as mine, in the midst of a four-corners tour. All by himself.
You know that old saw, the one that says there are old riders and bold riders but no old, bold riders? Well, I'm hoping someday to end up being that old rider, all the while being at least a little bold along the way. Doesn't quite seem fair, otherwise. Maybe we just need to ration that fun a bit, pick our moments with some care. Not too much gas on the fire, too soon.
As usual, when it comes to perplexing problems, I don't really have any answers. Only hopes. Looking around at other people, those with other addictions, I'm convinced I'll never be cured. It just doesn't seem to be in the cards. Not that I'd want to, even if I had the choice. Sometimes addiction brings its own kind of reward. A bit of joy, tasted now and again, to go with the angst.
So I'll just continue the search, riding all those good roads and looking for answers-all while holding to a fervent determination to keep that devil more or less in check. And sometimes, between the babbling of that voice on my shoulder, finding grace while I'm out doing it.
This article originally appeared in the August, 2003, issue of Sport Rider.