The long days at work, seemingly ever more frequent, wrap themselves around me like a cloak--lending, after the long trip home, nothing but an aching tiredness. Sometimes, sitting on the train during that evening ride home, watching the cars stacked up on the interstate after the subway has emerged from below ground--a vision that just amplifies my sorrow at what my days have become--I'm struck with the thought of maybe taking an evening ride like I used to. But it's inevitably another hour or more after exiting the subway station and joining those very same throngs of drivers before I turn my pickup into my driveway--long enough for the day's exhaustion to catch up with me. Maybe tomorrow.
And then, of course, tomorrow turns into all the other tomorrows--the day that never comes.
Which is all the more reason that I remain surprised about tonight. Because tonight the thought holds, even through the grim veil of my fatigue. "I think I'm going to go for a little ride," I tell Ginny after I've been home a few minutes. "I'll be back in a little while."
"A little while?" she laughs. "That's really funny. I'll leave a plate in the fridge."
I know what I'm searching for, of course. A respite, however brief, from the melancholy that seems to have fallen over my days. It's strange how we never think of our lives turning out the way they do.
As a counterweight, sometimes there is magic. A spark where you believed there was nothing but cold ashes.
Sometimes it's as simple as pulling the cover off of a motorcycle.
It emerges slowly, happiness, a nudge here and a poke there as I catch shy glances at the machine that will soon take me down the road. It always seems more than it is, that simple act. A start to the measured ceremony that precedes every ride: wiping down the tank, seat and fairing; throwing the little things I think I might need into the tail pack; retrieving the air tank from the shed and bending down to check the tires, first adding a couple of pounds from the tank and then pressing my thumb over the release valve of the tire gauge in little bursts, like a doctor taking a patient's blood pressure, until they're perfect.
As is so often the case, I have no destination in mind. Just riding. I'll end up wherever I end up. But what is always the same is the instant relief. Once down my long gravel driveway out onto the hard top, in the few moments it takes to throttle up through the gears, click clicking up into fourth and 4000 rpm--easy cruising while the oil, tires and suspension build some heat--the detritus of my day falls away like so many loose scales. Then there's the first curve, another couple hundred feet down the road, and though I know it's just a whisper of what's to come, it nevertheless drops me straight into the heart of gladness. Even at this gentle pace it's like being spun up into a web of magic.
My path draws me inevitably westward, into the mountains. Like there was ever any other choice. There are maybe two hours of daylight left to this day. Not nearly enough. But then, you make do with what you're given. I'll spend those two hours as dearly as I can.
The Suzuki feels wonderful: a heady mix of airy lightness and explosive power held to the road with a lithe suppleness. Beneath its thin veneer of civility lies a raw ferocity, ever a temptation. It feels like nothing so much as a magic carpet gilded with a touch of lightning.
The landscape is bucolic, a mix of woods and pasture and corn fields, with cows and horses grazing--the odd one raising its head and watching me as I roll past. I suppose that's part of the charm, the rustic countryside ever a telling background to where the good roads are.
The first hour slides away like an unraveling, slowly abetting the hunger I feel on roads I have long loved. By the time I get to the Mobil station and stop for gas I'm smiling inside. I nod at the sad-faced woman inside as I pay, seeing in her tired eyes a reflection of myself from just a little while earlier. I wish I could tell her about this magic I have found, but I know that she wouldn't understand. So I leave her with just a smiling "have a great evening" and head back outside to my bike.
Between me and where I'm going lies the Blue Ridge chain, the rolling hills of Virginia's Piedmont giving way to a sudden sharpening of the landscape. There's a quickening in my chest as well.
My riding on the street is normally marked by restraint, a catechism of don'ts, like carrying a very sharp sword kept in its sheath. Mostly. But every now and then, trusting to instinct, listening to a sixth sense that tells me everything will be all right, I loose the reins. The sword gets drawn.
That's how it is here. The road begins to twist, slowly at first, as it tracks over the starting-to-swell landscape at the bottom of the mountain, but then there's a quickening as its cadence accelerates into the swift-flowing song that is its character, like a rhyme gaining strength. Assuming the position, my boots slide back on the pegs, my stomach tenses slightly to hold my weight and my gloved hands reach down to lightly grasp the grips. Like a centaur, the only tension in my body is held down low, my upper body purposefully relaxed. Soft hands, the better to wield that sword.
Mostly, it's in my head, this sense of where I am and what I'm about. A predator's eye fixed upon the landscape, leaking measured aggression. A willful attitude tempered by relaxed confidence.
I don't have to choose my lines. Having ridden this road hundreds of times, knowing each curve and bump and swell along its entire length, they come naturally, falling under my wheels without thought. And the Suzuki, having been under me for thousands of miles--joining the ghosts of thousands of miles of other motorcycles before it--has long since moved into that realm where it ceases to exist. Like an oft-repeated musical score, riding it comes not from my head but from a mysterious place inside that needs no conscious attention.
The road itself is like a flower unfolding, one dangerous and dark. In my heart is the desire to push the pace, faster and faster--right now--but I restrain that impulse, knowing that I must be patient. There's a natural rhythm to things that demands respect, a time to allow heat to build in the sides of my tires even as something inside me searches for and synchs to the cadence of the road.
Then it does and suddenly I'm there in that place where it's all clean and effortless, where there's nothing left holding me to this earth but those tiny contact patches. Those are stretched and straining and, even through my flying rush across the road and the flooding stream of endorphins that accompanies it, there's a place of stillness inside me that allows me to feel them, exquisite and sensitive, in their elastic, grasping movement across the smooth-textured pavement.
I hold to that feeling carefully, all too aware of how quickly the GSX-R1000 could sweep them away. My right forearm rests lightly against the flat tank of the Suzuki, my hand motioning the throttle with the gentlest of movements. I find that oddly beguiling--how in the midst of such a rush of speed and energy and power unleashed, the one thing that holds it all in check is wielded with the delicacy of a kiss. Like a butterfly, softly alighting, in the eye of a hurricane.
Nearing the top of the mountain, the growing crescendo in my head finally breaks, a symphony's hurled denouement, as I spin through the last corner leading to the summit. Four miles. A glistening bit of artwork, now drying. I draw a grateful breath and allow myself a moment's pause, reflecting. Then I'm laughing under my helmet, the sword is back in its sheath and I'm over the top and beginning the descent, bathed in the last sunlight of a dying day.