And that finally begs the question. The one we all avoid. The elephant in the room. Would we ride if we knew that we were going to crash? Would we ride if we believed there was much chance that the crash might be catastrophic?
I don't know. What I do know is that we wrap the question in denial. We preach training and awareness and wearing good gear and saving it for the track-and there's no question that those are all good things and there is truth in them. But what is also true is that we hold to those mantras like they were talismans, holding the question at bay. They give us a rational basis for thinking we've managed the risk. They allow us to believe it will never happen to us.
But that's a myth. I know quite a number of multi-decade riders, men who have riding resumes spanning vast tracks of time and hundreds of thousands of miles. But I know only one who has never crashed. Forrest's sterling record is not an accident - he brings not only a strong competence to the table, but what also may be the most consistently steady judgment I have ever seen in a rider. But there's also no question he's a statistical anomaly.
You and me? We're going to fall down.
Which brings us back to the question. Over the crest, having left the forest behind, the light brightens. The road tracks crookedly through a mixed landscape of small fields interspersed by small patches of woods. There are occasional barns and houses and small groups of livestock, but I notice none of them. The road has become intense, demanding everything. Blind curves come like flash cards from a teacher, only seconds apart.
Gently adding throttle, the motor harkens to that sweet spot, the sublime edge where the torque it lays down has married with the tires to express their traction in a perfect kiss with the pavement. The motorcycle comes alive. And for the next two miles there is that quickening in my heart, drawn from somewhere eternal.
I think of my old friend Randy Renfrow. Of the countless evenings we spent shooting the breeze back at his old shop in Springfield. We talked about everything under the sun. We talked about bikes. We talked about the motorcycle business. We talked about WERA and roadracing and the bumpy surface at Summit Point. We even talked about crashing. But, no, we never talked about the question. We were young men, full of the immortality that all young men assume is theirs.
The road quiets, unkinking just enough that I can relax a bit, exultation trailing in its wake. And suddenly there, in that mix of elation and joy, I begin to see a glimmer of an answer. Not to the question. For the more I think about it the more I realize that it's a question that can never really be answered.
But to the reason we do what we do, in spite of the question. Why we do it in the face of the unknowable.
It occurs to me that despite the several grievous injuries that Randy received while riding, it wasn't any of them that killed him. It was a tragic accident at home that did that.
Turning left at the stop sign, I gently roll on the throttle. Even through my ear plugs I can hear the engine softly spooling. My mind stretches ahead, conjuring the next section of what will later become the map of my day's ride. Cromwell Road, a couple miles ahead, sounds good. Fifteen miles of undulating pavement, a slightly softer cousin to the road I've just finished. It'll make for a lovely, ziz-zag route westward to the Blue Ridge.
My eyes fall to the old, faded Vanson summer-weight gloves on my hands. It's such a pleasure to be wearing those instead of my bulky winter gloves. And the whole season stretches in front of me. I abide a moment of gladness.
I don't know the answer to the question. But that's okay. I know enough.