There is a cardinal rule about handling motorcycles. More of a universal constant really…and that is; If you do something silly or stupid, there are inevitably witnesses. The sillier or stupider your actions, the more witnesses, or, at least, the more important the witness.
I used to think there were exceptions.
Some time ago the Verizon boys came rampaging through our neighborhood with lots of heavy equipment installing fiber-optic cable for Internet, TV, and phone service.
They would come in, dig massive holes and trenches all over the place, track mud everywhere for a few days, bury a bunch of stuff (if you ever wonder where all the bodies are hidden…), and then clean up later.
At the end of our alley, the street is blacktop and has a fairly high crown. It can be slippery when wet, but not inordinately so.
Sooo…one VERY early summer morning I pulled out the Valk to head to work. It was one of those quiet, magical mornings that are so common, and yet each extraordinary, in the Texas summer.
The cool balmy air. The smells of the city washed away by the light rain the night before.
A hint of pre-dawn light in the east…just a deep purple barely visible in the black. The remains of the moon in the west.
The roads were damp from light rain or dew earlier, but nothing really to worry about. Just heavy enough that the side-streets had some coverage…the mains would be dry or nearly so.
I can almost believe, at this early hour, that I am alone in the magic of the night…that for now, at least, the city is mine.
It’s a moment to live for…really one of those times that if you never experienced it you should seek it out…
Yes, a moment to live for…and it’s time to ride.
I mounted the Valkyrie, fired the big machine up, and hit the end of the alley.
As expected, no traffic and only slightly wet. I gave her some throttle and turned out onto the crowned blacktop.
Those that ride much know that blacktop is nearly always slicker than concrete when wet. They also know that it is nearly impossible to handle a big motorcycle on ice (no danger of that today).
What they may not know is that there are things MUCH slipperier than ice.
For instance, if Verizon has been digging, and tracked a thin layer of mud over the top of the blacktop, which has then been doused by a light rain or dew, well…what they might not know is that the resulting slurry on the surface is slicker than anything they are likely to ever encounter.
Ice, covered by Teflon, and oiled by 6 bikini-clad pudding wrestlers snorting espresso and using synthetic Castroil would seem like sandpaper in comparison.
Immediately and spectacularly violently, the front wheel shot one way and the rear went another. Then she tried to highside me but didn’t have quite enough traction for that and so, did the next best thing. She spun around and bucked. There’s simply no other way to describe it.
Suddenly I was headed rapidly for the ditch with more speed on than I imagined was possible in these conditions, and absolutely no hope of stopping or even changing direction much.
Normally, the ditch wouldn’t be so bad, and in fact, is often the place TO head when you’ve encountered ice or something worse on a motorcycle, but this time was the wrong place to be.
There was a major problem with the ditch…mainly it was completely occupied by three things…a massive backhoe, a 10-foot hole that it had dug (helpfully surrounded by pokey bits of rebar and thin plastic tape), and a utility pole that carries all the electricity for the neighborhood.
It’s somewhat annoying to go from “Glorious morning” to “doomed to a fiery death” in a fraction of a second at the end of your own alley.
So, let’s see…stabbed with pokey bits of rebar, tossed down a 10-foot hole, and having a 900 pound motorcycle land on my head, or, crash into an immovable backhoe…with all it’s sharp metal edges (the bucket was facing me), or, perhaps a facefull of phone pole.
Ah…so many options.
I actually DID make a choice. One fundamental principle of riding…or driving…(or piloting planes or boats or Tonka toys or…well, you get the picture)…is to make choices. Simply put, never stop piloting. Ever.
If you simply must crash into a brick wall, choose what brick you’re going to hit. Hmmm….seems pretty apt for life in general, really.
Brick? Yeah. I’ll take that one please. *smechk* Thank you. Can I have another?
Screaming “Banzai” is optional. Screaming like a cheerleader on helium may not be depending on your various levels of caffeine and adrenalin.
My choice? Well, I picked the phone pole…it seemed the least likely to result in a lost limb. One slight correction in direction (and the only one I was to get) and “BANG!”
A perfect shot. The front tire hit the phone pole directly and straight on. It didn’t even try to turn the wheel. I’d have been proud of the shot…and the skills it took to make it…had it not been those same “skills” that got me into this in the first place.
In the mud and with the angle of the ditch I promptly fell over. Splat. Ugh.
I righted the bike on the first try. UP she goes. I was just thinking how easy that was when I slipped and she fell back over while I, naturally, slid into the 10 foot hole.
Naturally, there was several feet of muddy water and muck in the hole.
Ten minutes of cursing and three tries later I got the bike upright, idled it down the sidewalk, and got it to the point where I could turn it back down the alley.
Sitting there, straddling the big machine, and slinging some of the mud out of my helmet, off my gloves, and stripping it off the handle bars I heard it…the sign of the universal constant…the inevitable had of course occurred given the stupidity and comedic potential of my actions so far this morning…
I was not alone. Even at 4-something in the morning.
Looking through a gap the Verizon boys had bashed in her fence was a 30-something young lady that had been out for a swim in her pool (of course! a bikini clad witness!)
So. Yeah. Me, the mile-weary, hardened, grizzled, seen everything, been everywhere, and can handle anything rider…sitting at the end of a sidewalk, sputtering curses, he and his road worn, well used and comfortable machine covered in mud…
Her. Cute, distracting, shapely, and exactly the kind of person we males like to look tough, talented, and competent in front of, consciously or not…(grunt/snort).
Yeah. Well. We are what we are.
She’s watching me with a quizzical look. The kind of look that clearly indicates she knows for certain I’m none of those things I strive to be.
A moment passes. Mud drips. The machine idles. I sniffle.
All my experience. Hundreds of thousands of miles. A lifetime of painful lessons and learning the skills to handle this machine. Confidence. Purpose. My very soul…all summed up at the end of my alley…in one look…and one question.
She smiled, “Been riding long?”
I had no answer for that.