Blasting down the interstate, the big Valkyrie rumbling beneath me, I shudder from the cold as we tear through the night. Punching through freezing temperatures at 80 mph, the cold seeks out every imperfection in my gear and gradually saps my strength. The cold is absolutely ruthless, and the dark simply encourages it.
I’ve tried the expensive, multi-layered, branded/logo clothing approach, and even the electrically heated gear, but I’ve always ended up discarding it, bit by bit, in favor of simple; a rugged leather jacket, jeans, worn riding boots, the lightest gloves I could get away with, and a standard black tee-shirt. The fancy stuff is too complex, too expensive, takes too much space, and somehow, for me, detracts from the riding experience. I’m not out here to pimp a brand or promote a logo…I’m out here to ride.
That’s not to say I don’t occasionally regret it. I’d give a lot for heated gear right about now. Tonight’s “pure” riding experience was dealing out nothing but a whole lot of misery. It says something about me that I am out here anyway. I try not to think too hard on exactly what.
I pass a cage…the standard white mini-van…they have the interior lights on and there are two adults and a couple back seats full of kids headed somewhere far away this night. I see nothing but light jackets. From a warm house or garage, to a warm van, to (hopefully) a warm destination, never realizing the peril they are in…that this weather is trying to kill them even now. A simple broken fan belt or frozen battery and they are at the mercy of the cold until outside help comes along. Even the interstates are lonely this far away from the big cities.
With cell phones and gps today outside help usually makes it in time…but I see the kids…trusting their parents to get them safely through…and the parents so complacent that they don’t prepare for or even realize the danger anymore.
I hope they make it. Most do. The dangers inherent in our ordinary actions and the simple steps to mitigate it are simply not something anybody thinks about anymore.
Except maybe me…alone in the dark and cold night. If my machine died I could last indefinitely in the gear I was wearing. Stopping could kill them. Keeping going is what’s killing me. 80 mph makes for a hell of a wind-chill.
It’s nights like these…when I’m in the cold and dark and very much alone…that force me to face my own mortality. I hunch my back, grit my teeth, and twist the throttle even more. The big cruiser sounds out its lonely wail into the night.
I long for the summer to return. Cold winter nights I’m nothing but prey, hunted by my own doubts, fears, and weaknesses. Cold is where my demons roam. Cold is where they are strong. Summer nights I can tap the magic unavailable to them. Summer nights belong to me…and there I’m simply a god.
Nearly two hours of high-speed running on this leg, it’s past time for fuel, and perhaps some coffee and time for me to warm up.
Alas, no rest for the wicked I suppose. The station I come to is only open at the pumps…credit cards and self serve…the store attendants long fled the building for their warm beds.
Every old wound…every scar…every joint I’ve abused…the cold attacks there. Finds its way in. My left knee protests with pain and astonishingly stiff muscles. My shoulder aches and I’ve no finesse in my clutch hand. Old wounds. Old memories. My reactions are slow. Not a good thing.
After fueling I dismount and limp around the lot…pumping my arms and stretching my legs even against the pain.
It doesn’t help much this time. I’ve already been on the road far too long this night. The cold has done it’s work.
Spent, but determined to go on. Even now I could see some light snow flurries in the glaring mercury lamps of the station. I mount up and pull out anyway. Probably a bad decision, but there are times when bad decisions are all that’s left. At that moment it simply isn’t in me to do anything else.
Why go on? I should have been in a cage. I could have stopped at a motel. Even a cursory search around whatever town I had found myself in would have eventually turned up a restaurant or truck stop or something open…something warm.
Lots of reasons not to be on the road. Good ones. So many that sitting there ready to pull out into the street I can’t remember any reasons TO be out here.
But out here I am. I take a deep breath and wonder why.
But I am alone…and just that feeling by itself is a powerful force and is enough to spur me to action. I crack the throttle. The machine responds. Subtle inputs to the controls yield decidedly un-subtle results. The power at my command rockets me up the ramp and into the night and I grin even as the cold takes my breath away. That’s why I’m out here. That’s why I ride. Road weary. Torn. Alone. Battle worn and astride my battered machine, and still the sheer joy…the power over my destiny, and the melding of man and machine manage to lift my soul.
It lifts it to a place only a hardened few ever find.
My demons may hunt, but for now they stand no chance. I’ve shaken them, even if only for a moment.
And if there’s one secret I’ve learned out here…it’s that a moment is a lifetime.
I’ll see you on the road.