At long last, the city slid into view, the massive pool of shimmering light rising like a phoenix out of the pitch-black night. I’d run something like 2400 miles this weekend. Hours and hours alone on the highways. Just this leg, returning from Cheaha Mountain, Alabama, was nearly 800 miles. That makes for a long day on a motorcycle. I sighed and watched the lights grow a little larger. Almost home.
Well, not really. It’s a big city. Even at these speeds it’d take me nearly another hour to make it...to navigate the impossible maze of the metroplex and reach the waiting arms of my wife. I was shivering in the unseasonable cold again, and running just on fumes, but stopping was simply beyond me now. I’d gotten a whiff of home. I rapidly added numbers, glanced warily at the trip meter, fudged a bit. With reserve the fuel might be just enough...if I held my mouth exactly right. I would just deal with the cold. Frankly I couldn’t imagine a better way to warm up than in the willing arms of a loving woman anyway. I glanced in the darkness of my mirrors and bumped the speed up another notch. Soon now.
As much as I like to get away...it’s always good to make it home.
The weekend had begun the same way it was ending, with a long run in the lonely darkness of an unseasonably cold night. I was headed to meet some friends at Cheaha Mountain State Park in Alabama.
Why? Well, it involved a long night-run, meeting old and new friends, swapping stories, and in general, just several thousand miles of riding. Besides, they were going to have barbeque! Oh, and of course there’s the ‘wings and burgers for lunch at The Downtown Grill in Cullman, Alabama. Why there? That’s a fellow biker’s place and would only add a couple hundred miles to the run. (Go there! Eat!)
I’d left Dallas, avoiding a severe weather front barely behind me and running into the pitch black of a cold night. This was a straight through, non-stop run, specifically to make that lunch. Hmmm. Apparently we distance riders take our eating seriously. Yeah, that’s as good an excuse as any.
By 10 pm I was well east of the city and already cold and tired. My day had begun with an ungodly early commute to work down the Dallas freeways and I had many hours of riding left to go. I’d been up for 18 hours. It’d be another 24 before I slept again. This was to be a long night.
As always, in the night, there were close calls. A road gator in Texas. A log in Louisiana. A deer near Jackson, Mississippi. I can deal with it all, in the night, the heightened senses making up for the dark. Yeah, I can take it all. Except for the cold. Cold tears at the strength and the soul. Why did it have to be so cold?
As always, in the night, as time wore on I encountered things that were not easy to explain. The mind is a powerful thing, especially turned inward, and is one of the most enlightening...and dangerous things to be faced...alone and in the dark. Most people never know, never explore, and never understand what they are made of. The picture is different when it’s only seen in the light. Night riding is about more than just getting there.
Once, in the middle of the night...alone in the pitch black with only the soulful wail of my machine for company, exposed to the elements, shivering and exhausted, I did ask, screaming into the wind, “What in the hell am I doing out here?”
Did the wolf and dragon that came to run that highway with me in that dark night...in my moment of despair...actually answer, or was that all just a hallucination? Do I care? The answer they gave me was correct after all.
The soul laid bare. The road experienced. The man shaken and cold, but never beaten. Stories were found...and will be written.
‘Wings were scarfed down with reckless abandon in Cullman, barbeque was eaten on top of a mountain, and when I finally slept, it was in an old stone cabin in the clouds. Santa, the jolly big guy with the white hair and beard, twinkling eyes, and friendly disposition, was my roommate. As with many bikers, I’d know him anywhere, but not by any other name.
The front I’d fled had caught up with me. The weather can best be described as “Biblical”...to borrow a line from the movie Ghostbusters, “Real wrath of God-type stuff.”
The self appointed faithful would perhaps laugh and revel that those “heathen bikers” got exactly what they deserved...but the observant would have seen the grins on our faces and the twinkles in our eyes as the challenges were revealed...and conquered...one after another...
“Got what we deserved?” Well, maybe...if “what we deserved” was exactly what we wanted. Oh, we didn’t ask for this specific weather, but men live for challenges. Some more than others. Some of the best men and women one could ever hope to meet were on the mountain that day.
Saturday night was the first time I’ve ever been to a barbeque where we had to use extra tables jammed on their sides between pillars to barricade one exposure of the pavilion against the weather. It kept the worst of the howling winds, cold, and wet out. The fog thickened, tendrils of it even blowing through the pavilion. Nobody really seemed to notice, there were cheery fires in the fireplaces, outstanding food abounded, and we had a heck of a good time.
By Sunday morning the clouds were being dashed to their deaths on the mountain...the 50 mph sustained winds raking them over the rock and tearing them asunder. Higher gusts ripped at the trees and made the buildings shudder. It was chaos unleashed.
And there we stood...hard men and women...on that mountain...reeling from the titanic forces at play. We had to park the machines carefully...as the gusts would easily blow the 800-pound steel beasts over unless we faced them just so.
Our view less than ten feet, and that only occasionally revealed between racing tendrils of cloud. Each gust leaving everything in its path drenched with a glistening cold film of nearly frozen liquid. The blood of the sky. The tears of the gods. The breath of the dragon.
Somewhere in the distance another tree lost the test of strength and crashed to the ground. We’d already encountered several on the road.
I’d be riding right into the teeth of it. It’d be long after nightfall before I’d make it home. I wasn’t the only one.
I looked at the man beside me, both of us grinning despite the tempest. “Breakfast before we get started?”
Nearly 800 miles to go.
It was going to be a glorious day...
Author. Adventurer. Electrician.
This is from in front of Barbers Vintage Motorsports Museum. I found it astoundingly appropriate for this run.