Today I danced with the Devil.
I felt it coming before it actually happened. I let off the throttle and eased toward the left shoulder just before the action started. Hard braking and intense maneuvering were not going to be effective yet, the standing water and driving rain would see to that. Traffic was suddenly tightening up, and everybody was moving way too fast for the conditions. It goes without saying that they were not giving me any space. This was going to be ugly. Call it intuition, gut feeling, or maybe magic. Whatever it is, once again it called and I listened . . . and lived.
Suddenly the sound of crunching metal and squealing tires assaulted my ears. An 18-wheeler slid into my lane, covering the space I had just vacated. Barely behind me a mini-van hit the wall. In front of me a pickup slid onto the shoulder backwards, scraping the wall and sliding between the semi and the wall, and blocking my path. This entire mess was moving at about 60 mph. A hair’s breadth separated me from death, and even that piddling distance would not have been there had it not been for my early reactions.
In the dilated time that was spread before me a detached part notes that there is a car sliding in front of the big-rig, and the driver is out of the action completely. She has both hands over her face, and has trusted her fate to her car’s ability to drive itself. Probably not good.
All of this mess is sliding together, my small island of space collapsing in on itself with annoying rapidity . . . I have survived the initial assault, now I must make good my escape.
Once chance remains, there is a small space in between the leading (backwards) pickup, the 18-wheeler, and the driverless car. If I can get through there, I will still be taking my chances that there is not a car in the middle or right lane that will clobber me, but I can think of few things worse than what is coming at the moment. Aggressive braking is needed to hit the hole in just the right instant, but the conditions are not good. I am on the oil and gravel covered shoulder, and there is standing water from the driving rain. Visibility, already poor due to the road mist and intense storm, is vanishing completely due to the sliding cars and the proximity of the big-rig.
There will only be one shot at this. Drive or die. Truly, this is a dance with the Devil.
A quick tap on both brakes and the dance commences. I feel the front shimmy, a precursor to a slide. Riders already know, but for those that don’t ride I will explain. On a motorcycle, if you lock up or slide the front wheel at speed, you are going down. Period. That would mean instant death in this situation. It is a testament to the precision machine I am riding that I can feel the precursor to the slide, allowing me to brake right at the edge of control. The Valkyrie is an incredible machine.
The maximum braking I can summon in these conditions is not enough, I am passing the hole by, and even now it is closing. I am just a few feet from impacting the pickup, and my space is getting thin.
The Dragon and I understand each other, and when we are on the road, we merge and become one. I have never had a bike that complemented my size and skill so well. I ride other machines; I become The Dragon. Part of me was worried, part of me was smiling…It was time for us--The Dragon--to show the Devil just how well we can dance.
I aim vaguely for the hole and mash the back brake. This results in an instant tail slide. Normally this would be setting myself up for one of two conditions--laying the bike down and sliding along with it, or a “high-side” when I let off the brake or scrub off enough speed and the rear wheel grabs again. The bike will typically violently straighten up and throw you off in the direction of travel. Even if the bike does not land on you or tumble over you, these are bad. This one would be worse; it would be directly in front of an 18-wheeler. Death and death in this case. The Devil wins. I find that a bit distasteful.
I dump it down a gear as she slides into the hole, and release the brake while violently twisting the throttle as she begins to whip around for the high-side. Now I have not done this since my dirt-bike days, and I have never done it on concrete or with a bike that weighs in at about half a ton with me and fuel, but the result is the most gorgeous powerslide I have ever done. This is a controlled slide, using the power-slipping of the rear wheel to moderate the violence of the bike’s attempts to straighten itself out. I do NOT want to get bucked off directly in the path of a sliding 18-wheeler.
I slide heavily to the right, cross in front of the big truck, over-correct and begin to slide to the left before I catch it. I end up sitting on the right shoulder facing the direction of travel, with The Dragon idling smoothly beneath me. Yep. Me and The Dragon understand each other.
I put The Dragon in neutral, calmly removed my helmet, impale it on the backrest, and then let out a loud, “YYYEeeeeSSSSS!!!!!” followed by a, “WooHoo!!!” loud enough to echo back over the noise of the traffic. All this is accompanied by one triumphant pumping of my right arm with a raised fist. The only other reaction possible to bleed off the energy would be for me to blast things into the ether with lightening bolts, but I am sure that would attract the wrong sort of attention.
Fifty yards ahead of me where the sliding mess finally came to a stop I see the truck driver running up and down the side of his rig with a flashlight, peering under all the axels. The cars are all trapped between him and the concrete barrier, but none look very smashed up so I’ve a pretty good idea what he is looking for (me). I toot the horn at him and casually wave as he looks up. He immediately drops the light, grabs his chest with both hands, and falls over backwards. He turned out to be ok (no injuries in the wreck either), he was just so sure I was smashed underneath his truck, he said he thought I was the devil himself standing there on my black beast.
Sometimes the Devil wants to dance. Today he decided to dance with me.
I was forced. No choice or quarter was given.
So I danced with the Devil.
But I was leading...