The big Valkyrie cruiser rumbled aggressively beneath me and I squinted while looking ahead into the foggy night. Over 250 watts of halogen bulbs mounted in 5 different lights on the front of the massive black and chrome motorcycle were reflecting in the fog and making odd patterns. The conditions for seeing were terrible. The only thing that was worse was turning any of the running lights off. As bad as the reflections were, any less light reduced the range of what I could see. At this time and in this place, visibility was a matter of life or death. I briefly opened my visor, rubbed my weary eyes, and wiped off some of the fog condensing on my faceplate.
The Dragon and I, the machine and the man, merged into one sensuous being…flying and free. Leading into the night, running into the wind. I was going just precisely as fast as I could see. No more, no less…at least that’s what I hoped.
One odd shadow suddenly resolved itself into a solid form. I easily dodged it despite the slick conditions and keyed up the radio. “Deer, on the right.”
James’ voice crackled back, “Roger.”
It was our first contact in well over an hour.
I watched in my rearview mirror until I could see that the headlights of his Gold Wing had passed clear of the danger zone. Deer often run in pairs or small herds, and they are basically unpredictable when the conditions are right. The conditions were certainly right tonight.
We were running well separated…nearly a mile apart. Basically far enough apart so that if I hit anything, he would not crash with me, and close enough that he could hopefully see the road between us was still clear. Far enough apart that he could use his driving lights without dazzling me, yet close enough that I would notice if he went down too. The deer were rampant tonight, and the theory was that in an accident, one of us would remain in suitable condition to go for help. If there was anything left that needed help that is…
As morbid as it was, I welcomed the brief contact. I was cold, exhausted, and intensely lonely. The foul weather was affecting my mood. Drizzle, fog, and a bone chilling temperature were beginning to get to me despite the full leathers. It was very cold for July, even for rural northern Michigan. To make matters worse, the batteries in my mp3 player had died hours ago. The loneliness was somewhat self-imposed…I knew that I had a friend right at the other end of my radio, I simply had to push a button, but I had been unwilling to break the solitude. Riding in the middle of nowhere, lonely and exhausted, is a good time to think.
It had been a long day.
James and I had left Wisconsin over 14 hours ago. We had gone over the top of Lake Michigan and aimed a couple hundred miles off our path for a campground out on a point with an old lighthouse. It had been my plan, and I had grossly misjudged the time over distance and we had arrived exhausted at the park late in the night. Unfortunately the park had been converted to “day use only” and signs warned of dire consequences if it was used otherwise. Darn it all anyway, what the heck is the problem? I wish they would not do that, or at least change the maps.
It was way too late to find another campground. We had little choice but to go on.
The only town nearby was a resort town of some sort and by the time we arrived there all the hotels were completely sold out. There were no open restaurants anywhere, and running on fumes we barely caught the last open gas station before they closed. A candy-bar, chips, and a Coke made a poor substitute for a hot meal, but at least we managed to fuel the bikes.
Unwilling to backtrack, we decided we would head for the interstate…another hundred-forty miles or so. That would put us on our route in the morning, and there are always hotels, gas stations, and restaurants near the super-slabs. We should be able to make it that far on one tank of fuel since the conditions and wet roads were enforcing slow speeds.
I was jerked back to the present by another shadowy figure. This time I felt the back wheel slide a bit as I dodged the deer. I had almost pushed it too far that time. Ten inches to the left, or just slightly less reaction to the skid would have been disaster. It was a very near thing. Again I keyed up the radio, “Three of them, on the left.”
There just was not much else to say. It was that kind of a night.
Thirty miles from the interstate the fog finally broke and my mood immediately lightened. A partial moon was out and the heavily wooded and hilly countryside was eerily quiet despite the roar of The Dragon. I found that I had to strongly suppress the intense urge to howl. Then I snarled, wondered why I bothered, and howled anyway. There was nobody out here…we had not seen another car in 100 miles.
Despite the cold, this night was a beautiful ride. There was comfort in knowing my friend was within easy reach, but oddly enough there was joy in knowing that I could be so totally alone. Solitude can be a requirement, a privilege, and an education. One thing about motorcycling, no matter how crowded my world may become, when I am riding, I am truly on my own. Nobody will ever take that from me.
With the clearing night air I savagely twisted the throttle and pushed the speeds up over 80mph. I grinned as The Dragon surged beneath me, the gears whined, and the engine changed tone. In my rearview mirror I could see James matching my speed but maintaining his distance. There was no comment on the sudden speed change on the radio, he understood the reason for it, and would have done the same if he had been leading this night. His soul often presents similar demands as mine.
Like life, the road can bring discomforts. Like life, the road can bring danger. Many turn back, some never depart at all, but everybody must travel it in the end. The destination is not what’s important; it is the journey that is imperative. It is how we travel the road and that we travel the road that really matters. I know this well, and so does James. But sometimes we forget and must be reminded.
On the road of life the discomforts are irrelevant and inevitable, and are simply a part of the experience.
Life is not about survival. Life is about living.
I took a deep breath of the cold night air and pushed the speed up even more. Tonight I had been reminded. Tonight I knew.
Flying…free…alive. I am alive!
I grinned, The Dragon roared, and we were gone.
Life is a road, get on it and ride…
…Get on it and live!