Dallas to Garland . . .the Long Way. Oops.
The mp3 player died with a quiet click, the batteries expired. I blinked. Wha....
Suddenly my awareness returned, after what felt like a long absence--much like a ship approaching out of the fog in the night, vague and unidentifiable until enough details are noticed, then suddenly it is remarkably clear, and terrifyingly close.
Three things happened more or less at the same time. Or, that is to say, I became aware of them at the same time. When or in what series they actually occurred is anybody’s guess.
First my mp3 player quit, cut off in the middle of a stanza, the batteries expired. Such is the blessing of the digital world, the music continues at the correct speed and quality until no power is left to play it, then it simply dies with a quiet click. Another blessing, or maybe in this case curse, is that with my particular player, that can take hours.
Second, I became aware of a sudden absence of the smooth and aggressive rumble that is The Dragon. I was still astride the massive cruiser, but I was stopped, sitting in the saddle with both feet on the ground. The lights were on, but she was dead. I was startled, and more than a little alarmed. I did not know much at the moment, but somehow I knew I had not turned her off. I took my hand off the throttle and it snapped closed. I had been holding it open. Odd.
Third, the husky female voice I had been vaguely aware of repeated itself with a bit more urgency, “Hey! I said are you okay?”
I turned my head to look at the speaker. The glow of our headlights reflecting off the blacktop provided enough illumination in the night air to make out a petite older blond lady. She was sitting astride her somewhat heavily laden v-twin beside me on the road. She was holding her half lid helmet in her hands, and had an odd look on her face. Her bike was not running either, but recently had been; I could still hear her pipes ticking as they cooled. Strange I had not heard her approach.
I somehow felt the question an odd one . . . I had not been okay for several days. Stress and unrelieved tension had been accumulating without mercy for some days now, made much worse by a lack of sleep (see The Dark Side of the Man). What I could not figure out was how she would know that and why she was asking. It suddenly dawned on me that she was asking due to my current situation, not because she had any knowledge of the particular hells I had traversed over the last few days.
At the moment I had no idea where I was--I had gotten off a little bit early, and I had set out on the short (20 mile) ride home from work. There was no pressing need to get home--there is nothing there for me at the moment--and with the balmy, warm and windy weather, decided to go on a little ride. Temperatures had been in the 70's that afternoon, and with the stiff south wind, were not expected to cool at all into the night. Gorgeous. Perfect. Particularly for December. If you are a rider, as opposed to simply a bike owner, you can't not ride on a night like this.
But for the life of me I could not recall where I was going or what direction I had set out in. I had set out from Dallas, but had no memory of fuel stops. Lots of time had passed, but how much? I had just been seeking peace, solace, and relief. As I thought for a moment, I suddenly realized that I must have found them. I felt better now than I had in days. I seemed rested, calm, and relaxed. What a blessed relief!
Full alertness had returned. For the first time in almost two weeks, I knew I was going to be fine. I smiled at the speaker. “I am fine, thank you.” I meant it.
She still had the odd look. “I had to stop. You were just sitting here. Do you need anything?”
Normally the answer to that is no. I am always the one depended on to be self sufficient, solid, in control. But something was wrong here . . . The Dragon was dead. That just does NOT happen.
I quickly took stock. 142 miles on the trip odometer. I reached down inside my left thigh and felt the reserve switch. The shaped knob told me that the Valkyrie was still set on the main fuel setting. That at least explained why she was not running. 142 miles on main fuel, she was out of gas. With her 1520cc's of monster tork, and my normally aggressive throttling habits, she usually does not make it even that far. I flicked the knob to reserve.
The lights were going a bit dim (how long had I been sitting there anyway?) so I said a brief ode to any electrical deity that I still may hold some influence over and punched the start button.
The Valkyrie rumbled smoothly and quietly to life. The lights immediately brightened as the alternator began feeding the hungry battery.
I realized I was smiling broadly. What a superb machine. Me and The Dragon--we understand each other.
The blonde on the v-twin was still waiting for an answer. I nodded at her, “I’m good. I’ve just had a tough couple weeks. I needed to ride.” I looked around and took a deep breath. “Got caught up in it I guess.” Another deep breath. “I'm okay now.”
She has been where I was today in some form or fashion. She nodded, and I saw instant understanding in her eyes. You can always spot a true rider.
“Okay then, have a safe ride.” She said as she put on her helmet.
I looked off into the horizon. Reflecting into the haze or high clouds were the lights of a city. A large one by the brightness and obvious distance. The two-lane blacktop road did not give me any clues.
“Um, one thing,” I said before she started her engine.
She cocked her head, “Yes?”
I pointed at the horizon. “What city is that?”
She laughed, reached inside her jacket and tossed me her map. “Here. You’re going to need this. I'm done with it anyway. That’s Alexandria, you’re about 30 miles out.”
“Alexandria.” I repeated. The name tickled my memory. Alexandria. It was familiar. I had been there. Sometime. I just couldn't place it. Suddenly it clicked. I did not quite buy it . . . that would mean I had made at least two gas stops that I did not recall.
“Alexandria, Louisiana?” I almost shouted at her.
She laughed again. “Yep. That way,” she pointed her thumb back over her shoulder, “is Mississippi.”
Her engine rumbled to life, stifling any further conversation. She did a smart u-turn in the road, waved, and roared away into the night.
I sat there a few moments listening to the sound of the v-twin receding into the distance while The Dragon idled smoothly beneath me. Wow. I must have really needed to ride. I probed a bit internally. I really felt great. Really great. Better in fact, than I had in weeks. The night was gorgeous. Okay. I was back, I had a plan. First step was some fuel for “The Dragon.” I should be able to make Alexandria on reserve. Then some batteries for my mp3 player. Then a coke. Then I needed to get back to Dallas. I had to work in the morning.
I glanced at the map. The fastest and easiest way would be up Interstate 49 to Interstate 20 at Shreveport. An easy and straight run into Dallas.
The fastest and easiest way.
I looked carefully at the clock on my pager, then back at the map, comparing the roads leaving Louisiana to the west with my memory of the layout of east Texas. I noted the purple highlighter entering Louisiana from the north, wandering over a substantial portion of the state on back-roads, and then leaving the state into Mississippi. Scrawled on the map was an arrow pointing to the Mississippi/Louisiana border and the words, "Here by Wednesday." Looked like she was going to make it. Yep. She was definately a rider.
I grinned and took a deep breath of the marvelous cool night air. I held it a bit, then laughed out loud as I exhaled. The fastest and easiest way would have to wait for another day. I was going to get back to Dallas, but be dammed if I was going the fast way. It was too nice a night, I felt too good, and there are too many things in the world to see. “The Dragon” was calling.
Dallas and my job, here I come. But with a little swing though Lufkin. It’s only a hundred miles out of the way. The roads look interesting too. Much better than the super-slabs. With any luck I might even get to work on time.
And some breakfast. Definitely some breakfast.