This Movie.

It will remind you we are all connected, and that “love, actually, is all around us.”

love

Tragically, Netflix removed it from their streaming service on the first of this year. Pity, that.

Let be be finale of seem.

The Emperor of Ice-Cream
Wallace Stevens, 1879 – 1955
Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month’s newspapers.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

Take from the dresser of deal,
Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet
On which she embroidered fantails once
And spread it so as to cover her face.
If her horny feet protrude, they come
To show how cold she is, and dumb.
Let the lamp affix its beam.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

Abstract Fears

I have mentioned elsewhere how Mike saved me. When I was weighing out whether I should or could end my marriage, one of the pragmatic factors which came into play was my vague, lurking fear of being alone and helpless in my older years without anyone to help.

This is not an overwhelming, pervasive concern, but I recognize it’s a legitimate one. Part of the comfort of my marriage was knowing we’d always have each other to rely upon. There was a sense of stability, knowing we’d be a team, come what may. Mike’s presence protected me from those fears, along with all the other things from which he defended my crazy monkey-mind.

As it turns out, of course, what came was a divorce – and with it, the return of a concern that nibbles at my ankles like a duck. It’s easily dismissed for now, but I know it will evolve: The duck will become a velociraptor as I age, and it will slash at my psyche with those enormous claws.

Sure, sure; maybe I’ll find someone and we can team up to fend off the increasing disabilities that will come with time. Maybe I’ll become financially stable enough to hire out the work I need done.

Maybe I’ll become an Albanian jet pilot.

I am not an easy person to put up with – I know this comes as a complete surprise to anyone who has known me for less than 10 minutes. I don’t like sharing my living space. I am prone to letting clutter build up to intolerable levels, though I’m getting better at this now that I’m back in my own space. I am a seeker – I fling myself wildly into new hobbies and ideas with overwhelming intensity, suck out the marrow, learn what I can, and then move on.

I have hobbies that aren’t especially easy to get into for the more timid – motorcycles, guns, pool, photography. I am a sometimes adrenaline junkie. I have a difficult time making decisions, but when I do make up my mind, that shit is decided. Which brings me to my stubbornness, a force even I cannot overcome at times.

My relationship with food is complicated and persnickety. I try not to preach to those not interested, but it’s part of my life, my mindset, and who I am. Some people judge me harshly for it.

The litany of  “reasons why I’ll be forever alone” goes on (and on,) but that’s not the point of this post, despite getting very sidetracked by it.

I am not afraid of dying alone; in fact, when that moment comes, I may prefer to be in solitude, undistracted by others so I may fully and mindfully experience one of the truly universal rites of passage. Provided, of course, my passing is peaceful: If I am in pain, or in distress, perhaps I would welcome a hand, a presence, to witness and bear.

Dying alone is not, at present, a fear. Unwillingly living alone… well, alone apart from the ever-present company of Infirmity… that is frightening.

I am terrified of becoming my mother in so many ways, for we are very alike. She had a pretty good life alone, until she sustained a traumatic brain injury which rendered her unable to live alone. She has friends, but none of them can provide all of her needs, and now she is alone (with her dog) in an assisted living facility. Confused, sad, alone. “Alone” can be a happy place, and often is for me – but largely because I choose it. Being alone not by choice can be a dark abyss, indeed.

Because she was a wretched mother in many ways, and because I am a wretched daughter in other ways, we do not speak. I do not help her anymore. I am done.

For all intents and purposes, she has no family. And I’ll probably be in her shoes in a few decades.

I’m mostly fine with this, but there is the duck at my ankles: “Who will carry in the heavy groceries?” “What if I fall down the stairs?” “What if I’m broke and can’t pay someone to shovel the sidewalk or mow the yard?”

There are always consequences of one sort or another to our words and actions; perhaps my karma will be to exist in helplessness. Perhaps that’s fitting.

 

What’s in the Baggage?

I was enjoying a very well done photography project some time ago, and noticed an image which had the subject carrying a suitcase that had broken open, spilling its contents asunder. Given the theme of the project, I was certain those items were very carefully chosen.

It made me wonder – what’s in my baggage?

We all have it. Burdens we carry around, both small and large, shameful and not.

I tend to think of mine in abstract, vague, completely non-defined ways – shorthand: “Mom,” “high school,” “my body.” I am more comfortable not dwelling on them – but does that help? If I pretend it’s not there, does the baggage not affect me?

Nope; it does. Regardless of whether I acknowledge those issues, they are pervasive. If my decades of life have taught me anything, it’s that my baggage has weight. Size. Heft.

I push it around like an invisible Sisyphean boulder – bent under its weight, but oblivious of its presence – forcing it uphill, wondering why I’m so damned tired all the time.

So what is in that baggage? What is it that so heavily weighs me down?

For now, these are posted without further comment, and in the order I thought of them:

A pair of ballet pointe shoes
A wooden spoon
Stretch gabardine pants
A sweater vest with ducks on it
My dog, Megan
A photo of my Great-Grandpa Lyon
A dark corner full of tears and fear
The picture of my dog Zephyr leaping through the meadow where he would die less than a year later
A dead baby mouse
The Anti-Coloring Book
Disappointment
A stone covered with hand-written love notes from Jon
Credit cards
A Tonka truck
My first real bra
A measuring tape
A tampon
Arm hair bleach
A pair of tweezers
Shame
Guilt
Fear
An Algebra textbook
A empty condom wrapper
A photo of Mike’s face as he rang my windchimes
Heavy chains
Long hair
A size 10 black leather skirt
A chocolate orange
A shoebox in my mother’s closet
Playboy magazines under my dad’s side of the bed
A Frisbee full of gravel

Love; Changes.

On Tuesday, I filed divorce papers. A week prior, my husband posted a very eloquent note on Facebook; it was poignant, fair, and painful to read. I read it several times, astounded at his newfound writing talent, heartbroken for causing him so much pain, but glad to see him reaching out for help from his friends, who of course responded warmly and generously.

He wrote about how, when he took off his wedding band, the skin underneath it cracked and bled, and used this as an analogy for how our marriage had protected him from various aspects of life as the ring had protected his finger from the elements. He’s working to overcome those obstacles, and I see him posting about going out with friends and socializing more, which heartens me. I am sad not to be a part of it, and I miss him, but these are the choices I have made.

Reading his post got me thinking about writing down my own thoughts, as I’ve mostly just been processing things subconsciously, and answering questions when I get them as honestly as I could.

I used to be a writer. I stifled those processes somewhere in the last few years.

It pains me to see how much Mike is suffering. It pains me to deliberately avoid talking to him, lest I accidentally tear open a fragile wound. However, as much as I love him (and I do love him,) I know we are not going to be happy together. We will both grow and move on, and I hope at some point he’ll be able to talk to me again. I am certain he’ll find someone who makes him deliriously happy, rather than settling for someone he can put up with. At the very least, he won’t be dragged down by our relationship.

Love, tragically, does not conquer all – at least not in and of itself. With Love there must come Work. Effort. A lack of Apathy.

If Apathy prevails for too long, the hole to climb out of becomes deeper and deeper, very very gradually. Once in awhile, we stopped and noticed the equivalent of, “Wow, we’re in a pretty deep hole here; we should probably do something about that.”

And didn’t.

It wasn’t hellish, it wasn’t horrible, it wasn’t “bad.” It was mostly comfortable. So, we let it continue.

This went on until I realized I could no longer even see anything that wasn’t the hole. We couldn’t dig ourselves out together, so I started digging my own way up… and I left Mike behind.

It was not without soul-wracking guilt. In many ways, Mike saved me – Financially, emotionally, professionally. I hate to repay him with… this. He was always there for me in the most pragmatic ways – for he is a pragmatic man – and amazed me continually with new feats of engineering and ingenuity.

We had a good life on paper. Logically, we are a great match. We had a good life in other ways, too, but I am an impulsive person, a spontaneous person. Mike is very much the opposite: He is methodical, considered, meticulous – things I wish I were better with. Too, he wished for some of my spontaneity.

Instead of balancing each other out, as would be ideal, our instincts fought and clashed. Very seldom did we ourselves actually fight, or even argue, but we approach life very differently, and neither of us was compromising. Our descent into the big hole was smooth and gentle. A very professional veneer coated us, insulating us from truly connecting with each other.

A decade ago, I bought a wonderful set of wind chimes when I was shopping in Olympia with Mark and Wendy. The sounds they create in a gentle wind resonate deeply in my soul and make me happy. I don’t remember why I didn’t have them hanging outside at our house, but they weren’t – for years. They lay in a box, still and silent. I would see them occasionally and feel a pang of regret, but still didn’t hang them.

Several months before I left, Mike found them and hung them up in the family room one night. I was in the kitchen, and he moved the clapper slightly so the chimes toned, and then carefully watched my face. I remember being so surprised and touched at his thoughtfulness – but I can’t remember whether I let that expression show on my face. I was emotionally locked down. He did something so sweet to make me happy, and I’m not even sure I let him know he had succeeded.

Later, when I reflected upon this and realized what had probably happened (not showing happiness,) the first stirrings began of needing something else. I thought back to how our relationship started.

I came at Mike like a Mack truck, blind-sided him with the full force and intensity of which I am capable. He frantically waved his arms and tried to get me to back up a bit, but my mind was made up, and I am stubborn. I didn’t know who he was or what he was about – I just remember so vividly the profound gravitational pull Mike exerted on me the day we met, and how I was convinced we were destined to be together. And we were – for awhile.

I can’t help but feel, however, that my decision to leave will ultimately serve us both better in the long run. The breaking point for me was becoming friends with two people who are so clearly meant for each other – witnessing their connection jolted me into the reality of our situation. We would never have that, regardless of how much work we might do, and what we did have was making us both miserable.

We both deserve to be happy. We cannot be happy together. Therefore, I had to leave, because I knew he wouldn’t – he is too good a man.

I started staying out late after work more nights than not, socializing with friends from work until four or five in the morning. I didn’t want to go home; I didn’t want to face the awkwardness. I was going to say “oppressiveness,” but that implies it was Mike doing the oppressing, and he was not. It was the situation in its entirety – the too-big house, the too-deep hole, the too-prevalent lack of joy.

I wanted him to be asleep when I got home, so I could just curl up next to him and be close without being confronted with all of the Issues. Cuddling up at night was the best part of my day, despite everything. The love was there and it was easy when we didn’t have to try to communicate. We fit together so naturally, wrapped up in the same position every night without even thinking about it, literally all the way from our fingers to our toes. It was warm and comforting.

Looking at the big picture, each of us is to blame for the course our relationship took, but I am acutely aware of my guilt for the abrupt ending. I could have done it better, but this is the first time I’ve been through the end of a marriage – I fumbled my way through. I could have made better choices, I could have been more communicative. We didn’t know how to talk to each other at all about simple things – how could we talk about this?

I was in an untenable mental state – held almost motionless and emotionless by the gelatin of the relationship surrounding us. Mike was right there, right next to me, but the distance between us (even cuddled up with each other at night) was a chasm. We could not reach each other. This was not his fault; it was what it was.

Many nights, as I was fighting my daily battle with insomnia, I would have this fantasy that inevitably made me cry: I envisioned myself trapped inside a nearly lifeless body; depressed, scared, dark – suspended in black space. Another being I thought of as Mike was there, radiating this brilliant, warm, yellow light. Waiting patiently, watching, trying to gently help but unable to rescue me from my prison. He was patient, knowing I was trapped and that I would eventually find my way out. He did not leave me.

At some point, though, he succeeded in coaxing my true self out of the prison, and my own glowing light burst through the shell and spilled into the darkness. We are both deliriously happy, and I say to him, “you saved me. You stayed, you waited; you saved me. Thank you.” We go on to live an exuberantly happy, vivid life, alive and together, experiencing everything with a new intensity.

It brings tears to my eyes now, just thinking about it – moreso because I didn’t stay or wait until we somehow managed to save each other. I cut bait, jumped ship, deserted. I left a man behind. I gave up. Mike was strong enough to carry me, but I wasn’t strong enough to do the same for him.

I left for me, I left for both of us, because I believe we’ll find happiness apart where we couldn’t have together.

Lastly, I am nearly certain this is the worst decision I have ever made, and I told him that the other day. Understandably, he was confused. It’s difficult to articulate how I could think that, and still make the choices I have. The reasons to stay were largely pragmatic – We had firewalled off a great deal of the emotional side of things long ago – and I am not a pragmatic person.

I hurt him, I hurt his family, I hurt my family, I hurt myself. I’ve probably created awkwardness with our wonderful mutual friends.

As difficult as this is, ultimately, I feel I made the right decision. Despite that, I miss him, I love him… and I do know I failed him.

There are many things each of us wishes we had said or done, but didn’t – something I hope we can both overcome in the future.

I hung the windchimes on my front porch this week. They are lovely and gentle, and they make me happy, though each time they start to chime, I see Mike Neir’s face as he rang them for me, and I wish I had told him.

Saddle Sore

June 24, 2012

As more and more of my friends have gotten into motorcycling, several of them have expressed an interest in completing a Saddle Sore 1000, which is riding 1000 documented miles or more with a 24 hour time period. While this is far short of impossible, it is very physically and mentally grueling and, if enough things go not quite as planned, can be stressful. I haven’t completed a documented Saddle Sore in over 10 years, and I have a new Harley I wanted to try it on, so I scheduled a group event for the Summer Solstice weekend in 2012.

In the end, only three of us were able to attempt the ride, as scheduling conflicts waxed, and interest in the ride waned. We set an early start time – 6:30am at the BP station in Mason, Michigan.

The temperatures were in the 50’s when we started, so I was utterly Bundled Up in my Michelin Man gear, looking very Sta-Puft, indeed. I was extremely grateful for the full windshield on my Harley Super Glide Custom; I’ve never had a bike with this much windshield before, and was loving it. While I do still get some helmet vibration in my Shoei RF-1100 at freeway speeds, I was far less buffeted than I would have been on the Bandit. The one thorn in my side on this trip was the backpack I had to carry. While Jim graciously let me take up nearly all of his left saddlebag with my stuff, there was still about 10 pounds of water and other items in the backpack, and boy howdy did it ever wear on my shoulders for the duration of the trip.

I had a lot of trepidation about whether my back would hold up to this trip. Prior to installing the Sundowner solo saddle, each time I’d ridden the Harley (dubbed “Dahlia,”) the next morning I woke up with moderate to severe back strain in my lower back, sometimes to the point of not being able to move much at all. This trip would truly be a test as to how compatible this machine and I are. I was already in love with her – would this make or break our relationship?

As with many of these rides, it started out a bit late and a bit bumpy. It turns out there are two BP stations in Mason, and I had forgotten the second one, which was the most logical choice. Jim had arrived at the other and waited before seeking me out at The Wrong BP, only a couple of miles down the road. Together, we went back to The Logical BP, where Severin had arrived and was waiting.

Jim and I gassed up, which set our start/hard finish time at 6:42am. Severin was having some mirror troubles Jim tried to correct, but the thing was just buggered for this trip. Alas, poor Severin, who had nothing but a fine view of his right saddlebag in the mirror. At about 6:50, we were finally on the road with Jim taking the lead with his cruise-controlled Kawasaki touring rig. Severin had only gotten about 5 hours of sleep the night before, so we kept him sandwiched in the middle (his favorite spot, naturally,) to make sure he’d be ok and didn’t have to think much.

Jim is a great ride leader – he takes the group into consideration when making lane changes or when pulling out from a stop, he points out road hazards as he sees them, and exercises judicious throttle control on the freeway. He’s fun to follow, though we had agreed to take turns leading, since it can be mentally tasking to continually check up on everyone and think for the group. Personally, I make a pretty awful ride leader, and prefer to follow. I really enjoyed being able to watch both of them as we progressed.

Our first leg took us south on 127 to Jackson, where we hopped onto 94 west and headed for Michigan’s west coast. The miles peeled off easily, and before we knew it we were at our first gas stop in Coloma. Our first stop was pretty efficient, apart from having to locate and then obtain the key for the restroom. It had warmed up pretty well, and we were all feeling good. The sun was shining, and it was a gorgeous day.

The documentation rules for Iron Butt Association rides are rather strict, so people have a harder time faking rides. One of the requirements is to get a computer-generated, date-and-time-stamped receipt for each gas stop which also has the location on it, and then make a note of the bike’s odometer at the gas stops. Being out of practice, I had forgotten to check whether our first receipt actually had the location, date and time on it, but I did remember to get the receipt and write my odometer reading on it. Fortunately, we got lucky, and all of the required information was present.

We turned onto US-31 going North and began our Lake Michigan leg. Sadly, the lake is never visible from 31 until one hits Traverse City, but it’s a pretty efficient way to get north and enjoy some pretty scenery along the way. We had a minor detour where 196 and 31 parted company, but nothing that ate too much time. US-31 does pass through some cities and towns, and there are a few stop lights, but our pace was excellent. To complete a Saddle Sore 1000 within the 24 hour time period, one needs to have an average speed of 41.7mph. This includes stops for food, gas, bathroom breaks, everything, so time management is crucial.

A separate but related event this summer is a touring rally/scavenger hunt I put together for our little group, The Vogon Fleet. We rode past so many target locations, but couldn’t stop to get them. Neither could we just linger and enjoy the scenery, alas. The IBA is all about The Miles and Getting Them. Sit there, twist that, gas up, repeat.

In no time at all, we were in Ludington for our second gas stop. Our maximum range was about 140 miles on the freeway, limited by the smallest tank in the group. After this stop, we didn’t get near our max range most of the time, our stops rather dictated by how uncomfortable any given member of the group was.

At this point, I gave Jim a break from leading the group. He was starting to experience some significant pain in his tailbone, and had been leading us for about 4 hours. I took point, and immediately, like RIGHT NOW, lead us in the wrong direction. US-31 goes from a freeway to a surface street in Ludington, and I was trying to get us back on the freeway. Derp! Just a moment later, though, I realized the trouble and flipped us around.

I have a terrible time maintaining a consistent speed, and my Harley has no cruise control or throttle lock (yet.) When my little monkey brain gets distracted by something, I slow down. When I get impatient, I subconsciously go faster. Too, there are just certain speeds which the bike seems to enjoy, and settles into them gradually over time, whether faster or slower than my desire. On a two-lane road, such as US-31, this isn’t as big a deal as on the freeway.

We got stuck behind a gigantic motor home briefly as we started North again, but soon left him in the dust and carried on. Traffic was moving briskly, and we made great time to the Traverse City area. As we were coming into town, we rode right past the park where my family owns a campsite – I didn’t realize it until we were right on top of it. I haven’t seen that place in probably 15 years, so it was neat to be right there.

As we headed into Traverse City Itself, and down to the bay front, things became more congested. It was Saturday on a beautiful summer day, so there were naturally a LOT of people all around the bay. It took us a fair amount of time to travel through, and we gassed up shortly thereafter in Acme. I was able to shed my thermal, and even ditched my jeans, riding in just the LDComfort shorts under my First Gear Kilimanjaro pants. Note to me: Wear light, non-jean-type pants under the FGK stuff, ok? You know this, ya nublet. Bare skin against the knee armor is sticky and mildly unpleasant. I suppose I just needed that reminder. Still, I was far more comfortable without the extra bulk of my jeans, Cuddle Duds top, and FGK jacket thermal liner. Ahh.

At this point, we’d been on the road about 8 hours. I was feeling really fresh, and was enjoying not blasting this out entirely on the freeway. It was great to be able to go without earplugs on the two-lane roads without insane wind noise making me crazy and increasing my existing tinnitus. Jim, sadly, was not doing well – mentally, he was frosty and awesome, but his stock saddle was murdering his tailbone. Pain radiated across his face when he got off the bike to stretch. He’s a tall drink of water, that one, and his knees were none too happy, either. He had been popping Advil and ibuprofen to try and counter the pain, but I think at this point, it was a losing battle. His attitude was still great, though, and we sallied forth to make our way through Charlevoix to M119.

Charlevoix on a sunny, summer, Saturday afternoon is NOT a fun place to try and get through efficiently. The roads aren’t wide enough, the traffic lights are badly-timed, and people don’t necessarily try to cooperate with each other. It took us probably 20 minutes to get through town very, very slowly, which was frustrating. It didn’t matter what lane I chose – it was always The Wrong One. Le sigh.

Once we were through, we could enjoy the views of Lake Michigan and the pretty countryside. There is an unholy amount of Big Money in that area, and it shows in their gorgeous infrastructure, country clubs, riding stables, and so forth. There is an RV Motor Coach Resort nearby that’s far nicer than any hotel I’ve ever stayed in.

We slipped through the lovely, quaint town of Harbor Springs without any trouble, and got onto M119, the famous Tunnel of Trees scenic drive, which I had very much looked forward to. However, we entered the road immediately behind The Smelliest, Dieselest, Road-Hoggingest Dodge Ram truck carrying a camper bed. Shit. He was puttering along at about 30 miles per hour, and didn’t take any of frequent opportunities to pull over and let the three motorcycles behind him pass. I even made sure he could see me in his mirrors, but no. It was his road, and he was happy to own it.

Now, understand – I am all about leisurely, safe driving along pretty routes. I don’t want to rush anyone. But I am also all about being polite and letting other drivers by if they’re in a bigger hurry than I am. There were plenty of places he could have let us pass. I knew we would have one chance to pass him; M119 takes a 90-degree left turn, which is followed by a very short, 200-ish-yard straight stretch. If there was oncoming traffic there, we were screwed for the whole journey, which we would then spend inhaling his filthy exhaust and silently cursing his rude behavior.

Thankfully, there was no one oncoming, and a quick twist of the throttle left him behind us. We enjoyed the views and the 1.5-lane twisty road for a mile or two before an enormous, oversized motor home came barreling over a blind hill, taking up the entire road, not even trying to stay on his side. Had we been 10 seconds sooner, we might have all been dead right there – perhaps I should be thanking at Dodge driver instead of ruing his existence…

I gave the motor home driver an evil stare which he could not see, and Jim apparently flipped him the bird. I hope it gave him a wake-up call as to sharing the incredibly narrow, full-of-blind-curves-and-hills road with other people.

We continued on our way, Lake Michigan and its various islands directly to our left and down about 200 feet, beautiful, amazing cottages and homes to our right, and occasionally left. We passed through various elbow turns, including the Devil’s Elbow, which offered a nice opportunity to practice some tactical turns. I am in love with this road, and have been since I first drove it late one December. This time, I loved it even more, as it was not covered with a very thick, smooth, sheet of ice.

We passed by the shop where Mike and I had found The Most Amazing chocolate cherry sauce I’ve ever had, and continued toward Cross Village – a nice bonus location for our Nerd Motorcycle Rally event. Ill fortune found us once again, however, as we came up behind 3 motorcyclists, who were also content to apologetically take up The Entire Damn Road at 20mph. We had to follow them for the duration of the ride up M119 – they wouldn’t wave us by, pull over, make any attempt to be cooperative, or even acknowledge our presence.

By the time we got to the tiny hamlet that is Cross Village, we were all pretty pissed off and feeling the pressure of time. 20 miles at 20 miles per hour was not fun to think about in terms of how it related to whether we would finish on time. As we came into the village, I pulled us over in front of the village sign for a photo. We nommed some food, Jim ate more pain pills, and we unwound a little bit. Jim was in extreme pain, and it wasn’t being tamed much by the OTC remedies. My heart went out to him – I’ve had seemingly-unending rides during which I’ve been in abject, nearly unbearable pain, and they are the longest miles ever. Being in pain for awhile can be an almost welcome distraction from the mile-upon-mile days, but only to a very short point – after that, it adds to the physical and mental exhaustion, and saps stamina quickly.

Since we had lost so much time behind asshats, and since we had only gone 80 miles since our last gas stop (which had been over two hours ago,) we bailed on taking the scenic route to Mackinaw City, and instead hopped on the straight road to Levering and grabbed US-31 up to Mack City. We paused there for awhile to take a rally bonus photo of us next to the Mackinaw Bridge. Jim said he was having second thoughts about completing the ride. This was heart-breaking news – he’d come so far (over 450 miles,) and was about 5 hours from home. By the time we could get him to Jackson on the shortest path, he would be only 250 miles (about 4 hours) from completing the whole ride.

Still, the pain was that bad. He made up his mind to scrub the mission and head home. This left Severin and me with a decision to make – let Jim bomb down I-75 toward home alone while we carried out our original plan of hugging the coastline, or escort Jim safely back so he wouldn’t have to do it alone. Doing the whole second half on the freeway would be very tiring, but it wasn’t a difficult decision to make – I hoped maybe having us with him would make the ride suck a little less for Jim, plus, I wanted to make sure he got home safely. We started together, and we should stick together, especially since he was hundreds of miles away from home.

We gassed up and confirmed abandoning the route to see our hurting friend safely back.

It was so odd to see the little town of Mackinaw City so alive and bustling with people. When I spent time there over the winter, most businesses were closed and people were scarce. As we turned South, I bid adieu to the water, and was a bit sad we wouldn’t get to travel through Cheboygan and past Mike’s family’s vacation cottage along US-23 on Lake Huron, but our choice was the more responsible one.

We blasted down I-75 south with me still leading, with my wildly-varying speeds. On the freeway, this is more of a nuisance for those following me, since they can’t set their cruise control. Too, my speedometer reads low, while Severin’s and Jim’s reads high, so I was aiming for a weird goal of 72 as read on mine, which apparently translates to 78 on theirs. I found myself going back and forth between about 69 and 78 indicated, despite looking at it at least once every 30 seconds, which probably drove my two unfortunate ducklings nuts.

We pulled off in Harrison, gassed up, and I asked one of them to take the lead. I’d been on point for about 400 miles and my brain very much wanted to shut off and stop obsessing over how fast or slow I was going. Jim stepped up again, and we all basked in his cruise control from Harrison down to Jackson – aahhhh, delicious regulated speed.

We had at that point been on the road for almost exactly 12 hours straight. Physically, I was doing really well; I was a bit road-weary from being on the freeway, and I was feeling some level of physical tiredness, but I downed a 5-Hour Energy drink, which helped considerably. I was ready to throw the backpack away, but sensibility won that argument. Plus, it was nice being able to hydrate whilst underway via the Camelbak bladder I had in there.

Severin’s eyes were getting somewhat bloodshot, and he was experiencing some pain from his saddle, too. Jim’s outstanding demeanor continued, but he was in agony. We pushed onward, down I-75 to 127 and into Lansing. This stretch is boring, and I’m somewhat tired of it, having driven back and forth upon it several times over the winter. There isn’t much to look at, although the pavement is pretty good, and we made great time. On the way to Lansing, I had been trying to plot where we could go after dropping Jim off to complete our final 250-ish miles. I was drawing a blank – there wasn’t a really good way to do it that didn’t involve circles, repetitive back-and-forth (which is frowned upon by the IBA overlords,) crap pavement, or getting really far away from home.

The sun was still up and I felt good, but I knew once it got dark, my energy levels would probably tank considerably and those last couple of hundred miles would seem eternal. We gassed up in Lansing, I had a Starbuck’s Double Espresso shot, and headed down to Jackson, where we said our goodbyes to Jim. He was SO close to completing the ride – only 250 miles away! – and had considered giving it a shot. However, 4 or 5 more hours in that kind of pain just seemed miserable, and it would have been. He made the right call, and it was a tough one. I have so much respect for how far he came under that much extreme pain while still being totally cool about it. He did offer to throw a tantrum, though, if it would make us feel better. 🙂 I repacked all of my gear into my backpack, but my pants back on, and off we went.

When we pulled onto 94 heading east, the sun was down and we had our last dregs of light. With dusk comes deer, but thankfully there were none to be seen. I had thrown a hasty plan at Severin, who offered to lead – head to Ann Arbor and take  US-23 North. We’d figure it out from there. As we got off 94 into the oddball US-23 interchange as planned, I checked my mirrors to see what was behind me. As I glanced back up again, I saw Sev heading off down the US-23 South entrance ramp, and had to make a very hasty swerve to keep from passing it myself.

There is a thing about US-23 which is true, which I forget. That thing is this: US-23 is always, always under construction. There is no stopping it. It is simply a fact of the road.

A couple of miles south, we hit that construction, and were funneled into a 50-miles-per-hour, single-lane line of traffic. We passed orange and white barrel after orange and white barrel, which were apparently just out for fun, because the smooth, even, fresh asphalt on the other side of them looked complete and totally unobstructed. So it goes.

By the time we reached Carpenter Road in Milan, we’d had enough. We gassed up, ate some snacks, and gulped down another Starbuck’s Double Shot Energy Drink for extra energy. I was a hurting unit at this point, nearly stalling the bike out at the stop sign on the off-ramp. Fine motor control was a foreign concept, and everything seemed vaguely surreal. Severin looked pretty bleary, too, but reported feeling fine. “Let’s head to Flint,” I said; “maybe that’ll give us enough miles.”

I had forgotten Flint was only about 50 miles at most from Lansing – my brain was not capable of computing distances or numbers. I just wanted to get this mess over and done with as quickly as possible. It was a stupid Hail Mary, and of course, it didn’t work.

Somehow I ended up back in the lead, and as I got us onto US-23 going North (which is under slightly less construction than the southbound lanes,) I settled immediately behind a red car. I have no idea how fast I was going, because I was trying to get my mental bearings, and was failing miserably. There were so many bright lights all around, and my ridiculously photo-sensitive eyes were having a hard time focusing on things, while my brain just plain couldn’t make sense out of it.

Barely a minute had gone by when Severin blasted by me, taking the lead. I wondered if I was going super-slow, or weaving, or doing something else that caused him concern, but he later reported he just wanted to be helpful. He’s a good guy, that Severin.

The stretch from Milan to Flint is largely a blur, and none of it made any sense whatsoever. Thank goodness Sev was leading, because I surely would’ve lead us straight into a bridge abutment. I was really struggling not so much to stay awake, but to stay aware and make sense of my environment. All basic bike-related functions were automatic, but things like finding the horn or the turn signal were difficult. I was completely convinced someone was going to merge into one of us and run us over, and felt horribly, horribly vulnerable and invisible.

The construction barrels were blazing blindingly by, as were the headlights of the oncoming traffic. There were just Too Many Lights and reflecting objects coming at me too fast, which was overwhelming. For the entire ride to Flint, I had the sense that this is what my mom’s whole life is like, post traumatic brain injury: She is always at least vaguely anxious, everything happens too fast for her to follow, she’s somewhat fearful, but just has to get through it, often with someone guiding the way. She is largely at the mercy of those around her. I felt a great deal of compassion for her then, but surely not enough to heal all the old wounds and issues. It was good insight, though. Sadly, it did nothing to help me cope with everything.

Thankfully, nothing out of the ordinary happened during this stretch, and we arrived safely in Flint. Severin later reported trying to signal me with his hands, but black gloves in the dark do not show up in headlights, and I missed it. He wondered if we should get a receipt here to show our location – and we should have. But we didn’t. I hope this doesn’t cause any issues with our certification.

The entrance ramp to I-69W was suddenly upon me, with its sharp curve. In my mental state, this appeared out of nowhere and shocked me back into my senses somewhat. We were both taken somewhat by surprise with this turn, and neither of much cares for sharp turns in the dark, or riding in the dark in general. Almost immediately, I saw a sign: Lansing 44 Miles.

Shit.

That was going to be at least 100 miles short of what we needed. Shit, Shit, Shit.

Somewhat more alert after the surprise of the sharp curve, I found a position that was a little hunched over my tank. This blasted fresh air right up into my helmet and helped to wake me up and keep me refreshed. The caffeine seemed to kick in here, too, because I was suddenly on my second wind and feeling pretty good once more. I still wanted to be done and go to sleep, but I wasn’t miserable and clinging to the bike for my life anymore.

We stopped in Lansing for gas, and to figure out what to do next. It was just after midnight, and Severin’s birthday had arrived – quite a way to spend it!

We needed almost exactly 100 miles by my odometer, plus a little extra to allow for possible odometer over-reporting. I didn’t want to overlap our previous route, so we opted for going out about 52 miles west down I-96 to the Lowell exit, and then coming on back. That 45 or so minute passed quickly by, thankfully, and we stopped at a gas station/convenience store just off the freeway. Neither of us had used much gas at all, so rather than a gas receipt, we opted for a beverage and receipt.

As I took off my helmet and parked it on my mirror per usual, I didn’t do a very good job and it was suddenly bouncing and tumbling along the pavement a good 15 feet.

Shit.

That’s a new, $500 helmet! Argh! But we couldn’t worry about such trifles then.

I down a delicious, glorious orange juice not even caring if it was an evil “flavor pak”-containing brand (it probably is.) It tasted delicious and was so refreshing.

This was it – we were in the home stretch now! All we had to do was get to the Cedar Street exit to drop Severin off and get his final receipt, and then I had to get myself safely home for my own receipt. The trip back to Lansing was easy mode and went by with a quickness – thank goodness. We pulled into the Speedway right off the freeway just moments after the bar next door had closed. The station was full of drunk, loud, belligerent, flirty, mating-call-making, posturing kids in their twenties generally making scenes. Fortunately, no one drove into us or backed over us as they were jockeying their cars around inexplicably, and most had left by the time we were done.

We did some self-congratulating, but I really wanted to get home so we said our goodbyes and parted ways. Home was about 20 miles away for me, and I saw a lot of deer along the way, their green or yellow eyes glowing at me from the fields and margin areas. In my hometown, I grabbed my final gas receipt, noted my final odometer reading, and happily turned for home. There were so many deer out, I went 35 the whole way, playing out various unhappy scenarios in my head:

“She had just completed over 1,000 miles that day, only to be killed less than 3 miles from home when she hit a deer.”

I consciously drilled myself on what I would do if a deer appeared HERE, or THERE, or if THIS happened. There is a theory in the motorcycling community which friends of mine have put into practice: If a deer jumps in front of you and you can’t avoid it, DO NOT BRAKE – Hit the throttle! The idea being you’ll have more momentum and will have a better chance of remaining upright after the collision than if the bike was in a downward trajectory due to hard braking. A friend of mine literally split a deer in two using this method, and remained upright. Another hit an elk, riding two-up, and stayed up after the glancing blow. I visualize this happening – see deer, hit throttle; see deer, hit throttle. It goes counter to instinct. I hope I never have to find out whether I’ve successfully trained myself for this occasion.

Finally, there was our driveway, there was our house. Aahhh.

I opened our garage to find my eleven little chickens perched up and sleeping, some on top of the upright freezer, well out of their allowed zone. I was too tired to care. I took a photo of the bike’s trip and regular odometer, so happy to be home. I could hear my dogs exuberantly barking and howling inside. I stumbled into the house, where I was greeted by two excited dogs and a relieved husband. I took off all the Space Cop/Michelin Man/Sta-Puft Marshmallow gear, including the odious back pack. Ahhhhhhh!

We were done – it was over. Mission accomplished!

I was sad for our friend Jim, who had to call it quits so close to the end – but I’m pretty certain he’ll give it another go, once he has his saddle situation all sorted out. He’s got a good idea of what it takes now, and I have no doubt he can do it – I hope I can go with him when he does.

So, why exactly did we do this? I’ve never been entirely sure why I’ve done them in the past, but this time, I had clear reasons: I wanted to show my friends the crazy but satisfying world of endurance motorcycling, to open that door. Severin had a light bulb turn on when I said, “if we had ridden in a straight line, we’d be in Texas right now.” It gives us a whole new perspective on the distances that we can travel on the bike, and in what sort of time period.

Too, I wanted a good shakedown ride on the new bike. This was the most comfortable endurance ride I’ve never had, bar none. The Sundowner saddle was almost perfect, as was the bike. My hands and wrists didn’t want to wither and die as they do on sport or sport-touring bikes, and while the backpack affected my shoulders, that was unrelated to the bike itself.

I was fairly sure I’d wake up this morning and be totally locked up, back muscles in spasm, every movement causing shooting pains throughout my whole body. Thankfully, that didn’t happen My forearms are sore, my legs are a little sore, and my shoulders are quite sore. But I don’t feel as if I’ve been hit by a truck like I have previously. Yay.

Mostly, though, I did this ride to see if I still could – a personal challenge. It went better than I could have hoped, and I think having so many hours of daylight was a big part of it. Those miles after dark are much, much harder for me. Plus, the company was terrific, the roads up until we had to bomb south were really nice, and the bike was so very comfortable. I wish we could have completed our intended route, but getting Jim home was more important. We can do it again some other time, and I bet sticking to the two-lane roads will help keep me more focused and prevent a lot of the road-buzzy feelings I get from extended freeway rides.

Familiar Terrain

November 28, 2011

In the Long Distance Rider world, a realm in which people far greater than I ride motorcycles more than 2000 miles in 24 hours, or 11,000+ miles in 11 days, there are many iconic figures. Chief amongst them, in my mind, is Robert Higdon. Bob will say he doesn’t ride well or far, but these are untruths of modesty.

Bob is a lawyer – I can only imagine he is outstanding in this field – and some of the liability aspects of the Iron Butt Association and its now-copious members occasionally pulse his blood pressure.

It is one thing to ride a motorcycle fast and far on public roads; it is quite another (in terms of potential liabilities) to write about it upon public fora, email lists, and websites, particularly if the riding occurred during the course of an organized event. Thus, back in the day when the LDR email list was slightly more civilized, and contained more signal than noise, we did not discuss Specific Speeds. We had a code of sorts, and that code revolved around Bob Higdon and his forehead.

The most egregious recklessness was referred to as “triple-Higdon speeds,” referring to the number of veins one would observe popping out on Bob’s Higdon’s forehead, were he to read such an account.

I miss having a little Higdon in my world from time to time, but I carry him with me, and he continues to mentor from the comfort of an overstuffed leather chair in my brain on an almost weekly basis.

What does Bob Higdon have to do with today?

My everyday life has been, for the last few months, a combination of single- to double-Higdon stressors, with the occasional triple-veiner burst. I’ve been trying to simply abide, to muddle through as best I can, but I slipped too far down the slope with the addition of a job I loathe, and in trying to climb back up to the precipice’s edge, I lost my tenuous grip and tumbled far down into blackness.

I am upright, lucid, moving around, taking in stimuli, but I am essentially the walking dead. I don’t know where I am, internally, and worse, I don’t know who I am. I don’t know what used to make me happy, let alone would make me happy now.

Common sense tells me what I should do, but I can’t be arsed to do it. It’s like there is a line on the ground – I can see the line, and I know what it represents. To start down the road to recovery, all I have to do is to step across the damned line. That’s it.

But I can’t find the motivation to do it.

I can’t even really look at the line itself; I have to take it in with a furtive, sidelong glance.

People who have never been depressed, who have never suffered from a lack of motivation, will read that and say, quite correctly, “That is absurd. Walk across the fucking line, you incredibly silly person.”

It seems so easy to them, and it probably is. Except for those of us who can’t even look at the line, let alone interact with it or walk across it.

I maintain an uneasy awareness of the line, and its relative proximity. Some days, it’s right there and I feel ready to try … but balk at the last second after getting a good look at it from right up close. Other days, I sense it vaguely in the distance, a far-off brightness in the grey evening light where I have been living.

Being around other people is difficult at best, impossible at worst, but is of course part of what one must endure in day-to-day life. My job is to provide technical support (from home) to troubled, confused, angry, and frustrated customers over the phone, via support ticket, or in a live chat. The support ticket is the preferred method of communicating with customers, as it places no real-time pressure on a person. There is no opportunity for real-time abuse or desperation. Everything is held at arm’s length, and we like it that way.

However, some customers prefer to “talk voice” (as we used to say in the old days of the internet.) I’ve never been any good at distancing myself from my customers’ emotions, and this is especially true when they are on the phone with me. If the customer is polite with me, and civil, despite their broken technology, I take on their frustrations at a personal level. If they are friendly and sweet, this amplifies my take on their emotions.

The simple solution is, “don’t do that,” right? I’m a highly-sensitive person. I am empathic, sympathetic, wanting to make people happy. I literally do not know how to back away, how to put up healthy barriers, how to keep a person needing help out of my personal space.

To compound matters, I hate computers. I’m not saying this to be funny – I truly hate them, and the feeling (as far as I can tell) is mutual. When I am near, computers sometimes behave in completely unpredictable ways. Incidents that might otherwise be written off as “flukes” or “once in a million” are fairly standard behavior when I am using them.

You, likely being a rational, sane person, read this and think, “that’s probably not quite the case, slightly-crazy lady; you are simply doing it wrong.” I used to think the same things when my mom reported bizarre computer problems I could not reproduce. However, the older I get, and the more quirks I see, the less I am able to dismiss the oddities that happen to me daily.

This is neither here nor there, really – the main point is, I am trapped in a job I loathe, and I am not skilled to do anything else.

This place where I am is not entirely unfamiliar – indeed, I know the landscape pretty well. Thanks to a series of piss-poor decisions in my first years of college, I opted out of the career path where I belonged (life sciences) and squandered most of my fairly expensive education (seven years at the University of Michigan, a place where I could have done great and wonderful things, had I chosen to avail myself of its resources and opportunities.) I could have done real and lasting good, I believe, had I not seen all the math and chemistry on this path and frantically fled in the opposite direction.

I landed in Information Technology, because it was there, it was easy, and I didn’t hate it yet. I have never been extraordinarily gifted with computers, but neither did I utterly fail with them, and I found work mostly in this field for a good fifteen years, right up to the present moment. Not being particularly interested in computers means a lot of the details do not stick with me. I am not compelled to discover how they work, or why they do not. I do what I need to do, and I provide excruciatingly good customer service as I do it.

Each phone call, each live chat, each ticket, takes a little piece of my soul because I hate it so much. Each failure stays with me, affects me for too long. Each triumph seems hollow and meaningless, apart from making someone happy (or at least less pissed-off.)

It is because I hate my job so much, because I am so disenchanted with my life, that I am writing this post from a very nice hotel on the beach of Lake Michigan. There is an absurdly large jacuzzi tub in the bedroom, a living room, a modest bathroom. A view of the canal leading to the lake. I will be here for two days.

Years ago, I would watch the movie “Switch” with some frequency. I loved Ellen Barkin’s portrayal of a man suddenly in a woman’s body. I may be mis-attributing the quote, but as I recall, Ellen Barkin is talking about a desire to get away from it all, and references Gaughan “chucking it and moving to Tahiti.” That line remains with me, and adequately sums up the feel I sometimes – a powerful urge to chuck it and go someplace new, start over. Have some drinks on the beach.

Tonight, I chucked it and came to St. Joseph, on the shores of Lake Michigan.

The drive took over three hours, thanks to unholy traffic at the intersection of the two main highways I had to travel. It was raining, windy and cold, but my urge to flee was at least being sated, even at 5 miles per hour. I fled from my job, from my marriage, from my home – basically from my miserable life. A change of scenery to jolt the system, however temporarily.

Benton Harbor, the town next door to St. Joseph, is under political assault right now from our state’s Governor. The divide between the affluent, predominantly white St. Joseph and the poor, predominantly black Benton Harbor is a bridge that would take less than a minute to walk across on foot. I’ve driven through Benton Harbor twice this season, and each time I’ve thought, “this doesn’t look like a city that would be in the news.” It looks like a city that’s fallen on hard times, made worse by a series of events which culminated in the Governor removing the city council’s right to govern itself. . It looks like parts of Detroit back in the late eighties and early nineties. Benton Harbor is depressed and lost, and in those respects, we are alike. I might feel more comfortable over there, in fact, than in the touristy, upbeat, expensive-boutique-laden cove of Silver Beach in St. Joseph.

My hotel is nice, but not extravagant. They use compact fluorescent bulbs and other power-saving measures. They are environmentally conscious.

Still, as I stepped into the jacuzzi tub which I had filled with probably 150 gallons of hot water, I was Erin the Great Consumer of Resources. I wondered how many peoples’ thirst would be slaked by the water I was simply bathing in for pleasure. Unable to carry the water to them at the moment, I climbed in and did my level best to let the water jets soothe away the guilt. The tub’s enormous proportions made it impossible to get really comfortable. While I will normally enjoy a soak in the tub for a good two hours, I was out within 45 minutes, guilt not appeased and in fact made worse by the short duration of the water’s use. It drained away, taking a good fifteen to twenty minutes to do so, not taking my anxiety or lack of motivation with it.

The day after tomorrow, I will make the trek back home. The vividness of this trip will sustain me for a few days, maybe a week, and then I’ll be back in the gray lands of full-blown depression, trying to find the line, and then shying away from it.

I sometimes wish I were a wanderer, life able to be packed in a bag or two, no roots – free.

Free.

I don’t even know if freedom is attainable anymore.

I Woke Up

November 5, 2011

I woke up in my forties astride a Harley, and realized I had done everything wrong.

Every shred of potential I ever had, squandered. All the amazing people who cared for me over the years, systematically pushed away. Huge opportunities for personal growth, ignored.

These days, I power-down when I’m not around other people, but by the same token, being around others wears me out utterly.

I don’t know how to be a person.

When I’m sad or depressed, I cannot look people in the eye. I feel autistic, I can’t make myself do it, and I don’t know why. I haven’t looked at my husband in over a week. He notices.

There have been points in my life when I’ve been happy – they are typically fleeting. I didn’t grow up “a happy” child; I was “an excruciatingly self-critical” child. Hyper-aware of every move and expression, thanks to my mother’s exacting judgment.

At age 10, she taught me to start hating my body by encouraging me to bleach my arm hair when I became self-conscious about it. She could have simply reinforced a positive self-image, but she was too far gone down the rabbit hole of society’s expectations. She gleefully foisted those onto me.

When I was 12, she began forcing me to let her tweeze my eyebrows, lest they be too thick and unfeminine. Heaven forbid I end up “another Brooke Shields!”

In high school, she had me shove my C-cup breasts into minimizing bras.

She forbade me from wearing tucked-in shirts because they were unflattering to my high waist and oddly-shaped hips.

When I was a size 8 in high school, she wanted me to diet.

She made me hyper-conscious of every possible physical flaw – something I never outgrew.

These things, and so many more, crushed my young self-esteem and joy into coal, stopping short of diamond by fathoms.

But wait – I started out talking about the Harley. I bought that Harley after one test drive because of that moment of awakening. I was connected at a spiritual level with that machine… and I hoped it might make me feel alive and awake all the time.

I tried to prepare my husband for the purchase I had already made in my heart. Rather than buy it outright, I put down a deposit and made my case to him. He didn’t really seem to have strong feelings one way or the other, but wouldn’t commit to a “yes” or a “no.”

It was a futile gesture, really – I was going to buy it, regardless. And I did. One day he came home and it was parked in the garage. He was so livid, he stormed down to his office basement and called his mother. I didn’t realize this until I picked up the phone to use it myself and heard him speaking to her.

Rather than come to me and hash it out like an adult, he ran to his mom.

That is a theme unto itself, though – he and I cannot communicate. We just… don’t. We co-exist, we cuddle up at night, and we carry on with our dreary, frustrated lives.

Motorcycles break me out of that foggy existence. It is nearly impossible to be riding a motorcycle down a road and be dead inside. Two wheels and a twisty country road make my soul hum in tune with the engine.

He does not understand this at all. He resents me for riding, I think. I resent his resentment.

So it goes.

Now that I’ve had that moment, is my life going to be radically different? Changed forever?

Not yet. I’ve had the bike for several months, and while I’m Awake riding down the road, I am in twilight still at home. I’m not sure what catalyst I need to jolt me into full-time Humanness, but the Harley was just a stepping stone on the path.

But at least now, I can perceive there is a path.

The Ride

The Bandit and I sidle up to the gas pump, rumbling. I’m still getting back into the groove of motorcycle-related processes, getting used to a new bike, getting my feet under me again for things I’d done a million times years ago. I fumble with the tank bag, forget the tank cap needs to have the key in it to close and lock, have to look for the sidestand.

As the tank fills, I feel the cold gasoline radiating its chill into my thighs; it’s a refreshing burst of coolness on this hazy, late summer day. A full tank of gasoline; so cool and full of potential. It whispers promises of miles romped and sights unfolding, of fields of wheat and hay, of bugs and sunsets.

The heat index is 104, and the Bandit’s 1200cc engine will not abide a cool tank for long. Before I am even five miles down the road, the gasoline is quietly baking my recently-cool legs. It is a completely acceptable price for freedom.

This is our first ride since she had a bunch of maintenance work done to bring her up to spec. Too, she’s sporting new shoes: Pilot Road 3′s – a miraculous new-to-me dual-compound tire which carries promises of its own – longer center tread life, grippier edges, plenty of traction in the rain due to copious siping. I can’t wait to see what they can do.

This bike hasn’t as yet spoken to me. We communicate in vague thought pictures and impulses, but no words. I can sense her eagerness to break free of the suburban traffic and get out into the gently rolling
countryside, her excitement of trying out her new shoes, her clean and shining carbs. It’s a feeling I share.

It becomes immediately apparent the new tires suit us both exceedingly well. As we reacquaint ourselves after a 3-week separation, everything is smoother, easier, less edge-of-chaos. Like a horse and rider paired for the first time, neither is sure what to expect from the other; is it to be a constant battle of wills, or shall a miraculous simpatico unfold? Each is a bit reserved, unsure, for the first little while – soon it’ll be clear.

A slow, but giddy, grin creeps across my face as I crank the throttle fully open in second gear, accelerating away from a four-way stop. Mercy. I believe the bike and I are already in sync.

We share a pleasant thirty miles or so along quiet country roads. I’m becoming more confident the mould release compound has been worn away from the rubber, and am taking corners more aggressively – but still well within sensibility. I see a 25mph curve ahead and begin easing off the throttle, coming down from fifth gear into third.

As the curve approaches, I’m coming in at a slightly warm pace, but nothing a friendly local police officer would seriously consider a conversation-starter.

“Downshift,” she urges.

I blink. What?

“We’re going 50mph in third gear; I’m pretty sure we’re ok,” I retort.

“Second gear, please,” she insists, calmly but with great conviction.

I acquiesce and consciously loosen my shoulders, making sure I can flop each elbow easily. I fight the urge to clench.

The downshift is smooth, easy, and as I let the clutch out and begin applying throttle through the curve, I hear myself hissing, “Jeeeeeeeeeeeesus fuck” as the curve is suddenly and effortlessly behind us at a speed I’d rather not discuss publicly.

My riding companion on his more sedate cruiser is a half-mile behind me and disappearing quickly in the mirrors. The Bandit and I slow down, and I shift back into fourth gear, a wide, silly smile taking up every available inch on my face. I want to adorn her half-fairing with nose art like a WWII warbird. I want to buy her expensive jewelry. I want to take her to a bar and get lousy drunk, try to get under her skirt at a tall table. I want to take her skinny-dipping.

She is not a blushing, giggling schoolgirl – she knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to ask for it. She is not interested in clothes or celebrities; she wants twisty roads and unlimited time. She wants speed and adrenaline. We are perfect for each other.

From that point forward, the bike is more communicative. The new tires are a gift from some divine place, free of straight roads and speed limits. We are absolutely one functioning being – but we still don’t  know each other very well. There is a bright glimmer of mutual trust and respect forming.

Despite only having been recently united, this bike and I have a history.

In 1996 or thereabouts, I was working for a university computer helpdesk hotline. There, I met this bike’s previous owner, a wonderful, kind and gentle man named C. C had an old Honda CB750 and was contemplating upgrading to a better bike. I was riding my own Honda CB500, and looking for my second bike.

Suzuki had recently come out with this model, the Bandit 1200S. I positively drooled over its quasi-naked-sportbikeness. I lusted for it. I enthusiastically shared my findings with C, and he was equally intrigued. So much so, he soon acquired one.

I left the helpdesk for other IT pastures not long after, and C and I gradually lost touch. Fast-forward 15 years to winter, 2010. I had picked up a contract working for a fire department, trying to make sense of their trainwreck of a computer network – and I was failing. My predecessor had left a “network diagram” that looked loosely like a ping pong table wired to a refrigerator, which pointed to the internet. After less than a month, I had to admit defeat, but I didn’t want to leave the guys at the firehouse hanging.

C and I had become Facebook friends, and were loosely back in touch. C, in addition to being a primo computer geek, is a recently-retired volunteer firefighter himself, and he was the first person who came to mind who could rock out on the HFD gig. I asked, he stepped up, and apparently, it was a good match. Win!

Fast-forward another few months to summer, 2011. Several of my friends have acquired motorcycles, really giving me the itch to ride. C mentions he still has this old Bandit, while he’s upgraded to a newer version of the same bike. He says we should go riding sometime. I heartily agree and set about becoming re-licensed to ride.

Shortly after I am road-legal, C and his wife suggest we meet up at a point midway between our towns; I could take the Bandit out for a spin. We meet, and C says, “take it out, and then I want to talk to you about something.”

I do indeed take her out, while C and N wait for me back at the restaurant. It’s a brief, exhilarating ride, but I don’t want to wear out my welcome on the bike, and soon return. It felt wonderful and refreshing to be on a motorcycle again. I gush to them a bit about how much I like the bike.

C gets a thoughtful look on his face and tries a few times to begin a conversation, but has a bit of difficulty. “I’m doing this wrong,” he states, and begins again. I felt fairly sure he was going to offer to sell me the bike at a wildly discounted rate, or offer to take payments over time, but was having difficulty trying to form the words in a way that wouldn’t be seen as overly pitying my financial straits.

C, however, blew me away – he felt moved to give me his bike. Give it to me. “Free-gratis,” as Al Swearengen might have said in “Deadwood.” In the clear.

I am not certain what expression may have been on my face as he said this, but inside, I was simultaneously overwhelmed and furiously muppet-arming all over my brain. Here was an opportunity to have my own bike again! It did not take long for me to agree, and it was done – I rode the Bandit home that very night, flabbergasted, humbled, grateful. And very happy.

My husband was, to say the least, somewhat shocked when I came home sporting a motorcycle when I had left in a Subaru. Bemused, he looked at my toy, shaking his head.

C had let me know certain work needed to be done, and some of it perhaps sooner than later, to make the bike completely happy. Less than a week later, I made an appointment: New tires, various gasket replacements, carb clean and sync, all fluids flushed and replaced. The shop said “about a week.” Assorted shenanigans ensued, and it was three weeks before I got her back.

Reunited tonight, though, we flirted like new friends trying to figure out “is she or isn’t she?” Playful, sporty, full of heady possibilities, each action moving the flow forward until there is only a sweaty tangle of arms, breasts, legs and no more wondering.

My last motorcycle, a BMW K1100RS, and I had quite a love affair, but it was never easy. The bike was slightly too tall, far too heavy, Too Much for me. While we spent tens of thousands of miles together, I don’t think either of us was really Happy. The first time I rode a K1100RS, I heard the words my friend Allen had spoken months before: “When you ride one of these things, you’ll rob a bank to have one.” I did have to have one; I was seduced by the power, the smoothness, the luxury. Thankfully, a felony was not required.

I remember, too, the night that bike and I parted ways. I handed the keys to her new owner and listened to that so-familiar whine of the K-bike engine slowly wind down our private road at the top of a little mountain in Washington state. I visualized with absolute clarity in my mind everything Grak’s new owner was seeing, feeling, hearing, experiencing. I could feel the buzz in my hands, see the green glow of the instruments, feel the Russell Day-Long saddle cradling his ass in exquisite comfort. I felt the snick in my left foot as he shifted.

As I watched him accelerate down the winding road into the valley, a desperate cry filled my head: “That’s my bike.” A useless, three-year-old “no fair” response to losing a favored toy. His headlight wound along the road at the bottom of the hills while I watched from the balcony. “That’s my bike…”

I watched until the headlight was gone, out of sight around the bend, miles away. I imagined I could still hear the engine, but of course, I couldn’t.

Alas, it was mine no longer, and I wouldn’t have another until five years later.

Compared to the K-bike, the Bandit is slick and nimble. She reads my mind and is eager to play. She is exactly what I need; the hot little mistress to tempt me away in free moments. She whispers excruciatingly naughty things into my ear, somehow engenders a feeling like someone secretly stroking my leg at the office Christmas party.

Tonight, as my riding companion and I enjoyed our evening outing, the Bandit and I bonded, and I reaffirmed the custom license plate I’d ordered was entirely a propos: ISHTR, after the Egyptian goddess
Ishtar, deity of fertility, sex, love and war. Also, one of my favorite ships to fly in an online video game I play – a heavy assault cruiser capable of giving and receiving massive amounts of damage. The Bandit may not be much to look at, but once you ride her, she’s sex on wheels, ready to assault whatever roads you place her upon with a vast, sweeping power.

We ended the ride at a lakeside park, where a blues concert played in the middle distance. The sun slowly set behind us, as we reclined on a small hill, talking. Small, harmless insects flitted around us. We picked at the clover, completely comfortable and pleasantly in tune.

Our conversation paused for awhile. In another time, I would have asked him to kiss me there in the grass as the strains of music flowed over the park. It was one of those Moments when kisses are magical, almost expected – the Moment wants people to kiss, wants to ignite passion and let it burgeon.

And then it was time for us to part ways and the Moment was broken. He went West, I went East, toward home and my husband.

Speeding away from the sunset, the first sensation of the evening’s cool touch permeates my mesh jacket. I enjoy the warm happiness from the ride, from having bonded with the bike and with one of my best friends.

The bike and I share a serene, purring accord, each of us knowing this is going to be a long-term relationship that will not disappoint. Pulling into the garage, I switch off the ignition with a touch of regret. Coming home after a ride is almost always bittersweet occasion.

Tomorrow beckons, calling me South to twistier roads and more wild grins.

Small Town

March 23, 2011

Everyone wanted to pretend our small town was perfect.

One supposes most small towns are like this – we want to maintain the illusion, the facade, the picture-perfect American Dream exterior. Like a Stephen King novel, however, darkness lies beneath in many forms.

Fathers raped their daughters, young children cut and burned themselves. There was abuse, neglect, sexual assault, hard drug use, teenage pregnancy, racism, homophobia, attempted murder. Underage students had sex with teachers, children endured brutal hardships at home no one knew about.

A fair amount of this occurred in my own family – mostly thanks to my great-grandfather. I did not find out about what an incredibly foul person he was until after he died, which is probably for the best; I might otherwise be in prison for murder myself.

Despite the horrible things going on behind closed, quaint doors, we all put on our brave faces for the public to keep up appearances. We showed up to the Friday night high school football games, bundled up in our team colors under the blue-green field lights, excited, flirtatious, with jocks in their varsity jackets, and those who could drive trying to be nonchalant about their cars in the parking lot. At one of those Friday night games, we received word one of us had been killed in a car accident. Alcohol was involved. The driver, also a student, was thoroughly and tragically ostracized. He did not move in my circles; we were not in the same grade, but I saw his isolation.

We managed to be kids and teenagers through it all.

Most of us likely thought we were alone in our trauma. Almost none of us were.

We muddled through, we survived.

Well, I should say, “most of us survived;” we lost a few along the way. Some to disease, some to accidents, some to suicide.

Now, here the rest of us are in our middle ages, many with kids of our own, all more our own real selves than we were when we all lived together in our nook of a town. Seeing the names and faces from twenty or more years ago is strange and fun and more than a little bizarre.

Most of us probably still envision each other as we were then, and it is a surprise when we see current photos and realize Age is coming for us all, despite always being the same age inside.

I hope we are all happier now than we were then – I would not go back to those times for anything in the world. I hope those of us with children are raising them differently, breaking the patterns, teaching them to communicate and to be free from perceived isolation.

Driving through my hometown now, especially at night, I hope the warm glow of lights from bedrooms is not as deceptive as it used to be, and that the dark windows shelter peacefully sleeping souls. I hope cries do not echo through the locker-rooms of the schools.