My daughter was at her Mom’s today. It was a glorious day here – 72 degrees in January. I was out of dish-washing soap. I told my son I was running up the street to the grocery store and that I would be back in 30 minutes.
I brushed the four week layer of dust off my motorcycle and cranked the engine up. I put on riding boots, a leather jacket, and gloves. And of course the helmet. Always the helmet.
Before I backed the bike out of the garage I put the new Norah Jones CD in ("Not Too Late"). I figured I could listen to a track or two on my voyage to the store.
I started listening to the music even as I backed out the driveway. I cranked it up to the max. As I pulled into the street, and then onto the highway I stopped hearing the music, even though it was still there. I stopped thinking. I enjoyed being out, after too many days of cold, and rain, and ice. An unusually long period of the stuff for us in San Antonio.
I rode for a long time before I looked down at my dash to see the time was rushing by – I had been gone over an hour. I was already far north of the city, on a smaller two lane highway. I don’t recall leaving the Interstate – but I know where I am. I ride these back roads a lot. The views are pretty spectacular – most people that visit San Antonio never get to experience the rolling hills and amazing vistas that await just an hour from the city.
I know I can make a turn in a couple of miles that will take me back towards home. I pass it without thought, and continue to ride, seemingly without thought. My brain feels empty – I have no worries, no problems. Nothing is interfering with my enjoyment of this day. My shoulders relax as I take a more slouched position on the bike. Partially because I am just almost completely relaxed – and partly, I realize, because I am getting cold. I’ve been riding north for over two hours. The temperature has probably dropped 30 degrees as I move closer to the cold, and the night starts approaching me. But I’m not ready to turn around. Not yet. I’m washing some stress, and anger out of my system. I’m clearing my head.
Shortly after my low fuel light blinks on I see an ice house (a convenience store for those of you not from here). It’s getting dark, and the bugs have started to find my windshield. I pull over for fuel, a steaming cup of the best roadside coffee I ever tasted, and I cleaned the bugs off. I walked around for ten minutes or so, stretching my legs, and getting the blood circulating. Suddenly I feel the urge to be on the road again, and I dump most of the coffee. I button the jacket back up, put the gloves back on and hit the road. It’s much colder now. I flip the switch on the right handlebar and turn on the heated handgrips. It takes only minutes for me to feel the warmth, even through my thick driving gloves. Next I reach under the seat and flip the "warm my butt" switch – and the seat heater quickly kicks in. I’m still driving north, and I know I need to turn back. I see College Station is just about 10 miles away from me. I’ve ridden a long way.
I turn onto another highway that will eventually bring me to a branch that takes me back to San Antonio. I’m pretty much heading south-east now. Although I can’t feel a change in the temperature yet, I do notice that I am starting to smell more now – more trees, more flowers. More manure. Frozen manure doesn’t have much of an odor. I’m definitely headed toward the warmth. As I negotiate a very tight turn I am forced to slow to about 10 MPH – and I see a multitude of pin-point lights in the distance. I move forward slowly, toward the dozen or so pairs of eyes peering at me from both sides of the road. A wonderful group of deer – staring at me as if I were the last thing they expected to see that evening. I rode past them slowly, and was surprised none of them bolted. They watched me closely, but none of them moved. As I completed rounding the large curve an armadillo scooted across the road. I had an employee that hit one on a bike once – I respect them. I gave it a lot of leeway.
Watching the armadillo I missed seeing a piece of wire in the road, and ran over it before I could react. I rode another ten minutes or so before I realized it was lodged in my back fender. Large bumps caused loud scraping noises as the wire was pushed against the inside of the fender. I am nowhere. I see only a few ranch lights, miles in the distance. I pull over and kill the engine and I hear nothing. It is absolutely quite, and as I shut of the headlights, absolutely dark. I could have been on a different planet, had it not been for those few lights.
I take off my gloves and helmet, and get a flashlight out of my tool kit – planning on removing the wire. I’m pulling and twisting on the wire when I hear a noise behind me, just off the road. I flash the light over, and see nothing. Before I can move the light away though I hear it again. I stand up and move further from the road, closer to where I think the sound is coming from. I’m not worried about snakes – I realize now that I am off the bike (and without the heaters) that it is much to cold for them.
I shine the light down the embankment and see a field of blue flowers. They are bluebonnets – the state flower. It is unusual to see them at this time of year – especially since we’ve had a couple of freezing nights. It’s a month or two early, but there they are, for as far as my flashlight beam will travel. It’s even more calming than the long ride, the lack of traffic, or the perfect weather. It’s odd that the moon is shining on these flowers, even though just a couple feet back my bike sits in complete darkness. It’s as if the moon chose to light this field just this once – and just for me. I sit for a few minutes, taking in the view, and waiting for the sound to come back. It never does. I wonder for a second if the noise wasn’t meant to lead me here – to see this field in the moonlight, on this cloudless night with the prematurely blooming flowers in full glory. I feel the stress slipping away – sliding off my shoulders like it’s dripping off my body to the ground. I stay a while, and let it drip. I’m thinking of nothing. I am just enjoying where I am, and what nature decided to show me. Finally I get startled by the far off sound of a coyote howling. It’s time to get back on the road.
It takes only a few minutes to pull the wire out of the fender – it’s a shaft driven bike, so no chain or exposed gears for the wire to wind around. I can’t see any damage, but it’s dark. I put the gloves and helmet back on, start the bike and move back onto the road.
About three miles pass and a giant owl flitters right in front of me – without doubt it had a 6 foot wingspan. It was a giant and majestic thing – even if it was also scary. I continue slowly until I can finally see a major highway far in the distance. It’s a blur of lights on a path of pavement leading from one place to another. I wonder where everyone is headed this late at night, in the middle of nowhere. And I wonder if they are enjoying the journey as much as I am mine. The highway looks hundreds of feet below me, and miles away, yet I reach it in minutes.
As I speed up to Interstate speeds it’s noticeably colder. The hand grips and seat are both on "full hot". I take a road I never saw before – just to see where it goes. A few miles down the road I am surprised to find that I know exactly where I am – just a few miles from where I normally ride. As I continue down the road I see a grocery store, and pull over to get the dishwasher soap. I enter the store without taking either the helmet or gloves off. I probably looked like a freak, but I didn’t want to spend time in the store – I wanted to get what I needed and get back on the road.
Once back outside I am just ready to pull away when three other bikes pull up to me. One of them is another BMW rider – the other two are Harley’s. Neither of the Harley rider’s have gloves on, or even helmets. Their faces are beet red from the cold. Their hands look like raw hamburger. They are smiling, evidently enjoying their ride as much as I am mine. We exchange a few pleasant "nice day for a ride" words and I head out again – heading home. In no hurry. It’s amazing that I spend almost my every waking moment in a hurry – until I get on my bike. No hurry there. Everything seems to slow down. Time seems to not exist. Suddenly I find myself back on my street. I look at the clock. I’ve been gone almost six hours. It’s been a very good six hours.
I come in the door and strip off my gear. My son is in his room. I wonder for a second if he even realized how long I was gone. I bought some green tea last week, and heat up a cup, sipping it now as I write this – and everything seems right in the world.