We had a great day of riding today, not much dirt but lots of winding little back roads. Had lunch at a little cafe in downtown Dayton just a few miles off the TAT. It’s fun to rumble into downtown on the dirt bikes plus we like to support Americas towns, and independent businesses and the food was great!
Riding a wandering trail through multiple back roads stretches one day into a much longer feeling collection of visions and memories. When riding a superhighway the view is limited, each stop similar. But winding through backroads the experience is different. Speeds naturally slow so that we have time to take in the view. Pastoral lanes, rolling fields, rocky mountains down to clear flowing creeks. Each hour things change, views evolve, appear, dissappear. Because I’m riding with Samantha, a beginner, the pace is slower giving us more time to absorb these foreign lands right in the backyards of America. This trip with a bunch of guys would be an entirely different undertaking. Most of the focus would be on the road ahead, matching each other’s speed and skill. It would be less about the view and more about the race. We can’t help it. And there are times when I let loose a little and wind up the bike but mostly we just cruise along, the motors easily humming to our comfortable pace. We look around. We daydream. We just enjoy the day.
Exploring the backroads of Tennessee feels both familiar and foriegn. I recognize the maples and oak but not the forest. Each turn is a new adventure down a road I’ve never seen before. Weave an entire day’s worth of visions together and it can sometimes feel overwhelming. But I’m good at forgetting things and most of the time my mind remains refreshingly empty for the next view. Some places do haunt though. You may not even realize it at the time but later they come back to you. A forested mountain top, a particular home, an abandoned town or broken down church. I don’t know it. I pass each visage equally but then some come back, in memories or dreams they swim back into my memory as something else. They have somehow echoed within me and remained. As the days progress I realize the trip will not be a memory of every schoolhouse, every hilltop cemetary but rather a mysterious collection of specific memories that for some unknown reason stayed behind. And in this way a motorcycle journey can be like life. We can’t possibly remember every event, conversation or trip. We just remember certain ones. And sometimes the things we remember are quite odd, irrelevant or seemingly unimportant. And sometimes the things we forget are just as odd. I think about this a lot because I am good at forgetting. Sometimes I feel ashamed about the things I should know and simply don’t remember. People’s birthdays, how many states there are, dates and names. I have always struggled with the physical world represented through numbers. Calendars and clocks are not natural to my way of thinking. Sitting down with an octagenarian while they recount specific dates and the memories associated with them impresses me immensely. I have a plan to try to write things down for myself because I know I will not remember. I need a cheat sheet, a timeline of my life. Common questions like “what year did you graduate?” turn into awkward umms while I struggle to attach numbers to events.
I distinctly remember sixth grade. It was a time of transition for me into a new school. If you were late you had to go to the nurse’s office to fill out pass before you could reenter the general population. You were expected to fill the pass out yourself, including the time, before the nurse would sign it. Staring at the stupid round school clock on the wall trying to remember how to count by multiples of five and apply it to the moving hands and circles of numbers, it was both horrifying and humiliating. It was clear early on that I am simply not a numbers guy. I would never be good at sales or work on the stock exchange. I eventually mastered the clock and the calendar but I am never at home with it. The months of the year, the days within it are not clarified for me by numbering them or even naming them.
I do have a great visual memory. I navigate based on the feel of the place around me. A big tree, a narrow valley, the river alongside the road. This is a very different way of remembering the world than street and highway numbers. It’s essentially the way a child remembers and one of it’s quirks is that it lasts a long time. Once the numbers are gone from memory a visual memory of a place is stored somewhere else, somewhere deeper. As we ride along and experience one place after another I find it immensely satisfying. It scratches an itch for me that is very deep. I devour this road of possible memories like a fresh baked apple pie on a windowsill to cool.
I also love to be in motion. As a child the way to put me to sleep was to drive me around in the car and my parents spent sleepy nights driving me into slumber. Since we all get carried around for the first nine months of our lives we all appreciate motion as babies but mine stayed. I loved anything that rolled or could carry me. I distinctly remember my first skateboard and the first time I road a bicycle down a grassy slope and onto the road to join my friends for my first bike ride is etched in my memory as one of the greatest moments of my life. I can feel the excitement right now. It hasn’t faded at all. The magic of balance and motion and it did feel like there were forces beyond me making it possible, mysterious forces that a grownup might call physics but to a child were pure wonder. I road my bicycle everyday. And when the road we lived on was too dangerous I rode in circles around the small lot next door. Around and around like some crazed lunatic. I got new bikes, I fixed them up. I started raced BMX bikes but through it all I dreamed of owning a motorcycle and finally that dream came true in the form of a Honda 50. I somehow convinced my parents to buy this secondhand little mini – bike from a friend. It had no rear suspension at all, sat about 3 1/2 feet from the ground and had a whimsical set of handlebars that curved outward and inward and then finally outward to the grips. It looked harmless but had a stubborn little motor that could rocket a 10 year old boy through apple orchards and meadows and forest paths in ways no parent could imagine. I had discovered the motorbike.
As a teenager, after a long summer of shoveling rock and racking gravel I saved enough money to buy another bike. I was just 16 and my parents wondered why I would buy a dirt bike instead of putting a car on the road. It was a logical idea but reason be damned I wanted to blast across the country side on wheels. I ended up with a curious contraption, no longer made, called a trike. It’s a three wheeled motorcycle with a narrower wheel up front and two in the rear. This time I made sure it had plenty of rear suspension, not to mention disc brakes and power to spare. It was a large, high performance machine and I pushed it to both our limits. My nickname within our odd crew of riders was “crash.” But I learned quickly and was soon jumping higher and farther than anyone else. We spent much of our time in a sandpit where I found my signature jump. As the sand is mined artificial hills are left behind. This hill still had grass and trees and the top but had a notch at the top just wide enough to fit a trike through before taking flight over the other side. The genious of this jump was that as you launched over the downward slope the long runout eventually, gently came up to meet you resulting in a soft landing. My last attempt at a motorcycle in those years was a Suzuki GS 550 ES. A very serious street bike which my parents absolutely forbid me from owning. I am thankful for that because at 19 years old that bike would be very close to a death sentence for me or at least a crippling experience. They instead matched my money and we bought a car.
I forgot about motorcycles for a while and embraced the bicycle. I took up mountain biking and was soon racing. Bicycles have remained a life long love for me. Riding under one’s own power is incredibly fun and freeing. I spent most of my angry twenties working out my angst on the streets of Boulder Colorado doing battle with cars, outrunning cops and creating general mayhem in a way you just can’t do on a motorcycle. I worked as a bicycle messenger and had countless run in’s with motorists. A rightous twenty something can be a real bear for drivers who think they own the road and the world. My beliefs would never allow me to own a motor cycle. At the time I thought of them as lazy bikers.
I finally came back to the motorcycle years later after living and sailing in the Virgin Islands. A good friend was spending the hurricane season riding a motorcycle around the states. I had some money and several months of nothing to do and rediscovered the thrills of motor bikes. My reentry was difficult. I had ridden motorcycles but mostly in the woods. I ended up with a Kawasaki V Strom which is a very tall and large motorcycle. It is of the adventure bike breed with generous panniers on each side and above the rear fender. But all this luggage made the bike even more unwieldy for someone who’s riding experience included a 3 1/2 mini bike and a three wheeler. To make things worse the bike was 1100cc’s. The motor was huge and very powerful. I bought the bike from a friend of a friend in Brooklyn but was terrified to ride it at all let alone over the Williamsburg Bridge into Manhattan and down the East Side Highway. After a few days of stalling I just got on and did it. All those years of competitive cycling helped but that first day I was horrified the entire ride North toward upstate New York. Over the bridge I screamed in the helmet starting a tradition that I still do everytime I cross a bridge. On a motorcycle you are always looking for an escape route in case things go bad. Bikers sit at intersections with the bike in year, clutch in with one eye on the gap to escape towards and one on the rearview mirror. But on a bridge the escape route is wires, steel and hundreds of feet of free fall. Add to that the interesting pavement which usually includes gaps in the road for bridge expansion and sometimes steel mesh that sends the bike wandering around the road. But that is not all a bridge delivers to biker, the worst can be the wind. Perched atop a swaying structure, packed between trucks and cars with no escape add a stiff cross wind and my tradition of screaming makes perfect sense.
I made it through that first day and discovered I was a different sort of rider in my maturity. My reckless youth had been replaced with a pragmatic safety minded adult with a healthy dose of fear for worst case scenarios, something a teenage brain or even a twenty something simply doesn’t process. I shrouded myself in full face helmets, leather pants with built in crash pads, a thick jacket with more crash pads, stiff leather gloves and boots. Then I spend hours riding in circles in a cul de sac just like I had done as a kid with my bike. I slowly learned to control the heavy, tall motorcycle. When I finally sent the temperature into the red by riding endless figure eights I headed out to the road again. I drove slowly, cautiously with a pit in my stomach. Much to my surprise I was scared of this. I had never been scared of anything but this, this was really dangerous. I picked up the obituaries this morning, it was 80 and 90 year olds and one 30 year old, a motorcycle. Cars screamed past, they tailgated. The road was full of obstacles, sand, sticks, rocks. Things you don’t pay much attention to in a car were suddenly threats to my survival. Other drivers expect motorcycles to go fast, most of them do. Experienced riders know that bikes acclerrate faster, brake better and handle better than any other vehicle on the road and they take full advantage. On one of my practice rides along the Delaware river on a road called ?????? I fell in with a huge group of motorcycles. I hung towards the back but the rush of gliding down the road synchronized with a gang of bikes was one of my first revelatory moments on the bike and I finally relaxed a little. I rode that bike through New England and out the Cape. I turned around and rode it clear down to Florida before I had to sell it and get back to the Caribbean. I had learned a lot that first summer. I learned I loved long distance riding and that comfort was crucial for that type of riding. A motorcycle seat can be an incredibely painful thing. I also learned that smaller bikes are better on gas, safer, easier to ride and more fun. Since I am not someone who enjoys riding fast I could afford to lose the 1100 cc’s and every bike I’ve owned since has gotten smaller. I also thought back to dream like memories of a ten year old boy rocketing through the woods on a mini-bike and knew I wanted to spend more time riding in the woods and less time on the highway.
Back on the trail we discovered a little French restaurant in downtown Dayton.
The owner chef is from France and lived in the British Virgin Islands not too far from our home base. She wished us safe travels and we headed back into the forests and fields of Tenessee.
One thing we’re wondering about is gas. I’ve always put high octane, ethanol free gas into my bikes (V Strom, Versys, Harley) but we often end up at little run down stations needing gas. So far We’ve been able to find high octane, which the WR manual requires, but not ethanol free.
The bikes in general are getting used hard and put away wet. I usually like to wash the bike every time I mud it up but we haven’t washed the bikes once. We are consistently oiling the chains almost everyday depending on conditions and miles ridden.