Impressions From the Solitary Road

By Jeffry L’H. Tank

Over the years since I've been riding a number of thoughts/impressions/concepts about motorcycling have come and gone. As most of my former riding buddies gave up their machines back in the 80's to pursue other interests, I have spent the majority of the past years riding alone. This has given me the opportunity to spend more time reflecting on these thoughts and impressions than I had time for when I was riding in a group. A few have stuck with me while many have been as fleeting as the moment of coolness one experiences at the bottom of a dip in the road or along a shaded section before emerging back out into the sunlight on a warm summer day. Of all of those, two stand out in my mind.

The first is that I have come to realize that as I have matured and become more patient (at least with most things) so has my riding style matured and slowed to a more leisurely pace. Not that I don't still occasionally enjoy the rush of pushing it thru a tight set of curves that I have ridden many times and that are as familiar as an old friend, but generally my pace is slower and the ride itself has become the overriding factor. It's not the "being there" so much as it is the "getting there" that counts. Whether it takes 2 hours or 6, if the ride is a good ride, and most are, then the ride is its own reward. Sometimes it's exploring new roads, stopping, relaxing in some shady glen or on some road side bench on a warm summer day and listening to the crackle and snap as the bike cools and the sound mingles with all the others. Or perhaps it's a "ride to nowhere" to simply enjoy the solitude along some back country road. Other times I might stop to sit on the public bench that is so often found in front of a small town country store or filling station. Almost inevitability someone will come along and strike up a conversation, there is a sense of mystery that people are drawn to where motorcycles are involved and the freedom it represents. In my younger days I was often in too big a rush to really stop and enjoy such events, now, however, I find myself looking forward to it and feel almost let down if it doesn't happen at least once during a ride in the country.

The second is that while early morning is and has always been my favorite time, being out on the road with the first light makes it especially pleasurable. Getting out and away from the city before most people are even having their first cup of java, when the road is quiet and mostly deserted, serves to heighten the whole experience of motoring. Not having to content with traffic and cages zipping along, drivers seemly so desperate to get wherever it is they need to be, enables one to relax all the more and enhances the sense of freedom and solitude of the road. That to me, is what motoring is all about, slicing through the crisp air, the subtle changes in temperature when going from sunlight to shade, or as you descend into a hollow then rise again to the crest of the next hill. The different smells of meadow and plowed field in the spring when the earth is newly turned mixed with the pungent order of fertilizer. Summer smells as the crops mature under the heat of the sun. The smell of wood smoke from farm house fireplaces on crisp fall or winter days. The abundance of small furry-faced critters out for their morning food gathering along the road as you climb into the foothills and mountains of western Virginia and beyond. The numerous deer nibbling the tender roots of fresh cut grass and occasional bobcat sitting by the side of road or black bear that you'll find ambling up a hillside along some sleepy early morning road that cuts through the many forested areas in rural Virginia. It's all there just waiting for you if you're willing to go out early enough to see it.

Just the other weekend as I was contemplating what to write about for this months article I had the opportunity to introduce the joys of early morning riding in rural Virginia to someone who was not only new to Virginia Wind but also new to the whole experience of motorcycling. We met at 6AM in Gainesville and proceeded down Rt. 55 to Front Royal where the northern most end of Skyline Drive starts. Even with temperatures having been in the high 90's for the last month and with a projected temperature of 90+ for that Sunday, at 6AM the temperature was still in the 60's. As we rode along Rt. 55 there was not a single car going our way and we only passed perhaps 3 or 4 going the other way. For 35 miles we literally had the road all to ourselves. Just before leaving Gainesville I had warned my riding companion of the need for caution as early morning is AN active time of day for many of the abundant wildlife. We hadn't gone more than 2 miles when sure enough a raccoon scurried across the road almost running directly beneath my machine then almost being hit by the rider behind me. I had also expounded, as I am prone to do, of the wonderful smells and freshness that one is inundated with in the early hours on the road, that for the most part are gone by 9AM as the temperature climbs. We passed several fields along the road that had just recently been cut, and with the dew still lying heavy on the meadows and new cut crops the smells were particularly intense. Even after arriving at the base of the mountains and as we climbed the back of the first ridge along Skyline Drive we encountered no traffic, either coming or going. Within the first few miles we saw well over a dozen deer, one bobcat and further down we saw two full grown black bears. There were also several cubs up in the tree, the base at which Momma was sitting protecting the cubs with a wary eye cast in the direction of ourselves and several other onlookers. All this well before 8:30 in the morning and I feel confident we would have missed the opportunity of all of these wonderful sights and sounds had we not been on the road so early. Nor would we have had the pleasure of the solitude of the road had we departed at a more "normal" hour.

So is it worth getting out in the wee hours of the day, throwing on that extra layer to keep the chill out, taking your time, stopping often to enjoy the view, the sounds and smells that only happen in the early morning? Well I guess you can figure out what my answer to that would be, and I suspect my companion from the aforementioned ride would also answer with a resounding yes. So the next weekend you have free why not try setting the alarm for the wee hours of the morning, pack it in early the night before, get up, get out and just ride?

But no matter when you ride, take your time, strike up a conversation with whomever you meet, and if you go by something that catches your eye, be it an historical plaque or landmark, or maybe a curious little shop, an old farm house or interesting eating establishment, stop, turn around, go back and check it out. You never know, the next time it might not be there and then you'll always wonder what you missed. I know I've done it all too often, when I tried going back it was gone and the moment had passed.

In parting, I'll leave you with these two poems. The first one is something I wrote a few years back. While it was written in the genre of a nonsense poem, the underlying idea is that had the rider not stopped to marvel at and converse with the talking toad, he would have continued on his way still in a blue funk, but rather he chose to stop and in so doing came away from the encounter in a better frame of mind. The second is something inspired by my recent early morning ride and was written in conjunction with this months theme.

No Kidding

As I was riding down the road;
A wondrous sight did I behold.
Why in the middle, sitting there;
A talking toad in evening wear!

I stopped to stare in awed delight.
I'd never seen a stranger sight.
For he was green and I was blue;
And thus we talked the whole day thru.

Then I went home no longer blue.
But he's still green;
Oh Well!

Rider of Midnight

I arise with the moon-glow
to capture the night.
Escaping the city;
My spirit takes flight.

My worries and troubles
Now left far behind;
Frees my soul and my spirit
And unfetters my mind.

I'm the rider of moonbeams;
I'm the soul of the night.
I appear for the moment,
Then I burst out of sight.

I'm the shadowy figure
That's so rarely seen.
As I ride on forever,
While the rest merely dream.

I ride the bright orb
Shining high overhead.
Reflected in waters,
Blacker than lead.

I capture the starlight
In the palm of my hand.
It envelops my senses,
With a bright shining band.

I'm the shadowy figure
You sense but can't see.
I'm the rider of midnight;
I'm the night wind set free.

While the mist in the meadow
Lies so still in the night;
I'm the rider of moonbeams
Then I'm gone by first light.

I'm the rider of midnight,
As I flash round the bend.
I'm the rider of midnight,
On a ride without end!


© Jeffry L’H. Tank

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