Thursday, June 26, 2014

A Fractured Reflection: Myth, Rider, Journey


Often you will hear stoic men speak of basic pastimes as if they are of supreme psychological benefit. Oh, going fishing is like therapy. Detailing my car is like therapy. Certainly taking time to yourself in some engineered isolation may be enjoyable or necessary. Therapeutic, even. But probably not like therapy. Not the kind that cures anyway. 

I have grown to distrust the revelations of the loner. The singular figure riding into town on tattered wheels, the hunter in his perch, the vagabond on the train. The romance that surrounds these figures often bills itself as a celebration of their full essence. It never asks what stunted emotional growth has led them to their isolation. We take their silence amidst the crowd as some quiet strength, attributing mystery and power to them. They are men of action, maybe,  and "actions speak louder than words."  This is a hilarious utterance, as it depends on the thing it demeans to communicate its meaning. And actions must be clarified by words to make sense. 

One must be able to articulate the motivations for those actions. One has to know why. Lunatics and runaways and philosophers have all returned from war. Some do not speak. But some are not able; all of their corners and alleys have become dark now. They all look the same from the third, but only these are in the twilight of their own self-destruction. 

The Pharmacon Atlas has been serviced. The mechanics say that the bike could very well go for a hundred thousand miles with no trouble at all. For now, it sits in an old shed. But this summer, around three thousand of those miles will be covered on a single trip. Twelve days on the road. Up to Colorado and back, stopping each night in some new city to which I have never been. I will be riding with my man, headed to a conference on motorcycles at which I will present a paper that I have been dying to write. Up until I fell into gainful employment for the fall, it was the thing about which I have been most excited this whole year. Anticipation of the future frames the present.  All the rides I have taken this year are only preludes to this, the greatest exit I have yet rocked. 

And there have been some rides. In the spring, I met the great Vici brothers for a ride through blood mountain in Georgia. It was cold, rainy and magnificent. If God is going to appear anywhere, it is in the apex of a wet corner. Also there were woodchucks.

More recently I rode to the mountains of North Carolina for a wedding. A resort town in the off season, this despairingly empty, tremendously white altitude saw two perfectly rational people reduce themselves into unbearable and adorable corniness in pursuit of their love. It was the kind of display that has you reaching for a hand to hold. I found only a deck of cards, a pack of cigarettes and the DJs belly button. 

For each trip I had to ride some miles alone. Well. Jokes. You always ride alone. It doesn't matter if there is a rider at your back wheel. The voice in your helmet is your own. Some times I broadcast my signal so that people can “see” me. An ostensible safety measure that also happens to help one feel connected. 

But the third never knows the effort. They don’t hear the voice in the helmet or the general agony of the 500th mile on a Sportbike. No. The rider walks in to the gas station or diner. Other riders nod in recognition, a reflection in the glass delusion that we have made for ourselves. Others look at the leather and helmet and launch into any of a dozen scripts we have all heard a thousand times. Too dangerous. My girlfriend won’t let me. Must be hot out there. I used to ride.  Respect and envy, given just because your vehicle rests on a kickstand. It’s jokes. But if you ride long enough, like for ten minutes let’s say, you might start to believe it. 

On this score, the road is not a space of self-reflection. It doesn't have to be anyway, kind of like prayer; it can grant you freedom from self-reflection. I suppose the thing that decides either way is how badly you need to hit the road. I don’t know just how badly I need to ride, but I know I can’t do without it. 

The trip this summer will be our most ambitious. There is no telling if it will be enough to raise the rider from the myth that surrounds him. It would be nice to return with some new vocab. I'm tired of these dark corners. 












Saturday, March 22, 2014

Spring Break.




I knew the trip would start with question marks when I woke up sweating. One day 'til my exit and I was in my second day of being all fevery. In my sleep I dreamt uncomfortably vivid dreams about potty mouthed women in diners. In my waking life I was hazy and my head hurt. By the evening, I was feeling better. Enough to go get my rear tire changed out at the shop. 

I had to remove the tires from the bike in order to get them changed, and I didn't have the tools to take off the front tire. This was one more question mark on top of my general wellness, because the current front tire was all wear bars. 

One dingy diner dream later I was on the bike, facing a cool, damp morning. The bike was loaded down with the tank and tail bag. And a spare front tire, which I wore around my waste. 

The plan was to ride 30 or so miles south to a dealership that could change the tires out. I got there to learn that I was late to the line and they couldn't get to the bike for many hours. So I rode further south, to the next dealership and then the next. After a hundred or so miles I found a dealership with a shop that could get the bike in and change the tire quickly. While I waited, I inspected a Triumph Thruxton. I'd have to change my whole style to ride this, I thought. But I bet I'd look fresh. Then I was on the exit.

Sometimes when I am putting in miles, I get a voice in my helmet that won't shut up as it does its level best to destroy my well being with its evil truth. Other times, I get 90s R&B songs. This ride, though, just static. Like tuning an AM dial in an area that no station serves. Not entirely unpleasant.

It was the beginning of bike week, so there were a lot of bikes on the road. Well, there were a lot of bikes out. Very few of them were on the road. I came across a Super Teneré and some Victories, but every single Harley I saw was on the back of a trailer. Even the touring models, with the saddle bags. I'd stop making jokes about these riders if they didn't give me so much to work with.

Despite my southern heading, the weather never got warmer. After nearly 8 hours of slight chill, I rolled up at the Garage. I got off the bike exhausted, already descending back into the fever of night. 

By the morning, the other homies had arrived with their bikes. Two ninjas in various states of need. Alright. It was time to start the party.

I had been thinking about this week for months. My bike needed a lot of work, the kind of work that needed a garage. My other homies fell in as well, though they couldn't hang around. The plan was that some combination of me and local homies would work on all the bikes and have them ready to ride by the time I had to go back for class. History will remember this plan as the Spring Break Delusion. 

The two Ninjas my men brought down needed a lot of work. Much of it could have been done, but parts that we should have already had were revealed to be out of stock around town. The Green Ninja was immediately put out of the repair runnings. This left the Black Ninja, a bike that needed nothing short of an overhaul. It needed new plugs, coolant, oil, possibly coils, stock links, a new kick stand, replacement plastics, there was something going on with the front master cylinder, the injectors were dirty, the rear pads had ground through the backing into the rear rotor, and the fairing stay was … missing? It wasn't so much a repair job as it was a Talisman of Rebirth. 






We had resolved to make as many of these repairs as we could, but the world was bent on stopping us. The allan wrench wasn't long enough to reach into the frame to loosen a bolt. Had to go get a new one. The lowering link bolts were blocked by the exhaust system, meaning that a simple procedure couldn't happen unless the entire exhaust system was removed, which in turn couldn't happen unless the radiator was removed from its mounting. My men were long gone before I could make any headway. Other homies came over to lend a hand, but no one could help with the next problem we found--a leaky valve cover gasket. Fuck a duck. 

I re-evaluated the scene with my man over the phone and set the bike aside. It seemed that the for reals wrenching was yet to happen. When that day came, there would be compression tests and torque wrenches. For now, I just had to rock the maintenance on my own machine.

The week moved by much faster than I would have liked. One of the house's lovely residents kept me and visitors fed with pies. Lots of pies. My other homie sold her own bike, getting one step closer to the green team. Friends stopped by, I graded papers. All of this took place out in the garage, probably the greatest physical space that modernity has to offer. 

It had been living life in the Atlanta cold and was the worse for wear. I bled fluid, lubricated bearings, replaced pads and removed and polished the exhaust. As night fell, I closed the doors and worked under artificial light. Perhaps this is what it means to know peace. 





Cats talk a lot about vacations. Time off. How necessary it all is. It is kind of a dire pronouncement, though. One has to get days off from regular life in order to gather the strength to live it. More and more, I spend my days thinking about the next time I wrench, or the next time I get to ride, or the next anything other than the life I am currently living. This is the discontent that many just take to be life itself. 

I rocked an early exit on the last possible day back to the city. Spring break was done. Bike week was over. Life was calling. Everything was horrible again. 

At a stop I meet an old motorcyclist who had once lived in Daytona. He didn't go to bike week anymore, though, because it was on the decline. He said that he had long ago had enough of what he called "Harley Halloween." Too many people gathered in one place can make even a motorcycle event a lame experience. 

Out on the road, as I left the city exits and passed the farm lands at the edge of the highway, I hit a dust storm of some sort. Visibility went low, the dust gathered on my jacket and wafted into my helmet. Several cars around me hit their hazard lights. Well, I thought. So much for that crazy wash and polish I did back at the garage. 

The dust, and the general state of clean, didn't stay with my bike for much longer. Further north I hit the chill, and then the clouds turned the sky dark. I pulled off an exit to find a grip of riders putting on rain gear, laughing about the fate we were all about to share. We tried to find shelter at first. But then we checked the forecast. This was to be our fate for a hundred miles; there was no use delaying.




The rain made a joke out of my gear. It fell from every direction. Down. Sideways. Up from the road. It found every open nook in my so-called waterproof gear and leaked water right in. This was the full wackness. 

After the rain, I hit traffic that I didn't even understand. Accidents all over the place and something approaching gridlock thirty miles from Atlanta. Garbage. All garbage. I did not wait in that line. 

I rolled up shivering and wet to a snack spot. By sheer chance, my bestest home girl was in there. We embraced. We got loud. I felt better. We ate okra.




Monday, September 23, 2013

§6 Cryptic Advice for Picking a Bike.


There is a lot of good advice out there about how to pick a motorcycle. Make sure it is right for your height, is in good condition, that kind of thing. I have very little to add to this-a mere addendum, really.

There are those among us who are commuters. These are riders who go for the sensible bike, ride with a sensible style and wear sensible gear. They are a kind of unsung hero among the rider community. Lone riders, who go to work and to school on machines that get good gas mileage at the cost of low maintenance. For cats like this, the choice is fairly easy. 250 or maybe 650cc. New or low miles. Boom. 

But then there are the rest of us. 

It is true that, no matter what, you should probably get a bike that is mechanically sound. Otherwise, you will learn the wretched truth about restoration. (Even now, there are those among you who hear this and know it to be true and yet still are going to take that plunge. And in so doing, you are making the right choice.)

But aside from this, you must allow for the drum beat of the non-rational. Some bikes call to the soul. Some bikes answer the will of the whim. Bikes that are condemned as decisevly uncomfortable by some are ridden by others for thousands of happy miles. The bike that would fit you in with your crew may deaden your soul. Your people may suggest. You may listen. But the choice has to be between you and fate. 

My suggestion obviously reflects the romantic connection I have with my bike. Others among you may simply be looking for "something to learn on", or may have the material means to have more than one machine in your garages. This puts you a bit far from me, in a zone about which I can't really comment. But I do think that those who feel inexplicable connections to their crafts know what I am talking about. 

Sure, this or that bike may be better on gas mileage. But you are going to travel thousands more needless miles just because you are on two wheels. After all the life calculus is done, ride the bike that makes you feel that you don't even deserve the pleasure, a bike that others can feel you loving as you walk away from it in the parking lot. After all: Life is meaningless. Bikes are fast.