It really is the best part of summer.
Warm, in a moistly tropical kind of way.
Bare skin, in these conditions, feels no sensation of anything at the you/otherstuff boudary.
It is definitively not All-The-Gear-All-The-Time weather.
But it is absolutely the best time to fire up my oldest and bestest motorcycle and go forth to do what for me comes closest to meditation.
And that is to head for the smallest roads that I can find, and disappear into what Maryland’s woods and farms provide tonight.
I’m not such a hopeless romantic that I havn’t been forced to begrugingly admit that peak summer is also peak insect, in these parts.
And while summer’s softest weather would seem to cry out for an open face helmet, several thousand mosquitos and blue bottle flies plastered on one face, combined with a couple of 60 mile-an-hour japanese beetles and brown marmorated stinkbugs striking one in the eyes will quickly disavail you of that notion.
Having collected an 11 tenths shiner from being struck by a stinkbug on the bridge of the nose I can tell you that a Shoei Quest with a visor that closes and locks is worth several whole summers of romantic reverie.
Armed with exactly such an eyeball-saving device, I rolled the Slash 5 up Holter Road and out into the heart of the Middletown Valley. The Valley, ringed as it is with the foothills of the Catoctin Mountains, is an amazingly fertile zone of working agriculture, which centers around Cactoctin Creek, which runs right down the valley’s fecund middle. The best agricultural land hugs the creek in what the old guys wearing overalls and funny hats call ‘The Bottoms’.
‘The Bottoms’, with their many winding dirt roads, occasional stream crossings and tight paved one laners is where my Slash 5 feels most at home. This bike, with its dirt tires and bottom-heavy torque delivery — looking all the world like a 70’s vintage Yamaha Mini-enduro on The Juice — was busy being a scrambler long before the current crop of millennial customizers and random hipsters ever contemplated the term.
Can a whole evening be distilled down to 11 seconds?
If they’re the right 11 seconds, you can sure bet they can.
If every picture tells a story, two pictures can be epic.
Poole Road is one of those paved one-laners, and at this time of the year it seems like a footpath through a impenatrable world of green. Once the local sweet corn crop goes past 4 feet tall, Poole Road is a shortcut straight to gone.
I was trying to absorb the goneness of Poole Road one night, and on a short straight stetch with corners at both ends I had stopped and turned off the motor with 7 foot tall walls of green on all sides.
While I was sitting there, without any warning whatsoever, a young buck walked silently out of the corn about 10 feet in front of me. He wasted about a third of a second checking me out and without stopping, slowing down or speeding up, proceeded to dissapear into the corn on the right side of the road as stealthily as he had appeared out of the corn on the right.
Since that evening I run a gear lower on that road, at least in the Summertime.
Tonight it was a soft, green and quiet as it had ever been.
The Slash 5, running just above 40 mph in third gear, added its own, unique aeromotor drone to the overall hum of a summer evening.
The folks that own and work the farmland have a cluster of homes where Poole Road leaves Holter Road, but once clear of their backyards, its out here in the fields.
<Sound of Camera Shutter>
The sun had set about 10 minutes before, and as I plunged into the Greenwalls of Corn, the entire field lit up with more fireflies than I have ever seen in one place in my life. The greenish yellow soft light of hundreds of thousands of fireflies — all orbiting each other, making seemingly random circles, each around the other — lit up the entire green of that cropfield.
I rolled out of the throttle — drawing breath — not wanting for this suspended moment to pass, knowing full well it must. I remember smiling, thinking it was as if someone had taken VanGogh’s Starry Night, and flipped the image upside down around the horizon — what had been sky was now fields and fields become sky.
My sense of wonder knew no bounds.
<Sound of Camera Shutter>
Poole has a little dogleg in it, which, if one had not already ridden the road before the corn came in, might prove tricky.
As I exited the dogleg, it was clear I had snuck up on something that was preoccupied.
A mature redtail hawk was wrestling some small prey, and seeing me, grabbed it is his beak and took wing. He looked under his wing very clearly to size me up, and then put the jets on. He rose to exactly the level of my head, and at a distance of about 8 to 10 feet directly in front of me, jinked left then jinked right. I saw tonight’s meal — which looked to be a mole — thrashing about trying to get loose.
Again, everything seemed to go super slow-mo.
With this drama pausing right before my eyes, the Redtail deployed all control surfaces hard. I saw his tail with the alternating red and white feathers fan to its full width, and the wings flared for Red’s best turn.
The hawk, with mammal still firmly held in beak, banged an absolute hard right turn, and disappeared instantly into the corn.
Coming to the end of the road and the stopsign at Old Middletown, I don’t beleive I had yet breathed.
I toed the Toaster into neutral, raised my visor and tried to slow my thundering heart.
How in the middle of an unremarkable day, and what began as an otherwise unremarkable ride, 10 seconds can serve up the concentrated magic that is being alive, is something I don’t claim to understand.
Can a 42-year old chrome-tanked motorcycle be a magic wand?
Tonight, anything seems possible