It was the kind of day that most riders wouldn’t have chosen as a good day for a ride.
Unless, perhaps they were Englishmen.
Chilly, dark, and misty with low, steel-colored scudding clouds, propelled along the green of the ridge by an insistent wind.
Today, though, I saw the riding possibilities – I felt the compulsion.
Call me Nigel.
My new gig has proven to be both engaging and stimulating – both things that translate into demanding of one’s time, focus and energy.
At the end of a work week, I’m tired.
On a Friday afternoon when I didn’t leave early and got stuff done, after I finally shut my computer down I pulled the Slash 5’s ignition pin out of my desk drawer, pulled on my race weight Vanson jacket, and headed for the garage.
With all of the days I’ve been K-Biking in and out of Baltimore for work, my Oldest Alloy Girlfriend hasn’t been getting run all that much. She’s prideful though – she spun over hard on the starter, firing quickly and coming right to an enrichened fast idle.
I gave a few blips of the throttle to make sure the engine would take it. I pushed the bike down the driveway, toed the transmission into first, banked left and headed for the dirt.
Since my family has been working hard to sell our house and leave this place, my visits to the most rural of our country roads had taken on a certain poignancy – these green lanes are easier to see with fresh eyes, to appreciate as the blessing they are, given the proximity of their loss. Think of it as jumping the gun on a full Joni Mitchell – “Don’t it always seem to go, you don’t know what you got till it’s gone…” These unpaved vectors back to a simpler past weren’t lost to me yet, but I knew and felt acutely what it was that I’d got.
Poffenberger Road has been closed for several months. One of our extreme rainfall events had washed out the bank from under the road at the point where it’s at its highest height – instant deadly cliff, just add too much water. Where the collapse occurred, the road is no longer wide enough to accommodate a pickup truck, although it is wide enough to accommodate a /5. How I know that is something that we should probably not further discuss.
Not wanting anything more complicated tonight than some crushed limestone and some throttle, I did the next best thing, which was head for Harley Road.
A few miles of smooth pavement, a big hill or two, and a blast past our family’s former old farmhouse had me exiting Sumantown Road on Harley’s grey dirt – the rear tire of the /5 skating ever so slightly as I backed it in under a little engine braking to set a sane speed on the loose surface. A closer look at that surface suggested there was fresh stone spread out here – depth might prove unpredictable – so I got up on the pegs and scanned hard up ahead.
As I came over the first rise on Harley Road, where I expected the road to truly go gnarl – with its usual off-camber bits, wheel ruts and washouts – I saw something else instead.
What I saw was Turn 3 at the Frederick Fairgrounds – Home of the Famed Barbara Fritchie Classic – Frederick County had apparently brought a grader and a bunch of stone here, and significantly widened the road — adding maybe a new 10 feet on either side of the old road – and then graded it smooth and put down new stone. Where there had been a tiny twisting snake of a road was now a wide, smooth level surface.
With all of the new construction and population growth around Jefferson, Roads like Harley were carrying too much traffic to be allowed to remain in their antique state. Public safety demanded a more modern construct.
In short, they ruined it.
Progress is a constant, although not every change is a step in the right direction.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what it would mean to leave this place, with its farms, dirt roads and lonesome spaces.
With the new homes, new people and spaces filling up, I also wonder if Jefferson may have left us before we even managed to pack up the truck.
For a guy that has demonstrated – time and again – that he fully embraces narrative discontinuity, I have a pretty contradictory belief in the unbroken forward motion of progress.
You know – you get up every day, show up for work, or for school, give things your ideas, and your energy, and the people and things around you – your family, your colleagues, your home, your community – get better. You persevere, you put one foot in front of the other, and things move forward.
These days, though, I have my doubts.
The city that I’m trying to move to is not a paragon of peace and tranquility. Of course, yesterday we had a murder at our County fair here, with a case that looks likes it will shine a light into some really dark and ugly corners of how we all treat each other. So no place is perfect, I guess.
In the last week of commuting to the city I had to contend with a work van completely filled with diesel fuel that was treated as a terrorist threat – watching police, Secret Service and federal agents, helicopters, bomb squad guys and ten thousand miles of crime scene tape out my office window – another water main breakage on my route that caused a street collapse, and widespread public demonstrations because of a presidential visit, all in the space of three days. I no longer get surprised by being passed in traffic by whole squadrons of the 12 O’clock Boys – I’ve learned to associate what sounds like a zing of single wasp as the first overtone that reaches my ears of a whole herd of wrung-out 2 strokes. You think you Adventure Tour? What do you call this?
Instead of the Rider’s focus – the Boxer Rider’s Ohhhmmm – that I’d normally be exhibiting out on an old motorcycle in the dirt, with my favorite dirt road essentially erased, my mind accelerated around the gravity well and then got sucked into the maw of a modern woe hole.
Selling my house is not turning out to be the gimme putt I thought it would be. What historically had been 3-4 days to contract in my neighborhood has turned into 60 days with only a single showing. When my agent called the showing agent looking for feedback she cussed him out. Neighbors that listed their homes four months before me are still hearing crickets. To me, it seems like something is causing people to not want to make big moves right about now – there’s a level of societal anxiety that is making people demonstrably nutz.
You can also see it in the behavior of people on the road, too. Any notion of social responsibility behind the wheel of a car is just an arcane, antique notion.
Our political sphere is a rambling wreckage. We seem to have lost the ability to listen to each other or to work together to get the people’s business done.
Some of the communities we looking at moving to are close to the water that surrounds Baltimore. With the seeming acceleration of increasing atmospheric entropy, that water starts to look increasingly like an enemy instead of a friend. I wonder whether the gallons of gasoline that I continue to burn to ride, to get to work, makes me as much a cause of what now appears to be a climate spiral as any other guy. Would parking these Engines and getting an electric motorcycle be the first one of a journey of ten million steps?
Will moving to the city – lightening our financial load and living closer to work and family improve our lives, or somehow make them worse? In event of some sort of societal upheaval, which all of a sudden seems strangely possible, would we be better off in the city or the country?
So does pushing though one day to the next really move us forward, produce progress? Why does putting one foot in front of the other seem so much like some Escher drawing – moving forward while going backward?
Most mental breakthroughs – those Eureka moments when the synthesis of all the information you’ve ingested lights up the cortex and it all comes together – usually occur either when you’re deep in REM sleep or when waking up in one’s morning shower. If you were expecting one to occur out here on the newly smooth-surfaced Harley Road I am sorry to disappoint you.
Fortunately for me, I’d come to the end of the newly smoothed Harley, and taken Bennie’s Hill down towards the creek. There was no room for the grader on the side of a cliff like this, and there never would be. After crossing the creek on the old iron bridge, only a few seconds sliding alongside the creek in the dampened dirt brought me back to an immersive, all-consuming present – chill air pulling tears from my eyes, and awash in the drone of the old boxer motor — one that just didn’t give a rat’s ass which direction it was going, so long as it was going.