by bj max
The computer generated racket of a modern day alarm clock penetrates through the fog of deep sleep and returns me to the world of the living. My bleary eyes barely focus on the digital readout. Two thirty AM. I re-set the alarm for Sugar Booger, slip on my jeans and stumble down the hall to the kitchen. Throw an unmeasured amount of coffee and water into the pot, and grope my way to the shower. Twenty minutes later I’m fully clothed, clean shaven and beginning to feel like a human again.
Sitting at the kitchen table sipping a strong and bitter cup of coffee, I ponder the call earlier in the week that has me up at this primordial hour. My old riding pardner’ has a trailer up in central Illinois being repaired and he’s asked me to ride up there with him to pick it up. I’m due back at work tomorrow, so we have agreed on an Iron Butt type ride. According to my GPS software, the round trip would be approximately 700 miles.
I step outside to warm up the bike. It’s a beautiful spring morning. The full moon has set against a gaudily sequined, black velvet sky and a warm southern breeze whispers softly in my ear. The Old Master, knowing I would be up at this hour, has freshened things up a bit with an early morning dew and I am appreciative. This is my favorite time of day and I am reluctant to disturb the stillness of it all.
Switch on. A signal flashes from the onboard computer and instantly pressurizes the fuel pump. I thumb the starter and somewhere deep within the bodywork a black box begins to electronically meter fuel and electricity to the cylinders and “We have ignition!” The power plant zooms to life, warming quickly, impatient for the road.
The illuminated dash, backlit handlebar controls, LCD screen and radio lighting make me feel as if I am about to crawl into the cockpit of some futuristic, interstellar starship. In the dark, the bike sparkles with points of light picked up by chrome and polished aluminum and I am overwhelmed by its splendor. What manner of man could have envisioned such a machine, much less brought it into production?
I slip into my Joe Rocket, slug down the last of my coffee and step back outside, locking up behind me. I saddle up and taxi the big wing into the damp streets of the Bluff City. Except for a white van spitting newspapers, the city sleeps and in minutes I am northbound; the flat six pulling the pavement beneath me with the grace and comfort of Air Force One.
I roll into Huck’s coffee shop and note that Hillbilly’s bike is already parked in front. I can make out his hulking figure through the fogged up plate glass window, holding court with a few of the locals. It’s still dark and my headlight panning the window gets their attention. Inside, Hillbilly presses a Styrofoam cup into my hand and introduces me to the coffee klatch. The locals are interested in the bikes and we are happy to answer their questions. One old timer who used to ride Milwaukee’s finest is amazed and remarks, “Them old Harleys were like P-51 fighters, you know, lots a character. But these things, well I don’t know. Look like some kind of starship. Where’s all the nuts and bolts?” Then, with cynicism, “Made in Japan, ain’t they?” Normally, when confronted with this question, I describe the Big Honda plant in Marysville; but I’ve grown weary of defending how I spend money that I’ve earned the old fashioned way to total strangers, and ignore the insolence.
Thirty minutes later, after topping off with fuel, we motor out of Huck’s and point the bikes towards the Land of Lincoln. Through the river bottoms of Tennessee and Kentucky, we ride in the moon’s blue light. Other than an occasional truck, the road is deserted, but we are not alone. As truckers, Hillbilly and I have traveled this road a million times and we know every bump and rut and all the truck drivers. Although we’ve never met, those familiar electronic voices in the night are our friends and in an emergency they could be counted on. It’s a comforting thought.
Thick patchy fog hugs the pavement and at times, with the wheels concealed in the mist and the stars as my only reference, my sense of speed intensifies. For a few wonderful but fleeting moments, I feel as though I am Captain Kirk at the helm of the Enterprise, rocketing through the heavens.
The Sun pops up and it’s a gorgeous morning. We cruise through the Old River town of Hickman and cross the Ohio into the historic port of Cairo. Most of the state of Illinois is as flat as a pool table; one exception being the southern tip and the Shawnee National Forrest. We pick up highway 127, a well maintained two lane with plenty of hills and hollers to keep things interesting. Climbing onto the central plateau near Murphysboro, America’s bread basket spreads out before us. At this point, we roll on the power and the big Honda’s live up to their name, spread their wings and fly.
Our destination is located on a section of historic Route 66 and we roll in at eleven thirty. A two hundred dollar check, a sandwich and an hour and a half later we are once again rolling. Only now we are southbound. To the west, thunderheads boil high into the stratosphere; the Old Master’s smoke signals of severe weather to come. Fighting thirty mile an hour crosswinds, we ride hard seeking shelter back at the Shawnee National Forrest.
Entering Cairo at dusk, the tension of battling the fierce crosswinds for a hundred miles slowly melts away. Hillbilly wants to load up on lotto tickets so we find a gas station, take a break and fuel up. I pass on the lottery, blowing my chances of winning forty million dollars.
Leaving Illinois, we return by a faster route and pick up Highway 51 in Fulton and cruise south into Union City, Tennessee. This is where Hillbilly and I will part company, so we take a coffee break and check out the wiring and repairs on the trailer. I make a quick call to my better half and let her know that I am fine and should be home in a couple hours. Hillbilly and I say our goodbyes, shake hands and minutes later, I am on the road again. And this last leg, to my surprise, turns out to be the most enjoyable.
Back in the land of cotton it is a pleasant evening. The cross winds and approaching storms up north are but a fading memory. Alone, I delight in my solitude and this wonderfully extravagant leisure machine. With the road to myself, I feed more fuel to this Starship and thrill to its bullet like speed. A deer, grazing just outside the wood line, raises her head and stares passively as I go whistling through the night, while off my port bow the moon races to stay abreast. Blasting through the black hole drilled into the darkness by the headlight, my speed is magnified and exciting beyond belief. A chill runs down my spine and I smile in ecstasy as the Starship accelerates to warp speed. My spirit soars, skyrocketing beyond the heavens, blazing through the ethereal galactic ashes of time and incredibly …I am young again.
At eleven thirty, exactly twenty hours and 701 miles after leaving, I dock the starship at its home port and shut off all fuel, oxygen and electrical connections. I’m tired, but nowhere near exhausted and if necessary I could have ridden another couple hundred miles easily. Carefree miles thanks to Mr. Soichro Honda and his fabulous Starship.