by Mike Savage

The Suzy is past center on the high side and the fingers of my left hand, despite a desperate, clutching grip, is loosening. I feel the coming of the dawn between my behind and the seat of the bike.

A melting sun has just oozed below the distant tree line and the descending green darkness of the Chequamegon National Forest is a big problem. The high-beam on the headlight isn’t working and hustling home through the growing gloom, with the deer population the highest it has ever been since the DNR began keeping track thirty years ago, is not a healthy prospect. Just last week I almost T-boned a big buck with the Venture on the morning commute. With only the low-beam to guide me through the brunette evening, I hurried.

Struggling to keep control of the bike, the plaque on the wall of my old man’s one room shack came to mind. “The hurrier I go the behinder I get.”

Going too fast down the logging road between Old Baldy and Morgan Falls with the light fading fast and the urgent part of my brain driving my body crazy, telling me to fight a losing fight against the unbeatable setting of the sun, instead of slowing down and accepting the fact that I was going to be late for dinner, I twisted the throttle in a vain attempt to outrace Mother Nature.

At the bottom of the 9 percent grade, halfway through the 90-degree left hand, off camber corner, and heavy on the front forks, the 19-inch front knobby caught a rut while the rear knobby, being light in its pants, lost traction.

And now the moment of truth has arrived. I’m half on and half off and the question is, can I save it?

And then, as happens to all motorcyclists at some time or another, time slows down and expands. In those few seconds of suspension it seems as if a rider could reach up and cinch down his helmet strap, if he wasn’t utterly committed to frantically grabbing the handlebar. In those few seconds of reality and utter clarity, it seems as if a rider could fly around the world and be back before either the crash or the salvation. In my case, at this point in time and this juncture in history, I, probably unlike any other motorcyclist, remember a poem by Henry Taylor.

I learned two things
from an early riding teacher.
He held a nervous filly
in one hand and gestured
with the other, saying, “Listen.
Keep one leg on one side,
the other leg on the other side,
and your mind in the middle.”

He turned and mounted.
She took two steps, then left
the ground, I thought for good.
But she came down hard, humped
her back, swallowed her neck,
and threw her rider as you’d
throw a rock. He rose, brushed
his pants and caught his breath,
and said, “See that’s the way
to do it. When you see
they’re gonna throw you, get off.”

The whole poem flashed through my mind, complete and unabridged and uninhibited by time, speed or distance.

That a human being can experience the entirety of a poem, or a life, in an instant has always seemed impossible, but, there I was flying out of control in an instant and in that same instant the poem coexisted along with the feeling of being launched over the high side of the bike which coexisted with the sure knowledge that she was gonna throw me.

And so I got off. I let go of the hand grips and with my legs pushed away from the nervous filly as best I could and time started back up again as I began looking into the future for as safe a landing site as I could see in the dusky air.

After the rough landing and tumble eating sand and hearing the bike crunch and bang, spot-checking for pain, I scrambled through the dirt and leaves on all fours to hit the kill button and stop the racing engine. I got up, brushed my pants, caught my breath and lifted the bike.

Seeing it was uninjured, I got back on her spine and tooled off grinning, knowing that what has been said about your entire life passing before your very eyes before you die is true and that getting off a motorcycle fast and clean can be as satisfying as riding.

M.M.M.

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