The Stranger in My Shadow

by bj max

My wife and I have been married forty years this month. Thank you…Now you would think that after all this time I would know her pretty well, wouldn’t you? Well, so do I. But amazingly she still manages to surprise me several times a week. My wife is a quiet and peaceful soul and rarely says anything that even remotely resembles an oratorical opinion but now and then, when I’m not expecting it, she pulls one of those surprises mentioned above. For instance, venting her feelings recently after an off handed comment I made about giving up motorcycling.

For two weeks back in August we were out west on vacation. Two whole weeks. The first two week vacation in our lives as far as I can remember. Our destination was the Grand Canyon, but naturally we made all the must-see stops along the way. Like Dodge City, where the cows outnumber the people by a full fifty percent. Woooo-weeee. Talk about clearing your sinuses. Then we stopped at Royal Gorge, gawked for about three hours and departed via the Royal Gorge Bridge that swings 1025 feet above the river below. I suffer with chronic acrophobia and it was all I could do to make myself cross that spooky old bridge. I finally pulled it off by riding with one eye closed. No depth perception you see. Then there was the Colorado Monument, a sort of mini-Grand Canyon, the Painted Desert and of course the main attraction, the Grand Canyon. For some reason I thought it would be bigger.

Along towards the end of the first week we found ourselves in the Four Corners area, Durango, Colorado specifically. Parking was sort of scarce in Durango so we bribed the attendant at the Durango/Silverton Railway and parked in their lot. Naturally, like so many parking lots west of the Mississippi, it was gravel. At least they call it gravel. Here at home we would call it rock. And yes, two out of three gynecologists agree, there is a difference. A gravel road is not that difficult to navigate, even on a Gold Wing. It’s usually hard packed and if you stay out of the loose stuff in the center you’ll do just fine. But rock roads, now that’s a different animal altogether. A rock road is covered with washed gravel and washed gravel has nothing to bind it together so it’s like riding on marbles. Rock roads should be outlawed.

The Durango/Silverton parking lot was modeled after the second example above. It was composed of loose stones, rocks and a boulder or two. Some were round and slick and others were rough edged and sharp, capable of cutting a tire down in my opinion. And nothing held this stuff together. Forget hard packed. You could run a steamroller over it from now till Texas freezes over and it would have no affect at all. This particular parking lot would have been a challenge for a champion trials rider. And holding on to a thousand pound motorcycle in this stuff is like trying to hold on to a wolf by it’s ears. If you ain’t real careful it’ll bite your nose off.

Returning from a two hour shopping spree in the heart of Durango, we ambled back to the train station and our bikes, securely nestled in amongst the rocks and stones of the railroad parking lot. The parking attendant smiled and wished us safe passage to our next stop. After storing away all the junk we spent our hard earned money on, we saddled up. My wife decided to walk the fifty yards to the relative security of asphalt. Smart gal.

I fired up the bike and dropped it into low. My plan was to cross the parking lot at a pretty good clip. One of the things that keeps an airplane from falling out of the sky is forward momentum so I formulated a plan that I thought would give me an advantage in the loose stone and gravel. However, my formula, momentum x discipline = stability proved to be flawed. Approaching the attendant’s hut where two of our companions sat waiting on idling bikes, I realized at the last minute that I was carrying a little too much speed. My brain sent mixed signals to my right hand and my fingers hovered with indecision over the front brake lever. A little voice inside my head reminded me that you never touch the front brake on gravel. “Never?” I asked. “Never.” replied the little voice. But if I don’t, I’m going to slam into my friends and their bikes and the little hut where the bribed attendant lives and people will be maimed and mauled and beautiful motorcycles will be broken and battered. And I’ll be broken and battered. “Don’t touch that front brake!” the voice repeated.

Now you have to remember, my conference with the little voice only lasted a split second leaving me only a half a split second to make my decision. I don’t believe those cocky little voices are near’ bout as smart as they think they are so I grabbed a handful of front brake, clamped down like the jaws of a ticked off loggerhead turtle and prepared to hold on till the sun went down. The front wheel immediately pulled hard left and began a long magnificent slide showering my companions with a hail of rocks and gravel. After what seemed like an eternity the motorcycle found traction somewhere, dived hard to the right and augered into the Colorado landscape like a secondhand X-15.

No, I didn’t get hurt. You see, this is not my first rodeo. I’ve performed this little act many times. Like a Hollywood stuntman, I simply stepped off the bike as she went down and moved safely out of the way. The bike came through without a scratch, too. I’m fortunate that I own a motorcycle with a well engineered set of crash bars. As many times as I’ve dropped the Wing, it’s a wonder it ain’t tore all to pieces but it bears nary a mark from the abuse.

Later that evening, as we sat on a bench outside our motel discussing touring motorcycles and their inherent aversion to gravel, I commented that maybe I was getting to old for all this two wheeled lunacy and should seriously consider giving it up for something more docile like, I don’t know, maybe growing tomatoes or something like one of them old burned out Mafia Don’s. “Sometimes I think I ought’ ta just sell the doggone thing and….”

“Are you nuts?” my wife exclaimed. “Sell the motorcycle? And replace it with what? A rocking chair? Not on your life Bubb!. People have to have something to make ’em wanna’ get outta’ bed in the morning and get going. For some it’s fishing. For others it’s flying. But for us, it’s riding motorcycles. And talking about riding motorcycles and dreamin’ about ridin’ motorcycles and all the lakes and mountains and bugs and dust and storms and all you can eat buffets in between. It’s all that and more. It’s a dream. A dream that keeps us going, gives us something to look forward to and yes, it keeps us young. Sooner or later, like everybody else, we’ll wear out but until then, we’re gonna’ be like that little pink bunny and keep goin’ and goin’ and goin’…”

And I thought she rode motorcycles just to be with me, proving that I hardly know her at all and probably never will…

Happy Motoring.


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