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September 5, 2022

The Joy of Motorcycling and the 33 RPM Soul

I started crying when I heard the song again. Michelle Shocked’s Come a long way. While the Pine Siskins pecked away at Nyjer black thistle from the sock feeder and hummingbirds sucked down the last of the early autumn nectar before their big migration, strained yet joyful verses emanated from the depths of my longing soul. No judgment hampered my enthusiasm. Our disabled dog, Willie Grommit, cocked his head in my direction.

It must’ve sounded more like a fractured fallen fairy than a songbird.

Michelle and I sang together: Kicked in the door at five a.m., I’ve come for my bike, I told the repo man. My 920’s gonna take me far today, you can travel for miles and never leave L.A….I’ve a come a long way…gone 500 miles today…

Indeed. Somewhere between her and Brett Dennen, lie a joy left on the roadside like the raccoon failing to complete a crossing on Boulder Canyon this past Saturday night. My time spent tooling along on two wheels along the Peak-to-Peak Highway, down Lefthand Canyon out of Ward, up the route into Lyons, along the winding roads of South St. Vrain reappeared in my mind’s eye as though I’d dismounted an hour earlier, carrying helmet in hand as I walked back into my house. Those summer afternoons found me in the throes of post-divorce transformation and healing, swaying and singing to a chorus of birds and fish as the water flowing through the canyon carried the teachings of life’s greater truths.

Can’t see the danger around the bend? Just trust in the process.

Mind spinning? Focus on the NOW, that turn’s coming up…

My Bonnie Black Triumph carried me along as the trusted iron horse for which I’d unintentionally traded in my real equine. (She passed suddenly, but that’s another story.) The inherent risks in motorcycling were easily traded in exchange for life-affirming grounding and center. As the miles rolled under those two wheels, life’s detritus and pain dropped away, revealing new emotions awaiting.

Peel back layers of anxiety and fear of the future, to expose sheer joy…

A recreational undertaking I’d learned from my partnered-up days, motorcycling became as liberating as it was empowering. Each skill I picked up symbolized the re-piecing of my fractured self being put back together. Meditation in movement delivered clarity and a lifting out of emotional quicksand. There was nothing as magically transportive as one of those afternoon canyon rides.

And then, I gave it up. All nine hundred cc’s of horsepower and elegant simplicity now sits neglected in my barn, wondering where I went. I’ve tried to reason with it that somewhere in between the remnants of earlier carefree, albeit reckless moments and the weightier ones of dependent special need rescue dogs, I also have a husband to whom I’m wanting to return at the end of my days.

We’ve had our dance together, I say. It responds back:

Remember when you were feeling reckless and living out of your comfort zone? Who was there to transport you to higher, more joyful places?

You were, I say, as I pull the light string down and close the barn door. In the morning when I return to my barn office and head upstairs, I dust off the pine pollen collected from the day before and wash the guano off the seat from the nesting barn swallows above.

I can hear it whine in abandonment like a dog in a shelter, wondering where its girl has gone. I try to explain that I have others to care for and it presents weightier risks than I am willing to undertake.

Remember all those times coming up the Canyon, I turn to its pouting face, I rode into those turns just a little too fast? I became intimately familiar with the composite of granite rock cliffs and steep embankments edging rapid-flowing creeks. If I rode in such ways now, my new husband would be expressing the bladder of our disabled dog alone. And Smudges and Charlie? They would definitely gain thirteen more pounds.

I’m still here, it answers, for when you’re like to ride into quieter days.

I know, I say, but I miss that feeling you once gave me, and I’m not sure it’s even there any longer.

With that, tears flow just as the river in that South St. Vrain Canyon along which I once used to ride. The moment feels a reunion of a different kind. I don’t have to explain where I’ve been or what I’ve been up to, if my career is going along swimmingly or if I’d ever had kids. It all just sits there for the silent introspection, offering itself up in the moment as though it were a photograph from decades earlier.

Moments with such trusted friends will be evidenced by such physical manifestations. Motorcycling isn’t for everyone. And yet, there are others as Michelle, who understand the unadulterated joy of a lone motorcycle ride along the roads in her hometown, and that a woman thusly reclaims on such rides a piece of recognition of her deepest self.

Or, peace.

Somewhere between the surrender of my earlier practices and its inherent life-threatening risks and my settled life, the want to live into the future returned.

I was getting geared up, metaphorically anyhow, to ride again. But just as I began dusting off my riding gear and lamenting the twenty-pound marital weight gain rendering my riding pants a donation to the local thrift store, the new wave of Harley jockeys flying American flags and sporting MAGA ballcaps come roaring up Boulder Canyon where I live. In their wake, testosterone units sporting crotch rockets are abusing the highway as their own personal racecourse while evoking fear and outrage from anyone in close proximity. Affiliation with extremism and life-threatening recreation feels as appealing as a case of road rash in the emergency room.

I haven’t mounted back up. The longing for something deeper persists beyond the chaos, and I hold out hope for lighter days. I think of President Biden’s recent words, his speech delivered amidst screaming angry MAGA supporters outside the Philadelphia Independence Hall, and the threats of extremism our country now faces courtesy of Donald Trump. If he can have hope for our country, then I can hold onto hope for joyful rides on these mountain highways on other days, when turning the key in the ignition doesn’t feel like taking my life into my own hands.

Maybe I’ll change its oil today, and honor it as the gift it has been in my life. My husband has offered to ride behind me in his Z-4 convertible with our disabled dog strapped safely within. Maybe I’ll take him up on it this autumn, and boot up my old playlist, beginning with Michelle Shocked, and start my new journey of five hundred miles, one-quarter at a time.

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