Posted by: silverback | 2011/02/20

solo ride

it’s that time of year, for sure. the early spring days warm enough for a comfortable motorcycle ride are scarce in these mountains. this past winter has been remarkably cold and uncharacteristically snowy, so it has probably been an honest three months since i’ve been out on the bike for more than an hour. compounding the unfamiliarity, i’ve got this new scoot. my track addiction prompted a change; gone is my trusty, familiar, comfortable Triumph Speed Triple. i put 30,000 miles on that bike, and had grown with her in so many ways. i could almost ride her blindfolded, if somebody could whisper brake markers in my ear.

my new whip is a good bit more focused, much in the same way an Xacto knife is focused in comparison to a steak knife. my friend Karl and i came to a gentleman’s agreement and swapped his stock ’07 Yamaha R6 for my ’05 Speed Triple with all the goodies. it was a good, fair trade, because we each had what the other wanted. so now i’m tooling through the mountains on a sunny, warming Saturday morning in February. tooling is probably a bit mild as a descriptor; i might be “railing,” or “cooking.” i’m not quite to “runnin’ from the law,” if only because the roads are still a crapshoot this early in the season. oh, and i’m solo today. all my riding buddies had prior engagements or honey-do lists to manage. i was hoping for some company, but at least i won’t be waiting for folks or constantly monitoring my mirrors today.

i enjoy riding solo. motorcycling, to me, is a solo sport. there’s no co-driver, no passenger to converse with, no voice to listen to but my own, or occasionally the music in my headphones. my most memorable rides have come while exploring the coves and valleys of southern Appalachia all by myself. the only problem is that there’s rarely someone to share those epic moments of grace and beauty with, and they’re so difficult to explain or recreate.

this day will bring a few of those moments. i’m comfortably dressed, fully geared up. the back protector over my thermal shirt keeps my core warm, and i’m wearing cycling tights under my leather lowers. i have liners in my gloves, and my turtleneck silk thermal base layer keeps the wind off my neck. the bright sun is warming the landscape nicely as i head east out of the gas station. after a short straight section, the road begins to snake its way up and over the first gap. leftover sand and a layer of dried brine makes for the early season “death cookies,” as a good friend calls them. i’m cautious and mentally prepared for all the roads to be this way today. my approach will be to brake early and smoothly, to apply throttle judiciously, and to avoid overcommitting to corners i can’t see all the way through. i don’t really mind the challenging conditions – it’s all part of the game. i find that placing too many conditions on what the road must be like keeps too many riders off some of the most beautiful, least-traveled roads in these hills. actually, that’s ok with me.

riding solo is a chess match of restraint. i have full confidence in my own ability to ride this bike to 90 or 95% of its potential. i try not to do this on public roads, but too often a corner exit nailed just right leads to just a bit more speed into the next corner, then the rush of lean angle and traction and gravitational forces, contributing to another poetic apex and acceleration, and it just builds until i’m moving way too fast. i have to balance the relentless forward urge with enough discretion to build a cushion. i especially must do this when i’m out here by myself. nobody would know until way too late that i’m not where i’m supposed to be, should the unthinkable happen.

when i’m riding solo, i have better focus. i’m not worried about the rest of the riders in the group, whether they be ahead or behind. i’m only worried about my own pace, line, brakes, body position, acceleration. i can work out the kinks – physical, mental, emotional, spiritual – out here doing my own thing on my own bike. i get to meld with my machine and my environment. this is the inexplicable thing – that connection with everything, all in the simple repetitive actions it takes to manipulate a motorcycle through the corners at a good clip. i feel inertia working on my body; Newton’s laws, hell – Universal Laws – of physics. i feel the sensation of speed from the sights, sounds, touch of the wind on my leathers. i feel the friction of brake pads on metal rotors, of rubber tires on asphalt. i feel my own being-ness, my ability to pilot this thing, to consciously and un-consciously perform the broad and minute motions of body, hands, fingers, eyes, feet.

but i’ve got to make it home. i have to stay grounded enough in reality to reel this flight back in. i need to pull it back a few tenths.

the roads get progressively better as the day progresses. each section is a little cleaner than the last, unbelievably. it’s so early in the season, and so early in the morning on this Saturday, that there’s almost no other traffic. i’m stunned to make the entire run up the crest of the Blue Ridge without having to pass a single car. that has never happened. and even near the top, over 4000 feet up, the sand is swept clean from the lane. for a few more minutes, restraint takes a minor holiday while the corners rush at one another.

not a soul in sight

at the top, a pause for a few minutes to look back down, almost directly south, at the valley below. the trees are still bare, but this fact colors the mountainsides that particular shade of purple that hints of buds and spring and warmth. i’m in love with this moment, on this day. and bittersweetly, there is not a soul to share it with.

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Responses

  1. Brilliant! Enjoyed your insights . Keep writing brother….

  2. Nice Fred, you get me all excited when you talk like that…

  3. There is a delicate balance between riding solo/ 2 up/ and In a pack, each has it’s ups and downs so that’s why I enjoy them all!
    Lately I have been doing alot of solo myself, it draws less atention from the 5.0 and like you have pointed out I don’t have to check my mirrors all the time in worry but like you it would be a long time before anyone would miss me and even longer before anyone would find me off the side of a mountain or in a creek.

  4. […] border counties this afternoon. I’ve already written that I enjoy getting out on the bike¬†solo – just me and the bike and the roads. This time I was doing it on a very capable dual-sport machine. It occurred to me early in the ride […]

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