The Inanimate Road

I have heard so many authors describe “The Road” as some emotional being that acts and reacts, shares herself and can either love or hate those who travel on her.   Jack Kerouac started a generation on the road and suddenly it was the thing to do.   Everyone loves “the road”.  “Lets hit the road! or “ROAD TRIP” are often exciting yelps of a fun adventure to come.

However I know the road, and the road is not alive, it is merely different forms of rock, shaped and positioned  so we can travel with rubber over it.   For those who ride in cars you cannot comment or understand what I am talking about, do not get upset but riding in a car and riding on a motorcycle is about as similar as being in a boat and being in the water.

When you are in a car you travel through something, for example in a car you drive through Wyoming,  If the weather changes roll up the window and put the heater on, if it rains, no worries.   On a motorcycle you drive IN Wyoming.  When the temp drops you have to deal with it, your hand may shiver and you accidentally let go of the clutch and your bike skids over the center line into oncoming traffic or over the side of the road.

A little rain in a car, roll up the windows throw the wipers on.  Rain on a motorcycle? HA! Scrape your skin with a coarse hair brush over and over again, endure that while traveling  70 mph, worse yes have one of those bb’s hit you in the eye.   You now have to have the focus of a Shaolin Monk to navigate the weather.  Now factor in rain makes you cold, you shiver and get mentally distracted and you make a fatally bad decision.

Take into effect the wet road conditions, where are the oil patches? gravel patches? Sealed and patched areas, what does each one of these mean to the stability of the motorcycle? Are there tire treads ahead of you? Loose rocks? Is that truck dropping sand which makes you feel like you are driving through fire when you are behind it?  Should I blindly pass the truck dropping loose gravel and take my chances at driving 90mph into oncoming traffic or stay behind him and wait for that one perfect piece of gravel to put me into an uncontrolled slide?

Is the road grooved, sealed, frost heaved, oiled? The exact physical condition must be known because that it was dictates how you react to a situation.  Loose gravel on the road, do not brake, throttle,  or shift, drive straight through it and above all DO NOT TURN!

Then there are the other drivers, these are the most dangerous, the one’s who don’t see you, make very close lane changes to you, ride right up your backside or weave around.  People who don’t understand I am a fragile organic being riding 80mph on an engine with two wheels and no protection.  Even more frightening is when a giant 18 wheeler passes you at 80mph so close you can reach out and touch it…..and the wind he displaces knocks your bike clear across the lane and have you to catch it and ease back without overcompensating and ending up under his rear tires.

It really is a beautiful dance when done right.

On a motorcycle you experience every subtle nuance around you, wind change, small bumps, road debris, how the bugs on one section of road tasted slightly salty while the others were more acrid.  I have picked bug carnage our of my beard, ears, mouth, eyebrows and hair for a month now. The Yukon had the stickiest, Nebraska’s tasted the best.

A motorcyclist can detect every imperfection in the road construction, like an art appraiser who can tell a true Picasso by the imperfections in the brushstrokes a biker can detect the smallest imperfections in the road.   Why? Because if we don’t it can kill us.   A small rock, an errant tire tread, some sand or loose gravel, a piece of wood, a bad patch job on a pothole because the worker went out drinking the night before because his wife left him because all he did was shovel asphalt….or perhaps it isn’t patched at all because he said “fuck work”…..all killers.

When a line of bikers sees road debris they point as they drive by so the other riders see it.    If I wanted to romanticize it I would say the road is trying to kill us, but I know it is little more than human error.  The road has no feelings, it has no love or vengeance, it has nothing to offer but a way to get from point A to point B.

Unlike riding in a car you cannot let your mind wander on a motorcycle.  You daydream in a car, hit a rock or tire tread and you say “damn hope I didn’t damage the car”. You daydream on a motorcycle, hit a rock or a tire tread and you hope to hear “HELP, someone call 911!”  My eyes and brain are constantly scanning and processing as a ride, how many cars ahead? How many lanes? How fast are they going? Is one driving erratically? Is he going to cut the guy off ahead of me thus causing him to jam on his breaks and give me the opportunity to test how soft his back windshield is with my head?  Is that a rock? oil? are we turning? is that an 18 wheeler coming up behind me? …….a million observations a minute, over and over again for 12 hours a day for 24 days.  My mind was exhausted and a blank slate at the end of the day and hence no writing.

Spending the last 24 days in this hyper mode of concentration and focus has left me feeling a little off.  Not sure what it is, but just off.   We traveled some of the most treacherous roads in the two countries on motorcycles, roads that have claimed many lives.  Roads that would go from asphalt to downhill gravel for half a mile to snow drift sized frost heaves that camouflaged themselves well as we approached at a high rate.

We learned that “watch for falling rock” meant there really was falling rock. “Warning Buffalo on Road” really meant there were buffalo on the road.

I guess I am sitting here, should be sleeping because I need to be up in 5 hours so we can head the last 299 miles to Philly but for the first time I can’t sleep.  Maybe I am getting a little nostalgic, I mean I almost forgot what my old life was like.   Maybe it’s because I have spent the last 24 days with my dad, the longest we have ever spent together.  Granted there were times when I wanted to kill him, but I watched him change and work hard at not being short-tempered and angry at things.  He honestly tried to work on changing it and to a degree he did.  I am proud of him for doing that.   He still has his minor meltdowns when we have driven 500 miles in 98 degree heat and are stuck in construction traffic, but baby steps here, baby steps.

We drove over 11,000 miles in 24 days over some of the most treacherous roads for a motorcyclist, we have all suffered both a physical and mental toll for the trip.  Me, I am just sort off, became way more introverted with myself.  I find myself trapped in that state of hyper focus that riding 12 hours a day on a motorcycle will put you into.  Sometimes I can’t break out of it and just stare even when sitting down eating or resting.

Some of us just merely broke down internally and said nothing more.

If I had to describe the road I would describe it like this…

The road is like mental sandpaper, it is constantly wearing you down, you need to be made of a strong mental substance that won’t wear down easy.  If not  you will soften, fray and then snap and just take off from your group or end up screaming at cars as they go by………eventually losing concentration enough to make that one final bad decision.


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5 responses to “The Inanimate Road

  1. it’s funny looking back on epic “road trips” that i’ve taken in various cars. i always felt exhausted at the end of a long day on the road, as if i had really accomplished something in my climate controlled shell (the one with the comfy chair and shaquille o’neal albums blaring). makes me wonder…

    anna wants me to tell you “safe travels for the final stretch.” i agree.

  2. Nana

    I’m glad you are almost home. It doesn’t sound like it was an enjoyable trip. Love Nana

  3. mom

    never had a true understanding of how tiring (yet I know it was enjoyable) just the riding was. it explains lots, especially why the writing was sparse….ride and miss you

  4. Paul

    That is great. More people traveling in cars should read this.Can i repost this?

  5. Katherine

    Amazing. This is also some of your best writing. I think you should send it in to a motorist magazine or even the New Yorker. It really captured the sensation of the trek. Safe travels.

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