A “shimmering image” from ten years ago, Long Climb Back:
Due to the amount of concentration required, there are certain activities that are particularly suited to staving off grief. Aside from instructing a Jazzercise class, riding Thunder, my motorcycle, is a good example. While I’m riding, pain can’t occupy a big place in my mind because I’m too busy driving for everyone on the road. As I approach an intersection, my eyes scan to see what traffic pattern is developing. Is it possible someone might not stop? If the light changes suddenly how important is it that I stop? My hands are glued to the handlebars, so therefore they can’t be checking my cell every five minutes to see if The Banker has called or texted. Or to see if one of my kids is having serious problems. I can’t hear or feel the vibration of my cell over the vibration of Thunder. For the moment, no one needs me and I need no one. I’m free.
I’ve put the word out that any bikers going to Pt. Dover on Friday, May 13, 2005 can meet at my place beforehand. Jay is impressed to see and hear more than a dozen bikes roar up the laneway before he leaves for school. I’ve got the coffee pot on in the Jazzercise entranceway and invite riders, some I know, some I’ve just met, in to help themselves. A high school chum, Ted, is going to ride Savannah today. Although he looks like a typical intimidating bike gang member – big hairy guy, shaven head, goatee – he’s actually a softie we call Teddy Bear. He and I lead the pack from the house under overcast skies and it feels good to be paired up with Hugh’s bike again. I look over at Ted’s big grin and I smile too, the wind biting my face. We don’t lead for long because there are some mad riders in the group, so soon I’m shuffled to the back where Ted is happy to follow me. Ted has also decided he’s my motorcycle maintenance man and did my oil change for me last month. He has no intention of passing me because he takes the task of following this renegade group seriously. I feel safe, warm and loved in this pack of people on bikes with one common destination. We stop for breakfast and Ted pays for mine. That feels good. After breakfast, I follow the group to the lake road Hugh loved. Lake Erie, choppy and faded denim blue, is on our right and fields, tilled to a rich black and freshly planted, are on our left. The road winds, curvy and hilly, in front of us.
I ride like Hugh taught me, shifting down, fourth, then third, for a tight curve, lean left, straighten, up to fourth, back down to third, lean right, foot peg almost, almost grazing pavement. Thunder and I are suddenly one indomitable team. We can do anything, handle any curve, no matter how sharp, how fast. Ted disappears from my mirrors as I chase tails of bikes in front of me. We come to our pit stop, the gas station we always stop at before driving into town, and realize our big group has been split amidst all of the other bike traffic. No matter, we fill up and forge on, eventually reducing our speed for the excruciating slow stop-and-go that takes us into town.
We find parking on a side street and, surprisingly, as we walk toward the hundreds of bodies coating main street, we find the rest of our group. It’s the only Friday the 13th this year, so the small lakeside town is overflowing with bikes of every kind – old, new, custom, chopped, three-wheeled, dirt, mini. The air is polluted with leather and exhaust and, occasionally, the sweet scent of weed. Ted has his camera ready for beautiful girls in g-strings and chaps, but puts it away when we come across a seventy-something man dressed that way.
We fight our way into a beer tent, buy pints and stand in a circle to drink them. We inch our way back up the street to shop for bike gear and T-shirts, but abandon the idea as we keep losing everyone. Ted buys a pin, one for him and one for me, to commemorate the trip.
We go back to our bikes, suit up, and leave town. I’m staying with the group, so although I expect rain is coming, I haven’t stopped to don rain gear. As it falls, I tip my helmeted peak to it, feel the drops pelt my eyeballs as I fight to maintain vision, feel the wetness, eventually, gather in my crotch where my chaps don’t cover my jeans, where the tires send it up from the pavement.
We stop at Palasad’s, on the west side of town, for dinner. I’m damp. My face burns from wind. My hair feels tangled. I have a familiar tired feeling, one I’ve had before when I’ve spent all day outside. I munch on chicken wings and nachos. I’m happy.
Ted decides to ride home with me. He says he doesn’t mind that it’s a bit out of his way and he’ll get Savannah back to me next week after doing an oil change on her. I ride through the darkness with him and that bad feeling descends on me the closer I get to home. In front of the garage, I stop, dismount, find the key, turn on the lights, open the far overhead door. I pull Thunder in, turn her off, swing the kickstand down. Ted turns off Savannah.
“You okay?” He asks. I assume he’s anxious to get back to his family.
“Of course. Thanks for the great ride.”
I give him a big smooch on the lips and we hug tight.
I watch Savannah’s tail light disappear after Ted turns left on Clarke. I pull off my helmet to hear the fluorescents buzz over my head. Pull out my cell. Blank. The sky lights up and a few moments later, thunder cracks. It’s going to rain again. I think about how nice it would be to have someone to watch the storm with. Tears gather as I take off all of my leather – gloves, jacket, chaps – and hang it on Thunder.
I turn to go in, bump into the Kubota riding lawn mower. Give it a good swift kick in the deck with my booted right foot. I listen to my heels click as I walk through the Jazzercise room. I sit in the mudroom to remove them and throw them in the closet. Pour myself a rye and ginger at the bar, lock doors, turn off all lights except the laneway ones and then make my way upstairs where I fill the tub. Submerged to my neck, I lie there, letting hot water slide soothingly around my body as my drink slides soothingly down my throat.
With no one to discuss the good days and the bad days with it can feel as though they don’t even happen.