That’s right, it’s that time again!
Buckle up, buttercup, we’re going for a ride!
For those of you new to this game, Storytime is where I relate something true that happened in my life that popped to mind recently, because I’m an old fart living in the past. And since this is my blog, and I’m waxing nostalgic, I’m taking you all with me!
Oh, and I’m a huge Jethro Tull fan. I can’t use the phrase ‘living in the past’ in a sentence without hearing Ian Anderson actually proclaim in my head, “Living… in… The Past!” Just an FYI.
So, back in the glorious heyday of my youth, we return once more to Beaufort, South Carolina, scene of many of my previous escapades. Ah, the trouble you get into when you are young, single, Enlisted without being an NCO just yet, and have no bills and lots of disposable income.
Ah, youth. How the hell do we live through those years? Seriously?
At any rate…
I was stationed there in lovely Beaufort, SC, but my parent’s home was in far away Boca Raton, Florida.
I had some income, certainly… but not the kind of cash to dump on a plane ticket to go home to visit the folks and my old school friends whenever I got a three or four day pass.
So what I did, was I bought a motorcycle from a fellow Jarhead taht was having divorce issues and needed the money.
It was a Yamaha Maxim 550, used of course, with a whole heck of a lot of miles on it. It may have looked a little rough, but I loved that bike.
Here’s a photo so you can see the body style, this ain’t the actual bike, just the closest thing I could find to a pic of what my bike looked like.
Even the tank color is right.
So, I had never ridden a motorcycle before, and now I owned one. And anyone that lives on base can tell you, getting a bike registered, licensed, insured and getting your own MC DL are all required before you get to actually ride the damn thing around.
So for a month or so, I left it out at my friends’ place, and he would drive me out there weeknights or weekends, where I would hop on, crank it up, and go driving around the backroads of Beaufort, teaching myself to ride.
You gotta love the South. I mean, really.
The gas stations I would stop at had the usual pumps… but they also had one pump that would be listed as “Racing Fuel – 99 octane”.
Racing Fuel, of course, is designed to burn faster, so more of it’s energy is released before going further than about 20° past Top Dead Center… and I just realized I have no intention of explaining that.
Ummm… Racing Fuel packs more of a kick. Corrodes normal engines, though. At least the old stuff used to.
Anyway, yeah, the regular Unleaded was pretty expensive back then going for around .88¢ a gallon… but I always splurged and went with the Racing Fuel at $1.02, and to heck with the expense! Go crazy with that money! Get the GOOD stuff!
Ah, the joys of tearing around on your own motorcycle… I loved it. I truly did.
So, after a month or two, I went and took my test and got my license, yadda yadda, and started tooling around town. All the joys life off-base had for a single Marine were now open to me. Meaning, mostly, the movie theater, McDonalds, and video rentals.
A few months later, we had a 4 day weekend coming up. I called home and proudly let my mom and dad know that I was coming home to visit.
This being South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, the route wasn’t the most difficult in the world. You get on I-95 Southbound, and you stay there. When you need gas, you pull over. Repeat as needed.
On the day of the trip, I stuffed a seabag full of clothes, bungie-corded it onto the back of the bike (where it actually provided a comfy back rest to lean against) and headed on out.
I always wore a helmet, and on the ride down I had on jeans, combat boots and my field jacket.
Because it was a kind of rainy day. And rain or no rain, I said I was coming, so I was coming.
I had never before ridden farther than Savannah, Georgia on the bike, and then it had been the summer. I had attended St Patricks’ Day at River Street (awesome, bigtime), and done a lot of tooling up and down the roads, but never before had I gone for a long, long run.
Looking at Mapquest, it’s about 480 miles, and they say it should take about 7 hours. I have no idea what speeds they are talking about, though.
What I do know is, I was excited. I was stoked. (Remember when it was okay to say stoked? Yeah, those were a happy 5 minutes.)
Screw the rain, I was going to know the freedom of the open road, the wind roaring around me, the pedal to the metal, blue sky and hard asphalt and the dreams of a free country everywhere around me.
Okay, no blue sky. But it can’t rain all the time!
Damn, was I excited.
Visions of Vanishing Point stuffed in my head, I WAS Kowalski, one man and the loneliness of the open road.
Yes, I know. You’re shocked. What can I say, I wasn’t BORN bitter, after all.
So I hit the road. Hard. I nailed 80 mph out the gate, and stuck it there as much as possible. I only left the road when gas got very, very low, and some of the stretches of Interstate highway left me feeling it might be a while until I saw another offramp.
And yes, it can in fact rain all the time. You’d think, after three states, at some point you would get out from under it.
Along the way, I learned many valuable lessons about riding a motorcycle on long journeys.
Some lessons I learned fast, and others took a while to sink in.
First and foremost, I learned that a lot of people in cars and trucks will actually swerve towards you, trying to force you off the road and off the shoulder, in the hopes of seeing you lose control, and die.
Yes, I’m serious. If you’re young and thinking about getting a bike, keep that in mind. Watch your ass, all the time. Check your mirrors, and maintain your spatial awareness. Do not give them a chance to block you, and keep an eye for escape routes, such as simply being ready to take the grassy median, or being prepared to accelerate or brake if you see an attempted swerve.
I don’t think it has to do with people in cars hating motorcyclists, either.
I think it has more to do with some people seeing someone else in a potentially dangerous, vulnerable situation, traveling at high speeds without a steel cocoon to protect them, and either they are on an open stretch of road, or in a heavy rain where visibility and identification are hindered, and they get the sudden urge to inflict hate and suffering on someone else just because they can. And I truly think they feel that they’ll easily get away with it, free and clear.
Kind of the road version of John Gabriels’ Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory.
I also learned that, to a motorcyclist, a large 18-wheeled tractor-trailer combo barrelling along at 75mph – 80mph sucks a massive windstorm in it’s wake and all around it, and it WILL cause you to concentrate all your energies just on control as it passes you, or you pass it, because you get the feeling your tires may very well lose traction on the slick roads, and you wonder if you’ll get sucked under the semi’s wheels if you’re not careful.
I learned that when they cordoroy, or roughen, the road with those lengthwise grooves when preparing for road work, it channels narrow bike tires and makes it difficult to safely control your bike during lane changes.
I learned that steel grate bridges like the ones in Jacksonville at the time are horrible.
I learned that a LOT of cars leak a LOT of oil, right down the middle of the road, which turns nice and slick in the rain. How slick? Why, much like an oil slick, I would say. And if you are on a motorcycle, the temptation is to ride down the center of the road where the bulk of the oil is.
And finally, I learned that bugs suck.
Especially clouds of those tiny little f’ing gnats. But I learned that lesson later.
For the moment, however, the sky was full of rain, the wind was a steady blur of icy needles in my exposed flesh, chilling and stinging me hour after hour, but the the roar of the road was in my veins, and I was free to ride.
I blasted on through, on the solo road trip of a lifetime.
It was awesome.
When I finally pulled on into the parent’s place in Boca Raton, I was bone tired.
But I was also exhilirated, and felt like I was riding a massive endorphin rush. NO energy, but no pain at all, and no stiffness either.
I was chilled bone deep, and soaking wet, but I was way past caring at this point. I was just exhilirated that the ride down was done, and in a thunderstorm from hell at the end of it.
I stumbled on in, dumped my wet seabag on the floor, yelled “High Ma” as nonchalantly as I possibly could, as though I take three-state road trips all the time, no big deal, and then went back out to the bike.
You see, I had ridden that sucker hard for hours.
And when you run an engine that hard, you can’t just dump it on a driveway in the icy rain to sit, and instantly cool, and expect it to be fine.
You kind of need to ease it down gentle. Let the temperature cool gradually, let the oil circulate a little as it runs easy. Idle it a bit. A block or two is fine, maybe a mile if that, just puttering along. Don’t let a super hot, expanded-metal engine get chilled, it will only cause problems down the road.
So I went on out into the rain, hopped right back on the bike, backed it out and started her up again.
I puttered gently down the half a block to the corner, and eased into the left hand turn.
And as I turned left, the engine roared instantly into life, accelerating to the max the gear ratio could handle, and slamming me full tilt into the stop sign on the corner.
I was pinned under the bike, and I could tell my ankle was not doing very well. I shifted a bit, got under and hefted the bike up off me, and using it to lift myself off the grass, I gently propped it on it’s kickstand. I say gently, when what I really wanted to do was kick the hell out of it.
I had jumped the curb before I nailed the stop sign, and came to rest on the grass, so I didn’t have any road rash. The bike frame still looked straight, and the only visible damage was the right front turn signal was dangling by the wiring.
And yes, my right ankle was at least sprained.
Son of a…
Well, first thing I did was ruefully acknowledge that God has a fine sense of humor.
On the one hand, if you’re going to have an accident, it sure is nice to be able to walk away from it in one piece, and be able to hop a half a block home.
On the other hand, I was 480 miles from my duty station, my only mode of transport just tried to kill me out of the blue, and my right foot, my braking foot, was all messed up. If my foot didn’t get better fast, I was going to be relying strictly on the front wheel hand brake, which is a terribly unsafe, stupid thing to attempt.
And I had three days to fix it all before I had to make the journey home. During a holiday weekend.
I pushed the bike the half block back to the house in the rain, limped on inside, and acknowledged that yes, it was mildly amusing that I drove 480 miles just to have an accident a half a block from the house. Thank you very much. Yes, I thought so too.
Now, I could say that the rest of the weekend was spent staying off my foot in the hopes it would heal, packing it with ice.
And I could relate the fun of finding a mechanic willing to do a rush repair on a motorcycle over a holiday weekend so I could ride back on Sunday. Eventually my dad found a Porsche mechanic friend willing to do a personal favor for me.
I could tell you of my annoyance at finding out the reason I crashed was not my own stupidity, but was instead that the accelerator cable got pinched in the sleeve, and as I turned the corner, it pulled the cable hard and fast, just as though I had redlined the engine intentionally. A simple problem that probably would have happened anyway, from prior abuse of the bike, but might have been prevented had I used a graphite lubricant in the sleeves of the cables as some preventive maintenance.
I could tell you how, nursing a tightly wrapped and unusable right foot, I made the return trip on my repaired bike, and this time the sun was high in the sky, the birds were singing, the wind was warm and delightful, and I had a picture-perfect, gorgeous ride back, wearing helmet, jeans and a tank top on the entire run, basking in the sun and the wind. And how the experience was severely lessened by my stress at not being able to use the foot brake.
Seriously, only having the front wheel hand brake is a horribly dangerous way to ride.
I could tell you of the triumph of making it back to base just in time late on a Sunday night, using only the hand brake, fighting a fogged-over faceshield in the delightful late evening fog and humidity of South Carolina for the last hour in the dark along the coastal roads.
I could even tell you of my joy at discovering, the very next day, that when you ride with a tank top in the sun in 80mph winds for 6 to 7 hours straight, the combination of sunburn and windburn feel simply delightful. I highly recommend it.
Oh yeah, and pure Aloe gel is awesome.
But I think I’ll simply end with this thought, for all my friends;
Clouds of small bugs really suck. I am totally not kidding.