Friday, November 22, 2013

That Blue Time of Year

 is late November of 2013, that time of year when the short days and chilling temperatures bring an end to motorcycle riding for all save the very most hardcore riders in the north.  I have an expression I use that goes, "You can tell hardcore riders because their body hair grows through their long underwear".  For as much as I try to be 'hardcore', 30 degree temperatures soak in far too deeply and 20 degree temperatures are painful.  As a result, it is with regret that the great 'Blue Beast' gets dosed with fuel stabilizer, has its battery removed and put on trickle charge, and gets covered for winter hibernation in the storage unit.
              I am now and have been, for what seems an eternity, a motorcycle rider.  Back in 1965,  from the first time I sat on the back of a classmate’s Honda 350 Super Hawk, helmetless and clinging desperately to the driver to avoid slipping off of the back of the seat, I was hooked.  Until you have experienced the freedom of motorcycle travel, it is difficult to understand the addiction.  And although it was several years before I was able to get my first motorcycle, the desire for one never left me.
           In 1971, my first real pay check went to help pay for a new four cylinder, 75 horsepower, 600 pound beauty with chrome fenders and exhaust pipes that wrapped like chrome snakes beneath the frame of the machine.  Over the next 20 something years I logged 15,000 miles of bug-eating while experiencing lead butt, unexpected  rain storms, clueless drivers, flat tires, and a myriad of other unpleasantness without ever losing the enthusiasm for the ride.  Eventually my ol’ hoss surrendered to deterioration and antiquation, becoming resigned to a dusty corner of the garage because I didn’t have the heart to scrap it.
            There is an exhilaration that goes with feeling the warm, fresh air against your skin.  Going from a warm hilltop to a chilly, fog-laden valley sends a tingle through your body that is hard to explain.  On the breeze are the scents of mint, blossoms, pine and other natural aromas, admittedly accompanied by shots of road kill, diesel, and dairy farm.  But it is the endless variety that makes the journey colorful.  Those who travel in cars (cagers), breathing chilled, recycled air and listening to artificial sounds are truly missing the depth of experience that is out there for the taking.
             One of the few benefits of age is that mortgages get paid off, children complete their education and get jobs, weddings get paid off, and finally the big house is sold to be replaced by a smaller, more efficient, and less tax-burdensome accommodation.  When you stop writing checks to everyone else, you get to buy toys.  Nice, comfortable, sexy toys that almost make getting older worthwhile. As my years wind toward their inevitable end, I include among my toys a machine that is as powerful, luxurious, and high tech as the mind of man can create.  I can now travel many miles over many hours in comfort, yet still experience the sensory delights that the outdoors has to offer.   In the spring of 2010, enter the 'Blue Beast'; a 1000 pound machine with sleek lines, frightening power, extraordinary luxury, and as much high tech as I cared to pay for.  Otherwise known as a Victory Vision Tour.

          From the time the 'beast' arrived on scene, Mrs. Randall displayed her characteristic curiosity.  Although she remained 'hands off' while I made the transition from a 600 pound UJM (Universal Japanese Motorcycle) to my  frighteningly large but gloriously American touring bike, I could see that spark in her eyes.  Once I had reached the point where I could relax in the saddle, enjoy the ride, and had learned to control the terror of low speed turns, she was amenable to try riding on it.  This was no small leap for someone who had never, ever been on a motorcycle before.
          It took a while to finalize the 'getting on' and 'getting off' procedures and for us to have that little talk that all drivers have with new passengers.  Her one word answers clearly displayed her 'heart-in-throat' state of mind as we prepared for our maiden voyage together.  Off we went, through city streets to suburban roads and finally onto the interstate highway.  I cruised casually, trying to reassure the absolutely rigid person on the back, whose fingernail imprints still remain in the passenger handgrips, that she might actually survive her first experience as a 'mouse among elephants'.  It took several outings, but eventually she began to relax as evidenced by the beginning of a steady flow of questions about riding practices, state laws, safety procedures, etc.  Once she asked to sit in the front seat, I knew she was hooked.
          She looked rather small in the front seat as she explored the basic brake, clutch, and throttle controls.  It took a while to go through all the gauges, symbols, lights, communications systems, cruise control, etc., but I could tell that her curiosity was at full speed.  Once she started the engine and twisted the throttle, there was that smile that said to me, "I want one". 
          I would have loved to take her out to an open field where she could dump it a few times before she finally learned to control the beast, but there was a problem.  When you sit in the saddle and your feet do not touch the ground, that may work on horseback but it is a serious problem on a motorcycle.  So for the next year and a half, Mrs. Randall rode shotgun while her sponge-like mind absorbed every bit of motorcycle information she could get to.
          I have learned, in my years, that women who are self-reliant and have been so for a period of time usually have a problem entrusting their safety and well-being to someone else.  A woman who has made her own way in life is likely to be a bit reticent to jump on the back of a motorcycle and entrust her life to a man just because, "he looks so sexy in leather".  They tend to have thoughts of self-preservation when a momentary lapse in his judgment could result in an artwork of steel and fiberglass becoming the most expensive hood ornament ever attached to a Mack truck, while the driver and passenger are reduced to streaks of color and pieces of texture between the skid marks on an otherwise bland section of pavement.  I guess it is kind of a control thing.  Basically, "If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy".
          Then it showed up!  Like money in the mail, like a gift from Heaven, a solution to the conundrum.  Something called the Can Am Spyder, a three-wheeled motorcycle that looked more snow mobile than motorcycle.  A nifty bike with all the bells and whistles of a high tech touring bike, plenty of power, a semi-automatic transmission, tons of storage, and a design so stable that, unless you back it over a hill, it will not upset. It was love at first sight.
           From that point, the search was on.    She did computer  research and she asked a million questions; we followed Spyder drivers into gas stations and shopping malls and she asked a million questions; we visited  a dealer and she asked a million questions, I think you get the point.  Once she sat on one and put her hands on the controls, the search was over.  We went to the closest dealer (where she asked a million questions), and we took one for a test drive.  Because Mrs. Randall did not have a motorcycle license, I had to drive.  We had barely started down the country road before her head was beside mine watching every movement I made.  When we approached a church with a large empty parking lot, the commands started.
          "Pull in there, right in the middle."
          "OK."  We stopped in the middle of the lot.
          "Get off, I want to drive this thing."
          "But you have no license."
          "(Expletive deleted)  Get off!"
          "OK."  I got off and stood beside her as she slid into the driver's seat.  Apparently I answered her questions adequately just before she took off circling the parking lot, stopping, starting, backing up, shifting, and playing with some of the controls.  It was a match made in Heaven.  We returned to the dealer with yet another million questions.
          Any married couple is comprised of two individuals.  Two individuals with different likes and dislikes, different ideas, different approaches to life, etc., and it takes a lot of compromise to hold the relationship together.  Too often, in order to avoid the conflict or compromise, they end up with his chair and her chair in front of the television where they fight over the remote.  One of the best things that can happen is a shared passion that makes it a pleasure to do something together that you both enjoy.  Something that you do not need a reason to do, just an excuse.  So it is in the Randall household. 
          This joint passion has been the stimulus for almost 30,000 miles of riding in two years.  Although we have yet to start those month-long trips across the country and exploring our neighbors north and south, they are in the works.  Multi-day and week-long trips have been the source of many shared experiences and lots of wonderful memories.  Even after two years, we cannot wait for survivable temperatures free of snow or rain to get the rides out and launch.
             But this has become that blue time of year.  When the rides go into storage and we have to be satisfied driving the cage through slushy and snow covered roads.  When we have only the memories accumulated during the warm months to sustain us until the warm weather returns.  I just hope those are sufficient to keep peace in the household because she gets REALLY grumpy while sitting in front of the television with a helmet on and regularly looking through the window to see if the snow has melted.