Saturday, December 16, 2006

Midwest Scooter Enthusiast

Sit down and shut up

How many times have you heard that line growing up? It seems as children we struggle with learning to hold our focus. Its taking too long. Its not what we want. Its too hot or too cold. Its boring.

We wrestle against being still. Against observing and filtering out anything that doesn't pertain to the object of importance. Sometimes we try to see too far ahead and miss the obvious right before us. We want to be done with it. We want the answer now so that we can move on because being still for too long makes us itch, makes us nervous.

So we get to a point in our lives when we choose to ride. The reasons are as individualistic as we are, but the point is we want something in our lives to make us breathe deeper, to accelerate our pulse in the peaked moments of the riding experience.

So how do we do that? We start our bikes, sit down, and for the most part, shut up. If our parents could see us now.

The subject of this blog came about sometime around fifteen years ago. My closest riding buddy Whitey and I were stopped at the bridge of a river which was halfway between Brookfield and Rochester Wisconsin. The area is mostly swamp with a short line of river homes on the north side of the bridge. At night the place is loud with natural nightlife. The sky is big and colored that shade of blueish black that only shows up away from light pollution. Stars are so bright there the crystaline glimmer from above bathes the rushes in a soft glow.

Somehow we got on the subject of what you think about on a ride. There are phases, it seems, that the mind goes through as it settles into a state of contentment, when the mind is free to wander. Just as the rider loosens up going from getting to where one wants to be to being there. You ride until you achieve a stillness of thought that somehow leads to a heightened awareness. It was Whitey who said it; "There is a kind of stillness when you ride that's like nothing else." Back then if you drove your car the radio was blaring. People were talking to you. You were sucking gas station coffee out of a styrofoam cup with one hand and a Camel or Winston was in the other. You weren't just driving, you were busy.

A kind of stillness when you ride.

I know there's a thing called Bluetooth. I'm not ready for Bluetooth. I'm thinkin' more on the line of starting to wear earplugs under my helmet. (Yeah, Whitey, I wear a helmet nowadays. A full face and I wear it all the time too)

Parents work hard to teach their children what's right and what's best. How to learn. How to pay attention. But when nerves get stretched too thin those five powerful words at the top of this blog could send us reeling.

Nature has a way of getting our attention and teaching us the things we need to know in spite of ourselves. How often have we brought the very lessons we fought learning back home, upon us. To sit down, and to shut the heck up.

...And let that scooter be a lesson to you!


Thursday, December 14, 2006

Midwest Scooter Enthusiast

In the Mirrors

When we ride we check our rearview mirrors to be sure a car isn't tailgating or trying to pass. We may be going the speed limit but there always seems to be a driver who has to move faster than the scooter ahead.

Other times we catch a glimpse of the sun on its decent in the western sky, or the rain clouds we're trying to beat to the safety of the garage.

Checking those mirrors protects us. Its a defensive maneuver that's especially critical to scooterists. We're riding the smallest vehicles on the road.

I've taken the pleasure of glancing in the rearviews just to see where I've been. A stretch of long straight country road will seem like it goes on forever when you're viewing it through a little circle of glass which tells you the "objects in mirror may be closer than they appear". Moments before all I thought about was the next turn which would bring me to the beloved knotted stretch of tarmac that I crave to lean through.

No matter what you do, there seems to be a cost, a toll, before you get to the fun stuff, the thing you're moving toward for the simple sake of selfish pleasure. We pay our dues one way or another.

Sometimes I look back in those mirrors and wonder why I'm willing to ride this far out for the really good roads. The ones which never seem to have any traffic. But up ahead is the clearest reason. Up ahead there are twisted blacktop ribbons that follow the hills instead of cutting flat through them. There are streams passing under ancient bridges, rickety by today's standards. There is the the cleanest air, scented by spring's bloom and the occasional farmstead. In the summer and fall, cut hay and burning leaf piles.

If one were to examine the effort it takes to get on that Vespa and ride to these places, the time getting there compared to the time spent being in those moments, it might appear an imbalanced wager. Not worth the effort.

Once I'm riding through those country hills, up and down the abrupt slopes, leaning hard through those wonderfully sharp corners, it all becomes clear. The deep breaths, the tingling not just on my skin, but rippling through me from my head to my toes is a period of time when I feel most alive. Totally alert and vibrant.

When the rpm's begin to sing out that little exhaust and the bike is being hammered into deep lean angles and I squirt out the exit of the apex, its then that I'm wider awake than I was all week.

After the last set of crown jewel roads unravel into the first long straight I look into those rearview mirrors and just grin. I've been waiting all week for this ride and its been worth every moment spent getting here.

Its winter now and the chances to get back on the Vespa this season are slim to none. And so the scooter sits in the garage, patiently still. I stand beside it and look the bike over. Waiting. The mirrors reflect a memory of last summer's ride. All I can do is look inside those rearviews and remember why I came all that way to begin with.


the Roadbum