Sunday, August 5, 2007

I'm Baaaa- ack! (Doin' the "Walter Brennan")

Saturday, August 4th, I woke up to overcast skies, and cooler temperatures. 8 AM is an ungodly hour for me, given that I work into all ours of the night and cater to my night-owl tendencies. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes anyway and took a quick shower, knowing that as soon as I fire up my Dyna I'll be ready for the day

This was the monthly Diva ride, planned and organized by the
Tallahassee chapter of the Chrome Divas. We were to meet up with others and ride up to Lake Seminole in Georgia to have lunch at a restaurant on the lake. I was looking forward to the ride.

I mounted up and rode a few miles over to Jeff and Christina's house. Jeff is among the most unique people I've come across in many years. His wicked sense of humor could make even the stoniest of faces break into a smile, while the rest of us wipe the tears from our eyes from laughing too hard. His beautiful wife, Christina, looks on with a tolerance born of the understanding of who Jeff is, and quite a few years of a good marriage between the two of them.

Jeff is one of the "Diva Dudes" of our chapter. So named because Christina is a member and he rides with us often. I for one, love having Jeff on our rides. He is one of those rare individuals who can fix most anything, and he carries nearly every tool known to man on his bike. Jeff keeps things in perspective too; soothing and helping the rider who has dropped their bike, or just lightening the mood when everyone is hot and sweaty and tired. We love him, and he holds a place of respect and honor in our group.

I recently was honored with meeting Jeff's parents down in Panama City, and was rewarded with two very wonderful people, who validated my suspicion that no other than they, could have born such a one as Jeff. In my life, this has always been so. Meet the parents of a unique individual with a blend of higher than standard qualities, and you meet two more of the same.

Christina, who is small in stature but big in brains, rides a wicked little Sportster, modified for sound and power, customized for looks, and all by her husband, Jeff. OK, now I'm really envious. How good can it be to have a husband like that?

[I found someone like that a few years back. He rides too. He is the only thing I left behind in my move to Florida that I truly miss. He comes here often to visit. Perhaps one of these times he will come to visit, and stay. But that's another story for another time.]

Another Diva, Jewels, was at Jeff and Christina's house Saturday morning to have Jeff put her new seat on. Jewels is also another one of those unique individuals, with her own brand of humor designed to make you laugh. I love listening to her Georgian accent and visualizing what type of people Georgians are. I may eventually be let down, for I suspect that Jewels is also a one-in-a-million "gem" among Georgians. There cannot possibly be another Georgian as sweet and funny as Jewels. To really know her, is to see her heart of gold.

We rode together, the four of us, over to another Diva's house and picked her up. Kristy is one of our newest Divas, and also new to the sport of motorcycle riding. Having just completed her Rider's Safety course, and passed with flying colors, today's ride was only her second time riding solo. For a second ride in her life, I was impressed at her tenaciousness in joining us, for we were to ride nearly 200 miles. Beyond a few engine stalls, she rode like a champ. We were all very proud of her. She navigated every turn we made like a pro, even a few U-turns, and kept up even when we hit 65-70 mph on Hwy 27 during the return home.

The gathering place before the ride was Capitol City Harley Davidson in Tallahassee. There were about 12 riders when we left, give or take a few. Quite a surprise, given that it looked as though it might rain any minute. Not long after we left, the sun came out and it looked to be a gorgeous day for riding. My light weight jacket came off at our first rest stop. I still have trouble convincing myself I don't need a jacket here.

Our ride was to a region I'd never been to. We took the long route up the west side of Lake Seminole up into Georgia. The day was bright and sunny, and the route was rural and relaxing. Because helmet laws are in effect in Georgia, everyone wore a helmet. The temps were moderate for an August day in this part of the country, and the wind in my face, along with the rumble beneath me, were everything I needed, and why I love my two-wheeled ride.

Riding is rather like an addiction, and anyone who's ever been addicted to something would understand. It's the one thing I do and have done most of my life, in my pursuit of the ultimate rush, that I'll never give up. It's the only place where I am free to think without interruption. I can dream there, reminisce there, or simply not think about anything at all beyond riding my bike. It's my drug of choice.

Fortunately, my body is not prone to chemical addiction. In my youth I tried everything at least once, hard drugs, soft drugs, alcohol, and many different types of extreme sports. To this day, I can't drink more than two beers and not be buzzed beyond the point of impairment. I refuse to drink alcohol when I ride, unless I know I'll be there for hours afterward, and then I drink only one. I gave up hard liquor many years ago, after having unexplained blackout periods. Though I escaped those few episodes unscathed, it was enough to swear it off for good. But I never drank and rode my bike. Never. Drugs made me feel out of control, so those got scrapped in a hurry. I don't even like to take medications now, except aspirin. There are so many highs in life, who needs the artificial ones?

As a young adult, I lived like I was immortal, and enjoyed every minute of it. My mother states that I gave her every gray hair she has. I don't doubt it one bit. My failed personal relationships in life have been with men who were insecure and could not keep up with me (this is when I learned the phrase, get over yourself).

I am a strong personality, and love life to the fullest, every chance I get. I've been told I can be intimidating, and indeed I probably am, for I am tall (strike one), sure of myself (strike two), and educated (strike three). I can't help the first, and I won't apologize for the second and third. I may be sure of myself, but I know when to ask for help. It's how you learn. I chose to be educated, so I could maintain my independence and get ahead in this world on my own steam, but it doesn't mean I don't depend on others.

I have a very strong need to feel everything to a very intense degree. And I have a very strong need to give, be it to society, or an individual, or to the ones I love. There's no in-between for me. When I am happy, I'm VERY happy, when I love, I love deeply and completely, and when I'm sad, I can go down into the depths of hell. I can be sensitive to a fault, but that is all part of the extreme levels of who I am. Those who really know me, know that I have a soft heart, and would give anyone the shirt off my back. And the only one who is close to me now, is just like me.

I was born with a insatiable zest for life and all it had to offer. I like to tell people that I'm 25 years old, with 26 years of experience. My brain will always feel 25, even if my body does not. Our Chrome Diva chapter has a member who is in her 90's. She still rides. She is tougher than nails, has attitude, and a zest for life that has not dimmed with age. My respect for her is immense. I want to be like her when I grow up. She is proof to me that only your body grows old, not your brain, and even then, if you're lucky, your body will still be there for you when you're 90.

My first experience with "hardcore" bikers happened when I was 15. I grew up in a family that went Dove hunting every year. In September we'd pack up the camper and head for northern California. We camped along the higher reaches of the Tule river among the lower region of giant redwoods. The Tule empties out into Lake Success, east of Porterville, CA. This river, during most years, was just a series of waterfalls and deep pools you could swim in to your heart's content. Damn close to paradise as I remember.

One year, a group of Hells Angels arrived in our campground and set up their camp next to us. I'd never been this close to a real "biker" before, and was totally intrigued (in my 15 year old girl teenage starry eyed way). I left with my mom to go somewhere (don't remember where) but we came back to find my dad and one of his hunting buddies drinking beer with these guys. One was a doctor, my dad told me later, and this biker got so drunk he started up his bike, took off, and got it stuck between two large boulders. He got off it and rolled in the dirt laughing.

At 15, I was in awe of these guys. Apparently this awe was obvious to my dad, for I was forbidden to visit them or speak to any of them (or it might have been my mom who dictated this). Having children myself now, I can totally see his reasoning, but I was mad as hell for days about this directive. However, you didn't disobey my dad and get away with it, so I didn't go near them. They packed up and left a few days later. I never had any chance meeting or connection with any Hells Angels after that, but my view of bikers was set for life. They rode machines to make any mouth water, and were people just like anyone else.

When you ride, it's a free feeling, and a chance for reflection. Some bikers will tell you they ride to relax and for peace of mind. That's an understatement for me. The only other thing that gives me close to the same feeling is cruising in a "muscle" car with the top down (the car's top - get your mind outa the gutter), with my man at the wheel. Riding behind him on his bike is close, but riding my own bike takes top billing. Riding my own bike is the ult.

Georgia countryside is beautiful and not much different than the panhandle of Florida. The roads are good (no snow, salt and sand to create those never ending potholes). The soil is red, red, red, and easy to see when going through construction spots. I'm not fond of the nasty little gnats that will swarm your face at stops, but they are insignificant when you're moving. The ride was peaceful and exhilarating, all at the same time.

We had lunch at our destination, Pop's Dockside Cafe. They were unprepared for a group of raucous women, and two men (our Diva Dude, Jeff - and we had a new Diva Dude with us as well), riding in on all manner of motorcycles. I'm not sure I'd recommend this place to anyone as the service was very slow, even though the place was nearly empty. But the food was OK, for a place out in the middle of the boondocks. On a different day, it might be better, who knows. By afternoon it had become very warm, and the occasional pockets of hot air buffeting us as we continued our ride, made me check to see if my bike was overheating. We made another stop at Big Jim's, to cool off before heading for home.

I never rode with large groups much in the past, except I often rode pillion behind a friend on organized benefit rides in the Boston area when I lived there (rides that drew hundreds of bikers, and were controlled by law enforcement along the entire route). Mostly, 3-4 of us would head out somewhere, or I'd just take off by myself for an hour or two.

I am finding, however, through the camaraderie of the Chrome Divas, as well as the Patriot Guard Riders, that group riding is a very fun thing to do. They ride safely and sanely, and I can share the ride with them and know they are feeling the same as me. At the same time, I can find the peace I need in the midst of my sometimes chaotic life. There is safety in numbers as well. Other drivers are less apt to "not see us". It's not a complete "safety net" but it helps.

My riding in the last 5 years has been sporadic and those few rides were short. In 2002, not quite two weeks after selling my Honda Sabre and buying my brand-new-delivered-in-the-crate HD Dyna Wide Glide, I fell in a freak accident in my backyard (not on my bike). I snapped both left leg bones off, just an inch or so from the ends, dislocating my entire foot completely. You know the drill; surgery to install hardware to hold it together, wearing a cast for months, then a walking cast and being forbidden to walk on that for another 4 months or risk not walking right ever again.

I spent months sitting on a stool polishing my already clean bike, and watching others take it for a spin. I added new pipes, and drooled some more. Six months later, I was walking with a limp, but had no leg muscles left with a noticeable difference between the size of my calves. In addition, my Achilles tendon had atrophied from being in a cast so long, and caused me extreme pain to stretch it one way or another. In short, I couldn't trust myself to support the left side of me, or my bike, should I experience any extreme pain in that ankle while riding. Pulling my shift lever up with my toe was out of the question too. It was a year before I could walk without limping, and another year before I had the full range of my tendons and ligaments back.

In 2004, the position I held in my job took off, and I began traveling nearly nonstop. It seemed that either I was away from home on a trip, or if I was home it was raining and/or snowing. I also lived alone, and my bike was housed in a portable shed to keep it out of the weather. The doorway was too narrow to maneuver it on my own. I was not entirely sure I could ride anyway. The memories of the long road to recovery were still very fresh. I didn't want to drop or crash my brand new bike. So I left it stored, and went out to look at it from time to time (in-between work trips), to make sure there weren't any critters making nests in it, and resisted the urge to sell it.

One of my main goals in moving to Florida (among many) was to have a place where I could store my bike (a garage) and ride every chance I got, in spite of my travel schedule and any diversity of weather. I never know when I have to jump on a plane and go somewhere and I wanted to have the option to ride all year, at every opportunity. The aches and pains from living such a physical life, accentuated by cold winters, drove me to a warmer climate as well (getting older does have its pitfalls).

So, when I started riding again in earnest, I reverted back to an old beginner habit of scoping out the entrance or exit for the "easy" route. I was protective of my ankle too, and still had a twinge now and then. Eventually though, I stopped worrying and just rode. And rode. I guess all that hardware in my ankle does the job it's supposed to do.

So, on Saturday after the ride, I came home with a very satisfied feeling. The day went by in total enjoyment. Not once did I feel any complaint from my ankle. I cruised in total comfort, ever watchful, but relaxed and letting my thoughts drift back in time to adventures gone by. No worries. Life is good.

A friend of mine taught me the "Walter Brennan" jig, which is a little dance that particular actor used in many a film performance, sort of like a "ta-da!" (Walter was one of my favorite actors in the old westerns back in the 60's). So, after pulling into the garage, I hopped off my bike and did the "Walter Brennan" right there next to my parked bike. I'm in control again, and damn it feels good.

Riding after a long hiatus was another learning experience for me. It made me feel unsure of myself, and that's a place I don't like to be. Never take anything (or anyone) for granted, I keep reminding myself, and just because I've ridden one type of bike or another since my teens does not make me a confident and adequate rider. Hours of riding many miles does. It's been 5 months since hopping back on my bike and riding several times a week to catch up for lost time. Whatever made me think I could resume riding consistently the first time out (or even second time), is beyond me. Ignorance can be fixed, stupid is forever. Life is just a series of learning experiences. I got through this one a little smarter and a little wiser.

And, when I'm really honest with myself, I doubt very much I could get on a dirt bike today, and jump into the fray with much success, even if I still had the body strength I once had. Though I know I'd have a good time and pay BIG the next day, it ain't happening.

One thing I do know for sure - it'll take an act of God (or Congress) to keep me off my bike for any length of time, until the day I'm unable to walk out there and fire it up myself.

Ride to fly, until I die.

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