My helmet locks into place and the familiar click rings momentarily in my ear. The bike is loaded kickstand is up and I accelerate out of the parking lot. There is no destination in mind today, I will just ride.
I received an e-mail the other day entitled “Why I ride” and it has me thinking about why I ride and more particularly will I ever stop riding. I merge into traffic easily; traffic is light at this time of the day. So why do I ride? The excitement of a fast machine, the thrill of danger, being alone in my helmet, yes but there is more, more than the obvious. A car pulls out in front of me without warning; I need to focus on riding and not thinking about the “why” right now.
I am on the highway now, easier to focus on answering the question “why I ride?” when the traffic flows more smoothly. There are mountains off in the distance, covered in green; I hope the road passes closer to them. Everything is green, there seems to be no other colour as far as I can see. The jungle reaches right to the edge of the road. Palm leaves blow onto the roadway in front of me. I remember that only a few months ago it was the desert reaching the edge of the road. Sand and dust were blowing then.
The highway begins to veer away from the mountains. I take the next right. The road is gravel and is heading closer to the green mountains. A dust cloud appears in my mirror. I am alone out here; the solitude is good for my soul. Solitude brings a calmness and peace that I can’t get when surrounded by others. Clarity comes when the helmet is on. I pass through a small village. An old man walks alone with a heavy limp; he has had a stroke I think. I admire his independence but am also concerned for his safety, where is his family, I wonder if his wife is still alive. One day I will be old and won’t be able to ride, I hope that day does not come too soon. What will I be like at his age and will I be alone? One day I will die, but first I will ride.
The road twists up the mountain. It is not a well maintained road and my attention shifts to the technical aspects of the ride; look ahead, shift my weight, gear down, gear up and always look where you want to go. The road begins to improve as I descend down the mountain. I hear the river before I can see it, clear water crashes against the rocks around the next corner. I stop for a photo and to pee.
I am back on the main highway now, searching for fuel. The gas station attendant is only a little younger than me; he appears to have troubles on his mind. He admires my bike and asks how much it costs. Most likely he will never own a bike like mine. I invite him to sit on my bike, maybe it will brighten his day. He declines but smiles. His smile reveals a few missing teeth, it is a genuine smile.
A short distance down the highway a vulture picks at a dead dog. When the world ends only cockroaches and vultures will survive. They will feed off each other when nothing else is left. I am hungry but the smell form rotting flesh from the dead dog pushed my appetite aside. I approach a town and for the first time all day stop at a traffic light. A young woman crosses the street; she is very beautiful and carries herself with a kind of humble pride. A young man follows and makes some comments that upset her. If only I could have lost romances to live over again. I wonder how my life would be different had I tried a little harder or maybe not so hard. I have left so much unsaid or have said too much. My appetite is back and there is a place to eat up ahead.
A woman is breast feeding her baby on a park bench. I have never changed a diaper, not because I avoid responsibility but because I never had the opportunity. I have a “step-daughter”, a term I hate. Why do people make a big deal of the term “flesh and blood”? She is my daughter; I raised her since she was eight years old. She is big now and has her own life. I miss her every day. My heart aches if I think about it too much; I try to think about something else. I will call her tonight.
The sun begins to set and I need to find a place to sleep for the night. I sleep in a different place almost every night, the life of a solo rider. Up ahead in the distance is another town, they have a hotel with an available room. It’s nothing fancy but the price is right and I am tired. I try and call my daughter but she is not home. No surprise, I was rarely home at her age. My body and mind feel relaxed, like some perfect Zen like state, not that I really know what that means but I am relaxed anyway. My head touches the pillow and I am reminded of the question at the start of the day “why I ride?” I ride because it is good for my soul; it gives me peace, makes me feel alive. I will ride again tomorrow.