It had gotten to the point where my riding pals were getting worried about me. It had been weeks, actually months since I'd ridden. Some of it was due to the insistently cold and wet fall we've had in Seattle. More of it was due to the ongoing nagging vertigo I've been experiencing. Just didn't make me feel all fuzzy about getting on a bike and riding.
But finally there were no excuses left. The day just shone. Bright. Clear, Yes, cold, but for the first time in forever, everything out my window said "get off your ass and ride."
I dithered about most of the morning and finally got busy about gearing up. It's a nearly magical process, transforming me from reluctant to impatient to ride in a blink. And there is a lot of gearing up to do, even for a four hour jaunt.
Some of it is the bike itself. Check the fluids. Check the tires (ooops, need air). Hook up the GPS and the radar detector. Side bags off (don't need them). Tail bag on to hold odds and ends.
Then there's me. First layer is poly-pro from REI, BioSkin back brace, and electric socks from Gerbings. Next a North Face fleece. Full Gerbings heated pants and jacket liner come next. Then Cycleport Ultra 2 Kevlar Jacket and Pants. Sidi boots. Gerbings gloves. Neck warmer. Suomy Extreme. It's nearly 20 lbs of gear all in and it takes a very long time to get properly sorted (it's all reviewed elsewhere on www.midliferider.com
). But I love every step and every piece. I don't know whether it reminds me of getting stuffed into my snow suit to go out and play as a kid or that it activates some archetypal link to the knights of yore, gearing up is always something special.
It's true what they say about riding a bike and it's true too about riding a motorcycle. Two months isn't a long time between rides if you don't ride, but if you're serious about motorcycles, which I am, it feels like a life sentence. But by the time I pulled into traffic, it was like I'd never been off the old beast. The sensations and sounds are so familiar, so reassuring.
I wasn't fully decided as I left the house where I was headed: Up towards Arlington to ride what I think of as the Skagit River loop, or over Stevens Pass to Leavenworth. When the road split, I made the choice and looped my way across Lake Washington towards Monroe with a vector over the pass. I figured it might be the last time I would be able to cross the Cascades this year, so why not?
I've done this ride many times. On this day, traffic was light, the roads clear and dry, and the bike and rider willing. A friendly driver coming the other way blinked me three turns before a two-car, two-gun radar trap. I waived as I motored past.
As I put more distance between me and the string of small towns east of Monroe, the road began to close up, offering a nice mix of gentle twists and turns, sub-alpine vistas, and river views. As we gained altitude, the onboard thermometer showed a brisk 48, then 44, then 42 degrees as I crested the pass. The leaves are off the trees and the Cascades have a pensive feel. Naked but unassailable. By the next weekend, the ground to the left and right of the road would be steeped in snow.
I descended the eastern slope towards Leavenworth, working hard to keep my speed down, conscious of the near certainty that there would be radar on the approach to town. About 15 miles out I stopped to gas and pee. I motored out with the notion that I would hook over to and over Blewett Pass and from there to return home via Snoqualmie Pass. The problem was the light was already starting to fade and I only had a dark tint shield on my helmet. For the first time that I can think of, I turned around and headed back exactly the way I came (never retreat, never surrender!). A good decision I think.
There was even less traffic going the other way. The truth is I've never ridden this road east to west. I pull out to pass, showing 90 mph, and then pulling it back just in time to come around a corner and pass yet another radar car. Good for me that he'd already snagged someone else.
While the road bends and dodges, all my attention is on the road and riding. It's a meditation. As we descend the western side of the Cascades I catch back up to traffic and soon the outlying towns start to close back in. My mind wanders. There seems to be time to think and muse. I mentally write this blog, trying out different phrases to capture what I see and feel.
The light is failing as I pull back into my garage. Weirdly, and I didn't know it at the time, it would be the last time I would ride my FJR. The next week, I would wander into Ride West BMW, kind of on a lark (not really, but it's another story), and buy a 2008 BMW K1200GT. It was to be Rocinante's last ride, the last ride of the Condor. But me, the rider, is back.