Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Jax to Orlando

The sun didn’t want the sky to be so gray, but it couldn’t quite pierce the clouds over jacksonville. Through the haze it was a dim bulb that did not shine so much as burn out over an epic traffic jam leading toward the shopping centers of Orange Park. Holiday shopping may be done out of love, but it is not a pretty sight. At a traffic light I notice a bumper sticker on a truck, depicting the American flag next to the phrase “these colors never run.” The sticker was deeply faded by exposure to the elements and the irony made me chuckle. Patriotically.

But there was a lesson: Some things should peel off before they fade. Which included me. I rocked exit from jacksonville and my family the next morning. By the time I hit the state road it was clear that the weather was too warm for the many layers under my leather. But finding some place to take off my thermals and pack them just seemed like a frustrating endeavor. So I rode toastily into the day.

There is a phenomenon I have noticed while driving and on the moto it is no exception. It is the feeling of encountering a town as something to be rolled through. A kind of orientation to the gas stations, roads and vehicles that you pass. I’m not really here, yall. I am just passing on and there isn’t much outside of a breakdown and a potty break that can make me take you seriously. You are not really a place to me. You are all places like you. Thanks for the gas, turkeys.

After a few missed turns and reroutes—who puts a dirt road on a map?— I rolled into the Ocala National Forest. I first caught a glimpse of it at the top of a bridge leading into it from the north, a wide expanse of evergreen-ish trees that part ways for a flat state road sparsely populated by cars that needed to be passed as quickly as possible. I crouched over the tank bag and pulled into the oncoming lane to pass a Volkswagen—V-dub, baby—and learned the limits of the aerodynamic shell that was my helmet. I really should have sprung for the raised windscreen. Now I would have to spring for a neck massage.

I stopped at a kind of light shopping center where I saw a few bikes parked. There was a convenience store, a coin laundry spot and a welcome center where a black haired lady told me to beware of bears and dirt roads. I got a slice of pizza from the convenience store and ate outside where the locals regarded me with question marks. This was a sleepy town without youth or diversity. Behind the strip I saw a legion of mobile homes and got a sense of the quietude and disconnection of this scene. I am looking for something similar, but it has to be in a spot where my persona doesn’t solicit double-takes. Back to the road.

The National Forest is a preserve without question, but it is also quite residential in places. Power lines and old school homes. Wooden fences, drive ways. Ranches with names that make little sense and horses going for a lunchtime jog. I gots to ride a horse some time. It’s like an all-terrain moto that would like a bite of your sandwich. Maybe it could also help me find out where I should have been going. Suspect cell coverage had me waiting on the roadside for the digital map on my phone to load and tell me which road I should have turned on, but it was all good because the roads that lost me were curvy. Still, I had to note that the more miles I picked up in a day, the worse my line science became. Thankfully, before long the woods opened into lush fields and a network of lakes that supported a yet another chill town, this time with roadside taverns whose signs invited bikers in for a drink. Seems like a bad idea, but I guess I appreciated the gesture.

At a stop I surveyed the gathering clouds above and my position on the map. It occurred to me that I didn’t necessarily have a place to stay in O-town. What I had was a key that possibly opened the door to a friend’s place. I had stayed at her place once, the night before I very nearly missed a flight to the SBK races. But I was pretty sure I lost her key and that the one in my pocket opened a shed somewhere. It was far from certain and everyone I knew in the city, including her, was out of town. So. I could easily hit home from where I was and this is what I decided to do until I got back on the road. Say yes to whack weather and 50/50 chances for free lodging, I thought. When I rolled up to the homie’s crib, a light mist had begun to fall from the sky. When the suspect key opened the apartment door, I sighed a sigh of triumph. I guess we aren’t punished for every choice we make, after all.

I entered the living room and caught a glimpse of myself in an oddly placed mirror on a far wall. I looked like I had just strolled in from a ride around the block. I realized that part of the reason I had decided not to hit home yet was because my journey hadn’t yet gotten difficult or particularly exciting. I was expecting hell for leather, a moderate test of my ability to doggedly stay in the saddle. But the riding was mostly ease. There would be no moto-resilience-in-the-face-of-twisted-tarmac narrative. Probably not a great deal of revelatory soul-searching, either. Just me on my bike, trying to find my way. It’s not even worth stretching that into metaphor.

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