I kiss the baby and set off in the cold new york air. The weather has already put me off the road for an hour and now I am determined to hit the highway though the temp is lower than I find tolerable. Beneath my suit, a heat pack is gathering warmth. I wonder if it will be enough to see me through this. Once I pass Staten Island the patchy road quality becomes a bit smooth and I can ride the Atlas with more ease. There is a bit of traffic on the Jersey Turnpike, but I cut through it. I can't believe I am doing this. I have wanted to rock a serious trip for a long time now and finally it is happening. I don't know exactly what the road holds for me, but I will meet it at proper supra-highway speeds.
For the most part, human beings should fear winter. Human beings from the south, like myself, have learned to despise it. But the trees. In preparation for the coming freeze, they shed their leaves. And in preparation for that, they turn. Brilliant colors. Orange, yellow, bright red. I have spent a life in a land of evergreens. The visions on the roadside to me are not basic periphery. They are an enchanted world. Too bad I have to keep my eyes on the road.
I rock a bridge or two and before I know it, I am in Delaware. On just the inside of the state line I am cut off by a crapload of cars. I always try to ride as though I am invisible, so that I don't force motorists to make moves they wouldn't normally make. But in moderately jammed traffic, I can't rock those moves. Which is a shame, because driver education in Delaware apparently emphasizes running bikes off the road. Once I break free and get some clear road, I glimpse the neighborhoods and homes that lie beyond the interstate. They all look alike, like little boxes made of ticky tacky. Delaware: the cookie cutter state.
Before i know it I am in Virginia. The tip off is a massive sign decked out in Confederate battle flag colors that reads: "Welcome to Dixieland: The South Starts Here." Sometimes I wish that the old Confederacy would take the same attitude toward the antebellum period that the old Union has adopted: completely forgetting about it. I guess the losers never forget.
After the first in a series of wack road snacks I come to the tunnel that connects Virginia to itself across Chesapeake Bay. Well, on the maps it is listed as a tunnel. Really it is a long ass bridge that descends into a tunnel twice. Hardly epic. On the other side of the bridge, life goes dark and I realize how behind schedule I am. By the time I roll up on the homies in Richmond I am shivering and can't feel my fingers. They set me up in a dungeon of sorts under their home and it is there that I watch a video of a dance that the man of the house choreographed. Even from the grainy video, I am haunted by the moves of its star dancer and unsettled in my core as I lay down to sleep next to jars of picked vegetables.
On the morning they feed me an impossibly delicious waffle and see me off on the next leg. The weather is a few degrees warmer than when I rocked exit from new york and I am thankful. There is soreness in my neck and shoulders, but it isn't so bad. On the stretch to north carolina, I spot several dead deer on the side of the road and it freaks me out. Cars hit these animals and killed them. If I hit one of these beasts, it will be my last taste of venison. I ride quickly but with caution and before long I hit the next state. It is there that I am treated to the worst burrito I have ever eaten. I suppose that is what I get for turning my nose up at fast food and pursuing local fair. Always choose the devil or Big Mac you know.
The entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway is pretty nondescript and I miss it on the first run. The parkway itself is narrow, the speed limit is slow and its scenery is absolute beauty. I stop often to gaze over the valley, as doing so while on the road could run me off the edge. There are vertical drop-offs without guard rails on the outside of most turns. It is enough for me to roll off the throttle in fear as I hit left turns. There's no such thing as a dangerous road; there are only roads that are ridden dangerously. Which I will do so long as I can live to tell about it.
I catch up to a GS and ride with him for a while. At a lookout spot we stop and talk. He has been riding since Boston and has been on the Parkway for almost 300 miles. He's tired and has lost the edge that motorcyclists need to attack the streets fully. He is ready for sleep. I am a bit dull around the sides as well, but I rock one more push when the ridge of the mountain descends into a valley and the road widens a bit. I adjust my riding position to accommodate my tank bag and give an S2000 a run for its money. At the exit to Asheville the driver waves at me; a rare moment when a rider and a car driver move in harmony and mutually recognize the skills.
Asheville is a college town of some sort. I roll up at a hostel and arrange a bunk, then go out to look for a parking space and some food. I find neither and in a vaguely existential moment I am overcome by the activity of the city. People are decked out in costumes, headed to parties, clubs and restaurants. The energy of the city too much for me. I cancel the hostel and leave the city in search for more solitude.
I arrive in an area called Maggie Valley. There are scores of hotels and motels here but I can't figure what would attract so many people to visit this place. I roll up to a motel and check in. I learn that my only possible dinner is from a pizza chain and quietly curse the gods as I order on the phone. The pizza delivery lady is nice in that southern way that I have missed. I am away from the revelry of halloween, but I still feel it. A world outside and far away has erupted in merriment and I cannot slough off that skin. In the motel in the valley it becomes clear to me just how lonely I am out here. My only comfort is sleep.
I awake in the valley and encounter a sick cold when I open the door. What the blood, how am i going to ride through this? This shit is frigid. By the tame i make it a couple miles down the road to a diner, I have lost all feeling in my fingers and my teeth are chattering. I eat my bacon slowly, in fear for my return to the streets. When it is time, I strap my last heat pack to my chest and march out to my bike. Fully warmed up, the engine temp is less than 160 degrees. Lord Jesus. I descend further into the valley where it only gets more chilly. Here, the leaves have already fallen from the trees; there are only skeletons. Winter has come early here. I figure that the best policy is to get through this as quickly as I can, so I pick up speed as I head south.
Before long I come upon a valley road that curves around a mountain in the most magnificent set of sweepers I have ever seen. The road is fairly barren so I blitz that shit, a clattering smile beneath my helmet. Maybe this has made the cold worth it. The road leads to a parkway of sorts, that cuts through several towns in the valley. In every town I pass there are an untold number of antique stores. Like yo, that is what this little pocket of North Carolina is known for. Wicker furniture and old timey bottle caps. And there is a Piggly Wiggly down here. Madness.
I spill onto some interstate headed to Georgia where every car is in a magnum hurry. Sounds good to me. In a flash I find myself just outside of Atlanta. At a gas station the car in front of me sports a bumper sticker that reads: secure our southern border: no amnesty. It occurs to me that the resistance to illegal immigration carries a strange irony. The story of the illegal immigrant is the story of a person eager to escape poverty and persecution, who braves harsh terrain to set foot on a land in which there will be greater opportunity. I know enough about history to know that you can't find a more American story than that. Yet many self proclaimed lovers of this country feel that this isn't a narrative worth pursuing. I have no beef with the immigration party of course. I may not love America, but I am totally gay for it.
I get lunch at a BBQ spot, and lane split my way through traffic. In a blink I roll up in Tallahassee to the home of none other than the Green Ninja. We get chicken and speak on the passage of the soul with an Oracle. In the morning, I roll up to the Ninja's class and put down some talk on Hegel. This is the nature of the dialectic, I say. Each shape of consciousness gives way to another when it fails to fulfill the terms that it sets for itself. Which is why your girlfriend will soon be your ex-girlfriend, I tell them.
After class we hit some corners. I realize that the miles of travel have revealed to me a new riding position and I try to figure that significance. I file it away for more research and we cruise through the campus of our alma mater on the way to get some catfish and pork chops. Those snacks send us straight to napville and when I awake I rock the last exit to my final destination.
I avoid the interstate and stick to a state road. It turns out to be a good move, as the road is completely empty. I look ahead and behind, take a deep breath, tuck down and pick up some serious speed. 6th gear to the shift light. The fastest I have ever traveled on the Atlas. The wind rushes around me like I am skydiving. So serious.
At the last town for twenty miles I check my gas and figure I can wait til the next town to fuel up. At the next town, I find that the only gas station is itself out of fuel. At the town after that, I find that the gas station has been closed down for many years. I start to worry as my E light comes on. These towns are nowhere. It is so strange to think that so many places are nowhere. Old abandoned motels. Rusty tractors. Pickup trucks that haven't hauled anything for many years. Some places are so nowhere that living there denies one a sense of the scope of the world. Sometimes those places are little towns off of state roads. Sometimes those places are inner states, perspectives that never find correction no matter how many miles have been traveled.
I roll up to the next town on fumes, with just ounces of fuel to spare. I think of how close I am as I gas up. Out on the streets, the sky changes its shape. There are clouds in the distance. I hope they will hold back long enough for to get to Tampa, but there is no such luck. Just as night falls, I run into a wall of rain. A damned squall. I remember that, once again, I have forgotten to zip my suit properly. It is only a matter of time before water floods my crotch. Damn it all.
I come out on the other side of the rainfall the worse for wear. I am cold as all hell and my visor is foggy. I hit an expressway after a toll and somehow I feel more alone than I have ever felt, maybe in my whole life. I don't understand it, it is as if I am in a cocoon shut out from all light and all care. Like there is nothing outside of this helmet.
The traffic slows me down as I enter the proper outskirts of the city. I don't feel ready to hit the scene fully, so I rock entrance to the hiding place. There I warm up and rest that rest that can only come after a long trip. I have done it. The Pharmacon Atlas has lived up to its name and the object has now conformed to my concept. It is something to feel good about and a good reason to sleep.
On the morning I roll up to the Tea Lounge and learn that a great friend has gone into labor. I had hoped to see this, but the timing could not be more perfect. By nightfall, I peep the scene on a newborn. It sleeps peacefully on its first day of life. I go out to my bike and lock the handlebars in place. As I lay down to sleep, I wonder if all birth is also rebirth.