2:05 AM. Exactly four minutes since I had last looked at the clock. People often see something in others that they perceive as a blessing. In actuality those who possess the so-called "blessings" often find them to be a curse. Everything has a price. What has been a long standing pleasure can suddenly turn into a source of pain. Resolve will be tested. A Warrior must either slay the dragon or become a casualty himself. This day would be one wherein all these things will be dealt with.
I have been summoned to the Mothership near Seattle. The man who signs the paychecks is the King of the Realm. When he calls his Knights to the Roundtable all must heed the command or risk being banished from the Kingdom. I am free to roam my assigned countryside representing the King's interest as I see fit. In exchange for such freedom is the agreement. When the decree is issued I must traverse the vast distance without faltering. All Knights are thus summoned. My journey is the longest of those traveling.
These days the Knight is fond of spending evenings amidst the warmth and comfort of the home fire in the company of his beautiful Lady. Thus I chose not to journey North the night before. An alarm was duly set for 2:45 AM with a departure time of 4 AM. It is difficult to contemplate retiring to bed immediately after the evening repast has been enjoyed. Heads hit pillows shortly before 10 PM. Katie falls asleep soon thereafter as is her custom. I, however, do not.
Katie tells me she is jealous of my quick mind and great memory. Most of the time it does prove to be a blessing. Until times such as this. Now I envy her ability to compartmentalize. Cares are shrugged off. It is time for sleep and so she does. The brain that performs so wonderfully during the day turns into a seething monster at undesirable times. When one should be sleeping, the brain conjures up worries and concerns. It floods the landscape with a myriad of other thoughts. A voice says that nothing can be resolved, accomplished, or concluded during these hours. The brain ignores this voice. Instead, the whirlpool of electrical activity intensifies. Eventually it will exhaust itself in its own time. That time usually doesn't coincide with my desired schedule. So the curse keeps me awake when I should be sleeping.
It is futile to stay in bed, so I get up. Soon, coffee in hand, I open the front blind and sit on the end of the couch. It is my cozy cave within the cave. Sitting in the darkness I look out the window and mentally prepare for the trip. Today the preparation has a different and unusual tone. Riding gear is all laid out. There is never any doubt that I will ride if at all possible. The bike and I charge out like a Warrior and his steed, blazing sword raised and ready. Today I feel like my sword is more of a kitchen butter knife.
Creeping clock hands move surely towards the time to leave. I start towards my riding gear then hesitate. My eyes sweep to the small box where the car keys live. Shaking myself, I pick up the riding pants. Once again, I hesitate. I move to pick up the gear and put it away. I am frozen in place. Indecision has robbed me of the ability to move. This feeling is decidedly foreign to me. I try to reason it out.
Sickness is certainly in the equation. It is amazing how a microscopic creature can fell an adult body and leave it weakened for days. Weak in both body and resolve. I've ridden while sick before, though. A lack of sleep also resides on the minus side of the scale. I try to tell myself that I am hesitating out of concern for safety. After all, it is cold and rainy. The distance is 575 miles with half of it coming after a long day of meetings. My arrival home will be 18 hours after my departure. Nobody could fault me for erring on the side of safety. Safety trumps all. Yet, that is not my reputation. Riding safely is important, of course. "Playing it safe" though, isn't always the first card I deal off the deck. It is just an excuse. No, there must be something more.
Eventually the problem comes down to two simple facts. The pull to drive is because I want nothing more than to be warm and dry. The pull to ride is nothing more than stubborn pride. A hardcore reputation is a badge of honor. It can also be like a harsh whip goading one reluctantly along. A pleasure and a pain. Stubborn pride wins out. However, the real test of resolve is yet to come.
We are on the road. The meeting starts at 9. We should arrive at 8:45. Four hours and forty five minutes of riding loom ahead of us. I find myself wishing I had taken the time to wire Elvira for electrics. Previously I haven't cared. This day I do.
I don't really want to know but I look it up anyway. Like something so horrible that you can't pull your eyes away. Before I leave I check the windchill factor on this website. According to the results, the windchill is 19.4 degrees (f) at 70 mph. Chances are good that we will be traveling a bit faster than that here and there but I don't want to know the rest.
Now the brain is playing an interesting game. It checks the elapsed time and distance. Calculations are made. At this point there is still time to go home and get the car without being late. We're not turning back. The calculations continue. My resolve wavers. I'm feeling the cold and it is getting wetter. By the time Mike sees us on the freeway in Portland, we've passed the point of no return. I'm now resigned to the ride but the biggest test of resolve is still to come.
This inner struggle to keep riding baffles me. If I have felt like this before it is long enough ago that I can't remember. It must be the sickness. By the time I roll into the rest area North of Vancouver, Washington I am literally shaking with the cold. Rain has been falling heavily and steadily for the last sixty miles. My Aerostich and boots are fending off the water so far. My helmet, however, has betrayed me. For some reason the heavy rain has found a way to seep inside the top of the faceshield. Cold drops fall across the bridge of my nose and onto the left side of my face. Raising Elvira's windshield helps keep the rain out, but then I can no longer see the road in the dark.
One blessing is that when we are at a low point our appreciation for the small things in life greatly increases. Things we take for granted and pay no attention to suddenly take on such significance. Such was my encounter with the God of Warmth.
Even early in the morning a rest area gets traffic. A few guys entered and left the restroom while I was there. If they thought it strange that a guy in riding gear was hugging a hands dryer to his chest, screw them. I didn't have the strength to worry about it.
Back onto the freeway in the darkness. Incredibly, the rain has worsened. Now I find I can't keep my visor clear without pain. With the shield down the rain covers the outside. Fog from my breathing clouds the inside. I'm amazed my breath is actually warm enough to fog the shield. Warmth has once again quickly drained from my body. Like the enthusiasm of the crowd when a performer is falling flat. I'm forced to open the face shield. This lets in the rain drops that sting my face. Once more I try to hunker down behind the windshield. In the dark and rain I can no longer see the roadway. I need to be able to watch for things like ruts full of water and broken truck tires. Better to feel the sting of the rain than to hit unseen stuff in my lane..
I pass the next 63 miles in a miserable state. I try to tune out the misery while staying tuned into the ride. For a brief moment I find myself hating this ride. What has happened to the Road Warrior who literally laughs and scoffs at terrible weather?
Exit 72. Rush Road just South of Chehalis. 153 miles into the ride. Elvira needs fuel. This is a convenient place to stop. There is a Shell station just past the Burger King. It is nearing 6:30 AM. This photo was taken on the way home. The lighting is the same but the rain had stopped by evening. Burger King offers a warm restroom and hot coffee. A bite of warm breakfast sounds appealing. Much more so than the bagel I had fixed the evening before and taken out of the refrigerator in the middle of the night. The bagel is probably frozen by now. Do you see the theme, here? Warm, warm, and warm.
In the parking lot I spy a familiar car. It is a company car issued to an associate. He lives closer than I. He's only an hour into his drive. He's in the restroom when I enter the restaurant. I order my coffee and breakfast sandwich then sink gratefully into one side of a booth, my wet gear draped on chairs around me. The woman at the counter is the Goddess of Human Kindness. She's told me not to worry about dripping on the floors. The restaurant is quiet.
Tom exits the restroom and spies me. He waves and goes to order his own coffee. Then he slides into the booth across from me.
"You look miserable", he states.
"I'm fine", I lie in a return statement. "It's been a great ride so far."
We look at each other in silence for a bit. Then we engage in conversation. Catching up on kids and life with a little gossip tossed in for spice. It's time to move on and we gather up our garbage.
"Hey," Tom says. "Why don't you leave your bike here? You can put your gear in my trunk. Ask the lady at the counter if they would mind your bike being in a corner of the lot for the day."
I stiffened and froze. There it was before me. The Offer. Like a woman who's knuckle-bitingly beautiful. She's just clearly told you that she is more than willing. The wonderful possibilities crash through your brain like fireworks. God, she is so damn tempting! You badly want her, except....
......you think of your loving wife of 32 years. That promise you made. That thing called commitment. Good times and bad times. Sickness and health. Protecting your reputation. How would you explain it to everyone who saw you stray? Giving in would mean a new reputation. One as a quitter, somebody who gave up when the going got tough. How would I explain to Elvira why she was abandoned in a strange parking lot all day with me being hours away?
The Offer was gracefully declined. Tom shrugged and gave me a "it's your funeral" look. Off he went as I slowly pulled wet gear back on and shuffled back to the bike. Resolve. Stay with what you know is right. It will all work out for the best.
Which is what happened. The rain stopped. A tiny bit of sunshine peeked through the clouds. The temperature went up a bit. As did my mood. By the time we got to Tacoma the freeway was clogged with morning rush hour commuters. Mercifully, the car pool lane was still moving swiftly and I could use it. I saw Tom stuck in traffic by Fife. I waved as I went by. I'm pretty sure his real reason for The Offer was so that he could use the car pool lane, too!
That's The King in the brown long sleeved shirt in the photo above. I really enjoy working for him, actually.
The day of meetings went well. I had a most excellent Chicken Club sandwich for lunch. I hit the road home in the worst of rush hour but I've never been one to be able to just sit and wait for it to clear. I need to keep moving. Or sitting in traffic pretending I'm making progress. The car pool lanes worked just as well in the evening as they did in the morning. Burger King got a second visit for a late bite and some more fuel for Elvira.
Nearing Oregon in the dark, the rain returned. More like scattered sprinkles this time. A signboard proclaiming a wreck on Interstate 5 made me decide to detour around via Interstate 205. Slightly longer but I was ok by now. The Dragon that had weighed me down so mightily in the middle of the night and early morning had been slain. The Knight was once more ready for battle.
All the traffic that detoured clogged up the alternate freeway as badly as I suspect the original one was. Nearing the point where we merged back onto Interstate 5, we were sitting a bit. I took advantage of the opportunity to pull out the G11 and snap a few shots.
I made one last stop at a rest area just North of Albany. I was only twenty minutes or so from home but planned to get fuel once more. I didn't want to be dancing around while trying to fill Elvira. Here's another photo of the bike.
We arrived home safely. Things have a way of working out despite the chance encounter with dragons and demons. I slept well.
Miles and smiles,