Good Roads, Bad Days


Jeff Hughes

Once again, just like they have the last couple of years, the weather gods have served up a late summer respite from the usual dog day doldrums: low humidity, crystal clear air, and an azure blue sky. A Sunday filed with promise. You can’t not ride on a day like this.

So I’m out mid-morning, intending to enjoy every minute of it I can. I usually get out on both Saturday and Sunday, most weekends, but I spent most of yesterday doing household chores and didn't get a chance to get out. All the more reason to treasure the few hours I’ve got today.

The K1200RS is running really well and I take a meandering route out towards the western roads that I love so much. I pass a sheriff's cruiser when heading out of Salem, him coming into town as I’m heading out, and so I’m kind of chilling. Can't afford another ticket like last year's, you know?

Out on Hill Crest, and I'm thinking about that sheriff's deputy and that the day is so nice and that there will be lots of squids out. If I were a trooper with a quota to meet, it wouldn't be a bad day to bag a few. So I keep on chilling.

Sure enough, heading down the hill down towards the little one-lane bridge about a mile shy of Stone Hill I see a car stopped and a guy lighting a flare. Before I even get around the corner I know what I'll find.

One of the guys working the crash scene says I need to turn around. I ignore him and pick my way slowly through the short line of stopped cars, the half dozen bikes, and the two police cruisers. It's a slow-speed corner and I know it's not too serious. Serious enough to catch the attention of the local constabulary, though. Just like the scene I came upon in Stone Hill last weekend, where the motorcycle, lying on its side, was mostly up under the pickup truck. Cripes, how the hell do you do that? The road is straight and the speed limit is 25, for chrissakes.

So as I motor away I just shake my head in wonder at the countless ways we manage to bring all this attention upon ourselves.

I’m thinking the same thing ten minutes later as I’m rolling down Stackhall road. I'm guessing maybe the word has been passed along the radio and the heat will be on today. So I keep chilling.

Out past Jefferson to the 4-lane. At the stop sign there are two sportbike guys, full race gear, stopped on the shoulder and looking down at their bikes. I pause for half a second, debating whether to stop and see if they need a hand. But I'm not in the best of moods, what with all that chilling and all, and quickly decide to hell with them. Four minutes later they confirm my suspicions, blasting past my being-careful-to-keep-it-to-62-ass at about 100mph. Assholes.

Two minutes later I'm playing my day out in my head. I usually eat a few hours later into my ride, on the way back. But I haven't had any breakfast and so decide to stop now. As I pull into the little carry-out burger joint there are the two sportbike champs. Small world sometimes.

The pretty girl takes my order and I hang outside the door for ten minutes waiting for my sandwich. When it comes I wander over to the picnic tables there at the end, under the trees. As I walk past their bikes I glance down at the clues written in their tires. Just old habit, you know?

After eating I climb back aboard the KRS and continue on west to the Gap. I point to the two sportbike riders as I pull out. They wave back.

Before it got screwed up by guys who thought they were a lot better than they really were, the Gap at Beahm was hands-down the best motorcycle road within a hundred miles. Living as close to it as I do made all those 4-hour-a-day commutes worthwhile.

Like most good roads you could find a rhythm on that mountain, like it was a living thing. Not anymore. Now, with the 45mph speed limit and the draconian enforcement, you just kind of glide along, remembering how it used to be. Your suspension only just begins to firm up at those speeds. Not enough to get you into that special place.

I'm thinking of that as the one lane heading up breaks into two. That's the place where my heart used to lift a few beats, a promise in the making. Now it's just a weird kind of marker, my reminder that they're after my ass and there’s zero tolerance here now. So I glance down and make sure that the needle on my speedo doesn't slide more than a whisker past the 50 mark.

There's that first good right-hander, the place where, back in the day, you'd tip it in under throttle at 75 and feel for the rhythm, what the road would give you that day. It was, maybe, the first point of surprise for the squids who would sometimes hook onto your tail and who kept waiting for you to brake and got caught out when you didn't.

Then the long sweeping left-hander, coming around past the pull-off on the left and the prelude done and the serious stuff beginning. Click down into third - and that's the only thing I do today that is the same as it was back then. Just another old habit, I suppose.

Like awhile back, at the first crash scene an hour ago, there's a car stopped in the right lane. And just like then, wired into the ether somehow, I know what I'll find. Just like I knew that that one wasn't bad, I know that this one is.

Slowly around the corner, my eyes sweep past the half-dozen parked bikes. Two guys on the other side of the Armco are bent over the prostate rider, one with the forlorn stiff-armed please-don't-let-it-end-like-this posture of CPR, the other doing mouth-to-mouth. My eyes rest for only a moment on the silent scene, then I motor slowly up and around the corner. I know it's futile. They don't, yet.

I guess they must have a special code for the really serious calls. As I descend the mountain on its western flank there must be twenty different emergency vehicles, of every description you can think of, heading up.

Calculating, I figure it'll take them an hour, maybe an hour and a half, to clear the road. So I take my time heading up Indian Valley. And on the Barbieville-Georgetown loop I stop for a good long while at the little country store and sit out on the bench eating an ice cream cone and drinking a bottle of cold water. I always like sitting out on that bench. It kind of reminds me of how things were when I was a kid. Back when things were simpler. I glance over at the KRS and think what a great bike it is and how nice it looks - even after all these miles - and all the special places it's taken me to over the years and how lucky I am to have it.

And then I mount up and head on back. It's been just over two hours and I was right. Nothing but a few marks in the road.

Just like always.

© 2006 Jeff Hughes