Steve Earle, “The Devil’s Right Hand.” Copperhead Road, Uni Records/ Mca, 1988
I can see a few other racers in my rear view mirror catching up to me. I do my best to make out who they are and try to make a game of it to entertain myself. These small games are important on this trip as they will assist my mind in staying as sane as possible for the duration of this journey. One is moving faster than the others a mile or two behind me, from my shaking and vibrating mirror a lot of detail is lost. I lean my machine over into the right hand lane so they have room to pass. I see them now, it’s Mrs. Miyagi, a mid built woman in her late 40s maybe, with the kindest heart and warmest smile you could ever know. She reminds me of a preschool teacher I had once upon a time, flying by me at what must be 100 miles per hour on her righteous built yamaha in complete comfort. She is very concentrated but looks over at me and waves as she humbly passes like a demon on fire with her rain suit flapping in the wind and full face helmet disguising her true soft nature. She is twisting that fucking throttle and really getting some as she passes my slow ass.
At the start line of the race,her her and husband Mr. Miyagi had some trouble with their skoots as a few other competitors did while the rest of us left the parking lot. I have no idea what was wrong with her skoot or his but, I don’t care. They obviously reinstated their badassery to all us other competitors as they fixed it and she, is now flying by most of us. He must be moving slower or still at the starting line, again I just don’t really care. She has left her old man in the dust apparently or maybe it’s the other way around? I was off the highway for a few minutes so I just don’t know but I am sure, she is leading him on this one. What a couple, competing against each other appropriately, good for them and I take note appropriately. They are grown ass adults with a lot of time in the saddle, seasoned veterans to this race, they just flat out rock as a power couple. And no, Miyagi is not their real names, just a good nickname he acquired some years back. His true name is Steph Brooks I think, but nobody knows him by that name as some years back I personally coined the phrase in a discussion amongst fellow Stampeders of “Who the hell is Steph Brooks?!?” Someone had some good stickers made, ya can find them on some of our machines.
This is a wonderful road, one of the smoothest in the country I am sure. I mean I have flown over a lot of road in this country, a lot of it on this skoot and wow, what a great two laner beneath me now. Maybe it has just been re-paved or maybe, the rhythm of my skoot is keeping with the rhythm of the bumps and imperfections of this road in perfect harmony, sometimes I get lucky and it’s just happens that way, other times not so much. I just have to stop and do nothing but enjoy this moment and all the universe has blessed me with on this perfect road, if even just for a minute as we all know, this does not and will not last for long. The weather is warming nicely and I just can’t complain about anything. There is a big rig in front of me a quarter mile or so and I am gaining on it fast. I go to lean left to will my machine into the passing lane, enjoying this wonderfully smooth road then, BOOM!!!!
I watch in slow motion as one of the trailer’s rear left tires blows and explodes right in front of me with the thundering sound of a Cannon shooting straight and true. I see pounds of steel belted rubber flying into the air all in long strip of what used to be the tread of the tire, it looks like a family of alligators being blown out of their nest and it is all, 100 feet in front of me and yeah, I’m heading straight for it. In a desperate act of instinct, I throw my right foot up and cover the rear brake pedal, like it is going out of style. I start playing out in my head where all this gator looking shrapnel will be flying and landing. I keep my left course hoping I can avoid it all as the left side shoulder of the left lane looks to be still clear. Now I get to start fighting my urge to see the effect of the tread hitting the ground and start doing my best to look towards the safety, not the danger. From my years of experience and a little forced self training I know that if, I simply just look at the safest route and avoid my human instinct to rubber neck at the coolness of destruction, my skoot and my body will follow my eyes. However if I look at the danger, I will run right into it and it will run right into me, dead reckoning is what they call that, and damn what a fierce bitch it is. I feel my body tense and my breath stop as I start my path in hopes of getting out of this maze of gators without too much damage.
I see past the first piece that seems to of come to rest on my right side, then a second smaller piece I run right over on purpose. It slaps my frame, maybe my exhaust and engine and then slaps my left foot and sends a shock of small tingling pain up my leg as I hear and feel that WHACK! I actually purposely hit this piece because now, now I am in a full tire brake aiming my bike towards the truck itself to avoid, THE BIG ONE. The big fat momma of them all that decided to head to the outside of the left lane where I had been preying on for my sanctuary. Like a martyr of disappointment and destruction, it dances straight up in the air as to mock me and my efforts to avoid it.
My clutch is held taught in my left hand, I ease off the rear break and look a few feet left of the trailer, I am heading straight for its left side and that, would be bad. Another piece I could not see almost floating in the air hits something on my front, maybe my headlight and I feel it’s bang in my handlebars that I am now death gripping hoping that, THE BIG ONE does not fall my way as it is still dancing in the air, or so my peripheral vision tells me so. I pass it and feel it on my left side but it does not touch me or my machine. I lean more to the left now as I look more to the clear road to simple avoid the side of that big ass trailer. I release my clutch only to realize yeah, still in high gear and have slowed a lot, even slower than the big rig is moving so my bike kicks back and groans as to say to me “Hey asshole, fuck you I don’t have this much compression to accelerate in this gear you idiot!” Pull in the clutch, let off the throttle, downshift twice with a click-click, let the clutch out easy and I start to breath again and move forward. I look in my rear view mirror to see gators all over the highway. THE BIG ONE has fallen to rest and, the riders that were half a mile behind me start swerving and ducking around the debris in a ballet of ‘oh shit let’s not die today’ maneuvers. I can’t imagine what my own little ‘oh shit let’s not die today’ maneuver must have looked like to them. Pulling alongside the rig, up-shifting as needed, breathing now, I motion to get the driver’s attention. He rolls down his window and I yell to him “HEY, you lost a rear tire!”
“WHAT?!?” the driver yells back.
I set the throttle lock with my right hand then motion a spinning circle then an explosion with both my hands then, point to the back of his rig with my thumb. He waves and mouths ‘thank you” to me as he slows down to stop on the side of the highway. Upshifting now into top gear, I breathe a little easier and get back to moving forward.
“WOW,” I yell to myself in my helmet, he did not even feel the explosion or hear it. He must of thought it was just a bump in the road but to me it was one of the most violent and scary three seconds of my life. Note; If you have never talked or yelled inside a helmet, try it sometime. You will hear yourself louder and clearer than ever before but, with a strange cloudy overtone. It’s enough to let yourself scare, well, yourself. I have to wonder if everyone else hears themselves as loud as i do inside that face shield of mine? I mean it’s only a face shield, not a full helmet and damn my voice seems loud at any volume. Arlo Guthrie was correct in his singing, “I don’t want a pickle, I just want to ride on my motorsickle. And I don’t want to die, I just want to ride on my motorcy-cle”.
Arlo Guthrie, “The Motorcycle Song.” Alice’s Restaurant, Reprise Records, 1967
I light a smoke and check my pants or in this case, my old overalls to make sure I did not piss myself. Nope, I’m good I think. And no my overalls are not attractive but they keep pressure off my bladder for the long 3 or 4 hours I have in seat time between my fuel and coffee stops, I had my Aunt Martha who lives next door sew some cool pleather shin guards on them to deflect weather and debris, and motor oil of course. Yup, I look ridiculous and fatter than I really am but, they work well for this venture and I don’t really care how I look, this is a race, not a fashion show. luckily I did not lose any bodily functions but I should have. I relax and let my thought drift to other problems, situations and people on my mind as I sip my coffee and enjoy my smoke at a comfy 80 miles per hour, i think. I am sure whatever the speed limit is in this area or any area I am simply hovering a mile or 2 an hour below it. It’s posted and the law so I will go just under ‘that fast’.
Its funny how naturally we work so hard to control our destinies and when faced with real danger, all we can do is our very best and hope it is good enough. Of course we really truly have no control over anything but it makes me feel good to get through this incident as I have gotten through so many before relying heavy on our natural instinct or maybe even a 6th sense of sorts. I am bias towards this theory of a 6th sense as a family trait as I have seen it in action many times but especially in my Pops. It may sound like a lot of hocus pocus magic, and with no real science to back it up i guess it is but, its always when for example, that old pan turned knuckle harley engine almost falls on his head and he moves just right to avoid it and it slams on the top of his tool box. Or when we were driving down the calm Residencial road and a car comes at us out of control and he commands his station wagon like a race car driver, missing it by inches. My favorite one of these incredible phenomenons was when he was delivering an old Harley to me. He pulled up in his ford, or leather appointed lincoln truck with larger car trailer that he used for hauling all sorts of machinery for his business and there on the back, sat alone, was a 1984 FLH that was all pretty fully dressed and complete. We unstrapped it and in his lazy sense of getting things done in the most efficient manner, he grabbed a crow bar and started pryen the front wheel out of the wheel chalk he had installed on his big arse trailer just for this bike. A quick note, at this time my Pops and I were not racing like we do now and, refused to trailer anything anywhere. Not a big deal but we ride everywhere and we’re very novice to trailering skoots. I was holding the bike up and he perched, or sat up on the tool box on the front of the trailer, he inserted the crow bar and pulled, then the bar slipped, then with the grace of a dancer he slowly fell backwards turning his body slightly and hit the ground with a thud, barely missing his head on the tow hitch of the trailer.
“Ou!” is all I heard, long deep and drawn out as I threw down the kickstand on the bike and ran to see him wedged between the ass of his truck and frame of the trailer. Slowly and surely he worked his way out of space and stood up, not a damn thing wrong with him. From my vantage point I thought for sure he had slammed his body on every frame member and hit is head on the bumbler or something. Nope, he missed it all and was not even sore from landing on his back. My Pops was 64 at the time, 5’10, a little built but carries that belly weight that screams to society “Yes, I have done VERY well for myself in this life and I LOVE DONUTS.” How he survived and came out of that fall without a scratch is just beyond me, i mean totally, beyond my comprehension. I have noticed the same instincts in my Younger Brother as well as myself. Dangerous things try to hit us or stop us and we somehow can move and avoid them just right, at just the right moment. It’s a good skill to have in a bar fight or operating a skoot down the open road. I may be wrong but for now, it is simply referred to as, my families 6th sense, the Marshall 6th sense.
This land is climbing now, the road gets a little winding as large plateau formations start rising up from the land reminding me I am still in the desert. Even though I have not been here in a few years the land around me starts to change into a place far away from my known home, I remind myself that this is all America, a part of the world where I am a citizen and pay my taxes. It may seem unfamiliar to me but many people have been here before. Men and women from a time long ago when exploring was a dangerous game and maybe they survived and maybe, they did not. They would leave their homes, mothers, wives and children to go out and explore the great west of this land.
Today few parts of this Country or even this world has not been explored by mankind. It is all mapped and giving lines and roads, numbers and names. It may still be to me, a wildland but I am sure these days there are many who simply call it their back yard, with a highway running through it.
Oscar Isaac, Marcus Mumford, The Punch Brothers, “Dinks Song, Fare Thee Well.” Another Day, Another Time: Celebrating the Music of Inside Llewyn Davis. Warner Music Group, 2013.
Yeah this classic folk song has been around a while, first recorded in 1909 by John Lomax. This version is my favorite, with Chris Thile on mandolin, damn that guy defines playing the mandolin beyond known human comprehension, and I dig every note of it! Did I mention I majored in music in college and the mandolin IS my favorite instrument to play? Yes I identify as a mandolin player, not the best but damn I have a lot of fun making that cool instrument sing in my hands.