Night rider

I am southbound.

Sweetgrass. Great Falls. Helena. Through Montana I pass over the Continental Divide twice, north and then south of Butte.

Stops for gas are fast and furious, for when I am fresh is when I must make good time. I like knowing that on this run all the pumps I find will accept plastic. I save time by not having to walk into the building. Gas and go in five minutes, max.

Into Idaho. I have spent time in Idaho. Parts of it remind me of where I grew up, although there are no mountains back east. Idaho Falls, Pocatello, Twin Falls — all of them are a blur to me this time.

Experience tells me to take breaks when I need them at rest areas during daylight hours. I get two respites from the wind and the weather — the first when I gas, the second at the rest stop.

South on US93 now, to the border with Nevada. A few miles south there is a rest stop on the west side of the highway. It fronts on Salmon Creek, a tributary of the Snake River. Running water, green grass and trees and high rock walls on both banks make it a welcome break. I rest here for a short time, listening to the fast water. Then, realizing that I have somewhere to be, I mount up and get back out on the highway.

Years of long distance riding have taught me to eat light to avoid becoming drowsy and complacent. Drinking plenty of water is important to avoid dehydration — even more important in the desert that I know will be coming up soon enough.

On through Wells in Nevada. Burning daylight and miles, I make good time in the cool mountain air.

Not too long ago, while on a similar ride, I fell asleep in the saddle. When I woke up, I found myself on the wrong side of the yellow line. Two times. Experience is a good teacher. Living to tell about it is an added bonus.

My decker doesn’t skip a beat, although I am running fast to be clear of the mountains and the deer before late afternoon and early evening, when the deer like to come out onto the road. If I clip one, this trip will come to a sudden end. I have ridden for too many miles to be fooled into thinking that it can’t happen to me.

Once the night comes I will avoid rest areas entirely and leave the bike running by the side of the road. There is no need to waste time securing my ride when I’m only a foot away.

I pass Ely and head southwest, and the downhill run begins. I take the 318 cutoff to save time and many miles, although I still won’t get past the night without riding through it. Slowly the headlight cuts a swath through the early night. To me it always seems as though dusk is harder to light up than the blackness of dark.

Each gas station takes on an eerie pall bathed in the white or yellow light of the tall lamps — an oasis in the night. Sometimes there’s a cluster of them, sometimes not.

As it gets later there are more trucks than cars on the road. Sensible people have pulled off for the night. Only the insensible remain: long distance truckers, people on the move cross-country, locals coming back from the bars.

And me.

The city that never sleeps glimmers in the distance. The last time I rode through Vegas, it was hotter than blazes. Not this time though. I pass by in the dark, and am thankful for that.

There are twelve hundred miles behind me.

This night, my path is traced by a shadow chasing me in the midnight wind. It is only a few days shy of a full moon, and the dark desert night is muted by its silver light. As with thoughts of you, it too is my company on this night ride.

Three hours to go.

Soon I will see you one more time.

A lonely road

I am leaving you today.

Yesterday I told you that I would be gone early in the morning, but I cannot. How could I not see you one last time?

Your arms are outstretched for a hug, but I cannot, for it would be too hard. I wonder if you understand why.

I have knelt by your bed and held your hand and told you stories of time spent in the deserts of Africa. I was your age then, but unlike you, footloose and irresponsible. Some would say I have not changed.

I relived for you each night’s starry southern cross, the white sand of the ocean shore going on for miles and miles against the background of blue seascape, how the sharks were drawn to the sound of the helicopter’s beating blades.

I have read to you to while away the endless hours when you were awake.

I watched as you closed your eyes, and listened.

I watched as you closed your eyes, and slept.

I wonder if you will remember.

I know I will.

*  *   *   *

It is not a long ride home, as rides go, but it has been lonely. I am comforted by the knowledge that Teresa’s daughter, family and friends remain behind to help her through the nights and days to come.

Time

May 10 – May 17, 2000

Time is measured in seconds. Minutes. Hours. Days.

Time is the blink of an eye.

Time is what it takes for the pain to go away after an injection.

Time is what is spent zoning in and out of consciousness.

Time is the split second of faint recognition, and the weak smile that follows.

A hand held.

Throat soothed with water.

Parched lips balmed.

Hair combed and then brushed.

Teeth cleaned.

Time heals.

I watch her get better, minute by agonizing minute, hour by hour, day by endless day. It is not easy for me to see such pain. I think to myself that I would trade places if I could, but in my heart I know that is a lie, for I could never suffer such pain.

And through it all, she smiles. Not for long. Not easily. But she smiles.

My heart melts.

Time changes some things forever.

Riding partner

I met her in a motorcycle shop in the high desert, where she worked behind the parts counter. I noticed her because she wore overalls. Yes, I know. There’s nothing special about overalls. So sue me.

We got to talking while she was cleaning up the wall display at the back of the shop. I was bored, and since she could carry on a conversation, she was interesting. Once the ice was broken I discovered that she had a ready smile, and blue eyes that sparkled when she smiled.

She rode a brand-new pearl-white Sporty with a solo seat that had barely a thousand miles on it. I teased her about that, and learned that she had no one to ride with as often as she’d like. She was new to the area, and didn’t have many friends that rode.

No problem.

On the 4th we took a ride out the 10 to Beaumont, then north through Cherry Valley. She was amazed at the change as we rode up the mountain. It was so different from the desert where she had moved to only months before. There was plenty of green grass, pine trees, cedars — all under a clear blue mountain sky.

We stopped often, and at Big Bear we had lunch at a small family-run restaurant. I teased her into letting me take her picture with the lake surrounded by pine trees and the snow-capped mountain peaks in the background.

On the way back she couldn’t stop talking about how beautiful the ride had been, so of course I had to ask her if she’d like to go on another. The answer was yes. Monday at noon we would meet up and go.

On the weekend, I rode in to Marina del Rey. Late Sunday, on my return, I learned that Teresa had been hit by a car turning left in front of her while she rode to work that morning.