"The Road, My Shadow, and I"

© 2001
J. Mitch Hopper

A biker's story. Why do we ride long miles? It may seem like a fool's game, but there is a reason. This story explains it all to those on four wheels. Here is just a taste!
My Shadow is a minimalist creature. It has no tachometer, no security system, no engine gauges, no radio, no trunk, no glove compartment, no seat-belts and no gas gauge. It has what is necessary for the task - a speedometer and re-settable odometer, handlebars and a huge V-twin engine. It longs for the open road and would be pleased to run as long as I am prepared to run with it. We are the best of friends. Rest stops are needed only for fuel and a stretch of human bones. Although the bike holds enough gas for more than a hundred miles, I never get caught with my tank down, so to speak. This forces frequent stops to rest and feed. These are the few times that I resurface from my deep mental isolation to stretch my legs and clean the bike as it grazes at the pump. A splash on the windshield to remove a gathering layer of insect oils, a settling of accounts with the digital gods of credit and I accelerate back to cruising speed again as quickly as I can.

It is very hard to explain what a long bike ride is really like to someone who has never experienced it. I hear joggers talk about being 'in the zone' or readers who 'fall into a book'. Each becomes disconnected with their surroundings on a conscious level. Subconsciously, each is still aware of the world and reacts to it in an appropriate manner, yet they are indeed, somewhere else mentally. My bike and I enter a similar realm. I pay attention to traffic, signal lane changes, and seldom take a wrong turn, yet there is a surreal quality to it. I leave this world and think my way into a parallel universe of my own making. Time speeds up in a slowed down sort of way. Inside my head, all the normal thoughts and processes are re-mapped into a world of Salvador Dali. I left my home less than two hours ago, yet the temporal displacement of the open road has already begun to have its effect. My last work shift seems like a week ago and I swear I've been on the road since the day before. I am suddenly aware of the weight pulling at my wrist and I slip my watch off and shove it into my coat pocket. It offends me and I can't get it out of my sight fast enough. What does it matter anyway? Is knowing the time important? Will I somehow manage a better gas mileage if I can clock the seconds off my day with quartz crystal digital accuracy? I spend what feels like ten minutes pondering what my life would be like if I were allergic to time-pieces. The sun, or lack of it, should be enough reference to exist in this life I would think.

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