Monday, May 30, 2011

Let's get out of this place

I’ve been saying for weeks now, “I just want to get out of here.  I just want to get on the bike and go.”  So last weekend I finally made it happen.   Sporadic plans encouraged me to venture close to home rather than head out of town all weekend.  While I’d been yearning for different scenery, far from the obligations of house and home, I decided to travel to nearby cities and find new roads and routes on the way.

I left work early on Friday and rode out to Muskegon with Patrick.  We shared a gourmet lunch at Mia and Grace while there.  All their fare is made from scratch from local farm-fresh ingredients whenever possible. To drink, I had a lavender vanilla soda which was a perfect accompaniment to the pear tartlet appetizer.  My main course was entirely home made from the all-beef hotdog to the mustard, ketchup and bun served with a side of fennel coleslaw.  I finished with key lime pie – the tangy tartness was the perfect end-note for the meal. 

We jumped on the expressway back towards Grand Rapids.  Although not my preferred way to travel on a bike, after so many weeks of cool, wet weather, I found I needed the jostling about that me and the Bonnie get when traveling over 70 miles an hour.  So I took the route home at 80, barely aware of the landscape around me, riding just to feel my hands gripping the bars, the wind knocking me around and pulling at my clothes.  We rode that way until we came to the Coopersville exit, until familiar roads could guide us home.  The swish and sway of the highway, along with the noise of the wind, had lulled me into a calm so that the view from the road could penetrate me.  We slipped through a village at 25 mph where houses hugged the road and the post office, small as a single stall garage, had room for only 2 cars out front.  Underneath the canopy of tree-lined streets we rode.  We passed houses with hanging plants and bundles of lilies for sale.  Before long, the houses came farther and farther apart and were set back further from the road.  Out past hedges and picket fences we rode toward farm country where the roads curl around and through the fields.  The road-side trees fell away and arms of lush green fields opened up to greet me.  My breathe came deeper with these fields before me.  The spaciousness of it seemed to move into me -it’s as though the sky swooped down into me and filled me up.  My spine lifted up and I felt myself pulled up into the air as though being picked up from above.  The ride seemed to clean me out, wake me up and at the same time, relax me.  We rode like this for some time, eased by the scenes passing by us.  As we approached town, little business cropped up- a gas station, an ice cream shop, a tailor - and stop signs turned into stoplights.  The asphalt hugged the tires and I felt weightier, settled.  That night I slept heavy and hard and dreamless.

Saturday I awakened quickly and wrote for some time before the sound of an incoming text grabbed my attention.  It was an invitation to ride - and within half an hour, I was off on the bike again.  We ate a quick breakfast and then headed out on some of my favorite roads- West River Drive to Cannonsburg to Honeycreek.  We rode down into Ada past the covered bridge and softball field under the railroad tracks and around the lake.  We passed neighborhoods and baseball diamonds and rode along the river.  Sometimes there is no one ahead of me on this route and I can take it about 10 over the posted speed-limit swaying and swerving through corners.  This morning I was put in check by vehicles up ahead, including a truck pulling a trailer-full of lawn equipment.  There was no getting around this group.  We took Thornapple River Drive through one small stretch of curves at a pace much too slow for me.  But I was patient - I had ridden this patch before with no one ahead or behind and I will do so again on another day.  Finally, the cars turned off and after one last light, we were off quick as the flick of a wrist, the road speeding past.  I took my friend down along the river through a residential neighborhood.  He was cautious and I was less so.  The road was familiar and I navigated the curves with a press and a lean on the bars.  We hit 84th and my friend was done with me.   I too, needed to ride alone.  I felt the pull to follow my own route without concern for his preferences, his manner of riding.  He headed off toward town and I turned in the opposite direction, free to explore on my own. 

A few years back I led a ride south of 84th Street, armed with maps and a GPS but Saturday I let myself be guided by memory.  I wound my way down through Middleville and out past the last of the familiar roads.  At the next T in the road, I did what I love to do most when riding out by myself.  I looked left and then right and I turned toward what felt most “right” as though guided by an inner compass.   I repeated this pattern until I came to M-43 and followed these signs on a lark.  Before long, I realized I was headed toward Kalamazoo and I decided to continue on to Lifecycle.  The ride took me through curves and past lakes.  Fields of green swept out and away – so far away, the green looked misty in the distance.  It made me feel as though I was in a dream.  This, yet another aspect of the ride that I love: the way the landscape takes on a dream-like quality.  I become part of the dream and with that shift in perspective, problems loosen their grip on me and recede into the background.   If I let myself ride long enough, this feeling always returns.  It is in fact, the reason I ride.  To get to the place where problems in life know their place and everything else, the truer and richer part of life comes alive again.

I continue on, these roads unknown.  There is something special about riding when I don’t know what’s around the next bend.  Each sweeping curve is a surprise and so is what’s beyond it.  Finally I came to M-43 and M-89 where the Blackhawk Bar and Grill sits.  Last Fall I went there with a group of friends during a Sunday afternoon ride.  I drove on past, reassured to have found something familiar.  I continued on and before long, I reached Lifecycle.  I looked over their gear for women- they have the largest of any of the motorcycle shops I frequent.  What really grabbed my attention though, was the seat I’ve been coveting.   It has vintage appeal – a flat topped, embroidered 2-seater -but was updated for the 2010 model year.  It has been carved out for comfort with a narrower front and firmer base.  It’s a much better fit for my body and at half the retail price, was a fit for my wallet, too.  While there I asked if the seat bolts had been upgraded yet; a design flaw, the bolts can only be reached with a long armed allen wrench - but not too long, for the taillight would catch it.  Triumph has manufactured the extenders I’d been hoping for so I picked those up, too.  Despite the rain, as I pulled out of the parking lot to head home, I was cheerful.  My purchases were for long-awaited finds and I was thrilled to have both. 

I took the expressway north until familiar roads beckoned me off it.  I don’t remember much about that part of the journey.  After a long day of riding, I had melted into the bike and my mind had left me.  I wasn’t thinking anymore, just riding.  I do remember passing one area in particular as if in slow motion.  Trees along the roadside parted to reveal a pond surrounded by trees.  The sky was deep gray and the lake was a metallic black, its surface pierced exquisitely by droplets of rain so that for a moment it seemed as though the rain was coming up from the lake rather than falling from above.  It was one of those moments that seem free from time – so much so that it is isolated in my mind.

That view, like so many views from the seat of a bike, was just what I needed that day.  Sometimes those moments come 10 minutes into a ride, and other times it takes all day.  In that moment, underneath the grey sheeted sky, rain falling all around me, I realized there really is no best time to ride.  If I were only a fair weather rider, I would have missed that view, missed that reminder.

Sunday morning started with biker church.  I said hello to familiar faces and started conversations with new ones.  A couple from England, regulars there, invited me to their annual season opener (riding season, that is) with a cook-out at their home in Holland.  I spent several hours that morning riding around again, this time into Yankee Springs and west out M-89 into Plainwell.  I stopped for an afternoon visit with Amy then headed off on the bike again toward Holland for the cook-out.  I met lots of new people - several from the Triumph rat club - and munched on some chili before the clouds and my weariness got my attention and asked me to head home.   I let chores go undone and gave myself what I needed most: a another ride to lose myself in.

While I didn’t get an out-of –state adventure (what I thought I really needed when I kept repeating to myself, “I need to get out of here!”) I did have a fabulous weekend of riding. It took more than a few miles but finally I abandoned the notions of what I thought the ride should be and where it should go and let the ride and the route arise spontaneously.  I put over 500 miles on the bike and found a new seat, more favorite roads and more life lessons.  Last week on the bike reminded me that there is beauty in all the routes, while with another or alone, on familiar roads or foreign, in fair weather or foul.