On-the-Road Therapy

Okay, Spike, it's your turn now. Just look how you sparkle in the sunshine. You're so pretty. You looked like brand new to me when we first met. Somebody took real good care of you; 1986 was your birthday. I didn't get to see you until you were 20 years old. You had 8,400 miles on you that first day we met. You didn't want to start right off because you had spent too much time waiting for someone to notice you weren't running. I have certainly tried to do my part to make up for your neglect. You have 18,974 miles on you now.

You are what they call a "tariff beater." Honda made a 750, and then for a few years, 1984-1987, made a 700cc to get out of paying some duty fees. I call you Spike, but technically you are a VT700C.

But let's don't get technical. I don't talk about riding very much. Mostly because if you don't ride, you don't get it. If you do ride, well, you're riding, not talking.

Someone told me once that riding was his therapy. I didn't have a clue what he meant until I got comfortable on the road.

I remember the first time I got up to 75 mph. Spike and I hadn't been together very long. Maurice didn't like to go over 50 mph. He started lunging and gasping. When I got Spike out on Interstate 75 for the first time and looked down at my speedometer, I was shocked, scared, and delighted that I was going much, much faster than I thought.

It was a little windy that day, so I immediately pulled off at the Loudon exit, right past the river, and headed downstream. After a few miles, the road made a sharp curve to the left, so naturally I went straight ahead, up over a steep hill via a KYA curve on a narrow lane, and ended up, I swear to God, on a cowpath.

I started getting anxious about going back the same way, but I knew I had to. There was no other way out. So I muscled Spike through a 14-point turn, and rode back to the split. Yay! I made it. On the way I talked myself into going on to the right, eventually finding Highway 70 for the way home.

If I had met a car going too fast on that steep hill, or a big wide truck, yeah, I would have been in trouble. There was no guard rail, and not much of a shoulder, but I didn't know that until I got there, and then it was too late. You can't back down a hill on a motorcycle when you're freaked out about going up it.

But traffic on dead-end roads is almost always people who live there, and they know that almost all the other cars are people they know or people that know people they know, so they generally take it easy in the rough spots.

I moved to a new place a few months ago, so I have had to learn the roads and traffic patterns close by. I live on a hill, and have to go to the top of another hill to get out, then down a big hill one way or up and down a big hill the other way to get to the main road. So I have to be on my game as soon as I leave my garage.

I have to consciously tap into a level of hyper-alertness that I don't normally access. There's a lot of traffic usually for the first five to 10 miles of whichever direction I'm going. So there's physical and mental stress of a kind associated strictly with riding. I'm not saying it's bad stress, just different stress. The kind that forces you to pay attention, 'cause your life's in danger if you don't.

On the main road, traffic is pretty stable. Spike and I are just another vehicle, respecting the other driver's spaces, negotiating a path. Usually we just pick a direction and see how many back roads it takes to get there.

Sometimes, though, I'll get a whole day to do nothing. I almost never sleep past seven o'clock, so if I think it's going to be nice, I'll double-check the weather, cancel laundry, cleaning, or whatever it is I do besides ride, and hit the road. I like to go down Pellissippi Parkway from Kingston Pike to Maryville sometimes just so I can legally fly.

At first, there's no room in my brain for anything but body mechanics and traffic watching. After a few seconds, I settle into the traffic flow and start to relax and enjoy the wind. If it's hot, I lift my arms a little bit and get a rush of cool air down my back. If it's cold, I tuck my chin into my neck warmer.

And then I'm free. I can't hear my cell phone, nobody knows where I am, I don't care what time it is. The beautiful Smoky Mountains are laid out in front of me. I've got a full tank of gas, five dollars in my pocket to fill up on the way home, half a bag of almonds and a bottle of water in my saddle bag. If it's really, really hot, sometimes I'll wear my swimsuit under my jeans and lie down between the moss covered rocks in the mountain's gift of clear, cold water.

No paid-for therapy in the world even comes close.