Because motorcycling makes me feel like a kid again. It’s a predictable answer to an inevitable type of question, a type that riders rarely ask: They know that the experience, as skittish as a wild creature, eludes definition and that words often fail. To ride might be the only road to an answer: If the experience doesn’t take, an answer won’t be given. If it does take, a new rider will be born to pursue a passion that enlivens living–one possessed striving to possess the possessor.
It had been over five years since Surtch Pherther was–himself–born again, baptized by throttle into the Vespa sect of that divinely inspired Two Wheelers tradition, and much remained to be revealed to him—technically, socially, geographically, soulfully. Indeed, because motorcycling makes me feel like a kid again would have to do—for now…
“We’re going crawdaddin’,” hollered Surtch’s brother. “Who wants in?” The lunch-lazy camp stirred then squirmed then surged to life with kids of all ages wriggling into swimsuits and slipping into flip-flops, grabbing buckets and nets, and shouting “Shotgun!” and crying foul as they dashed toward the cars.
“I’ll meet ya there,” yelled Surtch, and he geared up, saddle up, and throttled off.
He hugged the few curves on the paved road from camp (they squeezed him back, right in the adrenaline) and then caved to the lure of an unlocked DOT gravel pit, low-banking its scattered mounds and slow-going its small slopes of shifty cobble in a continuing bid for practice makes better.
Perfect riding skills, especially off road, seemed an impossibility to Surtch, and frankly, immeasurable—like judging artistic merit.
From the gravel pit, he followed a faded two-track down to the pebbly beach and rode through the shallows half up to the hubs toward where his people were waist deep—splashing, laughing, crayfish net-catching—and closing in on buckets full. The scene flashed him back to a younger self’s first memory of wild water and a snippet of something he once-upon-a-time scribbled about it:
…I was four or so when my parents first took me and my siblings to wade in a desert river. We were headed home from camping when we stopped to try to squeeze out any lingering essence. The sun was setting, and damp river-bottom coldness was beginning to rise, which is typical for the desert—it can be blistering at noon, but frigid at midnight. I tiptoed through thin willows, purple-flowered tamarisk sprouts, and beds of coarse snake grass. The alkali sand, crusty and white, broke and sloughed beneath my little footsteps, exposing organic under-soil to which even the sparse salt grass clung fiercely. And all the while the Johnsie River just rippled, whispering its endless tale:
“I am a desert river and was dreamy in my youth. I only wanted to enliven difficult land, but of that I was deprived, doomed by the ages to dredge deeper and deeper until I flowed too far below any surface I could serve. I’m just a desert river—old and lonely—a thoroughfare for the evening breeze which to every spider delivers a fly. Look high, on the cottonwoods that dot my bank, higher than your reach. It’s where I wear my dry drift scarves and my deepest desire keep–to flood. Oh, just to flash once more. It’s when I’m at my peak.”…
Back at camp—nets tossed aside, buckets of creepy craw-dudes placed in the shade, flip-flops swapped for shoes, and swimsuits for dry duds—everyone had begun to slip into sun-stupor when…
“We’re off to hit a geocache,” hollered Surtch’s brother. “Who’s coming along?” And once again, as though on cue, the camp stirred then squirmed then surged to life with kids shouting “Shotgun!” and crying foul as they dashed toward the cars.
“Okay, man. You lead,” yelled Surtch, and a few minutes later, a few miles down from camp, they rolled to a stop on the hillside shoulder of a wide curve in the reservoir road. The kids goofed in the nearby brush while Surtch’s brother briefly consulted the GPS before pointing to a rocky outcrop on a low spur.
Up the gentle slope, through winding paths defined by giant, pungent sagebrush and impenetrable wild rose, along vague trails left by critters small and large, and safely past a stunning wasps’ nest sculpture, Surtch and his brother led the children. At last they scrambled the final bit onto the spur and then strolled out to its small point overlooking San Cosme Reservoir.
The kids spied the cache, traded trinkets, marked the booklet, and for a while everyone gazed upon the glimmering water below. Surtch repressed an urge to ask them for their thoughts, a query that seldom delivers anyway, and never in the moment: Most folks reserve the real stuff; impressions require digestion; and words—those imperfect tools for imperfect beings—often fail.
Oh, to be able to channel my child self, thought Surtch, to know his untainted impressions. Then maybe I’d know if I’ve grown, know if this bizarre, existential experience has been worthwhile so far.
Evening—calm, cooling, barely cloudy—was upon them upon their return to camp, so they lit a fire and soon they had a blaze. Amid the banter typical for fireside dining, Surtch politely declined his brother’s offer of boiled, um, freshwater lobster (a flattering name indeed) in favor of applesauce, beef jerky left over from lunch, and instant red pesto pasta. As night took hold, the children one by one yawned their ways to their sleeping bags and the adults followed suit until just the two brothers remained at the campfire.
“I was surprised when you showed up on Escape Artist,” said Surtch’s brother, with a knowing smile. “I had expected you to ride in on a new machine—something orange and sporty maybe?…” Surtch just chuckled.
In silence thereafter they watched the final flames die, the mound of orange coals cool and shift, the last few sparks rise and twist, and–curling smoothly around sky-pillar pines–the smoke waft like sacred incense in a grand, roofless cathedral.
To Surtch, this was the only religion that had ever made sense.