There was a smother of dust–Surtch Pherther could taste it. There was a low idle and a rhythmic click… click… click… And there was intense, sharp, dull, sharp, dull throbbing in his right leg. Yet somehow he managed to stand, weighting left, favoring right. Through hazes of mind and dust, he gazed back along the dirt road. At about three yards lay the right pannier, its immobilizer hyperextended. At his feet lay Escape Artist, just weeks old.
Gingerly, he began trying to “walk off” the severe pain that was centered in his knee and was surging up and down from there. Luckily, no bones were broken. What remained concerning was a coinciding quivering weakness–his knee threatened to give at any moment. And, of course, that annoying click… click… click…
“Shit!” Suddenly realizing that Escape Artist was still running, its rear wheel off the ground and turning, he hobbled over and hit the kill switch.
Surtch began inventorying the physical pieces and trying to collect the mental ones, to assemble the puzzle of the incident: There was his downed bike and its dumped pannier, the desolate road in the remoteness, the throbbing in his leg… And scattered in the pale dust around him was what looked like a small fortune of brown coins; against Escape Artist’s bright yellow, what appeared to be drops of crimson paint; and dripping from his face, what certainly was blood.
He knelt with difficulty, removed his thin leather gloves and crooked half shell (his full face helmet was back ordered), and inspected himself in the mirror. Blood was smeared across his mouth, chin, and right cheek and was trickling from his nose. With a left hand pinch, he stanched the flow, and with his right hand, fumbled through the attached pannier’s tossed contents for tissue to wad. He then limped out to the dumped pannier and, with his free hand, carry-dragged it back to the scene. He cleaned his face with dabs from his canteen.
Surtch had rounded the south end of Lost Springs Peaks en route to Kinscore Pass and had become lulled by the gentle bounding and dodging of the road–of course, the throttle might have creeped a bit too. Cresting a rise, he’d seen a sharp turn ahead and a small washout between. The next thing he’d known was the dust, the clicks, and throbbing pain. He must have panicked and grabbed the front brake. As for the bloody nose, he could only guess that he’d punched himself when his elbow hit the ground upon his going down.
He righted Escape Artist–tweaked handlebars, cracked fender, scraped side, and all–and rehung the pannier, securing the mangled immobilizer with “just in case” toeclip straps he’d packed with him.
Surtch’s motorcycling maiden voyage into the remoteness had begun well: He’d roller-coasted the Wapiti Hills of golden bunch grasses, late-blooming sagebrush, and humble junipers, and had continued around to the west side of Barrel Mountain toward a spring of the same name. He’d found the map-marked ruins he’d gone seeking, and though merely concrete foundations and slabs, they were mysterious installations in the middle of nowhere, without clues to indicate their purpose. He had wandered around, kicked through settlement debris typical of such sites, and eaten some snacks before mounting up and returning via the same Wapiti Hills roller coaster.
Sure, his leg was throbbing something fierce, but it would heal; Escape Artist was tweaked and cracked and scraped, but it could be repaired; and his pride was injured, but he was old enough to know that pride is just vanity, skin deep. It was his wounded confidence that worried Surtch. For that can act like a repressed memory, can embed, can become hard like a stone, can surface later, and can reopen and get infected. Surtch knew all too well that wounded confidence can corrupt.
Yeah, the day had begun well.