Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey
Saturday morning dawns spectacularly and the road beckons. Full of anticipation, I gear up and head for the garage. Starting the bike, however, I’m startled by a sound that shouldn’t be there.
Worried, I head to the bike shop, where the service manager identifies the sound as the stator. But he assures me that I should be okay for the weekend.
Relieved, I hit the road. My instincts tell me that it’s probably prudent to stay fairly close to home. I’ve learned to listen to those voices.
I head west on PA31, turning south at Trent Road, then west on County Line Road. I weave along through the woods, spotting Alpine-themed cabins along the road. This is one of my favorite local rides, a tunnel through dense and picturesque woodlands. I love forests, and this is a road that feeds my soul.
I pull into the mini-mart at the Champion crossroads to peruse the map. While so engaged, I become aware the engine, normally purring at idle, is laboring and beginning to chug. Then with a sudden gasping finality, it stops.
In the deafening silence, I realize that the stator and battery have expired. Thumbing the start button, I get that telltale “click-click-click,” confirming the diagnosis. But at least I’m in a parking lot, not along the shoulder-less County Line Road.
I call a tow truck, get a soda, and get comfortable.
Troubles aside, it is still a lovely day. Other riders are also taking advantage of this meteorological gift, and they roar past the crossroads in all directions. Wyatt and I sit there, basking in the sun’s warmth as I sip my soda, watching them go by.
There’s something inherently disconcerting about having a bike die underneath you. One moment, you’re roaring along invincibly, and then it all stops, leaving you in a silence that is overwhelming. And a little scary.
A bike break-down, leaves you with a peculiar sort of heartache. To a rider, a bike is not merely a machine, but a living entity, something…someone…you fall in love with. Riding could be termed a conversation. When the rider leans the bike into a curve, he is “listening” to the tires as they grab the pavement. You feel the tug-of-war between forces centrifugal and centripetal balanced on a knife-edge between daring and disaster. Through the suspension, the bike tells you about the road surface and the tension between the drive wheel and the asphalt; You listen to the voice of the engine, telling you when to shift.
It’s a bonding ‘twixt man and machine; a sense of life so real that some riders name their bikes.
Mine is “Wyatt.”
The truck arrives on time, fortunately, bringing an enclosed trailer. I’ve been towed before by companies that dangled the bike behind the truck like a chrome-plated Christmas ornament. We load up the bike and head for Somerset.
In the tow truck, it’s mostly silent, each one of us alone with our thoughts. The driver talks a little about a vintage Triumph that he and his Dad are restoring, but the conversation is desultory and soon dies.
At the bike shop, Brian wheels Wyatt into the garage. I follow him to his desk where he tells me that “worst case scenario,” I’m looking at a bill of $550, give or take.
Once home, I feel like a cowboy who had to walk back after shooting his ailing horse, leaving the noble steed out on the trail.
I feel cheated out of a rare day. There’s snow in the extended forecast and it looks like the weather gifts are out of stock for this year.
But, once again, I am reminded how narrow and treacherous that path between joy and disaster is for a motorcyclist. Too quickly one can go from the perfect ride to the perfect disaster. So, while I mourn a bit over my chromed companion, I’m nonetheless thankful that things ended safely. I have another interesting chapter to add to my logbook of memories.
The road of life can go uphill or down, be smooth or strewn with potholes. But it is our road; our life.