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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Stealing a Day from Winter*

*Somerset, PA Daily American
November 20, 2010
as "One More Chance for a Long Ride"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

A person’s experience with a motorcycle is less about ownership than about relationship. When you ride, something happens inside and no matter how hard you resist, the darn thing just gets under your skin.

Western Pennsylvania was recently blessed with a string of incredibly beautiful days for mid-November. Daytime highs in the 50s and 60s and abundant sunshine gifted local motorcyclists with one last riding splurge.

Last Thursday was a holiday, and after I did a few chores around the house, I geared up, mounted up, and headed out for a long ride.

I decided to head up PA56 northeast out of Johnstown. The day was perfect, with just a little bite to the wind. With the deciduous trees now mostly bare-branched, details of the terrain that had been hidden behind a blanket of leaves now were revealed. Isolated houses were visible within the trees.  Up to now, the only clue to their existence was the end of the gravel driveways that snaked out of the woods.

The roads were clear, although their twisty nature and the abundant traffic kept my speed down. This is to be expected. You can’t make time on these PA roads.  I once took a ride to Erie.  The round-trip took over 12 hours to accomplish.

On this day, I rode up north, meandering through small and medium-sized towns.  As I pass, I see people busily preparing their homesteads for the winter.  The maples having finally dropped their foliage, the last of the leaves are being raked and bagged.  People are working quickly, not the languid pace of summer, and there seems to be a bit of urgency afoot.  A couple of men are splitting logs and carefully stacking them in long symmetrical rows.  On the farms, the fields are bare, the harvest gathered.  Here and there, a tractor turns the remaining stalks into the soil.  The few squirrels I see are frantically dashing about, their cheeks stuffed with acorns. 

Outside of Indiana, I pick up US119 towards Punxsutawney, home to the famous Phil and the Bill Murray film, “Groundhog Day.”   The movie was actually filmed in Woodstock, Illinois. Why Illinois made a better Pennsylvania than Pennsylvania itself, is one of those enduring mysteries. One thing for sure, Illinois is far too flat for the role. Pennsylvania topography in comparison resembles a wrinkled sheet on an unmade bed.   

P-town is a friendly place.  As I ride through the streets, people smile and wave.   Its architecture is what I like to call P-A Austere; predominantly old soot-stained  red brick. There’s no shame in that. Most burgs between Pitt and Philly look the same way. It is a patina that witnesses to a past of hard work and harder lives in the coal mines and steel mills. It’s not clean, pretty, or stylish. But it is honest.

As sometimes happens on a ride, the clock has gotten away from me.  I originally planned to go as far as Dubois, but the evening chill is beginning to make its presence felt.  With 2 hours of daylight left, and in the middle of the deer rut, the road is the last place I want to be after sundown.

With 80 miles between where I’m at and the sanctuary of home, I push as hard as I can through the tight curves while facing a blinding autumn sun.  But it is an exhilarating ride, the pipes shouting joyfully.   

Finally, with the sun just below the horizon, I arrive home.  I’ve put down about 200 miles this afternoon on roads I hadn’t ridden before.  The joy I feel is yet tinged with the sadness of knowing that days like this will disappear.  But I still feel good.  I’ve stolen a day of riding from Old Man Winter.

And this kind of crime does pay. 
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