I was perusing Craigslist and came across a motorcycle for sale at a dealership in Wichita, Kansas. I recognized it as a bike I had ridden last summer. Seeing it there brought discouragement, and disappointment. Not at the loss of the bike but, at the loss of pride and trust in myself that has marked these last months.
I feel like an animal limping off with one less leg after chewing one off to escape being trapped. There are times these last few months I would have preferred death in the trap to survival. Maybe the easier of choices for me, but my life is forfeit and fortunately so because it has been the welfare of another and the promise of one greater than all that has kept me from myself.
Sunday, May 30, 2010: I answered the cell phone just after church service to the news from my middle sister that our oldest sister had just passed away. I was called by my boss at home Monday night and told not to come to work that next week and that I would be covered by funeral leave. As much as I may have wanted to, I knew a trip to Hawaii to see my sister buried was out of the question. I had other plans to mourn and contemplate what was happening in life. Tuesday morning I loaded the red Honda onto my single rail motorcycle trailer and headed west to the Rockies. It was the only thing that seemed to make sense to me at the time. Two days in the mountains west of Denver would give me the alone time I needed to ponder all that was before and what lie ahead of me in the coming months. Unknown to me at the time these two days alone would be my last for the foreseeable future on two wheels, perhaps for good.
Early Tuesday morning I was up and dressed for departure into a slight mist hanging in the air. No extra gear on the Honda. There is no room for it. I am dressed in jeans with long underwear, my black leather jacket and light leather gloves. My only concession to climate and temperature is a Switchfoot hoody stuffed in my backpack to keep my water bottles from moving around. It is cool in the morning air but not unbearable; only slightly uncomfortable as I roll across 120th Ave. to 36 highway. In Louisville I stop at Bob’s Motorcycle shop to kick tires and talk about Vintage Japanese motorcycles for a bit. Back on the road I make my way north out of Louisville to 7 Highway and over to Boulder.
I make my way past Pearl up Broadway and continue north into a tangle of road construction. I am itching to get up in the mountains but have only a very poor and general Colorado map to guide me. I take a left on Linden Ave. which leads to some good riding. Soon however I am back on Broadway via Wagon wheel Gap Road and Lee Hill Drive. I head back south down Broadway the way I came till I find a gas station. Time to gas up before I get seriously off the beaten path. The Honda takes less than a gallon. I will stop three more times for fuel today and altogether I will put in less than 4 gallons. For what the red Honda puts out in performance this is stellar. At the gas station I get into a conversation with a fellow in plaid shorts with a cigar and a beagle. He is driving a red caddy convertible with the top down and his canine companion drooling an ever growing puddle in the seat in front of him. I gas up and look at the map my cousin supplied at the last minute. It’s a good map he answers to my inquiry. It is good only if you prefer your maps be vague, general in descriptiveness and dated. The kind of map you give to someone when you don’t want to worry about getting it back. As I ponder its validity as an actual Colorado Highway map, a car pulls in behind me and out hops a fair sprite into the morning sunshine of yonder gas station. She is perhaps Tom Bombadills, Goldberry or one of the fairer daughters of Rivendell. A child of the sixties, born alas too late but trapped nevertheless in the Marijuana legal time capsule that is Boulder. I lean ponderously, map in hand against the Honda. Perusing possible routes forward over the top of my Rodenstocks. Hello, says fair Elven creature as she moves toward the portal of Ye Olde Gas Station. I push up the Rodenstocks and give her my best Nicholson smile. I’m lost, think you can make any sense of this map. I’m trying to get up to Nederland. “Let me see”, she says. She ponders the map briefly and says,” This Map is Junk, I have a better one in the car”. Moments later the “better map” spread out on the hood of her car and the other map in the gas station trash can, I am shown directions back south down Broadway to Boulder Canyon Road. I thank her and saddle up as she leaves in her gold Oldsmobuick. Back on Broadway I am headed south through the construction zone. Two things I hate, doubling back, and going through construction zones twice. Clear of the road construction I head south towards Boulder Canyon and the promise of mountain roads. Just before my turn I hear a honk and look to the right to see Goldberry at the intersection, smiling and waving from her Gold Oldsmobuick. Must be help a senior citizen day, make sure that old coot gets out of town before he hurts himself. I smile and give her a two finger salute, Here’s looking at you kid, I’m old enough to be your dad, Ok…………….
Highway 119, Boulder Canyon Road up to Nederland from Boulder is why they make sport bikes. The summer before I was climbing Independence Pass over to Aspen, two up on a Roadstar and was dusted by a couple of sport bikes running quantum speed up the pass. I looked back at my wife and muttered something about low life expectancy as they disappeared around a hairpin. I was to learn their secret on the way up to Nederland. The amount of time it takes to pass a vehicle, I.E. Car or truck on a sport bike is so little as to render them to all but the novice rider as nonexistent. Given of course a small concession for sanity, cars could be passed almost at will. I had a few speed up as I pulled out. It made no difference. Even if they had tried to block my passing it would have availed little. I don’t know the H.P. to weight ratio on a 98 h.p. 425 Lbs. motorcycle but given the propensity toward mid-range power on the 919 I can’t see how one could need more riding the canyon up to Nederland.
At Nederland I went north up 72, Peak to Peak to 7 highway and on to Estes Park. I stop once to pick up a tack brush off the highway, and return it to the owners unloading horses down the road a bit. (I’d rather not see two wheels go over that at speed.) I stopped for Gas just outside Estes Park, and visited with a fellow on a custom Victory from Denver who I had passed twice. He went back around me when I stopped for the brush. I set out from the gas station down 36 to 34, Rocky Mountain National Park, A bonus, Free Park Day. “Not going over the top today” asked the ranger at the park entry.” I don’t know, why” I asked, “70 mile an hour measured wind at the top wouldn’t advise you try it”. “Wouldn’t think of it” I said, “just going to toddle around the park a bit, do some sightseeing”. “Good deal” he said, “have a nice day”.” I will”, I reply and set out for Trail ridge visitor’s center at the top.
The road is a cascading river of running water, gushing out from under walls of snow melt like a hundred fire hoses as I climb higher in the park. I was told that only a week before, the heavy snow pack had the pass closed. It is exceptionally beautiful seen through the crisp mountain air. Higher up above the timber line most of the road surface has been shaved off for repaving. It is a gravel road with thousand foot drop offs in a line of cars like ants clinging to the top of a fence. The traffic stops momentarily and I look over the edge. I am suddenly confronted by the irrational thought that I will be picked up like the knights in Monty Pythons Holy Grail and be thrown through the air into the abyss. Seeing the top of the mountain covered in its still conquering winter snows from the seat of a motorcycle, priceless. I make the slight decent to the visitor’s center through a river of running water. It splashes up around me as I work my way around a minivan slowed almost to a standstill. I park and head toward the door of the still snow covered visitor’s center. The parking lot is ringed in two to three story walls of snow. I grab a bottle of water out of the pack and go inside the visitor’s center to warm up a bit and look out at the snow pack down the face of the mountain. Inside I see people standing around looking at a red digital readout on the wall, it has the number 80 on it in large red letters. I ask a park ranger, what’s that? ” Wind speed, 80 mile an hour up here.” Guess that guy at the gate was wrong.
I rue not bringing the camera in my back pack at the visitor’s center but I am here to ride on my own terms, no passengers, no prisoners, no fellow riders and no pictures. This is my ride into the sun. (Note to the reader that last line is probably a product of listening to Natalie Merchants crescendo of because the Night while I type). Back on the mountain I saddle up to begin the trip down the other side, which starts with a stellar strip of asphalt that soon degrades into a pebble strewn dirt path complete with fist size rocks and dust. At one point on the trip down I am following a truck and a pull type camper. The dust builds to the point that only past memory tells me where I am. I ride down through two hair pin turns on a steep decent that will soon flatten out into a relatively steady decent to Grand Lakes with just one more one more hair pin. I leave the park on the pegs, standing up like a dirt rider, dogging obstacles like a video game phenom. A quick wheelie out the gate and I am settled in for the ride down to Grand Lakes and another gas stop.
It still only takes under a gallon at Grand Lakes to top off the Honda. I take a quick bathroom break and grab a couple of bottles of green tea; I am ready for the long ride across the flats between Grand Lakes and Winter park. Not much can be said of this stretch of highway. But for the beauty of the surrounding peaks it might as well be Kansas. A good place to pass cars and try to get to the head of the line before Berthoud Pass. I weave my way through the last pack of comfort riders through the stop lights in Winter Park and head into the first hair pin at the bottom of Berthoud unopposed. It is magic to be on that first steep assent of the pass on a fuel injected bike with more than enough power to pull up this and every other grade of a pass. I think back to days of laboring over the pass with a minivan loaded with kids and camping gear. Wondering if it would last the trip. To blast up the first long assent of the pass with power left to spare is beyond the scope of this flat landers experience. Berthoud is magic for another reason as well. I was over it some years back two up at night on a Kawasaki 900 Drifter with my wife. Did I mention it was raining? Oh, and the road was torn up, under construction. Today the construction and rain of that previous ride a memory, this ride is its polar opposite. To run under full throttle over the past three lanes wide so that only horse power and tires hold back one from choosing his own pace. I pull hard out of the corner at the top of the climb using both lanes. Apexing the center line before pushing it to the edge of the pavement on exit, eclipsing the century mark as I do.
This is the culmination of every good day of riding for me. Climbing Berthoud unimpeded, and then the decent down the other side. Where hair pins mean all the brake you dared on the front and the rear tire dancing above the pavement before dropping off the side to play the throttle through the gyroscopic tightrope walk between tire grip and falling head first from lean angle off the bike into the pavement. Your knee gliding inches above the pavement in a ballet of balance and brute force before opening up the throttle to blast through exit and down to the next corner. Perhaps it will never come again, and perhaps if not it is just as well. That was my best day of riding, alone against the mountain with only God and I as witness. The culmination of every acquired skill, a ballet of motion over time and space. The ordinary made extraordinary if but for fleeting moments. The promise fulfilled that the universe and God has better to offer than the mundane and the every day. The ability to slug our way through the rest if but for glimpses however fleeting into the eternal such as these. Am I making too much of riding a motorcycle fast over mountain roads? No, not in this case. Call it Nirvana if you well, Utopic, Supernal, or Edenic. It was none of these things for me, it was grace and a glimpse beyond the normal. The promise of peace beyond the suffering of this celestial plane. I long for it, the peace of the eternal. Do I think then motorcycles a spiritual medium? No, God will use every experience of life to convey his great power and love for us. It just happened to be in the form of perhaps my best two days of pure riding in my life. I would have to sum it up as this. I set forth in ignorance consumed in my own plans, somewhere over Berthoud peace found me. A peace separate from any plan of mine, but yet the thing I really came for. I needed it then and still am in need of it, I ever have been.
Over the pass I find my way back to I -70 and join the long lines of other cretins, winding their way back toward the asphalt jungle. I have thoughts of going to the springs today from Conifer, but I know it is getting late. To arrive too late to Colorado Springs would be to brave the traffic all the way back to Denver in the then growing darkness. Then to make my way through the heart of the beast across Denver to 25 north at night. Or perhaps 85 to 470 west around the city. Not a consideration to a day of so far perfect riding especially with the previous summer’s trip from Burlington to Aspen and back into Denver at 10:00 at night remembered. In the light of day however I am not yet ready to follow the ants back to their sand mounds in the city either. I follow an R-6 down the smooth high speed turns of I-70 for a bit before exceeding his pace. I have the road to myself for a bit, passing in and out of traffic. Soon however I find myself followed closely by a black Carrera. He is intent evidently on making the same pace as me and mirroring my every move through traffic. This is my road, and my day to ride. I spot a slowly closing gap in traffic ahead and drop a gear to accelerate through and out ahead of the Porsche. He is mired in a clog of semi-trucks.
I keep it wicked up a bit and am glad to be free of him when I settle back into traffic. Soon I see a yellow BMW R1150GS coming by on my left. I accelerate to match his pace and am surprised by his speed and agility. He seems more than a match for the Honda. We dice through traffic for several miles before I finally put him behind me. I am not alone for long, I see the Black Porsche coming up quickly in my mirror. I drop a gear and move over to the center lane. He catches me on the left and matches my speed. When he drops the hammer I suddenly wish I were down another gear. I close the gap quickly and run even with him. He remembers our previous encounter and closes the gap on me in his lane. I pull to the right around a semi-trailer and run back to the center inside of a minivan. We weave through traffic and out onto a straight stretch unimpeded by traffic. I glance down at the gauges to see us just outside of 120. I look to my left and pull my hand from the bar palm in the upright position I shake my head in my best “Is that all you got” gesture. He rolls out of the Porsche and I accelerate ahead and off to the right, taking the exit ramp to Evergreen. I watch him roll by as I slow coming up the ramp. I hate interstate traffic.
I putt leisurely down through the development that used to be the quaint town of Evergreen and follow a trophy wife in a BMW up the road to Conifer. I am in no hurry now, relaxing as I turn in for gas in first station in town and stretch tired muscles. Perhaps had I known there would have been time to explore Pleasant Park road but I am content now to make my way back toward the city on 285. At 470 I turn south to Bowles. I turn north on Wadsworth and make my way by memory to my Uncle’s house. Robert Weed Pierce is my favorite Uncle and the one who has drawn me back to family. No opportunity to spend time with him is to be missed. I stay too late and leave after dark making my way up the western side of the city to 75. I make a mistake I have oft made and turn off on 25 headed north. Remaining on 75 to 120th and then south on Chambers would take me within spitting distance of my cousin’s house where I am staying. Instead I get off 25 at 104th and make my way across the bug infested flat lands east of Thorton. When I arrive at last in Commerce City I am looking through a bug covered shield not even a Kansas ride could match. I am chided for being late for dinner following my reluctance to leave at a phone call which found me at Uncle Bob’s from my wife. We end up at Applebee’s on Karaoke night. The only dark spot on a perfect day.
The next morning finds me up early following a Jeep Cherokee north with my soon future Son In Law driving his soon to be bride, her mother and aunt to Boulder to see the place of future wedding bliss. After being fitted for a monkey suit at Mens Warehouse the rest of the afternoon is spent in a quest for a wedding dress for the mother of the bride which takes us to Dillards in Longmont before it is done. On the trip home I am free to roam and I head west at Boulder back up Boulder Canyon road to Nederland. I turn south this time on 119 towards Rollinsville and Golden Gate Canyon road. Time for one last blast into the sunset on this late afternoon spring day. I find a rhythm down through Golden Gate. I have recently been up it the other way with my wife on sightseeing trip into the mountains. It is not like the kamikaze blast over Berthoud the day before, it is smooth poetry down twisting mountain roads almost free, as if by grace of traffic. I head north up 93 and East at 84th. Past Welton Reservoir I turn north on Indiana St to 120th. I pass a place on Interlocken loop where in two weeks I will be back to Denver to witness the second of my three children take the vows of marriage.
The trip across 120th is uneventful. My cousin offers to let me leave the Honda in his garage till I come back in two weeks. I agree to, but in the morning I awake with a sense of foreboding and load the Honda onto the trailer for the trip home. I ride it only once more, in a ten mile circle around the area of Kansas where I live to run some fuel out. I let a friend talk me out of my old 600 XT in the spring just before the last ride. It was just spending too much time in neglect. In July it became apparent that we would no longer be able to operate our small business of the last 9 years. My Yamaha Roadstar was needed as a means to cover some debt from the business. The decision was made and it sold within a few days. The money from the sale of the cruiser, which was supposed to cover the purchase of the Honda was gone as was the Honda. Over the rest of the summer and fall we faced, as many Americans are the reality that we could with the loss of our business and the loss of my wife’s health and ability to work, no longer afford our home. The last ride has its share of regret written into its conclusion, but I treasure it in as much as I cannot go back and change it. It was a pinnacle in life time of riding. Perhaps the last I will ever see. Perhaps not. There are other concerns for now and other things asking for my time. In the spring I will miss the ride. If I am to no longer ride, a part of who I am will be lost, but so be it. My fate lies with God. To whatever roads may come.
To be continued…….
About The Author
Shawn Pierce can be found riding his 2005 Triumph Thruxton that he’s dubbed “The Big Yellow Taxi” around Manhattan, KS. Over the years he’s had a ’79 RM400, several XS 650’s, FZ 600 as well as a Yamaha 1700 Roadstar. Riding is in his blood and even when he’s been without a ride, he always makes the Thunder On The Smoky Rally every may. “This rally has become a time to renew and make new friendships, as well as look back on the journey that motorcycling has played in all of our lives and friendships throughout the years.” Be sure to keep an eye out for him and say hi if you spot him.