Jun 2010

New Chapter

toronto from plane
There's a pit in my stomach as I look out over the wing from seat 18F at the infinite expanse of cloud white and sky blue. The curled-up tip of the wing suspends the westjet logo in mid-air and the little white graphic plane on the screen on the seat in front of me tells me we're almost over Winnipeg. I'm on my way to Calgary from Toronto. Banff, actually, for my niece's grad and other unknown, unplanned adventures. My saddle bags and leathers are (hopefully) tucked away in the belly and my helmet is between a couple of soft items in the overhead bin. The gear got hauled home with me to Toronto last September after having to abandon Henk in Northern BC and not making it back to Christina Lake where Henk and gear have spent the last several winters. It's not nearly as interesting packing motorcycle gear for an airplane. And it's not very portable without the bike frame and the bungy cords that make it all work so well on two wheels. I needed a trolley at the airport - two bucks, with a twenty-five cent "reward" if you return it. While checking my luggage, the female agent said jealously "Ooh! You ride a motorbike! I don't like you!" It's not much fun, I reassured her, in the same way southern Californians tell people from elsewhere that the weather sucks and not to bother.

The emptiness I'm feeling is both physical and emotional. Two weeks ago I got my teeth all rigged up with "invisalign" in an attempt to reign in and bring home some wandering teeth my parents paid dearly for when I was a teen. The plastic moulds (only invisible from a distance of 20 feet or more in a dimly lit room) are difficult to remove and put back in place, which is what needs to happen to eat or drink anything other than water. I don't want to horrify my seat mate by reaching into my mouth with both fists to pry the orthodontics loose. There's too much drool involved, and in this case, for a 22-gram package of "bits & bites," the payoff is simpy not worth it. As a consequence, I haven't eaten since breakfast. It doesn't help that my 80-pound girlfriend is meeting me at the airport. She's not the type to have a party-sized bag of organic corn chips and a tub of fresh guac in her car. But a little 8-hour water fast never hurt anyone.

The emptiness that's preoccupying more of my mind, here at 37,000 feet above the prairies, is a conspicuous absence of joy on what should be a very momentous day. Since 2005, I've known that there would come a time when Henk was no longer up to the adventures I wanted to put us through. I even test rode his bigger, stronger, more nimble, more adventurous cousin, Ulysses, back in New Mexico and fell not-so-secretly in love.

Perhaps I'm too attached. I think of Henk now, trapped in Grand Forks with a new doctor awaiting parts, and I actually feel sad like he's real and he somehow knows I have an accepted offer on a tall black handsome Ulysses ten years his junior and itching to find adventure. Yes, I'm sick. It brings me no joy to know that Henk will never again ride the Alaska Highway or cross the country or travel far beyond his adopted home of southern BC.

There was a part of me hoping I could keep on getting repairs and rebuilds and ride until we were both good and done, and the last couple of years have been attempts to keep that dream alive. But after breaking down last northern ride not once, not twice, but three times, all of which could've been deadly, but the last of which caused me to seriously question my sanity, it would be sheer stupidity to attempt pushing us both through anything that long and that remote again. Part of me also wondered if I would just one day wake up with no desire to ride and that would be that. At some point, it would come as no surprise to anyone if I were to hang up my leathers, roll Henk into the living room and call it done. Priorities, after all, change. But riding still feels to me like my truest expression. The solitude, the paradox of independence in spirit and dependence on the benevolence of the universe, the utter surrender that has to happen to be fearless, the interaction with the road and the relationship with the bike, always a metaphor for what's deeper and a catalyst for reflection, the immersion in nature, my nature and the visions of eagles and bears. The grounding I feel and the immense sense of contentment that settles in the moment I strap on the last bag and throw my leg over the seat keep me coming back for more season after season, ride after ride.

Yes, over 12 years and 120,000 kilometres, Henk has become a part of who I am. So it's with a pit in my stomach and great emptiness in my heart that I turn the page to another chapter.