LIVIN’ MAN’S HIGHWAY
It was about as beautiful a day for riding as I’ve had for a long time. I was planning on a ride just past Driftwood, Texas and back to South Austin, but sometimes you realize you’ve been doing the same ride over and over, and need to add something new or risk losing fire in the belly, which becomes more precious as the years go by. So I passed my usual pit-stop at a country restaurant, and hit 3237 like the town show-off burning off like a DeLorean going back in time, headed for the Devil’s Backbone Overlook in Fischer, Texas.
It was quite a breezy day, 64 degrees, and I had on full gear which can get pretty hot, but not today. I felt cool and calm. I dropped into Wimberley valley with its horse pastures and wooden fences, the beauty of the hill country before me, clearing my mind. I glided, peacefully, like a fin in the wind down the pretty countryside.
When I saw the Century 21 sign, I knew I had to take a left on 12, cross the jade river and head down to that famous little rest stop. The Ninja was purring, man. Running good. Over the course of riding full-time for a little over a year, I’ve become more and more connected to my bike. I know it’s tendencies now, and for that matter, my own. I have a good sense of the powerband, shifting, and the delicate pressure points for counter steering and leaning in for the bends. Not too much, not too little. Patience with a bike this powerful certainly paid off. Now I feel like I can head off in a full gallop without too many surprises, like the back tire kicking out or a newbie’s deer-in-the-headlight reactions. The only way to get to this place in the head is with ride-time, and that’s what I was doing today. Usually, the issues are all mine. Never the bike.
As soon as I hit the switchbacks, I knew I was close. I started to see the badlands. Kaleidoscope shrub and rock hillsides for miles and miles. I saw plenty of Harleys, too, and waved as I rode by. I also passed a hitchhiker who was taking a break sitting on a guard rail by an overlook on the side of the road.
I crested the hill and turned into the Public Rest Area and parked the bike. I took off my helmet and the agitated air tousled my long, salt and pepper hair, cooling my head. Taking off gear after a good ride is liberating, and removing the helmet at a scenic view is like opening the curtains of a great bay window at the golden hour. The satisfaction runs deep, and I question why I don’t do this everyday.
The hitchhiker ambled by and sat on his backpack. He pulled out a cell phone and a cigarette, and blew his smoke nonchalantly into the dancing air. I took some pictures of the valley and marveled at a baby-blue sky like clear water, puffy clouds, and my motorcycle and all of that candy green shine.
I wasn’t alone at the rest stop. There was a work truck parked close by with the engine running. After awhile he drove up, rolled down the window, and asked me, “What is this place?” I knew he was asking about all of the trinkets and articles colorfully attached to the fence. I told him it’s a memorial. “This highway,” I said,” is a notoriously deadly road. A lot of people have died here. I think people just started to bring flowers and trinkets to remember the dead.” He nodded. I told him, “It’s a memorial for me as well. Not to ride like hell.” He laughed, nodded back, smiling with his white handlebar moustache, and waved goodbye.
I was in such a good mood from the warm sun, soft breeze, and the baby-blue sky, I just stood there, gazing at the rolling hills with a quiet mind, and felt like riding some more. I suited up and rode around the turnaround. The hitchhiker began to cross the driveway. When I think about it now, he was probably timing our intersection. He turned and smiled at me, and I gestured with my hand for him to go ahead and cross, and he gestured back. He was actually asking if I was going his way. I said no, and he smiled wide, most of his front teeth missing. He nodded and walked down the road. I looked both ways on this dead man’s highway, dropped it into gear, and leaned into the strong pull of my bike. Soothed by the smooth revs, the sunrays, and breeze so gentle, it was a living man’s highway today.