By Merisa Sherman
We came in hot, like I knew we would, arriving in the parking lot with an empty tank of gas and 10 minutes before launch time. The gang was already assembled — it looked like we were going to be riding in a nice sized group. There were hugs with those whom we knew and had ridden with before; excitement to ride with good friends whom we’d never gotten to ride with before and trepidation at the new bikes in the group. There were only a few dark clouds, when it was, of course, supposed to be raining all morning. It was going to be a good day.
It was a five-card-poker run in memory of a good friend and riding buddy. He’d organized the inaugural ride the year before to raise money for the local humane society before passing. And as much as we were riding for him and for charity, we had come to ride for ourselves. Because as Chippah himself would say, we’re not here for a long time, we’re here for a good time. And we were all committed to riding that way today.
The bikes rumbled as we loaded up and headed down the Killington Road to start our loop and pick up our cards. We ride the first passageway out of the mountains and down into the valley, the bike swaying with the windings of the road. We spend the first miles figuring out our spacing, getting comfortable with the riders around us and reacquainting ourselves with our own bikes.
At first, the scenery is familiar: the same roads that we would take to work or to get to a friend’s house nearby. But this time, the ride is different. We must be more conscious, more aware and more one with the road, maneuvering around potholes and repaired pavement, watching for loose rocks and slick spots as we rolled through the Green Mountains. You cannot just be riding to work, singing along to the radio. You actually have to immerse yourself completely in the experience.
And we can, of course, feel. We feel the wind not only pressing against our helmets, but around our bodies and our bikes. It unites us, this wind, as it wraps us together with our steel horses, tying us to the other like bindings on a ski. The rider nearby creates his own draft, and flirts with the wind as it barrels past us. We feel the road, the wind, the other riders, and the bike itself. All connected as a moving piece of art.
The low rumble of numerous exhausts spreads out across the valley, mixing with the chirping birds and the noise of the wind itself. It’s the rolling thunder that calls for attention, and it feels as if the sound is pulling you forward, deeper into the mountains. You can almost ride along on the sound waves themselves, that throaty rumble that combines with the roughness of the road to gently vibrate the bike.
I’m so happy, rocked into a peaceful calm by the swaying of the bike. Like one of those sideways baby rockers, we are helpless to do anything but enjoy the moment. The mountains, the trees, miles of corn fields reaching sky high along the roadside. The drops off the sides of the road as we climb the windy roads of the gaps — just be mindful for the scrape of the peg or perhaps even a muffler. Just let the road take you in its arms and let her fly.
But as we come to small towns, the focus is heightened. A lack of attention here could be fatal, as four wheeled vehicles often don’t see or hear us. Intersections are a test of vigilance, as even eye contact might not mean safety. We maneuver as a group, each looking out for the other as we respectfully make our way through beautiful towns, main streets lined with beautiful homes and captivating gardens. And of course, revving our engines for the kids (big and small) we pass on the way.
More than an hour late, we finally arrive back at home base to get the last two cards. We have missed the fourth stop because we have been having too much fun celebrating life. Riders who were strangers at the beginning are now friends for life. As Mark Twain is said to have written: “Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” It could have just been: “Ride a motorcycle.”
We will miss you, Chippah. But we will always remember the good times.