Lessons, Life and Riding My Strumpet

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Lessons, Life and Riding my Strumpet

Strumpet and me..... Current mood: content

I’ve been riding for roughly a year and a half, spending a good 3 months of it in a student laden parking lot at school learning how to dodge pedestrians and their trumped up cars mom and dad were kind enough to send them off to school in. Tack on the university’s facilities and service vehicles that are located on the block and you have the perfect set up to learn the fundamental basics of riding a scoot. The day I touched my tires to white line laden asphalt was the day I found freedom. So, I took to the road and my ’73 CB350F and I never looked back. We saw beauty, wonder and the kindness of man along the roadsides of Pennsylvania, sadness and death on the interstate in Delaware, monotony and patience on I95 in Philly, the unbelievable generosity of people we’ve never met in North Carolina.... the sights, smells, tastes, feelings that pervade every second we ride through planted permanent impressions to be gratefully relived time and time again.

So, it was with great joy, sadness and hesitation that I purchased my 2006 Bonneville Black. After having such amazing times zipping through 8 states on my little 350, it seemed almost like a slap in her face to go and get something new and powerful and (dare I say it?) reliable? That’s probably going too far. But, buy her I did and began working on her with my friend Keith. The bike came with a salvage title and some minor problems. It was about the only way I could afford her at the time. Keith, having years of wrenching experience working on racing cars, old cars and his current passion bikes, offered his services in tightening up my bonnie. One set of D&D pipes, M bars, a couple pod filters, bar end mirrors (3 total.. hehe), new single thuxton seat and cowl, rear rotor and caliper, fork oil in the right fork, some bolt tightening there, too and several trips to EBAY and NewBonneville.com later and we had a well functioning and sorted bike.... which sat at my sculpture studio for about 4 months.

The plan for getting me on the road with the Bonnie involved depriving me of the CB. Lucky for her, she had sprung quite a few leaks after putting 8k on her that year. She’d been ridden hard and put up sopping wet and was begging for some attention. So, off to Keith’s house she went and was torn down. Still no time on the Bonnie. Every time I went to the art studio there she’d sit, shrouded in protective blankets of silver and navy blue... seeming to hang her sad neglected head each time I glanced her way. Waves of guilt infused with a mental note that ’next time I would remember to bring her key’, which hadn’t happened the last 20 times I’d made the same declaration. The CB was now halfway apart. I’d ridden the Bonnie once in a parking lot with Keith (after I dropped it and had to replace the right bar end mirror) and once to the studio back in November to park her for the winter. Seeing as how it’s now March.... __________________

It was a glorious day.. bright and full of sunlight, if not a bit chilly. Today was the day. I pull out the key, after having charged the battery and filled her full of gas two days before. Committed to spending quality time on her I’d bundled up: helmet, gloves, multiple layers of clothing top and bottom, boots and CC’s, cash and driving info (just in case I was brave enough to step out of the parking lot). We did figure 8’s, low speed maneuvers, dodged vehicles, waved to the employees I frequently talk to, braked hard for pedestrians and within 30 minutes we were out on Elkton road heading to Maryland!

Laid flat on the tank, throttle out to a comfortable 85, eyes peeled for obstacles, police and all the signs for possible issues that happen on slightly congested roads I zipped on down to my friend Ron’s house for a friendly visit. I needed that stopping place to say ’hey, I made it here alive and ok’ complete with shit eating grin and a sense of pride and accomplishment. After shooting the proverbial and a couple cups of hot coffee to warm the insides up, I headed back and went to Chadd’s Ford, Pennsylvania enjoying the nimbleness of the bike along route 1. Cold and tired (mentally staying on point for 4 hours is not easy work) I dragged myself home and put the Bonnie to rest. It was... the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

This was approximately 2 weeks ago. I’ve made it an effort to ride my Strumpet every day... even if it meant just going to class. On Thursday I made the first major highway excursion on her by going up to Elizabeth, NJ. The weather was briskly cold, but the wind caused that sort of bone chilling numbness in my fingers that I’d never wanted to experience. So, to avoid prolonged exposure, I just cracked the throttle and road between 90 and 100 all the way up. I stopped mid way for some fuel for my bike and coffee for my insides and made it to Elizabeth in record riding time of just over 45 minutes (not counting the little siesta). The adrenaline of riding so hard kept my body temperature on the up and my left hand snuck under the tank to lovingly rest on the valve covers for defrosting. Arriving was like a hard won victory complete with kisses, hugs and mutual joy at having ridden the bike there. _______________________

Sunday was riding day in New Jersey. We had made plans to head out with Mike’s Uruguayan friends Pablo, Nico, Alex (Nico’s wife who used to ride until she went down in High Point) and Cari. Mike and I suited up and met the gang at one of the six Duncan Donuts in Union. After waiting for a while we got the call that Cari went down. He said the last time he rode with her she was taking corners at ungodly speeds with cold tires. Being the kneedragging speed loving freak that his is... it’s saying something for him to make a comment like that. Unfortunately, Cari got her first war wound and hard discovered lesson on riding in the cold. Fortunately, however she came out with a swollen ankle, a moderately busted bike and probably more hurt pride than anything else. It was a bummer, but par for the course when you ride in groups. Inevitably, someone is going to go down and we selfishly say a prayer of thanks that it isn’t your own skin with asphalt and pebbles clinging desperately to the raw flesh.

Pablo came up on his tricked out R1, Nico and Alex positioned themselves on his Kawasaki Ninja and Mike and I hit our Triumphs and away we went. Now, I cannot say enough bad things about the roads in New Jersey, so I’ll try not to congest the story with endless babble about the bike swallowing potholes and the ’guaranteed to give your front end the shimmies’ pathetic attempts to patch the road every 20 feet.. nor the teeth jarring, knuckle whitening, ass clenching combinations of the aforementioned with 6" seams tacked on for sheer terror’s purpose when you cross bridges. No, I won’t go on and on, but at the very least it bears mentioning since about 75 percent of the trip involved navigating such conditions.

When we got past Lakeland the roads became more to a biker’s liking. We’d managed not to wuss out from the cold, but had made a coffee stop already to warm our icy fingers up and fuel our cold hazed minds. We charged forward, the winding road curved lazily before us, dumping us out into small rural towns filled with quaint stores and Victorian houses dripping with gingerbread and history. Kids were playing outside and large luminous eyes ate up the site of our bikes like Easter Morning’s basket filled with the latest Cadbury concoction and hundreds of bright hard jellied gummies which would later lead to hyperactivity and a child mommy and daddy had wished they’d never indulged. Yeah, we were big kids, too. Gunning it after passing through we tested the limits of our tires. Mike and Pablo ran the pack, asses off the bikes, leaned over (wishing they’d worn leathers) they rounded the curves, skimming the surfaces of the unknown, a tenuous dance of trust and the pure thrill of letting go. Nico and his wife were hard on their tails. Both riding the bike as seamlessly and elegantly as though they were a duo of iceskaters. Never breaking stride, always in tandem, they bowed and slipped gracefully through each turn over each hill, feeling the cambers change, dipping their bodies down in unison as if riding as one. It was like visual poetry, pure artistry seeing them slide off my peripheral and have only the sound of their bikes left as testimony they were still going.

As usual, I kept within my riding skills. My little Strumpet and I have never ridden such roads together. I didn’t know what the bike was capable of and I certainly knew that my limitations were just that... limiting. While Mike and Pablo were cornering at speeds of 100 mph and Nico and Alex were hitting well over 80 I was plugging along at about 50-65 mph and barely teasing 75 on the straightaways. For a bit I felt the weight of my ego sitting inside me pouting over not pushing it harder. I warred with the desire to open up and test my abilities feeling the compulsion to go into curves harder, lean deeper, twist my wrist just a little more, hear my engine whine a bit higher. But, after I while I let it go.. focusing more on the technical aspects of the turns, elevations changes and obstacles and occupying my mind with learning. I was there to learn and enjoy the moment, not kill myself. Granted, I think I know more than I give myself credit for, but I always err on the side of caution.

45 minutes later and not a sight or sound of the rest of the crew was to be seen. Mike has good friends. If Mike wasn’t riding behind to wait for me then Pablo was. They alternated looking out for me. If anything this was little bit of a pet peeve for me. Not the waiting bit, but the constantly looking back to see if I was ok. Given the nature of riding, going a good 80 miles an hour, knowing how fast things happen, I was terrified that the second they used looking back at me would be the vital second they’d need to get their ass out of a situation. If anything you watch out for yourself and trust that the other riders take responsibility for their own actions. I chided Mike for it when we stopped for gas and he responded that he wouldn’t stop and couldn’t even if he wanted to, because he worried about me. Sighing to myself I understood that no matter what I said I wouldn’t be able to change him, so I let it go and felt some peace with the knowledge that it was out of love that he was compelled to look out for me.

It was no surprise that when I got into the park there was Pablo waiting for me. Poised regally on his R1, half off the seat looking backwards to spot me, I smiled to myself at his kindness to me and gesture of respect to his friend Mike. He pulled out before I could pass and we fell in with two other knee draggers to hit the park’s beautiful twisties. It was a spot of heaven and who knew it existed in New Jersey? It wasn’t technically as challenging as the Washington Parkway where Winnebagos and cars desperately seemed to try and run you over at every corner. No, it was much more delightfully enjoyable than that. Cars were around, but many were using it either as a path to get to their farmhouses or running it with their souped up, turbo’d out VW’s and Subaru’s. The rest was left to us 2 wheeled wanderers eager to feel the tight passageways close in under our knees as the rubber ate up the asphalt faster and faster, devouring life with every turn!

Higher and higher we climbed, swinging the bike left, throwing it hard right, winding out the gears til we came to the main pass: a series of 4 tight S curves, one right after the other sliding down the side of the mountain between the guardrail and scenic overlook. I crest the mountain and saw Mike, Alex and Nico off to the side parked with the other riders and drivers looking towards Pablo and me. I was going a little too fast to be able to look behind me to see if anyone was there so I could stop safely before hitting the curves. So, I shrugged my shoulders and went in. What a rush!! No, I didn’t go all out and lay hard on the throttle, instead I just meandered like the river flowing 100’s of feet to my left. I let the weight of the bike flow left, lift up, lay it right... back and forth and back and forth.. like conducting a symphony with me riding the tip of the baton. A smile of sheer joy washed over my face and my eyes crinkled at the corners. THIS... this is what the moment is all about. You bust your ass all day, freeze your hands half way off and all for a quarter of a mile’s worth of seamless perfection to fly down. Yeah. Life’s perfect.

I made my way back up, doing a nice clean u turn in the road and parked along with the others: one yamaha flat tracker, a Busa, a couple Kawi’s, some Harleys, some KTM’s and random street rods and tourists (who didn’t know that pulling off the road meant removing all four tires from the inside of the white line). We hung out, shook hands, heard names we will never remember, saw faces we’ll never forget and watched the river flow lazily by below us. Bikes and riders tested their mettle along with the tricked out cars and we watched as they pushed themselves harder and harder with each pass, commenting on when a person was playing it safe. Pablo took the R1 down and rode 3rd gear out til it sounded as though the bike was going to scream itself into the side of the mountain. One very tall, very dashing man had ridden up there with us on his brand new glistening white Ducati 848 and took the road sweetly. No risks, just flirting through the curves, feeling their beauty and reveling in the design that makes them so perfect for those of us who seek good lines.

After an hour or so of admiring bikes, riders, skills, sights, sounds and smells... we suited up and rode off. Once again I stuck to the rear, letting the boys ride ahead and watching them with rapt attention disappear before my eyes. After they vanished I sunk into the rhythm of me and my bike... flicking left, coursing right, playing with speed and angles, positioning myself on the bike in different ways until my old riding style began to creep back in. Balls of the feet poised on the pegs, ass sticking out and slightly off the seat, hands gently resting on the grips, back swayed and muscles ready. My body is forward and I set my aggressive stance. I’m finally back!!!!! I hadn’t felt that position since I’d put the CB up for restoration. Smiling to myself, I knew I was golden. I started the press lean sequence... press with the left foot, left arm, butt swaying to the left.... look look look look.... in and out.... deeper to the next.... til I felt like I was swinging, dancing with the road. Finally! I wasn’t just looking at poetry.. I was making some of my own.

Before Lakeland we hit up this AMAZING mom and pop local restaurant out in the middle of nowhere. It was brimming with people who look like they could have discussed the Farmer’s Almanac from 1901 and all were a little wary of the group who walked in primarily speaking Spanish and looking like hooligans that might cause a ruckus (they’d all secretly love to witness and spend the next 6 days embellishing in their minds so they could retell it in church the next Sunday). Pies freshly baked greeted us at the door, sitting in a glassed in wooden cabinet seasoned with decades of grease and who knows what else. The whole place looked as though it’d be gone in five minutes if a match was lit. If anything that’s a pretty damn good indicator that we’d stopped at the right place.

We all ordered cheeseburgers except Pablo who was attempting to maintain his girlish figure with something less carb infested. After trying to explain that Haddock was not Duck and more like cod... (language limitations had apparently been established) he settled on that, which was purportedly beer battered and came with some lard seasoned green beans. At that point I thought I was in the south. Well, that is.. until he ordered tea and she didn’t bring it to him sweetened. We chatted away, mostly in Spanish, me catching enough to get the general gist of the conversations and then the food arrived. You’d kick my ass if you had an idea how amazing the cheeseburgers were and couldn’t provide the name of the restaurant. The bread was home made and was un-be-liev-able! Absolute perfection on each plate and in our mouths. I attribute it not to our hunger, either.

I derived secret pleasure and joy when a middle-aged man in his worn down and faded plaid work shirt escorted a woman most likely his mother by our table along with another elderly man. He mentioned something about us being motorcycle riders. Her eyes lit up under her white brow crowned with silvery bright curls which had mostly likely seen the underside of a hood dryer and 50 tiny perm rods once a week for the last 40 years. She asked in a slight voice if we rode motorcycles. We all replied yes and she giggled secretly. Her caretaker said she’d been on a motorcycle and she nodded her head yes.... and we should take her on one. All of us chimed in saying we would and her eyes got brighter. After a few minutes we said goodbye and while passing her caretaker whispered behind her back that she was a real firecracker. I told him that she was my kind of lady. Oh to hear the stories that woman could tell! I’d give up the rest of my week to listen.

An hour later, tummies heavy with all sorts of deliciousness, we hit the road with now cold tires. The ride back was quick and yet stretched out forever on the underkept roads near Newark. My front end shimmied and danced along as I kept up with them sliding through cars and flirting with 100 mph before slowing down once siting flashing blue and red lights. Eventually we split off and Mike and I made the rest of the ride together, but by ourselves. Exhausted and satisfied, feeling the kinship outside of the normalcy of ’relationship’ stuff... that knowledge that you’ve shared something you both hold dear... personal, more intimate than a kiss, or feeling his finger gently mindlessly rubbing the sensitive skin at your wrist... you just spent the entire day together, riding curves the other just passed over, playing with life, flirting with death, feeling the same feelings and sharing the exquisiteness of it all together and then come home to the warmth of eachother.

Yeah, life is perfect. I have a lot to be thankful and grateful for and I know it. I met some incredible people this weekend, made a few more memories, learned more about myself, about my bike, about life in general and came out with a smile on my face. I can’t wait for my little Strumpet and I to have more adventures, trials and tribulations. If it gets better than this..... I wouldn’t care to ever find out.

written by Ava Larkin