Sometimes it takes a stranger to put things into perspective
For some unknown reason, many months have passed since I’ve attempted to
describe riding in words. Regardless of miles ridden, there seems for me to have been an absence of inspiration. There are many ways to become inspired. Often it’s a simple effect on one of the senses: a familiar aroma that you can’t quite place while riding; a change in temperature as you round a shaded corner into the sunlight; or merely the sheer joy of being able to ride where and when you like. However, some of the most powerful inspirations come from a feeling or sentiment that simply aligns with the circumstances you find yourself in at that particular moment.
For years now, I’ve been riding with my wife, Sharon, and many times while parked with other bikes, I have found myself gravitating to the style of single-seat motorcycles. The compactness and clean look of the back fenders always seemed to declare the fact that the owner was a true independent, able to set the parameters of his or her ride without the added discussion of “Where to now?” The options available to take the step from touring motorcycle to true custom seems to lean toward that single seat, sometimes lowered to ridiculous levels. The removal of passenger footrests seems to be a rite of passage from the “two up” to single independence.
The question continues to be asked of Sharon: “So, do you ride?” Of course meaning, does she have her own motorcycle? I have seen her shuffle her feet, look down and simply answer, “Nope.” The question always had me soul-searching to determine whether our entire approach to riding needed to be revisited.
Once, while riding two-up, we stopped for a break at the scenic overlook at Gates Pass looking down on Tucson, Arizona. During our winter adventures, this is one of our favourite short rides.
The area and view has a special meaning, as it gives us the opportunity to reflect on our good fortunes and also interact with the many other riders and visitors to the area. One always watches for licence plates from home, and many friendships have been spawned from that first short encounter. Frankly, that’s one of the main reasons to ride, after all.
On this particular day, as we took in the warm desert breezes and scenery, I happened to notice two ladies exit a truck and walk our way. As they passed my bike, one lingered and looked around. When she spied us dressed in the appropriate riding gear, she walked directly our way. When she stopped, she said, “Sorry, but I am going to be a little rude now.” When I said to go ahead, with my Canadian smile firmly in place, she said pointedly, “I’m not talking to you.” Here’s what she said to Sharon: “I lost my ‘front seat’ about two years ago. I still remember leaving on early mornings and feeling that special tap on my thigh as he reached around to say, ‘It’s going to be a great day.’ I miss him terribly and especially that reassuring tap . . . Enjoy every single mile you spend together.” Tears were streaming down her face by now, and as I looked at Sharon, she was following suit. To say that this short encounter affected us would be an understatement. I was inspired. On the ride back home, I began reflecting on why we ride two-up. Here are just a few of my conclusions.
It now occurs to me that even when you do ride with a special passenger, you may end up at the same place, but you never get there the same way. Many times during our ride debriefings, I find that Sharon’s experiences or what we have seen are completely different. Did we ride together? I may have pointed out something, only to find that she has “gone somewhere else,” just enjoying the experience of simply being. The bike does that. Once on our way, conversations slow to sometimes a full stop. I watch the road and traffic, and Sharon watches the world spool by, taking in the sights, sounds, smells and overall experience of being “out there.” We come to be completely alone – together. As a famous rock and roll star once said, “We are all alone in this together.”
We’ve discussed this phenomenon, and that’s just how it is. We firmly believe that her experience would change dramatically if she had to concern herself with the dynamics of doing the actual riding. While gaining the driving experience, the feeling she now has would be lost. Not that one is better than the other; it’s simply a choice of what you want to experience. The choice to ride the backseat is hers. She describes her experience “back there” as becoming one with her surroundings. The rhythm of the road, the vibrations, the wind, the sounds of the exhaust, the pull of acceleration, the compression of braking. It all serves to have the bike cradle her, integrate with the moving parts of the bike, to feel life happening. She does most of her thinking back there, allowing her to dump the unimportant things. In fact, when we return from a ride, both she and I are different from when we left. Recharged is the cliché: being who we truly are seems more accurate.
One of my most important discoveries is the fact that on the rare times I have ridden alone, I’ve inevitably seen or experienced something noteworthy. (It happens frequently on a motorcycle, as we all know.) Without that special passenger, the event never truly seems real. Strange I know, but that’s how it is. I recall riding alone from Nova Scotia to Ontario via the White Mountains of New Hampshire. All the trip did was cause a repeat excursion, this time with Sharon, just to demonstrate how beautiful the ride is. Without my special passenger having the same experience, it was as if it didn’t happen.
That Special Passenger
While I could go on about the virtues of riding with a special passenger, I am compelled to mention that I still understand what drives the individuals out there who ride alone, male or female. I make no judgment, and still look longingly at those customs with single super-low seats minus passenger pegs. I will, however, continue to keep my tour-pak and passenger floorboards firmly in place, if for no other reason than to be able to reach around on those early morning rides, tap my special passenger’s thigh and say, “It’s going to be a great day.”