Monday, October 14, 2002
Before you all filter me because of another dim and dark thread of self immolation and angst hear me out. This is a lighter gentler message about some of the good in the world. This is a message about Gerlach. The options as we go through life are very important in the choices we make. I’m not going to write about how to live your life. I am writing about how others will view it. It is about mortality.
A ride out to Gerlach is a ride through the past. Leaving Colorado Springs late in the afternoon I move through traffic like a reef shark through the groupers. I’m not the biggest fish in the sea. I zip in and out of traffic with my beautiful wife perched on the back seat giggling. I search for those little scraps of space in the traffic pattern and keep the revolution going. A quick top off at the gas station in Castle Rock, dive down onto Highway 85 to miss the rain, and the shortcut through Chatfield reservoir to miss the Highway 470 traffic around Denver. Miles to go. I ride with the ghost of long distance riders of the past as I climb the pass and out onto the Western Slope of the Rockies. Fueling up in Eagle I blitz out onto the flat land and end my day in Green River Utah. I don’t mean to write a travel documentary about exploits on the pavement. It is about mortality.
What is mortality. Rates of birth and death. How many people make it in surgery. The number of patients killed by doctors and nurses with the wrong medicine. Riders missing at rally banquets. Riders missed from home and dinner tables. Mortality is the extent of being mortal. Now the circular logic of that definition begs for argument. But, in kind misdirection I wonder if there is anybody more mortal than a motorcyclist.
Leaving the river in Utah Hwy 50 is not far away. Miles to go before I sleep. Across the barren wasteland and violated vistas of Nevada I roam. I pass numerous cops but they don’t have time for the likes of me today. On the loneliest highway in America I have my bride to keep me company. We listen to Bill Engval, and Jeff Foxworthy talk about their families and laugh. I miss my kids, but I have a mission of miles to ride. The views are great. We pass dust devil farms with almost a dozen towering whirling columns of dust blowing across the basin. The view is broken only by the evil of construction zones. Being the unmitigated ass-hole that I am when I pull up to a construction zone I go to the front of the line. 25 or 30 cars worth. I ask if they are going to run me on fresh oil like they did last year, or unsealed (finished) asphalt and they promise no they would never do that. They do.
A few tanks of gas slurped up by the pride of the Teutonic engineers, and I’m on that final leg into Gerlach. Cows stand in the shade of trees and the dips behind blind curves. I would hate to hit some lumbering steaks in one of these corners at anything over the speed limit. It is about mortality after all. I am mortal. I know my limits. I ride within my limits. Others have ridden within their limits and left us with a lesson in mortality. I slow down and point at the great view for my wife to enjoy. She giggles on the back of the bike totally trusting me to get her safely to the hotel in Gerlach. The playa comes into view and the vast expanse of table flat smooth playa silt reaches out to the horizon dwarfing the few buildings around it. I feel small and powerless. The reception at Bruno’s brings back some of the magic, and realization that mosquitoes can bite through an aerostich. No really!
Chewing the fat. Gossiping. Telling lies. Kicking tires. These things are about Gerlach. This is no normal ride to eat. A mini rally breaks up the action. This is not the reason for the ride. It is about mortality. What will be left behind when you leave this earth. Who will remember you. I have children and a wife. My friends are few and far between. I ride motorcycles and that makes me a small percentage of the population. I ride my motorcycle over 12 thousand miles a year, and sometimes more. That makes me an even smaller percentage of the population. I belong to the Iron Butt Association. That is even fewer. Out of the 24 million or so motorcyclists, and 8000 Iron Butt Members, and Rally riders of 1000 or so motorcyclists, and finally 15 or so two up couples who ride rallies (ever!) that makes me pretty darn minor. Small. Infinitesimally non registering on the meter of respectability. Add to that the non competitive nature of my wife and I as we ride for high giggle factor and not points. We just don’t rate. Who will remember us when we don’t make it to the dinner table? It is about mortality.
Saturday night the playa is quiet as the dust settles around the trucks, cars, and motorcycles. The playa dust gets into your soul. The fire started by the hosts burns the wood, but is fueled by the desire and determination of the group. This is a fire that may be extinguished late in the evening by the lack of fuel. But the fire burns bright in the soul of every long distance rider in the ring. Ghosts and wraiths of longs distance riders gone on before slink in the dark and stand shoulder to shoulder with the living. People reminisce about those gone before, and people who are missed. In the dark riders walk out onto the playa and consider their mortality. The petty grievances and slights of competition are forgotten. This the magic of Gerlach. It is in the air, dust, smoke, and the spirit of the long distance rider community. It is about our own mortality.
Nobody understands the internal fortitude of riding that first mile into the distance to be discovered except for another who has been there. Miles are not the objective of the rider, not the measure, not the purpose of the long distance rider. It is the ride. The miles are like the speedometer measuring the velocity, but it is a time distance ratio that takes riders to places on a map. More important it can take the rider to new places of the soul. Introspection can be interrupted with the gadgets and electronics, but in the purest form of riding it is all about the rider. The person sitting on the seat. “Sit here, twist that, and repeat” is the axiom of long distance riders. Those standing in the ring around the fire remembering those who have gone before understand. Where else can those who ride long and hard be remembered by peers. This is magic. It is the purest essence of a community, and the rituals of our community. If I don’t make it to my dinner table sometime I don’t know what other riders will say about me. I hope it will be something I can be proud of. I do know it will be said. That’s good enough. It is about mortality.
It is a hobby. A dream to ride the distance. See the sunset and sunrise and realize the ride is just beginning. Miles spinning on the odometer measuring the past and looking at the horizon wondering about the future. It is not an easy hobby, and it is not a pure hobby. I ride for the sheer enjoyment of rolling miles under my wheels and looking forward to the next as much as I did the first. This is how I live. If that should come to an end sooner rather than later I will know I have at least lived. It is about mortality. It is about Gerlach.