July 11, 2003

From Gerald R. Lucas

Out of the Cradle

After a much-needed washing and a bit of air in the tires, I donned my helmet and other riding gear and headed east toward Starke, FL on my newly purchased (almost) BMW R80/7. While I had ridden it for a bit last weekend, that brief excursion around the block did not inspire confidence. As I headed east out of Raiford down a narrow, and quite green, country road, I still felt a bit apprehensive. I did not feel the same way that I did during my first ride with Terry. This was more of a “Wow, I’m in-control now. How scary!” The wind whistled through my faceplate as I throttled—trying various speeds and gears—along this little side road for about fifteen miles. Before encountering any real traffic, I pulled into the vacant parking lot of an elementary school to practice starting, stopping, and turning. Once I felt better able to control the Beemer, I turned onto 301 south and didn’t look back.

Having successfully negotiated a bit of traffic and several stop lights in Starke, I soon hit open road as I decided to head toward Gainesville. The road slowly melted away my apprehension replacing it with exuberance. My little baby soul (thanks, Neil) whispered yesyesyes as I slowly gained confidence in my abilities. I brain quickly memorized the subtle pressure needed to release the clutch just right; my left foot knew where the gears could be found; my right hand did not hold back now. The immediacy of my surroundings could be felt even through my helmet and protective gear, and I even lifted the faceplate as I approached Waldo to kiss the wind.

Forty-five and not more through Waldo until 301 splits left to Ocala or right to state road 24 on its way to Gainesville. I left 301 deciding that Gainesville would offer me a place to have a cup of coffee and write a letter I have been meaning to write. In another twenty minutes clear riding, I arrived in Gainesville. I was turned around for a minute, but eventually found University. Heading west toward I-75, I decided that I would get some cloves and then some coffee.

Leaving the bike, I felt a bit shaky—my limbs being unaccustomed to the vibrations and physical demands of a motorcycle. My enthusiasm was written on my body, sweaty marks that I would have to get used to. I felt good. Having procured my smokes from a little tobacconist in a strip mall, I sat down on the curb next to the R80/7. As I relaxed a moment, I noticed a family doing traveling things outside a minivan a couple of spaces down from me. There were babies crying and mothers fussing, and I didn’t think anything of it. Well, apparently the family patriarch took an interest in my bike, and he had to come over for a moment to share his admiration. I was only too pleased to offer what I knew about the Beemer; he stood there looking at the bike and telling me about his son who rides. I smiled and chatted with him for a few minutes until he was called away. He wished me safe travels, and I him. I think a part of him envied me as he drove several generations of his family back toward the interstate.

Up the street, Starbuck’s gladly sold me a cup of dark roast. I noticed that riding to Starbuck’s in the heavy traffic near I-75, that I was comfortable. I guess that riding trough Gainesville in moderately crowded conditions cured me of any lingering apprehension. This should not be interpreted as cockiness, since I remain chary, but as my body and the machine learning each other—not necessarily something for the mind to concern itself with. After all, one of the prime motivators for this purchase was its ability to soothe my Macon-weary head, a panacea for that old soul to make room for the new. The baby soul has to be nurtured and cared for, aware of the mistakes of his father, yet keeping those good things, those small things that are still of value.

After a coffee, clove, and a bit of writing, the warrior suited up and mounted his steed only to go nowhere fast. The mighty knight could not find neutral. The first problem. Here I am with bulky helmet and gear on sitting in the Starbuck’s parking lot unable to start my motorcycle. The few people who were sitting outside gave me sympathetic glances—at least that’s how my now anxious mind interpreted them—until I was finally able to find neutral and start the engine. Lesson learned: don’t get cocky. Things go wrong, and you will have to deal with each. Don’t panic. Breathe.

I headed back the way I came, intending to turn north on 441 just after the university. As I sat in the turn lane waiting on the light, a dude on an older model Honda motorcycle pulled up next to me and nodded. I returned the greeting. He asked me after a moment: “How fast does your bike go?” I informed him that I had just gotten it and confessed that I have only gone about 80 on it so far, though I knew it had room left beyond that. He asked me what year the bike was.

“1978,” I said.

“Mine’s a 1975.” He returned.

“I hear Honda’s are nice.” I had trained on an older Honda, so I knew at least one other.

“Yeah.” Then, after another moment, “Maybe we should race sometime.”

The light changed from red to green, and he took off, like a rabbit running from a hunter. I followed easily, taking the left lane. He was almost immediately stuck behind a car, and I never saw him again. I will not be a racing fool.

A couple miles out of town, I took a right on 121—an almost deserted two-lane country road, much like the one heading out of Raiford that I traversed earlier. The air was cool in the verdant shade of the curves; the sun winked at me from behind the trees on my left as I sped northward. Occasionally the landscape would spread out into fields and farms that would allow the setting sun to smile on my progress, engine barely noticeable through the summer of North Florida. I eventually made my way to a park on the Santa Fe River, I think. I can’t remember the name of the park anymore, lost somewhere in the travels of my mind; I turned in and made my way down to the river where I thought I would take a break. I pulled up next to the only other cars I saw and parked. As I took off my helmet, this guy approached me and marveled at the R80/7. He was truly impressed at my “vintage bike … uh, I mean motorcycle,” he corrected himself. I told him that I like it quite a bit myself; then he proceeded to tell me about why the engine is designed the way it is: “those fins sticking out like that allow the engine to more efficiently air-cool.” He was a nice guy who used to ride a Moto Guzzi, but “not anymore.” He was certainly impressed with the Beemer, and he and I chatted a bit longer before I decided to head out.

On my way out, I began to understand one of the fascinations many seem to have with riding a motorcycle. Sure, it’s the intense feeling of freedom and isolation when the wind travels through them like an angel touching their souls, but I think it also has to do with the community of people who love their bikes and love to ride. If it weren’t for the R80/7, I would not have met and talked with three people today. I have never been too sociable, a trait that I have often questioned about myself. When riding, I can have the isolation that I crave—a time for introspection and isolation—but I can also have the added sociability that comes with having to stop and rest. I want to meet others, and perhaps the motorcycle will provide the catalyst that my soul needs to actually communicate on a more meaningful level. Socially, I have always been pretty much a failure; maybe some things can change.

I was at Mom’s in time for dinner, but the desire to keep riding never left. I looked forward to the next day’s ride, even though the stormclouds were moving in.