July 20, 2003

From Gerald R. Lucas

Raiford to Macon

Rain. Wind. Gray. Not an auspicious start to what my mind had envisioned as a sunny day for my first motorcycle trip. Yet, after traveling for about 250 miles through north Florida and southern Georgia, I am simultaneously exhausted and exhilarated. I rode through rain, heat, fatigue, and my own brain’s winding roads most of the day, successfully completing my first long drive on my R80/7 without incident. I am achy and spent, like a runner after a marathon, but like that runner, I feel as if the journey has added something invaluable to my life, something that I would otherwise have not understood.

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After waiting out the rain for a bit this morning, I left Mom’s about 10 a.m., followed by Tim in Tabatha in their new Honda Accord; that seemed appropriate: two new vehicles tooling up state road 100 toward Lake City. The Ts left me at 441, taking the interstate north: I decided to tour a bit, to break in the bike as I slowly made my way back to Macon. The soundtrack in my head kept playing Steely Dan’s "Everything Must Go."

About the time I cleared Lake City, the rain had decided to pester some other part of the country, and the sun accompanied me for most for most of the rest of my journey. My first stop—after having 441 to myself for nearly fifty miles—was Fargo, Georgia’s only ostensible gas station for a Coke and a look at the atlas. The day was temperate, so my jacket and helmet left little residue on my clothes. I sat on a bench enjoying the pleasantly warm day when a group of riders on their new Harleys invaded the station. They chatted with me for a bit, as intrigued with my old winged beast as I was disinterested in their chrome monsters. They were all from Moody Air Force base near Valdosta out for a Sunday ride to break in their new bikes. I spoke with a couple that had just gotten back from three months in Iraq; they seemed like they wanted to forget about it, so I didn’t ask questions. The chrome shown hotly in the morning sun as they discussed cruise control and Georgia weather. They consumed their snacks and were off to explore Okefenoke Swamp, while I wished them a pleasant ride and headed north again to my next stop: Pearson, Georgia.

I passed through Homerville—I was somehow expecting more than a single traffic light and a dilapidated gas station—and made it to Pearson in about an hour, stopping for another break at Hardee’s. I sat for a minute and took a couple of pictures; unfortunately, they would be my only pictures of the day. I soon tired of Hardee’s and its parking lot (you can imagine), so off I went toward McRae where I would catch state road 23 to Macon. After a quick lunch for me and the R80/7 in Douglas—the largest town on my route—I resumed my trek only to hit some sidling rain. As the rain snuck up on me, I didn’t have rain gear ready, so I pulled over into this serendipitous old shack that had a carport and donned my rain gear. As it was still raining pretty hard, I waited for a few more minutes when I had the day’s first incident.

When I had all of my equipment back on—a task in itself to manipulate the jacket, helmet, rain jacket, and gloves quickly enough not to turn into a human sauna before I can get moving again—I could not get the bike into neutral. For those of you who may not know: you cannot start a BMW (at least my particular flavor) without the bike in neutral. Try as I might I could not get the damn thing started. I struggled for several minutes, pushing the clutch in and out, the gear shift up and down, until I got frustrated and took all my equipment off before I drowned in my own perspiration. Putting my gear delicately aside on the ground, I mounted the bike to try again; immediately, I found neutral. Figures. While slightly irritated, I was mostly relieved. I could imaging that call: "Uh, mom, I’m north of some small town in Georgia a million miles from you . . . can you come get me?" After getting my gear back on, the rain had turned from a trickle to a garden hose, but I was ready to go. The downpour lasted for a few miles, enough to get my pants throughly drenched, but just as quickly as the rain hit, the sun emerged from behind the cloud and dried my jeans with the help of the wind. I was soon in McRae where I had my second incident.

I pulled into a gas station and into a parking slot that had uneven pavement. I began to take my gloves off when I started to lose my balance—the bike was falling. I struggled to keep it up, but I knew that I would not be able to, and I also knew that once it was on the ground, I would not be able to get it back up myself. Fortunately, this guy in a truck next to me saw what was happening, and he came to my rescue. I was grateful and rewarded his generosity with a Gatorade. Close.

As I turned northwest onto 23, I felt myself getting tired. I was about 70 miles from Macon, but I told myself that I would stop in Cochran for another break before getting home. Well, I didn’t. I rode through my fatigue and beautiful forested roads all the way to I-16, just east of Macon. I’m not sure why I did this; it just seemed to happen. I was captivated by the ride, so the aches in my hands and back lost precedent to the experience of riding. The setting sun combined with the 70 mph wind, and my flight was relief enough. Making it to I-16 was a surprise: I was expecting 23 to take me into Macon. I could see another storm approaching from the north, so I decided to take 16 west into Macon, even though I’m not supposed to ride on the interstates while I’m learning. After three miles, I hit a wall of traffic and rain, so I exited into downtown Macon and made my way home up Vineville. I was glad to be back, something I never thought I would say about Macon. The R80/7 is now resting under its cover. I feel my aches again, and I now know what real fatigue is: a content exhaustion that I feel earns me some real rest. I will sleep well tonight and get back to work tomorrow. The weekend is over, but there’s always the next one. Where should I go then?