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It's Nelly's World

You Meet the Nicest People on a BMW

alec vanderboom

Maybe returning to biking after long years away is analogous
to becoming pregnant a second time: only a severe and pervasive amnesia preventing recall of the physical details permits one to dive in and do it again. Then, when it's too late, you go, A-ha. It all comes flooding back, the sensations, the joys, the miseries that feel like joys.

At night, after the first ride, you unclothe and see that mysterious forces have been at work on your body without your knowledge: there's coal black stuff under the skin of your fingertips, which you haven't seen in eleven years, like the return of an old (unkempt but convivial) friend. And a bruise on your shin, another on your thigh--you have absolutely no recollection whence they came, but you know their wandering about your person is to become a permanent feature of your skin for as long as you ride.

You find yourself suddenly wishing you did not have to work anymore, because it cuts deeply into your riding time. But just as quickly you reflect on the fact that after all you do need some way to buy all those hyperexpensive BMW parts, key fobs, and coffee cups. (Not to mention rally fees, hotels, and gas.) It all adds up, Sigh. You vow to keep working, harder than ever now.

You know what cold is once again; 80 mph in the early-spring-night cold, that is, which is a special brand. The next day it has taken up residence in your neck, which is so painful you can barely turn your head. Now you remember you need to remember to bring that green wool neckerchief you last wore all those years ago. It is still folded in the underwear drawer, and now you take it out and look at it for a while. It is not saying anything, but it knows all about every mile you ever put on your former bikes.

You get the experience, at long last, of walking into the convenience store at the gas station and looking around the racks, total permission to have anything your eye falls on and desires: sticky honeybun, fake pie, peanut M&Ms, anything. (Except liquid: there are the stirrings of a need to pee, and since the bathroom is in the building behind the pumps, and motorcycles are only good for what's before you, you no longer want to take time to go back, anywhere. Riding alone, especially, is about proceeding--into space, into the future, into the experience of going into the pure air of what's ahead.) So you choose a big slab of prepackaged carrot bread. And you know that you can take its caloric load and burn it all in the next twenty miles; there's been no dinner, and who cares, when you can have cellophane-wrapped carrot bread eaten in chunks off the bike's seat while you put your gear back on, oh, and the ear plugs too that you had forgotten for the first sixty miles.

Also forgotten all this time was the weight of guilt for those you've left behind, in others' care. The wondering dog--oh, the dog. What to do now about the poor, sweet pooch? Since there is no answer to the splitting of your loves right down the middle--riding away to the places you want to go; staying with the dog who wants you to stay--you do a Scarlett O'Hara and tell yourself you'll think about that tomorrow. Although you know that tomorrow it will be as unsolvable as it is today, and just as fretful to think about.

How was it, how possibly was it, that you had forgotten that a hundred dear friends, fomrerly strangers, were waiting on the other side, and that as soon as you opened the door again, they would spread wide their arms, say "Welcome back!" and mean it with a sincerity that is stunning for its depth, unknown to any human bond but this? You want to weep for its strength, for its warmth, which we need.

Before you left on your first voyage after such a time, something, you don't know what, caused you to run back to the bedroom to root through the jewelry box: there it is. The talisman. The ring you never once forgot to wear, under your riding gloves, on your right hand. Lucky charm. You need to cling to this, that you'll be safe, that there is a way to make yourself safe. You put it on and rush out the door, into what awaits.

{Not my bike up, there, but damn . . .!}