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It's Nelly's World

All the Way Down the Road

alec vanderboom

The first hour was pure joy. A state route of two lanes, good pavement, and happy memories from not too long ago. Butter yellow sun in sky blue sky at the outset of a trip much anticipated. Therefore, no other traffic was to dog my heels, or bar my progress, however fast or slow that wanted to be: nobody to interfere with streaming along these high-speed sweepers and the feeling that in the base of them, the road was trying to dip down and kiss the lips of the dense green Catskills reservoir waters at its edge.


This was Route 30. I say it now as others say the names of their favorite roads, too—Oh, man, you gotta do 221, it’s amazing; Don’t miss 79 whatever you do—as if numbers themselves could sing.


On 17, where 82 mph is discovered to be this particular machine’s optimal cruising speed (though 75 also works, as does 91), and where it is rediscovered that some earplugs, though necessary, sometimes cause the cartilage to start aching terribly, thoughts started to appear like passing scenery. One of them was a sinewy line about the notion of a “biddable” motorcycle, just as they use that word to refer to a soft but smart, acquiescent but independent-thinking working dog. That little sashay you do when changing lanes, when the subtlest shift of weight in the seat causes the bike to lean in, cross the dividing line, then stand up, so quickly it might never have happened, might just have been something you imagined but are not quite sure. The faster, more subconsciously this can be done, the more biddable the bike. My definition, then, of “biddable,” whether applied to dog or motorcycle, is that it will do anything for you within reason. For a dog, that means exercising the intellect (in the case of a border collie, that is substantial indeed) and weighing the evidence. If what is being asked is injurious, morally or emotionally, the dog refuses. For the machine, though, although it can almost feel like ethics or emotion, it is really physics and mechanics that draw the line. Ask it to push past what it can do according to these laws, and it refuses.


Sometimes the refusal is rather spectacular. We don’t want to go there.


Stay inside the lines, though, and the sensation is inimitable. It is the joining of two things that were made separately but are now a single creature. The bike and the dog both lend to us their impossibly greater powers. They ask only in return that we remember that we are only borrowing these for a time. Stay humble, stay moral, stay in gravity’s precincts, and the reward is to be borne heavenward. Or at least toward a road you will bore everyone else by telling them they just have to try. It will stop being boring only at that moment when the contact patch shifts, the throttle pours on.