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It's Nelly's World

Lessons for Arriving

alec vanderboom

If you think of every disappointment as an "opportunity to learn," it goes down a lot better. You might still cry with frustration, but then you gather yourself up and give yourself a stern talking to: No, this has provided something you needed to discover. A bonus!

Besides, is any day on a motorcycle a disappointment? Even if you never reach your much-anticipated destination?

He who travels alone travels fastest. Ignoring that was my first error, on October 31, 2009. I called a riding friend when I learned, at the eleventh hour (or at 5:45 p.m., to be more precise), that the universe was giving me Part I of a multi-part gift, in the form of a friend who volunteered spontaneously to take care of the Child and the Dog the next day so I could go to a joint BMW/Guzzi meet in eastern Connecticut. I had felt so childishly frustrated: the date I'd cleared in the calendar had been moved for weather, and now I was not free, though the weather was. Then this angel (actually, a mermaid in a blond wig) appeared in the middle of the rain-soaked Woodstock Halloween parade. I could go.

At 8:15 a.m. I was ready to roll, heated jacket plugged in. The sun was breaking through the cloud cover as we headed east. Although my friend, whom I had little experience riding with, had a GPS, I led. That was my second error; not bringing a map, my favorite little traveling companion, was my third.

At the junction of 199 and 44, there were no directional signs, just "Amenia" one way, "Millbrook" another. The bike seemed to want to go one way, so that's the way I went--forgetting that my motorcycle had been perfecting its role as a crafty teacher. It was whispering questions to me, and I was neglecting to shut off the constant droning in the brain that prevented me from hearing them. It was whispering very, very quietly now.

After stopping to fumble with the GPS for a while (it was not mounted, but carried in the map pocket of the tankbag, which doesn't really work, we found), and our two sets of middle-aged eyes being unable to quite make out whether that was an "E" or a "W" on the sign behind our shoulders, I suddenly laughed out loud. "The sun! What terrible cavemen we would make. Just follow the sun!" And indeed, at 9:30 in the morning, the sun was hanging low, right over there. East. I felt both dumb and pretty smart at the same time. Away we went.

And in twenty miles, discovered we had made a large loop, and now needed to turn around.

Stoplights are suggestions. I may be the world's slowest impatient person--I still couldn't figure out how others could replace ear plugs, zip zippers, fasten buckles, and pull on gloves in a fraction of the time it took me to do the same--but once I was underway, I wanted to go. A yellow light appearing overhead in the near distance caused a warning beep in my brain: Get through! Get through! Red lights are terrible things. My riding partner did not feel the same way, however. Indeed, he felt the opposite. After a couple of times pulling over beyond the light to wait for him, I soon learned to expend some brake pads when a light was about to change. It was a hard thing.

Nutritional standards go back on the shelf for the duration of a trip. I am sincerely OK with a meal made from a cookie that was first placed in cellophane around the time of the last Bush administration. This is eaten (after the dust is quickly wiped from the package) while standing next to the pumps at the gas station. But my friend's eyes widened in horror at the idea. My dismay matched his: Egads, a sit-down breakfast? On the road? Breakfast, dammit, is a granola bar shoved into the mouth while doing the pre-ride light check before leaving home. My heart sank, but I could not tell an already slight man, who had informed me he had neglected to eat, that he needed to wait till past noon. So I found a bakery cafe that would be a bit faster, I hoped, than a New England diner on a Sunday morning.

Be satisfied with what you have. Or else, I hear my internal anxiety warning system booting up, you may lose it.

At four and a half hours later, in the Rite-Aid parking lot in East Hartford after venturing through the epicenter of the stoplight industry in the northeast, we conceded defeat. The Vanilla Bean, in Pomfret, Connecticut, was still an hour away, and I realized most people were probably already gone. I almost wanted to cry, thrash my fists. But this was the gist of adulthood: control in the face of impulsive desire. "All is change. All is change," I repeated to myself in the manner of the yoga instructor.

This is enough. We turned around and headed home. It was a pretty nice ride.

All except the stoplights.