Sunday, August 28, 2016

Serendipity in York, PA

Some decisions on motorcycles carry an incredible weight, and they are made in hundredths of a second, the brain focusing on all of the available stimuli to make a choice that could have repercussions for a long time. Or, if we're being frank, a really short time. Additionally, there is sometimes a need to override those "natural" responses (you're supposed to slow down when you're in a turn, right? Um. No.) to maintain your well-being. On the Tale of the the Dragon, I saw a guy with a shirt that read "When in doubt, Throttle Out" and it was a solid reminder that so many of our dilemmas on bikes are solved by a very counterintuitive twist of the right wrist.

And then there are decisions that really seem to make very little difference. Like the one I was offered here: right or left?

I had already had the kind of day that riders wish for, especially at this time of year. The humidity was down, a rarity for Pennsylvania of late and the first break we have had in about a month, and the temperature was in the 80s, instead of the usual 90s, or more recently the spikes peaking into the 100s.

I was rolling through York County, a place I usually reserve for riding to work. I have an office in the city, and there are a couple of back roads I can take that are under-travelled, especially in the early morning hours I am on them, making the 35 mile jaunt roll away beneath me. Historically, though, the White Rose City and the surrounding region are a little more crowded than I like, though still not approaching it's Red Rose cousin, Lancaster, which has become completely unrideable on a bike. With York, the problem is not so much the density of the traffic, but the lack of places to pull around and pass. People are generally more aware and respectful of riders, even pulling over to let me pass, and I think the Harley-Davidson plant in York has more than a little to do with that. You won't find that courtesy in Lancaster, a fantastic city (especially if you love to eat, as I do), but now influenced by settlers from Philadelphia, DC, Baltimore, and even NYC.

But today I decided to visit York and just see what I could find, and what I found was this decision: right or left? I looked to my right from the bridge I was sitting upon, and the scene was so lovely, I made my decision to follow that. Right on. Note to self: this water looks trouty, and should be explored properly with a fly rod.

And, the next thing I knew, I was on one of the prettiest roads I have ever been on.

Several years ago, the family took a trip to Arizona, and on the advice of my father, I took State Routes 89 and 179 from Flagstaff to Sedona. It's not often that a road, a slab of concrete or asphalt thrown through Mother Nature, has the power to move the soul, but there is no other way to describe what happened to me on that road. I wanted to pull over after each turn, each revelation of a greater depth of beauty, each vista and overlook more powerful and majestic than the last. It had a similar effect on my wife and, even more telling, my teenage daughter.    

Two roads cannot be more different than these two, the bizarre red-rocked Mars-scape of Arizona contrasting drastically with the tree-lined verdant tunnel I had found, but the effect was the same. These old growth trees had grown up and up, but also filled in the empty spaces, desperately seeking out the sunlight that allows them to survive and thrive, and the result was a jade tunnel, stretching for several miles on a twisty road.

There was something healing in that place, something powerful and primordial, ancient, and the visceral nature of riding a motorcycle combined beautifully with this stretch of road and these trees. I wanted to stop every ten feet and take a picture (though something is almost always lost in this translation, more than just turning a three dimensional view into a flat, two dimensional one, we lose the spirit of a place. It is a rare photographer who can capture this, like Ansel Adams, I suppose. Rare indeed, and I am not that guy.). I wanted to get off the bike and lay down in this forest forever, like Odysseus and his shipmates in the land of the lotus eaters. At the same time, I wanted to never stop and never get off the bike ever again. Mostly, I wanted it to just go on forever and ever.

It doesn't go on forever, of course. No road or ride or even life ever does, and sooner or later we come out on the other side. It's one of the things I love the most about riding, not the end, but this serendipitous exploration and discovery, and those magical moments when the deepest, most profound discovery is not the one we make outside our helmet, but within ourselves.  

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