Some Unseen Force


Prin and her willow-basket-to-be

The heat came on fast, the snow receding by the hour, every ditch and depression now filled with flowing melt. The sun feels well-earned; it wasn’t a hard winter overall, but what hardness it contained was back-loaded, all the cold and snow we didn’t have in January saved up for March. In an interest-bearing account, at that.

Today I drove to Waterville, Maine to deliver a talk at Colby College and then back again, left arm propped in the window opening, slowly reddening under the high sun. Route 2 most of the way, an unfolding tour of small towns well past their prime, Dunkin’ Donuts and log yards, rusted trucks and trailer homes, a proliferation of under-dressed and over-tattooed women standing on debris-strewn front lawns, cigarettes in hand, skin pale as the departing snow. They looked so damn confident.

Coming into the town of Mexico, Maine, I drove for a time behind a man on a Harley Davidson. He sat the way men on Harley’s sit, knees cast wide, crotch to the wind, helmet-less, riding slow as he weaved from one side of the road to the other. Not drunkenly or dangerously, just enjoying himself. Like a bird or lazy fish. And though it’s been years since I’ve owned a motorcycle, and although the last time I rode a motorcycle I ended up in the hospital with a nurse shining a light in my eyes every 30 minutes to be sure there was still something going on in there, I couldn’t help wanting to be on that bike. It must have felt so good.

The Harley turned. I watched him go, and shortly thereafter passed an old man on a bicycle, a single hubcap slung over his handlebar end, shiny trinket plucked from the roadside. I waved as I passed, but I was just another car in an endless line of cars, and his gaze was forward facing, the bike’s wheels churning onward, the hubcap swinging side-to-side, as if propelled by some unseen force.


17 thoughts on “Some Unseen Force”

  1. Today I was in a long line-up of cars on a narrow road behind a man on a bike – fancy race bike, all the gear, even the water bottle tucked into the pocket on his hip. As finally it was my turn to overtake him I realized the issue. He was weaving all over the lane. Not drunk, not like your lazy fish either. He was texting.

    1. I got immunized when guy turned him travel trailer across my lane and I had to lay the bike down. He got a ticket and his insurance paid to fix the bike, but the freedom of the road never felt quite as free after that.

      That said, I still troll the craigslist motorcycle ads and think that it would be kinda fun to have an old Honda CB900F to ride around on.

      1. I had four road bikes between 1972 and 1985; a Kawasaki 350S2, a Kawasaki KH750H2, a Norton 750 Commando parts bike that I put together by combining 3 wrecks, and my last one, a Kawasaki KZ650-B2. The Kawasaki H2 750 was the fastest in a straight line, easily exceeding 100 MPH. The Kawasaki KZ650 was the smoothest and the frame geometry allowed a rider to go around corners without fighting the bike. The Norton was fast, handled the best of the bunch, but leaked oil everywhere it could possibly leak oil.

        I let my high school sweetheart ride the H2 on I-91 between Thetford and Norwich one time while I road her Honda CB-350. As we were going down a long hill and across the Ompompanoosuc River she said that she hit 120 mph before she let off on the gas. That woman had more balls than most guys when it came to going fast!

      2. For road bikes, I had: KZ1000 KZ750 (absolutely mint, one of the favorite bikes I ever owned) Interceptor 750 GPZ750 (just like Ron says, all motor, no suspension) Hurricane 600 (before Honda called them “CBR”)

        And I think a couple others I’m forgetting.

        Also had a slew of dirt bikes and enduros. I only went down once on the road, the time that put me in the hospital. It was on a DR350 enduro, and I was just tooling along. Nothing crazy. But I thumped my head (in a helmet, fortunately) real good and it really scared me. I do think of someday getting another on-off. I love exploring all the back roads in VT.


      3. I had my fair share of crashes too, but let go of riding due to financial restraints…. and because I had a family too.
        Started of with a Suzuki GS750, turning 850 when the original cylinders became damaged. Then a kawasaki GPZ750 (horribly unstable feeling in the curves) and a Yamaha FZR1000. Pushed that one to the limit, but could not read the speedometer anymore, as I was pinned down against the tank, behind the windscreen. A german 3-lane highway felt as narrow as a country bicycle lane!
        Still have a Honda CB360 lying in parts in my father in law’s shed…. But my dream would be a pre-1980 CB750. But given the roads around here….

    2. I had a few dirt bikes too, the fastest and most difficult to ride slowly was a Penton/KTM 400 that was totally unsuited for trail riding in New England, but you could pop wheelies by shifting from 5th to 6th gear on pavement. My favorite was a geared down Yamaha IT-175, ’cause it was easy to ride, fast or slow, and it got good enough gas mileage that you didn’t have to carefully plan our sunday group rides to insure that we didn’t go too far between gas stops. It was a special treat when Charles Bronson would ride with the sunday morning group in the late 1970s when he was at his place in West Windsor, VT.

      1. One of my favorite winding road rides when I lived in Hanover, NH, was in VT, between Norwich to Sharon via VT-132, Sharon to South Royalton via VT-14, South Royalton to Chelsea via VT-110, Chelsea to Thetford via VT-113, and then a fast finish on I-91 back to Norwich.

  2. To see and appreciate beauty in the mundane is a gift that propels life to the sublime. Great post! Thanks!!

  3. I drove that stretch of Route 2 through Maine on my way to Vermont 2 years ago. Your description was completely spot on.

  4. Hi Ben,
    This is in regards to education and philosophy of life. Are you familiar with
    Dr Ralph Borsodi? You can google him his work was most popular in the 1930s and I thought of you when I started reading about him. I’d be interested to know what you think.


  5. In our village, there is an older gentleman who is always out cycling on a vintage bike….his mode of transportation. Cool thing is one- he’s deaf and manages very well with trucks and youngsters speeding past, and two- hung a Mercedes hood ornament and small horn on the handlebars. He looks proud and purposeful as he rides.

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