The good morning riding had left us exhilarated and jumping with energy. We eventually made our way further south along the river, finding even better roads than before. Many of the small side routes were used solely by local traffic, which was slim, offering us an crowd-free tour of the forests along the river. We kicked up leaves and dirt as we turned through the thin byways, criss-crossing the bridges that lay across the Delaware.
By afternoon we were three adrenaline-stacked, over-confident maniacs. This sort of danger, which tends to stay under wraps when alone, multiplies exponentially when riding with friends. Add to it a long day of fast-paced riding, the illusory invincibility of three men in their twenties, and a sprinkling of the innate competitiveness between brothers. The day began to get very foolish, very quickly.
We found ourselves alone on a double-laned highway. Little by little our speeds crept upwards until we were rolling around 70mph, each of us trying to take the lead from the other. I stood on my pegs and buzzed forward past Porkroll and Oneshirt, letting out a whooping yell as I went. Oneshirt opened throttle and took off, securing lead. P-roll met my speed and we flew along the road swapping lanes with one another.
The road thinned and grew dark beneath the presence of a thick forest ceiling. I, ever the obnoxious younger brother, wanted to edge by Oneshirt and cut off his lead before it was too late. I was hanging at his rear fender, waiting for an opportunity, when the highway shrank again. We were now riding on a thin, cracked pavement, barely wide enough for two cars and littered with debris and gravel. Without question, these were terrible riding conditions.
My intrusion on Oneshirt's lead seemed to incite the rivalry and suddenly he was off. P-roll and I hesitated for a moment, watching him plow forward at an unwise speed. I knew, really honestly knew, that this was exactly the kind of stupidity I'd told myself I'd avoid when they showed up. I'd half-expected it, and had already promised myself I'd see and avoid it when it came. But now, in the moment, all I could see was my older brother shooting off down the road ahead of me.
I hesitated a moment longer, then opened up and tore after him.
The forest edge blazed by, an out-of-focus smear beyond our motorbikes. My sight stayed true to the world ahead of me, the view just above the handlebars becoming the only thing in existence. The road arced and banked against the treeline, the light coming in speckles through the canopy. I had caught up to Oneshirt, my front wheel threatening the space between us. The speed and the road tied up most of my concentration, but I had just enough free to shout "why in the hell are you going so fast??" into the wind. The words disappeared immediately into the air behind me.
|Oneshirt is a great rider, speed tendencies and all|
We were going fast, and riding well, but, inevitably, our stupidity caught up to us. The road spiked suddenly, veering into a jagged s-curve. The end of the curve met with a small bridge, lined with thick concrete "jersey" barriers. All of this was bad, but workable. The real trouble was that, in front of all of this, there lay a wide sea of loose dirt and gravel spread in heaps along the road. Outside of drunks and wild animals, loose road is about the worst thing one can run into while riding, and, at top speed, we had very little time to do anything about it.
Oneshirt, five yards in front of me, saw it first. His brakelights went all red and I could see a cloud of dirt kicking up beneath his tires. I had fleeting visions of my broken nose pressed up against his exhaust pipes. He struggled out of the turn, somehow staying upright, but now it was my turn. All of this was happening in mere fractions of time, and neither of us had really had time to slow much beyond our initial speed.
My Shadow was larger and less nimble than his CB450, and I knew that cutting the turn was going to be difficult. I held the brakes until the gravel was under me, then released, not wanting to skid. Like driving on ice, braking on loose gravel is almost worse than doing nothing at all. So, with my brakes gone, I could only hope to corner hard and fast enough to get out untouched.
The barrier seemed to be accelerating towards me at remarkable speed, growing larger and more menacing. The movement of time seemed to slow, and I could clearly visualize the exact spot where I'd collide. My brain began tracing the path my body would take as I rolled. I knew I wouldn't die, but god damn, it was going to hurt.
Then, like a splash of cold water, I snapped out of it. When riding, the bike tends to go where you put your eyes, and I didn't want to go into that damn barrier. I turned my gaze sharply, and leaned as far as I could into the road. My left toes tapped the ground for support and as I turned I heard the loud, telltale scraping of the rear footpads. I'd only heard that sound one other time, when I'd over-extended my abilities on a treacherous mountain road in Arizona and tipped into the turn deep enough to scratch the side of the bike.
The bike pivoted around the point where I'd touched down, throwing up a cloud of dust. Suddenly, we were out. The world was straight and stable once again. I was too breathless to celebrate. After six months on the road, in nearly every state in the country, I'd almost wiped out on the very last day, 150 miles from home.
The event was sobering, and we all slowed as we went along. P-roll had wizened up just before the bridge and kept back at a more sane speed, making it through the turn with no problems. We all needed a breather, and I signaled to Oneshirt to stop at the next gas station. It was a small, four pump operation. Two of the pumps were busy when we pulled in, so P-roll took one of the free kiosks, and I let Oneshirt take the other. I pulled in behind him to wait my turn.
|Porkroll dominates the bridge|
The place was full-serve only, as per New Jersey law, and the attendant shuffled out to help us. Given the more difficult nature of filling up a motorcycle, station attendants are usually understanding in deferring this task to the rider, regardless of law. In all my time on the road I'd never let anyone else fill the tank for me.
I was used to this by now, but the other two hadn't encountered it yet, and the situation became awkward. The attendant was a chunky seventeen-year-old kid with shaggy hair and a blank stare. What words he said were mumbled unintelligibly. Oneshirt was still sitting on the bike when the kid ambled over, wedging himself in the tight space between the bike and the pump. This forced Oneshirt to dismount awkwardly on the right side of the bike (opposite of normal).
Suddenly everything was in motion, Oneshirt's pantleg had stuck onto the footbrake and sent the bike toppling over. The whole thing crashed down to the ground, pinning Oneshirt below. P-roll came running over and we helped right the bike and free Oneshirt. The station attendant was still standing there stupidly next to the pump, not having moved a muscle the entire time.
I took the fall as further evidence that we were losing our minds from too much time on the road, and decided it'd be better if someone other than Oneshirt took the lead. Not wanting to sound dictatorial, I figured I'd stay back and let P-roll take front. I yelled over to him, "Wanna take lead for awhile?"
He glared back at me, shouted, "NOW YOU DO IT!" and continued to stand there, staring cryptically at me.
'What the hell is going on?' I thought to myself, thoroughly confused.
Before we resolve anything, Oneshirt had shot out of the station, again in the lead. I had no choice but to follow, P-roll trailing behind me. We finally stopped at a small Thai restaurant in Lambertville, and settled in. I knew we needed a serious break from the riding, and I was glad to let things settle down some. The others got a table while I went into the restroom to wash up. When I back to the table, they were both laughing hysterically.
"You guys really didn't see me fall back there?" P-roll burst out between laughs.
It turned out, as he explained, that after Oneshirt had tipped at the gas station, P-roll had walked back to his bike and immediately knocked IT over as well (again, accidentally). Oneshirt and I had been too busy setting his bike straight to even notice that P-roll had gone down too. The gawking attendant, on the other hand, witnessed this spill with equal slack-jawed disbelief.
When P-roll had yelled back his strange "now you do it" to me, he'd thought we'd seen the whole thing, and was jokingly urging me to complete the trifecta. I could only imagine what that attendant had made of three idiots riding in on bikes, falling over, shouting at each other, and riding off into the night. It seemed likely that he was wondering how in the hell these three dopes could have managed to steal motorcycles and ride them all the way to New Jersey.
We finished our meal with the relief of having survived our foolishness and come out with a few good stories. In a couple hours we'd be in Philadelphia, and I'd be almost home. Leave it to the last day on the road to nearly kill me. It really is amazing how often stupidity wins the day.