Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Gathering Speed

The first time I laid eyes on the book Gathering Speed by David A. Braun, I knew I beheld something unusual and maybe even rare. I'd been coasting through general search of motorcycle related books on Amazon.com when I stumbled upon it. As usual, the cover intrigued me the most. At first glance, the photo tells the story of your every day rider out for a jaunt on a stretch of asphalt that's about to get very interesting. But the cover also plunges me into my own memories of strapping whatever I could manage to the pillion by whatever means available and striking out for parts unknown.

I'm a sucker for nostalgia. There's a certain romantic quality to the memories I revisit of my early days of riding -- a place, much like home, impossible to visit again in the same way. Good motorcycle stories, I believe, do just that. Well-told tales reach back through time and retell even our hardships in a manner that reveals the sacred in those stories. The teller as well as those along for the ride experience the thrills, chills, and spills without having to relive the unpleasantness of the actual situation. And let's face it, catastrophe or near there abouts make the best tall tales.

For instance, I'll never forget sweating desperately over the kickstart of my '78 Yamaha as my downstairs neighbor, an enormous, hairy mountain of a woman, bore down on me across the small square of brown grass separating our apartment complex from the street. Stabbing her finger at me and swearing, I vaguely recall urinating into her barbecue grill the previous evening from the second floor balcony. See? That particular motorcycle left me stranded more times than I comfortably care to recall, mostly in uninteresting ways. But throw in a big woman and a drunken stupor and we've got the makings of something special. I digress.

The stories Mr. Braun presents aren't unified in any way that would suggest an overarching theme in this collection. What we have here are a series of vignettes, roughly categorized and irreverently spun, that drop us into crucial moments of the writer's life as a motorcyclist. With softbound covers, the book's width and height measure the same as a periodical. Sprinkled throughout the 198 pages, black and white photos reminiscent of the cover's flavor add a flair to each accompanying tale.

We ride pillion through the author's formative years. We could even stand idly by just outside the door to his garage, watching him sweat and curse his way through a tire change, the curiously addictive scent of fresh rubber mingling with a whiff of old motor oil. We might clutch a cold drink in one hand. I'm fond of Coca-Cola in the old glass bottles myself. Bruce Springsteen's crooning from the radio. So ease a shoulder up against the door frame, sip your beverage slowly, reverently. Hand David that tire iron as we turn a few pages and take a ride on the way-back machine.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Winter Solace

The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be.
--Anne Frank

Our January in Kentucky sported unusual temperatures. For the first time in several years, I hauled out the tent, sleeping bag, and other assorted outdoor gear and headed for the woods in midwinter. I enjoyed the sunrise from the shores of Kentucky Lake at Birmingham Ferry, a campground located about 10 miles or so beyond the north entrance to Land Between the Lakes national recreation area. Vacancy in the campground illustrated the benefit of sleeping outdoors during the typically colder months of the year. As the silence and chill of the evening settled in, my small fire mirrored the dim lights winking through the trees on the lake's western shore.

The life of the lone rider turned my eye inward from the moment I first threw my leg over the saddle of that beat up old '78 Yamaha I received for free from an uncle of mine. And in this lean winter month of the year, when darkness and cold come so readily each day, the golden wonder of the fading day and gentle washing of the shoreline by the water, I relished as a rare gift. When the rusted light of my campfire pushed away the night and the prayer of smoke rose toward the stars, I stared into glowing coals and allowed the memory of warmer times to to fill my spirit with hope for the days yet to come.