It’s 5:00 AM, temps around 60F with a full moon hanging in crystal clear sky as I fire up the Beast, (first kick, as always). As she warms up I finish suitin’ up. I can tell she knows we’re headed out for a good days ride, for something a little different. After a quick equipment/safety check, I unlash her from the hitchin’ post and the Beast and I head out for the open road.
Three minutes of riding down nearly deserted city streets, it’s still early enough that most traffic lights are just blinking, yellow-red. We jump onto Interstate 66 heading toward the Blue Ridge Mountains and away from the bright city lights.
I dial in a comfortable 65 and settle in for the 40 min. charge down the super-slab headin’ for Front Royal VA.
10 minutes’ out and the Beast and I fly by Manassas; the last bastion of civilization and city lights till we reach the base of the Blue Ridge and the town of Front Royal. Just past Manassas I take her up to 75, headin’ west now, the full moon dead ahead lighting the road and surrounding country side with its’ soft glow. Ten more minutes and the first shadowy shapes of the Blue Ridge Mountains appear in the distance.
The temp. has dropped a good 10 degrees. The city a mere distant memory, the road is almost totally deserted, now it’s just me, the machine, and the open road. The beam of the H4 lamp cuts the mist, and I know its good to be alive and ridin’. The air has just the right crispness; I can feel it trying to find a crack in my armor, trying to chill me, but not today!
The road’s character starts to change, long sweeping turns climbing and descending through the foot hills of the Blue Ridge, each crest a little higher, each valley a little deeper. The mist is thicker now, I can feel it’s crisp chill on my chin, it’s dampness clings to my beard. At the top of each rise I can see the dim lights of sleepy farms, and distant quiet towns, then down again to be lost in the mist of the next valley, only to rise once again as we race up the next incline. Thirty-five miles out and still the road is mine. The full moon beckons us on, past sleeping caravans of trucks waiting for the day’s journey to begin. Past new mown fields of summer hay. Past sparkling streams shinning in the bright moonlight.
At exit 18 the Beast and I slip off I66 on to Rt. 55 at the town of Markham. Up ahead the slowly falling moon is just kissing the mountain peaks. Rolling through Markham, jet-black machine and rider pass unnoticed by all but the lonely gas jockey at the all nite stop-n-go. Five miles of twisties on a deserted two lane blacktop, around a final sharp right-hander, and we slide gently into Front Royal, past ugly new homes scattered pointlessly on raw shaven hills where once stood stands of proud trees. A quick twist of the throttle and we leave “New Suburbia” behind and find the true heart of old town Front Royal.
At 6:00AM we pull into a 7-11 for quick cup of Joe and a smoke. As we sit drinking in the fresh country air watching the stars dance in the clear sky, gray-beard with man behind rides up on a K-bike. We sit and chat a few while our bikes whisper stories of the open road. “Just out of Jamestown heading north”, says gray-beard, “gonna catch sunrise from the tops of yonder peaks”, says I. We part, one north, one west.
It’s 6:20AM as the beast and I pull out of the 7-11, roll through Front Royal, a left at the light, and two minutes later we’re at the northern end of the Blue Ridge mountains and the beginning of Skyline Drive. The gatehouse is dark so we roll on through and start to climb the back of the first peak.
As we ascend the air is heavy with the smell of early morning dew and damp leaves. High-beam probes the road ahead, the bike and I rush forward to follow it’s sirens’ call. Rounding turns red eyes flash in the brush, momentarily frozen in time, then quickly disappear. Deer by the side of the road stop and stare as this strange creature, half man, half machine, slips past disrupting their morning rituals.
The road is all turns and twists as we continue to climb, 2nd gear, thirty-five, the Beast’s motor hums, the valves chatter quietly, the rumble of the exhaust wakes the mountain morning.
At 2500 feet we see the first break in the trees as we approach the first of many overlooks. To the west the Shenandoah Valley spreads out below, the full moon just touching the peaks of the next range to the west. Town lights twinkle and reflect the morning mist lying in patches on the valley floor. And _still the road is mine.
To the east the first rays of dawn lighten the sky, soft pinks and pastels. Overhead the sky still holds the last of the nights wanderer’s, fading rapidly in the morning glow. We travel on to the next overlook, now facing east we watch the sun rise, and yet the moon still clings to the mountain tops to the west, finding gaps in the western range to peek though. Riding on, and _still the road is mine.
Round a bend, we hear the first signs of mechanization since entering Skyline, round the next and white machine with gray clad rider passes, /2 with outrigger, our eyes meet for a moment exchanging a silent greeting, then move on, each one too deeply caught in private moments to stop. And _again the road is mine.
At the Thornton Gap overlook, I pull off the road, and quiet the Beast. Silence rushes in and surrounds me then slowly the forest sounds fill the air, as though to say it accepts my presence here. I descend a short trail to a rock outcropping facing the west overlooking the Shenandoah Valley, leaving the road and the Beast behind, to watch the last of the mist rising off the valley floor. As the sun rises behind me and warms the rocks and lifts the chill from my bones, the world spreads out below me and I know:
It’s good to be alive!
I reckon I must of sat there for a hour or so, (till my backside started to feel like the rock upon which I perched); contemplating the meaning of life and the purpose of existence, and reached the same conclusion I have in the past, namely that Life is it’s own purpose. Don’t get me wrong it’s not that I don’t believe in “God”, it’s just that I believe that “He” exists (like Life) for “His” own purpose, not ours. Then my mind turned to pondering the mysteries of the universe, (as yet unsolved, but I’m working on it 🙂 ): Enjoying the Great Cosmic Joke (that maybe, just maybe, that first spark of life was the result of a bizarre series of mere circumstances); and finally the answer to the Ultimate Question, which, by the way, happens to be 42 (see “The hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” for an explanation).
Then I continued to ride the crests of the Blue Ridge along Skyline Drive for maybe an hour until around 9:00AM, when other vehicles started to crowd the road. I turned around and descended the mountains at Thornton Gap and headed for home on Rt 211. 11:00AM found me pulling into the driveway, a little tired, yet more invigorated than I have been in quite a while.
This has to have been one of the best rides I have taken, not so much for distance or time, but for the way all aspects of the ride complimented each other, the way the Beast preformed, the weather, the loneliness of the open road, the sunrise and moonset at roughly 3000 feet, etc. etc. etc.
I tried feebly to explain all that I had experienced in those few hours to non riders (“Ah..”, “OK..”, “Whatever..”, “????”). After stumbling through several attempts at verbally communicating my impressions of the ride, I knew I had to try and capture them in writing. The result of which is the story above.
And Yes I took certain liberties, i.e. the bike doesn’t _always start on the first kick, ;-), times/distances maybe off a bit, but hey! it’s the impressions of the ride that I tried to capture. And yes, the only two bikes I saw till around nine that morning when I started for home were indeed both beemers. Does that say something about BMW riders? Well, I’ll let you, the reader, be the judge of that.
Jeffry L’H. Tank
“Das Tier” (’73 R60/5)