I figured I would squeeze in one more ride before taking off on my 3-week cross-country adventure to places westerly. It seemed like a nice day on the outset. I checked the weather maps and I had a decent chance of staying dry, but I threw the rain gear in my top box anyway for good measure. I had no particular destination; I just wanted to go for a buzz. I took my “go to” route of the George Washington Bridge to the Palisades Parkway. Harriman State Park I thought, that’s the ticket.
I cut over on 87 and onto 17 north, and then to Seven Lakes Drive. When I got into the park I was stunned to see that fresh blacktop had been applied to the formerly crusty road. I lopped along at a leisurely 40 miles per hour. Some uptight cager in a white Audi was sweating me by riding my tail. He eventually zoomed past exceeding the limit by at least 30. I guess he wasn’t looking at the trees and lakes like I was.
Today was a story of both gifts and punishment. I cruised along the fresh tarmac breathing and relaxing. I assumed the whole road had been repaved but I was incorrect. About a mile in, the smooth black glass cracked into devil’s teeth. The surface was grated in preparation for the new pavement. It was bumpy and littered with craggy rocks. I worried about a flat and dodged as many of the tire mines as I could. I actually caught up to Audi-man who was probably cruising slower so he wouldn’t get any rock chips in the pearlescent alabaster paint of his imma-success-mobile. He eventually turned left onto a private drive while I continued along thumping and bumping on the moonlike surface of the road. The gift of the smooth road was taken away.
I passed the lakes and noticed there were not too many people out today. The sky was overcast with not even the slightest rip for the sun to peer through, as if somebody had thrown a Union gray woolen blanket over New York. The air was cool and would have been pleasant if not for the vibrations being transmitted to the very core of the fillings in my molars. But just as quickly as the road went rough, it became smooth again. The state crews are paving from the outside in, I’m guessing in an effort to mimic the building of the first transcontinental railroad. Fine by me. All I knew was that I was humming along smoothly again and the horizon stopped chattering in my eyes.
I thought about this effect. The biblical giveth and taketh away of it all, and realized that life is often like that. Things are going great, and then some bump in the road ruffles your mood. Then with time and patience, the smoothness returns. Seven Lakes Drive reminded me of that today – I must remember that no matter how tough times get, they will always get better.
I followed the road until it hooked back up with the Palisades, and then took the Bear Mountain Bridge. I was met with a fork that provided two choices: north to Cold Spring or south to Peekskill. I was enjoying the ride so I figured I’d go farther north, maybe to Poughkeepsie. But as I got nearer to Cold Spring, the monsters in my stomach were scratching for food so I took the left on Main Street into the small antiquing town.
An old friend of mine Jay lives in Cold Spring with his family. I didn’t call him last time I was here, so I thought I would make good on that call while on this trip. I don’t like springing myself on people. I used to do that more often and found that one can walk into some strange situations when arriving unannounced, so I rarely do it. I have friends scattered throughout upstate, but I never call because my plans are never cemented. I hope this does not offend them because it’s just my way.
I rumbled slowly down Main Street and much to my surprise my friend Jay was standing right on the corner as if he knew I was coming. The timing was unbelievable. 30 seconds either way and I would have missed him. I have been to Cold Spring a total of 2 times since I bought the Brick, and the second time I roll through he is standing there like Mick Jagger in the “Waiting on a Friend” video. I couldn’t have scripted it any better.
I rolled up to Jay an he seemed a little startled, but I said, “Jay, it’s me Joe Popp.” He laughed and shook my hand. He is a big friendly guy with a wide smile and was happy to see me. I told him I was going to McGuire’s and he said he’d met me for a quick beer. I love McGuire’s. In a town as sweet and quaint as Cold Spring, it’s a tattered fin on an otherwise pretty fish. It’s not that it’s a dump, because it isn’t. It just has a nice divey bar feel that I really enjoy. Good food, cold beer, and a nice bar tender. No BS, no pretension, just the way I like it.
I ordered a McGuire’s Melt on rye with a side of onion rings. It was a great sandwich comprised of ham, turkey, and melted swiss. The ham walloped a good dose of salt into my veins and I think my blood pressure shot up a few points. Again – just the way I like it. A few bites into my sandwich Jay came strolling through the door with his young son Kubrik in tow. Jay ordered a beer and sat while Kubrik showed Allison the bartender his tricked out BMX bike, sourced from the high-end bike shop that Jay manages in NYC. We blabbed for a while and I told him of my journey in the next few days. He was excited for me. He too knows the beauty of two wheels and exercises it in pedal form these days, keeping away from the motorized variety for safety’s sake. He a family man nowadays with other people that rely on him, so a motorcycle isn’t in the cards. When I had a family it wasn’t in mine either.
Kubrik was raring to ride his bike, so I bid the two of them farewell and watched as the young boy blissfully pedaled away with Jay trailing behind. Such a simple joy so many people forget – a bike: the act of balancing while in forward motion. I too loved bicycles as a kid and spent every last dime buying parts for my BMX bike, which I used thoroughly until getting my first motorcycle at 17. That was 30 years ago. Damn.
I was just finishing up my beer and food when the skies opened up. There it was again, the gift of seeing and old friend and his son, and then along comes a torrent to try and wash away my good experience. But the Brick has taught me many lessons to date. I had nowhere to go, no family waiting at home, and no dinner plans with anybody. Those things used to make me sad, but I now understand them as freedoms. Although I would like to perhaps have a family again, this is not what I have now. Grasses will always be greener, skies will always be clearer, but today, what I have is just that – what I have. And what I have is not bad.
I waited out the rain and little by little the sky did get brighter. I paid my tab, bought a Powerball ticket (you never know), and mounted the Brick. I couldn’t have been more than 5 miles out when I felt some light taps on the top of my Arai. I have learned from past experience what to do when this happens – PUT ON THE F’ING RAIN GEAR. If there is a drizzle, or if it looks like rain, smells like rain, sounds like rain, or even tastes like rain, do this: PUT IT ON. There is nothing more uncomfortable than being soaking wet with a 500-pound motorcycle chaffing away between your legs through waterlogged denim. I pulled into an estate driveway and extracted the rain gear from my luggage. Just as I zipped my jacket it got more evil. The friendly mist became mean daggers from above. This was good training for my journey, as I am sure in 6750 miles there will be at least one stiff snort of precipitation.
I focused intently through the pelting and made my way towards home. Just as I hit the Saw Mill Parkway it let up and then finally stopped. The water wicked off my bike and rain suit, and I took a deep breath. What a strange day of give and take. Smooth roads became bumpy and then smooth again. A meeting with an old friend was followed with a trial-by-water. But no matter the events, I made it through the day. I pulled into my garage and thought deeply. The ride certainly wasn’t boring and I realized that without presence of things going wrong, how would I know the beauty of when things are going right? Without the rain how would I appreciate the sun? I took this concept further and concluded that without the burden of pain, I would not know the power of being healed. Great lessons learned in just over a hundred miles on a 25-year-old motorcycle.
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