Spring Has Sprung!

It’s March 7th, and I just rolled over 1,000 miles for the year. 1,038 to be exact. In Rochester. New York. Typically in March (ok, from December all the way to April) I am cussing out Mother Nature for dragging winter on so damn long. Hell, last year I didn’t hit 1,000 miles for the year until June 2nd somewhere in West Virginia. But this year has been so… strange. And mild. And wonderful! I took the bike out on Jan 1st, a first for me in Western NY. In fact, I had it out at least once a week all through January. February was a little tougher, but I still managed to get in 4 or 5 nice, albeit brisk, riding days. But today…

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Today was glorious. I’ve been looking forward to today since I saw the forecast for highs in the 60s a week ago. Little did I know that, according to the thermometer on the GS, it would reach a loverly 74 degrees. Granted, it will probably snow again before Ol’ Man Winter finally moves off to some other hemisphere… I suppose there’s a decent chance it’ll even snow later this week… but for me, Spring has arrived.

We give Mother Nature hell when she mistreats us, but what do what do we say when a fantastic day like today blows in? “Oh, thank GAWD for this weather!” Well, not this time. This time I shall give Ol’ Mother the props she deserves. You dealt us motorbikers a pat hand today, MN. Thank you. Thankyouthankyouthankyou!

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After classes, I grabbed the camera and took off southwest. I had the GPS with me, but I wasn’t really watching it. I just sort of meandered, following my front tire and just… being. I’m sure if passers-by could see through my helmet they would have thought it strange, that wide, toothy smile that didn’t leave my face all afternoon. My original plan was to stop several times and play with the new camera, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it until the very end when the sun was about to set. Stop, that is – I couldn’t bring myself to stop. The roads were empty, the sun was shining, I wasn’t bundled from head to toe in Gore-Tex…

Plus I was thinking. About stuff. Big Stuff. Huge, even.

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But an hour into my little trek I did stop. For gas and a cup of coffee. Just a quicky, so I didn’t even bother to get the camera out. As I was sitting at a picnic table basking like a lizard, another motorbike pulled in. A big ol’ Harley something. The rider was wearing a half helmet so I could see his face, and suddenly I knew what I must look like under my helmet. He was all teeth. After grabbing his own cup of coffee, he plops down next to me and we start chatting. I never did catch his name… names don’t seem to mean much during coffee breaks – the bikes are our names. He was Harley, I was Bimmer, and that was enough for us both. While we’re chatting, two more bikes pull in. Then another group of about six. Within the next 10 minutes or so, there are about 15 or 20 of us, I’ve gotten another cup of coffee, and we’re all just walking around looking over everyone’s bike. There’s 2 other BMW’s, a couple Harleys, a Victory, and a bunch of sport bikes that I can’t tell apart – one was an S1000, I know that. The others? No clue.

One of the Harley riders was patched with Hells Angels. He was chatting and joking with the S1000 rider who was in full BMW racing leathers that cost damn near as much as my GS. The Victory rider was patched with a religious club (Riders for Jesus or something like that… didn’t get a good look at it, only saw the big red cross on the back of his vest). He spent most of his time with wrenches in hand making adjustments to his mirrors, his seat, his plugs… anything that could be wrenched, he wrenched. It was an eclectic group, and one that probably won’t gather like that again for the rest of the summer. These riders were from all very, very different groups that usually don’t mingle. Not like this, anyway.

And as that thought crossed my mind, it hit me…

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It’s spring.

That’s what brought us all together. It didn’t matter what kind or style. Two wheels. That’s all that mattered. Most of them had been cooped up since December, some even earlier. Today was the first day they were out in months. Every year, when that first day of really nice weather rolls around, this is the scene throughout the Northeast. The first and last time of the year, it seems, that impromptu mini-rallies just form wherever two or three bikes get together. It only lasts for fifteen or twenty minutes, time enough for a cup of coffee and a smoke or two, but it’s enough for everyone. It’s the ushering in of a new season, the reclamation of both a life and a lifestyle. It may well be my favorite riding day of the year.

As I drove away – still smiling – a deeper thought crossed my mind. It’s like that with riding… critical thinking courtesy of 110 horses running wild on a beautiful day.

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To say I hate the snow would be an understatement. This “winter” has been a walk in the proverbial park, but usually it is, quite literally, a painful time of year. I’ve been thinking of moving South (again!) for three years now. Each spring I’ve sworn that “that was my last winter!” Even now, as I look for teaching jobs, I am, with only a few exceptions, confining my search to areas with minimal (preferably NO) annual snowfall.

So let’s pretend, then, that I land one of these jobs in Texas, or Arizona, or North Carolina… Let’s pretend that I get that job at that college somewhere that has no snow… Somewhere I can ride twelve months of the year… With all that I gain… The extra 5 months of riding, the full time job… the extra 5 months of riding… do I lose my favorite riding day of the year?

I think I do. Would that little gathering have happened in San Antonio? Or Charlotte? Or Macon? In Chattanooga is there a day that just seems to kick off riding season without any warning? In Savannah or Vicksburg will you find a similarly eclectic collection of riders hanging out, swapping road suggestions, and helping Mr. Victory-man tighten his chain?

I don’t know for sure, but somehow I doubt it. I think it far more likely that, and I mean no disrespect by this at all, riders down south take a twelve month riding season for granted. I know I did when I was younger and living in CA and FL. I doubt it ever even crossed my mind back then.

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But it crossed my mind today. I don’t even know where the hell I was, but I’ll remember that Valero gas station and the characters that filled it for a long time. I’ll miss days like today. Hell, I miss it already.

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