He sat on his scoot in the parking lot of Wal-Mart, cutting the seams out of the top of a sock cap with a well-worn, ever-present multitool. He had left his neck gaiter at home and the temperature was dropping, wind starting to make its presence known. It fit well when he had finished, snug and didn’t itch. He was glad he had put on the long underwear and wool shirt in the public restroom of the large store. Sweating then, but not now as the wind picked up out of the north-west blowing bits of debris across the lot in this far west Kansas town of Goodland.
He turned on the ignition switch and pressed the start button, engine cranking, coughing to life. Settling into its deep familiar rumble, idling down as the big inch V-twin warmed. He shifted the bike into gear, awkwardly maneuvering the heavy beast through the crowded parking lot, city streets and throttling onto the interstate. Ignoring the dull ache in his upper back. The late afternoon sun was setting, bathing the countryside in the muted pastels of the west and southwest. Bits of bright green mixed with the varied tones of the golden brown fields, the blue of the sky even having its own tone for this part of the country. The wind was getting quite a bite to it, but the stiff heavy leathers and wool seemed to be doing their job. He set the cruise, kicked down the highway pegs and tried to settle in to a long cold ride as the sun continued to set. Heading east into the cold desolate plains he could still feel her warmth, thoughts settling on the past couple of days.
Goodbyes shouldn’t be that hard, but always were. Bike idling on the kickstand, wanting the open road. He didn’t want her firm embrace and the soft kisses to end, the fires still burning from earlier passions. Heat felt by both even through the heavy leathers. They both had other lives to lead, worlds to tend to. Life is so hard, sometimes.
The bitter, biting cold. Always the fucking cold….Or brutal searing heat. He had waited too late to leave and would soon be paying for it. Should have stayed another day. Always second guessing himself. He took the Hays exit , winding his way through traffic, pulling in to the local Mickey Dees parking lot after gassing up. Damn, the heat of the engine felt good, soaking thought the heavy leathers and clothing. Any other time would be cursing it, he laughed to himself. Once inside enjoying the steaming hot coffee and chatting with a couple locals. Trying to absorb all the warmth he could before starting out once again on that journey home on the cold desolate plains and the blackest of nights. All good things must come to an end.
He couldn’t stand the cold anymore. The windchill at seventy miles per hour was killing him, maybe quite litterally. Headache, numb, thoughts fuzzy and erratic. He feared hypothermia, took the exit and pulled in to the Flying J truckstop in Salina about midnight and fueled up. Squeezing into a restroom stall and putting on his last layer of the heavy wool long underware set from his Army days. Struggling to get everything back on in the confines of the stall, breaking in to a heavy sweat. The chaps were a fucking bitch. Barely able to walk to the truckers store for more hot coffee, hoping he didn’t have to piss again for a while and another five minute ordeal with layers of clothing, complete with cold-numbed fingers. It was all the hell he could do to get back on the bike, off the kickstand, and back on the highway east but at least was warm for a short time. Only had to stand two more hours.
He was so stiff from the bone-chilling cold and heavy clothing he had trouble manuvering the heavy iron horse around the small car and truck in the long narrow driveway. He set the heavy bike on it’s kickstand, letting it idle. Stripping off the heavy leather jacket and cut, laying them on the small back porch. Laying his gloved hands on the back cylinder head of the bike, trying to thaw them enough to unlock and open the garage.
Too tired to undress and falling asleep in the recliner in the small cluttered den. He had to be up in a couple of hours and yet another adventure would begin….
The surgery sucked. Removing the tumor had been tougher than the doc thought. The local had worn off at the end, he could feel the scalpel when it cut deep. He thought about saying something but had decided to gut it out. The sting of the stitching needle smarted, but it was the thread pulling though and being tied that hurt. The pain really set in when walking to the car after. Yowza….
He picked the heavy iron horse up off the kick stand, feeling the stitches pull. Loaded as it was and gassed up the bike probably weighed close to a half a ton. Goddamn, it hurt, shouldn’t even be riding. At this point he really didn’t give a flying fuck. Hadn’t even checked the weather, not very smart for this part of the country this time of year. Anything could happen with the climate and often did. It would be even more unpredictable the closer he got to the Rockies. The low staccato idle of the warmed up engine nudged him out of his thoughts and into action. The metallic clack-clack of the transmission dropping into first gear….Slipping the clutch and idling the big Harley onto the cracked rough city streets toward the highway west.
The bright blue sky, wisps of few clouds. The rolling terrain of the Flint Hills. The grays of the rock outcroppings mixed with the browns and small patches of bright green. An occasional violet or yellow wildflower. A hawk, wings outstretched, riding the invisible currents of the sky. Specks of civilization now and again. Fort Riley, “The Big Red One”. Abilene, Hays, Ellis….Ignoring them mostly, except when searching for 91 octane gasoline. The giant windmills; he hated them but understood the need.
He didn’t fully understand why he was on this journey, not really. To run away from home and the complicated relationship there, even if only for a short time. Missing the adrenaline rush, even the fear and loneliness of the Middle East. He hated the war yet missed it. Home was a stranger, he was only at peace when on his scooter. More often than not a misguided adventure impulsively pulled out of his ass at a moments notice.
The bike continued to climb in altitude, the riders ears popping as they rolled west. Always the motorhead, enjoying the marvel of modern electronics adjusting the fuel to the thinning air. The cruise opening and closing the throttle responding to the long pulls of the hills. Deep rumble of the exhaust as soothing as the music on the CD player.
The shit hit the fan on the side streets of Limon, he wasn’t gonna make it to the truck stop. Fucking Colorado, he thought. Goddammit….The temperature had started dropping around Colby, sky’s clouding up. By the time he had crossed the border he didn’t like what he was seeing but pushed on. Trying to make the truck stop and sanctuary. Wasn’t gonna happen. The thick, heavy, low-hanging gray clouds just outside of Limon only meant one thing; the wall of large golf ball sized splattering drops moving towards him up this side street of the small town in northeastern Colorado. Fuck me runnin’….
Looked like a drowned rat standing in the entryway of the truck stop, but the Walking Dead needed a good smile during this late afternoon deluge. Pontoons? Maybe build a fucking ark. Walked the hallway that ran the perimeter of the establishment, found the restroom, dried (or wrung out) the best he could. Off came the drenched ball cap. On with the oilskin duster, surplus cold weather helmet liner, and goggles he had brought in with him. Looked like a retard but was warm. Quick cup of hot steaming joe from the truckers store and back outside into what had turned into a gentle rain. At least the water wasn’t running over the lower edge of the mag wheels and tires of the bike. Time to Kick the Tires and Light the Fires. Pontoons may not have been such a bad idea….
He lit off the big scoot, steam rising from the engine cooling fins and exhaust pipes as it warmed. Negotiating the traffic in the crowded parking lot, cracking the throttle a bit hard pulling out on the rough street and breaking the back tire loose. Gotta cool it, hydroplaning is gonna be a problem.
Once off the entrance ramp and on the highway, the goggles cleared and the duster did a surprisingly good job of keeping the rain and wind in check. He had left the stereo off, wanting to focus on the road and traffic, getting heavy as he neared his destination. Piling up his ride this far from home was not cool. Besides, the deep, subtle rumble of the big-inch motor was music enough for old tired ears.
Bumper to bumper at 70 mile per hour was a little dicey. Brakes had done well on a couple of panic stops, tires biting well on the wet pavement. Headed northwest around Denver on ‘270 then ’25. Rain had let up and he had even started to dry out. Low gray skies covered what he really wanted to see, the mountains. He turned off the exit he was looking for just north of Thornton heading east. Finding the small tavern among the seemingly endless rows of strip malls, small businesses, and apartments. Downshifting into the parking lot, up a slight incline and into a spot at the far end of the lot. Engine idling, loud whine from the cam case. He had lunched a cam bearing and was one hell of a long way from home.
He must have been a sight to the young couple necking by the entrance. Steam rising of the bike….Goggles, stupid looking hat and duster. Taking the shit off and packing it away. Just wet leathers, colors, and wondering if he was gonna be hoofing it back east. Walking to the front door, seeing the sign saying “no colors”. Hell yeah, made him feel right at home. He started to take the cut off, but the young lovers told him to go on in, all was cool.
She had greased it.
Once inside, eyes adjusting from dark gray to dim, every form of I.D. being checked by the doorman. The wrung out old saddletramp being carefully scoped out by everyone in the place, obviously his kind were not common there. The clinking glassware and quiet conversation, he looked up and saw her smile, sitting at the bar. Right in front of him. Also noticing the very ample bosom in the low-cut top, being reminded that she was “up here”. It had pretty much been a set up, most of the people in the bar being her friends including the necking couple out front.
After dropping the bike off at a local apartment complex, he found himself in surroundings much more to his liking. The parking lot of the old backstreet saloon was full of stripped down and chromed bikes of all flavors. Inside, the patrons mostly long hair, beards, leather with scantily clad ladies. Good hardcore rock and roll band, music of the streets. Watching her dance with her lady friend, trying to warm up after the hours on the road. The well-worn easy atmosphere helping him relax. Their first kiss.
The shower was so fucking hot he couldn’t hardly stand it, burning the stitches. Filling a very feminine bathroom with steam. Damn, it felt good. He saw her shadow through the shower curtain, bringing in fresh towels and then squatting on the stool. Alcohol did that sometimes….Thoughts wandering through the days events one at a time. Settling on how to get a cam bearing replaced at a moments notice in the morning. Well, crap. Best laid plans of mice ‘n men or some such shit. As he was towelling off, noticing that she had poked through his dog tags and such as that by the sink. Wondering what she had allowed into her life and heart.
Lying on her tummy on the king sized bed, propped up on a pillow looking at him. Thin skimpy panties barely covering her ample bottom.
Waking in a tangle of sheets and most potent womanhood. The aroma of sweat, sex, and a very light floral perfume. Dull ache on his upper back, trying to shake the cobwebs of sleep, painkillers and most lustful lovemaking.
She enjoyed the short ride over to the dealership, big party and cookout going on in the parking lot. He parked the bike by the service entrance, talked with the service writer while she wandered the lot checking out the action. He joined her, hand in hand, looking over the merchandise on sale and chatting with the other bikers while the mechanics checked out his scoot.
He had lucked out. the whine caused by the timing chains as the oil thinned from the hours of hard riding. Apparently a characteristic and not a problem.
Beautiful day with a nearly cloudless bright blue sky, majestic snow-capped mountains to the west. He thought the old mountain men were right, the Rockies really were the marrow of the earth. Traffic a bit heavy as they merged the big bike on to ’25, throttling hard and settling in front of a rig pulling doubles. Shifting into overdrive, both leaning back and relaxing, heading north toward Fort Collins and another rumored party. Goddamn, this is pretty country. Seemingly endless ranges of bright snowcapped mountains to the left, the exits that headed that way were tempting. Traffic heavy but not unbearably so. Just one of those days that niether of them are wanting to end. Fresh cool air, no radio, just the rumble of the bikes engine and some surrounding traffic. Some things shouldn’t have to. He saw that beautiful smile in the rearview mirror, but missed the tears….