Big boy pants
After six months and 4,000 miles on the 1999 Harley-Davidson Road King, I decided to ratchet things up just a bit. Prior to August of 2010, I had never ridden a motorcycle. I took the Rider’s Edge Motorcycle Academy three-day course and earned my license. Most of my riding had been on local roads with, perhaps, 100 miles total on the interstate highway system.
Recently turning 60 and needing additional “therapy,” which is what my secretary calls my time on the bike, I scheduled two days off and rode solo 800 miles in two days with about 680 miles of that on the interstate, including I-285 during morning rush hour in Atlanta and I-75/85 through Atlanta during evening rush hour traffic.
Here are the lessons I learned:
1. Anyone wishing to sky-dive should try I-285 during rush hour before strapping on a parachute. If the thought of potentially plunging to your death in two minutes is exciting, try about 45 minutes on this stretch of highway. The country song I kept going over in my mind was, “God is great, beer is good, and people are crazy.” I can only assume that the songwriter has been on I-285.
2. When the weather on a dark February morning is 27 degrees, five shirts, a leather jacket, a leather vest, under-armor, heavy jeans, cold weather gloves, a face wrap, a helmet, and two pair of socks is not nearly enough to keep you warm. Going a mere 65 miles per hour, the wind chill is 5 degrees. That might be just fine for a short ride, but 5 degrees is 5 degrees and, with time, a bone chilling, mind numbing, teeth chattering reality sets in.
3. It takes longer on a bike (for me) than it does in a car. Normally, I can get to Chattanooga in about 2.5 hours. On the Harley, I made the trip in double that time. Of course, after I-285, I immediately diverted to Highway 41 and avoided the interstate like the plague, passing through small towns I never knew existed. Also, some time was spent in convenience stores trying to un-freeze.
4. Sometimes, however, you just have to put on your “big boys pants” and go for it. So, at Ringgold, when I ran out of Highway 41, I mustered up my courage and hit I-75 North. Until I hit the Tennessee state line, I gripped the hand grips hard enough to bend steel — if the steel wasn’t already frozen solid.
5. I discovered that Tennessee interstate highways are in better shape than Georgia interstate highways in spite of the fact that Tennessee has no state income tax and Georgia does. Why is that?
6. With enough time and miles, confidence starts to build, one learns to go with the flow of the road, and the interstate becomes just another road, albeit a big road with tons of traffic.
7. Surprisingly, I learned that ear plugs will muffle the sounds of the highway and, for me, somehow lower the tension level and allow me to concentrate on the feel of the road and bike and not be so startled by auto and truck noise.
8. I learned that, after 10 hours on a motorcycle, it was very easy to fall asleep still dressed in my clothes (sans boots) with the TV and lights on — and sleep through the wake-up call.
9. I learned to appreciate the practice of dressing in layers. For the return trip, I added layers of clothing which, thanks to warmer weather, I gradually shed during the day. Not totally, of course. That would be illegal.
10. I discovered that, even on the interstate with all its unique challenges, I still love to ride. The return trip was made with a sense of accomplishment and the excitement of choosing voluntarily to go through Atlanta during evening rush hour.
My respect for the interstate highway system remains but the terror I had is largely tamed. On the open road, I felt that I faced some fears, grew up a bit, and in a strange way, became a man all over again.
The slight ache in my lower back, chest, and shoulders remains a testimony that meeting challenges takes will and effort.
In a few weeks, I look forward to riding the motorcycle to a required denominational meeting. In Orlando. New challenges await.
[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA 30277. Services are held Sundays at 8:30 and 10 a.m. (www.ctkcec,org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and may be contacted at email@example.com.]