A Ride With Charlie

by Marilyn Stemp

It’s late spring in the eastern mountains. Evening gently begins to fall, low sun laced through squeaky green leaves. A makeshift picnic dinner is finished, there’s murmured conversation, soft laughter.

IMG_9790The postprandial lull is split open by the snarl of a Shovelhead, starting up then settling into a deep-throated thumping you can feel as much as hear. It’s not quite time for the sun to set; no, not just yet. First, he says, looking my way, there’s time for a ride.

Sandals are swapped for boots, here’s a borrowed helmet and take this denim jacket, the old Shovel still has that oil leak.

In a heartbeat we’re off, heading toward what’s left of the sun as the mountains eat it up. The borrowed helmet lifts, slides off; barely into the first mile we stop to make adjustments. Fashion forward now, we’re off again and there’s no stopping this time.

The level town road quickly intersects an uphill grade, one that gets steeper and twistier immediately. We’re all about gaining altitude – and quickly. Sunset waits for no Shovelhead.

With an arm waved in defiance at a speed limit sign that dutifully recedes, we roll on at a clip, accompanied by Jake on his Buell waiting for us just ahead. Several esses and one near-360 later, a wow and an ah escape lips as we glance right when an opening allows a peek through the trees at the escalating view.

Turning onto the Blue Ridge Parkway, the wind in our faces explodes with the rarified scent of vegetation making rapid progress, reveling in sparkling spring after winter’s cruelty. Acceleration undoubtedly amplifies the effect. How much speed is necessary versus how much is simply desired, only the throttle hand knows for sure. Passengers just hold on.

Lush green greets us on all sides, peppered with blooming mountain laurel, defiant sabers of sun piercing through here and there. Downshift, climb, lean, crest, lean more, roll on. Blink and you’ll miss the short tunnel, except for the sudden throaty echo of the bike’s engine thundering back from the tunnel wall and thumping in my chest. But there’s another one just ahead, this time with an inside curve. I could skim the wall with my ungloved fingers if I cared to release my grip on Charlie, which I don’t.

In smooth, swooping concert with Jake’s Buell, we continue — is the tire really that close to the edge of the road? — ultimately conquering this section of the Parkway until it T’s out.

Stop, look, smile. What’s next?

Well, traffic was so light on the stretch we just covered and the road was so perfect, we quickly agree: let’s take it back the other direction. Besides, we get to go through the tunnels again, all of them.

Barely started back we encounter a car and the driver’s in no hurry. Lucky for us she doesn’t want us behind her and pulls over to let us by. Jake, eager to stretch out after the confinement, blows us away, screaming around the bend, no apologies. Taking the curves tightly, we scrape the Shovel’s floorboards in spirited but unlikely pursuit and find him down the road stopped at an overlook, looking composed and thoughtful, taking in the distant smoky ridges as dusk tumbles among them, a bit past prime viewing time. We join him in appreciation.

Light receding rapidly, Charlie dons a jacket and it’s back to the bikes. Jake wastes no time, looking left then wheelieing out, leaving us grinning in his dust. Heading back down the mountain we resume our leaning rhythm, in less of a hurry now. The air is cooler and I’m glad to have Charlie as my windscreen, closing the gap between us, resting my chin on his right shoulder, content in the moment.

I was afraid we left too late to catch the sunset, he sighs; I’m sorry we missed it.

No, I say, we didn’t miss anything. We found something and it was oh so worth the hunt.