The Solitary Rider Staff
by Staff
I got home from work around six or so this evening; it’s Thursday and I’m well ready for the weekend’s reprieve from workday deadlines and assorted aggravation. An early-Summer storm brought a cold front through last night, and instead of 90 degrees it’s 75 at the end of June. Combined with an almost miraculous absence of famous Oklahoma wind, it’s one of those perfect evenings made for wandering down a two-lane on a motorcycle.

I love this time of year; everything’s green and new and the heat of the Oklahoma summer hasn’t really yet begun to come on strong and brown off the grass, and to bake the bare red clay into fine powder that gets swept up in the wind and colors the horizon that deep orange as the sun goes down. And tonight, there’s not even a hint of the humidity that had me sweating inside my ballistic jacket riding home well after midnight last weekend. So I kissed Amy goodbye, got into my gear and rolled the bike out of the garage.

The bike is a Ducati 750 Monster, the one I wanted from the first time I saw the all-black “Dark” edition and finally found a ’99 model used here in town with just over 7k on the clock. This is my first street bike, and I’ve only owned it since late last August, so not quite a year yet. I’ve put just over another 4k on it riding it to work on nice days, on weekend trips with the guys from Tulsa and, like tonight, just tooling through the countryside. I’ve been playing with adding a fairing of some sort because I’m tired of a galaxy of gnat carcasses and Junebug residue blocking up my visor, but it just seems to feel right leaving the bike naked so that’s how it remains. I rock the choke lever back and hit the starter and grin to myself as the two-valve motor cackles to life through the Ferracci cans and echoes off the windows of the subdivision. Let it warm up for a minute while I hit the garage door opener and then it’s back off the choke, drop it into gear and off down the street.

I’ve set a preliminary course for myself that will take me out of town and across the rolling prairie to the historic ‘burg of Guthrie 20 miles or so to the north. I’ve no goal other than to avoid as much traffic and as many stoplights as possible, and to just get some time to myself and feel the bike thumping along beneath me.

When you’re up above Oklahoma a few thousand feet in an airplane, you discover that the whole damn state is basically laid out in square-mile grids we call section lines. What that translates to back on the ground (and especially in my neck of the woods) is a whole lot of straight roads and right-angle intersections, and precious few curvy spots to break up the monotony or scrub off that “chicken strip” at the edge of my Dunlops. So, I pick out the route with the smoothest asphalt and the fewest stopsigns and figure what I’m missing in s-curves and late apexes I might make up for in a good old WFO blast or two.

Now I mentioned before that I ride with a group fairly often, but there’s just something about being by yourself and setting your own pace and going exactly where you want to go that makes this whole motorcycle thing worth doing. Such as it is tonight as I get through the north side of town and out on the main road where I can open things up a little bit. I’m feeling so good that I get a little over-eager at the last stoplight and wheelie the Duck a little bit coming across the intersection with the sun hanging low to my left and the prospect of a good 50-mile ride before I get back to the house. And man, there’s something about the way the green hayfields and the blackjack oaks and the warm asphalt mix together in the air that brings back the beginning of every summer vacation I had as a kid, especially all those years I really hated school and the idea of a whole three months of freedom was really something special. Now it’s a desk job five days a week and all the grown-up stuff I have to think about the other two days and the realization that an hour of riding snatched here or there on a beautiful evening is about as close as I’ll ever come to that feeling again.

On down the road past the outer limits of my little suburb the stopsigns go away all together, and I’m honking along at 80 or so just because I can and because that’s where the bike feels like it should be in fifth. We in the Midwest still experience that strange phenomenon of densely populated areas flowing right out into what was recently (or in some cases still is) undeveloped rural farmland, prairie and woodlands. I take note of a gleamingly affluent new “gated community” growing up in direct line-of-sight of some ratty mobile homes sans skirting and featuring the full complement of decrepit vehicles, a tumbledown country store and some horse pastures surrounded by an alfalfa field. Brother. Anyway, the half-million dollar houses and the trailer parks soon give way to rolling pastures dotted here and there with farm houses and polebarns and the occasional pumpjack, and it’s very much like one of those truckstop postcards from my vantage point. The road is just long and straight now, with a couple of steep downhills that have me laid low over the tank past the century mark on the speedo, then slowing drastically for a steep railroad crossing that looks like something off the Dukes of Hazzard.

A little further on and it’s a right turn down Highway 33 and east into Guthrie, a Victorian prairie town preceded by a few ancient gas stations, bars of the cut-and-shoot variety and a really cool old firehouse before you get a little further in to the tourist stuff. Seeing a Texaco sign up ahead, I whip off the road to top off my tank and to see about cleaning some of the bug guts off my visor. I pull in behind a grungy Chevrolet pickup in which a young guy and his bored-looking girlfriend are conversing with a shady-looking dude outside the driver’s window. I’m too far back behind the truck to reach the premium hose, and a couple of Harley guys in full Confederate biker regalia are blocking the otherside of the pump stand and summarily ignoring me as I wait. Nice. I fire the Duck up and move on in search of a more hospitable business.

So it’s on into town and back south again onto the road that will ultimately take me back home, and this time I find a Love’s station that sells 91 octane that I can reach and has windshield-washer tubs that are actually full of water and there are even paper towels to scrub the visor off with. I go inside to pay, and as I wait for my card to go through a large, sweaty man stands very close behind me smoking a Marlboro red and drinking from a Coors “tall” he’s just retrieved from the cooler. The cashier hands me the slip to sign and I get out the door before the Coors guy has a chance to tell me that I have a pretty mouth. I put on my helmet and zip my jacket back up, punch the starter and head the hell out of Guthrie.

I get a couple of gentle curves on the highway heading back south out of town, but then it’s back straight again on a discarded stretch of two-lane interstate made up of apparently randomly-placed chunks of deteriorating concrete and miscellaneous hotpatch. The traffic is light and the scenery’s nice, but the ride on this stretch is positively bone-jarring and for awhile I’m only doing 50 or so and dodging chuckholes and mile-wide frost heaves. Still, I console myself in the fact that even a really rotten road becomes less so when I’m up here cutting the wind and wiping out whole populations of flying insects and feeling the revs off the motor right up through the handlebars.

It’s getting cooler now; the weatherman said maybe 58 or so tonight and it feels like it now that the sun's gone out of the low spots where the trees are dense against the roadside and fog is already beginning to collect. I’ve only got a t-shirt on beneath my ballistic jacket with the liner zipped out and my jeans aren’t blocking much wind and it’s starting to get a little chilly up over 60 or so. I grin to myself inside my helmet, thinking about that day last winter when my car wouldn’t start so I fired the bike up and rode into the office to discover that morning’s air temp was all of 24 degrees. Now that was a "little chilly," and after I regained circulation in the exposed part of my neck I vowed never to try that again.

On further past a quarter horse ranch whose barn doors are open to the road as I pass, and I take notice of the smell of hay and cut grass again and how as the air grows colder, the scents linger in pockets of warmth that seem to pool on the road surface. I’m almost back home now, and I realize that for all the concentration and (sort of) caution I build into taking a ride, I’ve been able to spend the last little while doing nothing but soaking in a few minutes-worth of getting to notice the nuances of the things I’m just too busy for when I'm not out wandering around on my own, and that if nothing else is justification for a good solo ride whenever I can grab the time. I swing a sharp right past the next stopsign onto a freshly-paved stretch of deserted two-lane and wring the bike out through fourth gear (love the feel of that 170-series rear tire biting the asphalt on the upshifts!) before backing off at 85 or so and continuing on at a more legal pace, the sun all the way down now and the western glow in front of me as I near home. I've done just over 50 miles tonight and I'll be up and gone for work again in a few hours, but for now I'm just happy to be here.
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