We had chosen for the first half of our ride on Saturday to spurn the computer generated choice of two interstate highways and opt for a diagonal route across West Virginia on US routes 50 and 250. Being a flatlander, I had browsed the map and assumed that a northwesterly path would possibly take a little longer but would be a shorter distance than the northerly and westerly sides of what was essentially a right triangle. Not in West Virginia. The extra miles going up, down, and around the mountains more than ate up the advantage of what appeared to be a shorter point to point distance.
We had spent hours on two lanes with very little traffic and constant twisting, rising, falling turns. I had developed a fairly good assessment of the WV highways’ value system for curve warnings. A rating of forty-five miles per hour or more meant, “Don’t sweat it.” Below forty-five called for a down shift to fourth gear; thirty was a cue for third gear, and fifteen miles per hour called for a second gear attack. For a while we had chased a flat bed tow truck hauling an SUV. He surprised me with how much I had to work to keep the pace he was setting. I declined the opportunity to pass him thinking of how embarrassing it would be to be run over from behind by a cage carrying a cage. He eventually turned away and left us with no impediment ahead of us and only an occasional four wheeler behind. I worked the gears through the alternating turns glimpsing regularly at my mirror to be certain that I wasn’t dragging my partner into the corners more quickly than she was wishing to ride.
Somewhere after a hundred twenty miles in the twisties I began to feel the weariness. I was recovering from a left hand turn and scrutinizing an upcoming right hand curve when I watched an oncoming Toyota pickup cheat the curve crossing the double yellow on the inside. That’s scary, I thought. There was a car close behind him and then the road was clear. No warning, I noticed, must be shallow and well banked. Lori later told me that the sign I missed while watching the pickup indicated a twenty mile per hour curve. I entered the turn, leaned the Dragon, and scanned the road ahead. Whoa, I thought, this is a tighter curve than I’m prepared for. I braked late, really late.
I was already well into the curve and drifting badly. I pushed the bike down, got off the brake, and turned the throttle as best I could, but I couldn’t seem to arrest the drift. I was in fourth gear and too fully committed to down shift now. I felt the asphalt rake the side of my right boot, heard the pavement grinding into the base of the right highway peg and watched the double yellow lines pass under the front wheel. This is it, I told myself, any second she’s going to break loose and we’ll slide off the high side of this turn. I hope Lori hasn’t followed me too quickly into this twist. I looked over to see if there was room to put her down nicely, but there was only a narrow, shallow ditch between the road and the steep rock side of the mountain. To my amazement the tires did not break loose and in a just a short distance we rolled back over onto the right side of the double yellow in time to recover and prepare for the next arc. The experience was mostly behind me now leaving me with a racing heartbeat, a few scratches on the equipment, and a souvenir wedge missing from the right side highway peg.
I was very badly shaken. I fully realized that I came out of that mistake only by an accident of space and time that there was no traffic on the other side. If another vehicle the ilk of the pickup had been coming I certainly had no room to adjust.
All of life is a little like that, I guess. I am who I am in great part because of the accidents of time and space that have placed me in the family, in the world, and in the vicinity of various opportunities. There is too much happenstance of space and time for any of us to lay claim to being “self made men” or to have earned our place in this world. I guess truly that we choose, we work, and we plan and then the spinning wheel of fate is added to the mix. We reap, indeed, what we have sown, but heavily influenced by where and when we happen to be. I know this, that it is not because I haven’t made the mistakes, but it is more where and when those mistakes were made. So here we are by accident of space and time, or maybe it’s not by accident at all. Maybe we are here in space and time moved by the mysterious and gracious hand of God.
Perhaps what it all means is that I should try all the more to make the best of the space and time in which I have been placed. And maybe I should be more careful to see the warning signs and not be distracted by the traffic.