There has been no experience in my life that is quite the same as the 1,109 mile motorcycle ride I just took from my house in Muncie, IN to my best friend, Merideth’s house in Sebring, FL. Apparently, the ride would qualify me for the “Iron Butt Club,” which is a club that you can join when you go on a ride of a thousand miles or more. I think this ride should qualify me. I have an Iron Butt now. Winding through Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida, the ride took 22 hours including stopping for gas and lunches, and the majority of it was ridden in the rain, up and down hills and mountains. However, the worst parts of the ride were around Chattanooga, coming down out of the mountains with semis all around me, around Atlanta because Atlanta’s always a nightmare, and the last hour and a half when I found myself dodging old people like Mohammed Ali dodged punches.
When I arrived at Merideth’s house my ass was sore beyond belief, my shoes and my clothes were sodden, and my life had changed. It wasn’t the sort of change like becoming a Christian, where I should feel differently, act differently, or treat my fellow humans with more compassion, but no experience up to this point has been as breathtakingly exhilarating nor as hair-raisingly frightening as riding by myself half-way across the country. I mean some experiences have been similar: willingly losing my virginity, buying a house, committing to finish my PhD, and choosing someone to spend my life with. None of those experiences is quite the same as another, and none compare to submitting myself to the constant jarring and wind-beating of a thousand miles on a two-wheeled piece of steel with a literal fire burning eight inches below my crotch with nothing keeping me from getting burnt by the engine but a four inch thick vinyl seat and a well-loved pair of Levi 501s.
I call my bike Minerva, after the Roman goddess, who was considered to the virgin goddess of warriors, poetry, medicine, commerce, crafts, and music. I bought her before I ever even knew how to ride, mostly out of a rebellion and boredom I had felt since the age of 16 and possibly before then. I bought her for the same reason I have multiple tattoos and piercings and for the same reason I never have a “normal” hairdo. Since I had never ridden and didn’t know how to ride when I bought her, one of my students in my youth group rode her home for me, parked her in my driveway, and showed me the basics of riding, like where the clutch, shifter, brakes, and engine kill switch are located. I started riding her before I should have, and I am probably lucky I am still alive, so shortly after I bought Minerva, I took an ABATE motorcycle safety class and learned how little I knew about riding and how much I had to learn before going on those long rides on the wide open road that I had dreamed of for so many years. I was thirty that summer. That was four summers ago, and since then I had put 9,000 miles on her; now I can proudly say that she has successfully carried me over 10,000 miles. This ride, in particular, was exceptional because of the long distance and the rain.
It rained from just outside Indiana all the way to Atlanta on the first day and from about an hour inside of Florida until Sebring the second day. At one point in Florida, the rain was so thick, the downpour so torrential, even cars were pulling off the sides of the road to wait it out.