Uh oh, I thought as storm clouds climbed the western peaks of the rolling blue hills of Virginia. It was a Sunday morning in August but a cold wind washed over me as my husband, Marty, and I headed our bikes North to New York and home from a great vacation on a working ranch.
I caught Marty’s eye and pointed to the roiling clouds that shadowed verdant hills and turned the world gray. He nodded and cracked on the gas. I fell back so we’d both have a full lane at these speeds on winding mountain roads. A flash of lightning at our backs and a drum roll of thunder announced that the clouds would not be outrun.
Uh oh, I thought again as rain spattered my thin nylon jacket and stung my cheeks. We were both due for work the next day. No time to wait out a storm in a motel. I zippered my jacket and pulled a rag from under the bike’s seat, then wrapped it over my face, bandit-style. Marty did the same.
Just two bandits on the run with a posse of storm clouds at our backs. I glanced back at the low clouds that crouched on hills and ate the peaks.
Something wicked this way comes!
And then the rains came.
No gentle drops that urged the flowers to grow and the land to bring forth new life, but slaps of water that bruised the earth and ripped away soil in running wounds.
To say nothing of what it did to bikers.
“Wish I had a windshield,” I muttered into the rag. “Why didn’t I buy a windshield? Oh, yeah. Money.” I used it for hard saddlebags so my stuff wouldn’t be stolen off the back of the bike. Now I’d trade some stuff for a windshield and rain gear.
Rain is as bad as it gets on a bike, unless you’re a masochist who enjoys winter riding. I’ve ridden in snow out of necessity. It’s another whole level of this so-called sport.
I tucked my head deeper into the helmet and felt my hands tremble on the grips. My jacket was plastered to my back. My thighs were getting cold and as cars sped by they splashed our legs with water to complete the misery from the ground up. Whenever I hit a bump I felt the seat squish. I wiped drops from my visor and put my feet on the BMW’s opposed cylinders for some heat, but with the wind, it didn’t help much. Looking back now, I realize how foolishly unprepared we were. But that was then.
The hum of the bike’s efficient engine was comforting. BMWs were the bikes that would get you home from anywhere before Japan threw in its chips and came up with motorcycles that, according to my tool-and-die-making husband, were put together with the precision of a watch.
They say that sailors don’t really love the sea; they love their ships. I know that I loved my motorcycle more than I loved the open road.
Marty motioned to me that he was pulling over. I followed. We sat silently under a tree. Marty took off his boots, squeezed out his socks and put them back on. There was no use my doing that. I wore sneakers.
He lit a cigarette. I was hoping it wouldn’t light in the rain, but it did. I kept after him to give up smoking, but all he’d say was, “Some day.”
“You know, Kilcz,” I said, “I think I’m about ready for a motel. This rain isn’t going to stop.”
“Can’t do it.” He laid back.
I couldn’t believe he was going to take his daily nap.
“Our bosses will understand,” I said.
“We don’t have the money.” He yawned, ground out the soggy cigarette and closed his eyes.
“Of course we do! We left the ranch with enough money.”
“Not exactly, Kilcz. Who knew it was going to rain.”
“What are you saying?”
“I bought a Luger.”
“You bought a what?”
“A German Luger. I always wanted one and you don’t need a license to buy one in Virginia.”
“What the hell are you going to do with a German Luger?”
“Nothing.” He sighed deeply and folded his hands over his stomach. “I just always wanted one.”
“I always wanted a horse, Kilcz! You don’t see me riding around on a horse in Queens.”
I knew by his breathing that he was asleep.
“You lunatic!” I wanted to jam a lily in his folded hands. Instead, I took off my jacket and covered his legs with it.
“Did you have an accident?” someone called. A patrol officer left his car and trotted over.
“No,” I said, “he’s taking a nap.”
He gave me a funny look, then called back to his partner, “He’s taking a nap!”
He shook his head as he got into the car, threw me a look, and they drove away.
By the time we were back on the road, the storm had settled down to a steady rain. We pushed north. My body and my brain became numb. I drove on like a poor mule who goes in circles to pump water, without thought, almost without feeling. With each bump in the road, I awaited the squish. Still, in my hypnotic daze, I kept an eye out for leaves in the turns, and sand and the oil that collects in a dangerous line in the center of lanes. I’d been riding long enough to do these things almost on pure instinct.
Our only reprieve was lunch at a restaurant. People dressed for Sunday church looked at us as though we’d just landed from Mars. I felt like standing on a table and shouting We have met the aliens,and they are us! But we might have been thrown out and I was hungry.
It was dusk when we approached the entrance to the Holland Tunnel that connects New Jersey with New York. Cars were backed up in the Sunday evening rush hour. Marty took the sidewalk where we could pass all the vehicles. I followed. Until we came to a police officer standing on the sidewalk with his hand out in a “Stop” signal. Marty couldn’t stop and went past. I stopped and wiped my face with the rag.
“You stay here!” the officer said sharply. “I’m going to get your buddy! You’re both going to jail.”
I thought of the Luger in Marty’s pack and started to cry. It was just all too much. I used the rag to wipe my eyes.
“You’re a girl!” the officer exclaimed. “Go on, get out of here. I don’t want to throw a girl in jail.”
I thanked him tearfully and followed Marty.
“I saved your soggy backside,” I told Marty later as we pulled into our rented garage, and left puddles wherever we walked. The rain had finally stopped when we reached Manhattan. “If the cops had unrolled your stuff,” I added, “they would have found your precious German Luger!”
“OK, Kilcz.” He laughed and put his bike on the center stand. “I owe you one.”
“A lot more than one. We could’ve been in a nice cozy motel.”
Our landlord, who was an alcoholic, staggered into the garage. “I saw you pull in. Good thing you got home when you did.” He stuck a hand outside the door, palm up. “Looks like rain.”
Marty sagged back against the wall with a moan. I stood tall and smiled, while a puddle formed at my feet. “You’re right, Fred,” I said sweetly. “We might have gotten wet.”