A light rain fell all morning during my niece’s recent lacrosse tournament. While the mist didn’t seem to dampen any of the players’ spirits, it did manage to turn the fields used as parking lots for the event into slimy mud pits. “Look at this mess,” my boyfriend muttered as he maneuvered the SUV back onto the slick road to leave. I have to admit I was relieved not to be on two wheels that day, even as my mind wandered down a very slippery memory lane to another time when I was.
It happened during an impromptu ride to explore the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Vacation in the summer of 2009 was supposed to consist of a group road trip to Kentucky to reunite with a bunch of friends. You know how plans go sometimes…they don’t. With only about a week left before the departure date, a few of the participants had to cancel, a few decided to reschedule for later, and that left me and my friend Debbie with time off from work and a need for Plan B. We started naming places we hadn’t been yet, but wanted to visit, and agreed on Chincoteague as our destination.
We had a blast; over and through the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, straight to Chincoteague to find a place to stay and check out the town, then on to continue our adventure by heading south and making stops in places off route 13 that had captured our interest on the way up. During one break in Onley, imagine our surprise to discover a bike rally was just getting started nearby. We checked into a hotel, then rode over to the event grounds to investigate. We met some great folks and found out the schedule for the weekend included games, wrestling matches, bands, and vendors. We also learned camping space was available and while we hadn’t brought any supplies, we could rent a tent from the organizers. We took them up on that when we returned the next afternoon, especially considering bottomless mugs o’ beer would be available throughout the rally.
It was so much fun I really didn’t pay much attention to the on-again, off-again showers throughout that night. I didn’t really think about the rain until the next morning when I ventured out of the tent looking for coffee. I was distracted by a bit of commotion at the lone entrance/exit to the rally site, as those attempting to leave slipped, slid, and wiped out on their bikes in the mud. It was like watching some sort of bizarre biker rodeo game going horribly wrong. Wet weather had taken its toll on the short driveway from the road onto the soaked property. The event organizers had tried to help fix the problem by spreading shells and gravel across what was becoming a huge mire, but too much traffic had come and gone leaving deep trenches of glop to try to navigate through. As I stood there, another rider made it through the muck at the gate only to flop over on the road, and I cringed at the sound of chrome scraping pavement. Then I noticed a vendor we’d met during the previous night’s live music waving me over closer to the action.
“Ain’t this a mess?! Me and most of the other vendors with RVs and trailers have sank down into the field and are waiting on trucks to come pull us out. I’ve been watching this all morning, and here’s what you gotta do to get out of here.”
I paid attention as he explained we’d have to approach the gate from left to right. He pointed out the track most riders were following to find success in staying upright, and told me to approach the gate almost parallel to the opening to stay where the mud was the shallowest. He warned that we would have keep heading right once we were on the road, because a thin layer of mud had been smeared up onto the surface. That coating was hard to see, like black ice. He’d seen many make the mistake of thinking they were good to go once they reached the asphalt, only to roll on the throttle and have the bike shimmy out from under them. Aha, that’s how the peg-crunching topple I’d witnessed a bit earlier had happened. It was now understood that not only would we have to head off in the wrong direction, we’d have to ride far enough to reach bare pavement to keep from taking a spill in a U-turn, and pass over the film of mud again to point ourselves home. I thanked him for the tips, and went to fill Debbie in on the details.
“This has the potential to suck,” I announced.
“What’s the matter, are you afraid you’ll drop your bike?”
“No, I’m afraid if I drop it there’s no way to get any footing or leverage for me or anyone to lift it back up.”
I finished packing my bike with disturbing visions of it on its side in ankle-deep sludge flashing through my head. I could just imagine a half-dozen well-meaning people trying to help me upright it. And instead, we’d all wind up in a Woodstock-inspired, grime-coated pseudo game of Twister on a motorcycle instead of the usual multi-colored gumball-stamped mat.
Finally, we were ready to try and make our escape. We putted our bikes around to the left side of the gate and paused to watch a rider with his dog in a sidehack ease his way through the exit. A guy waiting for someone to come tow his camper out yelled, “Good luck, honey!” I thanked him and then tuned in to hear my inner voice chanting:
NOSUDDENMOVESNOSUDDENMOVESNOSUDDENMOVES, as we slowly squiggled, wiggled, and painstakingly churned our way to solid ground. Once I was sure I was on dry pavement, I glanced back to see Debbie still following, and thankfully still vertical. We turned our bikes around, and carefully crossed the slimy patch of road in front of the gate to start the ride home.
A couple of days after that we rode up on Skyline Drive and encountered a black bear, but that’s a story on its own for another time. No matter what jogs your memory, here’s hoping you can reminisce on beautiful rides and laugh at the stickier situations. And as you look back at the old year and anticipate what the new one will bring on this strange trip of life, my wish is that you’ll find more smiles than tears. Cheers and Happy New Year!