Walt Whitman wrote years ago:
Afoot and light hearted I take to the open road,/ Healthy, free, the world before me, . . ./Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, . . . I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing, /Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,/ Strong and content I travel the open road.
In December, 2005 I took a motorcycle driving course, a harrowing experience for a 55 year old woman with balance issues and a fear of death. My goal was to acquire a 3-wheel motorcycle (a trike) but had been told that I needed a motorcycle license (true) which I could only get by passing the state test on a 2-wheeler (false!). So off I went for a weekend of adventure, thinking that I would have no problem since I could drive a stick shift car. I was given a riding manual on how to avoid killing oneself on a motorcycle and was assigned a small Kawasaki by an off-duty county deputy who was to be my instructor and who had no sense of humor.
I learned a lot about myself that weekend. It was good to discover that I would probably never become suicidal since I found myself clinging to life with an inhuman grip. I also learned that I could have been an actress since I was able to disguise my terror and act as if my inability to remember which handlebar held the gear shift and which held the brake was no big deal, even when I nearly missed running over Deputy Dour. But by Sunday evening, I had passed the driving part of the state test and had managed not to fall off the bike (an automatic failing grade). I was pleased and believe to this day that Deputy Dour was a miracle worker.
I had seen several trikes through the years and was curious about them. Each time I saw one, I looked at the rider and no matter where or when, the rider always looked happy and content. I had been taught by Deputy Dour that yellow was the most visible color on the road. Honda had come out with a Goldwing 1800 model that was yellow in 2005. After some consideration, I decided to to go with a yellow Honda, and within no time, I was the owner of a beautiful yellow trike!
The first trip I took was down the Natchez Trace in the spring of 2006. Setting off on I-40 from Oklahoma City, I was baptized with fire. I was a mere 3 wheel rider among the flood of racing 18-wheelers. When one would roll along in front of me, its gale force wind currents resulted in foxhole prayers addressed to "Oh My God!" Eventually the prayers were accompanied by my pushing the throttle to pass the semi at the speed of light. I was reduced to my 90 year old father's way of driving in adversity: turn on the lights and accelerate!
There is a caste system on the highways of this nation, and there is no doubt that motorcycles and trikes are in the lowest class. Trucks have the right-of-way, regardless of traffic laws, customs or good manners. Pickups are next, especially the wide-wheeled, extra long, extra fat 4x4's that are 10 yards above the cement, driven by those who yearn to be NASCAR drivers. After these are the SUV's driven by those who left their pickups at home. All automobiles come next followed by beaten down, rusty, multicolored farm pickups with unsecured heavy loads whose falling debris turn highways into deadly obstacle courses.
But motorcycles and trikes are no more noticed than bug splatter on windshields.
Cutting off an 18-wheeler that is determined to never experience the wonder of braking is a situation one will never forget, if one survives. As the glistening silver bumper races up to the plastic bumper of a trike, the heart immediately races into one's throat and blocks life-giving oxygen to the brain, leaving one breathless and mindless. If an awareness of the impending death experience arises to consciousness, one finds a new appreciation for the human body, especially healthy bowels and kidneys.
In spite of it all, riding frees me from the toxic environment of this world - from media reports of the latest world cataclysm, from the messages of advertisers telling me that I am not enough, from the internet's grasp on my attention and focus, and from my unhealthy curiosity to "be in the know" about the latest social media post. That is all left behind.
The trike allows me to see the wide expanse of this beautiful world. I have been a part of Montana's big sky country. I have smelled the aroma of wild flowers on the road to Natchez, pinion wood in Taos and at dusk on the Gettysburg battlefield. I have smelled sage in Arizona. I have seen hawks and eagles watching me from high wires as I watched them. I have smelled the Texas feedlots miles from nowhere. I feel like I am one with all that I see.
Over the years, I have ridden my trike with many friends, and I have gone over 95,000 miles from Oklahoma to the west coast twice, to the gulf coast twice, and to Canada four times. I have traveled by trike to Monument Valley and the canyon lands of Utah. And I have learned many lessons.
First, I discovered that a written map is of no use if you have no idea where you are. I began riding long before GPS and cell phone maps using the old method of reading an Atlas to determine my route. Once at night some riding friends and I were looking for Great Barrington, Massachusetts and found ourselves north of it on a two lane country road. It was pitch dark as I held the map to the light of the bright headlamps of my trike. No cars showed up. (When hopelessly lost, I had adopted the method of following cars that passed us in the hopes they were heading to where we wanted to go. Occasionally we had been lucky and arrived where we were going. But on that night, there were none and we were lost). There was no other option but to continue down the country lane where after several miles, we came across the lights of a city down in the valley below us. Eventually we found our way into the small town. But we had no idea where we were.
The second lesson I learned that night was if one is lost, don't bother to ask patrons of a liquor store for directions, especially late at night. As we rolled into town I spotted a liquor store and two elderly gentlemen walking towards the street, each carrying a paper sack with a bottle in it. I stopped and asked for directions. One man pointed toward the north and said "that way" while the other man thought for a minute interrupted and said, "no, I think it is that way" pointing in the opposite direction. I drove off as the two men roared in laughter about how funny they thought they were.
I also learned on that same trip that Erie, Pennsylvania is not on the road to Pittsburg, and the Pennsylvania Turnpike does not go to Erie. It was night again and I was near Columbus, Ohio and wanted to reach Erie. We came to the entrance of a turnpike and I saw a sign that had an arrow pointing to the left for New York. I have never had a desire to go to New York - and certainly not on a trike! I immediately veered to the right and found myself on the Pennsylvania turnpike. When signs to Pittsburg began to appear, my friend who was riding on the back of my trike leaned forward and yelled, "I didn't know Pittsburg was on the way to Erie." I didn't either. We went approximately 120 miles out of our way. It was a long night.
Another lesson learned is to expect a bunch of traffic on Sunday of a July 4 weekend. One holiday we found ourselves stopped in bumper to bumper traffic heading into the I-70 tunnel outside Denver, Colorado. On another Sunday, we were stopped dead still on the New York turnpike when the heavens opened and gallons of rain poured from the sky. We were sitting ducks. I pulled onto the shoulder and headed to the nearest underpass where we joined another cyclist waiting for the rain to stop.