On The Open Road

There is bug juice splattered all over my sunglasses and my face. Every few seconds, ping! Another one slams to its demise against the skin of my cheek.

This is motorbiking at its finest.

When Mike Tomney—my old biology teacher and father to my best friend—offered to take me on a motorbike ride for my column in the heat of summer, I was beyond excited. I have had motorbike envy for a long time.

You know the kind. When you’re driving your ’99 Volkswagen Jetta on the highway and a biker in front of you gives a casual wave to another biker as they pass each other. Why doesn’t anyone wave at me as I drive by?

I’ll tell you why: because Jettas aren’t cool. Motorbikes are cool.

I scramble for several minutes through my closet trying to pick the most suitable biking attire before Mike arrives. The closest I come to suitable is a pair of acid-wash jeans and a lightweight, grey-blue jacket.

I can hear the rumbling of the motorbike several blocks away and as Mike pulls up he hands me a helmet and a set of earplugs. I jump on the back of the black and chrome cruiser bike and we’re off.

Less than five minutes onto the highway I’ve encountered what feels like hundreds of bugs. The first one takes me by surprise – a sharp sting on the soft part of my cheek. The less pleasant bugs leave a wet splat. I’m a little nervous, as the only thing holding me on this bike is a hand strap between my knees and my ability to balance.

But I trust Mike and his skills as a biker, even when he says this is “tough guy territory.”

It takes me a while to notice I’m drooling. I’ve been distracted by the bugs and by Mike’s hoodie string smacking me in the face because of the wind. Hoping he hasn’t noticed the drool in his mirror, I quickly wipe it away.

We head south on Highway 93 past fields of corn and sprinklers soaking green pastures. The smells are incredible (and some are horrible), something you never get to experience when in the comforts of an air-conditioned tin box of a car.

We drive to Baynes Lake, through Jaffray and back to the main highway before heading down the Wardner Fort Steele Rd. Every contour of pavement is an intimate move, the bike winding and dipping with each change in the terrain.

Every once in a while a cool breeze relieves us of hot gusts of wind. The smells of pine and gasoline mix together and the blue water of Kootenay Lake passes by.

As we continue on I begin to realize what it is about motor biking. It’s just you and the road, the pavement gliding smoothly beneath your feet; and every once in a while a burst of adrenaline and speed.

We head back towards Jaffray and Mike waves to several bikers as they pass. There it is, that motorbike envy. Except today I’m the tough chick on the back of that motorbike giving the wave back. Ah-ha! Or at least, that’s how I see myself.

We stop for lunch at the Jaffray Pub and Mike tells me about his recent biking adventures. In the last ten years of biking he has been to California, Oregon, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Colorado, Wyoming, Washington and most recently, 8,000 km to New Mexico and back.

“It’s about being by yourself. You have to be comfortable inside your head,” he says. “It’s fun and exciting. I like the smells, the openness of it all.”

I get it, the solitude. We need more of it than we sometimes allow ourselves to have.

We jump onto the bike and head back into town. I’m amazed that I haven’t thought about Jackson Teller from the TV series Sons of Anarchy even once. Not for a second, I promise.

Hot from the sun’s heat and a slight windburn, we arrive back to town mid-afternoon. My face may be contorted, covered in drool and splattered with the insides of dead bugs, but none of that matters.

Because today I was relieved of my motorbike envy, and there is nothing better than that.