Carroll Dale Short

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Spring Starts with a Bright Red Motorcycle

By Dale Short

Spring arrived this week.

I know the calendar says otherwise. But for me, spring begins on the first sunny day my motorcycle will crank after being cooped up all winter in a tool shed and I'm able to hop on it, my shirttail flapping, and ride down a dirt trail through the woods where a strip pit used to be, scaring brown rabbits and an occasional possum.

I picture myself as a logical and somewhat conservative person. There is nothing logical or conservative about a motorcycle.

Call it a weakness. Especially a trail blike like I have, day-glo red with knobby tires and engine with enough cc's to stand you on your head if you're ever foolish enough to give it full throttle in anything less than high gear.

When I was growing up, my mother never would let me have a motorcycle. So, as is true with most vices, when I became self-supporting I got an unbearable urge for one.

I still remember the first Daily Mountain Eagle classified ad I answered for a used cycle—some unfortunate person around Morgan's Chapel who told me when I arrived and kicked the tires, “Go ahead. Take a spin on it.”

Obviously, he was not aware that I'd never ridden one before. I had ridden a bicycle, though, and assumed a motorcycle was merely a souped-up version of a bicycle.


A motorcycle weighs about fifty times more, for one thing, a fact that suddenly became important when I stalled the bike at the edge of his driveway and turned it over on my left leg.

I tried my best, but I couldn't lift it. The owner sprinted over and tried his best, too, but being spare of frame as me he couldn't make it budge. I waited, smiling, the circulation in my leg cut off, until he went to get his muscular wife. Among the three of us we finally got the monster upright.

I told them it was certainly a beautiful motorcycle and I'd be getting in touch with them real soon. Whereupon I gave them a false name and headed home as fast as my Volkswagen would carry me.

I've come a long way, both literally and figuratively, since then.

I ended up buying a used Honda that summer, from somebody out past Midfield, and learned to ride it in the privacy of my own driveway. It was copper-colored, metallic flake, and had a four-cylinder motor, 500cc big, that idled so perfectly it sounded like the bass singer in a quartet warming up. Imagine a grasshopper swimming in honey, and you have some idea of how smooth that graceful, angelic motor ran. I've never seen one, before or since, that could match it.

I eventually sold it, of course, like all great remembered things that somehow got away. My son was starting to grow up, and at least half a dozen of my friends hinted to me that selling your motorcycle was a sign of maturity, something I felt in dire need of at the time.

I've repented, over the years, and bought other cycles. But none of them have ever come close to that resplendent, copper-colored Honda.

Until this one.

It's symbolic, I think, that I got a good price on it from somebody whose son was starting to grow up.

Try explaining to a non-rider what a cycle does to your soul, and you find yourself tongue-tied.

Logic doesn't tell you about the dandelion-sized ball of pure joy that explodes in your chest when you point a bike toward the morning sun and ease out the throttle until your bones vibrate with a sound like a gigantic purring cat.

And logic doesn't tell you about all the amazing springtime smells you can ride through in an hour, away from the insulation of a car's air conditioner. Or the way your bare face learns to feel the hundred different temperatures of air as you pass across hills and valleys, like riding up and down through an invisible ocean that nobody but you knows is there.

If you could take pure grace and pure hope and put them on two wheels, you'd lave something that looks a lot like a motorcycle.

It's not logical, I know.

But it's springtime.

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