Anyone paying close attention to my live tracker has to mystified at times as to what exactly is going on. For instance, why did I get off to such a late start Monday? Am I really that lazy?
Well, yes and no. I do like to sleep in – and I do like to ride at night (although I don’t much like deer). But Monday night, after searching for a place to camp for about an hour, I finally found a spot that looked okay. A dirt road leading into a forest offered great cover. The only problem was, the road was blocked by a prominent no-trespassing sign, and a locked chain.
This would normally get a pass from me, but I was completely exhausted and running out of options. It was pitch black and I couldn’t find a way around the chain, so I went under it, stopping and starting the motorcycle, slipping the chain over my luggage. Finally I was through. I rode a ways down the path and set up camp. I could hear a dog barking in the distance. I didn’t think it was an access road to pretty much anything, but I left my bike at the edge of the path, just in case someone needed to get by in the morning.
Inside my tent, I thought it would be nice to have some hot soup, but I was reluctant to step outside again, so instead I snuggled inside my plush sleeping bag and ate powdered cheese crackers. I sifted through the day’s footage on my laptop. The barking sound grew louder, and I could hear leaves crackling and twigs snapping. What the— ?
The barking was louder, louder – it was a large-sized dog, judging by the deep throatiness of its voice. Then the thing was right outside my tent! Barking! What was going on? Was the owner nearby?
Now, I am not afraid of dogs. Not even a large, barking dog. But this situation was different. I was trespassing, and dogs can be protective. If this was a guard dog, it might be in a bite-my-face-and-ask-questions-later kind of mode. I wished I had some beef jerky. Somehow I didn’t think my cheese crackers were going to be a significant enough bribe.
I wasn’t sure what to do. I definitely didn’t want to get out of the tent. So I waited, tense, hoping that the owner would call the dog off. But I heard no human voice, and after about a minute the dog ran away. It never returned and I slept peacefully through the rest of the night. Well, aside from waking up to refill my sleeping pad.
In the morning, I made rice for breakfast and surveyed the situation. On foot I scouted a way out of the forest without having to go under the chain again. All I had to do was turn the bike around on the narrow path: a tricky maneuver. I tried to do the old ten-point turn but the laden motorcycle was heavy and awkward with the high handlebars. I decided to go through a deep mud section and then try to find a better spot to turn around up ahead. When I say deep, know that it wasn’t really deep. Maybe four inches of mud. No problem for a dirtbike. But Dorothy is not a dirtbike.
She was stuck before I was halfway through. I got off the bike. It balanced in the mud without even setting down the kickstand.
I heaved on the headlight assembly, trying to push the thing backward. My boots slid. I turned the key and eased on the throttle, trying to gently guide the bike forward, but the tire spun aimlessly. I cursed. “You are the fattest, ugliest, slowest motorcycle I have ever known,” I said spitefully. This wasn’t altogether true: I have ridden a couple slower bikes. But I figured she wouldn’t know the difference.
I walked down the path, swinging my leg over the no-trespassing chain. My motocross helmet dangled from my right hand. I knew this was the last significant trip I would ever take with Dorothy. Not being able to get my own bike out of a trouble was too much of a dealbreaker. A quarter mile down the road was an auto shop, and I ambled up the steep driveway. A man in his fifties with a mangy St. Bernard at his side watched my slow approach. “You look like you’ve got a motorcycle around here,” he said.
“Yeah.” If you could even call it a motorcycle.
“Run out of gas?”
“No. It’s stuck. In the mud.”
“In the forest over there. I was camping. I know I’m not supposed to. I was tired.”
“You need a vehicle?”
“No. Just a pair of helping hands.”
He nodded. “I can’t leave the shop right now, there’s no one else here – we’ll get you some help, though.”
I shrugged. “I’m in no rush.”
I stepped inside the shop, wishing I’d thought to bring some water for my little expedition. I didn’t care to intrude on the man anymore by demanding he wait on me. The shop was quite curious, billed as an auto and bicycle shop; the showroom sported a checkered tile floor that looked like it hadn’t been mopped in ten years. Antique bicycles and memorabilia hung on the walls, and a white Road King in touring trim was parked in a corner. I turned from the Harley and was startled to see an African Grey parrot watching me cautiously from the other side of the room. I’d walked right past without noticing, apparently startling it – I could see it trembling from twenty-five feet away.
“Hey there,” I said. It was perched on top of a birdcage, the door wide open. The bird stood on the far side of me, and shuffled uncomfortably as I approached.
“He don’t like new things,” a red-haired woman said, entering the showroom. “He don’t like people, really. I don’t mess with him. He bites me.”
I nodded. “How old is he?”
“He always has the run of the room like this?”
“Can he talk?”
“Some days he never shuts up. Tells me to get back to work and stuff.” She left, and I sat down on a bar stool beside the birdcage, my head resting on my helmet.
Ten minutes passed. I clucked my tongue, and heard a low whistle in response. I looked up to see the parrot now standing atop its cage, on the side closest to me. It had stopped trembling as well.
I clucked again, and it whistled back. I realized I had never really communicated with a bird before. I made different sounds, and the parrot chirped back at me.
One of the shop’s mechanics entered in, two slim young men in tow, in their early twenties. “These guys’ll hell you with the bike,” he said.
I was glad to have two of them: Dorothy is a big girl. It took some effort for us to haul her out. They followed me down the short path I’d found around the no-trespassing chain. I dropped the bike on a tree, and they helped me pick it up. As they stepped away, I dropped it again.
Dorothy wouldn’t start. Flooded, I suppose. I cranked the motor pointlessly. “I am so sorry,” I said, my face reddening with embarrassment. What was it that advrider had said? Gotta get your head in the game, Shannon. I was so tired, I just wanted to get out of this cursed forest and never leave the pavement again.
We picked up the bike a second time. “Don’t want to be dropping the bike here,” one of the boys said, the one with sunglasses and a skeptical sort of expression permanently etched on his face. He looked down at the ground.
“What is it?” A snake?
“Just a box turtle.”
I signed with relief. We pushed, heaved and shoved my motorcycle the fifteen remaining yards back to the road. I thanked them. They left and I photographed the turtle while I waited for the bike to forgive me for all of the mean things I said.
I rode through Indiana. More interstate through chilly weather. It was freezing cold and very dark by 7pm. I started to look for potential campsites but there was few trees, mostly low cropfields and residential areas. I got off the interstate and wandered down side roads, but couldn’t find anything decent. I got back onto the interstate and finally saw a sign for a state park, so I took the next exit and followed it down a few miles. I didn’t see any park or any sign of a park to come.
So I stopped in a harvested cornfield, and set up my tent in the starlight. It was so cold that I worried about the snails in my saddlebag, so I brought them into the tent with me. If I got up at first light, I could be out of here before the farmer even noticed my presence.
I woke up to the sound of a beeping horn at 8am.
The cops, I thought. I hope they brought coffee. I stumbled out of my tent in my thin summer undersuit. And my gerbing vest, for added stylishness.
A farmer with plump pink cheeks and greying hair sat in a pickup truck outside my tent. Tension is his face lifted as he registered my sorry appearance. “Oh,” he said. “Sorry to wake you.”
I squinted. “This is your field?”
“Sorry for trespassing.”
“My step-sister saw you setting up last night. She thought I should come see what was going on.”
So much for my stealthy cover-of-darkness approach.
He asked where I was coming from and where I was going.
“You got a gun in there?”
“What? No.” I laughed. “I’m Canadian.”
“You need any money?” He said it like this: Mah-nee.
“I’m alright,” I said.
“Well stay as long as you like. I’m going to go do some work.”