24 May 2007

Solo Ride with Mom

Beginning mileage: 15,015

This Sunday was the date my mom passed away in 1998, so she’s been gone for nine years. I marked the day in a way that I think Mom would have approved: my first long solo ride on my motorcycle.

Like many women, I had a difficult relationship with my mother. I don’t know that she ever understood me, and it sure took me a long time to understand her. And by the time I thought I did, and was able to have the important heart-to-heart talks with her that I would’ve liked to have, she was in the clutches of Alzheimer’s disease and was struggling just to remember what day it was, never mind her innermost thoughts and feelings about her quirky daughter. In the end, all I could do was try to make her know how much I loved her. I hope that was enough.

This is one of those things that makes me wish I believed in the survival of the soul, life after death, and love everlasting. I don’t, but I can still memorialize people I love who have passed, like Mom.

I memorialized Mom today by taking my first long solo ride. Man, she would’ve loved riding a motorcycle. She had such a wild streak. By the time I came to know her, it had been somewhat tamed, I don’t know whether it was by domesticity or by cultural imperatives or just by her own reticence. But tamed though it was, it was still there, a restless undercurrent in her life, emerging occasionally when she’d had enough of what she clearly felt was a too-mundane life.

I’ve been accustomed to thinking of Mom in connection with convertible cars and long days at the beach—she loved both of those things. I don’t know that riding a motorcycle was ever anything that even approached her radar (though she did ride a nephew’s mini-bike once). But if it had, and if she ever had, she would absolutely have loved it: the speed, the wind, the curves, the on-the-road wildness. She loved being on the road, and this would have been just another dimension of it to love.

So today, I rode alone, but with Mom--hence the title of this post. Follow along on this Gmaps route: Blackwater Ride

I put down the passenger pegs on my bike, and Mom was my invisible passenger as I motored through the live-oak-canopied streets of historic Bagdad (that’s Bagdad, a tiny and very old town in northwest Florida, as distinguished from Baghdad, a large and ancient city in Iraq). From there, I wiggled through the narrow streets of Milton, a somewhat-less-tiny though just as old town, to get to Munson Highway. Finally out in the county, I poured on a little more throttle, zooming past Bob’s Canoes and that cool, deep, sandy-bottomed arm of the Blackwater River. I turned off at Indian Ford Road—what a romantic, evocative name, calling up visions of Native American bands and their traditional river crossings, marked perhaps with trees trained into bent shapes, bound with vines as saplings, so the adult trees would point the way to the place where the water was shallowest, the crossing shortest and easiest.

Snapping back to the early 21st century, I turned my attention to the road itself. This road is short but twisty, with some near-90-degree turns and some fun rollers, swooping down onto narrow, rustic bridges over shady creek bottoms and back up into the leaf-dappled sunlight. There was almost no traffic, which I found odd for a Sunday, but maybe, since it’s a road well used by folks hauling boats to the river, most of the traffic occurred earlier in the day. For whatever reason, the road was only lightly traveled, and I enjoyed the solitude. Mom and I, that is.

At the intersection of Indian Ford and Deaton Bridge Road, I turned right, heading for that pretty little section of Blackwater River State Park. Here, the woods close in, surrounding the road for several miles—nothing but cool, cool green. Then, where the road crosses the Blackwater River, the woods recede briefly to allow vistas of the winding river, with its clear water and white sandbars: the "beaches" of north Santa Rosa County.

Plenty of canoers, kayakers, tubers, and swimmers on this hot, sunny day in May in the Florida panhandle, taking advantage of those river beaches and that cold river water. A very inviting scene, and Coyote, my bike, suggested diving into the river to cool off--
but alas, as the sign warns, "NO JUMPING FROM BRIDGE."

I followed Deaton Bridge Road south, past the little outlying Navy airfield where the helicopter pilots practice—not much going on there today. Pretty soon, Deaton Bridge dumped me out onto Highway 90 at the Harold Store. Harold, Florida is a tiny, tiny town (some would say barely a town at all, but just the proverbial “wide spot in the road”), marked most conspicuously by the Harold Store. On its face, it’s only a convenience store, but it’s also a meeting spot of sorts—for patrons of all sorts. The cycling club that I ride with on Saturday mornings occasionally rides to this store as a halfway point. We get snacks and drinks, hang out at the handy, shaded picnic tables while we fuel up for the 21-mile return ride. That’s one genre of patrons. The other genre was there today: teenagers with beat-up cars and trucks, having slipped the bonds of church and Sunday school, and now apparently looking for other teenagers with cars and trucks, and all of them looking for something to do. I got lots of surreptitious looks and a few bold stares as I got off my bike and grabbed a cold drink. And I think all of them were watching as I motored back out onto the highway. My first thought was “Good grief, get a life!” But as I reflected on myself as a bored teenager, with few resources for combating the boredom but more than these kids probably had, I relented. What the heck—they were just being kids together.

Now, on this ride, after you hit Highway 90, you’re pretty much on your way home. But it’s still a pleasant ride, back over the Blackwater River as it skirts the little town of Milton, through tree-lined Bagdad streets, down Bagdad peninsula, to our little home on the Bay. I could just hear Mom ooh-ing and ahh-ing, laughing and carrying on. Jeez, Mom, I know we didn’t get along a lot of the time, but I wish you could’ve gotten in on this part of my life. You would’ve loved it!

Ending mileage: 15,102


Blogger Janet said...

What a fine tribute! Sure appreciated the chance to share your journey through your blog! ~ Janet on WWR

11:09 PM  
Blogger scrapgeek said...

I have missed seeing you around - but I have found your blog again. Hope you and your Mum enjoyed your ride :)

2:35 AM  
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2:05 PM  
Blogger Celeste said...

I am in your Photography 101 class. I also ride a motorcycle. I think I remember that you have a chocolate lab also. I enjoyed looking at your blog and hope we will become expert photographers.

8:14 PM  
Anonymous Cynthia Q. said...

what a sweet tribute!

10:31 PM  

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