November 14, 2020•2479 words
Originally I was signed up for dirt biking classes on Saturday and Sunday, but it turned out that hunters were also using the land so the Saturday class was cancelled and the beginner class was moved to Sunday. Since I had a place to stay all weekend and was already planning to be off work on Friday and Monday, I decided to follow the original schedule and take Saturday as a vacation day. I spent Saturday morning blogging, then headed into town for a little tourism. My Airbnb host S was in the Marine Corps for 24 years and retired a few years ago to grow bushy hair and a huge beard and start a brewpub downtown. I figured his brewery was probably as good a place as any for lunch, and it saved me having to read a bunch of reviews and decide where to eat.
It turned out to be a very hip joint, with a large sign by the entrance saying "Please do not enter if you have any symptoms of: COVID-19, Racism, Bigotry, Xenophobia, Homophobia, Transphobia (if you do... this is not the brewery for you)". With clever signs, a locavore menu, and award-winning beer, the vibe reminded me a little bit of Bull City Burger and Brewery in Durham, only with a slightly less cluttered aesthetic. I got some great food and a flight of four beers to taste, which I was only able to drink about half the total volume of, being such a lightweight these days. The sour was my favorite, very clean and lemony with only a hint of funk at the tail end. When I left, my belly was full of richer food than I was used to and my head was a bit light from the alcohol, so I walked up to the old cemetery, half of which is filled with important old families of the city and the other half with Confederate soldiers. There was nobody there (well, nobody living), and I stretched out under a big oak tree and read some of The Wilding by Maria McCann (good but not as good as her first novel As Meat Loves Salt). It felt like an appropriate place to be reading historical fiction.
It was only 3:30 but the sun was already dropping, and I figured I should get moving. I was still feeling a bit off, whether from old Lyme disease toxins, something emotional, or a combination, I couldn't tell. I walked for a while along the lovely canal trail and back down one of the main streets, and looking at passersby, listening to their conversation, and consciously centering on my own body I started to feel a bit less lost and detached and a bit more grounded. I headed back to the house, finished my book, and went to sleep early.
Sunday I woke up at dawn, had my tea and oatmeal, and sat on the front porch for a while watching the bright red leaves drift down from a massive maple tree. By this time I'd made friends with two out of three of the cats, Bella and Buddy, and finally I was sitting still enough for the very squeaky but very shy Fella to come by and gave me a rub. Later while doing my exercises inside, I had the thought that exercising can be an act of interpretation like music or acting. Just as music is more than just playing the score and acting is more than just reading the script, there's a way of exercising that seeks the intent of the movement, its fundamental essence. When I entered this mindset it became much more interesting, and suddenly my mind and many more of my muscles were engaged. Shortly before it was time to leave for the class, I realized that my left toe, which I'd stubbed earlier on a sharp bone one of the dogs had left lying around, was now bleeding. And it was the very toe that would be operating the gear shift on the dirt bike, which was what the entire class was about. Luckily I'd brought my first aid kit, and with some gauze and surgical tape the toe was padded enough that I totally forgot about it for the rest of the day.
On the way to the class, I stopped at a gas station in Sealston to buy a couple things that were on the recommended list for the class. Long socks I found easily, but where were the sunglasses? I asked the owner at the front, a middle-aged Korean guy. "We take them down. Summer is over," he said as if I might not have noticed. But then he offered to get some for me from the back, "you don't care which pair?" After a while he returned with some dusty aviators. "You ride motorcycle, right? I think these ones good for you." I couldn't argue with that, and I was touched by his thoughtfulness. The rest of the ride to the class on highway 218 was absolutely magical. Like Raven Rock, Fredericksburg is on the fall line where the piedmont meets the coastal plain, and where it's not flat the land is like miniature mountains. The road wound sinuously through open woods in the very peak of their fall colors, and the air was clear and mild under blue skies. As I turned off the main road and crested a hill, the wide blue Potomac stretched out in the distance. I decided that even if the rest of the trip was a total disaster, that half hour was probably worth it.
I got to the class about an hour early, and the instructors gave me a warm welcome and had a lot of nice things to say about Kiddo. BJ, who owns the business and teaches the adult classes, told me that she's also a scooter person, and rides a pink Buddy 170i named Piglet. She tries to park it among Harleys whenever she can, and often comes back to find big bearded dudes sitting on it for photo-ops. The other instructor A, who was teaching the little kids class, took me to get fitted with some shin guards and told me about the time he crashed on a track at 120mph. He was able to get up and hobble away and actually wound up proposing to his now-wife later that day. The motorcycle on the other hand was "taken away in hefty bags".
My class was for ages 12 and up, and was full at eight people. Eight red and white Honda dirt bikes in various sizes had already been lined up in the field. I was curious about who else would take a class like this, and watched as the other students drifted in. There was a dad with his son and a mom with her son. There was a high school senior who wanted to be able to drive her dad's Ducati Monster instead of just riding pillion. There was a girl who was into dirt biking already and very stoked. She'd brought along her friend who seemed a little less stoked but was gamely showing up in solidarity. All the kids were around 12, and many of them had clearly been waiting to take this class so they could graduate from the automatic transmissions the little kids had to use. So all in all we were two girls, two boys, two women, and two men. One of the families spoke a Slavic language and another spoke something Iberian. Yet again, the motorsports demographic confounded my stereotypes.
The class started, and built up skills in easy stages. My bike seemed to have the idle set low, so right off the bat I had to figure out how to add throttle while easing off the clutch to keep from stalling. But really it was easier than I expected, and pretty soon I was shifting without really thinking about it, which was good because there were plenty of other things to think about. The disk brake on the front had far more stopping power than the drum brakes I'd gotten used to, so I needed to learn to be very gentle on it. Using a foot pedal for the rear brake was entirely new, as was riding on foot pegs at all. In street riding you're supposed to lean into turns, whereas in dirt riding you lean out of them, so I had to revive my old bicycling habits which I'd spent so much effort trying to break. Fairly soon in the class we switched to a standing posture, and the inside of my knees got a little bruised from gripping the gas tank harder than was probably necessary. All in all I did quite well until the end when we were all riding figure eights, and among the complexities of negotiating the crossing traffic in the middle I got flustered and kept stalling and then inexplicably downshifting into neutral, which is not supposed to be possible. I tried to pull over to collect myself but BJ made me get back on the bike because she wanted me to finish on a good note, and I did.
After the class it was still bright and warm out (nearly 80 degrees in November!). The ride back wasn't quite as pretty though, I think it had to do with the direction of the light or something. On a whim I stopped at a seafood restaurant in Fairview Beach and had an early dinner at an outdoor table with a dockside view of the Potomac. I got back to the house around dark and spent some time playing with my kitty friends Bella and Buddy. Bella made a nest in my motorcycle clothes and Buddy took over the towel basket, and both of them had to be picked up and dumped out in the living room before bed.
Then came Monday morning, and the thought of spending another entire day in the saddle was not appealing. I had brought a carton of boiled eggs, which I'd eaten ten of, so at S's encouragement I filled the empty spots with fresh duck eggs from the overflowing bowls on the counter. I got on the road around 7:30, and I knew I'd be riding until dark. The 240-ish miles ahead of me felt like a chore, so after taking some of the back roads I'd enjoyed on the way up, I banged out a lot of miles on highway 360, this time not seeing any signs forbidding mopeds. It was boring but efficient. I stopped for brunch in Goochland. I bought some pink lady apples from a roadside orchard stand. I crossed the border to NC and picked up some groceries in Roxboro. But as I passed through Cedar Grove, Efland, and Chestnut Ridge, the chill air and the magnificent fall foliage cut through my funk and got me back to enjoying the ride, so I was singing by the time I reached home.
On Tuesday, AB, my friend and ex-coworker (or perhaps once-and-future coworker), came out from Durham to do some co-working in the warm sun. We set up near my parents house, and my dad joined us for a bit as well, so it was almost like the old office, except outdoors, and socially distanced, and running on solar power, and... well I guess it was pretty different, but very nice all the same. In the middle of the day we spotted a big snapping turtle leaving the old pond, which is now more of a wetland, and making her way across the dam, maybe having just finished laying a clutch of eggs. She let us get a close look, hung out in the sun for a while, and then continued into the woods. That night I moved my stove outdoors and cooked a fancy meal with two dishes, a dozen ingredients, and even garnishes. I figured it would be my last chance for a couple of days.
And indeed we did pay for all that warm weather with some serious rain. Wednesday was fairly modest, but Thursday's rain was torrential. I stayed dry enough, but some water came in through the open door, which I could have closed but it's just so much nicer to be able to see outside. Some also came in around the stove jack I put in for the chimney, which I'd kind of expected given it wasn't very dry back when I caulked it. I bailed the tent with a rag, but there wasn't much to be done about the condensation. Outside the ground became squelchy, the mud slippery, and the flooded mole tunnels ready to swallow unwary feet. I had to wade through a swift-flowing stream to get to the garden and the well.
One thing that did make life better was finding an old hurricane lamp hanging outside the mud hut, which I'd missed before because of all the vines growing around and through it. Once I freed it from the vines and filled it with kerosene, it turned out to be in good working order, and brought some much-needed light and heat to the tent. I'd already ordered a bigger lamp from Amazon, so now I have two! But in any case it was just in time, because the shortening days had been getting me down a bit, and I was so tired of my headlamp's cold and flattening LED light. It's just kind of depressing to eat a meal while using a headlamp to see your food.
On Friday afternoon I went into Durham to exchange the steamer I'd bought at Li Ming's for a smaller one and get my first COVID test so I can pod with my parents for driving supervision. Man, that swab up the nose is not pleasant!
Things I Learned
- I can fill my stove with corrugated cardboard rolled up into little logs, and it'll boil all the water I need in the morning. Now I'm looking at a lot of trash like "I could burn that!"
- Cutting up cardboard will dull a utility knife surprisingly quickly.
- Those Aladdin mantle lamps are really not made for tents. They need a flat surface, have to be moved very carefully, and send a jet of super-heated air straight up. I still want to fix up the one I have, but I'll probably give it away instead of using it.
- When the fall scenery in my rear view mirror turns it into a moving postcard.
- When the light on the road hits those squiggly asphalt repairs just right and it looks like glowing elvish script on a ring of power.
- Eating as much arugula as I want.
- Hearing heavy rain beating down just a few feet above while wrapped up all warm and dry.