Of all the names ascribed to me Curious Toddler might be the best. Or at least I’ve convinced myself of this after a long weekend. Stacy Bolty, author of Bolty.net for some reason chose me to bookend a wide range of riders as a curious toddler. Cool – my 15 minutes of fame promised by Warhol. He never said it would be a heroic or magnificent 15 minutes.
Curious Toddler. Curious.
By the end of the first evening I was talking to myself and standing in front of the mirror flexing my biceps. At least until I remembered being called Weenie Arms Williams in second grade. Pouring through websites for BMW, Ducati, Triumph and Ducati and commenting out loud, “I could ride that. Oh yeah, that one too, piece of cake.” And on and on until it occurs to me that I might need to renew my subscription to Guns and Ammo. I let it lapse in ninth grade.
Part of the evening is spent dusting off the free weight set in the basement. Hairballs from the last three dogs we’ve owned encase them under a workbench. Back in the living room I busy myself designing appropriate tattoos that utilize flames, lightning bolts, and mythical creatures. By bedtime Kim is stroking my hand and whispering, “You’re my man…”
Curious. Is that a polite way of saying odd? Or weird, strange, eccentric? The mind plays tricks with the ego. And toddler. Does that make me an infant, a big baby, or is it code for infantile? Or stupid. By midnight I’m standing outside with Junior peering up at the heavens asking, “Why?”
Ice water sparkles in a red plastic glass, a welcome hydration after several hours on the road. The narrow, white Formica counter top flecked with gold transports me back to dinner with my mom and dad at Danny’s Restaurant on Neville Island fifty years earlier where I marveled at the riches spread out before me.
Diner 22 just outside Alexandria, Pennsylvania on US 22, a stop for breakfast and a chance for my toes to warm. No riders here. None seen anywhere during the morning – the chill air still keeping most motorcycles and scooters at home. A few old men sit to my right lapping up chicken parmesan, the daily lunch special — $6.25. Overhead is a sign, “J-EET-YET”. Soon my predictable plate of scrambled eggs, bacon, potatoes, and toast will make the answer yes.
That meal is probably more dangerous than anything I encounter on the road.
I work methodically through my breakfast presented neatly on a heavy white plate. Taped to the glass door on the refrigerator in front of me is a hand-lettered sign on peach colored paper announcing fresh baked cinnamon rolls for $1.75. The crisp bacon looses flavor as I contemplate the snaps on my Tourmaster Overpants. A cinnamon roll sitting close to the door whispers my name just as a harmonica begins to wail on the overhead speakers. The waitress crashes two of the red plastic glasses into the ice chest. The Vespa keys are lying on the counter. I look up and catch her eye. It’s over, I’ve lost. I close my mouth tightly for fear drool might escape.
Defying reason I stand up and pay my bill and escape without the unnecessary weight of a cinnamon roll.
The ride started hours earlier as I explained to Junior that any long walk would have to wait until I got home. The sight of fog on the mountain coupled with a strong desire to ride the Vespa overcame the dog’s insistent suggestions of taking a ride in the truck to all his favorite destinations.
Traveling towards weather makes route choices easier. The temperature display indicated 35F as I rolled out of the driveway towards Rothrock State Forest and a maze of dirt and gravel roads. Eight miles from home and I’ve already stopped six times to take pictures. Curious Toddler comes to mind as I wander around the roadside looking for treasure. It begins to seem an appropriate title.
I can’t help being swept away by the gloomy landscape, as if walking through a Charlotte Bronte landscape.
Climbing towards the top of Thickhead Mountain, another stop, more wandering around, searching for a rock for the garden. Winter hasn’t been harsh on the road. Gravel still mostly in place and very little mud to deal with.
Despite the greater risk of riding in fog I am mesmerized by how things look. It’s hard not to give up riding and just make pictures. And there are no bad pictures when fog is involved.
The road and landscape merge to form a continuous picture that compels me to stop despite oaths to ride onward and allow the passing scenes to fade into memory.
Standing in the road I see possibility, recall memories from youth, scenes of Barnabas Collins or passages from Edgar Allen Poe. Twelve miles now and I’ve stopped nine times to make pictures. Riding has become incidental, a means to another end. I am the Curious Toddler.
Proceeding down the mountain reveals a shortcoming of a scooter with an automatic transmission. A constant velocity transmission (CVT) for engineers or the mechanically minded. What this means is there is little engine braking available. Roll off the throttle, the RPMS drop and before you know it you’re freewheeling at increasing speed. Braking requires a sensitive touch and complete understanding of what is about to happen when the throttle is twisted. Applying power suddenly engages the powertrain and, depending on speed and road surface, can yield a sudden lurch as the transmission is engaged. On snow it can be a catastrophe. On loose gravel or mud it’s a wait and see thing. Motorcycle riders have it much easier with their endless features and capabilities.
Lichen covered rocks in a woodland setting. Gleaning ideas for a Japanese garden installation. Distant, almost insignificant in the photo, the Ves pa asks if I want to ride. At times I feel it deserves a better home. I keep promising to leave the camera and iPhone at home and just ride, explore on the road and not on foot. An attempt to rein in the Curious Toddler.
If you find yourself wandering in a similar environment make a note – those damp rocks are slippery. Crashing down on your head slippery.
Earthly magnetism. I’m drawn to the edge of landscapes where one place ends and another begins – a canyon rim, seashore, overlook. Places to peer into infinity. Places found on rides. The road surface here is mostly sand and clay, damp, and prone to make the tires track sideways as times. The Heidenau winter tires perform well in this environment.
White pines suffocate the road. Descending towards pavement and civilization I stop to make a few photographs. The scent of pine and decaying needles fill the air. It’s hard to see more than 50 yards in any direction. Even the sky is cut off from view. I can begin to appreciate the terrible challenge European settlers had when they traversed these mountains in the early 1700s.
A few miles further; more toddling, more curiosity in play. Lost in a dark wood, the big bad wolf can’t be far off.
The moment the front wheel touches pavement I swear an oath that’s I’ll not stop for another picture until after breakfast. A twist of the throttle, I begin humming Sugar Mountain, the landscape sweeps by in an endless series of images. This is the freedom of riding.
Jane Stewart was born not long after the American Revolution and now rests with her husband James near Saulsburg, Pennsylvania. Each time I visit a cemetery I leave with a renewed sense of time and a reminder to make use of it.
The old graveyard and church stand in disrepair. Decaying forms of wrought iron fence and gates offer ideas for home. Kim and I both embrace the subtle grace of things being overtaken by nature. A quiet growl beneath my riding jacket reminds me of my mission.
On long smooth roads the Vespa is completely at home and can run all day at whatever legal speed I choose. Or some illegal ones as well. Roads lead south to Maryland, Virginia and beyond. Or north through New York and New England. When anyone asks about a scooter make sure you remind them that you can travel as far and wide as your time and resources allow.
What is it about train tracks vanishing into the horizon that’s so alluring? I stood here a long time before leaving. Not a care in the world; just the Vespa and the road. Everything else burned away.
Breakfast at Diner 22 marks the beginning of the end of my ride as I turn towards home.
The open landscape along PA Route 453 near Water Street. Thirty more miles until I’m home, relaxed, smiling, a curious toddler.
Another track leads off through a farm field that I have to explore. I’m tired and don’t fully pursue the opportunity.
The Vespa is silent as I pull in the driveway. Junior doesn’t wake and I walk up to the window to see Kim working in her studio. It’s good to be home.
Junior soon demands some action himself and we take a walk to the park where he and Buddy chase tennis balls.
Thinking about the ride later as I worked on this post I understand more fully the meaning of being a curious toddler. It fits, it works, and I think I will have a T-shirt made…