We shot out of the trees and raced along the shoreline of the reservoir, four riders eagerly looking for moist soil in the dry and dusty summertime. This time of year the reservoir water level was low. Vast areas of the lake bed were exposed, revealing a large hazy ring of minute green flora close to the shore. It was what I imagined a peat bog in Ireland might look like.
Further out towards the middle was where the brown quagmire began. It looked ominous. There was evidence of a recent struggle out there. Long deep scars left in the mud where someone’s personal monster truck had succumb to the earth. More tracks indicated it took several trucks, one of which possibly being a large commercial tow truck, to rescue him.
We came to a stop at the reservoir’s edge, then one by one began to explore riding in the green zone. I found it similar to riding in snow…maybe even a bit more predictable with slightly better traction. The more I rode in it, the more confident I became. The more confident I became, the more fun I was having. Soon I was letting the ass end of the bike drift to one side, trying to cross up the handlebars and steer with the rear tire like a flat track rider or ice racer. I made big lazy figure eights and tight circles that let bits of muck from my roost rain down on my head. Our tracks in the green area intersected in fluid patterns. It looked like a figure skating rink. Then out of my peripheral vision I saw a flash of color heading straight towards the brown abyss. It was Dan.
Dan prefered 5th gear wide open, it was where he felt most at home. Desert, dunes, forest roads, or single track…it didn’t matter. He had a simple mantra: if fast was fun, then really fast must be really fun. Those of us that rode with him understood that he came with a 5:1 ratio. Meaning Dan crashed 5 times for every 1 hour of riding. This suited me just fine as I was significantly slower than him and he would quickly leave me in the dust, disappearing down the trail. I would eventually catch up to him while he was trying to restart his bike after blowing a turn or collecting himself after cartwheeling into a pile of rocks. But there would be no crashing for Dan today.
I stopped my bike and watched in amazement as Dan blasted out of the safety of the green zone and into the mud. The high pitched scream of his motor at full RPMs soon began to lower a few octaves. I could see him take evasive action and bank towards the shore. His RPMs dropped rapidly, he down shifted frantically, his bike sinking lower and lower and then it was all over. His Yamaha sat planted in the mud.
At first I just sat on my bike, trying to come to terms with what just happened. I ran through the clinical stages if grief: denial, bargaining, anger, and depression. I struggled with the final stage of acceptance…I knew I was done riding but didn’t want to admit I would spend the rest of my day trying to help him excavate his bike from the mud. I watched Dan wrestle with the bike for a little longer, then cursed a few times and walked out to help him.
I took two steps into the thick mud and instantly sank up to the top of my boots. In trying to take a third step my left leg pulled completely out of the boot. I stood there with my arms out to the side, one leg high in the air, trying to balance. I looked like the Karate Kid. If only Mr Miyagi were there…piloting a Coast Guard helicopter. I was able to carefully shove my leg back down into my boot but in doing so shoved the boot deeper into the mud. I ran through the clinical stages of grief again. Eventually I developed a system. After each step I kept wiggling the planted foot while taking the next step. When I finally reached him there wasn’t much to say except a few choice words of profanity.
Two of us couldn’t budge the bike, so RJ came out to lend a hand. The fourth member of our group, Randy, remained seated on his bike. He didn’t really know Dan and obviously felt no obligation to help. I didn’t blame him one bit. Mother Teresa would’ve took one look at the situation, given Dan the finger and moved on.
Between the three of us we managed to get the bike maneuvered around to where it was at least pointed in the right direction. Just getting to that point was a monumental undertaking. I was getting tired and starting to question how long I could live with myself if I just left my friend stranded. Finally RJ suggested we build a bridge. It seemed like the most feasible solution, other than kicking Dan in the nuts and leaving him behind. So we set off to scour the nearby forest for materials.
Normally I frown upon people dumping even so much as a gum wrapper in the woods, but on this particular day I must admit I was hoping to find the hood of an old Buick or someone’s dining room table. Evidently we had picked the one part of the forest where people didn’t dump old appliances or building materials. Our search only turned up some old logs, a street sign, and one good find – the side of an old washing machine or dryer.
After a bit of trial and error we began to make progress. Using the longest logs as a base and laying the sign and appliance shell across the top, we managed to get the bike up out of the mud. Then by using the neolithic technique of taking supports from where the bike was and putting them in front of where the bike would be, we began the slow methodical march towards the shore. All of this involved a lot of pushing, pulling, and grunting. And me wiggling my feet constantly.
Slightly more than an eternity later we reached firm ground. Drenched in sweat, every part of me ached. I was able to distract myself from this by focusing on my thigh muscles, which I was sure were permanently damaged or at least engulfed in flames. I looked at Dan and made him a promise – I will never let you live this down.
Several days later I was still trying to remove the dried mud from my boots (which had set up like concrete) when I realized I had talked of little else since my afternoon of mud wrestling a motorcycle. By now I was recounting the story with a smirk on my face. I was even going out of my way to call people and tell them about it. Not because I wanted Dan to feel bad – that was merely a bonus, but because in hindsight it was quite the adventure.
I gave up trying to get the mud from my boots, the buckles no longer worked right and they ended up in the trash. Dan I hung on to. He has been and remains one of the best friends I’ve ever had and one of my favorite people to ride with. He’s also slowed down considerably; I can almost keep up with him. One of the greatest by-products of riding motorcycles is the relationships you cultivate. There’s an exceptional bond that can develop between people who ride together. They look out for each other on the trails and when the bond grows strong enough, it transfers over to everyday life. If I ever end up with my bike buried in the mud or life throws me a hard curve I know I can call my friend Dan. After all, he owes me.