by Bonnie Lass
How a girl came to understand the bliss others felt and in so doing, found her own.
|My friend is in North Carolina, riding his Harley through the Blue Ridge Mountains. He is enthralled. I am happy and excited for him, because he is my friend and I love him. Don’t we all want our friends and loved ones to experience those things that bring us joy? But, much as I hate to admit it, I am envious. Jealousy is not a trait I admire in anyone, least of all, myself. However, the green eyed monster has reared an ugly head.
As a young girl, I met Marty. He was a cool dude, on the quiet side, but smart and funny. Tall and lean, he had really long legs. He always wore jeans and he always wore biker boots. He was a professional chef, and loved preparing new dishes for me. He loved fishing and being near the water. Marty introduced me to many new experiences. The best of these was motorcycles. He owned three big bikes, two British and one American. He was in a bike club and I met many of the members. It was a varied group from different walks of life. But they all loved bikes and riding. I marveled at their kinship. And I wondered at the shared love that removed all barriers and differences. Riding was their bliss. I did not understand but was fascinated.
The majority of the members rode without helmets or protective gear. Early in our relationship, Marty “laid down” his bike on the way to my home. It was unlike him to be late, so by the time he arrived, I was on edge. My mind formed the phrase, “Oh my God,” when I saw him, but no words came out. He stood biting the inside of his cheek, as he did when he was nervous. Unbelievably, he wanted to take me for a ride. It was the first time he had offered. I gave him an emphatic, “No”, and made up my mind to never, ever get on a bike. I treated his wounds as he cursed fate. He continued trying to convince me to ride with him. None of his pleading or cajoling worked.
One crisp Saturday morning, Marty appeared at my door, bearing gifts. He had me close my eyes and hold out my arms. Soft fabric slipped over my arms, then closed around me. “Okay, can I open my eyes now?” “Not yet.” Something hard slipped over my head. “Okay Princess, now you can open your eyes.” I did and saw that he had dressed me in a black pea coat that enveloped me in warmth and love. It felt like Marty surrounding me. He’d put a dark green metal flake helmet on me. He rode without a helmet, but would not hear of me riding without one.
He smiled that slow, engaging smile that I adored. I couldn’t help but smile back. “Let’s ride.” Nobody could have been more surprised than I to hear me say, “Okay.” Marty, a true gentleman, helped me onto the back of the bike, and then waited until I was steady. When he swung his long leg over the seat, he turned and smiled again. “Ready?” I nodded and swallowed hard. When I asked where we were going, he said he didn’t know. We rode all day, stopped to eat, and then spent time at the sponge docks. It only took that one day to get me hooked on riding. The Triumph was my favorite of his bikes, and the one we rode most often.
On that first autumn day, Marty told me to lean into the curves. It was, and is, a great piece of wisdom. It applies to life as well as to riding. I can still hear him saying it to me. It is one of the best bits of advice I ever received.
We rode often after that first day. I remember closing my eyes and stretching my arms out like wings while we rode. I could almost believe I was flying. And, if I close my eyes now, I can still feel the wind, the chill and the warmth of the sun on our backs. What carefree days those were! Marty taught me how to ride. More importantly, he taught me how to let go, to relax and have fun. He taught me about curves. And he taught me how to fly. It’s been a lifetime ago, but sometimes, it seems like just yesterday. I miss that feeling, I miss riding, and I miss my Marty.
As a middle aged woman, I first visited North Carolina. Shortly after major surgery, my sister offered me an all expense paid trip, courtesy of my brother. I knew I should not go, but could not resist. I had heard how beautiful it was there. My sister volunteered to drive all the way. I was achy and uncomfortable. But the further north we travelled, the more enjoyable it became, and the better I felt. Central Florida does not offer autumns that grace our northern neighbors. As we drove through northern Georgia, the leaves were aflame. My first real fall was unbelievable. Crossing the border into North Carolina, I was filled with unspeakable joy. It felt like I was finally returning home. Each spot was prettier than the last. Thoughts of riding a big bike through the mountains came to mind. I could feel my arms stretched out, flying through the wind. I missed that feeling of total freedom and abandon.
Life was different in North Carolina, slower and more relaxed, full of good old fashioned hospitality. Drivers actually stopped to let us cross the road. Every single car pulled over for a funeral procession. Strangers waved hello. Nobody was in such a hurry that they could not show common courtesy and respect. The residents eagerly shared sites and directions. Through them we discovered the beauty of the Nantahala National Forest and the water falls on US 64. That curvy road is great for cars as well, but what a ride that would be on a bike! I was different there, and I knew I had to return.
North Carolina seemed more beautiful on each subsequent trip. Going with my family made it more special, and they loved it there almost as much as I did. My soul was at peace, my heart was joyful and my mind was clear. It felt like home. I felt free. Those were the same feelings I’d had when I was on the back of a bike.
North Carolina is the only place I’ve been where I sleep well, and wake early, feeling refreshed. It was easy to get used to feeling well, mentally and physically. The climate is better suited to my internal thermometer. It is odd that somebody who always feels hot was born and raised in Florida. Summers made me want to relocate, but the older I got, the harder it was to think of leaving permanently. Retirement to North Carolina became my dream.
Years after that first trip to North Carolina, I was gifted a book about Native American wisdom. Part of the book explains that unless you are in tune with where you live, you can never be completely well or feel completely comfortable. That portion hit home. I knew it to be true. I felt it.
On our last few trips to North Carolina, we rented a chateau built into a mountain. It was far less expensive than other rentals in the surrounding area which made us a bit apprehensive, even after we were sent pictures. The photos had not done it justice. It was attractive and comfortable. The extraordinary owners had chopped wood for the fireplace. A grill, charcoal and starter fluid were provided. The indoor laundry room had detergent, bleach and fabric softener on a shelf. We had a coffee maker (thank goodness) coffee, sugar and creamer. The fridge was stocked with condiments and the cupboards contained some staples. Every need had been anticipated. They asked only that we replace any item we depleted.
It was our little piece of heaven. The area behind the house was heavily wooded. My son and I enjoyed traipsing through the trees. The front of the home had a big front porch complete with white wooden rockers. Beneath us was a long black ribbon of curving road, begging for a bike and rider. I looked to heaven and whispered to Marty that I would love to ride it with him. Across the road was a fenced meadow, with the Great Smoky Mountains rising up in the background.
The first morning I awoke before dawn. It was dark and completely quiet. I made coffee while everyone else slept. Throwing a lap cover around my shoulders, I grabbed my coffee and went out the door. Sitting in one of the rockers I watched God’s paint brush move across the sky and the landscape as the sun came up. The most vibrant colors started popping up. They were so intense that they seemed almost artificial. Horses in the meadow nuzzled each other. They were surrounded by wild flowers. Beneath the brilliant white of the snow capped mountains hung a thick, heavy layer of gray fog. Some bits of fog strayed and resembled wisps of smoke. I wondered if that was the origin of the range’s name. I repeated the routine every morning on every visit.
Many popular spots were near by and it was a short drive to Tennessee. We saw many gorgeous scenes, the best of them while we were lost. We did lots of fun and interesting things. But, honestly, there were times I did not want to leave our cozy, little nest. And it always felt good to return after meandering.
The last day of our last visit, we got off to a late start. We were all a little sad about leaving, and distracted. We packed the roof rack so high we could not get out of the garage. After unloading, driving out, and reloading, we left in a hurry. A new renter would soon be arriving. I was glad that my mind had been occupied for the departure. It made leaving easier.
North Carolina had captured my heart and soul, just as that bike ride had done so many years before. The bike riding and being in that beautiful location elicited the same feelings and longings. Both made me feel as if I had run head long into destiny.
As I looked out the rear window, I vowed to come back. Maybe I’d even return on a bike.
Life is full of changes and I have not able to return to North Carolina in many years. Nor have I been able to ride. Even now, when it might seem rather late in the game, I still can close my eyes and feel the wind whipping through my hair, rounding those curves, climbing those steep roads, flying into nirvana. I understand the bliss. I am longing to shed these earthly shackles, and soar as we did so long ago. Until that time, I will be happy for my friend and for myself thinking of him flying through the mountains like the wind.