Shadows are lengthening, and the day's blues and golds have quieted into deep purple, as I throttle into St. George, Utah. It's been a good day.
I was a little anxious at the start of this June journey. Reports of snowfall at my destination, Aspen, Colorado, had me concerned. Friends in L.A. laughed, but I packed a couple pieces of foul weather gear just in case. The contemplation of frigid climes may have eased the blowtorch effect of California's Mojave desert as I motored out of Barstow, California, my first gas stop. Another stop in Las Vegas, and soon after I am in motorcycling heaven. Utah. Land of picture postcard panoramas. Ranches snuggled down in lush green valleys guarded by the starkly red majestic monoliths the state is famous for. The land's richness is breathtaking, retaining its awesome definition even as its normally vivid colors fade into muted pastels in the distance.
Gliding onto Interstate 70 toward Grand Junction, Colorado, my idyllic world is soon eclipsed by a scowling sky. Hearty gusts toy with bike and rider, buffetting the nine-hundred pound Honda about the roadway. "Looks like rain," I muse as I tug on the raingear on the shoulder of the highway. A few miles later, the heavens open. Rude and harsh, lightning and thunder simultaneous. The storm's intensity mounts in ozone-scorching assaults, as the highway carries me ever higher, delivering me directly into heaven's fury. Finally, as the mountain pass crests like a rollercoaster preparing for its awesome descent, the midday sky threatens with a vivid, angry black countenance.
Inexplicably, my mind flashed back to another scene. A teenager, I was surfing somewhere along California's coast, when the ocean did a perverse yet not altogether unnatural thing. Suddenly, the sea gave birth to a mute, slowly swelling monster. The tide sank from hips to ankles, the water rushing furiously out to sea. A foamless wall of water rose, shimmering obscenely, a murderously blue-green living thing. Higher and higher, in almost slow motion, this glistening vision ascended. Never having seen a wave that incredibly big and knowing only one rule, I dove down into its base, seaking the calmer water there. But even as I plunged into that other world, I knew I hadn't been quick enough; I hadn't reached far enough. My refuge yet lay in the monster's path. It took less time to realize this than it took to be abruptly and violently propelled, rag doll like, by the sea's exploding energy. Face gouging into the ocean floor, body tumbling and cartwheeling in the raging, shell-shot water. Helpless, head exploding with the desperate need to breathe...
I am returned to the present as the pounding rain turns insanely metallic. Hail! Small frozen meteors thunder down on the bike and myself, to bounce wildly from the fuel tank, before stoning my chin bitterly and then glowing eerily in the twilight. The other-worldliness of this! (Will my bike be wrecked?) The maddening roar inside my helmet provides an insidious backdrop to the fear rising in my throat. The machine is unsteerable in the slush. The headlight is useless, my direction intuitive. The sheer insanity of hurtling blindly and ungainly forward is painfully augmented by my mind's image of the sign, ninety miles back, "NO SERVICES NEXT 107 MILES." There is no shelter in sight. I am trapped. I can crash or be run over, but I can by no means stop. What authority, nature!
Without preamble, the sky relents. Smiling dimly at first, its brightness increases to reflect ruefully from the ravaged roadway. Suddenly, all is quiet, strangely serene. The sky is clear, and songbirds trill in the dripping, postdiluvian stillness. The quiet is supernatural. The steadily-brightening atmosphere parallels my own rising elation, the contrasts of alarm and safety, fury and peace, dark and light, touching something deep in me. Life is, and always has been, joyous and meaningful. How small man is! How great his God!