Thursday, November 29, 2012

Scenic Route

Today I'm working out of a Cotswold ambulance station about fifteen miles from home. It's very picturesque round these parts. Very scenic.

Being a one car family means I usually travel on my motorbike when working a bit of a distance away, a faster, cheaper and usually more fun mode of transport than driving. I say faster but that doesn't include getting togged up at the beginning which takes ages especially if, like me, you've built up your riding kit piece by black leathery piece over the years and can't just slip on a nifty bright onesie and go straight out. It also doesn't include getting undressed at the other end which consists of jerking around like a man changing into a werewolf in a black and white film, only with a more startling transformation resulting.

Apart from that, much faster.

My trip to this ambulance station is usually cursed with discomfort though. Rain is often the order of the day, with lashings of horizontal wet lasers probing my seams with the sole intention, it appears, of getting my undercrackers wet, and not in a good way. The beautiful scenery that flashes by, green and wooded, gentle hills, fields bordered by ancient walls, the honey-coloured stone of Cotswold dwellings nestling in cute villages are completely unavailable to me as I try to clear my visor. Last "spring", I got caught in a blizzard riding home and was reduced to a crawl, stopping every few minutes to shake snow off my jacket and peel ice off my helmet. Cars meandered by unconcerned and it occurred to me for the first time ever that I might have to swap my trusty old Suzuki for the all-weather comfort of a second car.

No one would blame me. Cars are easier, warmer, and you can go out in your pyjamas if you want. They have hot and cold running music, comfy seats and you can scratch yourself wherever you want.You can even  indulge in a beverage or snack with relative ease. 

Currently however, the only option I have is the bike. Dutifully I donned armour, secured my work kit on the back with the help of overstretched bungees and growled off, fully expecting a sudden chilly, utterly unpredicted monsoon to plague me en route.

But no! The journey this morning was gorgeous. The temperature was admittedly low and the roads icy, so I was forced to take it easy, but the emerging sun made every verge a diamond carpet, the dark silhouettes of the hills just magnifying the aesthetic effect of a marmalade cloudscape. The nearly full moon was still out and I could even see the bright dot of Jupiter in the dawn sky to my right.

In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, I remember Robert Pirsig suggesting that one difference between riding and driving was that being on a bike moves you through the scenery, as a part of it, whereas being in a car you simply go past as a separate, insulated observer. Having been to too many incidences where a vicious tree has attacked a car and suddenly made both vehicle and occupants very much part of the scenery, I've never been particularly convinced by this.

Today though, I got it. I felt the freshness of the cold, heard the roar of the wind, could smell the air and feel the changing vibrations of tyre on road beneath me with an immediacy not duplicated in a car. My fingers were a bit numb because I hadn't put my inner gloves on underneath, I had to think about every corner, every icy patch of frozen flood water yet to drain away after our recent rains, even the slush of leaves in the car park as I arrived at work. On the way, my innards felt the surge of acceleration as I overtook a line of traffic, my inner ear enjoyed the long sinuous bends through the woods and I finally got it because this morning I really had to be there.

I still danced the undignified transmogrifying dance of the changing biker at the end, but it seems well worth it. I may change to a car in the future, but not for a while yet if I can help it and you can be damn sure that if I do there will be times I'll regret it.

Bet it pisses down on my way home though.