Tuesday, October 12, 2010

State of Grace

Pre-dawn on the NH17, Panvel bypass
Leaving for a ride before first light always seems special. When the breaking sun spills out and meets me up on the road, I feel a quiet happiness in anticipation of the ride ahead. Gentle wisps of fog wreathe the road in ghostly ribbons that lay moisture – just like dew drops – on my faceshield. The further away I head towards the open countryside, the denser the fog becomes. Soon I am riding at a pace with the throttle barely cracked open and I can hear my breathing over the soft, muted thump of my 535cc cast iron Bullet as I ponder what the day will bring. And like on every ride, I wonder how the simple act of riding can bring so much joy ride after ride, year after year, and how it never becomes a chore.
Breakfast stop at Poladpur
The sun is too weak to break up the fog except in small patches where the gentle thump of the Bullet morphs into a momentary yet glorious snarl of a well-tuned single on song. A couple of hours of this slow-fast-slow pace, I spot a roadside dhaba that looks promising. It’s early enough for me to be the only customer and even the owner-cook has just stepped out of his bath, a lurid towel wrapped around his middle. I choose to sit outside where I can glance at the hazy outline of the mountain on the horizon, the top of which is my destination for today to hook up with a few friends from another city riding in from the other side. An inquisitive kitten claws its way up to my knee to investigate the steamy wafts emanating from my kanda poha, the staple biker breakfast in Maharashtra, only to leap off in mock fright as I bend to scratch its ear showboating its agility with an exaggerated splaying of limbs and paws.
The 535cc thumper's last run before its reincarnation
A few kilometres down, a single lane road heads up the mountain and I remember it from my past rides as miles and miles of rolling curves that swiftly elevate the road providing dramatic vistas of the plains below that are lush with many hues of green after the rains. As I meet the first curve I reset my speed, downshifting once to get the revs up from my antiquated 4-speed Albion gearbox with that rather large gap between the third and fourth gear. And so it begins the intoxicating dance between man, machine and the road below. I remember now why I prefer riding alone, or in a small group of friends whose lines I trust, tag-team partners swapping the lead position in friendly competition, egos in the dust sometimes to point out to riders that their riding is on the ragged edge pushing too hard beyond their skills. Takes maturity to say it, as well as to accept it, which is a quality hard to find in testosterone-fuelled riders that I encounter often on my rides.
Like every ride I do, the first few kilometres are just to find a rhythm reminding myself to be light on the bars, upper body loose, legs locked on the pegs till I’m dialled into the groove, the zone of grace that is the reward for riding. Faster, faster exhorts that sibilant voice in my head as the corners come rapidly like the kinks and curves of a rollercoaster as the bike bellows its own tune of exultation. This is the speed I crave, not the adrenaline of a flat-out acceleration but riding the curves hard yet smooth, carving perfect lines from one apex to another and it seems that today I’m blessed with a special grace, moments that I’ll remember long after the ride is over.
I slow down just enough so that extra little bit of space lets me see unnoticed vistas and feel the cool tickle of the wind as spokes of sunlight winkle through the canopy of trees above me and I know I’m lucky to have had that wonderful, flying lap up the mountain. As I pull up into the porch of the hotel to the greetings of my friends who have already arrived, that voice in my head is stilled. But tomorrow is another day when I ride down the other side of the mountain on my way home where I will try to search out that momentary and elusive taste of joy that riding brings, hopefully finding a state of grace while I’m on the road.