Two Up

Karrie Waarala

1993, unknown motorcycle

I know it was yellow. I don’t know the make of the bike. I don’t remember his name. Here is what I remember of my first ride: It was early October, that kind of crisp autumn night when the air feels like inhaling possibility. The growl of the bike vibrating up through my feet, my legs, my arms clutched around his waist. Riding north out of town, out of the reach of streetlights, and turning onto a stretch of Westnedge Avenue that I didn’t know existed, to be met by the biggest, orangest moon I’ve ever seen, too fat and heavy to haul itself very far up over the horizon. We both pointed at it, and then he hit the throttle and hauled up through the gears, the vibration reaching to my head; a whoop leapt out of my startled mouth and rolled over into laughter. I laughed and I laughed and the wind tore it away and threw it over my shoulder as we raced the moon.

2000, Harley Davidson Softail Custom

Our summer-soft shadow stretches out behind us in the glare of an oncoming car, then springs back to race alongside, sharp in the glow of our single headlight. I envy how together these two riders appear in shared silhouette. This bike is all throaty roar and reluctance to settle down or stay put, though I have claimed this passenger seat and borrowed helmet for a year now. There is an unexpected stillness at 60 mph, momentum the only thing keeping us upright, really the only thing doing so at all anymore. I look up at the stars and search for the Pleiades, the sisters he has taught me to find, and I read in their sprinkling of light that this will be our final ride.

2017, Kawasaki Concours

It is 6:30 in the morning in Canada and we are splitting the fog before the sunlight does, eager to put the homeward miles behind us. Or it is night and frigid in northern Michigan when an owl swoops across our path and whispers alongside for a moment before winging off into the folds of darkness. Or it is a 40-degree lean plunging around a freeway cloverleaf, or trees whispering to themselves overhead as we wander backroads, or it is any of the 14,000 miles we have ridden on this bike in the last four years, the contented purr of its engine a counterpoint to hundreds of wordless conversations. I am partner, I am navigator: I tap his shoulder or point when there is a turn to make or an exit to take. He points when there is some bit of scenery he wants me to appreciate; a squeeze from my legs says, “Yes, I see.” His left hand leaves the handlebars to clasp my shin, his arm draped about my knee. This is not roar and bluster. This is not escape.


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