An Apex of Seasons
There is magic in the air these days, and I am rather certain that it is not pollen. We have reached that wonderful point of seasonal change in the Northeast as autumn approaches at a steady pace. It is not entirely summer and not entirely fall; a seasonal apex, if you will. Like a good mutt, this time of year inherits the strengths of both seasons. It truly is a most pleasant time of year.
The landscape changes dramatically over these days as well. The once proud stands of field corn of the deepest green mellow with age to an olive-tan drabness. Forage choppers gorge themselves on the stalks and ears. The intense heat of summer has subsided, and lawns have returned to a spring-like vibrancy. Leaves are browning and dropping off the walnut trees. Pumpkins and squash ripen on the vine, dotting the soil with spots of color. Within a week’s time, it seems the hillsides have turned all shades of greens and oranges and browns, like the shag carpet covering the family room floor of a split-level house from the 1970s. (No, not that Family Room—the one on the lower floor. No, the other lower floor, just past the garage. Nope, you’ve gone too far!)
We feel compelled to rake fallen leaves into piles and then try to herd them into big bags to be carted off to their final resting place. Those without curbside refuse service attempt to turn these piles of damp compost into large bonfires. These desired raging infernos instead take the form of smoldering heaps of flickering flame (that produce far more smoke than actual flame) in need of constant attention.
As I travel the back roads, it is often this smoke that serves as the first reminder of the approaching winter. (And the actual need for fire in the near future) Yet, I know that there are still some wonderful days of motoring ahead. In many ways, this is the most enjoyable time to be on the roads. The air is crisp, yet still laden with the pungent scents of wood smoke and rotting cabbage. The rains of spring have long gone, washing away the cinders of winter with them. The danger of ice is still a distant memory and not an imminent hazard.
The sun is a bit more cherished during this time of equinox. The leisured angle it hangs in the sky lends itself to a less forceful presence–more friend than foe. This glowing orb that was—just weeks ago—far too intense for me to enjoy has now become a precious companion in the daytime and a distant lover after it falls over the horizon. The early twilight experienced in these days makes the warmth of the sun all the more desired on the back of my Spidi jacket, the black fabric soaking up the rays and gently releasing it to my skin. It is neither hot nor cold, but just right: the Goldilocks effect. This ambient perfection eludes us throughout most of the year. Every now and then things seem to fall into perfection. The sun sets up in the sky just-so, the wind is calm enough to hear and smell the extraordinary, and the pavement is still warm enough to remain tacky. It is road-going perfection; whether on two wheels or four, roadster or Sportster. I’m not sure if there is a scientific proof of equilibrium for all of this to come together, but I tend to think that there must be.
My friend Steve was reminded recently, after an apparently splendid return leg of his daily commute, that “engines, tires, and motorcyclists can all agree on 72 degrees.” There is that balance point where engines breathe freely, offering horsepower and response without the worries of overheating. The throttle inputs seem crisper. The bark of the exhausts seems sharper, offering a bit more bellow. Tires warm up quickly and dig into the pavement with the predictability and security of summer. The “smear factor” is what I call it. No strange shakes through the bars or wheel, no unwelcomed spin-ups to catch you off guard. The rubber just seems…happy.
These conditions of bliss always give me a knowing smirk of appreciation, whether behind the wheel or leaned over the tank. All the forces that make motoring enjoyable seem to be in perfect agreement: engine, tire, and me. It is a rare tri-partisanship, with the only agenda being to enjoy the day, savor the sounds, and explore the world; all without having to fight nature along the way.
With these delightful conditions in mind, I have started a tradition with a few close friends that involves riding our single-cylinder motorcycles down to an estate in Delaware to take in a vintage observed trials event. We start off early in the day, with our visors full of fog and our tanks full. Only two-lane roads are permitted on this journey, as I snake the Husaberg through Amish farms, then into the horse country of Chester County, finally ending up in a portion of northern Delaware that you’d swear was a section of Lancashire dropped in the middle of suburbia. We ride through the dirt trails of the estate taking in the colors of the leaves and the softness of the soil, with stream crossings and railroad beds offering just enough obstacles to make us think without panicking. (The competitors don’t even blink at them.) As the competition ends and the sun starts to drift low, we turn back towards home while the day is still warm and before the night turn chilly. We slither our way on roughly the same route back while the air is perfect, the engines are encouraging, and the tires are happy.
As the sun sets over a hillside pasture, I am slightly saddened by the realization that this harmony will be gone in just a few more days. Best get out there to enjoy it while I still can.