I bought a motorcycle less than a week after Allie died. She was a 55lb. Black Lab-Rottwieler mix, with muddy-brown eyes and a starting-to-grey puppy face. She had been my best friend and driving buddy for the last 6 years, and seeing her go the way she did crushed my soul. I found myself driving to and from work with an intense sadness, knowing she wasn’t sitting beside me, staring carefully and calmly out the passenger window as if helping keep an eye on traffic.
The motorcycle was a 2008 Honda Shadow Spirit to be exact, with 1,600 miles on it. Black. The previous owner had it for a year, and put all of 95 miles on it. By the end of the first day I had matched his total. At the end of the first week, I had spent 500 miles in the saddle. Riding fell in love with me immediately.
Without fully comprehending it, it became a sort of therapy that was lacking in my life. I didn’t want to talk to anyone, or for that matter, be around anyone. Almost every night I would go out for a ride. Any and every type, from short runs around town, to 130-mile multi-canyon loops. The warm Utah Summer held the temps in the 90’s, so high-elevation canyon rides were not too cold. Flowing back and forth through the various switchbacks for hours at a time in the darkness, and breathing the clean air of the rivers helped me clear my head in a way that I couldn’t have done at home or in my car.
It was in those numerous hours I’d think about that crazy-ass dog and how she died. Of the snail bait that poisoned her on the last of her typical sort of adventure, running amok and cruising through the neighborhood. The countless times she could be seen trotting happily down the street alone, big grin on her face, looking for the next thing to grab her attention.
Allie would always come back, so I learned to just leave the front door open for her whenever she went on a run-amok. I’d inevitably be woken sometime around 1:00am when she would jump onto the bed and stand on my chest to let me know she was back, hungry, and exhausted. Usually smelling of garbage or skunk. She would eat while I closed and locked the front door, then jump back up and find her place in bed. I loved it.
Taking those night rides had a way of letting me actually absorb the things I was trying to come to terms with instead of just pushing them away. If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that one can never turn their mind off. There’s always the constant flow of ‘last nights’ and ‘should’ve said’s,’ which we may not want to share with even the closest of our friends, but they have to find an outlet somewhere. Be it a therapist, a tearful breakdown, or a 2-hour twisting of the throttle attached to something around 750cc’s.
One particular night ride up East Canyon near Salt Lake City sticks in my head. It was at first a bit eerie with a full-moon hanging low, light clouds whisping before it in silence. Soon enough though, it turned into a sort of ironic companion for the ride. It had a bright orange glow illuminating the darkness while I was purposefully intent on being alone on my Shadow.
I had to go extremely slow and carefully to avoid the countless creatures out on their own night cruises. The first deer I passed was within an arm’s reach. She was standing calmly in the oncoming traffic lane. I had spotted her a good 50 yards before I got to her, and even at only 10 or so miles an hour, I felt too dumbstruck to stop as she watched me go by. I mustered a “hell yeah,” in a half-hearted yell before she disappeared behind me in an instant.
As I got deeper into the trees at higher elevation, there were porcupines, raccoons and skunks, but none seemed to mind sharing the road with me. A raccoon in the middle of my lane even allowed me to stop about 4 feet from him, and watch as he grabbed the last of his road-kill dinner. It wasn’t until I honked the horn that he finally ambled his way off the lane.
I reached the summit of the pass and stopped for a cigarette. I sat in the quiet moonlight, which had now turned from orange to a pale white. I felt the warmth of the engine in contrast to the coolness of the late night air. Leaning on the bars of the bike, my heart beating, the pace of my breath seemed to all of a sudden bring the emotion bottled up inside me to a peak. I found myself sitting there on the Shadow, dripping tears onto the gas tank. Reflecting on the fortune of great times I had with that little dog Allie. I thought of hikes through the mountains, watching her wild eyes as she ran through trees and rocks in similar forests. I knew I had given her a good life with a lot of freedom, so I sat contemplating such freedoms, both human and canine.
I understood that night that some beings are born with a vagabond spirit. Like the deer that allowed me to pass so near, the raccoon that wouldn’t move until it was done, and Allie who loved to cruise as a result of whatever whim gripped her that day. I am not one to judge whether that is a healthy way to live, so I’ll leave that subject alone.
I spent the next 50 miles on the highway back toward my home in Ogden. Twisting the throttle with a big grin on my face, mentally expanding the possibilities of my next ride. Thinking about more canyons, time between gas stations, and pretty places to park my own vagabond Spirit for a cigarette and some reflection.
I rolled into Ogden and home at about 1:00am, hungry and exhausted, stinking of gasoline and smoke. As I found my place in bed, I realized I had also found a bit of peace that night on the motorcycle. It was not quite a reason for certain behavior, but behavior for a good reason. The animals, the air, and the low-hanging moon all seemed to be very gracious hosts as I felt welcomed and a part of it. That night I came to understand a bit of why Allie was always going somewhere, and how I have tended to do the same, and if it wasn’t going to be Allie out there with the deer and skunks and porcupines, it may as well be me.