Saturday, July 23, 2011

Rally Round

They come from all over. They've packed up to depart at first light. It might take them two or three days. There's that moment--crystalline, kept forever in the small jewel box of such images--when they take the last turn of a thousand, and then they have arrived. Spread before them is a sacred ground. The movable nation.

The call of the rally is the motorcyclist's muezzin--the ritual call to prayer. It is what the summer is made for, unless you are truly hardcore. Unless difficulties make you smile, and party all the better. Unless you are up to camping in Bavaria in winter (above) at the Elefanten rally. Actually, this looks like a ton of fun to me.

Because there is something about gathering with your tribe. Strange as you may be, there are at least a hundred others just like you. What a relief.

I am one of those people who rarely turns down an invitation. If I have to break the speed limit to get to two parties on the same night at opposite sides of the county, well, so be it. I love gathering.

But there is nothing like a motorcycle gathering. I'll stand on my head and balance a chair on my foot, metaphorically speaking, to rearrange the calendar to get to the one or two rallies that are most important to me. And why are they important?

Well. For one thing, there's that crystalline moment. What--a split second of a vision? That's what you go for? A day or two of riding, so many gallons of precious fossil fuel?

No, not exactly. For the expectation of that moment, something even more ephemeral.

It is the same expectation that precedes the party. Plan what you will wear (lay out the gear). Take pleasure in arranging the conveyance (the straps cinched down just so on the camping equipment, clicked together as neatly as the pieces of a puzzle). The route taken is the embarkation on a slowly building crescendo of anticipation (the backroads map placed in the map pocket, highlighted). All of it drives toward the moment of arrival.

So tonight the bike is washed (after a fashion; my scattershot approach to everything, including washing, shows on my bike, which actually looked worse after it dried than it did before I first turned the hose on it). Tire pressure checked, oil checked. The clothes are folded on the chair upstairs, ready to be packed, while on the kitchen counter sits a bag of miscellaneous foodstuffs (hey, it's possible that when you get to the motel, the thing you'll want more than anything is a plastic cup of pinot grigio from a paper carton and some salt-and-pepper cashews, so it's best to bring these along for the eventuality).

One thing I know. I will not know what will happen this weekend. I could meet my new best friend. I could meet a thousand of them. I am prepared. I am even prepared to take a jaded view of the religiosity of this particular event, an industrial-strength meeting of the tightest and (some might say) most sanctimonious of all marques. I have to tweak them, just a little bit. So I had a sticker made to put on my bag lest anyone have any doubts about my true allegiance: "My other bike is a Moto Guzzi." Still, I quiver with excitement. I do not know what might happen. But I know what I hope.

A couple of weekends ago, I was found at another gathering that has taken its place on my calendar as one that I will not miss. It was local, so I didn't have to pack, or release all that much greenhouse gas. But there was the flutter of excitement that to me will always accompany meetings of motorcyclists. For most who had pulled in to the parking lot at the lodge for an hour of tire-kicking before a show ride to lunch, this was merely a pleasant way to pass a Sunday in July. But for me, it was and will remain something far greater. Two years ago, this vintage ride out of Woodstock was the place where, as I now assign its true importance, life began again for me. There were people to talk to again. New hope. New affiliations. A new purpose. And a new date on the calendar, every year. Where we get together, and I arrive.


John Leffler said...

Another delightful rally experience can occur in the evening if you're not the last to return to the site. While standing around chatting, the sound of other bikes approaching, at first barely perceptible, can cause the conversation to quiet and then pick up as people guess who it is.

Shybiker said...

Have fun! And we'd love to hear about your experience afterward, if you're willing to share.

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

John, you point to another of those beautiful crystalline moments I'd forgotten. True. And I hope you will be experiencing exactly this the weekend after this at Damn Yankees! (Nudge, nudge.)

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

SB, how to distill three of the most intense days I've ever spent? The ride there--full of expectation, heat, detours, swimming by the way. The arrival, the scene, the convergence. The many people one is eager to reconnect with (thank god for cell phones!). The heat, heat, heat. Over too soon.

I hope you get to some rallies, either large or small. If not, may I suggest holding one in your backyard, for those who "get" you? Bonfire obligatory. Brings out the lies--I mean, stories.

K said...

I've been riding for 35 years. Never attended a rally. Rarely do I ever ride with another person. Always looked at motorcycling as a solo performance. Kind of like when I play my guitar. Solitary. Need to be alone.

But...this makes me think I might look into attending a rally or some kind of mc gathering!

However, if I go...I'm riding there by myself! :) Thanks, Melissa!

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Yes, K, I've learned the hard way that I should *always* go to a rally by myself. Experiencing the rally alone is just like riding alone: you are fully open to the experience only in that way.

julie said...

Your comment about bonfire conversations brings up the phrase surfers use when gathering 'round - it's referred to as "telling story" - which allows for exuberant tales of best rides.

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

That's exactly it, Julie. My California cousin (whom I fondly refer to as the Surfin' Priest) gave me a book he thought examined surfing in similar way to how I tried to look at motorcycling--"Caught Inside," by Daniel Duane. And indeed, I see fundamental parallels. Around the campfire, it's always fish stories.

Scott said...

What a great post Melissa. I too love going to rallies, sadly the last one was in 2004 and then my daughter was born and well yes.....maybe when she is old enough to go on the back of the Guzzi her and I will travel to faraway places and camp with like minded people.

And now at least I know of another person who liked "Caught Inside" - no book has captured the essence of surfing as well as that book has. I have surfed for more than 25 years and reading Duanes book caused a huge change in my life - I realised there would be a day when I could no longer surf, and living in London was just wasting those years away until that day! We upped and moved to the coast.

all the best

Scott in Devon

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Good for you, Scott!

The thing about rallies is that they go on--they are the movable village. And they will be there when you are again ready to visit with your tribe. Usually, only a few children; but those are the lucky ones.