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.