They thundered through the tiny town in southern Illinois, riding several wide and making the pavement thrum with power. He was five years old. When the line of motorcycles rumbled past his house, he ran outside to stand on the front lawn and watch them pass. All the neighbors were doing the same thing; it was a spontaneous parade that enthralled the whole town, for just a few minutes. But those motorcycles would transfix him for a lifetime.
As an adult, she’d dabbled in riding but drifted into other interests, until she moved into a warehouse apartment that was a converted motorcycle garage. As she meticulously rebuilt a Honda, the oil, the parts and the rhythm of engaging her hands brought back her love for the mechanics of things.
They met at a party before a motorcycle event in Chicago, introduced by mutual friends. Their meeting wasn’t momentous, at first—it was like the peace sign and nod bikers give each other as they pass on the highway, an acknowledgment of mutual respect and inclusion in the same club. But six months later, after their paths continued to cross at events, she rode on the back of his bike from Chicago…to Brooklyn.
They rode for two full days, rumbling through the world from the same seat, a change of clothes and toothbrushes in the saddle bag. In Indiana, rain like a monsoon flooded the road, but they rode on. They stayed in New York for thirty-six hours and then turned around to ride back for two days more, and by the time they returned to Chicago they felt more like one thing than two.
Now they don’t travel anywhere except from his motorcycle. When it gets cold in the mountains, they pull over to do jumping jacks or push-ups to stay warm. They’ve seen much of the country from his bike; in Yellowstone it was so windy that the bike rode sideways for miles. They love how riding forces them to be immersed in the landscape, not observing it as an outsider but feeling every storm, every wave of unrelenting heat, every chill of fog. In a single day, they’ve towered above the world at 14,000 feet and sweated in a desert valley. They’ve learned that in biking and in life, it’s best to hold routes loosely. Changing one turn will change where you end up and everything you see along the way.
On a bike together, they can’t talk but they are always seeing the same land.
On a bike, they can’t look away.
They’ve settled into a community of people who roam. Biking brings people together in a shared love not only for the actual machines but also the freedom they bring and the camaraderie of rumbling through with each other. They’ve met other bikers who are drifters, riding throughout the country on their own, stopping at hubs where riders meet. They’ve grafted them in. This is how bikers collect friends, scattered throughout the country. When their route nears a friend’s hometown, they visit and ride together a ways.
The path of their life together is an unending red line. It snakes slowly; at times it loops back on itself like a web. It winds through the Rocky Mountains and through small towns where boys watch breathless from front yards. Sometimes it barrels down stretches of open road.