My dear friend Robin lives in Chicago. We talk more than friends who live 10 minutes way. Not because my local friends and I are poor at keeping in touch, but because Robin and I are sufficiently geeky to give Skype a very good workout. Skype is an online message thing. We can type messages to each other, but more importantly, we can sit in front of our computer screens with our web cams turned on and chat to each other. The time difference gets a bit tricky, and the changes from day light saving can be really perilous, and it was easier when I worked at the University and could leap on the web cam in my lunch break but nonetheless the skype lines from Chicago to Highton have continued to buzz. Robin's the reason that we're spending a week in Chicago, she'll meet us in Toronto for our wedding, and we're talking about meeting in New York as well.
Anyhow – what do you send a friend on the other side of the world for her birthday? It's not easy to send a present half way across the world. What can you get in the postal or courier service? Robin got it so right and she gave me a truly marvellous birthday present. She sent me a voucher for 24 hours hire of a serious motorbike. It’s valid just about anywhere in the US.
These guys – the bike hire guys - are Harley specialists so while there are the usual BMWs and Honda Gold wing armchairs, more than anything, they’re all about Harley Davidson and all the different variations and models.
In the last few years, I've grown pretty disdainful of Harleys. Once upon a time, I'd have loved to ride a Harley, and in lots of ways I would still love to. But by the time it came time for me to buy a new bike last year they'd turned into a middle-aged cliché. It seems every male middle aged baby boomer in Australia who's finally got the house paid off and the kids off his hands and now he's got a few bucks to spare is out there reliving his adolescent fantasy of being a rebel on a Harley. He's got no idea what he's doing and is managing to raise the injury and fatality statistics for middle aged bike riders - and he's going to do it on a Harley. Harleys have turned into the little red sports car of mid life crisis. So, when it came time to buy my new bike, this 25 year experienced rider wasn't going to be mistaken for a middle aged crisis, and I got my much loved Triumph instead.
But riding a Harley in America – that's a different story altogether. Harleys are as American as apple pie, and peanut butter, and lots more fun besides. So, 24 hours of Harley rental is a marvellous birthday present.
Then there's the big decision – where to hire? I suggested Chicago to Robin, so that she could join in the fun, but she said that there wasn't much in Chicago to make it worthwhile and that I should chose someplace else. So, it came down to Arizona/New Mexico for the desert and wide spaces, or Virginia for lots of windy stuff.
Amy's never been on the back of my bike. There's no reason that she hasn't, other than we haven't got around to it. Oh and maybe a bit of apprehension on my part – it's been a long time since I had anyone riding pillion, and even then it didn't happen too often.
Yesterday was sunny and warm. There's been fog in the morning, but it was one of those days that you just know are made for riding a bike, once the fog lifts. Amy got on the back of the bike and with a wee bit of hesitation on my part, off we went.
By the time we got to the bottom of the street, I could see Amy grinning in the rear vision mirror. Another km and I didn't need to look – I could hear her laughing. Round the river, up through town and back around the river again. By then the fog was coming down for the night, and it was getting chilly. Another km or so home, and by then we were both laughing.
It's the freedom, the closeness to everything else and the feeling that the wind is blowing through my soul and clearing everything away that does it.
Oh – and where to ride? We’re going to ride across the desert in Arizona laughing.