I am in the winter of my discontent. Biker discontent. Like John Steinbeck’s protagonist Ethan Hawley in Steinbeck’s last Novel written in 1961, I yearn for more. Though my discontent is fueled by lack of good riding days. Steinbeck’s character yearned for social status and power, neither of which can get me any better riding days. In my yearning for more, it is perhaps less I seek. I yearn for less thermals, less leather, less helmet, less insulation, less cold, yes, perhaps less…. I trust there are bikers more patient than I. For me, however, all the electric gear in the world does not make up for a light leather jacket, unzipped, Levi 501’s and Red Wing boots, gloveless on a summer eve, 78 degrees – setting sun. What a delicious recipe.
Northern bikers accept their meteorological and barometric lot. They understand that fall embraces winter and ushers upon them hard starts, dead batteries, glove liners and ultimately a long season of motorcycle immobility. That is why God gave them snowmobiles. Our condition in life precludes such escape. Though our winter may be shorter, it is no less troublesome. I do not recall a time in my cold, Northern childhood where we ever missed school for a week, much less for a mere 5 or 6 inches of snow! We had storms taller than Dad’s F-250 and colder than a thermometer would read. Yet we strode though banks of snow to frosty yellow busses with chained tires over mounds of salt and sand, past piled berms of snow 10, 12, 15 feet high.
Here I sit at home peering past an idle bike, through frosted basement window panes, to small clumps of snow in my yard. Still, I ponder Steinbeck’s character. He desperately wants more from life and abandons his high moral code to achieve social status and financial wealth. The question is begged whether his “discontent” is satiated by his short lived success. The novel proceeds through Ethan’s achievements and raises him from lowly store clerk to businessman and community leader. Though much moral sacrifice is made in these advances, he justifies them, ignoring his corruption. His discontent grows commensurate with his success. By my measure, we as bikers by January are 2 months into our 4 month discontent. Here in the South, we have no more than a November to March winter. Very occasional balmy days, dispersed throughout are smatterings of rain and snow to remind us we do not live in Florida and to keep the trickle charger plugged and the liner in the leather. I am not yet ready to sell my soul to the devil. I’d barter a bit, maybe pawn a small piece. A week of sunny 80 degrees may cure this malady, I suspect. I suppose I could head on south, but with kids and office and realities of life, it’s easier said than done. Florida is for retirement. Discontent indeed.
I realize we will be turning the corner on spring soon enough. Running thicker oil, riding gloveless, maybe even breaking a sweat at a light with the southern sun beating upon us on hot tarmac. …Sigh… Until then, I am and shall remain restless. One can only pretend to be content with Mr. Gerbing’s welcomed invention for so long. Ultimately, we ride to be free. The wind, the sun, all blocked by thermal barriers and impenetrable garb designed to winterize our person, though protecting us from that which we seek, from those sensations that only live through summer riding. Until shed, the layers rob us of contentment. They shield that which we yearn. Hence our dilemma. Steinbeck’s character seeks protection from his winter of discontent through death. In the end, he abandons this plan and its desperate implications. Our lot is to weather the storm, wait for Spring, when discontent is melted with mid day sun, returning robins, and balmy rides in light jackets, when all our winter troubles are forgotten and our discontent fades. Mr. Steinbeck is believed to borrow from William Shakespeare, who more reflectively muses in Richard III: “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun.” Well Bill, I couldn’t agree more.
Well, signing off for now. Remember, ride strong, ride safe, and in the end, make sure you ride home.