I decided to get in touch with my decadent side last week. Where does one go for eggplant Parmesan for diner? There is only one answer: Al Ducci’s in Manchester. The eggplant is perfectly thin and al dente, the sauce is not red brine, and there is no mouth-gluing cheese layer, shoveled on to compensate for inadequate ingredients.
Mallory has learned how to get me to jump up and go. It only took one trial. "Feel like a ride?" It’s a reflex. "Sure!" Climate change? What climate change?
The only other question was how to get back. Because the good people at Al Ducci’s had some ice and plastic packing, I had options. I decided to confuse my friends at the N.S.A., so I headed west. That meant getting to Rupert via Rt. 315, then Salem in New York, then down Rt. 22 to Cambridge, then back east on Rt. 313 to Arlington, then the dirt to West Wardsboro where the rest became automatic.
As I headed northeast on Rt. 30, I found myself is especially good spirits. There was time to get existential, so why not? What was so great?
It’s nice and easy on Rt. 30 -- gentle sweepers, smooth pavement, good river, and a bit of nature. But there was something else. And then it came to me: I’d had the road to myself for at least five miles. No car behind me; no car in front of me. I could just ride my ride. That meant I could put my speed where I wanted it, and look around a little more. I didn’t have to plan a single overtake. I was on an open road. Amazingly, except for the town centers that intervened, that was what I had all the way to Jamaica. No lumbering trucks, no oogling tourists, and no gaggle of cars stacked up behind a slowjo; just the machine and me. If your vehicle is primarily a way to get from A to B, you may have trouble following me here. If you like to drive/ride and become an integral part of the vehicle, these ramblings might make more sense. If the only reason to go is the vehicle, this is intuitive.
On this eggplant trip, I was to have an open road again for 18 miles on 315, and all the way up the Batten Kill on 313 to Arlington. Nobody on the dirt, either, but I had to pay closer attention there.
I don’t know anyone who likes traffic. Rush hour is a synonym for stress hour. You might as well smoke, because you give up some of your life to drive in the stuff, especially on a regular basis. The tragedy is that many people, perhaps most people, rarely experience a truly open road. But it can happen in more than a few places here in Vermont, even on the interstate. Just be careful in your choice of place and/or your timing (e.g., Sunday morning, almost anywhere, before nine). Once, on the way back from Craftsbury Common, I found my way to I-91. There was no moon, so it was a dark night. It was also warm and humid. I was alone for miles, nobody going either way, bathed in a pool of light ... just the throbbing of the machine and the warm air flying by. I may never be able to duplicate the magic of those moments again.
Perhaps the best and most consistent open road I’ve experienced was in eastern Oregon. A few years ago, I went to a wedding in Portlandia, rented a scoot, and headed out over the shoulder of Mt. Hood. The further east I got, the more open road I found. A place called "Fossil" doesn’t have a lot of traffic. The same holds for towns like Hardman, Condon, Monument, and Granite. Once, and I had consulted a map, I went for more than an hour without meeting a car, a bike, or a pedestrian. Equally wonderful was southwestern Montana on dirt roads call "Scenic byways." No vehicles and heaping portions of nature. Heaven.
Before you say it, I understand that all of this is elitist and selfish. Except for our public lands and the Internet, the roadways are the last, best "commons" in this country. We all get to use them. And yes, I accept the assessment. I do like to have it my way. I don’t share my Panda North dinner, but I do give at the office, I do prepare for class, and I do a little of this and that to help out around here in Marlboro and Brattleboro. But when I’m on that motorcycle, I crave the solitude and the freedom to go as I please. It’s not that I want a racetrack, I just want an open road.
Bob Engel lives in Marlboro with his motorcycles, wife, and cat.