That blessed mud


That blessed mud The e-mail said simply, "Have I got a deal for you!"

Dr. Ann is a neighbor who has gotten hooked by the motorcycle bug, bad. She's all geared up for a trip to Alaska this summer. She's only been at it for a year, but she's taken street and dirt courses; and has gotten her hands on an "adventure" style bike, covered it with functional farkles, and is salivating to go. I just hope they're ready for her in our last frontier.

The deal she had for me is that she lives well within sight of pavement, and their tractor no longer requires the relative comfort of the garage. There was room for another motorcycle.

How did that sound?

If you've heard Garrison Keillor trying to come up with new ways to tell us how cold it really is in Minnesota, then you've also heard the various fulminations from rural vermonters living on dirt roads. This time of year they look like they're mortally ill. "Happy spring!" They just stare at you.

How many ways are there to explain to a city slicker, better, a pavement slicker how cruel the mud really is. Got 4 WD and at least ten inches of clearance? You don't have a problem. But the rest of us, even those who drive the official State car (a Subaru Outback) eventually have to just sit at home and wait. And wait. You find out pretty quickly what's in those three cans at the back of the cupboard. It's 60-year old corn or something and the resulting casserole (a generous term for what is really something your resident raccoon will gag over when it turns up in the compost) produces little beads of sweat on your forehead. Your kids look at it like it's a scat quiz. After a week of so of this, you awake from a deep sleep, covered in sweat; you were dreaming of another fresh salad. Didn't get your heating oil or propane delivered when the ground was frozen? "Honey, have you heard the furnace lately?" There's the happy family sitting in front of the open oven warning their hands. What? It's not electric? Bummer!

The mud is especially cruel because every year, without fail, it fools you. Question: "Hey, don't you think it's drying up?" Answer: "You may be right, yeah, I think you're right." The next day it swallows your neighbor's car. He's standing on the roof calling for help, his kids are crying inside the vehicle. A Sikorsky helicopter flies in to rescue the hapless family. The people are saved, but the car stays, the suction is just too great.

Every year Mallory and I walk more than fifty miles to get to our small, fuel efficient, 2WD cars parked in the middle of Town. Show the little wimps an inch of mud and they're roaring in reverse toward the pavement they just left. This is not a Chevy Cobalt ignition problem or a mysterious Toyota acceleration problem. It's a CPU default built right into all small Japanese cars, and it surfaces at the sight of a glistening dirt road.

That leaves a lot of us, with nowhere to put our cars except in the Town center. The competition for the handful of "public" spots is like a linen sale at Bloomingdales. Look at all those Priuses, Fits, and other tiny cars with three inches of clearance. If you get there near the end if the day, fistfights break out over the remaining spot. The resulting spill over is desperate, and signs appear on lawns with figures like $15 per night.

So there is some background. Each year, after being gullible enough to be fooled in early April, I am resigned to wait for the road to thaw before I take my 520 pound "all road" motorcycle out. "They love mud," said the guy at the dealership. Right. If -- no -- when we tip over, no one would find us until July. I'd be the new "Ice Man" exhibit at the Smithsonian. So every year I look at the road again, and say something more reasonable, like "end of April." AND THEN I GOT THAT EMAIL.

In 15 seconds I had the battery in the bike, the tire pressure checked, and the tank bag in place. The seat is always fiddly, but I eventually got it right, too. Then it was tossing and turning all night in bed. My friend is a real Vermonter, and she knows that a cold night takes the fight out of the mud until mid-morning of the next day. If the ruts were less than three feet deep, I had a chance.

The beautiful beast started right up (after a winter's hibernation) and we were off. The bike's thermometer said thirty-one degrees. Tough! We gotta get out of here. And we did.

We were so exuberant that we found ourselves in Walpole, sitting in the parking lot at Burdick's restaurant. I, at least, found my way inside; outside, the BMW got a piece of raspberry tart. No whipped cream, though. Motorcycles are always trying to lose weight.

Bob Engel lives in the mud with his motorcycles, wife and cat.


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