I mostly just do it to feel the wind in my hair.
When people ask me about why I do it, I come up with some other bullshit reason—something that sounds more meaningful: adrenaline is my drug, it makes me feel unstoppable, it makes me feel like I’m doing something during the many hours of the night I spend not being able to sleep.
But really, there’s just nothing quite like the sensation of my long hair—set free from the tight bun I have to keep it in at work—whipping behind me as I climb speed. The rumble of the motorcycle under me starts to numb my legs, my hands, my arms until I feel like it’s just my hair flying in the wind.
See? Nobody would understand if I tried to explain it. That’s why I have to come up with lies whenever people ask me why I spend so many of my nights racing motorcycles at high speeds.
I wish I could say it didn’t start because of a guy, but that’s how it always seems to go for me: Some new crush pushes me to try whatever he’s into and then I realize I like the activity more than the guy. This one happened pretty unexpectedly. I was bored at a family wedding, looking for a way to distract myself when everyone around me was at least ten years older or younger, so I started chatting with the only person my age: the bartender. The longer we talked, the more I drank, and the quicker the chatting turned into flirting. Before I knew it, the rest of the wedding guests had cleared out and the bartender grabbed my hand and was leading me to his motorcycle. “This will be fun,” he said. “I swear.”
The rest of the night was a blur, and when I woke up with a splitting headache the next morning, two things stuck out in my booze-addled mind: (1) I had just had one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life, and (2) I wanted to do it again as soon as I could.
But even he and his friends never got why I loved it so much. Everyone has a different reason for riding, I guess. He says he does it because “it makes him feel alive.” I’m convinced he just likes sounding badass when he tries to pick up chicks.
So that’s how I found myself here, leaving work at 12:45 am after finally closing my last table—ripping my apron off and pulling my hair down—and hitting the pavement on my bike instead of heading home to get some rest in preparation for my early morning.
Thought I guess the story doesn’t really start there. The story starts the day I got kicked out of high school after I stopped showing up when it didn’t matter anymore. It starts the day my mama said she didn’t think college was such a good idea for me, because she really needed me to stay home and help her; She wouldn’t be able to do it without me. It starts the day my dad high tailed it out of here—saw a better life somewhere else and snagged it—leaving me and mama and my three younger siblings to figure it out. It starts the day my parents thought this shit-hole of a town was a great place to raise a family.
That’s really how I found myself living this life. Waking up early to get my siblings off to school. I almost cry every time I put them on the bus, their faces so eager to spend the day learning everything they can about the world. They still have hope for a future. I’m stuck walking back home to clean up and get ready to head in to my day job at the bookstore. And then late night shifts at the diner. It makes enough money to supplement mama’s nursing job and keep the family running.
And then the wind in my hair happened. The riding habit cut the amount of sleep I get on a given night from a healthy seven hours to something closer to five, but I don’t care. Riding is more rejuvenating than sleep. Riding is the first time I’ve cared about something since I pulled the college poster off my wall. It was a huge photo of Vanderbilt’s campus. I’m not sure why Vanderbilt—I think we visited when I was a kid on a family trip to Nashville and I just new something felt right. In reality I probably would have gone to some cheap state school, but I would have gone. Vanderbilt just meant away to me.
Now riding is the closest thing I have to that. It takes me somewhere else. Even if I know at the end of this stretch of highway, I’ll turn around and head back; Even if I’m looping around the same back roads over and over—my stomach lurching with every turn; Even if I’ve ridden to the top of the little mountain I’ve climbed since I was a kid, looking over my even smaller town—I feel transported.
The more time I’ve spent riding, the more I’ve spend wondering, What if I kept going? I’ve spent hours on my bike imagining the places I could end up if I just kept going straight through the night. The lives I could lead. And of this life that I wouldn’t have to live any longer.
And that’s how I found myself here tonight, driving past the usual exit where I turn around on the highway, my backpack extra tight with a couple extra changes of clothes and the wads of dollar bills—the tips I’d been carefully keeping for myself over the past few months. I didn’t know where I was going. But I knew I couldn’t stay away…