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May 27, 2008

The “Invisible” Road Not Taken…

Nick Diaz

The annual “Ride to the Wall” just took place yesterday, and judging from the amount of publicity about this annual event, you have probably heard about it.


            This is the 20th consecutive year that this event has been held. It gives all Americans an opportunity to remember our veterans who gave up their lives in Southeast Asia for our freedom. It is also designed to bring our attention to the POW-MIA problem, which still lies unresolved. The Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Ride to the Wall is one of the largest motorcycle events in the country.


            Which is why I don’t attend. With all due respect to our veterans and to the ideals of this fine sponsoring organization, I will remember our veterans, but not by riding slowly, in parade formation, feathering the clutch, overheating my air-cooled engine, while sweltering in the heat of the day. No, thank you…


            For some strange reason, riding with 300,000 people is not my idea of a good motorcycle ride. I have been to the Vietnam Veterans Wall several times; every time I look up the name of a couple of classmates from the University of Dayton, Class of 1969, find them, and reflect on their ultimate sacrifice.


            Doing so with a crowd of 300K people is not my idea of dutifully paying respect; some folks, however, like doing it, so good for them.


            I just won’t do it. My motorcycle riding time is limited by family, job, and weather-related factors. When it’s time to fire up the Suzuki in the garage and don the helmet and gear, I want to go, not stop. I want to ride at a reasonable rate of speed for which my Suzuki was designed.


            Therefore, I’d rather go on my own motorcycle ride, celebrating the beautiful countryside of our four-state area, mindful of the blessing my adopted country has bestowed upon me, thanks to the “last measure of devotion” by those who came before me.


            Your question may well be: “So, where do you go when you go?”


            On the rare occasion that we have a beautiful, totally rain-free weekend around these parts, fellow workers and non-motorcycling acquaintances greet me the following Monday saying, “Boy, I saw lots of bikes this weekend on I-70. Were you among them?”


            Probably not. I don’t go on I-70 very often. As a matter of fact, I don’t hit four-lane roads, any kind, very often – except to get from one “invisible road” to another.


            “Invisible roads.” Not my original phrase, though I’ve incorporated into my motorcycling vocabulary. The term belongs to my friend Jim Ford, who runs the “Riders’ Workshop”, (; Jim defines these roads in the following manner, from his website:


             “Invisible roads are unknown except to locals on tractors or in pickup trucks. These offer challenging riding conditions, great beauty, and wild, natural surprises. They run along remote ridgelines and stretch along shaded creeks of clear, splashing water.”


            Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? Almost naively and unrealistically pastoral in this, our northeastern megalopolis. Traffic congestion everywhere, you may say – can’t get from one place to the other without running into stop-and-go situations.


            Yet invisible roads in our four-state region do exist, in astonishing abundance, of surprising length and breadth - many of them within easy time and distance from downtown Frederick, or the US 15 traffic. One must, however, either find for oneself where these invisible roads are, or else contact someone who does.


            Someone like myself, for example. I know where they are, mostly because I’ve been riding these roads in our own congested Maryland, and in neighboring Virginia, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania, for 35 years now. I’ve made it a point to get to know them, and to design rides, for myself and my motorcycling friends, based on these invisible roads.


            Most folks think of motorcycles as just one more moving, motorized contraption that transports people from one place to another. That is true to a large extent, since my destination each work morning is The Barnesville School, where I’m employed. I do, however, take invisible roads to and from Barnesville whenever I make the time to do so.


            Motorcycles can be quite utilitarian in nature; the fact that my motorcycle can take me to work by using much less fuel than my minivan makes it somewhat attractive as a means of transportation.


            This is not what road motorcycling is about, however. We don’t ride to save money on gas, but to enjoy life. To people like myself, the invisible road is, in itself, our destination. Our “real” destination – a place name, a restaurant, a resort, a town, a friend’s or relative’s house – is accidental, totally secondary.


            Next weekend we of the “Between-the-Sheetz Gang,” (a.k.a. my old-fogey motorcycling friends), are riding to Marietta, Ohio, where we’ll spend the night. The second night we’ll end in Bridgeport, WV, then head for home on the third day.


            What’s in Marietta, Ohio? Nothing much.


            What’s in Bridgeport, West Virginia? Nothing much, either.


            Then why are we going there on our annual three-day ride?


            Because of the invisible roads – our ultimate goal.


            In my next installment, I’ll share with you how best to find those invisible roads that beg us to appreciate how beautiful, idyllic, serene, and pastoral our Mid-Atlantic States really are.


            And you don’t even have to ride a motorcycle to gain access to them…

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