On a warm summer day in Co. Down, the sun shines brightly from its zenith, looking down upon countryside which is being surveyed by a mysterious, figure-less but curious entity, floating in the air.
The surrounding area is made up of a network of country roads and fields, dotted with houses.
Large birds such as Jackdaws, Magpies and Rooks fly swiftly through the air. From somewhere below, hidden in the bushes, their location known only through their high pitched chirping, dozens of Finches and Blue Tits fly quickly from branch to branch as they scan the nearby houses looking for food and trying to avoid the local cats which patrol the area hoping to make a meal of any unsuspecting creature which they can pounce on.
As I grow accustomed to my few form, I become aware of its mass, its thoughts and memories. I suddenly know all that he knows. I am all that he is. At last I become aware of his senses.
Through helmet-clad ears, a slight breeze carries upon it the sounds of nearby birds, still chirping happily, unaware that soon the calmness of the countryside will be shattered by the roar of a motorcycle.
A breeze picks up and blows through an open visor, cooling a face whose striking blue eyes peer out through a dark visor and survey all that is before him. The road stretching away into the countryside; the white road markings; the cats eyes road reflectors; the birds in the air; the trees and bushes and fields on either side of me.
I listen intently to the wind and scan it for sounds of possible traffic ahead and to the rear of me.
I can feel the adrenaline as it begins to build and course through my veins in response to thoughts signalling what I am about to do.
I start to take deep breaths, trying to get as much oxygen to my muscles, preparing them to act swiftly when I call upon them within seconds of starting off.
In a few bends time I will see, 2 signs stand as guards signalling the beginning of the 60 mile per hour speed limit and the ending of the 30mph village limit.
Adrenaline comes in waves and makes me feel giddy. I feel alive and everything seems to be in slow motion. I know I have entered into the Holy Grail of the mind – I have entered “the Zone”. This is where you are so focused on what you’re doing that the only thing that matters is what is happening this very second.
Ahead of me the road disappears to the left. As I approach I move to the right of my lane, eyes scanning for each last bit of information: the white lines of the road lengthen signalling the approaching bend is going to tighten.
I slide to the left of the bike and put my knee out to shift my centre of gravity. My eyes seek out the vanishing point where the 2 curbs appear to merge and become as one.
I start to scan with my peripheral vision, looking out for anyone or any animal that might suddenly get suicidal and want to step out in front of me.
I have reached the point where the road starts to turn. With a steady throttle I lean off the bike, using my body-weight to pull it down into a tighter line, whilst keeping my head looking up and ahead and pushing down onto the foot peg with my right foot in preparation of the corner opening out.
I feel the tires grip and as I lean in further. I can feel the wind hitting my chest in a gently and welcome breeze.
Suddenly the corner starts to move away from me signalling I can accelerate should I wish to do so. I start to sit the bike up and move over to the left of my lane as the second bend approaches. I do everything as before only in the opposite direction and then I lean and turn left once again.
This whole time I feel alive. My heart pounds with such force that I fear it wants to burst free of my rib-cage.
Ahead of me are the 2 signs guarding the entrance to the national speed limited roads.
I pull over and stop, turning the engine off and hearing it ping as it starts to cool. I can smell the petrol and oil as it wafts up inside my helmet, carried by the heat coming of the engine.
I want to savour this.
I sit and think about what I have just done and feel endorphins, pleasure hormones, surging though my body. A thought enters my head; “this is better than sex.”
With my eyes closed I start to think of what I am about to do and a stray smile grows on my face.
Take a deep breath…hold it…hold it…hold it…and slowly let it out. I take another and hold it, let it out and open my eyes.
I see the trees; hedges and fences forming a corridor through which the tarmac follows with all the weaves and curves that this type of plane brings.
Inside my helmet I can hear the quick, rhythmic, thump thump thumping of my heart as blood is pushed round my body with ever increasing ferocity, in familiar response to the anticipation of what I am about to do.
With a hand, clad in a leather glove and reinforced with various pieces of Kevlar armour, I reach forward and turn the ignition, seeing the familiar green neutral light coming to life.
With my right hand I reach forward, grasp the throttle and push in the ignition button with my thumb, whilst simultaneously pulling in the throttle lever with my left hand and balancing the bike with my right foot, I bring the side-stand up with my left foot.
The bike rumbles into life. A quick twist with my right hand sends the tacho needle upwards, at the same time unleashing a whine from the engine. This is just a taste of what is to come.
With the clutch in, I press downwards on the gear lever with my left foot and ½ feel ½ hear the click as first gear is selected.
Placing my left foot on the ground, I balance the bike between my legs as I pull my black tinted visor down with my right hand, completing a typical biker look and sending me into anonymity from the rest of the world and softening the sound of the engine…but not for long.
I have ridden this road before. I know where it goes. It’s one of the tightest and twistyiest roads I have ever found in Northern Ireland.
But this time is different. This time I want to ride it harder and faster than I have ever done before.
I settle back into “The Zone”; a state of awareness so high that everything seems to slow down. I become aware of everything in front me, on the edges of my peripheral vision I start to scan the road for any suicidal creatures looking to spoil my fun by trying to dive under my front wheel. I also become aware of my mirrors and start to constantly scan them more than ever, with the fear that blue flashing lights and a squealing siren brings to my fragile licence.
With everything set, I slowly twist the throttle hearing the revs build and begin to feed out the clutch.
As the bike creeps forward, I quickly bring my feet up to rest on the foot pegs, balancing the balls of my feet on their edges.
Onwards I go and when I reach 20mph and with the clutch fully out, I violently open the throttle.
I need to get up to speed quickly.
I feel my entire body slide back into the seat as the bike surges forward in response to my actions on the throttle. The front wheel grows light as the front end lifts up in a slight wheelie, and then comes back down.
I grip the handle bars tighter and use my feet to push forward in an attempt to brace myself against the violent forces I am about to subject myself to.
I allow a smile to creep across my face as sheer concentration gives away to an emotion. And instant later the smile is gone from my face, once again replaced by sheer concentration.
The dangers involved are not too far from the back of my mind. I know what could happen should I make just a single mistake, no matter how minor it may seem.
The engine pitch gets higher and higher becoming just a scream.
I look down and see the needle of the tacho meter drawing very close to the 10,500rpm red line.
In the same glance I also notice that within less than 2 seconds, I am already at 50mph.
I close the throttle and at the same time I hook the toes of my left boot under the gear lever and pull upwards, short shifting into second gear.
The bike responds by once again by slightly lifting the front wheel.
All around me the hedges, trees and fences merge into one singular blur.
Below me, the white lines in the centre of the road join as one solid line. The cats eyes forming little bumps as they wiz by at ever shortening intervals.
Suddenly! The road reaches upwards very sharply.
I think, “Oh f**k! I forgot about this!”
Too late to do anything about it now.
The front wheel starts to angle upwards, following the road skyward. The handlebars, grown suddenly light in my grip, signal that the front wheel is now airborne.
I brace myself as best as I can as I feel the back wheel rise over the crest of the hump.
For a split second I am flying though the air like an airplane. The wind is whipping at my leathers and helmet; pushing hard against my chest.
Then I feel my stomach heave as the rest of me, bike and all, begins the violent descent towards the road, wheels still spinning in midair.
With my weight already sent rearwards by the acceleration force of the bike, the rear wheel hits the ground hard; a split second later it is joined by the front wheel.
The rear-end begins to squirm and fishtail, as minor undulations on the road surface magnifies the forward motion of the bike, upsetting the handling.
Just as quickly as the bike is unsettled, it straightens out and I regain total control, backing off the throttle just long enough to regain control of all of my senses.
“F**k! That could have been nasty!” go the thoughts, quickly through my head as I luckily get away with what could have been a serious accident. “I’ll remember where that is next time so I don’t hit it at the same speed.”
I look ahead through the darkened visor at the smooth tarmac 50 yards ahead of me, as it turns sharply to the right. The hedgerows and trees giving me early warning of just how sharp the impending turn really is.
I back off the throttle slightly to give myself more control. Racing towards it, I lift myself up just enough to slide ½ an ass-cheek off the seat, put my knee out for better control, and start to lean the bike over, feeling its stiffness as it tries to resist; my eyes totally focused on the point ahead of me where the corners of the sides of the road seem to merge in unison into one – the vanishing point; constantly scanning the sides of the roads with my peripheral vision, alert for any sudden and unexpected dangers.
The bend begins to straighten up. I start to stand the bike up, getting on the throttle at the same time and gathering more and more speed as I bring the bike completely upright.
As suddenly as the last bend is over, the next bend appears.
I read the road and it tells me it’s just as sharp as the last one.
I point the bike towards the middle of the road and start braking…hard! I feel like the bike is trying to throw me over the handlebars, as the suspension compresses and the front end dips. Senses learned from years of brisk road riding tell me that I could brake harder if I wanted to, but I have already slowed to the ideal speed for this corner.
Just as before, I hang ½ off the bike and scan the road and hedges for potential hazards. Midway through the corner when the road begins to open up for me, I am back accelerating hard, short-shifting through 3rd and 4th gears.
The next bend is 100 yards ahead of me and turning right. I look at the edges of the road; the trees growing smaller tell me that the road is angling down.
I scan the fields to either side of me looking for any breaks in the hedge which may signal a hidden entrance to a field. I also look ahead as far as I can, examining the road for any mud or pot holes.
The smooth tarmac is completely clear of any debris.
As I approach the corner, I back off the throttle, brake hard, pull in the clutch and press my left foot down, feeling the click as 4th gear is disengaged and replaced by 3rd. I press down again and engage 2nd. At the same time I have manoeuvred myself over to the left 3rd of the road.
As I approach the bend I see that it is quite open, so I stay in 2nd, lean the bike over, and keep a steady speed through the bend.
A nice, long, sweeping right hander.
Below me, I can feel the tyres gripping the road, telling me there is nothing to worry about.
Suddenly, the road swings back onto itself as the road turns to the left.
I feel a moment of sheer panic and utter fear as I realise that I am going fast. Too fast! I can’t turn at this speed!
My mind races into overtime. Thoughts fly though my head so quick I don’t have time to consciously process them.
I think, “Too fast! Too fast!”
“Sit the bike up…quick!”
I fight the fear of crashing as my eyes become fixed on the edge of the road.
Years of experience honed on the road, come to my subconscious and instinct takes over. I think, “Don’t panic. You can do this! Don’t look where you don’t want to go. Look though the bend! Concentrate! You can do this!”
My brain tells me to brake…hard! Brake now!
“No! Don’t brake yet! Brake now and you will lose the front end! Sit the bike up first, brake hard on the straight and you will make it!”
I can’t move quickly enough. Things are happening too fast!
Somehow I manage to get the bike upright, long enough to scrub off as much speed as I can.
I hang off the left side and just hope I can make it. I hope the tyres don’t loose grip or I’m screwed!
I lean further and further than I have ever leant before.
Heat and red hot pain shoot through my knee and up my leg, like I have just been touched with an electric grinder, as I feel the road through my leathers.
Instinctively I lift my knee up a fraction of an inch. And the pain fades slightly.
Then the road begins to straighten out.
I start to stand the bike up again and back further off the throttle. I allow the engine breaking to take over and as I come fully upright and pull over to the side of the road as relief sweeps through me.
I made it!
As I select neutral, put the side-stand down and turn the engine off. The entire world speeds up as my senses return to normal. I can’t believe that I just made it.
I still feel giddy with the adrenaline in my system and with it comes exhaustion and relief. My body suddenly feels very heavy. My arms and legs feel like lead weights. I feel physically drained. All that panicking really took a lot of effort out of me. I am so glad it is over.
I think, “It was only 5 seconds ago that I was having a great time before nearly being caught out by that bend.” I’m bloody lucky I didn’t crash!
I look down at my knee and see that my leathers are only scuffed. But my knee is aching.
I’ve had a lucky escape. “Think I will take it easy on the way home…then again, maybe not.”
Calmness washes over me. I start to feel his body relaxing. The near miss on the bend, which happened just seconds ago, begins to fade into blackness as it becomes a distant memory and the rider, feeling somewhat confused, remembers nothing of what has just happened.
As we separate, the land and the rider begin to fall away as I rise higher and higher above the countryside.
Through senses beyond human comprehension I look down upon the being with who I was as one just seconds ago. I watch as he shakes his head and ponders how he arrived at his current location without remembering how he got there.
Unknown thoughts and assumptions fill his mind just long enough to make him hesitate for a split second before deciding to continue on his journey.
He starts the bike up, retracts the side-stand and selecting 1st gear. Quickly opening the throttle and releasing the clutch at the same time which has the desired effect of hoisting the front wheel several feet above the ground as he speeds off down the road.
As the bike and the rider disappear into the distance and the sound of the engine slowly fades into nothingness, the only sound remaining is that of the soft breeze as it blows through the branches of the trees, rustling their leaves. Then the birds’ return, their chirping once again filling the air…until the next time.
As for me? I carry on drifting though the air and into the distance, leaving behind Co. Down, but retaining all the pleasurable experiences I gained whilst being a biker for a fleeting few minutes.
Feeling unsteady, I ride off slowly, still trying to calm down. Still trying to fully realise what I had just been through, only one thought lingers in the back of my head as a wicked grin slowly grows upon my face. “The next time I come round here I’m going to nail that bend!”