Asphalt Arcadia: The Gospel of Valentino Rossi – Bailey Snow
October 29, 2023
I lost God somewhere on the edge of the desert. Fleeing an unknown entity at top speed. Slow the bike down to barely a crawl, crack the throttle open until the earth shakes beneath me.
Putting along at 15 miles an hour, count down.
I drop the clutch and snap my right wrist, knuckles nearly touching the top of my forearm. The four pistons between my legs begin to oscillate and fire with increasing frequency, the Italian-made machinery emitting a sound somewhere between Pavarotti and a horde of banshees.
Another twist of the throttle, my front tire lifts from the pavement, puffing its chest as if to challenge the rising sun, pure bravado. I shift my weight forward, reconnecting the wheel with the ground, a pilot landing the plane perfectly. A minute victory at highway speeds.
The sound of the winds whipping past me and the exhaust note of the bike begin to intermingle and swell into a wall of noise that kisses the heavens and stays on my tail. Voices of angels singing a symphony for the devil. The sonic tidal wave remains omnipresent despite my best attempts to escape it.
Colors of the desert begin to blur; flashes of light unfurl into God’s brushstrokes. Air directly surrounding me begins to tunnel. Two lanes of blacktop the only constant, a one-way street into the ether, into the void, into the wild blue yonder.
I ride over a pothole the size of a teacup saucer. Fishtail, looking directly into the depths of my own mortality, if only for a brief moment. No time to think, barely time to breathe. Only time to react. Lean back and open it up, a middle finger to almost everyone’s natural instinct. But only a select few of us have had a death wobble well into the triple digits.
Finally at a speed that frightens me properly. The zenith of the bike’s power, simultaneously feeling solid and on the edge of violently rattling itself to pieces. The air in my lungs turns to fire, my blood thickens, my chest swells. A primal laugh rises from within myself; I am Major Kong, hooting and hollering into the great unknown.
Required at this speed is a firm hand, yet a gentle touch, as if riding a bull or dancing with a beautiful Spanish woman. They were both always the same to me anyway. Only difference is, a misstep in a dance won’t leave the coroner identifying you via dental records.
At least it shouldn’t.
The release is complete. I don’t need God, I have horsepower. Now, just hold on for dear life.
Riding a motorcycle at speed is a highly spiritual experience. Those who have never ridden look upon us with incredulity, citing NTSB statistics and personal anecdotes of motorcycle deaths.
And the worst part is, they’re right.
Logically, a motorcycle makes little sense outside of densely populated Third World metropolises. While they are less expensive than cars, they require a special license, several thousand dollars worth of gear, and have almost nothing in terms of carrying capacity and safety features.
But motorcycles are not instruments of logic. They are not for bean counters, spreadsheet geeks, or the bottom line. They are the piece of us that takes the scenic route, that stays for one more drink, that says “yes” to a week long trip with someone we just met. They deal in chasms of the soul, in the inimitable quality that makes us human. In this way, I struggle to grasp how anyone drives a car. To quote Louis Armstrong, “if you have to ask, you will never know.”
The stress of modern life (work, cleaning, taxes, etc.) is a weight that builds upon us silently, a fine dust that settles in every nook and cranny of our existence. It is erosion of the being; hardly noticeable day to day, only when viewed from an omniscient perspective is the destruction apparent. Liberal application of the throttle is the only method for removing this dust that I have found useful. Scrape the barnacles from the hull of your soul, and full speed ahead.
Mysticism is nothing new. From Native American peyote ceremonies to the Sufism of the lands surrounding the Black Sea, we have all sought for the force of our own creation to flow through our veins. To become one with a higher transcendental power, whatever form it may take. To be part of something greater than ourselves, but not a cog in the machine, an easily replaceable part.
We crave oneness, be it love, deep friendship, or something in between. I have been in love more times than I care to remember, but not even those I considered my soulmate have given me the feeling of going felony-level speeds on a motorcycle. Becoming a biomechanical hybrid of man and bike, living my boyhood fantasy of exiting Turn 15 at Mugello, if only fleeting. A perfect fusion of literal cogs in a machine and a euphoric singularity. Pure ecstasy. Nirvana.
It is only then that I realize, I don’t need God.
I have a Ducati.