My steed was road-weary, this beat up motorcycle I rode slowly along the forest road. Civilization was 20 miles behind me where the smoke was thickening. It was also 40 miles up the road in front of me, where I could see licks of flame. Right now it was just me and a debris-slathered, two-lane road accessorized with wildlife doing their best to stay in front of the flames. My GPS glowed comfortingly from my gas tank. I’d zoomed out so I could see what kind of turns I had coming up ahead, since visibility was shit. So I rode, more than half blind, trusting the map on the four-inch touch-screen knew what was really ahead. Night fell, I had no cell signal so I had no way to know if the road was even open. It was time to trust that gnarly voice in my head that germinated from decades on a motorcycle. It was telling me to keep going.
Deer can be big. They’re even bigger when they are between the motorcycle and where it wants to go. The damn GPS didn’t see that coming. Fortunately, I did and I got my 900-pound beast around it with only minor fishtailing in the gravel. Fire makes for wide-eyed crazy. The deer, too.
The smoke cleared about ten miles before the road squirted out of the mountains. I rumbled into the tiny town like a drifter in a bad western. There was one restaurant open and it was still packed even though it was past closing time. I walked up to the front and a very tightly wound young man sprang into the doorway to tell me they were no longer serving.
When I looked in a mirror later, I realized what he saw: a large man covered in soot and dirt, eyes wild with death-defying travel. What I saw when I looked at him was an annoying gnat, between my food and me. I walked right past him. When I got to the counter I sensed the rest of a serving staff regarded me with the same distaste. I announced I needed some food to go. The gnat told me the kitchen was closed. I guess it was the cannibalistic way I was looking at him that compelled a matronly waitress to approach me. She called me, “Hon’” and wanted to know what I wanted to eat. I said I wasn’t picky since I’d been twelve hours dodging flames and critters. She led me to a bench and had me sit, conspicuously out of sight of the other customers.
At the time I put it at 50/50 if she went to get me food or the cops (either way I got fed), but gnat stared at me from a distance like he wanted to run, or a date. The waitress came back and sat next to me. She handed me a bag. I asked her how much, she shook her head. I fished out a twenty and put it in her hand. She didn’t look at it and stood, indicating I should do the same. When I made my way out the door, she told me they open for breakfast at 7:00am and the coffee ain’t bad.
She was right.