Greetings! I am Raal, Raal Anhinga, a small cormorant. My iridescent black feathers glimmer in the early morning sun as I hurry north. My wings gather gulps of air and compress them against the glassy smooth surface of the river. Tiny bulls-eyes ripple out where my wing tips touch the surface, dot, dot, dot behind me. The turbid grey-green water rushes by inches below my belly, appealing shimmers of sun on the silver sides of the smelt beckon. I note the location carefully for future reference, but press urgently on. For I have news this day. Great and most wondrous news! A dream, dreamt many times for many years is just now only a full moon’s rising from reaching fruition.
My head pans from side to side, eyes take note of every tree and bush along the banks. There, just around a gentle bend, an island to the left, the white bark of a birch half fallen into the current makes gentle swirls. I rise and begin to call out, “Rae! Rae! Rae!!” No answer. The birch passes to my right as I search again. She said we would meet here, where is she? A ripple below the creek mouth and a head appears from below the surface. It can only be her! The unmistakable lithe curve of her neck and the way the water beads then falls instantly from her delicate feathers.
“Rae! Rae! Answer me, answer me”
“What? I can hear you. The whole river can hear you. What do you want?”
“It’s time! We’re on this month’s list. We’re leaving in just over a week!”
She seems not quite as excited as me. I suppose that’s to be expected, I’m not sure anyone could be as excited as I am right now. She glides to the birch, for a moment I am distracted by desire as she poses, wings extended in the rising sun to dry.
“Well, I suppose I knew this was coming.” She finally says.
“I had hoped for more time, you know this river has become a home to me. The water is clean and cold. The fish are fat and slow.”
“You used to hate fish”
“And I will hate fish again when I leave here too!”
“Then you are coming?” Said with just a hint of doubt…
“Of course I’m coming! Just leave me this one last day here. Let me enjoy the sun, and chase the fish, and listen to the silence one last time. I’ll see you at the Cape tomorrow morning.”
“You know there will be another river someday. I promise!”
“Are you going to leave or not? Don’t you have something YOU wanted to do before we leave this all behind?”
I nuzzled her neck and whispered, “I’ll see you tomorrow. I love you”
She gave me a nip in response and called out “I love you too” then disappeared into the river she had come to call home as I took to wing and headed back to the apartment to shower and change. I did stop on the way to snack on a few of those smelt!
Rae had taken on her present sleek form a few years ago and liked it so much she rarely left it over the last few years. I, on the other hand, have maintained a preference for my original two legged appearance. Not that I haven't dabbled in alternate morphologies from time to time. T-Rex being one of my favorites! I think perhaps because it took me such long time in the pre-virtual age to accept who I was. Now that I can take whatever form I choose, I choose to be me! Not the one hundred forty-five year old weathered, time ravaged shell I had left behind many years ago however. This me, still looks good stepping out of the shower and padding over to the terminal to happily note that my highway permit has been approved and I am cleared for an 11am departure. Time to powder up and slip into some silk. I like to feel nice underneath when I ride long distance. Besides, it keeps the Nomex from chafing. There is something thrilling to me about the symphony that rumbles and roars from the pipes of a classic big V-Twin. 946cc’s of reciprocating internal combusting auditory ode to joy! Like Rae, there is one simple pleasure I wish to enjoy just once more before I leave this world behind.
I have made this run over one hundred times in the past few months in training sims. I have tried to memorize every bridge, overpass, tunnel, and cloverleaf from here to Jacksonville. I toss my towel aside picturing the George Washington Bridge start line. I pull on my leathers and boots as my mind takes me down through New Jersey’s contrast of industrial towers and pastoral farms. Past the homes that I’ve lived in and the golf courses that I’ve played. I’ll pass schools and playgrounds that I’ve raised children and grandchildren and greatgrandchildren on. I won’t have time to sightsee any of it but it will all tug at my memory as I roar by. On the lift down to the garage level I go over the six fuel stops, three tire changes, and two potty breaks I’ll need to make a 1200 mile run in under 7 ½ hours. The record for the 1 litre motorcycle stock class is 7 hours 42 minutes. I pop the cover on the fuel tank to make a visual check on the 5 and a half gallons of premium grade gasoline, turn on the fuel taps and click the switch on with my thumb.
A deliberate kick brings the engine rumbling to life, a gentle rock forward and the center stand ker-thunks up under the fr
This is no milk run, and even though I’ll be running at just over 170mph for 60 mile stretches on the straights, the devil is in the details. What were gentle curves and rises for millions of motorists so long ago are worthy of much more attention and respect at full bore on a fast Italian iron horse. Sim run number four had been ended by the cross winds over the Susquehanna River bridge. Push to the right, over correct left, guardrail, space, water… Physical was set to full, bruises lasted three weeks! Right now the GW Bridge is the first test. I could easily catch air going over the crest. Time in the air is time surrendered. Entering the interchange ramp too high or exiting too low will cost a second here and two seconds there. I could go with a bigger tank and skip a fuel stop. The extra weight would make me less nimble and carry me wider on the curves. I could use a harder compound tire but need to take the off ramps slower, or stretch my tire changes just enough to make five stops instead of six. That would risk running on cord, a blowout at high speed or a wipeout 20 miles short of the record. It had taken me 22 runs on the sim before I even finished for the first time.