The Ride

I had been amped about the ride for months, having bought my ticket for the July event in January. Laguna Seca is a premier raceway, and the Superbike event has historic ties to the locale. I had never been there and was repeatedly reminded of its significance by my riding buddies, who would be leading the way.

We met on 280 south of San Francisco at 8 a.m. The fog of the city gave way to sunshine that was already warm on my leathers. It was going to be a good day I thought, grinning behind my shield. The five of us continued south like bandits, setting a pace somewhere between hellacious fast and arrest worthy.

Traffic was heavy by the time we hit 17. The curvy road to Santa Cruz was too busy to satisfy our desire for leans, so we jumbled together in tight formation emulating the racers we would soon be admiring. Before long, we were free of surf city and all its lost boys, out down the coast.

As Highway 1 switched from two lanes to four, we shifted left and made time around slow-moving cars. A group of three young-looking riders approached from behind going a bit faster, so we gave way in the right lane. After they passed, we switched back over to pass another cage.

It is at this moment I see a large, green pickup coming up on us quickly. Once he passes the same slow car, he lunges to our right and hits the gas hard to pass us before the added lane disappears. As he tears by, I see the large face of the driver muttering at us out of the window.

He steps up his speed again, now bent on getting around the other set of riders and the car that separates us from them. As the right lane merges left, the driver yanks the full-size Chevy into the path of the closest rider, sending him wobbling into his friends. They narrowly avoid impact and right their cycles after some quick maneuvering. The truck driver continues down the road without a hint of responsibility.

And then something clicks. I've felt it before when loved ones and friends have been wronged. I've felt it too when witnessing strangers be picked on, victimized. It is the need to do something to correct the circumstances, to defend them and indirectly defend their right and mine to live, love, and in this instance, ride.

Inherently, this emotion demands a decision, even if that decision is to do nothing. I've made that choice as many times as I've acted. So much potential danger: jail, lawsuits, and good ol' bodily harm sure have a way of convincing us to sit back down if we had even gotten out of our seats.

But I've found that while I sometimes regret acting, I always regret doing nothing. I'm no superhero, although I play one in my noggin. I am, however, one helluva wiseacre capable of peeving off bullies in five seconds f-l-a-t. As you might imagine, this has resulted in more than one thrashing. It is a risk I'm comfortable taking.

So I twist the throttle and shoot into the emergency lane, past the car, past the riders and back into the lane behind the truck. I slip to the left and start moving up beside him, hoping to impart a piece of my mind. But he spots me and confirms my suspicion of his intent to harm by pulling the truck violently into me.

I hit the brakes and push the left handlebar hard to avoid him... and barely succeed. He leans out the window and begins berating me with a slew of obscenities some of which I understood. This is followed by a one-fingered salute pumped in the air repeatedly.

After settling the bike, I respond by pretending to wipe tears from my eyes and point to the side of the road. This guy has got it coming. But he keeps rolling, as this section of road offers little to accommodate his 4x4. Seeing the futility and feeling somewhat vindicated, I slow down and let traffic go by. The riders who were attacked give me raised fists and thumbs-up, circling their ears to indicate the driver's psychosis. I drop back to my spot with my crew. They shake their heards at my own lunacy, and we continue.

We ramble down 1 in much the same order. The man in the truck puts a few more cars between him and us but stays within sight. He then takes our exit and appears to be headed to the races himself. Great. But as we prepare to make our turn onto the main drag, he goes straight. So this is how it ends.

A couple of traffic lights later though, I see him sitting at a red light waiting to turn left behind us. As I ease by, I turn sideways on my seat and gaze at him, seeing if he recognizes me. He does, pointing at me, then himself, then the road ahead. I know now our collision is unavoidable, so I cup my left hand up and outward and tug at my fingertips in the universal sign to step to me.

Since I'm at the back of the pack, my companions are oblivious of the latest development. They turn right into a gas station to fuel up and avoid the post-race lines. While they pull to the pumps, I park my bike at the curb in plain view of the street. I quickly remove my gloves, helmet, backpack, earplugs, and turtleneck and make my way to the side of the road.

I see his truck approaching quickly in the left lane and once again motion for him to come here. He obliges immediately, veering hard over the right lane and into the station with his window just a few feet from me.The guy is big, as I thought. (Few small dudes pull this shit.) I now recognize the figure in the passenger seat as his wife/girlfriend/woman. Both are yelling at me and the man reaches his large arm out and points at me, calling me and my companions "Pussies. You guys ride like pussies."

Knowing I'm now committed to this battle, I reach into the truck and shove him. I barely move him but I settle any doubt in his mind that the smaller fellow in front of him is indeed prepared to make contact. He responds with threats, telling me I'm acting tough only because my buddies are there. I assure him they will take no part and demand he "get out of the truck."

"You got it," he hollers, hitting the pedal and pulling the beast to the side of the station. I follow on foot. He wips open the door, steps to the back of the truck and kicks off his flip-flops. Still bigger than I expected. "Come on!"

Something else I learned long ago from a brave-bordering-on-suicidal comrade was to take the fight to your opponent without hesitation. No shit talking. No climactic build waiting to see who strikes first. Go to him. Now. So I did, jogging and thowing a left simultaneously.

He dodges most of it but gets a little on the chin. In my fervor I overthrow, allowing him to get ahold of me. He doubles me over and begins tightening up on a strong headlock. Using the only opening I have, I begin ripping uppercuts to his midsection. One, two, three. As I suspect, that girth hides copious amounts of muscle. This tactic would not do.

My adversary pushes me to the ground but I jump up quickly. When I do, he's delivering a right to my nose and right eye. I wince, then feel a slight smirk on my face because I feel nothing else. I steady myself and shoot a left straight at his face. I don't know whether he slips while trying to avoid the punch or if I rock him, but he goes down like a sack of potatoes.

As he hits the pavement, I catch my first glimpse of fear in his eyes. Just a glint, really. But it sends me into a frenzy and I leap onto him like a cat, all four limbs hitting him and the pavement at once. I grab his bulbous neck with my right hand and start reeling off blows to his face with my left fist, my best fist, all connecting with his head propped against the slab.

He struggles under me and gets to his knees, where I throw him into my own headlock and continue reigning shots with my right. I hear someone, her yelling, "Get off him! Get off him!" I am then being pulled backwards onto the ground. I find myself under her and him unable to move my arms. She has me pinned while he's doing God-knows-what to my lower body.

But I feel nothing, so I don't struggle. He isn't kicking me or hitting me in my unmentionables, so I will not hurt her trying to get up. I shout, "Get her off of me now." And then there's movement. When a buddy gets him off of my legs, I am able to roll her off of me.

I get up to see her holding him back and my friends doing the same to me. He and she both continue to spew vitriol, although of a slightly different nature. While he continues to call me a pussy, she tells me, "he's been riding cycles since before you were born."

"Then get on your bikes and face the same risks you're subjecting us to," I respond, suprisingly calm. "As for being a pussy, I'm still standing here." After more of the same, he and she jump in the truck and peel out of the station with a final, "fuck you!"

My friends are astonished. "What the hell!" "I didn't even see him coming." "You're nuts." The lone rider in our group who I hadn't met introduces himself and calls me "Cassius Clax. Your name is Clax right? Well, you punch like Cassius."

I nod and accept the good-natured ribbing. As I get my gear back on, two police officers arrive. The one on a motorcycle enters the gas station then comes over to me. "So tell me what happened?"

I relay the story with the assistance of my friends. "Early 90s Z71 four-wheel-drive, green." "In his forties." "About six foot, 220." "A crazy lady riding with him."

The cycle cop asks, "Did you at least get a couple licks in?" It is then I realize I took some damage, looking in my bike's mirror and seeing the blood on my nose. I notice a burning feeling coming from a gouge in my shoulder and the throbbing going down in my knee. The swolen eye would come later.

"You could say that," I reply and leave it at that.

Later, at the races, one of my fellow riders starts in about the fight. One of the quiter, meeker guys, he wants to know what possessed me to do what I did.

"Because that guy probably pulls that stuff everyday. If he hasn't hurt someone, he likely will. If nothing else, he will terrorize drivers and riders alike," I state, finally registering the absence of regret. "Because someone has to."