I spent the better part of three days on that road, la Route de la Baie James. It is too long. By the time you reach the end you’ve forgotten where you started, why you’re there, who you are. An hour can pass and not see a single vehicle. It’s not a real road — real roads have buildings on them, people, cities and towns. This is just an idea of a road, an archetype. The wind comes and goes, the rain comes and goes, the sun sets and rises and sets again and you ride and ride and ride.
The road does have a purpose, a destination which isn’t mine. To the east of the road’s northern terminus lie about 500 miles of hydroelectric reservoirs linked end to end to form an almost continuous body of water. According to my map this water feeds seven hydroelectric stations with names like La Grande 1, La Grande 2, La Grande 3. I have no trouble picturing how big this is: it’s equivalent to the length of the road I’ve just been on, plus several hours.
It rained on me as I edged south so I wore my secret lingerie of blue garbage bags. The most effective rain-defense system I have, they at best act like control rods in a reactor by controlling the rate at which I get wet. By the time I got south of Rouyn-Noranda and crossed over into Ontario it was so warm I didn’t even mind the rain, and I rode half the night just because I could.
I love riding at night. Free from the automobile cabin that blots out the sky and the ground and parcels the rest into dim rectangles, on the bike I can see everything. Lights falls off the bike in all directions; not only does the headlight throw enough extra light to cast a glow onto the bushes and trees beside me, but the tail light sprays red behind me. At the center of a sphere of light I fly through a dark world.
In the headlight’s beam I saw the giant dragonfly, like I always do. The old headlight doesn’t cast an even circle or cone of light but rather it projects a varied and intricate structure of light and dark across the world before me. On the road in front of me fall two irregular pools of light to form the head and thorax, then mighty rays of light spill sideways to the left and right to form the wings. The wings sweep 20 or 30 feet in either direction, right off the road and up into the trees; as the uneven night world flits by and the light dances across it, the wings seem to flutter. This isn’t a visual whim like a face in a cloud that might also be a camel or a flower — it really does look like a dragonfly. With the high beam it looks like a bigger dragonfly. Since the head, body and wings fly just ahead of me, that places the long tail directly under me as if I was astride.
Riding my giant dragonfly of light, I almost hit a skunk.
I was a little anxious about visiting my cousins in Guelph. I’d never met them, so even if we shared a smidge more DNA than most people we were still total strangers. Why should they put me up for the night?
They turned out to be some of the nicest and best people in the world and we spent all night in the backyard eating and talking. It was a wonderfully warm, soft night; the crabapples fell with an intermittent patter; the black cat, Evil Roy (a female), prowled. And I marveled at my luck, that even the farthest corners of my family are full of such good people.