I dreamed of flying, mostly when I was a kid, but the dreams were always strange. I didn’t fly headfirst and lying down like Superman or any of the other flying people, I flew upright as though standing, and never more than a few feet above the ground. Sometimes I’d have to flap my arms very fast, desperately fast just to attain that meager altitude and I’d always think, “Ofcourse it’s work, why would flying be easy?” Once I was airborne, though, I could coast and shoot over the ground at terrific speeds, floating up and down hills. When I’d wake up I’d wonder why my dreams always had to have some strange twist like flying upright, but within the dream I was oblivious and felt only the ecstatic joy and elation you’d expect to feel when you’d finally remembered how to fly.
My first motorcycle was a fluke. I didn’t know how to ride a motorcycle and didn’t know anyone who had one. The only time I’d ever been on one was as a passenger for a mile or two and I hadn’t really liked it — I thought I was going to fall off. I’d always had a vague idea that I’d like to learn how to ride a motorcycle sometime before I died, but I’d always had a vague idea that I’d climb Everest before I died, too (until I read Into Thin Air); neither were burning desires. But when I saw a 1976 Honda CB 550 for sale at the end of my street for $250, I bought it and pushed it home. My main motivation was that I needed a vehicle and the motorcycle was cheap.
I went down and got my learner’s permit which, incredibly, made me road-legal for a month. I spent a couple days staring at the bike until I felt pretty sure I knew how the controls worked, then one quiet evening I went for a ride.
I rode for years before I realized that riding was the uncanny fulfillment of my own strange dreams of flight. Upright and arms outstretched I shoot through the air, just above the ground — I don’t usually have to flap my arms, but sometimes they get as tired as if I had. And riding often is work: pushing into a cold wind I’m propelled by equal parts gasoline and will. The ecstasy is there, too.
Beyond the point-by-point parallels, though, it just feels like flight to me. It feels like those old dreams. I don’t know why that should be.
Riding south through the hills along the Willamette River, I swoop and bank through the warm air of Indian Summer and count myself lucky.