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Erik Trautman

“Everything you can imagine is real.”
-- Pablo Picasso

Midnight Mists

Riding is all about tactile sensations and smells. Those are two things that you just don’t get the same any other way. You become far more conscious of the subtle changes in temperature and pressure as you move from hills to valleys, sun to clouds, or even one type of asphalt to another. You begin to understand the pattern in the eddies that swirl around trucks and the weight transfers necessary to navigate overpasses in strong winds.

They say that smells are the strongest triggers of memory and that’s just another reason this is the best way to see the country. It makes you feel a lot more connected to the land than you would by breathing a bunch of recirculated air conditioning. I’ve already got some sort of inherent bias towards farmland but I can’t keep a smile from my face as I roll past the smells of fresh cut hay, new fertilizer, and grazing livestock (not everyone’s favorite). It’s like a window to another life where I was clearly a farmer.

The ride from Carlisle, PA to Morgantown, WV started amidst a cool (uncomfortable) late-evening drizzle but that cleared up after an hour or so and the rest of the ride passed through all kinds of interesting atmospheres. I-68, known as a gorgeous drive across northern Maryland, was also impressive at night after the rain. I found myself many times on a rapid descent towards a thick wall of mist rising from the pavement ahead. There is always a slight *whoosh* and suddenly everything is a little less real than the second before. The rumble of the engine almost disappears into nothingness and the headlight reaches out its golden fingers until it is lost in the surrounding white. It is a portal into a damp, cool, surreal world.

Each fog bank seemed to have absorbed a different character of smells. The first one actually appeared to have merged with a cloud of burning pine that accompanied the glowing fire of a nearby lightening strike. The next cloud of condensation held the fresh scent of pine trees and the following an odd mixture of manufacturing processes and bricks. The town of Cumberland, MD, whose church spires eerily rose from the fog and made me desperately wish to see it during the daylight, had the oddest flavor of all: mint.

I can only imagine the strange memories of that midnight ride that will be dredged up when I am later faced with some of the more irregular scents I experienced along the way. The intense focus required to survey the road for roadkill and other hazards at speed during those bouts of intermittent visibility left me more than a little cracked out. Upon arrival to Morgantown, WV at 2am, there was no question about continuing south to the originally anticipated destination near Beckley… I didn’t have the mental capacity left to attempt it safely so we settled into the world’s crappiest Econo Lodge for a vital three hours of shuteye before another busy day.