Story told at MOTH, Burlington, Vermont, July 2019
“We should have helmets,” said Mari, as she and Jack set out on the motorcycle toward McClure’s Pass in April, 1980.
“State law in Colorado doesn’t require ‘em. Don’t need ‘em,” said Jack.
He climbed onto the motorcycle, started the engine, and waited while she threw her right leg over the seat and wrapped her arms around his waist. They took off down the national park road, took a turn onto State Highway 133 headed for McClure’s Pass toward Aspen.
In 60 miles, the rain on the paved road slowed them down, and they got wet and chilly. Mari held her hands intermittently over Jack’s forehead to protect him from the bullets of raindrops that came sideways to the moving bike. They stopped when the road turned to dirt headed up the pass. It had started to sleet in the higher elevation. The muddy, glistening mountain pass road snaked upwards in front of them.
“You OK?” Jack asked the bedraggled Mari.
“Wet and cold. Another 50 miles to go. Are you sure we should go up this pass in the sleet? My boss warned me about taking a motorcycle through the mountains this early in the season.”
“We gotta get home for work tomorrow and there’s no other road. I just have to count on you to hang on. Lean into the bends,” he said.
“I feel like I’ll fall over onto the road,” she said.
“It feels that way but it makes balance and stability easier,” he answered.
He looked at her scared face. He reached into the saddlebag and pulled out a pint of bourbon whiskey.
“Here. Take a slug to warm up.”
She gulped down a long draught and then he took the bottle for several gulps before he put it back in the bag. The climbed on the bike and started up the pass with the stinging sleet coming down all around them.
When they got to the crest, snow covered peaks surrounded them on both sides. The muddy road became deeply rutted and at 20 miles per hour, the motorcycle tires fought to stay moving straight ahead. One deep mud rut caught the tire and pulled the bike sharply to the right. Jack tried to follow the rut and veered to the left. But the tire got stuck and stopped short as Jack’s chest jerked forward into the right side handlebar.
“Hang on. We’re going down,” he yelled.
In a flash, he was over the handlebar and under the flipped bike as Mari flew over his head and landed on her knee in a puddle in the middle of the road. She rolled onto her back and lay with the rain and sleet coming down onto her face. She felt a swelling rush in her right knee and a warm contented feeling throughout the rest of her body. She thought how nice it was to be lying down.
Jack wiggled out from under the bike, grimaced as he gripped his ribs that impacted the handlebars and rushed over to Mari.
“Honey, please get up!” he pleaded.
“Uh, I’m pretty comfortable right here,” she replied in a daze.
“Honey please. There’s traffic coming.”
To either side of them, a car had stopped, barred from continuing by the bike and Mari lying in the road. A pickup truck pulled up behind one of the cars and a cowboy looking character got out of the truck and made his way toward Mari. A man from each of the cars followed him.
Mari turned her head to see a pair of scuffed cowboy boots. She looked further up to see two skinny jeaned legs, a silver buckle belt, a jean jacket and finally a weather beaten face under a cowboy hat.
“Geez, y’all want a beer?” he said to her.
“I’ll take one,” said Jack.
The other two men accepted the offer too and the cowboy returned to his truck for a six-pack and distributed cans to the men. They popped them open, each took drinks and then turned back to look at Mari in the road.
Jack was still on his knees at her side.
“Honey, can you move? You gotta get up!”
“Oh, all right,” she was irritated because she was warm and comfortable.
“Probably in shock,” said one of the men.
Mari rolled to her side, got up on all fours and rose to stand with most of her weigh on her left leg.
A cheer rose from the gathering.
“Can you walk?” asked Jack.
“I think so,” she said and took a few steps.
“Do you think you can get back on the bike?” asked Jack.
“I suppose,” said Mari.
One of the men went to pick the bike up off the road and Jack climbed up behind the engine. The right handlebar was bent forward from the impact with his chest so he reached askew for it. Mari limped to the bike and with a grunt and grimace, threw her right leg over the seat.
Another cheer came from the men.
“I think we’re OK fellas. Thanks,” said Jack. The cowboy raised his beer in salute and returned to the truck as the other two men when back to their cars. Jack started slowly down the other side of the pass. Mari ducked her head between his shoulder blades and held on.
Jack and Mari slept side by side on the waterbed set low on the green shag carpeting of their studio apartment floor. The only other furniture in the room was a crudely hand-made coffee table that Jack had nailed together. Mari had sewn big sacks of colorful cloth into large pillows and stuffed them with Styrofoam packing peanuts she brought home from the bookstore where she worked.
A studio kitchen took up one wall space and a bathroom door was open showing a toilet and bathtub. They couldn’t afford a telephone. Sliding glass doors opened onto a balcony that overlooked Red Mountain.
Jack opened his eyes, twisted to his side, grimaced and pulled himself up out of the waterbed, naked, and walked into the bathroom. Mari opened her eyes and felt about the same as she had in the puddle.
“I can’t move,” she said to Jack when he returned from the bathroom in a T-shirt.
“Honey, try,” he said.
Mari pushed back the blanket, sat up, took a deep breath and swung her left leg over the side of the waterbed, then dragged her right leg to the floor and stood up. Naked, she was bruised from her top right ribs all the way down her torso and leg to her right knee, which was swollen.
“Can you move your knee?” asked Jack.
Slowly, she bent her knee and smiled. She stooped to pick up a T-shirt from the floor and pulled it over her head.
Jack came over to give her a hug and grimaced as her arms went around his chest.
“I think I cracked some ribs,” he said.
“I’ve got cracked brains hanging out with you. But I guess I can count on you to get me home.”
“I guess I can count on you to get up off the road and back on the bike,” he said.
“Does that mean we can count on each other?” she said.
“Through thick and thin. Forever,” he was certain.
They held each other lightly and their foreheads touched. The sun shone through clouds and into the room through the glass doors and lit up Red Mountain beyond the balcony.