I knew yesterday was going to be tough. I needed to get from Iron Mountain, Michigan to Oshkosh, WI. It would be about 140 miles, which is a longer stretch for me, and I would be facing more rain without having solved the fogged goggles issue (the potential wonder wipes were supposedly awaiting me in Oshkosh). I’d also heard that there would be street closings once I got closer to Oshkosh, because torrential rains had caved in some of the roads. I would need to be fairly well rested to manage these challenges, so I didn’t feel I could get up super early to beat the rain, either. So, that’s how the day looked from the onset.
Before loading up, I went to the breakfast area of the hotel and took a quick peek out the window, just to check on my scooter. I noticed a group of Harley riders getting ready to leave. Now, I had been told, before I started this trip, to be wary and steer clear of the Harley riders in Wisconsin. I was told in Southern Wisconsin there are even parking lots specifically for American-made cars and motorcycles, and that there would be little tolerance for me and my Italian-made Piaggio. In Iron Mountain, I was just a few miles away from the Wisconsin border and the home of the Harley Davidson plant. But I figured, I’m doing this trip to talk to people, so I grabbed my first bag to load and headed outside.
"You can fit all that stuff on that scooter?"
When I began loading my scoot, I was approached by one of the group of the five Harley riders. We got talking, and she was asking me about my project, and before long, they had all gathered around us. They were asking questions to get caught up with the story, and then all of us were discussing the meaning of Hidden Disabilities. We talked about my challenges after I left the ICU, and soon they were sharing about the life of someone close to them who’d had similar challenges when she left the ICU, as well as stories about other people they knew who has faced health issues. We talked about all the times the general public just wasn’t able to understand that someone might need more time to finish a sentence, or cross the road, even though they might look “normal.”
It was a very engaging conversation, and the first time on the tour that I was provoked to talk about the cognitive challenges that I was left with from my time in the ICU: initially being unable to read even a children's book, how I still have problems with word recall and take much longer putting sentences together than I had been used to. We all agreed that giving a person just an ounce of slack can end up making a world of difference. It was a great talk. They offered to put my saddlebags on my bike, which I’d mentioned was the toughest part of my day (the bending over and wrangling them onto the frames puts a lot of strain on my back, which was already hurting me). So, they kindly put the saddlebags on, we said our goodbyes, and I stopped in the breakfast room to slam a glass of apple juice and wolf down a banana. I was ready to hit the road.
....then, just as I stepped outside, all five of them walked toward me with this air of serious conviction. I thought to myself, “My God, what have I done?” They crowded around and the biggest of the guys stopped square in front of me. He said, “There is a tradition among bikers...”
Let me stop right here. I thought long and hard on my ride down to Oshkosh about whether or not it was even appropriate to share this with you. I looked on the Internet and there is quite a bit written about this tradition, so it isn’t the most secret of traditions, and I’ve decided that sharing this story with you, my faithful readers, is more important than whatever hush might usually surround this tradition, and I hope I will be forgiven. Back to the story...
So this very big, tall Harley rider opens his huge hand, and he’s holding a little black velvet pouch. “There is a tradition among bikers,” he says. “You see, you may not know this, but evil spirits sometimes chase bikes, motorcycles.” He empties this pouch in his hand and there is a silver bell. I look up at all of them. I’m holding my breath and trying not to cry, to somehow be a big girl motorcycle rider despite the fact that I’m a little MP3 scooter rider, as I look into all of their faces.
“You see, the evil spirits get caught in the bell and they spin around and fall to the ground and make a pothole,” he said. “It works better if someone gives you the bell, and we want you to have this. We want you to be safe.”
Somehow I managed to keep the tears I was holding inside my eyes, as I held my heart with my right hand and took the bell with my left.
My new (and first) Guardian Bell.
“I don’t even know all your names... doesn’t one of you have a card?” I just couldn’t imagine not being able to acknowledge them or ever make contact with them ever again.
“We aren’t business people,” said one of the few of them whose name I did know. “Well, at least tell me where you are from,” I asked. “Beaver Dam, about forty miles North of Milwaukee.” I felt like a character in a fantasy novel, being given a magical object from the High King and his Wise Advisors. And then, they disappeared, and I was left to continue my journey.
Ara Lucia Ashburne is a writer, artist and director with physical and hidden disabilities. She is booking a reading tour, featuring selections from her narrative (August 10 – November 1 2011). She is also an advocate for International LGBT human rights, a social media votary, nerd lover, and food sensualist.
She divides her times between Berrien Springs, Michigan and Chicago, Illinois.
You can also find her on her Facebook page at Ara Lucia Ashburne and on Twitter at @Ara_Lucia.