The Kraken by Gabe Ets-Hokin
Posted on Thursday, August 12 @ 11:04:54 EDT by citybike
Below the thunders of the upper deep,
Far far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
About his shadowy sides: above him swell
Huge sponges of millennial growth and height;
And far away into the sickly light,
From many a wondrous grot and secret cell
Unnumbered and enormous polypi
Winnow with giant fins the slumbering green.
There hath he lain for ages and will lie
Battering upon huge seaworms in his sleep,
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
Then once by men and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.
-¡°The Kraken¡± Alfred, Lord Tennyson
I¡¯ve been commuting to work on my motorcycle lately. I do about 40 miles every day from San Francisco to San Rafael, and I¡¯ve racked up some serious mileage on my new bike in 6 weeks.
One thing I¡¯ve noticed, after 17 years of street riding and 10 seasons of racing and trackdays, is that I ride like a total asshole. I weave through traffic at 80 and 90 miles per hour. I take the onramp from Veterans Boulevard onto the Golden Gate Bridge approach at about 75 (it¡¯s no fun slower than that), and going south onto Veteran¡¯s from the Toll Plaza I like to roll it on hard taking the downhill, increasing radius turn that feeds onto the §Ù mile straight. (The CHP likes to hide on that side too, so watch it!)
It¡¯s not my fault if the honkies in their econoboxes and SUV¡¯s feel some sheep-like need to obey the ridiculously slow speed limit. Their headlights quickly turn into teeny dots in my almost useless bar-end mirror.
One Sunday afternoon, a guy in a BMW M Coupe was weaving in front of me, cutting me off. I pulled up next to him at the light to find out what his problem was. ¡°Hey, man, I ride, and you¡¯re giving everyone a bad name! Slow it down!¡± I called him a name, (OK, several) and threatened to kick a nice dent in his door. But the guy had a point. I can get pretty squidly.
But am I a squid? A squid, for those of you new to our motorcycling world, is a rider with an arrogant, showy attitude with poor skills and too much equipment for his abilities. He or she is often boastful, prone to trying stunts and usually crashes out of motorcycling after a short period of time.
My friends, I am not a squid but a Kraken.
The Kraken was an immense sea monster in Scandinavian legends that could crush ships with its long tentacles and gobble up sailors with a fearsome beaked mouth. In the last 100 years, marine biologists have found the creatures this legend is based on, the giant squid. These things are so secretive scientists can¡¯t figure out where, exactly it is that they live. They are rarely seen and their carcasses are even more rarely found.
I first became aware of Kraken when I was driving a taxicab, years ago. I would be stuck in traffic on the Bay Bridge taking some dot-commer to the Oakland airport when one would appear in my rear-view mirror. A heroic figure in a full face helmet, battered Aerostitch suit or Vanson jacket and filthy messenger bag, astride a scuffed Japanese sportbike or BMW, smoothly lane-splitting the sluggish traffic at 40 or more miles per hour. My passenger would seldom notice, but I would ache to be out of my vinyl prison so I could chase after him, lanesplitting all the way past Dublin.
A Kraken is a rider who somehow lived past squidhood but still rides much faster and takes more chances than most observers would deem prudent. He or she only drives a car when it¡¯s absolutely necessary. The Kraken lanesplits if there is only one car waiting in front of him. His riding gear wears out not from age, but from use.
This denizen of the traffic depths is comfortable in traffic jams or on city streets. The endless steel canyons of SUV¡¯s and minivans provide security and cover, like the murky depths of the Atlantic. He slows at the spots where he knows his natural predator, the CHP, might be lurking. Like a sea monster, he knows he is hated and reviled by those who fear the unknown, the wild and free.
The Kraken has seen many of his riding buddies come and go, from marriages, having babies, moving away, injuries and deaths, but he keeps riding. Every season the SUV¡¯s get bigger, and drivers a bit less attentive, but he keeps riding. His wrists ache from carpal tunnel and the screws in his tibia make his bones ache when it rains, but he keeps riding.
The giant squid, Architeuthis dux, lives a solitary life in the mysterious waters of the deep ocean. We only know they exist because their carcasses sporadically wash ashore. To the car driver, constantly trapped in traffic jams, the Kraken exists as a phantom splitting lanes past him, with only a roar of exhaust and the sight of dirty Cordura to betray his presence. Because so few American motorcyclists commute on their motorcycles, (fewer than 8% of all motorcycle owners), most folks go a lifetime without ever meeting a Kraken.
Why? Because motorcycling for half your life grows roots in your soul. To eliminate it would be like cutting off an arm or leg. And riding everywhere you can, taking mild chances in traffic, glancing furtively in your useless mirrors for those dreaded flashing blue lights is as much a part of motorcycling as riding a motorcycle is a part of you. Sure, someday I might wind up as a waxy lump of ambergris in a portly CHP officer¡¯s vast belly, or a pathetic, shriveled carcass washed ashore on some distant beach, but until then, I will fill my niche in Nature¡¯s great opera, as it is the only way I know how to be. The Kraken.