I yawned as I lay on the grass, looking at the girl with the cat in her arms. Here on the Isle of Man, the cats were tailless–though just as bring-the-allergies–but that was just where the weirdness began.
I shuddered whenever I thought about what might have happened had I entered the motorcycle race; I’d be recuperating in a hospital bed, or lying in the morgue, instead of a redhead’s front lawn.
The first week of June brought the Tourist Trophy Motor Classic, renown around the world as the most dangerous motorcycle race, averaging four fatalities a year. Good thing I wasn’t much of a motorcycle enthusiast, so instead I waited a few days so I could go over the race course on a more usual and much less dangerous man-powered bike.
The sun was now in my eyes, so I had to roll over, catching a different view of the south end of the island. I knew the closest town was Port St. Mary, but if she expected me to remember words like Rhenwyllan and the Bay ny Carrickey, whatever the hell that meant, she way overestimated me.
As though reading my thoughts–not an impossibility in this place–she got off her porch swing and went inside. Now that I was alone, I replayed the ride in my mind.
The start and finish points of the race where right in the middle of Douglas, and from there it was a few miles southeast on A5 before making a sharp turn northwest on Al. The terrain rose ever so subtly, skirting the largest hills on the island, easily visible to the north. Halfway down that road I passed a camp, and a few of the bikers tried to keep pace with me, but I easily outdistanced them and then turned north just before St. Johns, which was itself just before the west coast giant, Peel. Now I was on the A3, in a valley between a few coastal hills to my left and the bigger ones on the right, with a plantation thrown in here and there. I could feel the ground below me climb steeper, though not nearly enough to tax the huge muscles I’d built up when playing soccer and never lost. But not long after that came a slight descent, so I practically coasted into the town of Kirk Michael. I could see the ocean now as the road turned slightly east instead of due north, making for a long curve up to Ballaugh. From there, still on the A3, it was a straight north-east-east line, past a wildlife park, until passing Sulby, where it became due east until I hit the east coast again at the port of Ramsay.
At this point the course designers could have made a leisurely run down the coast on A2, but instead opted to give the race competitors a view of the highest point on the island, a peak called Snaefell, right in the middle of the most desolate land. To this point I’d had no difficulties of any kind, but I also knew I was now entering the bad country that was the cause of most of the accidents and fatalities in the race. I would also be going from sea level to 600 meters in a very short distance, all the while having to watch the roads for any possible problems.
Much to my surprise I made it to Snaefell in a very short amount of time, and again I had no problems climbing on the A18, though my thighs were feeling the first twinges of burning. Emily had been on her daily walk up to the peak; she later claimed it was the only way to stay in shape on the island. Just then she was huffing and puffing from her climb, lovely bosom heaving with each breath and straining against the sweaty fabric of her shirt. We were heading in opposite directions, and she saw me first. Even from a distance she could see what incredible legs I had (so she told me later); she whistled unconsciously and waved as I passed by.
Trying to divide my time between precautionary looks at the road and more appreciative glances at the scenery, I fell under the spell of this fine example of nature’s bounty. The view made me slow down and turn my head back to get a longer look at this bountiful female, whom I couldn’t help but notice had turned her head as well.
I had experienced many things in life and been warned about a lot of others. One of the most important lessons, something I used over and over again, was to never underestimate the stupidity of sheep.
But what the hell where sheep doing here? This was mountain terrain, pure rock without a blade of grass. I tried to avoid them as they spilled onto the road, knowing the whole time it was much too late. Hoping there would be no more, I moved off the road, but the front wheel immediately found a ditch that sent me flying, clipping my ankle on the cliff face. As I rolled over, first in the air and then on impact, I was spared any further injury, and wanted to prove my Superman-ness to the redhead, so I stood up quickly with the momentum my body had built up. I took one step toward my bike. . . and promptly keeled over from the pain, the ankle much worse than I’d thought.
Emily, feeling immensely guilty despite the fact they weren’t her sheep, took it upon herself to completely rehabilitate me, starting by getting me off the most remote place on the island. Somehow she’d managed to snag a ride, the bike wheeling along on the side as I held on to it through the open window. In no time we were back in Douglas, where she quickly made arrangements, picking up my things from the hotel and then literally shoving me–and my new crutches–onto the steam train that took tourists on the scenic twenty-four mile trip down to Port Erin on the southwestern edge of land. From there it had been a bus to the place where the A5 joined the A31, with us doing the last leg on foot, even bad ones.
But now, a couple of weeks later, my ankle felt as good as new, thanks to her particular brand of healing, and I was more than ready to get some exercise. Ankle still too tender for pedaling, I figured I’d stick with walking, and since Man was such a small island–thirty three miles long and twelve wide maximum–I could walk as much as a quarter of the island on a long day.
But not today. Emily was waiting. . .
As I got up I saw the design on the front gate, the national symbol, one that was not only apt for the country but also for me at the moment. It showed three legs connected to a center, each running in a different direction, but always forming a circle. The words said: Quocunque Jeceris Stabit: “Whichever way you throw me, I stand.” It was one of the many reasons the people here were so loveable. . . at least in small doses. Despite how one writer had described it–”eighty thousand alcoholics clinging to a rock”–right now it felt like a paradise. . . not in the physical sense; there were certainly no apple trees growing in the lush grass of a jungle. It was also not a paradise for the mind; in fact, if I gave it much thought, it could become boring. The only way I could describe it would be as a paradise for the soul, a place to cleanse oneself from the nasty world surrounding the island. The locals often thought of it as a place with no crime, along with lengthy dissertations on the values of hard work, righteousness, and unfortunately a few votes for reinstating the birch, a subject I did not care to discuss and told me I would not actually live here. Aside from those scary quirks, I was hard pressed to think of another place in the entire world where so many people endorsed such wholesome values. . . while not running for office, of course.
Then I wondered what they would think of the special way in which Emily had healed me these past few weeks. . .