The Human Memory and Triggers

It’s amazing how the human mind works, isn’t it? We can be going about our own business, doing whatever we do during a day and suddenly a single instant can change everything radically. Often we will encounter a trigger; something that makes us sit up and take notice, to remember something that maybe has lain dormant in us for some time. It’s a weird experience, and one that can throw us for a loop.

This happened to me yesterday while driving home from work. It was a nice evening last night, so I opened up the windows and sunroof of my car to enjoy the fresh air. I usually ride a motorbike to work, but this morning I took my car to work simply because it was raining. As much as I love to ride, riding in the rain is something I only really do when I have to.

Anyway, I’m driving home and end up at a set of traffic lights with a pickup truck in front of me; a diesel. Of course, having my windows and roof open the smell of the diesel exhaust immediately fills the cabin of my car. It’s running slightly rich, so there’s a smell of diesel fuel as well as normal diesel exhaust… then it hits me:

All of a sudden my mind throws up a memory, and I’m in England. To be precise I’m at the junction of the A55 and M6 on a motorbike just getting onto the M6 proper to head South toward Birmingham and Coventry (my destination for the day). The sky is cloudy with a few bursts of sunshine, a little drizzle has fallen on me earlier in the day and the small windshield on my bike is still peppered with drying droplets of rain. I’m still wearing my rain-suit from the earlier shower, but I’m thinking I’m going to stop at the next lay-by and pack up my rain-suit in my panniers.

I goose the throttle to get her up to motorway speeds, and come up beside a truck that’s laboring a little and going below the speed limit. Being on a motorbike, I’m hit with the smell of slightly rich diesel fuel, but it passes quickly as I also pass the truck and sail on down the M6.

I’m having a great day. I started this morning in Belfast and rode to Dublin at near freezing temperatures. The ferry across from Dublin had been uneventful and a chance for me to catch up on writing in my journal after spending a week with my family. I had ridden the bike off the ferry and had a wonderful afternoon riding along the A55 along the Northern coast of Wales. The views had been incredible, the traffic had been a non-issue for most of the ride and the air had been clear. Around Chester I had been out in the sun for a while, knowing full well I was going to be riding into showery conditions. I had split traffic on the A54 when an accident had caused a two mile tailback of traffic, and ended up in a convoy of about 6 bikes thanks to the tailback who pretty much had the A54 to ourselves all the way to the junction of the M6. At that junction, I had left the convoy (now down to only three bikes) and had waved to my unknown companions on this stage of the trip.

Today is a beautiful day. Still ahead is a night at one of the nicest bed-and-breakfasts I’ve ever been at in the countryside near Coventry. Then a morning in Coventry town center followed by a ride to London and dinner with a friend of mine who I had known since I was 8. This holiday would then culminate with a flight back to the USA on a 747 where I would get an unexpected (and free) upgrade to Business Class. But for now all this is in the future… now I am riding on the M6. My whole world at this moment is in the hard luggage, panniers and hard-shell backpack strapped to my back. My steed is a 2004 Honda Deauville that I have grown to really enjoy over the last two weeks. I am filled with sadness that I have left my family behind again for the second time in ten years, but excited at all the possibilities for the future.

Right now I’m only faintly aware of the wind rushing past my helmet; my earplugs doing their magic and keeping the noise from deafening me. I am alive, and I am having a great day. There’s much to be glad of on a day like today, but much sadness that it may be years before I can do this again.

That day was almost 11 months ago, now but the memories that came flooding back yesterday were incredible. I don’t even remember driving the rest of the way home to be honest, I think I was somewhere else. Another time, another place, another vehicle. Same me. How I yearn to do it again; to travel across the country of my birth on a motorbike. Next time I’ll share it with someone special, next time I’ll have arms around my waist and life will be better still.

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