This September 9th will be highlighted in my logbook as, by far, the worst date in this journey; and in my personal calendar as one of those few regrettable days that life inflicts on us once in a while.
Last night it’s been a restless one. I had maximum two hours of poor quality, unsettled sleep; as if foreboding what I was doomed to undergo today. When, in the morning, I accepted the defeat against insomnia, I packed my things, left the hotel room and hit the road. But I was already tired, even before starting the day’s journey. A bad beginning for a biker; a bad omen too — or is it the same thing?
From Daugavpils (that’s Latvia), I had planned a route to Vilnius (capital of Lithuania) along the by-roads bordering Belarus. As usual, I’d take the less busy ones. And indeed they were quiet: lonely and also–but how could I have known?–dangerous, because those are the regions where freely breeds, grows and dwells, wild and unchecked, predatorless, the savage truck driver. But more on that later.
The morrow was overcast, showing signs of some rain; but since rain often faints without striking, for the moment I didn’t put on my coat.
Coming across a light-controlled construction stretch was the first setback. While I was approaching it, light was green all the time, but it turned red just two seconds before I passed; so I stopped. Only one instant before, nothing would have happened of that day’s unfortunate chain of mishaps. But those two seconds were decisive.
The traffic light cycle was no more no less than twenty minutes. So I had to stay ten endless minutes there, head of the increasingly long line of vehicles that arrived behind, waiting for the light to change. Meanwhile, I kept an eye on the clouds, checking for any sign of impending rain. When we finally got a green light, I set off and headed the caravan. Just a moment afterwards, when I had no escape, rain started. The left lane was totally impassable: craters and dunes, trenches and banks, giant caterpillars, concrete blocks, etcetera; and the right one –the ‘fit’ one– wasn’t much better: road metal, holes, stones, and lose soil quickly becoming mud with the rain. Shoulder there was none, nor a side (even as narrow as a motorcycle) where to pull over; so, I was trapped between the works and the rain, unable to put on the waterproof pants. Besides, I couldn’t go slower and try to dodge the puddles, cobbles and boulders, because I was followed by a long queue of upset drivers, angry for such a long wait. I had to keep going until that damned works stretch ended.
When I finally passed, quite wet already, I pulled over and put on the raincoat. The moment I rode on, rain stopped. Fate was playing with me. And a little further I met him, incarnated in a fiendish lorry driver.
Two hundred meters ahead of me there was a lorry stopped on the shoulder, and when I was approaching it the driver pulled away. No blinkers, of course. Didn’t surprise me too much, since–as everyone knows–Lithuanian drivers are wild; and fortunately there weren’t any other cars coming. But the bloke, not happy with disdaining my priority and nearness, he manoeuvred in such an angle that the lorry took part of the left lane, forcing me to wandering into the left shoulder. So, when I was passing by its cabin, I hooted at him; then kept my ride, minding my own business.
But he didn’t. I mean he didn’t mind his own business; or–well–in a way he also did: mind his business…
Of course a big motorcycle is a lot faster than a lorry; but you know I’m an easy biker: I like to ride slowly for better enjoying the roads and landscapes. Therefore, no big surprise was to see in the view mirror, a few minutes later, the lorry slowly gaining ground. Were each of us to keep our own speed, he’d catch up with me in a short while. ‘Then –I thought– he’ll sure hoot back at me and overtake me the savage way’, which I didn’t want. So, for a peaceful morning, I sped up a bit, just enough–I pondered–for not being reached.
Quite on the contrary, the cabin’s white shape didn’t get any smaller in my viewmirrors, but bigger; which meant he had also sped up as much. So, I had to either do the same again, or rather decrease speed to my usual and let him pass, however annoyig the overtaking would be.
By then, I had reached a town –Dükstas, I think–, and that would offer me an easy way out: since a motorcycle is infinitely more agile than a lorry in urban traffic, I’d steal a march on it and leave it definitely behind.
Well, again I was wrong: the savage beast jumped a light –I saw it in the mirror– and passed two cars wildly, regardless of pedestrians and traffic. ‘Definitely –I thought– he’s your typical mad driver, and I’m not gaining any ground along this town’. More the reason, then, for slowing down and letting him pass. Consequently, once I crossed Dükstas, I set my odometer back to my usual 90 km/h and waited for the lorry to reach me. Then, it would be a matter of one minute: he’d honk at me in revenge, screw a bit pushing me to the shoulder, overtake and continue his stupid race with himself alone. Nothing I should get traumatized for.
Indeed, a few minutes later he was behind me, approaching quite fast. But despite having a long straight stretch with good visibility and no traffic, when he got some ten metres close, instead of overtaking he kept his distance, flashed annoyingly all the lorry’s headlamps (low and high beams, fog lights and even those ‘hunting torches’ on top of the cabin) and, like a wild holler, like the bellow of a wounded buffalo, he let go in a deafening and prolonged blast all the fury of his twin horns, thus protesting the anger of his lorry-ish dignity.
‘All right, man –I thought–; you’ve freed yourself; now what are you waiting for? Go and overtake, if you’re in such a hurry. The way is clear; nothing hampers you.’
Well, no; apparently he wasn’t still avenged. After the honk, he got closer yet, perhaps a car’s length (the huge cabin totally filled my mirrors), and blew the horn again. The roar shrouded me like the typhoon of a liner. I couldn’t check myself any longer: lifted my left hand and gave him the finger. Only then he started overtaking.
While cabin and trailer were passing by my side, I was watchful waiting for him to push me to the shoulder. Surprisingly he didn’t. And when finally the lorry passed completely, I sighed in relief: game over. ‘Well, that was it –I addressed him mentally–; you’ve let me know your rage and now you’ve got the road all for yoursel. Get out and smash someone your size’. But once more I was mistaken: right when he was ahead of me, he stepped on the brakes long, as if going to stop. I almost crash against the jumper. The move was clear: he wanted to body-fight the quarrel. It was the moment of iron cudgels; the moment of lying on the ditch head-crushed by a brainless truck driver.
The picture didn’t appeal to me. I ought to get out of there right now; overtake him promptly and quickly, by surprise, and run away. But as I was barely two metres behind the trailer and didn’t have any visibility, tried first overtaking on the shoulder; but the cunning son-of-a-bitch, realizing my move, had time to turn right and close that escape. Then I quickly turned left and, entrusting myself to Heaven, accelerated at maximum. Luckily no vehicles were coming; but my enemy, with an abrupt turn of the wheel, wandered fully into the left lane for checking egain my escape. I managed to pass, though very tightly: on the left edge of the left shoulder. Phew!
Now, as I was getting away, I did a quick mental review of the situation. And I had the strong presentiment–almost a certitude–that he was coming after me from the beginning, that when I first saw the lorry stopped on the shoulder, he was already waiting for me, trying to bug me. That’s why he abruptly pulled away, no blinkers, wandering into the left lane. Sure, my honking stirred him up, and my latter cocking a snook totally pissed him off; but that fiend was hunting me from the beginning, and his rush and dangerous driving had no other point than me. I was his business. It’s not, as I had thought for a while, that he was in a hurry to get to the nearest road brothel, nor was it about urgently delivering the freight: as a matter of fact, there could not be any cargo in the trailer, because a loaded lorry can’t accelerate, manoeuvre nor–most of all–brake so suddenly as that one did. He was simply a mad driver who’d taken it out on me, go figure why; perhaps his wife was cheating him with a motorcycler. And, yet, how could have he been waiting for me at first, if I was riding behind? Unless…
I didn’t have time to finish this train of thought: ahead of me there was a small, slow truck painfully climbing a long slope –overtaking prohibited– and my pursuer was approaching me at the full speed his turbocharged Diesel engine permitted. ‘Now it’s when –I thought– I don’t get out of here immediately that jackass will squash me against this truck’. Instinct urged me, then, to ignore the prohibition and overtake it in a blink. This time at least, luck was with me, for there came two cars in the opposite direction which would force Madman to reduce to turtle-speed, wait for them to go past, then accelerate and overtake the small truck up the slope; all of which would give me the ultimate head over him.
Well, nothing like that: once more I underrated my enemy’s boldness, who, without in the least reducing his momentum, wandered again into the left lane and passed the other truck, not giving a shit for the fate of the cars comming, which had to dangerously pull over to their shoulder. It was only then that I took full conscience of the true seriousness and magnitude of the problem madly rolling behind me: the driver of that five axles could be no other than the Devil on wheels, the one in the famous blood-curling first movie by Spielberg, The Duel; a spirit of evil firmly determined to hunt me no matter what; and nothing was to stop him, same if he had to leave a bloody trail of accidents behind.