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Free Range: Gypsy Joe

By Felicia Morgan

I have a friend who eats, sleeps and breathes motorcycles like no one I’ve ever known. And believe me, I’ve known a bunch of this particular breed. I was ass-deep in alligators when the long-haired bearded guy showed up to help the riders of the Motorcycle Cannonball Run I was on in 2010, and he was instantly a keeper. Anybody who’s willing to roll up his sleeves and lend a hand to get 100-year-old motorcycles functional is worth his weight in gear lube. There aren’t a lot of guys who have the skills or the inclination to throw in with a cross-country group that breaks down every few miles. We were glad to have him along. From there our friendship has grown and we make a point to wave at each other now and then when our paths cross since Joe is a gypsy, too. He’s worked for J&P Cycles as a contract laborer for the past five years and rides his 2002 GL1800 Honda with over 440,000 miles on the odometer to biker events across the country. Yep, the guy gets around. His bike is decked out with all the stuff a wanderer could possibly need.

The dash looks like the cockpit of an F-16 fighter jet. Two different GPS systems are mounted on the handlebars; one on the left, one on the right. In the center is a mounting bracket for his iPhone and in between is an assortment of stuff: ChapStick, a Vicks inhaler, a goose-neck map light, a Leatherman tool, back scratcher, tire gauge, two or three bananas of varying colors and a flashlight. He also has a bicycle bell, circus whistle and an electric deer whistle. If he’s not futzing around with maps or directions or weather radar as he’s riding, he’s known to use his phone to take photos or to whip a sandwich out of his snack stash for lunch and top it off with one of the sunbaked bananas. There are two thermoses and a short bottle within reach of his plush AirHawk seat cushion with a sheepskin hide over it. When on the kickstand, Joe can be a rider’s savior. Stashed in the saddlebags are all things tool-related as well as extra foul-weather gear. He even carries an umbrella and a fly swatter. I’m not kidding.

Back in the 1980s Joe owned an independent Harley repair and parts shop called Sparrow’s Cycle Repair. Then he went corporate for several years. He lost his 40-hour job as a catalogue copywriter for a major aftermarket H-D parts distributor over seven years ago and marks it as the best day of his life. He was finally free to do what he really wanted to do; travel on his motorcycle every day. Until then he was relegated to the 9–5 routine, but still managed to rack up 50,000 miles a year on the Gold Wing he had bought brand new back then. That Honda is long gone, replaced by the one he’s now riding.

In 1979 he totaled his first H-D, a 1972 FLH. Shattering his right leg from the femur down, he almost lost his leg in addition to a multitude of other serious injuries. He was given last rites. After three months in the hospital, he decided he had to get as much riding in as possible. Once the full-body cast was reduced to a short cast, about a year later, he was back on two wheels, this time aboard a 1934 Indian Chief.

About 24 years ago Joe and his gal headed to Sturgis for a week on the Panhead he’d built from scratch. While there, he mentioned that he’d always wanted to see Devils Tower. Convincing her it wasn’t very far, the two headed out. Next he told her he’d always wanted to see Yellowstone, again saying it wasn’t far, so she agreed to hang out for the adventure before he next shared his dream of riding the Pacific Coast Highway. In for a penny, in for a pound, the two took the PCH all the way to Los Angeles before deciding it was probably time to start heading home. They pulled into Vegas in search of campgrounds. A timeshare salesman explained there is no camping in Vegas and offered three free nights if they agreed to take a tour of the property. The two agreed since they’d already been camping for over a month, but the caveat was that the offer was for married couples only. Then the salesman sweetened the pot. If the two decided to get married, the company would give a free limo ride to the chapel as well as a Las Vegas stage show. The show was Boobs on Blades, featuring topless girls on ice skates. That sealed the deal.

Joe giggles as he says it was the honeymoon from heaven before he offers a side note; a one-armed preacher dispatched the nuptials. And they had to rent the witness. To top it all off, the tab was paid by writing the chapel a bad check. As luck would have it, the new bride hit a $375 jackpot so they promptly went back and reclaimed the bogus check. Nowadays Joe says he should have just paid the price of the hotel room. After nine years of marriage, Joe says he fired his wife.

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