With all things being equal I should currently be out on the highway taking long motorcycle trips of unspecified direction, length and duration. However, personal circumstances have kept me off the road for more than two years. It is said that once you have stopped doing something for a very long time the hardest thing you can do is to return and get back to your normal. I believe that. Thankfully, my complications have been rectified and my psyche is restored to a place where I can just walk out to the motorcycle and saddle up for the long haul.
Lately I’ve written several “Almost Fiction” columns about bringing back to life and getting ready for the road my 20-year-old Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Classic. One was even about adding white-wall tires. I took a lot of grief for the “white-wall tire” thing. There have also been columns about specific trips and one remembering a timeless character I met in the late 60’s who rode a black Electra Glide in his black vest, white shirt, bolo tie, and Harley captain’s cap emblazoned with ride pins. His bagger was equipped with every accessory known to man including a trailer hitch. Around a campfire I listened to his stories. Early the next morning, from my sleeping bag, I saw him ride out of the campground towing his trailer on his way to Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon or the Great Lakes. It was hard not to be impressed by this rider and he was impossible to forget.
Some motorcyclists think it’s heresy to add a trailer to a motorcycle, that it diminishes the whole motorcycle experience. Others take the opposite view comparing it to an 1830’s mountain man riding a horse and leading a pack mule or an Indian riding a horse dragging a travois with everything he needs for survival. It is kind of like the “white-wall tire” thing. You get it or you don’t. Personally, my thoughts are that if you want to have a sidecar or pull a trailer or ride a Gold Wing with three wheels or live with a Vespa that sports 20 rear-view mirrors, it’s OK with me. Knock yourself out. I no longer care what you do or what you think.
Over the years, almost imperceptibly, my Harley Ultra has become adorned with a plethora of gilded gimcracks and gingerbread. The latest of these additions is a trailer hitch and the purchase of a small cargo trailer. So now, finally, I am emulating the man who so fascinated me 50 years ago. Who knows, soon some kid sleeping on the ground next to his motorcycle in a campground will awaken at dawn and see the infinite possibilities of two-wheel travel as he watches my rig head out.
Have you read Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad? It is his treatise on the Grand Tours of Europe that were all the rage in the latter portion of the 1800s. Tourists took steamer trunks filled with clothes for every occasion, jewels to show off, five different hats, their violin, and their bible, and when they got off the ship they toured castles, restaurants, gardens, cathedrals and museums. All of this was done with the expectation that upon their return they could dazzle their homebound neighbors with stories of great conquest.
I always wanted to get a steamer trunk, fill it with everything I owned and ship it to old friends, telling them I was coming for a visit by motorcycle and staying as a houseguest with an indeterminate schedule. But, I wouldn’t overstay my welcome, I’d help by doing the dishes and leave before they threw me out. The steamer trunk would then be shipped on to another friend.
Twain’s sarcasm put the Grand Tours in their proper light and I am sure with an acerbic tirade my notion of being a houseguest and shipping a steamer trunk would also have to be dealt with appropriately. In any case, I bought a Harley captain’s cap which is now festooned with mileage pins and I am taking my steamer trunk with me in the guise of a cargo trailer.
So, where am I going? In the past I’ve ridden in 48 states, Canada and Mexico. Maybe this time I’ll go to 48 state capitols, or camp in 48 states, or go see old frat bros or ex-girlfriends. Maybe I’ll just head north and stop at every roadside attraction that uses the word “Mystery” in their advertisement; Trees of Mystery, Mysterious Caves, The Mystery Canyon, etc. Perhaps I’ll rate the best restaurants in every state, including places that have dress codes. The trailer has plenty of room for a suit and tie and I have my own system for replacing Michelin Stars with Sammy Stars.
For example: I give five stars to any café on Oregon’s Rogue River that serves berry pie; a fishing dock 20 miles north of Portland, Maine, gets five stars for the best lobster; five stars to the greasy spoon just south of Jacksonville, Florida, for the best Key lime pie; The Oklahoma Burger, served at the Big Red Café in Chappell, Nebraska, gets five stars for being the strangest hamburger in America. Five stars for the spiciest Mexican enchiladas goes to a truck stop in Van Horn, Texas, and the spiciest Szechuan Chinese food is served at the Golden Door in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Cincinnati gets a twofer. For the best barbecue chicken Montgomery’s gets five stars, and for the best steak in America, the Precinct gets five stars and one extra for the best service.
Maybe I’ll read the calendar section of THUNDER PRESS and do one event in each of the contiguous 48 states. But I don’t like huge rallies where you have to stand in line for a beer or a hotdog or the outhouse. Small club rides are more to my liking; perhaps I’ll ask around and wait for an invitation.
By the way, thinking of old friends, buddies and girlfriends I wonder which of them are still alive. It’s a good thing you can subscribe to one of those Internet sites that can find anyone.
I think I’ll paint the trailer like a steamer trunk and add decals suggesting participation on the Grand Tour… London, Monte Carlo, Timbuktu and Omaha. Mark Twain might approve of that and, after all, whatever Twain approves must be a good thing. I know he would approve of me getting back on the highway.