Yesterday, an odd thing happened to me. I went for a ride on one of my motorcycles. It wasn’t peculiar that I went for a ride but it was strange how I did it.
First of all let’s get some erroneous gossip out of the way. To wit: it is true that I have been riding forever, however it is not true that I helped Walter Davidson and Bill Harley push start their first two-wheeled experiment out of their workshop. It is true that I have owned 17 motorcycles at one time and currently own a dozen, half of which are newer bikes registered and insured for the street and the other half are vintage pieces, antiques and junk.
All of my currentish bikes are kept on battery chargers and continually rotated to maintain their highway fitness. When one’s turn comes up, oil, tires and lights are checked and everything is made ready for any trip whether it be a jaunt to the gym or a road trip to Canada. Because I do this continually, adapting from one machine to another comes easily and by the first stop sign I am completely at home.
Over the years all sorts of riding gear has been accumulated. Garbage bags were rain equipment, newspaper stuck inside your coat helped to keep out the cold and long leather gauntlet mittens with woolen liners were used to keep frostbite from my fingers. They have been replaced with Gore-Tex rain gear. Electric coat liners and riding gloves deal very well with the cold. Boots are now made specifically for riding and the only similarities helmets have with their predecessors might be the chinstrap.
In any case let’s get back to yesterday’s odd ride.
One of my favorite bikes is Betty, my Harley-Davidson FXR, which turns 30 years old in a couple of months and even though she has over 150,000 miles on the clock she is still capable of riding with anyone. For those of you in the know, you will agree the best all-around bike Harley ever built was the FXR. For those of you who don’t know, take my word for it.
I bought Betty new and she is never for sale. However, because of an oil seal on the transmission, which I have neglected to fix, she has been sitting, out of the riding loop, for a long time.
Guilt overcame me several days ago and I decided to rectify the situation. It took about three hours to replace the seal, another hour to change the oil and lube the cables, 30 minutes to pull the calipers and check the brake pads and three beers to polish paint and shiny bits. After I pulled the plugs and spun her over to circulate everything, the plugs went back in and she fired without a problem. God, she sounds good.
Turning off the gas petcock, revving her up a couple of times, I hit the kill switch, turned off the ignition and put her to bed. Tomorrow we would get in some mileage.
Before dawn Betty rolls easily out of the shop and into the parking lot. A sleeping bag has always lived tied to her sissy bar. She looks good. She looks ready. She fires and idles like only a Harley can.
Normally when getting ready for a trip of nonspecific length I opt for my textile riding suit, full-face helmet, all of my new and improved riding gear and microchipped gewgaws. Today, without thinking I select a beat-up old leather jacket, an open-face helmet, work boots and my oldest gloves.
Walking out to the bike I tie a worn-out red bandana around my face, don some goggles, throw a leg over Betty, click her into first, ride slowly out into the street, catch the freeway, merge with the flow of Los Angeles commuter traffic and after an hour we exit onto the old highway.
At 100 miles we get gas. At 150 we stop for coffee. At 200 we get gas again, check the oil and anything that needs to be checked and head right up the middle of the Golden State towards… well I don’t know… towards… well… we are heading north.
Above Fresno we jog into the foothills and point at the high country. Past Coarsegold, a little further at Oakhurst we catch Highway 49 and head for Angels Camp. I once had a cousin who lived in Angels Camp. I wondered if she still lives there. It’s been a long time since Betty and I have been on 49.
There is no hurry to get anywhere. We stop by rivers, buy coffee and pie, fill her tank when it needs to be filled and at Angels Camp we turn east on 4 and head for Ebbetts Pass.
At the top we find a tiny two-track trail, a flat piece of dirt under some pine trees, I unroll the sleeping bag that has been rolled up in an army poncho for more than two years and after watching some falling stars Betty and I sleep the sleep of the road weary. The next morning on 395 South it’s back to the madness and foolishness of Southern California, back to the shop on this well-known route.
So, why was yesterday’s ride so odd? Good question. Certainly, I’ve done it or something like it, many times before. But yesterday, without thinking I rode like I had when I first started to ride. There was no GPS, no CB radio, no CD player, no radar detector, no SPOT, no GoPro camera, no cell phone, no tablet, no computer, no $1,000 fancy riding suit, no $400 boots, no electric jacket liner, no tent, no fairing, no saddlebags, no hotel reservations, no nothing. I have all that stuff and it all works terrific but not yesterday and not with Betty. It was a throwback ride to return me to the only thing that is important about two-wheeled travel… the motorcycle and the mileage.
Like all the current vampire movies, today’s world is a mystifying disease where civilized entanglements sneak up and bite you in the neck. But addiction to complicated technology is self-imposed. The self-medicating antidote is to forsake burdensome technological accouterments with a simplistic motorcycle ride. Betty reminded me of that and she continually reminds me to simplify everything. Henry David Thoreau would be pleased.