I’m repacking the bike for a long stretch and I find myself struggling with the process. I’ll visit 23 states, five of which I haven’t been through before, make a coast-to-coast run and fly across two continents over the next three months. Trying to figure out what can be left where along the way is difficult, and though there are these pieces of great, well-made luggage for me to work with, I find myself melancholy over the first set of saddlebags I had in my 20s.
The crew had gathered at my house for the all night pre-party before the annual run to the redwoods. We were loading up and I decided I was tired of cramming extra duds into the folds of my sleeping bag and stuffing my toothbrush into my jacket pocket. I wanted a set of bags like a friend had that he’d sort of pieced together from leather.
Keep in mind this was back in the day. Way back. Nobody I knew rode spiffy showroom bikes. We all rode choppers and that was just the way it was. I’d never heard the term “custom built” or “bike builder.” Everyone was a builder and we all scrounged parts; that’s where bikes came from: They were built. And so it was for all the pieces that accessorized them, too. Nobody had hard bags or Tour-Paks. I’d never seen a fairing and windscreens were unheard of.
So here we were, less than 12 hours from takeoff for a wild and wonderful three-day epic, when I decided I couldn’t make one more run without some place to stash stuff. (Mostly I think I wanted to take along a bottle of peppermint schnapps for the cold nights by the campfire, but that’s a different story.) I did hand-tooled leatherwork for extra bucks back then, but considering I had a houseful of rowdy bikers gearing up to ride out at the crack of dawn, time was of the essence so that option was out of the question.
I’d been sewing patches on cuts for a couple of the guys, so I dug around and found a piece of sail cloth in the scrap box, plopped back down at my sewing machine and stitched up a simple pair of bags to sling over the rear fender of the screaming yellow Sporty. Took me a couple of hours, but they had gusseted bottoms with a fold-over flap at the top closed by a leather tie made from my old moccasins laces that were threaded through a set of grommets. Canvas is not particularly sexy, so I attacked my creation with a can of black spray paint and hung them up to dry while I took off the bike’s seat. By the time they were tethered to the frame and the seat back on, everybody was blown away. Gotta say, they looked pretty damned cool.
The canvas hadn’t absorbed all the paint and the resulting finish had the look of well-worn leather, which fit me and my basic bike to a T. They ended up wearing like iron, eventually getting so oil soaked that they became relatively water resistant and were the perfect size for all the little crap that couldn’t be strapped to the sissy bar. Right up until the day I bought my first ever store-bought bike, I ran those bags. The new motorcycle came with sexy leather saddlebags sporting metal studs on the lids that were easily twice as big as my homemade version. They carried everything I needed. That was then.
Today I travel with a bag with wheels on it. Can you imagine? It slips easily over the sissy bar and is great for those rare airline trips. There’s also two roll bags, a tent, sleeping bag, air mattress and pump (hey, the ground’s a lot harder than it used to be), two camera bags and an assortment of loose crap like rain gear, MREs, shoes, etc. And one each: tool and sewing kit. A girl’s gotta be prepared.
Lazarus, my trusty laptop, as well as his hard drive, travel with me, along with all the components to power the electronics including a solar-powered charger that a friend gifted me by saying, “If ever I knew anyone who could use this product, it is you.” I had to leave the small stereo speakers that plugged into Lazarus behind this last trip through Sacramento, since my bags were just one thin dinner mint over their capacity. I’ll miss them since Bob Seger doesn’t sound the same without the extra bass they provide, but compromises must be made. Lazarus will have to serenade me as best he can a cappella.
I tie all this down with these really cool nylon straps manufacturers provide that have spring hooks on the end, which makes the packing process simpler and unloading is a cinch. I do still use a couple of bungee cords, though, and a cargo net over it all to secure the flappables. Loading up takes a lot longer than it did with my little stitched-up bags. It was a more grass-roots endeavor back then, when I was young and times were so much simpler. The excitement of the next adventure, however, hasn’t dimmed a bit.