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Free Range: Roadside warning

By Felicia Morgan

I was worried about running out of gas in the middle of the desert, mentally calculating the distance and subtracting that by the number of miles my odometer said I had left while looking for gas signs when those gut-wrenching red ’n’ blues flashed in my rearview mirrors. I cussed out loud, hit the blinkers and eased the Beast onto the shoulder.

I got off the bike and proceeded to dig the required information out of my jacket pocket as the officer approached cautiously, coming up from the opposite side of the bike from where I stood. Without a word I handed over the license, which he looked at, then took two steps back to do a double take on my license plate. Knowing the state tags don’t match the state on my license, I did a mental freak out as he eyed me suspiciously and asked if I knew why he’d stopped me.

Let me tell you; I am terrified of law enforcement. When I was young and stupid, I actually believed that I had rights and voiced that opinion when two uniforms decided to prove me wrong, which ended with a broken thumb and a bit of road rash from being drug out of my parked car and across the pavement into a patrol car. Therefore, I immediately stress over any conversation with a guy in cop clothes, only offering yes or no answers, so when the officer asked if I knew why I was stopped, I mumbled. It took three tries before I could enunciate clearly, “Yes, sir!” He nodded and repeated my words, then asked if I looked at my speedo when he lit me up. I viewed this as a trick question and wasn’t sure how to respond since, if I said yes, then I was admitting to speeding. If I said no, I assumed he would write me up for being reckless since I was not aware of my speed. Either way, I figured I was screwed, but my biggest worry was that I’d blow the entire interrogation and end up incarcerated since I was going more than 20 mph over the posted limit. Consequentially, I said nothing but shook my head.

“Are you carrying a weapon?” he asked. I told him no and put my palms up as if asking why he’d think that and he pointed at my jacket pocket. “Would you mind telling me what that is, then?” I reached in to extract the small urn. “It’s my friend’s ashes.” The officer lowered his eyes, then asked where I started. “Portland, Maine,” I replied. “I’ve been setting him free all across the country, coast to coast, since September.” His eyebrows went up. I gave him a business card and explained that I’d been scattering Lonnie’s ashes all along the Cannonball route. I tell him about the transcontinental ride with vintage bikes before he scoffs. “And what do you consider “vintage?” he asks. I tell him that for this year, it was pre-1929 and talked about Chris Tribbey being the second owner of his 1911 H-D, the 1904 from the 2016 ride and about Lonnie founding the antique Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Run back in 2010. He shook his head in amazement and asked, “A 1911 motorcycle made it all the way across the country? How many miles was that?”

We stood on the side of the freeway and chatted about old motorcycles for a time before he asked what I did for a living. I told about Thunder Press and my travels before explaining that was why my license, bike tags and insurance all have inconsistent information since they all go to different mailing addresses while I’m out enjoying life on the road. He nods and tells me to stand by the bike as he retires to his cruiser to write me up. I’m well known to California DMV, having consistently had some kind of infraction against my license since I was in my teens. My daughter still laughs over the admonishing letter I once received when DMV actually called me a menace on the highways, but since I got the Beast in 2012, I haven’t had a single ticket. I stood worrying over how I was going to pay for all this when the officer came back with paperwork in hand. He’s tapping my license against the ticket as he asks what I’m doing out on his stretch of highway now, all alone, so I tell about covering the Hideaway Grill’s 20th anniversary of their fall event, the Biketober Rally, in Cave Creek, Arizona. He nods before handing back my license, then clears his throat.

“I’ve gone ahead and written you up a warning for unsafe speed. You were going 22 miles over the limit, which is seriously dangerous. The wind out here can take that motorcycle right off the road, to say nothing about the deer, and at that speed there’d not be much left to send to your family. I’m sure your readers would miss your articles, too. So, if I catch you again, I will take you in. As for your mission, you’re a good friend, Miss Morgan, and an interesting lady. He must have been a hell of a guy. I’ve really enjoyed meeting you. I’m going to look this Cannonball Run up, and check it out. Travel safe… don’t make me regret the warning.”

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