Thirty years since these old pictures were taken, one up on the Blue Ridge Parkway and one in the Florida Keys, both of my 4th bike, a CB350T - the first one big enough to carry my big ass on the highway reliably enough to go on these longer trips - the author decides to hang up his riding boots. Maybe now I'll have time to finish my book. The below story was sent to and published in Thunder Press Magazine.
Passing the Torch
An older rider makes the ultimate choice
By Muthuh (Muthuh@muthuh.com)
No matter how old you get, some memories stick to the grey matter like encrusted post-it notes. I call ‘em snapshots. Like standing in front of the screen door in Kansas City looking outside, clearly unable to open the door, forced just to peer out the lower screen. I must have been about three years old. That is my first one – and it is as indelible in my mind as meeting my first-wife again after 30 years of trying to forget that chapter in my life. It was horrible. That one proves the point that no matter how hard you try, some memories just don’t go away because you want them to.
Fast forward 12 years later - an eternity for a young boy. I was in front of another screen door, this time of the workshop, looking out at a rusted old bike frame and several milk crates full of parts. Now in Fort Lauderdale, going through puberty, and staring at the accident remnants of a blue 1963 Honda CB50. This snapshot memory invokes a whole new set of emotions. It’s one I call up often – the genesis of my motorcycle passion that has lasted for the last 37 years. The gas tank caved in on one side where the handlebars smashed against them in the accident, front rim looking more like a boomerang than a wheel, and mysterious wires, bolts, finned heads and the most glorious smell of faux leather saddle seat… all mine. An invitation to a world I’ve come to identify as one I belong to. I was about to become a biker.
As I look back I now know that the moniker “biker” wasn’t properly claimed until years later. Who knows when that title is bestowed – maybe when I sat astride some future bike and could look over the expanse of the Mississippi River on my way west, rain beating down and wondering where the next side road would lead; but at the time, my invitation to this world was resting in crates, a cardboard box, and paper cups at my feet. I knew every bolt, every wire and every quirk that this wonderful ticket to freedom could offer. The side of the gas tank had to be repaired first – I couldn’t afford a new one, and a can of Bondo and an old Miller High Life bar sign did the trick. Like a band-aid, the plastic beer logo fit snugly, pasted in place by the Bondo – the “Miller Machine” came to life and a newbie was born.
The CB50 was a true motorcycle – street legal, normal tires, though rather tiny by comparison, just a smaller version of the real thing. A year later, I even rode it with a buddy on the back, along with all our worldly possessions, up Highway A1A, as we bravely attempted a journey from South Florida to Chicago. Sixteen year old kids running away (again) looking for adventure and freedom from what we thought was parental oppression. Hey – it was 1969 and the world was a different place. The single piston chugged along mightily for 4 hours under the load, carried us to a little seaside town called Eau Gallie – an impressive 160 mile trip – before seizing up and luckily depositing us a quarter mile from the local Honda Shop.
We waited at the curb for the owner to open shop. I was a smart lil shit – brought the title with me on my journey and sold the bike for $10. On to ‘Plan B’ – we stuck our thumbs out on US1 hoping for a trucker to carry us all the way to Illinois. Instead we were immediately questioned by the police as to why we weren’t in school. Lucky us, we were hitching in front of the Eau Gallie Police Department. That was another first for me that day – my first look at a jail cell from the inside with the door closed, while my dad was summoned from a business meeting in New York to come and get me.
OK, so it was all pretty stupid, but that’s just how I got wired at birth – always the wanderer. As I stared at that salmon-colored ceiling of the cell, spitting chewed up wads of rolling papers at the ceiling (they stick real well if you mash them up good and suck the strawberry flavoring out of them first), I knew that I was destined for the freedom of the road on two wheels.
I’ll skip over the subsequent ride home with my father in the rental car, the grounding and the chores that pursued. Before I was halfway through sixteen, I had a Yamaha 125 on the back porch – this time fully operational and only needing a good piston head scraping. Well… I’m not sure it really needed it, but there were bolts to be undone and mechanical ‘stuff’ to explore. Plus I was still grounded so, I figured I should take something apart.
The snapshot memories of those times are many. Working at the Beach Motorcycle Rentals off Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale. Getting the opportunity to ride the bigger bikes – you know – the 250’s. Spending my grandmother’s inheritance money on evening-long rentals up and down the beach peering out over the ocean at the setting sun – wondering when I would do the same at sunrise over the Pacific. It all pointed me in one direction, and 37 years later I’m still riding. I’m on my 11th bike, the last four of them Harley’s, and four hundred thousand miles under my belt. You might think I’m a bike rider for life.
You’d be surprised, then, to learn I am, quite on my own, planning to go on one more season of rides and hangin’ up my boots. For those of you who’ve been riding long enough to remember when bikes would pass on a road and no one waved – just stuck a fist up in the air – you know what it’s like to have decades of wind and rain in your face. I’m just at a point in my thinking that I want to pass the torch to you young dudes, and do the same traveling by convertible. I might not get the same sense of flying down the back roads, but with the top down, stereo blasting and trees whirring by overhead, its pretty close. And I don’t have to wear a stupid helmet.
I’m fairly healthy, can afford to pay the mortgage each month and the scooter is long since paid for. I can close my eyes and remember every one of my rides – and was smart enough years ago to chronicle the last 7 years of them on my website, www.muthuh.com. With my eyes still closed, I remember the hail storm in West Virginia, the massive electrical storm going over Silverton Pass and the 20 degree ride returning from Yellowstone to Jackson Hole – each of which – in my newfound wisdom - have an easy solution. Put the top up, and turn on the heat.
So, yeah – I’m quittin’ the ride. I promise I won’t be one of those old dudes years from now walking up to you in the restaurant parking lot and reliving my old Harley stories. Nope – but I may be the old geezer in his ragtop passing you on the double yellow line in the mountains. The renegade hasn’t left me yet.
I don’t plan to give up the whole biking mindset… the sense of freedom, the firepit in the campground at the end of the day. I can see the trunk full of baggage, beer and tools as I meander the roads of America – the same roads you seek on your rides. The same ones I sought. My eyes will be peeled for the Mom n’ Pop diners, the Budweiser sign in the window and I might still wave at ya as we pass on the unnumbered roads of the backwoods. What’s for certain, though, is I will miss the feeling. I can justify it with the knowledge that Fly n’ Rides are still an option around the country and there’s always the comfort knowing I can always just buy another one. But deep down, I am letting go of the lifestyle on two wheels and turning to an easier adventure.
I am going kicking and screaming though, and like the man who was just told he has 6 months to live, I am making every moment between now and the end of August memorable. My final ride isn’t the grand summer-long trek I had always hoped for. I’m not going to make it to Alaska. Not going to trek across Europe. There’s many regrets of places I’ve never gotten to on the scooter – but I will enjoy one more pilgrimage to Sturgis, taking in Yellowstone and the Beartooths and the Bighorns and Wind Rivers while I’m at it, followed by a two-lane meander home. Three weeks is all. A good ride by most standards, not a great ride by some … sweetened by the knowledge that I am going out on my own terms. Not sidelined by some injury, or petered out by lack of interest.
I’ve seen too many friends close to my age give it up by circumstances out of their control. I’ve spoken to many riders over the past 37 years. I am amazed by the numbers of people whose bikes have slowly become relics in their garage and suddenly they realize their last decent ride was years ago. Some who point to an accident or injury and realize now that their riding days are over before they had a chance to celebrate that last adventure. Give me all the shit you want for backing out – but these next couple rides, and then Sturgis, will be some of the best rides ever, knowing I am going to appreciate them for what they are.
I’ve always been a solo rider; preferring the solitude of the open road to rallies and parties. Lately, like a mentor passing the skills on to his pupil, I’ve found a certain enjoyment in leading rides – taking new riders to places they’ve never been. This summer I am leading 10 people west, none of whom have been west of the Mississippi, all eager to share in my last ride. I get a lot of pleasure in the company of friends around the campfire at the end of the day. I can still see myself going on rides with these friends; I’ll just be the guy with the beer cooler and air conditioner when their wives and girlfriends want to ride with me in the rain to the next stop.
In the meantime, if you see this graying ol’ fart stick his fist up in the air as we pass each other on the road, I’m not pissed at ya – I’m just remembering the old days.
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PLEASE RESPECT COPYRIGHT LAWS AND DO NOT COPY OR USE THESE PICTURES FOR ANY REASON UNLESS WITH WRITTEN PERMISSION. IN ADDITION TO LEGAL PRECEEDINGS, I WILL HUNT YOU DOWN, BURN YOUR BIKE, SCARE YOUR CHILDREN, POST NAKED PICTURES OF YOU AND YOUR OLD LADY AND OTHERWISE MAKE YOUR LIFE A MISERABLE HELL. (Well... OK - I won't burn your bike - THAT's just going a little too far.)
OTHER THAN THAT - HEY! ... HAVE A NICE DAY.