Growing up in a small town is who I am. I know every street, store front, and house around. We used to be a self sufficient community with everything from two grocery stores and two gas stations, and a cafe and clothing store to a community with limited conveniences. But still a great place none the less. At 13 years old and no drivers license it was ok to ride around town on my Harley-Davidson 90. I would ride to the Vicker’s gas station on Main street to get 50 cents worth of gas, a Snickers bar and a Mountain Dew. Herb Funk would require a 3 cent deposit on the bottle if we took it so I would eat my candy bar and drink the Mountain Dew there while hanging out with the regulars. It’s a wonder I didn’t pick up smoking cigars as a few of the old men did, but it was always fun to watch Herb fix a flat or go out to pump your gas. Looking back I have often wondered what he thought of us young guys on our bikes hanging out. As young men we never thought from that perspective. We were more consumed with the moment.
But one advantage to a small town is a local police officer that wasn’t to concerned about us riding around on the streets. And apparently neither were my parents. Frank was the local cop and he was also the city maintenance man so a lot of times he wouldn’t go out on patrol until the evening hours. Long after I had to be home! Both Herb and Frank were good guys. They are like so many people in White City that had a lasting affect either on the community or me personally.
Exploring the streets and country back roads for hours on end was great for a kid. Probably not something parents would allow now but it was the early 70’s and I guess that made it ok. Wearing the appropriate stars and stripes helmet, bell bottoms and a “what, me worry?” t-shirt and I was set. So many times we would ride out behind the grain elevator to what we called the Katy trails where the Katy train tracks used to be. It was a small area but it was all we had. You would think growing up here I would know everything about everything but it took me twenty years to find out who actually owned the property. One more person that really had an impact on us as young riders remained anonymous for most of my formative years. For that I thank him. He allowed us to ride there any time and never once said a word. Again, we didn’t think about that then, we were too caught up in the moment of being the future of our sport!
This was also a time when the summer days lasted forever. The sun hovered above us and time stood still. We went home dirty and tired, strung out on Snickers and Mountain Dew. Blisters on our hands, bell bottoms torn from getting caught on the chain and sprocket and out of gas. Good times.
I still live in this town. Some of the people that have always been “White City” have passed. Herb, Frank, Perry Moore who owned the grocery store and Earl Casterline, just to name a few, are missed. I wish I could tell them now that I’m an adult how much I appreciate them for making this town a great place to grow up. Now that I’m not so much in the moment of being a teenager, I would like to know what they thought of us. If I was a betting man they were thinking “those crazy kids and their damn motorcycles!”.
A week or so ago I met Bubba Blackwell in Grapevine, Texas. It wasn’t the first time meeting him for me, but to him it was probably like the first time meeting me. To phrase that another way, I remember him and he didn’t remember me!
For those who don’t know who Bubba Blackwell is, he jumps Harley-Davidson XR750’s over whatever is in front of him. Most people will remember Evil Knievel and Bubba’s occupation is much the same. Sit at the end of a long stretch of pavement, look at a ramp, pin it, land safely, and repeat next weekend.
Now I don’t know about you but this isn’t something normal people will do for fun let alone compensation. He’s good at it and needs to be rewarded handsomely in the process. That is what makes it a lost art. If you are going to stand out in an occupation, pick one that doesn’t have a long line of potential applicants waiting to get in. Heart surgeons? There’s a few of those. Rocket scientists? Plenty, I’m sure. Guys like me? Dime a dozen. But Bubba? Evil? Robbie? Sure there are more, but in that field of expertise you have to be good. Real good. Or you don’t last long. I know a lot of folks go to see the down side of jumping motorcycles, but everyone there wants to see a successful jump.
Bubba is a great guy. We talked and he is just as down-to-earth as one can get. He truly loves what he does and it shows. Did I mention he’s good at it? He is.
Go to you-tube and watch. Follow him on Facebook and twitter. Better yet, go to one of his shows. He is a true professional.
So I’ve been thinking about the road less traveled. We motorcyclists seem to search out this road to find the peace and serenity of a curvy or tree-lined way of getting there. Usually it’s a short two-lane between cities or major highways, but beautiful none the less. But how far is the road less traveled? How far is “off the beaten path”?
A road trip to Sturgis in 2007 found me and six of my friends on one of these roads. It was a Sunday and it didn’t take us long to find out that in some remote places of this country there is a world of folks that take Sunday off! Mostly gas station attendants and repair shops. As we rode into the Northwest of Nebraska we soon found out that the more you need gas, the harder it is to find. A great idea of a modern version of the old gas station,open 24 hours, to include beef jerky, hotdogs on heated rollers and pay at the pump gas, more commonly known as a convenience store, had yet to make it to this corner of Nebraska.
As we pulled into a farmer’s co-op this Sunday afternoon with a closed sign in the window and no pay at the pump, it was decided that a restroom was also a pretty important part of the modern conveniences we have come to expect. Well what do seven guys do when nature calls? We answer the phone! Standing next to a bulk fuel truck and our backs to the highway, we found the one person that does work on a Sunday. He wears a badge and drives a pretty fast car. He pulls in and asked what we were doing in a very nice but firm manner. We explained the situation and expecting the worse, he was quick to get on the one piece of modern technology that did make this far off the beaten path, his cell phone! He called the one guy that could come and open the co-op for us to get gas.
Relieved, in more ways than one, we stayed for a little while and spent some money on Snickers bars and Mountain Dew. The appreciation on our faces was obvious and the officer stayed and hung out as well. It is truly amazing at the helpfulness of those in the small towns. I know as I’m from one myself. But to go out of your way and help is a two way street. Pass it on or pay it forward. Take the road less traveled and relax. Meet the local people face to face, or wave at the young boys on their bicycles as you ride through town. It’s a pretty universal language.
As I said, coming from a small town myself I know how these communities struggle. Next time you stop for gas, buy that candy bar or hotdog on a heated roller and show your support. You never know, that same place may not be open next time you pass through without your support.
Long, hot, endless summer days. Where the sky was blue with big white clouds. All I knew was my folks didn’t care what I did all summer but I had to be home by six. How I knew it was six p.m. is beyond me but supper was always ready and I’d better be there.
I was an impressionable kid and motorcycles were new to me. My brother got me interested with talk of them and a random magazine in the house to give me a visual. Trips to a couple of local dealerships and I was hooked. Picking up free brochures and reading them cover to cover studying everything from dry weights to tire sizes. As if some day I would be asked and a grand prize was in the balance. So the day my dad brought home an AMF Harley-Davidson 90 in the back of his ’67 Chevy truck was the day the earth stood still. Or at the very least the day seemed to be really long.
So the day my dad brought home an AMF Harley-Davidson 90 in the back of his ’67 Chevy truck was the day the earth stood still. Or at the very least the day seemed to be really long.
We had a pasture by the house I grew up in and we were able to spend many hours of every day riding aimlessly around and knocking down the tall grass to make trails. To this day I can still smell the yellow weeds that grew in that field. I would ride that 90 all day only stopping for gas and maybe a drink from the hose, and then back at it. After all I would be riding the Springfield Mile before long and I needed to practice. My stars and stripe helmet with a bubble shield and cheap gloves that turned my hands black as they sweat. Great times.
Simple. Pure. How can I get those days back? I read Dirtbike and Motocross Action. Cycle World and Cycle. Every word, over and over. never throwing an issue away. I practiced and pretended. Always wanting to ride and and explore. And I did. Long hours of riding with learning to fix what broke or wore out. I looked up to the local guys that rode the big bikes. If we heard a motorcycle coming down the road, we stopped what we were doing to watch as it went by. And of course I knew what the dry weight and tire size was!
Those were the days. Not much exposer on t.v. Wide World of Sports but who had a t.v. guide? Three channels and even so, I was too busy riding. On Any Sunday had a grip on me and I still love watching that film. It was the story of my life.
I still feel like that kid when I ride. It is a feeling of the the motorcycle as a part of me. It’s always been that way and always will. Looking back on the day my father brought home that 90 he had no idea what an effect it would have on me, or how it would change my life. My dad has never ridden a motorcycle but has always supported my habit and I love him for that.
Whether we are young or old when we start riding makes no difference. The days may not seem as long, but we can still go out and practice for the Springfield Mile.
Are we really that demanding? I don’t consider that trait to be in my DNA but some people have that desire and are capable of making demands. And usually demands are made out loud. I would almost say for the rest of us it is more about silent expectations. We expect our motorcycle to start when we want to ride, we expect a reasonable amount of life from our tires, and we expect that car to pull out in front of us. All of this and more, we expect without saying it.
And let’s face it, we will continue expecting things that are going to happen anyway. And maybe that is more of taking those things for granted. Modern conveniences, such as electric start or pay at the pump gas, is all a part of it. So where is this all going? When I first started riding with little knowledge of what I might demand from my motorcycles or silently expect or even take for granted, had no bearing on the amount of enjoyment I received. What I didn’t have I didn’t miss, and didn’t become frustrated for the lack there of. Kick starting didn’t work? Push start. Nothing is going to keep me from riding.
I had to have it. I couldn’t live without it. Life as I knew it would not continue unless I could get this used Honda CBR1000 Hurricane. Just like a real hurricane it was big and beautiful while being scary and fast at the same time. Sexy in red and black, it was my next bike.
It was a great ride home. The 50 miles went too fast and the weather for the end of May was amazing. Life is good. I spent every spare moment either riding or looking at the Hurricane. Red wheels and all that body work was just cutting edge enough for this small town guy. “It’s going to be a great summer” frequently came out of my mouth. Twist the throttle and hear me roar! Enough already, you get it!
Now, for years we sold fireworks out of our garage so my kids could have some spending money for the summer. The 3rd of July is my birthday so it’s always a good time of year for me. My wife sent me off to get some sticky dots to write prices on and I took off on the Hurricane the 50 miles to Salina to get them. A hot and dry day to say the least, my birthday today, the 4th of July is tomorrow and I’m riding. What more could I want?
Well, it appears this was the beginning of the end. After picking up the sticky dots I was sitting at a stop light unable to get the light to turn green to turn left. The heat of summer and the abundance of body work was unbearable. Apparently the heat from a hurricane removes all oxygen from the atmosphere as I couldn’t breathe. Something any good meteorologist or a salesman at a motorcycle dealership should mention. 30 seconds seemed like a lifetime and when the light did turn green, I took off the get a little air flow. I pulled over at a softball field to get off for a minute and put my head in their sprinkler. As I sat there, I heard a voice in my head say “you can’t do this birthday boy”. I sucked it up and rode the 50 miles home. On the way I saw dragons and demons swimming in water on the highway mocking me.
I decided a few days later to sell this bike. I’ve owned it about 45 days and it hit me that I was done with the sport bikes for a while and the little issue of heat might have had a part in it. So I listed the Hurricane in the paper and in a day I had several calls. The most promising was a gentleman that I agreed to meet halfway so I loaded the bike on a trailer and set off with my oldest son Kyle. As we sat at the meeting spot I told my son “if he shows up in a car by himself he’s not buying it, but two in the car or a truck or trailer and it’s his.” Just passing on a little fatherly wisdom for his future in selling motorcycles! He shows up with a truck and his father and I excitedly said “it’s sold!” As they get out of their vehicle I notice the father has an artificial leg. I walk over to the son and introduce myself and ask if he would like to test ride it. He said it was his dad that was the buyer so away we go! He wants to ride it and that’s ok. He pulls out on the highway and from the exhaust are sounds as if he was racing in the Grand Prix of Kansas. I had no idea the redline was that high! Also there was a little concern about the wooden leg. On one hand he wouldn’t feel the heat on that side of the bike but on the other hand…it’s wood.
Well he buys it. I was never so happy to see a motorcycle leave as I was that one. But I miss it in some sort of way. Do I wish I still had it? Yes. I wish I had all the motorcycles I’ve owned. They were all picked for a reason when I wanted them, and they were all a part of my motorcycling history. Good, bad or ugly, and some have been ugly, I miss them.
Winter in Kansas. By all rights it should be cold and windy. So what makes this day any different? The weather man said “high of 50 and a slight breeze by this afternoon”. As I left the house to go to work, I was dressed in the appropriate gear and mentally prepared for at least a cold ride in. Now keep in mind, I live in a small town and I ride about 25 miles one way. It’s all at highway speeds with a couple of spots where you can slow down for a curve or two. Most folks in my home town know me and fully expect to see me riding to work so it’s nothing new to them. On occasion, I will get a look from a motorist not familiar with me or even small town living for that matter when I wave at them.
Sure I have ridden in colder weather than this, and regretted it. This time of year I do wear the appropriate riding gear-Leather jacket, chaps, gauntlet gloves and my full-face Fulmer helmet. No heated gear for me! When your face shield is fogged, and there’s that little leak of cold air coming in around your neck, your waist, your cuff or all of the above, you have to ask yourself “am I the only guy who loves riding so much that this would be considered fun?”. Of course not. We’ve all been here to some degree. 16 degrees to be exact, with no windchill figured in. Now I have to admit, the first 5 miles were cold. Real cold. At 8 miles my mental fortitude was breaking down.
Don’t breathe because it fogs the shield. Just passed the neighbor on the road and I waved. That’s what we do in Kansas, we wave. Turn my head and the cold air gets to my neck. Focus. Over half way there so the rest should be easy. Down in another valley at mile 11. Wow, now that was cold. Cold? Of course you idiot you’re on a motorcycle! Focus! Meet another neighbor on the road, and I don’t wave. Didn’t have it in me. Now the whole town will be talking about me! Out of the valley and now the sun is coming into sight over my right shoulder and mentally it helps. Who am I kidding, I can’t feel anything. But at least it is helping on the right side of my face shield. Now I’m riding with what appears to be an eye patch over my left eye. Ugh. Mile 16 and I’m speeding, because as we all know the faster you go in the cold, the warmer you’ll be!
Finally, I slow down and make the final turn to work. As I’m riding along in the 30 mph zone I reflect on my adventure to the Arctic Circle. How is it possible to put yourself out there on purpose, on a bike, in the cold, and look forward to the “high of 50” that the weather man talked so proudly about? Because I ride. Not because I have to, but because I want to. It helps me to appreciate the ride when I know that sometimes the weather man gets it right!
Now excuse me while I find my neighbor to return a wave! Because that is what we do.
Is it possible to not have fun riding a motorcycle? Of course it is. Riding in the rain a long way from home can be one of the best rides you ever had. Or not. If you are prepared mentally and physically it can be a memorable ride. On the other hand if you aren’t prepared it can become a REAL memorable ride. Maybe the time spent under a gas station awning talking with another rider waiting out a storm is the memory.
But let’s face it, riding is fun. A short ride down a back road with the sights, sounds and smells is plenty to get you reset. Or the long day-ride to get some unfamiliar road under you to get you thinking. A friend of mine told me the other day that a 30 day round trip to Alaska was an epic adventure, but now 45 miles almost seems not worth it. Are you kidding me? Any time I can get on the bike and ride is great. I can use that time to reflect on those epic trips or think of the next one.
Never let yourself think that this ride is anything less than the last one. They are all different but good in the same way. Getting caught in the rain may seem miserable at the time, but the first chance you get, stop and find the fun in it. It’s there somewhere. Probably under an awning!
I spent most of my younger years sleeping in an old Starcraft pop-up camper in the back yard. Cutting grass with a push mower to make some change to put gas in my Harley-Davidson 90. Saving (?) a little money to go to the pool hall to play snooker and have a cherry 7-up. Not the kind already made, but the kind that was made right in front of you. The old men playing dominos in the background was cool and once in a while spending a nickel in the pinball machine. But in between I was out in the field by the house riding and dreaming of bigger bikes and just living the life of a small town boy.
In the summer of 1975 we took the long 22 mile drive to nearby Council Grove to buy my first real motorcycle, a Yamaha DT 175. I had already memorized the brochure and there wasn’t much Steve the owner of the dealership couldn’t tell me that I didn’t already know and besides I was too excited to hear a word he said. He gave me some oil and some stickers and all that went into the car with my mother who brought me and from there she followed me the 22 miles home. You know when you’re small town when your mother follows you home in the car as you ride home with no motorcycle license. My best friend Russ already had the DT 250 and he was just as excited to see the bike as I was riding it.
This was it. This is all I need. A 175 with plenty of power, lights and turn signals. Mirrors and a horn and I’m set. At fourteen I was thinking “this will be the last bike I’ll own and that’s it!” Who was I kidding? This was just the beginning of a life of confusion and mixed feelings about all things two wheels. Girls are one thing, but the life of motorcycles still haunts me! So, living my summers in a pop-up camper in the yard with gas money from mowing, and life is good. This was actually the beginning of what has become a long process of riding and learning. Something of which I have yet to finish. I probably won’t anytime soon as this process is still going on to this day.
But at the time I felt that my world was complete. It took my riding skills to another level. Cornering in the dirt and taking on more difficult trails and on occasion catching a little air was the piece I had been missing. We had some trails out behind the grain elevator where some of us rode. Back then it seemed like a big place and it was cut out from the railroad tracks that had been long ago removed. But in reality it was a small spot to keep us occupied. But the DT 175 was capable of climbing and jumping or just plugging along slowly on the trail. Long hours of riding before have now become longer. Wheelies and power slides are now the norm and I’m looking good in my JT Racing gloves and my Jofa mouth-guard and Carrera goggles. How lucky am I!
I can’t express how important this time in my life was. I wasn’t really into team sports in high school and motorcycles became my way of life. I never got tired of riding. I never complained of the blisters on my hands. Mud, dirt , rocks and rain, I was out there. Smiling the whole time.
We all have started somewhere with our love for two wheels. Some of us have found it’s not for us while some of us can’t live without it. I ride for many reasons and will for as long as I can. I read a long time ago on a t-shirt: “I live, love, breathe, dream, eat and sleep motorcycles” or something like that. But I must admit at fourteen years old I might have also been thinking of girls too!