Sunday, November 25, 2012

Changed Riding

A few weeks ago my stop at a nearby overlook/Historical Marker had me remembering my rides of long ago, when I'd stop for a photo of the very same marker, including whichever bike I was on at the time.  During those years, I was based in the St.Paul/Mpls suburbs and would have been on the road for an hour or more to make the same stops along the river.  Too far away for a ride after my high school classes, those treks that were my favorites had to be executed on the weekends.  Now, from up on the hill behind our barn we can literally see the marker across the river (magnification required) and it would take almost the same amount of time to get there since both upriver and down crossings involve a fair distance and yet it feels for all intents and purposes like those spots directly across the river are literally in our neighborhood.

My brother and I started riding our first motorized two-wheeler at grandfather's small rural town Wisconsin 1 1/2 acre home.  We wore an honest path in his yard, putting countless miles through and around his 'large' estate.  It didn't take us long to start wandering a bit further on the quiet roads in the area; some of them sand or dirt, though most of them were paved.  So those were our first miles, on a mowed lawn and before long, we both were spending summers on our relatives farm which meant almost no pavement and for much of the time, no gravel either.  During the day we worked; fencing, running errands (seemed like there was always a bearing or other parts that needed to picked up from the Implement Dealer), shuttling tractors/wagons or grain trucks, cows and/or their calves that needed to be found in their distant hiding places, etc.

There was hay, lots of hay and if you know your hay, it is never made when it's cool and wet outside.  Hot, dry and dusty is what constitutes hay weather.  Morning and evening dew bookended most hay-days and whenever we possibly could get the last wagon unloaded for the day, we'd then finish our chores and hopefully squeeze in a cooling ride through the damp and musty valleys......I still remember how they felt as well as the smells those deep oak valleys delivered. No helmets, no gloves, no jackets, though we did have relatively new, soiled Implement caps, the fresh air 'washing' our dank T-shirts clean, the area's gravel roads our playground.  We could finally get up into those mostly unused 4th and 5th gears.  I don't remember a single deer ever during those days but I recall very well (and where) the many dogs were that would give chase.  At least we could predict and pinpoint those potential disasters.

We fell.  We fell showing off, we fell trying to climb rocky hills that provided no traction, we went down chasing errant cows that suddenly lost their sense of hearing and sight, unable to find the hole in the fence that they had most likely created.  We had no idea there would someday be Stoppies, but we were huge fans of Wheelies. Sometimes a creek crossing tried to swallow us and then we didn't only fall, the fear of drowning was something we could laugh about.  I'll never forget my ride through a construction area where they were moving a gravel road that had run right through a farmstead to a bypass that instead went around their buildings.  One of the belly scrapers had scraped up the gravel to 'recycle by moving' it to the new road.  My Yamaha 125 Enduro was a capable dirt bike, me a skilled, 'seasoned' rider and what harm could a few grooves in the road cause me??  The teeth on the front of the big scraper had left a perfect pattern of grooves in the road and instead of picking the high ground in between, my eyes and then naturally my front wheel were drawn to that groove.  That mean, nasty groove grabbed my wheel and then my handlebars so severely that it felt like someone had reached up and pulled me into the ground.  I went down hard and lucky for me, I wasn't using those precious 4th or 5th gears at the time.

So where am I headed with all of this?  The majority of my early riding was done on grass, dirt, gravel....anything but pavement.  Wanderlust was hitting me and coming hard in my late teens; the freedom that riding was giving me was soon making it a challenge to not start pushing on my boundaries.  Always a map lover, I was slowly realizing that actually getting out further and expanding my world was simply something I needed and finally able to do.  Bigger and soon very much faster street bikes came along, maps that included places outside the township, state and finally country were being spread out and distant rides planned for.

On the Mall, Smithsonian......

I often rode down the Mississippi River, both sides, having always felt a certain bond to Big Muddy.  I was born less than a mile from it and there must have truly been something in that water.  My brother and I while still in high school essentially followed it down to Arkansas.  Texas was our, or rather, my goal but we didn't get that far, not that summer at least but it wasn't long before I saw the Gulf and our southern border while on two wheels, numerous times.  Arkansas was later re-visited, more than one long weekend found me in Hannibal, Missouri to better connect with one of my favorite authors.

South Rim of the Grand Canyon, a not-too-hot January day (Honda was tucked in at home)......

All (most) of this 'wandering' was taking place on big bikes, on bigger, main highways and time spent on smaller County roads was rare. Corpus Christi in a day and a half for Easter, around Lake Superior for a 'nice long weekend' were typical rides.  I avoided any gravel if I could and almost always only rode lines that appeared on State-level maps.  Fast bikes, Sport Touring, weekends spent living with what I could carry in a tankbag were the norm.

Galveston Bay, Easter Sunday....

Peg and I got married and did a fair amount of riding together.  She got her m/c endorsement, we rode around the Midwest and then explored Southern California while we lived there.  Once our second daughter was on the way, I was anxious for other things, my interest in time away from family, our new home, the garden, wood projects, etc. waned.  The bikes were sold and I didn't really miss them....for a long time.

Almost 20 years later, the riding bug bit me again.  The ST2 Ducati was retrieved from its Indiana Ebay seller and one of the very first rides I took on it found me on dirty, dusty roads.  Not only were they not paved, they were narrow, officially closed to most normal traffic and saw so little traffic that it seemed like they were there solely for my benefit, waiting for me or anyone really, just to use them.

That's where all of this was headed......I'm now very often finding myself on roads that almost seem to be waiting for me only to enjoy; they see almost no 'necessary' traffic.  Sightseers, hunters in season, those crazy ADV-types and once in awhile local folks that need a shortcut when their vehicle hasn't been recently washed.  Roads that once saw families on small farms, steeply wooded hillsides that were left after the prime, more open farm land had already been settled.  Just like the kids picked last for ball teams, these small farms on often marginal land are now abandoned, their grown-over homesteads "scenic".

As I ease through these areas, I find myself imagining the many stories the places could tell and how well they'd match up with the shared remembrances and documented photographs that have been passed down through our family of lives lived with time's constant change.  Exploring these areas and connecting them together on my rides bring me lasting pleasure, a major part of my riding experience.


  1. Great post.

    Isn't it funny how little by little we expand our riding area and distances and yet riding those roads off the beaten track close to home once again become a favorite too.

    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thank you. Yes, I have been thinking over the last couple of years about my renewed focus on smaller, simpler machines. It's been mentioned numerous times that my moving away from bigger and ever more complex machines has felt freeing, reminding me of how I felt back when I first started; focused less on the machine than on the ride.

  2. Isn't it great when the motorcycle bug runs in the family? You probably wasn't at the receiving end of the well-meaning but completely superfluous pieces of advice that I used to get (ME being a girl, IT being dangerous etc.) ;-)

    I get a similar feeling when I am on new to me roads, as if they are just waiting for me to be explored.

    The way you reminisce about your earlier years has much of the favourite author you were mentioning. I like it.

    1. My grandfather was riding back in the 20's, meeting my grandmother out in Montana. Dad started on a Cushman when he was a kid and the addiction was passed on.

      Besides my time down in Hannibal, I visited the home in Hartford, CT and the adjacent museum a few years ago; both places adding to things I wanted to know. Very kind of you to say!

  3. Coop - I love the way you share your journey. Thanks.

  4. My stop and photo the other weekend left a bunch of dots in my head that I thought could use some connecting. The evolution has been fun and with a few steps away, worth reflecting upon. I appreciate your comment.

  5. Coop:

    I also like exploring the backroads but mainly when we had our Jeep and pickup truck, going through all those little towns and the end of gravel roads. If I were younger I would buy a Super Sherpa or XT250 and mosey around some more. I often wonder what happened to those families that used to live there. If only the walls could talk . . .

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