15 August 2008

A positive experience

I've been working on posting about a ride that I took into the wilderness of Northern Idaho a few weeks ago for a while now and have been struggling with keeping the post brief enough, and yet, trying to share all of the things that happened on the ride. I'm finding it rather difficult to write in about 1000 words or so of my 14 hour ride that covered over 100 miles of wilderness, and another 450 miles of some of the "blue roads" of Northern Idaho and Eastern Washington.

Instead, I have decided to break it down into a number of smaller posts like the one here about my experience with a man and his gorgeous Harley. Thinking back on this encounter from a month ago, I feel the world needs more people like this fellow.

He and I were directly across from one another at the gas pump, topping off our tanks; the white haired gentleman fueling his Harley, and me, with my Kawasaki. He rode a custom painted Road King with the hard saddle bags; a beautiful Pearlescent white covered everything, including the bags. Only a few select parts were trimmed out in chrome, well balanced, very well done! He was a large man, standing every inch as tall as myself only he had a solid 40 or 50 lbs on me. Frost white hair and goatee accentuated by a tan so dark he was almost a deep red; it was obvious that this guy had spent some serious saddle time on his bike.

As we fueled up, I could sense that he was staring me down from behind his biker shades. I tried to remain indifferent, but eventually gave in and looked away from the pump and over at him, from beneath his mustache I could see that he was smiling. Not the condescending type of smirk that seems so ubiquitous these days, but a warm one; one that looked like he was projecting himself onto my bike and riding away satisfied, yes satisfied! As he hung the handle back up on his side of the pump, he leaned a little closer in my direction and uttered three words that I have never heard come from the mouth of someone who owned a Harley-Davidson.
“I envy you.”
A blank stare was coming from my side of the fuel island, my eyes just blinked in disbelief.
“Come again?”
I had heard what he said, I just couldn’t quite understand why he was saying that to me, there was a part of me that was bracing for the punch line.
This time a little louder, he said, “I envy you.”
More blank stares.
“I love my Harley, but you can go almost anywhere you want with your bike.” I could feel the envy in his tone of voice, it was honest, genuine. As I hung up my pump, we rolled our bikes out of the way of the busy fuel station to talk for a while. He was from the south end of the state, Mountain Home, Idaho (Ironically, Mountain Home is not home to many mountains), and was up in the panhandle with the same intentions that I had, to ride over Lolo pass, he was coming from, I was heading towards.
He told me how he, like so many of us, grew up riding dirt bikes, moved on to a number of Japanese street bikes through the 80’s, and then made the step to Harley’s about 15 years ago, the Road King was his third.

We must’ve seemed like an odd pair standing there together at that gas station in the mountains of Kooskia, Idaho, the large white haired man in his black leather vest and white t-shirt and me, laden in all of my protective gear. We talked for about twenty minutes or so, exchanging various stories about the motorcycles of our childhood; at one point I decided to stow my cold weather jacket in exchange for my lighter, warm weather one that I had in my tail bag, he just kept smiling, too polite to mock me. Eventually we mounted our bikes and nodded our goodbyes to one another, we pulled out of the gas station simultaneously, he turned west and I went east; two similar individuals traveling in opposite directions.

Riding out of Kooskia towards Lolo, my thoughts turned to my youth and to the man on the Harley and his youth, to our beginnings. Recalling his childhood experiences, I imagine that we were probably both very much alike back then. Somewhere in our young adulthood I gravitated towards sport bikes and he went towards the Japanese cruisers and eventually the big American Iron. As I inch closer and closer to his age, I imagine myself riding on a German boxer, something that I have coveted since childhood..........Time will tell.

A few more miles out of Kooskia, I found myself growing impatient with the seemingly endless caravan of Motor Homes lumbering up and down the two-lane roads, gracelessly running in both directions belching diesel fumes, slowly listing back and forth on the narrow highway and casting enormous square shadows on the canyon walls, disgusting.

I made a right turn onto a dirt road and began to climb up into the mountains, going “Anywhere I wanted” as the man on the Harley explained before. Climbing higher, the road narrowed to a single track, up and up I ascended until I crested the mountain range and began my descent into an unknown canyon, hints of a river occasionally peaked through the forest.

Riding through the wilderness alone, I found myself thinking once again of my youth and then back to the present to where I was at that exact moment in the mountains on my big simple bike and grinning devilishly inside my helmet, grinning........ exactly like the man who rode a beautiful pearlescent white Road King.

Ride Well



Joe said...

Earl when you write like this you give me the feeling that I'm beside a fireplace with a steaming cup of coffee listening to you telling your story and sharing in your satisfaction. I truly enjoy your narrative style.


Charlie said...

I agree with Joe here..... I can picture the details of his stories without batting an eye. Wish I could say the same for my ramblings and I am the one writing them.

Lance said...

Earl, thanks for this installment -you have a very nice writing style. Actually, upon seeing your bike I too started to think how great it would be to have a dual sport type of bike. But alas, I suffer from short leg syndrome, so it would be a challenge for me getting on and off. Anyway, nice post, and I look forward to reading further!

R.G. said...

Your post reminds me to evaluate everyone as an individual and not fall into the stereotype trap. I grew up in the country, riding my bike in the mountains so I can say "I too envy you".

Kano said...

You have a lot to envy my friend! Great writing, great photography, great rides, and a great bike!

Rick said...

I think a lot of Harley riders feel the same way this guy did. Most simply won't admitt it.

irondad said...

I agree with the writing style comments. Reminds me of old Rex Allen narrating stories on the Wonderful World of Disney when I was a kid. Anyone remember "Charlie the Lonesome Cougar"?

This just has to be thrown in. My ST will go anywhere I want to go. It's been offroad. Purposely, I should add. If my sport tourer won't go there, I don't want to, either!

Ok, maybe a little KLR envy is coming through!

Earl Thomas said...

Joe: Thanks for the kind words, It’s just the way my brain seems to work.

Charlie: Thanks, you know how my brain works, so no explanation of the workings of my bean is necessary here.

Lance: In a way, I feel the same way about me and my long legs, not many things seem to fit my frame very well. I love the really tall bikes, it’s like they were built for me. The big German Boxer that I covet is the BMW R1200GSA, taller than my Kawasaki; it’s a wonderful thing for folks with my inseam! Don’t be discouraged about the height of a lot of the Dual Sports out there. There are quite a few that sit lower than my KLR.

R.G.: It only takes one bad apple to ruin it for the rest doesn’t it? That’s what made this big guy so unique, some of them still remember where they started; one person can make a big difference, good or bad.

Kano: Thanks man. Right back at ya.

Rick: I agree. I’ve never fully understood the whole contempt for other motorcycles deal. Perhaps it’s stems from the old Harley/Indian wars from a long time ago. When Indian fell, I guess Harley riders had to find someone else, I don’t know.

Irondad: I remember the Wonderful World of Disney very well and who can forget about Charlie? I’ve seen that show hundreds of times and Rex Allen’s baritone voice narrating the story of Charlie is one of the things that make the show so memorable, I can still remember the sound of his narration as I’m typing this.

I thought that I looked strange to the Fly fisherman when he watched me exit the wilderness in my riding gear and saddle bags; I would’ve given anything to see the look on his face to see the ST coming out of the woods!

hawktane said...

Great story. I also really enjoy your writing and especially the photos. Great job. You seem born to blog.

Earl Thomas said...

hawktane; Thanks for the kind comment, I put your site in my favorites list to keep my eye on you, I'll add you to the blogroll when time permits


Sojourner rides said...

I agree with the HD rider--"I envy you." And on so many levels too! One day when the money is flowing, I'm determined to add a dual sport to my garage and ride that thing on all the off roads I hear whisper to me as I pass by but dare not venture now. Great tale!

Earl Thomas said...

Sojourner: Over twenty years ago, when Kawasaki introduced the KLR, I made a promise to myself to buy one. A lot of bikes had come and gone before I finally cashed in on my promise and bought the KLR this spring. There are no regrets.