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