Years ago on one bright sunny Sunday morning I was standing on Monument Circle in downtown Indianapolis. I heard the rumble of big thunder. However, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The thunder, as it turned out, was man made. Hundreds of motorcycles were riding two abreast, moving slowly down the street to where I was standing on the curb. The closer they moved toward me the more my heart started pounding. I couldn’t believe my body was reacting like it was to the sight, smell and sound of hundreds of motorcycle engines only a few feet away from me. The engines, Harley’s and others, all sported straight pipes and belched their earthy, primitive exhaust sound that was ricocheting off the buildings in downtown Indianapolis to make this cavalcade even more of an all-encompassing spectacle. They were having a ball, two by two, for over 25 minutes. These men on their magnificent machines passed by me waiving, pointing and smiling. They were proud sitting astride their motorcycles, with legs wide open and arms extended to gleaming handlebars on perfectly painted, beautifully chromed machines. About half of the riders have a sexy looking woman on the back of their bike. The men, very manly, and the women dressed to impress. I know they mesmerized me with a wink and a smile as they passed me. As each pair of motorcycles thundered by, I made myself a pledge right then and there, “I’m going to do that someday.”
Motorcycles and the men and woman who ride them represent only about 3% of the population. So, I realize most people won’t understand the addiction to riding a motorcycle. I finally got to do that “Someday Thing”. For eight years and 50,000 miles I rode a motorcycle across the United States. I had a ball. I met some very interesting people, and made some very valuable life time friendships. I have given up riding a motorcycle. I got scared of it and it’s no fun riding if you are afraid. It’s a personal decision, much like any personal decision. One of my motorcycle friends, who still rides has written a book about being on the road. The book is called Road Tales, and can be purchased here. I asked Steve Reed, the author, if he would allow me to print one of his many stories in his book on my Blog. The story is called “The Stranger.”
I couldn’t help but notice him as he was gassing up. He looked as if he was a stock item on the ST1100 rather than it’s rider. Black boots, black chaps, black leather jacket, black gloves, black full face helmet all riding a bike. Only the silver reflective halo on his helmet broke the color scheme. As I topped off my tank and walked over to pay the attendant, I politely smiled and nodded my head, “Hello.” His response was merely a grin, although I sensed something more.
On the way back to my bike, I heard a voice say, “Been riding long?” I turned and answered, “A few years now.”
“I mean today.” He replied.
“Oh, about 500 miles or so. Another 140 and I’ll be home.” I quipped.
“I’m not sure when I’ll be home, but that dinner over there is my next destination. Seems like forever since lunch. Feel like grabbing a bite to eat with a fellow rider?”
I thought for a moment. Just a couple of hours and I could be sitting in front of a warm fireplace and enjoying the feeling of being home. After a week on the road, that idea was uppermost in my mind. But there was something different about this guy and hot food did sound pretty good.
“Sure.” I said. “I’ll go get a table and meet you over there.”
As I rode thru the parking lot I thought to myself I must be crazy. I’m really not that hungry and every minute in the diner was a minute longer it would take me to get home. Why had I agreed to this? Maybe I should just go on. After all I would never see the guy again and even if I did I could explain hasty departure one way or another. No, it was after nine already and a hot cup of coffee and real food would be a good buffer against the cold dark road that lay ahead of me.
I went in, sat down, and ordered two coffees.
As the man approached the table I got a much better look at him. He carried his helmet in his left hand and as he gently sat it in the seat next to him I noticed a scar that ran up his forearm. His walk was slow but steady. His gray hair had been thinning out for a while I guessed. He wore no glassed, but produced a pair to help read the menu. I would have guessed his height at about 5”10”, but it was hard to tell as he shed his jacket and vest that was beneath it. The chaps remained in place. His watch looked expensive and I had a feeling that money was not a problem for him. His face was lined with a few wrinkles and had a straight forward look about it. He could have been anywhere between 40 and 60 years old. You know just by looking at him, he was incapable of telling a lie. The truth was the only thing that face would allow to leave his lips.
“Good coffee.” he said.
“Figured we both could use some,” I answered. “How long have you been in the saddle?”
“Today?” he grinned.
“Yes today.” I grinned back.
“I left Philly at 6:00 this morning. With any luck I’ll pull into my sister’s house in Fort Worth late tomorrow afternoon.”
“That’s over 1400 miles!!!” I exclaimed.
“Just a touch.”
“What’s the hurry? You know there’s weather moving in from Oklahoma and Missouri tonight don’t you? Might not be a bad idea to lay low and let it pass thru.”
“Son, if I let a little storm stop me, I may as well sell the ST and buy a station wagon.” I could tell he was politely offended by my statement, but he wasn’t concerned by it either.
“So, how many miles have you go on your ST?” I asked.
A look came over the face sitting across from me that made me feel like I had asked the teacher to repeat the lesson for the third time.
“Miles,” huh? Well this ST has over 130,000. My first one had 200,000 when I traded her in. But miles aren’t what you’re asking about, are they? You’re really asking if I’ve “been there.” Well sir, I’ve “been there” and then some, and I’ve relished every moment of it.”
“Really,” I replied. Tell me about some of your travels if you don’t mind. I really would like to hear about them.” At least this way we can get thru dinner quickly and I can get back on the road, I thought.
“How about I tell you something important instead?” His response caught me off guard.
“Sure,” I said, motioning to the waitress for more coffee.
“You don’t know me and that’s fine. I couldn’t say these things if you did. A lot of people claim they know me, some even claim to be friends. But they don’t know, not really. I’ve enjoyed moderate success in the business world so I’m fortunate that I can travel to the extent that I do. I know and am thankful that I’m luckier than most. My health is good. I quit smoking about eight years ago and I’m a bit more choosey about what I eat now. I’m not a health fanatic, but there’s less road ahead of me than behind me. I’ve been a lot of places since losing my wife a few years back, The Four Corners Run, Deals Gap, The Blue Ridge Parkway, Wolf Creek Pass, Highway to the Sun, Million Dollar Highway, Bear Tooth Pass, Pacific Coast Highway, and countless others. Seems I can’t sit still, always another road to ride. My kids don’t understand. They think I’m just running away from memories. Maybe I’m in one way or another. I don’t know.
Sometimes it bothers me that no one, truly, knows me. I want to be remembered. Not as the man who ran the Iron Butt 10 years in a row, but as a man who felt it was more important to help a fellow rider on the road than to win the race. It’s important to me that someone know I cried at the simple beauty of a sunset in New Mexico , how I laughed when I dropped my bike at a gas station because I forgot to set the kickstand, how I tasted fear as I rolled over in my sleeping bag to see a rattlesnake less than 12 inches from my throat.
There are things that are deep and private to me which are not meant to be shared with just anyone. Even today with the cold weather, I couldn’t wait to ride. Most people would have never left the garage. That’s their loss. The feeling of being “on the road” is something that still excites me. The look of wonder in a child’s face as you pass a car and wave to them. The feel of autumn riding on a back road. Being so hot you can’t even sweat in the desert. Wondering if you’ll ever be warm again as you ride thru the Rockies. Getting caught in a sudden summer downpour with lightening hitting the ground on either side of you and grinning the whole time. The game of trading bike at your favorite dealer. The feel of your first new bike. Keeping a promise once made, even if no one else would ever know, simply because you said you would. Honor and integrity are still very much alive within me. Maybe It’s just me, but I don’t believe those qualities are as common as they once were.
To this day I still miss the guys I rode with 20 years ago. Some just quit riding, others just ran out of energy, and a couple ran out of time. Their memories ride with me to this day and always will. I have got to believe that where you’ve been is as important as where you’re going. But it’s not racking miles on an odometer that counts. It’s racking up memories, feelings, sights, sounds, smells that truly count. What good is riding 300 miles if you have no adventure doing it. I tell you, I’d rather ride 50 miles with a true friend and share a thermos of coffee at a rest stop than do 500 mile for bragging rights.
Seems odd, doesn’t it, that I can talk so freely with a stranger. Maybe I just needed to get some things off my chest. Maybe it’s because I know I’ve got some miles to ride before my journey ends and I needed some companionship. Maybe I just like to hear my own voice.
“Maybe it’s because I such a good listener.” I joked.
“Maybe” he smiled back. “You married?”
“Oh yeah, 12 of the best years of my life,“ I answered.
“When you get home tonight, kiss your wife for me and tell her she is a lucky woman.
It was more of an instruction than a comment.
“Okay I’ll kiss her twice, once for you and once for me.”
“Excuse me while I go get some of this coffee.”
“Don’t forget,” he said.
When I returned, he was gone. The waitress said he’d paid the bill for both of us. I rushed outside only to see his taillights fade into the night. All I could do was saddle up and head for home. A few hours later my bike was parked securely in the garage and I was sliding into bed next to my slumbering wife.
“When did you get home?” she asked
“About 20 minutes ago.” I said kissing her gently,” Go back to sleep. By the way, I’m supposed to tell you you’re a lucky woman and this is from a stranger,” as I kissed her again.
“What are you talking about?” Now she was a bit more alert, so I told her his story.
“So, what’s his name? She asked when I’d finished. Where’s he from? Maybe we should have him over for dinner sometime.
I thought about it. I never got his name, where he lived, what he did for a living. I had no way to contact him or even begin to find out who he was.
Who knows? Maybe he was you.
If you’re looking for a book to help you rebuild the brakes on a 1978 Honda CB 750 or adjust the carbs on a 1986 Yamaha Midnight Special, then this isn’t the book for you. But if you are looking for a book that is an easy read or one that might be a good “rainy night in a motel” book, you’ve found it. Come along and join us as we wander some back roads, meet some unusual people, dine on some fine home cooking, and discover that adventure can be found almost anywhere. As you travel along on this journey, be prepared to shed a tear or two, smile more than once, recall some of your own “misadventures”, and generally have a good time. “Road Tales” is about the essence of “being there”, not the mechanics or skills of motorcycling. It’s about listening to the rain on your helmet as you’re trying to get home. It’s about the song in your heart as you ride that perfect road. It’s about the thrills and chills of being on a motorcycle and wondering what is waiting for you up ahead on the road. And it’s about the smile on your face as you read it. A former columnist for “Motorcycle Tour and Cruiser” and “Road Bike” magazines, Steve Reed has logged thousands upon thousands of miles on various motorcycles. He seems to have a knack to find the unusual in the usual, the extraordinary in the commonplace, and the magic in the moment.
To order Road Tales from Amazon, click on the link below.