My love for writing and my love for motorcycling came together after a trip I took to the Grand Canyon with my best friend Scott. I began to write about my adventures and had fun doing it. In the summer of 2010 I was sponsored by Victory Motorcycles to take a True American Road Trip. The theme of my adventure was the Wild West. I’ve written many other short motorcycle stories and I’ve included some here. I hope you enjoy!
Solar yellow Aspens blaze against the azure sky as I ride eastward back towards home, from the Colorado high country. The stands of the yellow trees are so bright that they look almost like a book of matches set alight. The asphalt is ribbed and worn, so much so that the black has faded in some places beyond gray to almost red from the nearby soil. Shadows play across the road, from the high canyon walls and when it’s golden warmth returns, if only briefly, it turns the rocks of the canyon a bright copper color.
I stopped in Estes Park for lunch and now I’m riding alone along Hwy 7, through the Roosevelt National Forest. Up ahead on my right I see a gothic church set upon a massive slab of granite. I pull the bike off onto the shoulder and stop to take a photo. It doesn’t matter if you are religious or not, the church is just beautiful. I rub my hands together to shake off the chill and I’m glad the high white clouds are not threatening snow. Behind the chapel is Mt. Meeker looking down and reminding me of time’s passage. It stands there as clouds move past, casting their shadows and then moving away. The hills around me are rich with the aspens, quivering in the October breeze, and the junipers look on unimpressed. I take in the sights and smells of the fall and appreciate its passing beauty. It is bittersweet because I know from the cold on my face and the turning trees that the riding season is almost over.
I pull into my garage after the ride and take off my leather jacket which has become essential for riding these days; no more t-shirt days for me. I walk into the house and check my phone. There is a message from Scott. I call him up and get ready to brag once again about the mountain roads that I love, but I stop before I start. I can hear it in his voice. Something is wrong.
“Remember Mike, who owns G.T.?” he asks.
“Yeah,” I say, though I’ve never met him in person.
“Well, his wife called me and told me he was killed in action in Iraq.”
“Oh man,” I say, which is all I can say. There is no good response to news like that.
“It happened a few days ago.”
“I’m really sorry to hear that, bro.”
“Yeah, me too. We had that one weekend when he came down for the final build and he was so happy to see his bike finished. I just know he was dreaming of all the mountain rides he was going to take. I just wish there was something I could do…”
As Scott’s voice trailed off into silence I thought about the ride I just took and the cold in my legs that was still there. I felt both gratitude for the ride but also a real sadness for Mike and all the rides he wouldn’t have.
“If you need anything, let me know,” I say to Scott.
“Ok, I will,” he says.
I get off the phone and feel a heaviness that hadn’t been there before. Even though I had not met Mike, I felt like I knew him because of the bond of motorcycles between us. Not just any motorcycles, but Victorys. When I meet other Victory riders, I feel a sense of shared values, a sense of understanding that I don’t get from most people. There is a kinship. The cost of the war felt high today.
I’m a bit of a lone wolf by nature and I stay away from social networking and website forums most of the time, but I do belong to the Victory Motorcycle Club and I get on theVMC.com now and then. When fall turns to winter my job takes over and I don’t do much with riding, other than dream of spring and the great trips I will take, and that includes getting on theVMC. Since I hadn’t been on theVMC for a while and I decided one day after the crush of the holidays was over to log on and see what was going on. I was amazed to see the tribute to Mike on the home page of theVMC. Mike was now Sergeant Clark and I could see the good that had come from Scott’s simple wish to do something to help.
It seemed natural to me that the community of Victory Motorcycles would lend support to young Lucas, Mike’s son. We all knew there was nothing we could do to bring Mike back, but we could help his son grow up with a good education and a community to help him. I thought the raffle was a great idea. It would let people help in a small way by buying their $100 ticket and it would help Lucas in a big way by giving him a hand up. I’ve known Scott since high school and that day when I logged on I was very proud to be his friend. I’ve seen his evolution from the awkward teenage years, when I drove him on his first date because I had a license and he didn’t, to today where has become a leader in the national Victory community.
Every year Scott comes out to Colorado as part of his summer tour of Victory meets, Sturgis and the AVR. I look forward to it all year. We get in some great riding, some wrenching on my bike and mostly just get to hang out and get caught up on things. This year would be a little different; this year we would be taking G.T. down to Mike’s family.
The day dawns bright and clear with the promise of no rain. An early rap at the door shows me an unfamiliar face. My hair is still wet and I’m still in my socks.
“Do I know you?” I ask the bearded man.
“Yeah I’m Bill.” This must be Scott’s friend, arrived early.
“Sure, come on in. Do you want some coffee?”
“Yeah that would be great.”
I put on a pot of Starbucks and I make it strong, just how I like it. Scott comes up from the basement and walks right up to Bill and shakes his hand.
“How are you doin brother?” Scott asks.
“Doin good. Hey can we get in an oil change too?”
“I think we can handle that.”
I open the garage door and Scott pulls Bill’s black Victory up onto my lift. We wrench on Bill’s bike and pull ours out to get ready for the ride. Today the patriot guard riders are coming to escort Sgt. Clark’s bike down to the memorial wall at Ft. Carson. We are expecting 14 or 15 riders for the escort, which will take us from my house in Westminster down to the base.
We get Bill’s oil changed, his front brake pads replaced and his lowering links switched out because he kept bottoming out with his rear tire. Just as we are finishing up and I am dumping the old oil into a five gallon bucket, I hear the rumble of motors approaching. Scott looks over at me and says, “It sounds like a lot of bikes.” I nod in response and go out of the garage to watch the motorcycles turn the corner onto my street. Our friend Todd leads the pack on his yellow Hammer followed by a red TC with a large patriot guard banner across the windshield. Scott directs them to park in front of my lawn on the street and soon the whole length is filled with bikes and still more motorcycles round the bend. Then they park across the street along my neighbor’s fence and take up most of that space too. There are almost twenty bikes.
I am awed by the turnout. I’ve been to other Colorado Victory Rider events and I think this is the most bikes I’ve ever seen show up. I know the reason is that everyone wants to show their respect and support for our fallen friend and his family. Some of the people I know, but most of them I do not. Dee walks over to me and gives me a hug and her husband John shakes my hand. My neighbors Mike and Pam, both Harley riders, walk over and introduce themselves. I feel proud to be a part of the Victory community today.
It’s time to ride. Trent takes the lead flying the Flag and the P.O.W. banner on his bike. Scott follows second on G.T. with its white and black styling. I fall in after the tenth bike. We ride past Mike and Pam and I smile as they wave at us, but I know this day is not about me. Trent leads us out to Highway 93 and then onto C-470. The line of bike stretches both far ahead and far behind me and I feel such camaraderie with all of them. These day I have spent so much time at work and too many hours alone, where the internet and T.V. have replaced people. But not today. Today I feel part of something; something bigger than myself. Today is a community day.
We exit onto Sante Fe and follow it to 105. The roads are beautiful, with good asphalt and mountain views to the right. The line meanders through the undulating hills and the saphire sky above is feathered with clouds. The faint scent of motor oil and rubber is barely detectable over the sweet scent of summer grasses. My eyes grow damp, but not from the wind. I know that Mike is with us and I’m sure he is amazed at all the support that has sprung up around his family. Today we escort his bike, which never sat in his garage in its finished form, to his widow, son and mom, who flew in from California just for this occasion.
We parade into Fort Carson and see that the local fire department has also come to show their respects. The line of bikes file around the tall American Flag and parks, totaling 22 motorcycles now. The family watches as we all dismount. I see it is young Lucas, his Mom and Grandmother. People ahead of me talk to Mike’s family and I can see tears and smiles. I walk up to Lucas and don’t know what to say, so I just put my hand on his shoulder and nod. One rider I don’t know walks up to Nalini, Mike’s wife. He says, ” I know it is a heavy burden you carry, but just know that today each of us carries away some of that, making it lighter.” He hugs her and so does the rider’s wife. She too has tears in her eyes.
Scott pulls G.T. up onto the sidewalk next to the memorial wall and parks it next to where Michael K. Clark’s name is carved in the stone monument. After some time we all walk away and leave the bike with Mike. From a distance you can see the bike through the purple flowers of the memorial and my heart just aches seeing it sit alone, but yet not alone.
Southside Johnny’s, a local biker bar, greets us for lunch. We sit in small groups in the bar and talk about tires, carbon fiber wheels and my back half conversion. In other words, we talk about what we normally talk about. After our food arrives and I look jealousy at the fish and chips two guys ordered, we start talking about the turn out for the event.
“I think Nalini really appreciated that so many of us came out,” said Scott.
“We should do this again,” said Trent.
“We could have an annual ride in Mike’s memory,” said Scott.
“I would be in for that,” I say. “It would help keep Mike’s memory alive for everyone.”
After lunch we say our farewells to most everyone, and Scott and I split off for the ride back to my house. Five bikes ride with us. I ride behind Trent for a while and notice what he has written on his vest. It says, “A nation that forgets it’s soldiers, will itself be forgotten.” That simple statement rings true for me and I know we have to do this ride next year. It’s the least we can do.
Scott and I spend the rest of his Colorado trip riding our bikes and hanging out. My birthday falls at the end of his stay. We spend the day riding and having fun. This birthday feels different. Sure I’m a year older, but I feel sobered by Mike’s death and life feels more precious. It wakes me up to the fact that I should not take my friendships or anything else for granted. Life can be over so quickly.
I wake up the day after my birthday to see Scott off. It’s still dark outside. We had loaded Scott’s trailer and truck only a few hours ago but he has to get on the road. As the Conquest Custom’s logo turns the corner of my street, heading for the AVR, I can’t help but wish I was going with him. I had taken a lot of time off in August, but it still didn’t feel like enough time to do all the things I wanted to do. I had picked Sturgis over the AVR.
I bought my raffle ticket for G.T. before Scott left and I wondered if I won how I could best respect Mike’s memory. I heard one rider say he would turn G.T. into a tribute bike and get Mike’s name painted on it. Other people at the lunch after the tribute ride suggested that we make the ride an annual event to keep his memory alive. Even my neighbor, Ben, who had just bought his first bike this year, felt moved to buy a ticket after hearing what had happened from Scott.
Back at work again, I quickly get caught up in what I need to get done and soon it is the day of the drawing. I know Scott will be busy at his booth talking to customers and promoting his business. I had seen him in action enough to know how hard he is working. I didn’t expect I would talk to Scott unless he was a calling to tell me that I had won the bike. I imagine Scott up on the stage where I had watched Scarlet Haze play two years ago. I imagine the hundreds of people that must be there for the drawing. Saturday, The day of the drawing, comes and goes and no phone call. Another Victory friend, David, sends me a text telling me that a VMC member from California had won the bike. I was happy it was a VMC guy but I really wished it had been someone local. I talk to Scott a few days later, once he was on the road.
“We sold almost 400 tickets,” he says, “There was a rush at the end and one guy bought ten tickets.”
“That’s awesome bro. I’m sure Mike’s family really appreciates all that you’ve done to help.”
“It was the right thing to do.”
When I get off the phone I sit back in my recliner and can’t help but feel a little philosophical. It’s hard to know the impact one person can have. Respect and a genuine desire to help can go a long way. Scott’s simple desire turned into a call to action, which was resoundingly answered by the Victory community. I am humbled and awed by what I’ve witnessed. Mike’s sacrifice has brought us all closer together and strengthened our bond of brotherhood.
Ride in Peace Brother.
Lone Wolf Rides to Sturgis
I decided this year to ride to Sturgis alone. My wing man can’t make it this time and even though I know I could find some people to ride up with, I want to be a lone wolf. I pack my saddlebags, bungee on a sleeping bag, and hit the road bright and early on Wednesday morning. I leave my watch behind because its enough to know where I am and whether the sun is up or going down. I’m free of the time clock world for a while.
I stop at the Flying J for breakfast in Cheyenne. I get a table by myself and dig into the breakfast buffet, getting my usual bikers breakfast of eggs, hash browns, bacon and black coffee. I look around at the tables filled with more bikers and feel the aloneness. I call my best bud Scott and tell him I’m on my way to Sturgis and that I sure wish he could’ve made it this year.
After breakfast I mount my ’06 Jackpot and roar out of Cheyenne and pick up hwy 85 heading towards Torrington. The road is clear and I open it up and cruise at 80 mph. It feels so good to be free with the wind rushing past my ears and the sun warming everything. I come upon a pair of riders and slow down and fall in with them for a while. It’s fun to be in a group, even if I don’t know them. There is the shared camaraderie of the road that all riders know. I ride with them across the rolling plains of Wyoming until I grow restless with their pace and I open the throttle and pass them with a wave.
I ride solo again for while and then I run into a pack of bikes. I pull into line with them, riding staggered with the last bike. I love that I can have as much togetherness as I want on this ride to Sturgis. Two more bikes pull up behind me and join us. The vast western sky is blue and makes no rain threats as we roar along in unspoken solidarity.
The pack pulls over at the next gas station and I pull over with them, wondering if I should try being friendly with these strangers; but when I realize that the four gas pumps won’t easily accommodate us all, I head off to the next gas station up the block. It’s easier to be a lone wolf that way.
I fire down a Rock Star energy drink to fight off the post breakfast slump and point my Victory north again. On the bike I live in the present; sunlight, wind and hills are my companions. Thoughts of the future and the past are washed away as the miles grow. The long solitude fills me and I feel alive.
I ride into New Castle, Wyoming and fuel up and after a short break head east on Hwy 16 towards Custer, South Dakota. This is the first time I’ve taken this route to Sturgis. I didn’t really decide which way I was going to take until I hit Lusk and I’m glad I came the way I did. The road from Lusk to New Castle is 81 miles without a single gas station and it is full of wide open nothingness, which is what this lone wolf needs. I don’t know why I need the vast open space, but I do. I reconnects me to that which is essential. I’ve found my capacity for solitude has only grown with my years. It comes from the need to be self sufficient, to be dependant on no one but myself. I do enjoy being with my friends but I’m very content just to be on my bike and riding.
I hit Custer and turn north on hwy 385 following it towards Hill City. Bikes are everywhere now that I’ve entered the Black Hills and I forego the customary left had salute to the other riders as there are just too many of them now. I stop at Hill City and look through the ocean of Harley’s and the waves of foreign bikes looking for the glimmer of a Victory Badge. If I can find one I know I will have someone I talk with. I eat a late lunch in Hill City. I’m starved from all fresh air and the open road. I get back on my Jackpot and ride to Sheridan Lake road and follow its twisting path through the forest to the house where I will be taking up residence in the basement. The house is in Rapid City, close to Sturgis and all the fun. My hostess is the daughter of a friend and she graciously allows my lone bikerness to stay with her and her two year old daughter.
I set myself up and go to the liquor store and buy a twelve pack to put in their fridge and settle in for the evening after a great day of riding and getting just over 400 miles under my belt.