Patricia Craig Johnson --- Searching for My Ancestors --- Sharing My Life Stories

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Memories of Biker Years -- 1983/1993

It is nearly eighteen years since I have had a motorcycle ride. We made the decision in March of 1993 to sell our beautiful Harleys. We knew our reflexes were not quite up to the skills required to ride in the heavy traffic of our area. I learned to ride in 1983 and John had ridden Harleys since he was age 18, a long long time ago. What a ten years I had, and I would like to share some of the sometimes wacky, sometimes beautiful things we experienced as we rode Harleys together.

I talk about learning to ride my Harley in another story, but that experience alone was a "once in a lifetime" experience. I hadn't learned well enough to get out on the road, when we traveled to Guernsey, Wyoming at the end of October 1983. We stopped at the main restaurant there, on the last Saturday in October. I was riding behind, and as we pulled up to the restaurant, and John backed the bike into a parking spot, we suddenly were surrounded by a crowd of biker people. Sort of a motley looking lot, they were. But then, that is the mystique about Harley people, they usually look pretty rough and tumble. We stood on the sidewalk swapping bike stories for about a half an hour. Finally, we grew sort of tired of them and decided to go in the restaurant. Just like a magnet, the whole crew moved inside right behind us. We got a table and sort of tried to ignore them. They were loud, slightly inebriated, and drew a lot of attention from the prim and proper couples that were in there for a nice Saturday night outing.

We would have done better to sit with them, because in order for them to talk to us from a few tables away, they talked VERY loud. They seemed fascinated and sort of adopted us. We weren't looking to be adopted, but it is sometimes hard to reason with Harley people. The main character, was T J from Lusk, Wyoming. Sort of a small man, but he had had a bit too much to drink at whatever function they had just come from. His side kick was Snoopy. Snoopy was a huge, sort of lumbering guy, and he didn't look or talk like his mentality was much more than age 15. Needless to say, he was slightly inebriated, also.

John and I tried to keep a low profile, and not become too identified with them, but it was hard to do since we were their chief target of loud talk and rather off hand jokes and really unsuitable language. Thank goodness, we finally finished our meal, even though a bit prematurely. We sort of slunk out of our chairs and headed for the check out register near the door without looking back, hoping not to encourage any further conversation. As we were paying our bill, we heard a LOUD crash behind us. Looking back I saw that Snoopy had leaned on the edge of their table when they got up and the whole thing went over, dishes, food and all. We tried to escape during the confusion, but to no avail. In a few minutes they were all out on the sidewalk, as John was desperately trying to get the bike started and get us out of there. He wasn't quite fast enough, and we had to be somewhat diplomatic as we turned down their offer to bunk in with them at the hotel across the street!

We were both quite relieved to leave our new friends standing on the sidewalk waving to us as we sped off. Later, we laughed about the whole thing, and it still brings a laugh when we think about it. Actually, they were sort of dangerous people, as we learned during our conversation with them. This was my introduction to the adventures of riding a Harley.


Finally, in September 1984, I had enough riding practice and skill to embark on my first Harley trip. We decided to tour our own home state and dip a little bit south in to New Mexico. After riding through the town of Taos, New Mexico, we had a feeling we should leave. The place didn't have a very friendly atmosphere. As we were heading out of the area we passed the Pueblo Taos turnoff. We decided to see what it was all about and turned in. The place is very old, has dirt streets, and is very picturesque, and it is the oldest continually inhabited pueblo in North America. It looks exactly as you would imagine, and it is an actual living town, inhabited by Native Americans and Mexican people. I will always remember the ladies on the streets stopping to look at me riding my beautiful Harley that was one of their favorite colors, turquoise. I felt sort of "cocky" as they watched me and I enjoyed the experience. I tried to be humble, but it felt so good to be on my Harley, I sort of forgot myself. One of the dangers of riding motorcycles is becoming over confident, so I tried to keep that feeling in check. We left Pueblo Taos and headed west toward north central New Mexico.


This same trip was filled with all sorts of challenges. This is where I faced some treacherous road construction when we were heading for the Black Forest of Colorado east of Montrose. As we entered into the construction area, I could see that the dirt and gravel had been freshly graded and the only path for me to take was a very narrow ledge formed by the road grader. The rest of the road was too soft and too deep for a motorcycle. I used all of my concentration to keep my bike on that narrow ledge. In my motorcycle riding course, one of the lessons was on this very skill, concentrating on a disappearing lane, and believe me, it came in handy on this stretch. After we successfully crossed this barrier we stopped for a break. As I looked back at that high mountain road, and the way it was torn up, I thanked my guardian angel that I had made it through without going down on my bike. Remember, I had only been riding for six months, and virtually no road experience — until now! This was just a taste of the challenges to come, but I didn't know it yet.


After winding our way north from the construction area we finally made it to McClure Pass. We decided to camp up there at 8,755 feet high. The end of September, a cold damp day, tired and hungry, and camping at nearly 9,000 feet. Were we crazy? There was no problem finding a camp spot, not another soul was in that area for miles around. We finally chose a little camp spot down along a creek. We set up our tent and fixed some hot soup and settled in for the night. We bundled up in everything we had that we could put on. Our sleeping bags are pretty good but this was an extremely cold night. It was a LONG night too. The next morning, we had a dead battery on Johns's bike, so he had to do some creative maintenance to get us both up and running. By the time we got back up to the highway we were both so cold, it was hard to keep our reflexes working right. Finally we made it to Carbondale and trudged into a restaurant for breakfast and a chance to warm up. Oh yes, the allure of motorcycling is the image of a sense of freedom, but I was learning that everything has a price, and motorcycling is definitely for the strong hearted. I couldn't do this now, but I am glad I had the chance to see how I could endure when the situation called for it.


During our biker years, we became well acquainted with the folks out at Hawg Wild in Loveland. The owner is Ed, and his sister and brothers and brother-in-law run the motorcycle shop. In 1986 his brother, Jake married Joy, and his sister, Sharon married Lanny. The thing that was different was that it was a "Biker Wedding" held up in the mountains, west of Drake, Colorado. We were invited and, of course, would never turn down an opportunity for a nice bike ride. The group, mostly Harleys, met at the Safeway parking lot in west Loveland. Everyone was standing around chatting until everyone got there. One lady was named Rita. She had just bought a Honda from Ed and he had invited her to ride along to the wedding. All of a sudden everyone jumped on their bikes and went roaring off up the Big Thompson Canyon. No one said "let's go" it was just sort of a message sent by mental telepathy. You know how strange those Harley people are, don't you? Unfortunately, Rita was not familiar with this type of communication, and as I looked back, she was standing there, looking surprised, and trying to get her helmet, gloves and goggles on. She eventually caught up with us, and I had to give her an "A" for perseverance. When we reached the spot for the wedding everyone got their bikes lined up in a V shaped line. The ceremony was to be held at the point of the V and there were streamers tied from bike to bike to decorate the scene. It was really a pretty sight as I looked down into the little valley from the road. The minister seemed a little bit shy, but he was a good sport. Of course, there were big barbecue pits and lots of food and drink for the guests. Jake picked Joy up in his arms and carried her past all of the bikes, and all of the people, up to the point where the minister was waiting. It was a beautiful scene and I will always remember the look of love that was on Jake and Joy's faces. Lanny was not quite so romantic, but he did everything that was expected of him. He and Sharon were a beautiful couple, also. It was neat wedding, and the participants and the guests wore blue jeans and black leather. I am glad I was part of it.


It was a cold spring Sunday when John and I rode to Cheyenne to attend a swap meet. This was one of our favorite hang outs at that time, this is where you can mingle with other people that ride bikes, and look at all the gadgets for sale and the beautiful bikes in the bike show. The weather was turning stormy, so we decided to head for home before the rain came. We were at the Wyoming/ Colorado border when the first rain drops started. We pulled in at the rest stop at the rock fort, just a little south of the State line. We were standing there, contemplating whether to put our rain gear on or not. Maybe we could beat the rain and not have to put on the rain suits. You know, Harley riders never even think about putting on their rain gear until the rain is actually there. It doesn't seem part of the image to be riding in rain gear well ahead of the storm, like those "always in control" Honda riders. A friend of mine said, "All Harley riders have a set of never used rain gear in their saddle bags."

As we were standing there, a little Fiat Sports Convertible pulled in at the rest stop and the driver rolled down the window. "Do you two want to get in out of the rain?", he said. We looked in the car and it seemed pretty full of bikers already, so we hesitated. He said, "You might as well sit in here till the rain moves out, you're going to get pretty wet out there." For some reason, John and I decided to take him up on the offer, maybe the thought of a cold shower had something to do with it. Two fellows climbed out of the back seat, and John and I climbed in. That meant we were four abreast in the back seat when they climbed back in the back seat. The front seats were bucket seats so only two could sit up there. They were all big men, dressed in heavy leather coats and cutoffs. They were all long haired and had beards, seemed to me like they all looked alike. We were all smokers, too, which meant that when you wanted to light up a cigarette, you could only put one arm up and your neighbor would have to light the lighter for you. In other words, we were crammed in that back seat, shoulder to shoulder, so tight a person couldn't have moved for anything, unless everyone else wanted to do the same thing. With six smokers in the car, the air was getting pretty thick. I imagine it was escaping out through any possible crack, and probably looked like the car was on fire, inside. Finally the driver rolled the window down enough to get some air in there, and we all could see again. We heard their biker stories and jokes, and we told our biker stories and jokes, and finally the rain started to let up a bit. We both realized that we were in a very vulnerable spot, and getting out of that car was our highest priority.

It hadn't completely stopped, but we insisted that we would be okay now. We had to be a bit diplomatic, because these were not the type of people that you would want to even hint an insult at. They thought we should wait a bit longer in the car, but we finally talked them into letting us out of the back seat. After we were out and they drove off toward Denver, we both breathed a big sigh of relief. We had done a very unwise thing in getting in that car, but fortunately they were not intent of hurting us. It could have had a different outcome, that is for sure. Once again, I thanked my guardian angel, and told myself, "The rain never felt so good!"


My one and only run in with the law happened in Spokane, Washington. Did I ever tell you that my beautiful 1979 SuperGlide, named Echo, was a brat? Well, she was, and on this particular trip she was throwing electrical tantrums. We had done a repair, but I still didn't trust her, so I didn't turn my headlight on as we were nearing the Idaho border, where they weren't required. Washington State does require headlights on, but I was so close, I figured I could get by without the light on. Sure enough, as we were entering the middle of Spokane, on Interstate 90, I saw flashing red lights behind me. I was in the middle lane of traffic, and as I tried to pull over to the right the officer would sort of steer me back to the left. I couldn't figure out what he was doing, so I just stopped in the middle of the Interstate. He pulled up behind me and really chewed me out. He looked sort of sheepish when he saw a little old lady get off that Harley. I wasn't in a very good mood either, so I told him he was harassing me. He escorted me off to the right shoulder and proceeded to look at my license and registration. By then, every car on the Interstate was stopped in total confusion, and the overpass ahead of us was filled with patrol cars looking down at us. He called in my information on his radio, then he finally said I could go on, but to turn my light on until I was out of Washington. I was so mad I wanted to kick something, and I couldn't get to the Idaho State line fast enough. My only consolation was that I imagined the ribbing that patrolman took from his buddies about picking on a little old lady from Colorado that was innocently riding her "little" 80 Cubic Inch Harley through Spokane. I hope they never let him live it down. I was in the wrong, but he used very poor judgement over a very minor offense.


One Fourth of July, John and I rode up to Wyoming for the holiday. We entered Sundance, Wyoming at the east end of the main street. I thought the traffic looked sort of funny, but rode on ahead. We hadn't gone far when I realized we were at the head of their 4th of July parade. I guess the people standing at the side of the street was a big clue! There wasn't anything to do but keep riding. One thing you learn when riding a motorcycle is that once you make a decision, you have to carry through until an opportunity presents itself. Rash and sudden moves don't mix well with motorcycles. Sundance isn't a very big town, so it wasn't long and we were at the end of the main street. It was fun to be part of the parade, and we got quite a few cheers as we rode along. Just another of those serendipity type experiences we had on our Harleys.


There are many other experiences that I remember about my Harley years. It was a wonderful time of my life. It allowed me to meet many nice and sometimes strange people. The feeling of freedom and riding in the open air is indescribable. It seldom was a perfect ride, but it was always a memorable one. I wouldn't have missed it for anything.

1 comment:

TucsonBrowns said...

I loved reading your memories...this is how I remember first "knowing" you and Uncle Jack. Thanks for sharing! -Julie