American Road Runner
Riding in the wind on my old chopped motorcycle, north on interstate 15 after leaving the quiet town of Barstow in the California desert just a few minutes ago. My good friend F Bomb is riding next to me, moving along at a steady 60 miles an hour inhaling the cool dry air you only get around here at 6 in the morning this time of year. It’s Father’s day and I bet my kids wish I was home with them but, instead here I am. Everything else feels right with the world, even the thundering in our ears and vibrations, disturbing every molecule and surrounding F Bomb and I with an energy unmeasurable and completely unthinkable by the known human mind.
We move slow and steady taking it easy for a few miles, letting the lubricants and the internal parts warm up properly on our righteous skoots. They will after all, be running straight and hard for the next few days. I just put this old engine back together, so with only a few hundred miles on it I would hate for it to blow up on me now. My machine may not be very glorious but I built it for me, just for this, my way. It’s an old Kawasaki moto patrol cop bike from the streets of San Francisco and I dig every ugly square inch of it. Bomb is astride his own custom build jobber known as ‘The Miss Lorri,’ it’s a smaller Harley Sportster rigid frame with a Honda Rebel 250cc engine set as its power plant to move it along nicely. With its oversized gas tank it gets SO many miles to the gallon that it goes longer between fuel stops then any other skoot known and, has a low café racer style stance. Damn it’s a true work of art with all the paint and metal works he has put into it, all touched and graced with his mechanical genius except the inside of the old 1985 power plant, that has never been cracked open or tampered with, totally original, whining and singing next to me like only a little Rebel engine could.
We are surrounded by 60 or so other riders with their chopped machines all quickly passing us up with a grave urgency to be in front. Smashing gears and taking chances, running hard, bobbin in and out of traffic, twisting the throttles, revving engines higher and higher, all elbow to elbow up this road. It is one of the greatest sights, smells, and sounds to ever be experienced,I’m kicking back and taking it all in. Why is all this? We are all in an un-sanctioned, illegal, cross country, west to east, winner takes all, chopper road race known as, The Stampede.
We can be seen for miles and miles as the highway gradually rolls on. Some of the toughest working, playing, wrenching, and riding group of men and women, running hard. Their chopped skoots are old and new, handmade, re-made, over made, under financed, all roaring with one common goal: to finish this race and for many, finish first.
This is a race, and all about THE RACE. This is the greatest race I could’ve ever imagined and it is very real, unfolding right in front of me. There are a few rules and regulations but it’s very simple, you start on the left side of this country and finish on the right, with 3000 miles of road between, and the first one there wins it all. With a designated handwritten route on a sheet of standard paper handed out to all who passed inspection, and ponied up a 50 spot just 12 hours before the flag drops and this awesomeness began. Soon it will be just me out here, myself and my homebuilt rebuilt machine, working and fighting with the weather, people, land, and above all, the road. For me this time in the saddle is much needed as this race means so much more to me than just winning. For me it’s all about my children, my family, my new girlfriend, the girlfriends we share, my ex-girlfriends, my ex-wife oh and, my mistress. Yup, I am a man with a few things weighing on my heart and mind with 3000 miles to straighten it all out or, leave it behind me in the wind. This is a race, and in the end it has to be all about me, a surviving and thriving member of this great human race, conquering all the great dangers and challenges of life on two wheels, and survival from the most known danger of them all, myself.
Like everyone else competing, I have spent a great deal of time, money, blood, sweat and tears to get running on this road and in this race. Taking two weeks off of work from my good government job as a Mechanic was easy enough, my boss is just that cool and supportive of what I do but time away from my children, home and responsibilities is never easy. I had to ready my skoot, my gear, and have all details taken care of by take off time this morning. It was a journey before the journey even began, just to make it to the starting line. Here I am, running and competing with my riding brother Bomb next to me. For this quick moment I take in all the glory of the weather on this beautiful morning, the fabulous road rolling on just inches beneath my feet. That righteous feeling that I am privileged to be a part of this, here and now, flying north on this semi-smooth interstate leaving it all behind for a while. Or am I? Maybe I am carrying it all with me and so much else as baggage on this race? Only time will tell and the questions, will have to be answered.
I take my left hand off the grip and reach forward to push in my home built cigarette lighter, whipped to my handlebars with a piece of leather. Reaching down into the tank bag in front of me, maneuver my fingers around a bit with my riding gloves still on and find my cigarette pack, slowly pull a smoke out. Lifting my snap on face shield of my ¾ helmet the wind hit my face and I place the smoke between my lips. I look down and see my lighter has popped up, pulling it, touch it to my smoke and draw my breath in. Moving my head to the left I take a quick glance of myself in my rear view mirror to see it lit, and see that questioning look on my face, that one questioning look we can only give to ourselves, I am going to have to answer some of that questioning look soon. Pushing that aside for now, it’s time to go and get my giddy on. Although the Miss Lorri bike moves at a pretty good klick, its 250cc power plant cannot move as fast as my punched out 1000cc Cop Chop Bike. Soon I will have to unleash the horses of this engine between my legs and let it fly just as I rebuilt it too. Placing the lighter back in its holder, my thought is crystal clear, “ya need to quit this smoking someday Bob”. Shaking that out of my helmet for now, leaving the smoke in my mouth and rummaging around in my left vest pocket till I find my mp3 player. My earbuds are already in my ears, something I have to do before I put my helmet on and right now, it is time to press play and start the music.
Ozzy Osbourne. “I Don’t Want to Stop.” Black Rain, Epic Records, 2007.
I look over at Brother Bomb who looks back and nods with a smile ear to ear across his big face, barely able to be made out under his full face helmet. With his long dark hair flapping in the wind, he looks as excited as ever to be riding this road. I give him a left hand thumbs up and a wave while twisting my throttle a little more. He waves back in that grand 80’s gesture of pumping his fist in the air like a spectator at a heavy metal concert, a true selutive gesture of the hardcore that is this, cross country chopper racing. Racing squirrely choppers cross country can be a dangerous way to travel, people have died doing this, my mind will have to clear and get straight if I want to get out of this alive. I scream back to Bomb equally pumping my fist in the air. With a swipe of my left hand my face shield slaps down.
“Fuck Yeah, it’s go time Bob!” Twisting my throttle and winding up my engine I check traffic and lean to the left, shifting this beast into top gear feeling it kick and pull forward for me. I know it will be several days before F Bomb and I see each other and we both know we have a great and tasking adventure in front of us even though we have both done this before, him many more times than myself, but this time, this time we get to do it better, our way, the way we want to ride and compete in this race. My bike still bucks and roar as I give it just a little more throttle, flying now, up this road, with power to spare. I can never know exactly how fast I am going as I took the speedometer off years ago. I’m really just interested in how the engine is running and how the bike feels with weather and road. Others might say it has to do with not being bothered by Johnny Law but let’s face it, if you pay a little attention to all around you, it is pretty easy to guestimate your miles per hour. I do have my tachometer telling me how fast the engine is spinning in revolutions per minute or, R.P.M.’s. I mounted it down next to my gas tank, it sits just inside my right knee. If I want to see it I have to take my eyes off the road and look down at it so I rarely see it. While I am thinking of it though… I am holding steady at 5.5 thousand R.P.M.’s, right where I want to be, right where the designers who built and manufactured my machine intended for it to be. My engine is pumping along, buzzing with a buzz that only this inline 4 cylinder J style engine could produce. All else feels and looks good with my machine between my legs; with me mounted upon it, controlling it, navigating it, it is MY Bitch and right now, MY Bitch is good and happy.
Catching up with the long drawn out pack in front of me now, in my rear view mirror is Bomb. He is tucked into his Miss Lorri bike with his left hand on top of the tank while his right hand holds the throttle. He looks absolutely one with his machine, it is an awesome sight to witness as the road bends a little to the right but my one rear mirror view shaking and rattling at this speed does not do this sight justice. I set my throttle lock lever, detaching my body from the bike for a quick moment. Turning half around to the right and my head the rest of the way just to witness this in real time. Bomb has many visible miles of road stretching out behind him with a late starter passing him, just a quick wave between them. He is a man in his element, his place of zen, absolutely relaxed on his steady moving machine built by his own hands. There is a lot to be learned seeing such an awesome sight of man and his machine. He is, on the road, at one with his surroundings and situation in the slow lane, completely comfortable and in tune, totally concentrated on forward. I take note appropriately. Bomb may be my friend but I was a fan of his way before. Ten years my senior, I pay attention to his actions every chance I get, learning many things with my curious observations. It has always amazed me how much can be learned by observing when taking the time to stop and actually, observe. So many of us in this crazy world are too busy doing things by the book, we just don’t always take the chance to SEE what’s right in front of us and learn from what we observe. Bomb is one hell of a wrencher, rider and racer, lucky me to call him my friend.
I turn my head back to the road in front of me and wherever my head goes, my body tends to follow. Astride my skoot, it feels no differently than a pair of shoes on my feet, where I go, it goes, it is simply just an extension of me; and the me right now is moving in a small hurry to compete. For the next several days this will be my universe, World War III could be going down and I would not know it. The road, this road, is my journey, my adventure for the taking, my path of travel and I will make it mine appropriately. The adventure that lays in front of me is almost endless. I am racing, illegally, on the great American road my taxes have been paying for, built mostly on the backs of our forefathers under a President’s New Deal to get us rolling on asphalt and the contracts of hard labor that followed. I am sure they would all believe what we are doing is pretty darn cool but the element of danger is very real, it is staring me right in the face like the black bandana of death tied around my handlebars. Passing a few slower moving big rigs reminding me death is everywhere. I am confident I can work with my environment and avoid said death and will have to keep up that confidence or suffer the consequences.
I pass a slower moving old harley with a 4 speed transmission and its rider astride pushing it hard. I got to give him a lot of credit, for him it’s more a question of IF he will finish, not necessarily if he finishes first. Very cool of him and his righteous old machines. I was raised around similar machines my Pops had when I was just a little dude and I take in all the glory of that chopper and the desert behind him on this glorious road.