A week after purchasing a used Honda 350 with a Doonesbury style opened face Green Bay Packer helmet, he strapped his framed Jansport backpack to the Sissy Bar and headed south to the canyon country. Freezing his way out of the mountains he warmed on the Main Street of Mormon Land. After stalling at a green light he overheated, kick starting the bike frantically 100 times before remembering to take it out of gear and release the clutch. He was still learning.
His initial test ride the week before ended ignominiously when he drove the bike carefully around the neighborhood and then back into the rear wall of the seller’s garage. He had never ridden a motorcycle before but he’d be damned if he’d admit that to the seller, an old friend and mentor who was helping him discover the freedom of the wild, wild west. ‘I’ll take it’ was all he could muster while writhing in pain and laughter on the floor of the garage. The best $150 he ever spent.
Now he streamed south in a tee shirt and shorts between rock cliffs and tight canyons, into wide open, big sky country. Intoxicated with the scenery and the sunshine, the freedom and the speed, he felt like John Wayne riding his handsome steed into Monument or Death Valley or the romanticized moto trip TV show of his youth called Then Came Bronson. Either way he was fulfilling his fantasy and living the dream, filling his ‘bucket list’ before they were even invented and before he was even 23.
Heading towards the Needles District of Canyonlands he took the first right turn and thirty miles later found himself on the BLM Needles District Overlook where he could look out and see his intended campsite 2000 feet below him, straight down. Doubling back he was burning daylight and most of his remaining gasoline.
As he approached the lower Needles turnoff he slowed cautiously and a strap from his pack caught up in his back sprocket which locked the wheel up completely and sent him into a violent skid. With all his might he resisted flying over the handle bars and maintained control of the skidding bike until, mercifully, his backpack frame blew apart from the force, releasing all of its contents and, thankfully, the back wheel.
Limping to a halt on the wind swept shoulder, he surveyed the situation. His clothes and cook set, food and tent were strewn all over the highway. He looked back to see his sleeping bag sitting in the middle of the road as a steaming eighteen wheeler ran over it and shredded it into a nylon-down parachute floating above the highway. He had to laugh.
He cobbled together what was left of his gear and repaired the motorcycle. He then took the correct turn towards the Needles District campground, humbled and contrite. ‘I am not John Wayne or Bronson from the movies,’ he thought ‘or even Rojo my imaginary Indian friend, I’m just another dufus western wannabee.’ Forgetting his near empty gas tank he rode the straight, fast road west towards the setting sun and the canyons, gaining speed and confidence as he went.
In the failing light he failed to see the hairpin turn dropping off the edge and hit it going way to fast. He leaned into the turn for all he was worth but at the last minute his baloney skin tires gave way and skidded out. As the bike went down and slid down the road to the shoulder he luckily and instinctively pulled out his bottom leg and rode the gas tank down into the ditch. No harm, no foul.
At dusk he limped dejectedly into camp, on nothing but fumes, to rendezvous with old friends and outdoor compatriots. He later would drain all the cook stoves in camp to get enough gas to get out, but not right away, that could wait. ‘Buttface’ they greeted him familiarly, ‘you don’t look too good’ they said with purposeful understatement.
Within minutes he had a dented, but undaunted, can of Dinty More Stew brewing on the fire and he passed around a plastic bottle of cheap Bourbon, already exaggerating the story of his adventures, trials and tribulations. They all howled with laughter, and he did too, like it was some adventure far in the past, not one that he was still bleeding and shaking from.
He sat back around the fire with his friends, staring up at the silhouettes of the surrounding red rock cliffs and the already emerging, amazing stars. He felt at home. He was willing, almost able, scrappy and adventurous. Once again he was bent but not broken, all the more wiser and experienced, with the eyes of one who revels in just being born.