Friday, May 15, 2009

Running From the Rain

Most of the movie Easy rider is rolling shots of Fonda and Hopper cruising those big gaudy choppers down empty highways through rugged and beautiful countryside under a clear bright sky, in shirtsleeve temperatures with an incredibly good selection of 60's acid rock jamming away in the background. Stills of the two riders became cultural icons, Peter Fonda's machine in particular, with the American flag motif on the teardrop tank on the long chrome chopper.

Of course it's total bullshit. The first couple trips to 'Frisco on that 750 Honda disabused me of the idea that it would be fun to travel on a rigid frame chopper. It's tough enough on a touring bike with shock absorbers, and everything. That wind in the hair crap works fine if you have a crew cut. Otherwise forget it. I didn't have my hair long and I wore a helmet then, anyway. And speaking of wind- wind is what film can not show. And when you're on the highway you're sitting upright in a 65 mile per hour wind, and the blast in your ears sounds like a perpetual explosion. Fun and exhilarating at first. I mean, check out the scene in Easy Rider set to Steppenwolf's "Born to be Wild". Traveling on a big bike is exactly like that. For the first couple of hours. Then wind fatigue begins to set in in your neck, especially if your neck is carrying the extra weight of a helmet. The helmet also gives your head a larger profile in the wind. That larger profile translates into pounds of pressure that your neck muscles have to resist. Try lying on your back on the bed with your head hanging over the edge. You'll get the idea.

And of course there's no rock n' roll soundtrack on a bike. And no one to talk to. Self induced earworms, or tunes you can hum is the best you're going to get. And that gets old really fast. Even with a good set of earplugs, the soundtrack is windblast. Add as much exhaust pipe noise to that as you would like to listen to for days on end. You get a lot of time alone in your mind. Point is- motorcycle travel is much less fun, and much more work than it seems. And then there is weather.

Weather was what I was facing that morning in Reno Nevada, spring of '73. Remember what I said about reckless planning? I didn't have rain gear. Nor did I have enough money to get some. No credit card. And at this point I had just about enough cash to get home on if nothing went wrong. A storm was coming from the north west. That's about all I got from the news on the TV in the coffee shop. But I could see that without the weather forecast. I headed east out of Reno. I didn't want to go down 395 through the mountains, so I opted for highway 95, a two lane that ran straight north and south through the desert. Nevada had no speed limits. The R/69S would go 85. And it hummed out its eighty five mile per hour best for me all day long, with cars and trucks whooshing past like I was parked, and black clouds growing in the rearview mirror. I pulled off for gas and food, probably in Tonopah. I've forgotten much about the trip but I do remember shoveling food down in some roadside coffee shop, and rushing to get back on the bike and get running before the storm caught up. Sometime late in the afternoon I reached a junction in the highway: Las Vegas to the left, Death Valley to the right. I have been thinking about this all day, today. I can't quite figure it out. I must have been very short of money. Otherwise, why in the world did I think Death Valley would be a good place to be in a storm?


JWM

1 comment:

julie said...

Death Valley?!

You have clearly been taking lessons from Ben :D