Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Memory machine

Our resident rider hangs up his helmet for another winter

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As I rumbled around a sweeping turn aboard my Harley-Davidson Road King, a dark figure emerged in the foggy distance. While easing off the throttle, my initial though was it must be a deer, but, as I grew closer it appeared to be a large bird, a really large bird. "Wow, that's the biggest hawk I've ever seen," I thought as I drew closer.

Then, in an instant, it happened. With the kind of grace reserved only for the animal kingdom, a massive bald eagle, dining on what appeared to be the remains of a fox, made two quick steps, spread his impressive wings and soared away.

Make no mistake about it, the Ottawa National Forest in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is a magical place.

It was early in the morning and I was riding alone along the winding road that is carved through the forest on my way home from Milwaukee and Harley-Davidson's 110th anniversary party.

Maybe it was the sighting of the eagle eating that made my stomach grumble. Moments later, I rolled into the tiny town of Watersmeet, Mich., and found Big Mama's Café.

Since my own mother wasn't around to caution me otherwise, I opted for Big Mama's big breakfast, eggs, bacon, hash browns and biscuits smothered in gravy.

With a meal fit for a king under my loosened belt, I walked out into the fresh Michigan morning and lit a smoke. An old dude was checking out my Road King. He was the kind of old I'll probably never get, not if I keep eating biscuits and gravy and smoking cigarettes. He was holding himself up with a knurled wooden cane. "I used to ride a Harley," he said with a sentimental tone. Turns out he learned to ride while serving in the army. He'd been to Korea, and not on vacation. "They sure have changed over the years," he told me as he slowly walked around my bike. I told him about my trip and where I was headed, and he said, "It takes a certain kind of man to ride a motorcycle that far. "Yeah, a crazy one," I answered with a grin. His daughter walked out of the nearby store and said "Come on dad, let's go." He patted me on the back and told me to have a good trip. A few moments later, I came up on them driving slowly through the forest. As I pulled out to pass, I spotted him in the passenger seat. He lifted his arm and waved.

I didn't have to think very hard to imagine what he was thinking. He was thinking about riding a motorcycle.

This summer, from late August until just last week, my only mode of transportation has been my motorcycle. When a new Acura MDX showed up in my driveway last week begging for a test drive, for the first time in more than a month I wrapped my calloused hands around a steering wheel. I will turn 46 on Wednesday and it is safe to say this is the longest period of time I've ever gone without driving an automobile -- for 30 years.

Through this two-wheeled month-long journey, I've ridden in the scorching heat, through rain, fog and insane wind. I've dodged cars, scowled at drivers on cellphones, waved at every other biker I crossed paths with, chatted with the local kids on BMX bikes who seem to surround me every time I gas up, picked bugs out of my teeth and wiped tears from my eyes. I've been pulled over by the police for no good reason other than the fact I was on a big black Harley, only to be set free with a firm handshake. I've parked my bike on the side of the road and helped a little old lady change a flat tire. I've hugged men with Duck Dynasty beards and was not afraid to loudly proclaim, "I love you, man."

Throughout the summer, I rode more than 12,000 kilometres. In some ways, I rode so far I finally found myself.

For those of you who ride, you know exactly what I mean. Even the most mundane errands become epic adventures when on a motorcycle. The epic adventures become monumental.

For those of you who have had enough of my self-indulgent passion for motorcycles and have longed for stories about cars, you can breathe easy; next week we will resume our regularly scheduled programming.

It turns out driving a car is just like riding a motorcycle, only way different.

willy@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 11, 2013 E2

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