Article And Photos By: Scooter Tramp Scotty
Originally Published In The March 2017 Issue Of Cycle Source Magazine
Years ago… Palm Springs, California. It was late fall in the Southern California desert as the three motorcycles sat parked in a semi-circle. Beside each bike lay a bedroll for the rider and on each bed a man leaned against his bike to face the others as they talked. Each was a gypsy rider, and each had been on the road for a very long time. These were the men who owned the highway’s true freedoms, completely, and in their entirety. None laid claim to the virtue or burden of a home, wife, steady job, time clock, car, television, or payment of any kind. None had any permanent roots. Each roamed freely to the places he chose and spent his nights sleeping beneath the heavens. He had made terms with the Highway and the God who governs the Wanderer long ago. The things that may startle or even frighten an occasional vacationer were now only normal day-to-day occurrences and seldom raised cause for much concern. They each sought to minimize some inconveniences by riding south by winter, and north in the summer. The Indian land on which we always stayed when we visited Palm Springs had not yet been developed and the immediate desert was abandoned. Behind my Electra Glide the rocky land of sagebrush and cactus angled steadily upward for ¼-mile before colliding with the side of a mountain that abruptly rose 3,000-feet. Billy’s Panhead sat parallel to my own and I could see the lights of Palm Springs in the distance beyond his bearded face. The Palm Springs Motorcycle Rally was over now and the small city was quickly returning to its usual state of reserve. He and Fuzzy (at my left) had teamed up back in Sturgis and had been traveling together for well over a month.
I knew that Billy had been on the road since the late ‘70’s. Fuzzy had traveled with the carnivals in his youth and, as far as I knew, had been on the road all his life. I had been living off the old FLHT for only twelve years. At times, we all worked for the vendors who sell motorcycle stuff at various rallies across the country. I also pull in an extra buck by roofing an occasional house. But, in truth, when a man is unburdened with bills and the like he seldom has the need to work. After all, aside from the maintenance of his beloved steed, the remainder of his cash is simply used as spending money. For him, life is usually easy; almost excruciatingly so. Tonight, I listened as the two retold stories of recent events: After Sturgis, the temporary team had ridden high into the Colorado Rockies to attend the Cripple Creek Rally. Afterwards they attended Street Vibrations in Reno Nevada. Next, they rode to an event in Lake Tahoe California. When that was over they rode south for the Palm Springs Motorcycle Rally, which had ended only yesterday. By morning the two would ride to Las Vegas, Nevada for a drag race that peaked their interest. After Vegas, they’d ride to New Orleans to “winter” as Fuzzy had put it. I doubted they’d stay much past Mardi Gras as by then the highway would surely call them to greener pastures. I would be riding into the nearby mountains of Lake Arrowhead where a roofing job waited for me. Some weeks later, I would cross into Mexico and eventually travel east for Florida’s Daytona Rally. We sat under the star laden sky and talked for hours into the night. Behind each man was the vision of his trusty steed illuminated in soft moonlight. Although each was a different model, all three bikes shared one thing in common… They did not shine. The beauty of each was not embedded into the polish of its finish, but rather into the heart of the man who loved it, and the years of service, adventure and travel the two had shared together. Each bike proudly displayed the many battle scars of its gypsy life and for almost every scar there was a story of adventure to be told. The reality of it is the only way to keep a bike in perfect condition is simply to not use it; and hard use was all these bikes had ever known. Because of each piece of bailing wire, hose clamp, duct tape, re-weld job, and other roadside repairs I admired them even more.
As the hour grew later each man slid into his sleeping bag. Thankfully no one snored. When I woke at 8am it was to the sound of my amigo’s warming their engines. I said a sleepy goodbye and they returned my gesture before saddling up. I flopped back into the sack. Sturgis, South Dakota – The motorcycle rally was in full swing. In the basement of one prominent local dentist office is an old gym. Beyond the ancient exercise machines sets a single shower stall. Each year I pay the monthly membership fee that allows me access to this facility. After cleaning up, I climbed the short flight of concrete steps that led to the parking lot. The lot was packed with a ton of beautiful motorcycles left by those who rented space to park their bikes for the day. Three girls ranging in age from 12-14 sat on the steps to the office. They were the caretakers of the lot and took their jobs seriously. With my towel and shaving kit in one hand, I pointed to my road-warn bike and, as I had many times before, said to them, “This is the nicest bike here.” As usual they laughed at my stupid joke. But when the giggling and eye rolling finally subsided the oldest girl said, “You always say that Scotty. How do you figure that’s the nicest bike here? Look at all these beautiful motorcycles. You’re just silly. That’s what I think.” “Well Michelle,” I said pointing to the old Electra Glide, “if this motorcycle could talk what do you think it would tell you?” “How would I know?” a slight edge of teenage indignation crackled as she spoke.
“Well,” I continued, “it would tell you about cross country trips made every year; of rides through Canada, the Yukon, the Alaskan Highway and Alaska itself. It would talk about places like La Paz, Mazatlan, San Blas and trips through the deep jungles of Mexico where mango and banana groves line the tiny roads. It would tell you about the bridges under which I’ve taken refuge from so many rainstorms of mechanical breakdowns in far off lands and the contortions I’ve endured to get the bike fixed. There are stories about the people I’ve met and unusual circumstances in which many live: Of the women who’ve shared my sleeping bag on the ground beside the bike; of sandstorms, of deserts, of mountains— some up to 14,000 feet; of intense heat, and bitter cold. It would tell of great parties like the Mardi Gras in New Orleans, the Jazz Fest in Toronto, the Daytona rally, Laconia, Laughlin, Four Corners and Cripple Creek in Colorado, Mazatlán Bike Week, etc, etc. And, of course, the many years of Sturgis. It would tell you about the cargo holds of all the huge vessels it’s been strapped into and then shipped across great bodies of water. It could tell stories for days…weeks! Now, what do you think that bike would tell you?” I pointed to a shiny ground pounder nearby. “I don’t know,” said the girl. “Well my dear, it would tell you about the inside of the garage, the trailer, and maybe this parking lot. That’s probably all it knows.” “I never thought of that,” she said in a quieter tone. “Sure,” I went on, “and just as you might appreciate a show bike for the luster of its fine finish, you must also appreciate the virtues of a working bike for the beauty of its service.” With that I mounted up and, after waving goodbye to all the girls, I rode out.
Anchorage, Alaska – Beside the Harley Davidson dealership and within walking distance of McDonalds sat a small campground with green grass and picnic tables. The grounds belonged to the shop and anyone passing through Anchorage on a motorcycle is welcome to camp there for as long as they like. And it is free of charge. Barry, the dealership’s owner, and his staff are simply nice people. I stayed in this friendly place for two weeks. It was a Saturday afternoon and I was resting on my old steed as it sat among the other bikes that littered the dealership’s parking lot. The lot, and shop itself, bustled with a modest crowd as riders came and went. In my hand was a bowl of exceptionally crafted chili Barry sets out for his customers on the weekends. I sat content in my indulgence of this simple meal. Before long, the shop’s salesman wandered up to admire my tattered old bike. After thinking for a while he said, “Maybe you deserve to get yourself a new motorcycle.” Lifting my gaze to meet his, I thought, this guy doesn’t know what he just stepped into does he? After swallowing my mouthful of chili, I pushed my face closer to his and said, “Maybe I deserve to not work my ass off for the next five-*##*ingyears to pay you…and just keep riding the bike I got!” He jerked just a little and said “You do have a point there.” “I do. Because if I got what you think I deserve I wouldn’t be here in Anchorage talkin’ to you would I? No sir, I’d be back at the grind trying to get you your money.” The man politely agreed. He really was a nice guy… just trying to do his job. Then, with a more thoughtful approach, he began to ask questions about the FLHT’s year, mileage, and so on. We talked for some time and I enjoyed the conversation. But eventually he bid me goodbye and returned to the job. I went back to my chili. To Sum It Up – As much as any of us might love the sight of beautiful new, or perfectly restored, machinery, many old timers still have a true appreciation for the beauty of a working machine. They often become enthralled as they ask questions concerning mileage and places the bike has been. Those of us that live on the highway appreciate the insightful nature of these men. But when it comes right down to it whether they are new or old, big or small, custom or stock, shiny or rough, cross country touring machines or simply a man’s everyday ride, all motorcycles have their place in this world and in the hearts of the men who love them. And it is only from some misguided ignorance that one will discredit the virtues of The Working Motorcycle.