[Note: this is a quick draft, and the first in a series. ]
Adventure, for me, started on two wheels. When I was eight and had spent a few years demonstrating sufficient balance on a bicycle, my father put me on top of one with a motor. Presenting me with a plastic full-face helmet he found at the local garbage dump, he said, “It’s time.”
The bike, probably, was not the best place to start — it was a 125cc Moto Guzzi Scrambler from the late 1960s. With the blind faith of the very young I let my father lift my sub-one hundred pound body onto an old, awkward motorcycle that weighed easily four times I did. The motor was already running (poorly) and I was terrified. The image of my father’s earnest face framed by the foul-smelling plastic helmet is ingrained in my brain: him pointing to the lever on the left side of the bar, “This is the clutch. Pull it in, and everything stops. If you get scared, pull in this lever,” his face is telling me. He tells me again.
I hear him neither time. I nod and the black plastic helmet sloshes loosely on my head. He wraps his hand around mine, pulling in the clutch. Blackness creeps into my vision. He stomps on the old shift lever and the transmission chunks into first. The clutch, he attempts to explain to small child me, is something that must be let out slowly. He walks forward as he creeps the lever out and the relic starts moving.
My sixteen months of riding a child’s bicycle without training wheels really saves my ass here at the beginning when, upon my father’s release, I panic and wrench the throttle all the way open. I deftly arc the heavy motorcycle in a semi-circle around a tree in the front part of our small fenced yard. Unfortunately my bicycle experience fails me only a few short yards later when the next obstacle appears in my path: a 4×4 wooden support beam holding up a corner of our front porch.
It is unclear why the beam stumped my two-wheeled instincts so, but it did. I continued towards it at full-throttle. Upon impact, in which I managed to deliver the center of the tire dead middle of the 4-inch beam, the beam sheared from the roof and collapsed. This part of my visual memory is a bit clouded by the blackness of panic, but I somehow managed to maintain my vertical dominance on the two-wheeled Italian relic and we rode partway up the collapsed beam and successfully off, turning 90 degrees in the process.
This entire time my father was chasing the motorcycle around the yard, frantically yelling, “Pull in the clutch! Pull the lever!” Alas, my sense of hearing was long-gone and my vision was not far behind.
Now righted after the impact and partial collapse of a corner of our home, my path of wide-open-throttle (in first gear on a 125) destruction aimed flat for a small grape vine intertwined in our fence. The end was nigh; my first solo ride on a motorcycle was about to come to an abrupt halt. I remember clearly the advancing fence, framed in my new, smelly, full-faced helmet. I remember clearly my father yelling and running behind me but my hands simply could not obey reason — no clutch, no stopping, only WOT.
I crashed into the fence with an unceremonious clang. The steel relic bounced gently off the fence and fell over still running, but I took dramatic flight over the handlebars and into a mess of steel wire and grape vine. I don’t remember much after the impact but the garbage dump helmet must have passed the DOT safety rating at one point, because I emerged mostly unscathed.
I imagine the scene now: a partially collapsed porch with a fresh black rubber smear up one of the posts; a running father; an old motorcycle struggling to continue the combustion cycle while lying sideways on the ground, and a very small boy entangled upside down between a wire fence and a grape vine.
Naturally, I was hooked.
On my second solo motorcycle ride, my father turned me loose in a very large cow pasture. After gingerly putting me on balance on the old Moto Guzzi, he made me slide the clutch out this time, and the field was big enough for me to ride long enough to get a grip on my panic.
I would ride in circles for hours while he split fire wood and watered fields. Gradually, I worked through the gears, gaining speed and confidence. The reign of the Moto Guzzi ended when one of the fuel adjustment screws worked itself loose on my incessant field-circling and was forever lost among the dirt clods. Unsurprisingly, parts for a vintage Italian motorcycle were hard to come by in rural Oregon.
The black smear of rubber remained on the righted porch beam for most of the next decade. Over that time my relationship with two wheels and my father developed. I grew older with a series of beat-to-hell bikes of increasing displacement — Hondas, mostly. Parts were easier to come by.
Before I turned sixteen and could haul my bike and riding partners around myself, most of my riding time was with my father on the endless maze of logging roads littering the working forests of southern Oregon. I learned the arts of getting lost with cryptic BLM road maps, how to fix faulty carburetors miles from the truck with pocket knives, and how to slide a motorcycle under a locked steel gate.
I’ve moved on to other means of transport and adventure now, but I kept the last in a series of teenaged Hondas. I ride the logging roads every time I go home, each trail a house for fond memories.