THE LOST COLUMNIST
(On the road – Part II)
This is the second installment (see the first from 4/28) of contributor Alan Pease’s efforts to secure a Honda 750. Life is a journey…
In Fayetteville, I picked out a bike the color I wanted, filled out the necessary paperwork and handed the manager a cashier’s check for $1295. In return I received a gas card for the service station down the street, and a map back home. Just as promised. There was nothing left to do but tie my duffel bag onto the seat, pull on my helmet and gloves and head for the interstate.
Fayetteville, North Carolina is just over 300 miles from DC, and a lack of any real traffic on I-95 in those days meant I’d probably be sipping an ice cold beer and cracking crabs with my buddies in about 5 hours.
Had I known then what I know today, I’d likely have taken the scenic route home, probably spent the night somewhere in the mountains of western North Carolina or Virginia, and discovered new roads. But I was young, inexperienced at traveling by motorcycle, and anxious to get home with my brand new ride and show it off. Besides, I already had an adventure in mind. One that might put to rest that wanderlust, although I doubted that.
I had a plan. I was going to ride this motorcycle across the southern United States, up the west coast, and then back across the northern tier states. And I would do it in August, before classes resumed for the fall semester. To accomplish that, I wanted a bike like this. Within a few miles of leaving the dealership, I thought I’d made the right choice. By the end of that first day, I knew I had.
The 4-cylinder Honda engine was smooth as butter, and the miles just drifted by. Five hours later I was home, having ridden the longest stretch I had ever ridden a motorcycle at one time. Even if it was just a trip up the Interstate, I loved it. And it was a good thing I did, because I’d sold my car to buy this bike. It would be the first of two times in my life I’d sell my car to buy a new motorcycle. Two-wheel transportation was all I had now.
August was still a couple months away, so I’d planned to fill the time between May and August improving my long-distance riding skills through the mountains of Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia. One day I got a notion for the ocean, so I headed to Ocean City.
When my riding style and skill set had sufficiently improved I was ready to get out of town. And I was honing my cornering, as I originally had, drifting through the curves and corners in the local cemeteries, early in the morning before the caretakers arrived.
Riding gear in 1971 consisted of a helmet, boots and gloves – maybe a leather jacket, although I didn’t have one. My accessory package consisted of a sissy bar, like the one in Easy Rider. For overnight trips, I had a used canvas pup tent that I had waterproofed with a gallon of water repellent from the local Sears.
My sleeping bag was good all the way down to around 65 degrees Fahrenheit. After that, I was on my own. But it was a lot warmer than the poncho and poncho liner combo the Marines had issued, and which I’d dutifully slept in – regardless of weather – for 13 months…wet or dry, cold or warm.
My budget was nonexistent. I was a college student, a Marine combat veteran, and I had a job doing different things that summer. Waiter, busboy, lifeguard, landscaper, photographer, timekeeper, camp counselor. Whatever I could do to earn money for my motorcycle adventure.
I shared a second floor apartment with another student at the University of Maryland. He had hair longer than my girlfriend’s, but not quite as attractive. My roommate dressed in bell bottoms, and he wore a bright red bandana with black stars on it that kept his long hair in place. But he also rode a Yamaha 650 twin as his only form of transport. And he rode it well. Better than I rode. But when it’s all you have for transportation, every motorcycle ride is a lesson in something. Weather, road surfaces, traffic, handling, accelerating, braking, and much more.
When July came around, my roommate decided he’d heard enough about the cross-country motorcycle trip I planned, and no matter what it took, he said he was going along. He’d been my roommate for about a year at that point. He was a friend of my girlfriend’s sister and he needed a place to stay for a night or two, she had said.
That was the year before. A year later he was still there. If you had asked me whether I thought it was a good idea to put together a former Marine and a long-haired hippie type as roommates during the Vietnam War…well, I would probably have said no. And I would have been wrong. This was 1971 after all, and stranger things happened every day.
In 1971, gas was only 25 cents a gallon in most places. Even cheaper in Texas. People often made sandwiches to take along with them and eat on the road, rather than stop at a restaurant. Rest areas, if you found them at all, consisted of a picnic table or two and some shade trees if you were lucky. Motels could be hit-and-miss affairs. Some good ones. Some bad ones. Few cheap ones that were worth staying in. You were better off finding a place to pitch a tent. So when August, 1971 rolled around and it came time to ride coast-to-coast, it became apparent we would not be rolling in the luxury lane of life.
But we would be rolling!
(To be continued)