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When did you become a Biker? May 9, 2010

Posted by dakotabiker in Introductions, MegaTweet, Rides.
Tags: , , , , ,

I mean really a “Biker”, not just a guy or gal with a motorcycle. 

A tweet-friend and fellow biker-blogger recently made an unusual post: she is selling her car making her Harley Sportster her sole means of motorized conveyance.  Now, I do know people who have no car, but they mostly live in the city where public transportation abounds and a dearth of parking makes having a car more of a liability than an asset.  But she is out in the northern midwest, where things are far apart without a great deal of public transport, and occassionally some nasty weather…. and the winters… ah, forget it! 

She has been riding for only a year, and in my opinion is already a “real biker”.  She carries a sincere passion for the freedom of the ride, and shares her experience as a “newbie Harley rider” with a rigor and candor that makes it easy to see that she is a rider.  But, that is only my opinion.   Some may say “she has a nice little hobby there”.  But with this new total motorcycle reliance… there are few who would dispute that she is a Biker. 

There are many websites that explore what it is to be a biker.  Many cite philosophies about freedom, brotherhood, integrity – and while I agree that these qualities are very admirable and vitally important, they are not the exclusive province of bikers and they are seen in many non-riding communities.  I’ve shared the biker philosophy most of my life, but prior to owning a bike nor even knowing how to ride, I would have never assumed to call myself a Biker.  Riders ride.  But what distinguishes a Biker from a person on a motorcycle?  

There are plenty of RUBs out there with shiny new bikes putting on less than 1000  miles a year on sunny days only while wearing bug-free leathers from the dealership.  And I do NOT begrudge them one bit.  (As far as I am concerned, if they are not sponging off of me or my taxes, then people should be able to spend their money as they damn well please.) I just didn’t want to be a RUB.  

So what is it then that makes someone a Biker?  I started riding in June of 2006, so some may think that I am not a “real Biker”.  Even having 51,000 miles and 44 states behind me, some would still say that I am not.  I think I am, though I surely was not the day I bought the bike, nor really for a year after.  But as OCD as it may seem, it occupied my mind a lot.  Just what set of circumstances would have to come together for me to be a Biker?  For me, the transition occurred after 14 months… 

I remember being happy with myself doing 100 miles without a break, riding only to the metro station because I was too afraid to negotiate the traffic in Washington DC, and having that awkward uneasy feeling trying to duck-walk the bike into a narrow parking spot at a biker bar worrying that the “real Bikers” were looking at me like I was an idiot.   But as time went on the rides got longer though more weather conditions and into the streets of DC, and I still wondered if I was a biker, or a just a RUB. 

When my one year anniversary was still a few months away, I found a “You may not be a biker if…” weblist, and the one that stuck in my head was: “You may not be a biker if your 1 year anniversary comes before your 5,000 mile service”.  I was still shy of that mark and headed out on the road to “be” a Biker.  I got my 5,000 miles and passed my 1-year mark over 6,000.  

But was I a Biker? 

Two months later, I headed out to the Sturgis Rally from Maryland, riding solo.  I had no idea how to estimate time, miles, fatigue and weather.  I stayed on interstate the whole way out to “make time”.  I rode without a helmet for only the first time when I got to Wisconsin; it was pure exhilaration.  Doing 500 mile days, I made it to my folks’ place in eastern South Dakota in 3 days, camping one night and staying in a cheap motel the next.  I had no idea how to pack, and even remembering Stitzer’s Vacation Principle, I ended up packing way too much like a n00B and had to ship clothes home so I could afford the space to buy stuff.  

Was I a Biker yet? 

I then took several days zig-zagging the state meeting up with old friends and family, and finally arrived at the Buffalo Chip.  Riding cautiously along the gravel roads amidst hundreds of other bikes (having never before ridden in a close group), I arrived at the check-in area and nervously teetered my way to a spot in the uneven cow pasture in front of the Buffalo Chip registration sign.  I pulled out my Riders Edge sign (the one that says something like “My ride started at the Edge – Harley Davidson Baltimore ” – where I had taking my training course) and asked a biker to take my picture to send back to my Rider’s Edge alma mater.  I took a while to relish in the accomplishment of making it from Maryland to Sturgis.  I walked around looking at the bikes, buying (more than) a few T-shirts.  

First long ride - Sturgis 2007

 Was I a Biker yet? 

I rode into the campground, still a bit uneasy on the uneven dirt, until I found a spot to pitch my tent.  The camp ground was alive with activity.  It was midday.  Hotter than hell and dry.  I parked the bike, and walked around until I found a place to buy a beer.  Like a n00B, I didn’t have a cooler and settled for 2 cans, and walked back to my site.  I pitched my tent in the heat and the dust, drinking one cold one, and then a not so cold one.  I sat in the heat wondering well now what?  I’m really “at” the rally, “at” the Chip, in a tent. 

Was I a Biker yet? 

I walked around watching people partying with their riding buddies and setting up their rally home infrastructure of coolers, tables, grills, canopies, and signage.  Riding alone and walking alone, I felt a little out-of-place.  It didn’t take long for my two beers to sweat out of my system, so I hopped on the bike at headed to the main stage area where a “biker rodeo” was taking place.  I got a sandwich and beer and found a table from which to watch the events.  There were quite a few people, but it was still pretty low-key, and actually got a little boring.  I left the camp and rode into Sturgis.  Hitting the crowded streets, traffic was a standstill with the sounds of thousands of over-heated Harleys laboring in the heat.  I found a parking spot off the main drag and walked main street.  I had been to Sturgis several times in college, driving up (in cages) with buddies in hopes of seeing the fabled “wild times”.  But this time I had no compatriots.  I walked from one end of the street to the other buying souvenirs and stopping in the occasional bar for a beer.  I was a little bummed at the realization that the miles between town and the Buffalo Chip would preclude any serious revelry here in town.  Eventually, I got tired of walking in the heat, got back into the queue of over-heated bikes inching along the sizzling asphalt, and made it back to my tent to lie in the sweltering sun.  I started regretting having pre-purchased of several days of this.  

Main Street Sturgis 2007

Was I a Biker at all? 

Jimmy & Karin

Night came.  The temperatures cooled off.  And the concert was about to start.  I donned my jacket, bought a beer and walked up to the concert.  I think that night was Toby Keith.  Drinking my beer I walked around trying to find that rare combination of dry seating, people watching, a decent concert view, and the chance to actually talk with somebody.  (As you may have gathered by this point, despite my verbose blog existence, I can be a bit of a wall flower in large social situations.)  Failing all that, I switched from beer to Jack and Coke and resigned myself to just stand and watch the concert.  Then by chance, I met a couple from Washington state who actually initiated conversation with me, Jimmy and Karin.  We hit it off quite well and had a great time at the concert.  As the night drew to a close, they invited me to ride the Badlands with them the next morning. I had found the biker camaraderie for which I was looking (of course, once I stopped looking).  

So was I a Biker yet? 

The next morning came too early for the night before with a scorching sun raising the temperature inside the tent to just shy of 100 degrees.  I got up and staggered in search of coffee and a shower.  The shower facilities were… well… gross.  But clearly, this is rally life.  I showered and headed back toward the tent, watching last night’s revelers stirring with the same coffee seeking stagger I had experienced an hour before.  I dressed and stowed my gear, and, with a fresh cup o’ joe in my hand, headed out in search of Jimmy and Karin’s tent.  They were just getting up, so I waited drinking my coffee as they got ready for the ride. We headed out down the interstate back east to the Badlands.  We made the obligatory stop at Wall Drug to do the tourist thing, get minor supplies, and some lunch.  

In the SD Badlands -2007

A buffalo burger later, we then headed into the park.  The scenery was as I remembered in college, a stark alien landscape of colorfully layered peaks; a small desert in the middle of the Dakota prairie.  Only this time, being on a bike the feeling was so much more immersive.  The twisty roads had me back in my old habit of wearing a helmet… that is until our first stop.  Then we flew through the twists and turns taking in the ever-changing landscape.  In the west, a thunderstorm was rapidly approaching but we pressed on.  Moments later it was upon us and we were riding the curves, the rain both stinging and cooling, lightning striking the landscape around us.  The temperatures dropped precipitously freezing my bare arms and drenched jeans as we exited the south west end of the park toward Rapid City.  With teeth chattering in the now cold wind, I led Jimmy and Karin to what used to be an old college hangout.  At mid-day in the summer, it was pretty dead.  But we had coffee drinks (which were free because we had to wait for the coffee to be made) and free bar tacos, while we sat warming up and re-living the wild ride though the Badlands in a thunderstorm. 

After the Badland Storm Ride - 2007

Was I a Biker yet? 

That night we hung out again at the concert and had a great time.  (I think it was ZZ-Top)  We turned in a little earlier than the previous night from the exhaustion of the day.  The next morning came and I went to see them off for their ride home to Washington.  On our ride the day before, Jimmy had noticed that my brake light was stuck on.  I really wanted to avoid getting service anywhere near the rally, but that was the kind of problem that can get a guy killed.  I rode down into Rapid City early to find the dealership as crowded as I expected.  I got my bike checked in and while I was at it, ordered my 10k service and a new rear tire as well.  I settled in for the wait.  So, I rode half way across the country to go the rally and was going to spent a whole damn day on a bench at the dealership.  I bought an overpriced magnetic chess board, a deck of cards, and some over-priced food, and had the fortune of striking up a conversation with a biker, Virgil,  that also happened to play chess.  We spent the whole day in the dealership parking lot tents, trying to avoid the sun and playing several games of chess until my bike was finally ready 10 hours after pulling in.  

Virgil & I on about Game 3

Was I a Biker yet? 

The day was just draining, so I had a pretty early evening at the campground, which was restless for all the burn-outs echoing the campground all night.  I awoke the next morning  intending of riding to Devil’s Tower, WY (of Close Encounters of the Third Kind fame) and while there, I popped up north into Montana.  The open stretches of Wyoming were different that those of South Dakota, somehow more scenic and even more sparsely driven.  I decided to open up the throttle for the first time just to see how fast she’d go.  With that skinny front tire on my Dyna, I started feeling a little unstable crossing 100 mph and backed off at 110 mph.  It was exhilarating though, setting my personal landspeed record (on a bike anyway).   

Was I a Biker yet? 

I made it back to the campground in plenty of time for the concert (Buckcherry).  Walking around the camp, I overheard a small group of 20-somethings from my home town.  I stopped by to chat, or more listen, hearing about how the place had changed and how it stayed the same.  It was a different vibe hanging out with these “kids”, but the energy was there, and it was not like I had a posse of my own with which to hang, so we all walked over to the concert.  I had never seen, or even heard of, Buckcherry at the time.  (I was generally radiofree in avoiding the car for the bike, and otherwise listening to XM radio hearing the “songs of my youth”).  But they put on a hell of a show and my 20-something group was pretty adept at working our way right to the front.  The whole concert was alive with energy and when they played the song “Everything”, I was swept away in the experience, feeling for the first time in almost 20 years like I was in college, living in the moment, present and immersed in my surroundings, feeling the intensity and taking it all in.  There was no stress, no work, no angst — just RIGHT NOW.   “I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life…to put to rout all that was not life; and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” ~Henry David Thoreau.  (Yes, I would carry a copy of Walden when I would hike and camp.) 

Was I a Biker yet?  

In the months prior (in addition to worrying if I was a Biker or not), I had been contemplating the concept of Memento Mori – a latin expression loosely meaning “remember you will die”.  As I understand, it started as an artistic movement derived from the Epicurean ideology of “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”  The idea, of course, was to “suck the marrow” from life and enjoy the moment RIGHT NOW for this is all there is.  The art itself has kind of a goth feeling, interposing elements of life (flowers, fruits, etc.) with elements of death (predominantly skulls); the juxtaposition being a reminder of the impermanence of life and inevitability of death.  Religious sects (the Calvinists I think) got a hold of the notion and turned it into warning to clean up your act in life because you will not escape judgment in death.  The idea of memento mori appealed to me, as had its dual-dualities.  Not only is memento mori a thought-provoking interplay of life and death, but even the interpretation of the expression is both a call for vibrant living and of self-denial (or a least a degree of caution).   And in that moment of vibrant living, I decided to get a new tattoo… an ambigram of memento mori.  When Buckcherry finished, I made my way to the row of vendors to a tattoo artist.  Unfortunately, he was booked solid for the night, but I paid my down payment and made an appointment for the next morning, right before I was taking off back east.  I made my way back into the crowd.  I had lost my 20-something posse, but it was no matter.  Feeling the energy of the crowd I roamed around and watched the rally be a rally as Velvet Revolver played into the night.  The next morning after coffee, I packed up my bike and rode to the tattoo stand.  The sunny quiet morning didn’t have the energy of the night before, and my more-cautious self started with the mind chatter… “What if this guy sucks?” “What if he is unsteady and hung over?” “What kind of infection control can he possibly have in this dirt?” “Real smart… get a tattoo from some transient vendor…”  But, I held my resolve…  and walked in to have some of my fears realized.  I don’t know if he was hung over, but he looked it.  He was in a bike accident the day prior, so was clearly not at his “best”.  Needless to say the results were not “perfect”.  It is just a small fraction of an inch off (a point that no one notices, but I am painfully aware of it) and a miscommunication about “a little bit more serif” resulted in blobby thick lines (getting mad just writing about it).  It was a little tough to monitor progress from the excruciating pain across my sternum, but all in all I am proud of my rally tattoo.  

So am I a Biker yet? 

Leaving the Chip, I got on the highway in strong winds.  My shirt was flapping against my wounded chest as I fought the gales.  I made very little mileage that day.  I stopped in Mitchell to see the Corn Palace and noticed a problem with my rear brakes.  I had to almost stand on them to get any effect.  The front ones were still fine, and it was getting too late to do anything about it, so I pressed on stopping short of Sioux Falls for the night.  There was an Irish bar a short distance from my hotel where I enjoyed a burger with fried egg and chislic (which I hadn’t had in ages), and talked with bikers heading home from Sturgis.  The next morning I pulled into the dealership in Sioux Falls to find that the brakes were actually fine… and well lubricated from all the transmission fluid flying out of the side of the bike.  The Rapid City dealership had put the transmission oil plug on without a gasket.  I had the brakes cleaned and transmission oil topped off and headed out with the bike shifting a little hard.  Stopping at the Minnesota border for an ABC point, I found couldn’t get the bike into neutral, so rode back to Sioux Falls just as the dealership was closing.  I got the bike in to be worked on the next day, but was now stuck at the HD parking lot with all my gear as night approached….  

Am I getting closer to being a Biker? 

Fortunately my folks lived a short 120-ish miles away, so my Dad and uncle came to pick me up and I had one more evening with family.  The next morning the bike was fixed, and I was on my way again.  This time avoiding the interstate I took only back roads to see Americana.  It took a lot longer getting home, but it was a ride worth taking — the small towns, the biker bars, the random conversations and re-tellings of adventures, the scenery, the dive motels and camp grounds…  I finally arrived home with a few thousand more miles than I started, some new friends, a sunburn, my hair in wind-blown knots, a memento mori rally tattoo across my chest, a thrice-repaired bike, a bunch of T-shirts and pins, and a lot of experiences that are best discussed over a beer.  

Looking back on the trip, I decided I was finally a Biker. 

So, when did you become a Biker?