GETTING BACK ON THE HORSE
Once, not long ago, I dreamed of chrome, blacktop and a painted gas tank. I longed for stops at dusty gas stations and a speedometer sleeping lazily at the number 80. More than anything, I wanted to have a twowheeled ticket to freedom, a path to America’s unknown corners – in other words, a Harley Davidson Sportster.
To set the record straight, the word “gang” never entered my daydream, particularly after reading Hunter Thompson’s account of being stomped by the Hell’s Angels he’d befriended. Watching the murder and mayhem at Altamont in the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” sealed the deal. These images brought violence, vomit and ignorance to mind, things I had no interest in. Selling my soul for colors was never the plan.
What I was looking for was the cross-country quest, a modern-day Odyssey across America’s back roads, a journey that ended at higher ground. After a six-month long “Easy Rider” bender, which included dozens of viewings of the Dennis Hopper/Peter Fonda classic, I decided it was time to make a leap. There was only one minor problem—I had no Sportster, and I had no money for one. So the first and fatal part of the equation materialized when I decided to roughneck on a south Texas oil patch, buy my hog with oil money and return, armed with the wisdom of the road, to college and to the embrace of nubiles.
Three months later, my back was
crippled, my bank account was broken by high rent and several lay-offs,
and the $6,000 used Sportster I’d spied in San Antonio was well
out of reach. Instead of rolling into town preceded by the rapid thud
of an American-made muffler, I stepped off the concourse a single
man with a plane ticket bought with borrowed dollars. And yes, the
dream died that summer. I gave up on motorcycles for good a few months
later when I bought my first real bike, a $500 steel beauty with cranks
and pedals instead of a gas tank and mufflers. And though I occasionally
stare wistfully at a yellow-tanked Springer or a Sportster shrouded
in blue flame, my Harley
To tell the truth, part of my current bike regimen has included taking my two wheels and high-tailing it out of town and toward singletrack during Labor Day weekends. And to be perfectly honest, I’ve always breathed a sigh of relief driving back over Red Mountain and passing a constant stream of motorcycle traffic heading north. Blame it on the noise, the numbers or the collective numbness, the rally has never been my favorite event. However, a stop at the True Grit Café last year en route from Fruita made me begin to rethink my posture on the Iron Horse and recall a piece of my own daydream.
We stepped through the swinging
doors of the burger joint only to be greeted by the kind of Labor
Day crowds that pack restaurants the country over. My wife, Rachael,
and I faced either a 40-minute wait or two seats at the bar next to
a pair of prototypical bikers. We opted for speed and took our chances
with the full leathers, ear-rings and handlebar mustaches. Luckily
the discomfort didn’t last long. Breaking bread breaks barriers,
and it wasn’t long before we realized that these were no hardened
gang members, they were good friends from the Front Range, a dentist
and an accountant out trying to find a little freedom. They came to
the Four Corners for exceptional riding with old friends and a few
days of relief before returning to the grind. Upon leaving,
It wasn’t long before I remembered a time when I shared their dream, and saw the danger of casting people in molds. The truth is many of the people who will be coming to town this weekend are just like the rest of us, only they are highly paid professionals. I learned that motorcycles require salaries the hard way during my Texas internment.
And while we recently confirmed a report that the Hell’s Angels will be in Durango this weekend and renting out an entire motel, I offer this up for consideration: the Angels visited Gunnison earlier this year. When I asked a Crested Butte friend how things went, he answered “amazingly smoothly. You wouldn’t have known they were here.”
There’s no doubt that we’ll be taking our chances with a notorious motorcycle gang in town. But we take our chances (although I like these odds better) with every group that comes to Durango to unwind and party. Even train buffs in town can have a few too many “old-fashioneds,” get boisterous, and leave a waitress with a handprint on her bottom and holding the bill.
People go on vacation to forget themselves. They come here simply to have a good time, and they choose Durango. We don’t get to choose them. Whether their dreams are in chrome or coal-fired engines shouldn’t really matter.