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A Summer of Discontent

Finding the right motorcycle at the right moment in your life can be a bit like falling in love. Circumstance can lead to improbable happiness and undying memories, even if what got you there was a bit painful.

by Ramblin' Kinda Guy

Turning thirty ought to be easy. You are young, have your first few jobs under your belt, might be married, making your way in the world and starting to get a sense of your life’s direction. Somebody should write that handbook, eh? Nothing ever works that way. I lived up in the Colorado Rockies that year and had a great job as a TV news correspondent. But I was lost trying to figure out who in the hell I was and what I was going to do.

And, of course, things were more complicated because I had a motorcycle.

The Harley Davidson company seemed to have been having their own difficulties with passages. The families had sold their beloved company to American Machine and Foundry (AMF) that had an interest in profits and didn’t seem to care if they came from motorcycles or industrial lathes. And if you owned one of those bikes from the seventies, you don’t need to be told about their frailties and lousy mechanical performances. HD came to stand for “Hardly Driveable.”

There was joy in Milwaukee, however, when Willie G. Davidson and twelve other investors bought the company back for $80 million. To celebrate the rebirth of American Iron, H-D put out a quick, commemorative edition of the 883 Sportster, which was known as the Milwaukee. The bike was black on orange, a teardrop gas tank, laced wheels, smooth grips, and a straight pipe with a nice note. Only 600 of them were manufactured.

I may be the only guy in America who bought two of them.

A week after I got the first Milwaukee, my young bride had not yet taken a ride with me. An evening spin to run at the sunset west of town on the High Plains seemed like a good idea and we were leaning gently into a turn when the back wheel slipped out. There was a grease spot I did not see that was so bad it looked as if an oil pan had been dropped on the Old Military Highway. The bike went down, the two of us slid across the pavement, hit the curb, and went airborne. The Milwaukee landed a twisted mess but the two of us were more scared than injured.

Insurance totaled my new Harley but the dealer in that Midwestern town hadn’t yet sold his second bike, which was all he was allotted. I called him up before he had sold it and made a deposit to hold the bike until my insurance check arrived in the mailbox. The new one seemed even more beautiful to me, and, while my wife worked, I took a solo vacation and rode out across the Continental Divide and down the Great Basin to the Grand Canyon and the Sonoran Desert.

I never really stopped riding that bike, and before I made the absurd mistake of selling it, those wheels had rolled through every one of the lower 48 states. No one ever understood why I sold it but I came up with an explanation they accepted: I got a little older, a little wiser, and a little daughter. But I was short of money needed to pay taxes and the bike was my only asset to cover the debt to the government.

I am pretty sure I never figured out life beyond the fact that I love to ride motorcycles, hang out with family and friends, travel, read and write. The only other certainty is that I was a dumbass to get rid of that Milwaukee.

Great article -- and oh, man, if we all had a dollar for all of the "if only I would haves..."

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