Just a Story

P1040216Our older son wanted a motorcycle, and though we wished it were otherwise, we also knew that wishing would not make it so. He is almost 17, and our sphere of control is narrowing by the day. But I did make one demand: His first motorcycle must be a dirt bike, rather than one made for the street. I grew up riding dirt bikes, and know how they cultivate skills that simply can’t be learned on the road, at least not readily, and probably not without a good deal of pain. You can dump a dirt bike time and again without suffering serious injury, in the process learning the minutia of balance and traction, the razor’s line between the point of no return and the possibility of recovery. You can learn what it feels like to sling the rear wheel around a corner, and you will discover that just because you lose traction with the front wheel doesn’t mean you’re going down; it only means you’re probably going down.

Anyway, through a convoluted set of circumstances that involved a smoking deal on a little Suzuki DR250, Fin’s work schedule, and the fact that our dear friend and neighbor Tom was using our big truck to tow his trailer while his rig in the shop getting a new motor (modern diesels: my advice: steer clear), I drove alone to Middlebury, VT, two-and-a-half hours distant, in Tom’s little Tacoma. 220,000 miles on the clock, chattering clutch, hesitation under acceleration, baling twine wrapped around the sideview mirror. “I didn’t realize you were taking it that far” Tom said when I picked it up. “It’s totally fine with me, but you might want to think twice.” But it was too late for that, so I didn’t.

The owner of the bike worked at a farm machinery repair shop. A big one, with big machinery to match. Middlebury is in Addison County, and Addison County is home to some of Vermont’s largest dairy farms, which are getting bigger and bigger by the year, as smaller farms continue going under, unable to stay afloat in a era of impoverished milk prices (when I was born, in 1971, VT had more than 6,000 dairy farms. We’re now down to about 750, with approximately the same number of total cows. You can see the trajectory). And so the shop was filled with massive assemblages of metal and rubber and oil, and walking into it, I was reminded suddenly of riding with my Grandfather in his combine, harvesting corn on his Iowa farm. This would have been late 70’s, early 80’s. My Grandfather didn’t talk much, and I guess neither did I, so we just sat there, me mesmerized by endless rows of falling corn, him lost in thoughts I’d never know, the radio a constant stream of crop and weather reports.

Anyhow. The motorcycle was owned by a young man named Cale, and I liked him immediately, because when I couldn’t get bike to start by rolling it down a small hill and dumping the clutch (he’d explained before I’d come that it was electric start-only, and the battery was toast), he suggested that he tow me behind his truck. Well, yes. Exactly my kind of fellow. So we hitched a strap to the bumper of his big, heavily-stickered Ford, and then to the handlebars of the bike, and he took off across the parking lot, and once I deemed we’d achieved sufficient velocity, I dumped the clutch, the bike roared to life, and I tried really hard not to slam into Cale’s tailgate. Barely succeeding.

The bike ran great, so I handed Cale his money, loaded it into Tom’s truck, and bucked and chattered my way home, up and over the Appalachian gap, down the valley beyond, through the streets of Vermont’s small capitol city, and finally to home, where I unloaded it alone (Fin still at work), and drove it fast down our little dirt road just as the last light of day faded from the sky.

17 thoughts on “Just a Story”

  1. Ben,

    Good choice – great story. And I can’t believe he’s almost 17 already! Funny how we seem to measure time by how quickly kids age, eh? He wasn’t even a teenager last I saw him! Oh, the years – how they do pass by …

    Hope to see you one of these days – maybe this trip back east? Would love to see the new place.


    Sent from my iPhone


  2. All isn’t lost, I feel like kids grown up alongside and driving various machinery are given more respect for the machines. Just make sure he knows that being seen is as important, or more important, than seeing. Hi-vis may not be the coolest thing, but…

      1. What, and pull the side panel, and then try to somehow finagle a couple of clamps onto those teeny-tiny terminals that are tucked way in under the seat? I’m still fan of the ratchet strap and Powerstroke approach😉

        Sent from Mail for Windows 10

      2. That’s where I’m used to them being, too… this one’s sorta under the seat, but access is via the side panel and it’s real tight in there.

        Sent from Mail for Windows 10

  3. I can’t believe that shit about the milk prices. I fail to understand how people see real life examples like that, and still think Capitalism is the system we should keep operating under. And those same people bitch about poor people milking the system, while that system cripples those who feed us, and there’s never any bitching about the endless subsidies to the oil industry. I can’t deal. A dirt bike will take your mind off such things though :} Woooooh!

    1. Ah, yes. Ask the Soviet Union how communism is working, or ask Americans in the early 70s how government price controls on fuel helped them buy gas. The problem isn’t capitalism. Capitalism only responds to consumer demand: the demand for the cheapest product, no matter what the cost is to environment, local jobs, small business, etc.
      I hate government corn and soy. I wouldn’t mind paying a “real” price for fuel.
      Capitalism is what drives incredible medical discoveries. Capitalism is what is creating a thriving and growing small brewery and distillery industry, where there was once only Bud, Miller, Coors. Capitalism, by definition, will always find a way to give people exactly what they want. The solution is to start wanting the right things. (they aren’t cheap and plastic.)
      I hesitate to post this… I don’t intend to be confrontational, just thoughtful. Ben, pull it if it’s not where you want to go. 🙂

      1. That’s alright, are you a Libertarian? You sound like my brother :} I’d like to think people would discover cool things just out of passion and a love for what they are doing. Then those things would not be withheld from those that can’t afford them. Maybe Capitalism was responsible (maybe not), but what good are great things if they are only available to certain people?

      2. My Wife’s family farms several thousand acres of corn and soybeans and with corn prices as low as they are today, around $3 per bushel, they are on track to lose money on every bushel that they harvest. If you’re a farmer selling to a market, you’re gambling, as there is no logic, baring weather/climate issues, in the rise and fall of grain market prices. They are planning to store as much corn as they can find clean bin space for and hope that corn prices go up before the harvest in 2019.

  4. When I came from Germany to the US at age 20, I promptly got a motorcycle. They were so much cheaper (and funner) than cars, so I got famous in our town for being a female motorcycle rider with her dog riding on a platform on the tank. We were quite a sight.
    I rode motorcycles until I got pregnant with my first child at age 30. I haven’t put my butt on one since then, for obvious reasons. And now I hope my kids won’t be too intrigued by their mother’s wild stories of riding a bike to Alaska, or speeding without a helmet in Oklahoma, because I really, really, really don’t want them to do what I did. Ever.

  5. Ben, I hate motorcycles and dirt bikes — my mother was an RN who worked in the ER and put the living fear of God into me and my siblings about motorcycles. But this makes me remember there was a period pre-kids when I spent a lot of time riding around on the back of someone’s Honda 750. And I loved it.

  6. I think that you’re right to start Fin on a dirt bike. Learning the seat of your pants feel for the fine line between enough friction between tire and road and not enough is better learned on dirt than on pavement, particularly since northern New England’s pavement tends to be a bit rough and the curves often off-camber.

    My dirt bike experience sort of mirrored Goldilocks’ experience with the the three bears’ chairs and beds; a Honda CT-90 that wasn’t very interesting (too soft), a Penton/KTM Mint 400 that was very difficult to ride on tight winding trails (too hard), and a Yamaha IT-175 that was just right.

    My road bike experience ended the day that a man who was pulling a travel trailer turned across the lane in front of me and I had to put the bike down. It was full daylight, about 9am on a summer morning, and I had my headlight on, but he said that he never saw me. Nothing about that experience was good.

  7. I read the Outside article today while I was waiting for the doctor to do my annual physical exam, it was in the rack in the exam room that I was assigned to. It got me to wondering if you, Ben and Penny, had given any thought to making Fin and/or Rye emancipated minors, so that they would be empowered to make adult decisions. It seems as though everybody wants to have authority, but only a fraction want the responsibility that goes hand in hand with authority. ‘Just curious.

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