Trail of Destruction – Part 2

Click here for Part 1

Words and illustration by Tony Morgan

Summer fades into fall, and you find you spend more time choppering around by yourself.  It’s okay; you’ve come to expect that with the colder months. You take on some side work in the city, and your chop becomes your shop truck. You ride in the rain, you ride in the cold, you work to live, live to ride, ride to work.

One of your buddies moves away and then decides to get married. The wedding is a good distance away and it's a rainy day in October. Just a light drizzle, but cold. You go over the mountain instead of around it because it's a shorter distance and you're still running that little Wassell tank. Things are fine until you crest the top of the mountain where it's goddammittohell snowing. Like a wet, nasty sort of snow, the kind that can really ruin your day. So you white knuckle that roaring beast down the twists and turns of the far side, trying not to think about the wet stuff sticking to the asphalt. As you roll out of the forest and across the cap rock of the reservation, the clouds part, and the temperature jumps. Effin magnificent. Then you run out of gas.

The kindness of strangers gets you fueled up and on your way. You make it to the wedding on time, and more importantly, you refrain from punching that coked-up DJ. It's okay to punch people at your own wedding, just not the weddings of others.

Spring arrives, and all the riders come out of hibernation. Your first rip out with your dudes and you run into problems. A missing carb mount bolt leads to an intake leak that leads to a blown head gasket that leads to the discovery that chunky 1/4" inline frame gussets are a really bad idea, and the backbone has cracked all the way through. You cut all that nonsense out with an angle grinder, make two new parallel gussets, and add a horizontal piece of tubing to beef up the whole neck/backbone section. While you're at it, you go ahead and paint the frame.     

While the chopper's on ice and you're rebuilding the motor (clean as a weasel!), you take this Honda donor bike that hasn't run in 30 years and make a little street tracker out of it. Geared down and punchy, it's a great commuter. You're working in town as a mechanic, and the traffic gets worse all the time. One day you are riding home and some idiot pulls a genius-level maneuver and t-bones you with his truck. You manage to keep the bike upright across two lanes of traffic until you hit the gravel and go down in a church parking lot. You sure hope Jesus isn't listening, because there are several inches of bone sticking out of your leg and you say some things that are inappropriate in any situation but this. You drag yourself away from the bike, calm the flustered driver who just tried to end you, and emphatically encourage him to get a gdmfn ambulance here right now thankyouverymuch. You aren't going to be riding for a while.  

About the time you're off the couch and limping around, your wife packs up and moves to LA. You're pretty sure it's because you're sooooo much fun to take care of. Riding the chop is out of the question. You're barely managing this whole walking thing, let alone an incorrigible kickstart-only a-hole of a motorcycle.  

You build yourself a FrankenSportster (electric starter!), also out of spare parts, because that's just the kind of jerk you are. You take some summer rides, tear the motor apart again (twice), put it back together (also twice), and surprise, summer is over and it's raining. But the bike is fun. It's torquey as hell and launches like a jackrabbit, and the occasional (and unintentional) wheelies keep you on your toes. Your wife comes home and you spend the winter working across the river. Your limp is all but gone. Your brother calls from Alaska and says he's getting married in the summer, so you talk your right-hand man into riding up with you. It's a toss-up as to who has the gnarlier and more ill-suited motorcycle.

The trip up is 2500 miles of (mostly) wilderness. You ride through towering mountains, endless canyons, and a herd of buffalo, flirting with the liquor store ladies and making friends with fellow travelers. You traverse western Canada in 6 days, and somewhere on the other side of Tok, Alaska, the bottom end of the Sporty grenades and you're dead in the water. Fortunately, your supercool nephew drives all night to pick you up. You pull the motor apart (déjà vu!), toss the pieces of the crank in the garbage, and pack the rest of the now-disassembled bike on a pallet and ship it home. Hey, not all the parts were bad, just some of the more important ones. Your buddy gets to do the second round of Canada by himself.

Summer is winding to an end. You took an airplane home, you're waiting for the wreckage of your shattered dreams to arrive by slow boat, and you start eyeing your neglected chopper again. While you were building an Evo chop for a customer, you noticed that the early Softail primaries bolt right up to a shovel bottom end. This allows you to run a five-speed transmission with the piggyback starter/solenoid, an infinitely better design than the shovel-era 90-degree throw-out setup. Running a kick-only bike with a ratchet-top tranny was cool as hell, but a big hassle in every other way. You swap out the primary and transmission and modify a four-gallon tank to fit your frame. You also build a fancy new set of high pipes that you are ridiculously proud of, both from an engineering and aesthetic standpoint. You run some tuning tests at the abandoned nuclear power plant, and once it's dialed, it's running faster and stronger than it ever has before.

A week or so later, one of your three-patch buddies hits you up on a Friday after work and says he and some other club dudes are headed to a funeral a couple of states over. The chop's running great and you have no plans for the weekend, so you tie your leather and a sleeping bag to your sissy bar and hit the road. It's one of those beautiful Indian summer days. You're riding in a t-shirt, taking in the fall colors as the evening fades. Somewhere out in the desert, the temp drops to nothing, and under that frigid moon, you (spoiler alert!) develop some problems. 

There's an old piece of shop wisdom that states that 90% of carburetor issues are electrical in nature. (It's funny if you're a mechanic, okay?) The ghost you are currently chasing acts like fuel starvation, but once the bike cools down, it runs fine. You pull the points cover and the problem goes away. (This is not a solution, this is a stop-gap measure.) You meet with the crew, pull into the clubhouse late, and toss your bedroll on the gravel by the back fence.  The rooster next door wakes you up roughly fifteen minutes after you nod off.

All morning motorcycles descend from near and far, and by the time you roll out, you are several hundred strong. The desert chill is gone, the shovel is "potato-potato-potato"-ing like a champ, and you are deep in the pack, ripping through tiny towns at ungodly speeds. Riding this fast in this large of a group is harrowing and exhilarating in a way that needs to be experienced to be understood.   

The funeral is a somber and respectful affair, and the afterparty, unexpectedly, is much the same. One of the guys you rode in with decides to split for home and you offer to join him. It's hundreds of miles and you're sleep-deprived, but you know if you stay you won't be any less tired, and the ride home tomorrow will be twice as brutal.     

The two of you gear up and roll out for home. The bike acts up a couple of times, but some roadside fiddling keeps it rolling. By now you know 100% that it's an electrical problem, and when you get home you will track it down to an intermittently shorting regulator wire. The wind blows dust across the plateau, and by the time you reach the river, it has been dark for hours. You have reached that level of exhaustion that turns into a manic sense of dislocation, where the world takes on epic and mythic proportions. Raging through the darkness you are one with the night, white lines reaching out before you. The pines stretch forever into the sky, a thousand ghost wolves trail in your wake and this, THIS, is how it feels to be alive.


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