Wednesday, May 5, 2010


I’D GONE TO THE TACO BELL outside of Grass Valley because I knew they meant it when they said “fast food.” So after a couple of burritos, I am straddling the GS, securing the helmet and preparing to head just a mile or two further to my 6:30 writers group meeting.

A gentlemen with a few years on me towing a nine-year-old granddaughter, walks past where I am parked, shoots me a knowing look and says: “BMWs. That’s the only way to get around the world, I’d say.”

I nod.

He turns. “I gotta tell you a story.” Granddaughter rolls her eyes, longing for her kids’ meal and a toy more than the conversation she knows is about to take place.

“I rode an R-75/5 [circa 1969-73] down through the core of Africa back in the early seventies. Me and a buddy.” He grins. “Alexandria. Khartoum. Nairobi. All the way to Cape Town.”

I watch forty years evaporate in the Taco Bell parking lot.

“Got on the ferry in France all loaded up with our gear and a couple of damned jerry cans filled with petrol, as if there’d be no gas on the dark continent.” He laughs. “Old German fella come by us on the ferry and looked at our outfits and says:

‘You boys look like you gonna be driving in za desert. Vell, take it fromm me, you von’t get too far like zhat.’

My new confidant must have looked curious.

‘Back in da var, I vas the chief of ze motah pool for General-field-marshall Rommel. Ve could nevah get more than seven or eight miles before ze damned BMWs would seize up…’

The little girl tugged at Grandpa’s hand. Clearly, she was starving.

“Well, the old boy fetched up some porous medical adhesive tape – the kind that lets the skin breathe? – and by the time we’d disembarked in Tunisia, the little radiator that cools the engine oil on the R-75 engine he'd neatly wrapped so that air could get through, but the sandy grit of the desert couldn’t.” The grandpa points to the place on my bike where the appendage would be. “Drove the whole distance without so much as a hiccup.”

“Sounds like you took the same trip that Boorman and MacGregor talk about in their book Long Way Down,” I say, “only they took it on bikes like this.” I cock my thumb toward my wiz-bang 2009 BMW GSA. “And they had a support crew following them in two trucks.”

“Haven’t read the book,” the gentleman says, his granddaughter feigning weakness, about to collapse on the pavement for want of a Chalupa. “But we sure as hell didn’t have a support caravan. Just two stupid American boys on BMWs in Africa.”

FOR AN INSTANT I am only a few degrees of separation from the Panzer Division and the old Desert Fox himself – the heralded military genius whom George Patton and the Second Armored chased all over North Africa.

Then I realize I’ll be late to my meeting.

So much for fast food.

© 2010
Church of the Open Road Press

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