Friday, February 8, 2013


Every day, if you’re paying attention,
you’ll see something you don’t see every day.
 – demonstrating the depth of my wisdom –
to Mom.

Years ago, I hiked with a group of friends along the north rim of Chico’s (CA) Upper Bidwell Park.  Among that group was a biology professor, Rayburn we called him, from the local state college.  About 10:00 AM this middle-of-March morning, someone spied a small dot, high in the sky, a mile or two away, traveling west to east, over the creek that had formed the canyon.  As the thing got closer, it revealed itself as a large raptor.
            “Well lookee there, boys,” Rayburn said, pointing.  “That’s a golden eagle.” 
            He quickly explained about how the wing shape and the tail differed from a hawk.  As we watched, the bird abruptly dived straight toward the canyon bottom spreading its wings like a parachute as it neared the grassy veldt.  Touching down with a tiny hop, the thing churned its great, feathered limbs and rose.  A wriggling little something was snared in its clutches.
            “Wow by golly!” Rayburn exclaimed.  “You just don’t see that every day.”
            This, I figured, is why we hike, bicycle, paddle, sail or simply hang out outdoors.

The other day, out on some numbered county road in rural Yolo County, I followed a farmer’s white Chevy pickup at a reasonable distance and at a reasonable speed.  The greening hills of the Coast Range captured a series of my westward glances.  The old barns and derelict farm equipment also interested me and there were plenty out this way.
           At a particular moment, at the end of one of those glances, a movement caught my eye.  A low-flying doglike creature was racing toward the roadway ahead of the truck.  He shot onto the pavement not seconds before the Chevy would cross its path.  Clearing the highway at breakneck speed, he continued about 100 yards into a freshly plowed field.  There, he stopped, as if coming to some mark visible only to him.  Craning his head he eyed both the truck and me on the BMW as we headed north on the paved route.
            I’ve never seen a road-kill coyote and I wouldn’t today.  But, then again, in my neck of the ‘burbs, I don’t see coyote that often.

The very next time out on a bike, while waiting at a stoplight on the fringe of suburban El Dorado County, a Norton Commando 850(?), black, restored to near showroom, pulled past in the adjacent lane.  The rider wore all the Norton logo apparel: jacket and helmet emblazoned with the classic script.  A neighbor kid, serving in the navy during Vietnam had purchased one of these babies, only yellow.  I remember distinctly his inability to kick the damned thing over using every ounce of his 148-pound frame.
            The light changed and I was expecting the Brit to roar away, but instead, I heard a mellow purr from the vintage conical pipes.  I followed on the Breva, hoping to catch up and engage in a little bike talk.  But up the road a short distance, our routes diverged.  He waited in a turn pocket to explore Salmon Falls Road and I was seeking Rescue (the town) up Green Valley.  I slipped by offering a wave to the rider and his rare and beautiful bird.
            I wish I had the skills to restore and maintain such a thing.

Living on the shoals of Sacramento’s urban sprawl, I don’t often see bald eagles, so spotting three of them on consecutive fence posts along a Sierra County route outside of Loyalton was a thrill.  The words I retrieved when I arrived home fell short of impressing folks.
            Likewise the deer in our valley stream courses tend to be scrawny little beasts teetering on spindly legs.  Thus, my breath halted when, upon rounding a corner outside of Pope Valley (Napa County), a massive buck with about two dozen points stood in the middle of the narrow lane checking his GPS.

The Austin Healy 3000 occupies a spot on the long list of things I covet but shall never possess.  Skills to maintain, again?  Growing up, a high school peer, the son of the county sheriff, raced about town in a souped up model with a Ford 289 that would have earned him no end of traffic citations had he not been the son of the county sheriff.
            On route 70, just south of Marysville, an early 60s example, pristine white, appeared in my mirrors, having just entered the highway at Olivehurst.  I slowed in order to take in the rarity.  (I used to engage in this clandestine spying upon spotting a pretty young maid.  But no more.)  The driver was older than I.  To fend off the 52-degree temps with its resultant wind-chill and yet still enjoy the top-down experience, he had a hoody tied tightly over a snap-brim cap and under his gray chin.  He sat on oxblood leather seats.  His right hand rested on the shifter.  A grin told me he was living a charmed life. 
            My jet black Guzzi, an ’07, is a bit of a rare machine and I keep it really clean.  I wondered if, in passing, the Austin pilot gave any thought to the rider of it. 
            Nah.  He was drivin’ his Healy.  What could be better?

My ninety-one year-old mother often expresses her displeasure with the fact that I drive motorcycles.  “Why do you do such a thing?” she asks using other, more direct and disdainful motherly terms and has since I was about aged 15.
            “Every day,” I say to her, “if you’re paying attention, you see something you don’t see every day.”
            This statement always only earns a dismissive sweep of her hand.

© 2013
Church of the Open Road Press


  1. I have a family that tries to sabotage my riding PERIOD. They don't ask that question.

    They just try to undermine my plans if it includes my motorcycle.

    At least your Mom is up front about it Mr Jax! Love your explanation!

  2. My mother took her first motorcycle ride at age 80. We geared her up, boosted her onto my friend's Goldwing, gave her some instruction, and off we went for a two-hour ride.

    Her comment afterwards? "I get why you like this." Yes she is still a mom and she still worries (a bit), but we took a couple of pictures which are still on the refrigerator. The best part was that she stirred up her friends - "Do you think G. is going to get a motorcycle?"

    Heh heh - living well IS the best revenge.

  3. Back in 79, I was at a friend's house when he got a "help" call from the Anonymous book. So we went down to get this fellow's bike running. As it turned out, he was, I believe, 68 years old and this BMW was his first bike. He had been a bicycle rider before that. Well, naturally, we asked him why it took him so long to get a motorcycle. He responded that his mother wouldn't allow it! She had passed on a year earlier.

  4. Part of Mom's concern may be the experience she had when I was about 16. I had purchased my first bike, a Honda Trail 90. With a centrifugal clutch, it was easy for me to learn on. One day, I set up the 90 on our spacious and soft front lawn. I called mom out and showed her the simple controls.

    "C'mon. Try it."

    Good sport that she always is but I never give her credit for, she mounted the thing, cracked the throttle and drove it directly into the camellia bush at the corner of the house.

  5. That's what Moms do, try to always protect their young. My mother will be 99 next month and was very "protective" when I growing up. Good new was my father intervened and let me get away with stuff. She was terrified of boats. I have a watershed lake on my property that is silted in quite badly. Years ago I told her I was taking he boat out to fish and she says "what if you fall out of the boat?" I replied I will stand up and step back in the boat, she gave me a weird look. She also hates that I fly let alone ride. She says, "why don't you quit those things and take up something like bowling instead" , which I reply "bowling could be dangerous I might drop the ball on my foot." Once again a weird look.

  6. In July, 1953, I'd just bought a 1944 Excelsior (British) paratroop scooter with a Villiers 98cc two-stroke engine and single speed, thumb clutch. It was my first "motorcycle" and I was thrilled with it. My late mother was unimpressed with my prize and said to a friend, within my hearing, "It's a stage Ralph is going through".

    The ex-Denny Lee Lacy 2003 Stone Touring I bought last Winter is my 80th bike. Long "stage", Mother.

  7. My childhood did not have a year in which I did not find a new way to get hurt. It got so the Mt. Prospect PD would automatically escort my mom to the ER instead of ticketing her for speeding. So, she was not thrilled when I started riding. She even points to my broken leg from two years ago and says that I'm crazy. Fortunately, my wife thinks anything that makes me happy is OK.

  8. My 85 yr old mother, a nurse, just shakes her head whenever she sees the bike and says 'That's a sure trip to the ER.'

  9. Took my 70ish mother in law for a ride on my /2 shortly after getting married. Her idea of adventure is cracking the window open on their Grand Caravan, but she's never questioned my riding a bike since.

  10. My mom was initially more supportive than my dad and I did not get that question from her with my first bike, a BMW R90/6. When a pickup pulled a u-turn in front of me and I totalled it a few years later and I found an R90/S to replace it she did ask that. My reply was, "Would you prefer I spend my money on cocaine instead?"

    She co-signed the loan on the R90/S.

  11. When I had my recent Bambi related get-off. I never told my mom and dad. They live far away and I wasn't that badly hurt, and had a good network of support close by. I just couldn't bring myself to make them worry. Mom thinks motorcycles are cool and loves following along on my trip reports, she maybe silently aware of some of the inherent risks of the sport, but she hasn't said anything..