ONE MORE LETTER
It’s the ride, not the destination. We’ve all heard that before, and over the past 3 years the HOG ABC Program has given me many excuses to live by it. Not only have I rode hours out of my way for a photo, I have planned whole trips around whatever particular letter I may need. In 1999 I rode through a snowstorm where the ice built up on my windshield more than 3/8 of an inch. Ever drive an old car in the winter where the defroster wasn’t working? You would scrap a tiny area clear so you could see thru the windshield. Well, this was exactly like that, only, I don’t have a defroster (now that’s something for the HD engineers to work on).
My girl and I had headed out for a 24-hour run to visit glamorous towns like Forestburg, Killam, Viking, Wainwright, and Youngstown. All letters I needed in my quest to complete the alphabet. We were a ½ an hour west of Youngstown, heading home, when the dark, ominous clouds, first came tumbling into view. Instead of simply turning south to avoid the storm clouds I decided that we could slide along the lower edge of the storm, thereby maintaining a direct as possible route home. Naturally, shortly after passing the road to our salvation the chosen trail took a turn to the north into the centre of the storms full force. Now we were forced to pull over every 20 – 30 miles and scrap the built-up ice off my 2 x 4 inch window of clarity. Every stop wishing I had turned south, regardless of the added road time it would have caused. They say that misery loves company. Must be true because it was truly miserable and I was sooo happy to have some arms around me, even if she did keep driving her lid into my back trying to stay out of the weather. On the plus side, we definitely appreciated the hot bath 1 and 1/2 hours later after returning home, and we will never forget that ride.
OK, I told you that story so I could tell you this one. The date is December 29, 2001 and I am sitting here on the farm trying to locate the bulk of my current crop of ABC photos. After spending close to four months on the road this past year it is understandable that my paperwork at home is less than organized.
Spent a week in Laconia, New Hampshire, and can’t find any of the pictures. Spent a week in Sturgis, South Dakota, and can’t find my Rapid City shot although I did manage to locate the pictures of the triplets who were doing promo shots at the HD Dealership, and the shot of Neil Taylor and myself. Neil was the Service Manager during the mad-house of bike week.
The more photos I sorted the more I wanted to ride. What the heck I thought, haven’t had a ride for well over a month and the end of the year has arrived. Good time to prove that I’m ‘still crazy after all these years’. Might as well give it a go, the only truly difficult part will be reaching the road. You see, I am located 1 hour north of Calgary, Alberta, and currently there is between 6 to 8 inches of snow cover on the ground.
Just to confirm that I am not a total fool I did a test run in my Chevy 4×4 to check the road conditions. Not so bad on the road itself, just have to watch out for the ice patches.
The first challenge was to locate all my riding gear and throw it in a pile in the kitchen. Two snow-suits, 4 balaclavas, lined snow-mobiling mitts, electric vest and pants and my -40 degree Sorrels. Next step, find the keys, usually the most frustrating part of the ride. I knew where my 2nd set was stashed but turns out that set doesn’t have a key to my disk lock. Another 20 minutes later I locate the missing keys in with my bow-hunting gear, of course, how could I forget.
By now I‘m overheating because in all my wisdom I had chosen to don most of my gear before realizing that once again, I had no idea where my keys were. That is why I forgot to put on my outer coat before leaving the farm, but more on that later.
My level of excitement rising as I open the double doors of the bike shop, walk around the quad and remove the bright yellow lock from the front brake disk. Before I can move the Classic, the quad had to be backed out into the yard.
When the bike shed was started we only had one machine to worry about. By the time it was completed there was barely enough room to build a workbench along one side although it is all wired for it. No doubt the bench will not only be built, but also cursed whenever machines are moved around in the cozy space.
We built the shed next to the house opposite the furnace room. A heated area for your machines is of great importance so we removed the window in the furnace room and framed a corresponding opening in the shed wall. Although there is no forced air, the temperature in the shed stays above 60 degrees and is quite comfortable to work in. One has to consider the added heat bill when building a shed like this but it is the next best thing to having your bike in the living room. Ours is 16 feet by 12 feet which allows enough room for the 2 bikes and a large quad but it is necessary to move the quad before either bike can be moved.
The quad starts up immediately because of the heated environment and I back it down the ramp and over to one side. Straddling the Classic, I start maneuvering it around to back down the ramp. I never even got the bike clear of the ramp before the rear tire sank near 6 inches into the snow-pack. This will never work; I quickly deduced, dropped her into 1st gear and started rocking. Slowly gaining ground until rubber reached wood, leaving a patch as it pulled back up into the shed.
This is where having a slightly larger shed would have come in handy. Although it took numerous attempts to turn the FLH around to face the door, I managed to do so without adding any new scratches to the paintjob. Briefly I considered shoveling some of the snow from the base of the ramp but where would that end. Better to avoid the previous hole, steer to the left, use whatever momentum I can get and avoid spinning the tire. With any luck I can reach the packed base of the driveway without bogging, or laying the bike down. Slowly, and surprisingly smoothly I traversed the back yard without sinking through the top crust and pulled up beside the side door. Setting the throttle screw I run into the house to finish clothing myself in the winter wear. After pulling 4 balaclavas over my head and then the hood of my kangaroo sweater, my lid simply sat on top and the strap barely reached around my chin. Next I climbed into my insulated overalls and strode back out to the waiting Classic.
My heartbeat was all I could hear above the steady rhythm of the twin cam as I carefully released the clutch and started rolling out the driveway. The FLH felt surprisingly stable as I turned onto the gravel top heading to hwy #791. Although this may be a short ride it is still an adventure I told myself, and the last ride of this year. It is only 95 kilometers to the local HD shop so I decided that I could be the last customer of the year to ride into the shop and snap an ‘R’ picture at the same time. Surely there is no one foolish enough to be out in this weather.
Another point of interest is that I never consider myself to be foolish, but, hardcore instead. I mean, what’s an hour ride when I have rode from Kansas City to Calgary non-stop in sub zero weather. Another time I crossed Wyoming in a snowstorm with a rear bald tire, but that’s another story (Santa Fe Express). Anyway, suffice it to say that I was comfortable riding with the existing road conditions.
Two miles north and I’m off the blacktop and onto dry pavement. I pull the various fabrics a little closer over my face and steer west with the Rocky Mountains looming in the distance. A mere 10 minutes later I was approaching the overpass to the #2 Hwy to Edmonton. It was about this time that I noticed a chill over my arms and realized that in my hast I had forgotten to put on my outer coat. Only 10 minutes out and Mother Nature was already biting at my sleeves. No way I was turning around now, coat or no coat. I need that ‘R’ letter, I told myself, and clinging to that small bit of stubbornness I joined the 3 lanes of traffic going north.
Regardless of the temperature, there was a broad smile across my face as I roared down the highway passing by all the gap mouthed cagers traveling in their climate controlled vehicles. I’m sure most of them were questioning my mental capabilities. Thirty minutes later, as the bike started coughing from lack of fuel I too was questioning those mental capabilities. I reached down, flipped up the fuel petcock to go on reserve, and lowered my speed to conserve fuel until I reach the next station which I knew to be nearby.
By the time I had reached the station and fuelled up daylight was gone. Being the type that never wears a watch and because of the missing keys and my own lollygagging I had headed out later than -expected. When I asked the time I was dismayed to find that the HD shop was closed by now, so much for being the last ride-in.
As I was leaving the gas stop I hit a large area of ice and started sliding sideways. That did it, far enough I decided, that last slide had taken all the fun out of the ride. Not to mention that my goggles were tinted, useless in the dark, so now my upper face would be exposed to the weather. After considering the distance left to Red Deer I decided that I could live without one more letter.
Forty minutes later I’m back on Hwy. #27 only minutes from home when I pass my daughter’s school and the large sign in front that reads, “Reed Ranch School”. I quickly pull a u-turn and stop in front of the sign, get my ‘R’ picture and laugh to myself the last 3 miles home. I have been taking ABC photos for 3 years now and that was the first time I had ever taken a shot of my own community. Then again, the ABC Program is just another excuse to ride, as if we needed one.