Your First Real Ride - Exhaust Notes

Editor's note: I chose to run this story in our April issue because it is so charmingly fresh. Do you remember your first real ride out of town? How daunting it seemed? How utterly thrilling? Vicki captured that excitement with her innocent, unusual prose, and brought me right back to the feeling I'd get on the edge of my early tours. Additionally, I love that she only talks about the sensations of her first trip. She never even mentions a destination, and that's appropriate, since the destination is so often secondary to how it feels getting there.

It turns out the trip was a three-week tour from Billings, Montana, to Napa Valley, California. It rained almost the entire time. The one thing that struck me most about Vicki's postscript on this ditty, however, is the fact that the trip took place about 20 years ago! Just goes to show that the memories proffered by our pastime are timeless.

A journey cross-country in the open air is a true experience of freedom and adventure. Sliding a jean-clad leg over the hot, chrome-studded, black leather seat I felt the tensions roll off my shoulders, just as a teenage girl does when she removes her tight designer jeans and replaces them with warm sweats. This is the hour of perfection for us. The labor of endless planning, frugal spending and meticulous care to even the mundane details required for a couple, ages 30 or so, to travel responsibly by motorcycle is complete.

It is a quarter to eight. The mood is light with childlike playfulness. A hint of young romance and mystery are certain. Adventure is guaranteed. Soft giggles, a quick wink, a gentle squeeze of embraced hands communicate our excitement.

Our first stop is for a red traffic light. People on the busy street take notice of this shiny red Harley-Davidson, dripping luggage and carrying two smiling, fringe-clad people. A gentleman in a pressed shirt and tie glances and gives a quick, knowing wave. We stop for fuel just before we're officially out of the city limits. The familiar smell of petroleum penetrates my nostrils. The gurgling sound of the liquid reassures me that the open highway is near.

Numerous adjustments must be made during this last stop to fine-tune our luggage placement and dial in more comfort from our newly purchased riding gear. We tug, reorganize, zip and unzip the side, middle and back vent zippers of the stiff jackets that still smell of new leather. Pads are shifted and arms stretched. Finally protected as well as any football player, we awkwardly assume our positions for the long ride ahead.

As the gears engage with each clutch release, the engine vibrates comfortably to its own song and rhythm. The scenery races by. The fringe laces on the arms and shoulders of our jackets and gloves flow down and backward in the cool morning breeze. Yellow lines beneath us set a uniform beat while trees of all sizes and shapes seem like music notes playing in my head. Imagination and observation are our methods of amusement since conversation is limited to hand gestures and squeezes. Now, the time is 8:30 a.m. and life is at its very best. Nothing but anticipation.

As the miles add up on the round, chrome meter, I notice a change. The sights are not quite as vivid. The smells become intense, but heavier. Thick gray clouds are gathering above us. A few cold wet drops slap me in the face. It is now just minutes before 9 a.m. The drops of moisture grow bigger and more violent, and I know we're going to get soaked.

But I also know that quarter to eight in the morning will come again.