I am a middle-aged train wreck of a man with the muscular definition of Wonder Bread. Deep inside, however, I am a nomadic biker, with a steel blue Clint Eastwood-like gaze, reflexes like lightening, and the mating instincts (and ethics) of a mink. There are days when the nomadic biker in me insists on taking control, and I am compelled to seek out my own kind.
When my inner biker-nomad is at the controls, I ride to catch some fleeting moment of my youth... To con myself into thinking I am still an alpha male... To get to a destination in my mind defined by the arc of banked curves. Since this is my mind we are talking about, this same place is populated by topless tattooed women who beg to do my bidding, and Viking-like men who fear me.
In the spring of my first season as a re-entry rider (2005), I came across a notice for something called a "poker run." According to the flyer, hundreds of bikers would be converging on a nearby town to raise money for a worthy cause. Structured around a beautiful ride through 5 covered bridges in Chester County, PA, I thought this would be a great opportunity to meet others of my kind and to ride with bikers united in a common cause.
Five covered bridges like this one were the excuse to ride, drink, and play cards
during the first and only poker run that I ever attended.
Between rendezvous points at the bridges, the flyer claimed we'd muster at a few saloons, play a few hands of poker, and shoot the breeze before launching ourselves into it. The concept appealed to me. While I had no idea how to play poker, I did know how to get the most out of a saloon. The ride was to followed by a barbecue and a raging party for anyone who wanted to camp on the grounds of the fraternal organization hosting the event.
But best the best aspect to participating in this ride was that I'd be with bikers. I could ride with folks who really knew what they were doing. Guys who twisted adventure from their throttles. And women who could twist a man's DNA with a smile. There was bound to be a few riders on Beemers. I was sure they'd welcome me as a new disciple in the true religion. Registration started at 9 am. I was up at 6 am, wiping down the Beemer, checking the air in the tires and the level of the engine oil, brushing my teeth with the stub of a cigar to give me that "rake-hell" air, and taking my Celebrex so I wouldn't fall over at the first "stop" sign.
"I didn't know how to play poker, but I knew how to get the most out of a saloon."
Note the author is drinking a bourbon Manhattan in a biker bar, where beer is
typically served in plastic cups. (Click to enlarge)
(Photo courtesy of Pete Buchheit, who insists on getting full credit, whenever he takes one
of these things as people tend to ignore him under other circumstances .)
The directions to the rally point weren't quite clear. I got within a mile or two of the place and got passed by a guy on a great vintage Beemer. He was headed in the same general direction, and I naturally concluded he'd be a participant. So I just followed him. Twenty minutes and ten miles later, I realized I'd been shadowing some guy just passing through the county. I turned back and found the poker run the same way Columbus discovered America -- by mistake.
At 8:55 am, there were 28 bikes in various lines waiting for the run to begin. Twenty-seven of them were Harley Davidsons.
I can say with absolute certainty that my first hump wasn't as sexy as the motorcycles in that parking lot. The studded leather, the gleaming chrome, and the paint jobs that rivaled the richness of the Sistine Chapel threatened to overcome my senses. There was every form of customized expression on two wheels. One machine had a license plate held in the jaws of a laughing skull. Another had grips like the lugged handles on a bayonet. A stunning flawless paint job of a third was beautifully reflected in pool of oil slowly spreading out underneath it.
This was the bug-eyed image I presented to the Harley crowd at my first poker run.
Jack Riepe on a 1986 K75 With A Sprint fairing.
Twenty-four of the riders were men, averaging six foot, seven inches of taut muscle and 94-octane testosterone. They appeared to be encased in leather. The other three riders were women, all of whom were wearing chaps taken directly from my adolescent fantasies. (I would have lent my own skin to any of these ladies for the same purpose provided my sense of touch would work via remote.)
One of the Harley's started with a barrage of exhaust that blew the roof off a garden shed across the street.
I whined into this mix on my Beemer. (I originally wrote that I "roared in" on my Beemer, but this would be a gross exaggeration of the sound my old Luftmeister muffler actually made.) My former K75 was unique in that it had a Sprint fairing, originally designed for a Triumph -- but bearing a BMW roundel molded into the windshield. These fairings are rather rare. This bike looked like a futuristic teutonic touring machine from 1986. Nevertheless, I felt like the guy who showed up at a cockfight carrying a rabbit.
I registered, and stood by my machine in silence for about 20 minutes. If anyone asked, I intended to tell them I was there to enter the "quietest pipes but largest dick contest." The other riders sort of looked at me sideways, like they suspected I was a bus-station faggot.
"Screw this," I thought, and began walking around, slowly and deliberately looking at the Harleys. I acknowledged the visual perfection of each bike with a sage nod and a tight smile.
I cannot deny that I also slowly and deliberately checked out the chap-framed butts of the three ladies in attendance. I wisely refrained from any display of acknowledgment (visual perfection not withstanding), remembering advice my father once gave me. "Shitbird," my dad said, using his special name for me, "Never flirt with nor antagonize a woman who gives the impression she can kick the living shit out of you either in anger or foreplay."
About this time the poker run got under way. Riders got their directions and starting heading out in groups of three and four. That was when I realized I'd be riding alone. I didn't know anybody and the BMW crowd failed to materialize. Furthermore, the run's directions spanned two typewritten pages.
"How the hell am I going to read these and ride at the same time," I thought. My tank bag was equipped with a clear plastic sleeve for directions, and I remembered how great it looked on the workbench back in the garage.
"Excuse me," said a voice. "My name is Ray, and I was just admiring your bike."
The speaker was a soft-spoken gentleman, wearing a striped sport shirt and blue shop pants. He asked a few questions about the K75's fairing then shook my hand. His bike was the 28th in my count, and stood off by itself. It was 1978 Honda Goldwing with a sidecar, which at the moment was filled to overflowing with a human-sized plush replica of the Warner Brothers' cartoon character Yosemite Sam. A fluttering American flag completed the sidecar's look.
“Great,” I thought to myself. “The two confirmed douches at this event are now talking to each other.”
With no small degree of pride, Ray explained how he'd built the sidecar and mount from boxes of parts he bought "here and there." He showed me some little personal touches he'd added to the bike (other than Sam) and asked if I was familiar with the route. I learned he didn't know anyone either at this poker run but knew how poker runs worked in general. Suddenly, I was delighted for this gentleman’s hospitality.
"Would you mind very much if I rode with you today," I asked.
Here in an instant, the ruins of my expectations were about to be salvaged by a total stranger. (And I learned my first lesson about real bikers.) Ray said "yes," and, in gratitude, I appointed him navigator. My reasoning was simple. He had three wheels and I had two. This numerical advantage allowed him to look at his set of directions without falling over.
I trailed Ray into the first little town center. Rolling down Main Street, he switched on a recording of carousel music (which poured out of hidden speakers) and did a gentle weave within his lane. The effect was positively astounding! Everybody around us stopped to look. Had I been on the loudest Harley with a naked Angelina Jolie sitting on my handlebars -- no one would have noticed. (If you are Angelina Jolie and you are reading this, I would like to propose a little experiment in the interest of science.)
Ray was an absolute pisser to ride with. As an re-entry rider, my skills were brutally basic. Ray set a great pace though gentle wooded curves, along the banks of the Brandywine river and other assorted streams. We found the bridges and the bars. At one stop, the poker game was incredibly vicious, with the losers taking off their clothes and hurling them in a pile. (It was here Ray pointed out we were in the wrong bar.) The carousel music came on whenever the traffic slowed or we passed through a town center. The effect was always the same. I have never had the opportunity to ride in a circus parade, but I can say I've done the next best thing!
My arthritis started to get the best of me 5 hours into the run. That, plus the thrill of hitting a bridge with an open steel deck coming out of a blind curve, led me to believe I'd had enough for one day. (At the time, bridges with steel floors scared the shit out of me.) Neither Ray nor I had a pen. We shook hands and split. I haven't heard from him since. If anybody knows this guy, drop me a line. I'd really like to ride with him again.
"So did you find your own kind today," said my squeeze upon my return.
"I found someone who was exactly like me," I replied. "Only more so."
"I can't believe there was a bigger douche than you at this thing," she said.
©Copyright Jack Riepe 2005
AKA The Lindbergh Baby (Mac-Pac)
AKA Vindak8r (Motorcycle Views)
AKA The Chamberlain -- PS (With A Shrug)