Thursday, July 11, 2013

Measuring Up To A Hard Woman...

The old lady looked awful. She was as pale as a sheet and barely animated. She wasn’t able to speak. Her skin was cool to the touch and her face bore the distress of inner torment. On her best day, she had a personality like a bag of snakes. Her hatred for me was part reflex and part instinct. Though there had never been any love lost between my mother-in-law and me, I certainly didn’t want to see her like this. I never wanted to see her at all, but circumstances intervened. And now she was here, hovering in the gray area of life on our little vacation to the mountains.

My plan had been to escape to the Adirondacks (the savage mountains of New York), to skinny dip in the creek; to sip wine in the moonlight; and to fool around with my wife in between... Then she asked, “Can we take my mom.” I would rather have taken poison. Her mother was getting on in years and becoming reclusive as well as abusive. The old bat never really came out of her room but her presence was like the shadow of plague. I could deny my wife nothing, and her mother had accompanied us on trips before. Yet this place was nowhere like anyplace we’d ever been before. It was personal solitude for two. I didn’t want her presence coloring the mist. The old lady in the narrow bed hadn’t moved in 24 hours. I didn’t like the looks of this. 

We were tucked away in a remote Adirondack cabin, where the primitive road dissolved forty feet before the driveway began. It was the last house on a power line that stretched 11 miles through woods where desolation was the fifth season. We’d be on our own if the lights flickered. They flickered now, and went out, as a deafening clap of thunder shook the house. A low moan escaped my mother-in-law’s lips as she clawed her way back to consciousness. Then the storm broke and the house was enveloped in the drumming of a maniacal rain.

There was an hour left to sunset, but the cabin was high up, on the western end of the valley, in the shadow of the Sentinel Range. It got murky fast in the center of the clouds, and my wife of seven years lit candles. Only one of them was for light. She was the first to speak: “I’m going to call the doctor.”

I said nothing. The unspoken question “What can he do?” hung in the air. 

As savage as the Adirondacks can be, there are remote communities of artists, musicians, and craftsmen scattered throughout these mountains. Among them are the deep forest retreats of scholars, philosophers, and medical people. By chance, the leading expert in my mother-in-law’s condition summered in the hamlet of “Beaver Creek,” about 9 miles distant. He’d come, if he was home. He might reach us in 20 minutes.  I knew we didn’t have an hour to wait for the inevitable.

“The phone is dead,” said my wife. Cell coverage wasn’t even a thought.

“I’ll go get him,” I said. 

The physical action of doing something would be better than just being in the gloom of the cabin, knowing what was transpiring in the loft bed, though I was pained to  leave my wife alone with her mother in this state. The rain poured off the porch roof like a  liquid curtain. I got thoroughly soaked stepping through it.

You get used to some things working the same way, day-in and day-out over the years, and there is a second of disbelief when they don’t. Turning the key in the Suburban’s ignition produced only silence, made more poignant by the drumming of the rain. I tried again. Nothing. Then I yanked the headlight switch. Nothing. I’d left the courtesy lights on. All twelve of them. The battery was dead. 

There might have been one or two ways to jump the truck, if I’d had time, or access to a phone. But I had to go — now. Parked under the eaves of the back shed was the 1986 K-75 (with the rare Sprint fairing) known as “Blue Balls.” I grabbed my jacket and helmet from a peg inside the shed door. The K75 growled into life as soon as I’d touched the starter, but it would take a minute the old lady couldn’t spare to warm up.

The driveway was 80 percent gravel and 20 percent water. The road was worse. A long, downhill, twisting slide into the valley, the steady torrent took the path of least resistance, sweeping the gravel into the curves. Branches and deadfalls hung up in the shallow current, collecting debris piles of their own. I snicked the K75 into first and scudded onto the road. The water was an inch deep against the treads, but the tires bit and I headed out. 

The jacket was mesh and the rain was cold. It’s hard to understand how these mountains can be as humid as the Yucatan jungle on one day, and cold enough to leech the warmth from a body 24-hours later. It was early August and the temperature was barely 60 degrees, only 6 hours north of a sweltering New York City. I wore the jacket because it was at hand and I thought its armor would be better than nothing in a fall.

I stuck to the crown of the road with moderate success. Super cautious at first, I felt more confident and worked the K75 into third. The crown seemed like a good idea in  the beginning, but the outside furrows of the road were getting edged deeper by the run-off, and I nearly bogged down in these. A bigger mistake would have been to stop on the crown and to have put my foot in one. It never occurred to me that I could have gotten pinned under the bike, and drowned in nine inches of water. 

I came across the first sizable tree branch blocking the road about three miles into the run from hell. It was a dead birch branch, about three inches in diameter, but all snaky with little twigs on it. Detritus was washing along its tapered length to the narrow end, which was pointing downhill toward a curve with negative camber. My first thought was to just slosh over the narrow end, but the water roiled into the underbrush there and I didn’t like the looks of it. So I rolled over it’s center, with broke with a loud pop. The crown of the road was hard enough to support the bike, though the branch’s narrow end popped up and followed the current over the lip.

The next two miles were slow but steady going and I knew I was running out of time. There were more dark patches than gray and coming back this way, even in the Doc’s Jeep, would be no picnic. The doctor would be with us for the night. That would be so much better for my wife. The road was covered by water at Wolfe’s Fork. In the gathering darkness, I couldn’t see how deep it was against the surrounding trees, and stopped, putting my feet down. The water ran over the tops of my boots. The headlight had been growing in influence as it got darker but the surging water just swallowed it. I had only a vague idea of where the road ended and where the swamp began. 

“Shit on this,” I thought. I gave the engine three or four good revs and let out the clutch. I steered through the junction, keeping to the center, knowing full well the road veered to the left somewhat, and that I’d be on the very edge of ground stable enough to hold the bike. 

Then I was through it. 

The crown of the road was higher in this stretch and the trees were cut farther back. It was easier to see more of the hard-packed cinder surface in what was left of the gray murk. I had three miles to go. I played the road over and over again in my mind. There was a turn coming up here and a bit of a dip there. I took every curve upright. There was no point in losing a second to dropping the bike. I kept the engine revving in third. 

Life deals you an odd hand every now and again. My mother-in-law’s relief depended on the person she hated most. I couldn’t remember a day when she didn’t hate me. The night before I was to marry her daughter, she offered me $10,000 to get lost. (Naturally, it was a personal check.) The highlight of every wedding reception comes when the multitiered cake is wheeled out. At our wedding, my mother-in-law swaggered over to the cake and bit the head off the little groom doll at the top. Then she  spit it into the punch. 

“I’ll make you wish you’d taken the money,” she sneered. 

You have to wonder what could make a person so nasty. My mother-in-law was the first of her family to be born here in the United States. Her mother came from Ireland, probably with funds stolen from the church poor box, and opened a waterfront bar called “Tar Box Molly’s.” My mother-in-law grew up spitting in the beer of semiconscious sailers and wharf rats. I could only imagine the scenes that passed for her childhood. 

The scene before my eyes brought me to a sliding halt. 

For years, a pokey little rivulet dripped through a rusting culvert deep under the road. That trickle flexed its muscles today, ripping out the old corrugated pipe and pavement, leaving only a stretch three feet wide and ten feet long. The water roared and surged like a living thing trying to squeeze through a tight collar. It was within an inch of devouring the remaining pavement. 

“Fuck me,” I hissed. 

I was beaten. The rain strained through my mesh jacket, carrying the stain of surrender. 

The woman I was married to got a raw deal. When she needed a carpenter, she got me. When she needed a mechanic, she got me. And now, when she needed a hero, she got a pissant too terrified to risk all when it counted. The clammy misery of failure enveloped me like a mist. Looking down into the mad rush of the water, I saw her face as plain as day. I saw the depth in her eyes. I saw her mouth, drawn back in that familiar sneer. And I heard my mother-in-law say, “I knew you couldn’t do it. Now my daughter will know it too.”

I screamed into the rain.

Some will say I acted foolishly. I pulled my Mini-Maglite out of my pocket, twisted it on, and dropped it just off center of this causeway. Then I retraced my steps for about three hundred feet, revved the engine to 5 grand, and let that K75 go. It fishtailed and slid. It caught. I shifted twice and got it up to 45. I couldn’t even see the ripped culvert in the rain and mist. But I could see the Mini-Maglite. I passed it just to the right.  

You cover 66 feet per second at 45 miles per hour. I was in and out of the cobra’s mouth  in the blink of its eye. 

I pulled up at the Doc’s place blowing the horn and yelling. He was just inside, smoking a cigar by lamplight. 

“Doc! It’s the old lady. You gotta come now.”

“We’ll take my jeep,” he yelled back.

“We gotta take this. The road’s gone.”

I suspect the doctor has had a hell of a life. He barely nodded. Then he was on the back  with an oiled coat and his old medical bag between us. I’d seen the well-creased leather bag in his hall a dozen times. He’s made a few house calls in the desperation of these mountains before. We recrossed the culvert without slowing. He wouldn’t let me slow down going up through Wolfe’s Forks. There were times when both of us held the sliding bike with our feet. 

The doctor was off the K75 and up the stairs almost before I’d brought it to a complete halt. He knew his business. The last vestige of daylight was fading and in that feeble light, my mother-in-law recognized his face — and knew I’d brought him. She knew I’d succeeded. Then the doctor pulled a wooden stake out of his bag and used a mallet to drive it through her heart. 

“We barely made it in time,” said the doctor. “Tell your wife to leave the damn stake where it is. You and I can drag this thing out into the daylight tomorrow and that will be an end to it. Why the hell would anyone want an old vampire hanging around anyway? Tell your wife I’m not doing this again.”

©Copyright Jack Riepe 2013
All rights reserved.

Who Reads Twisted Roads? 

Josh Campbell 

Above: This is Josh Campbell hard at work, feeding baby humming birds, perched 9,000 feet above central Kansas. Each hummingbird chick gets a cheeseburger the size of button and black coffee from an eyedropper.  Welcome to Kansas. Two great pictures, Josh. (above & below) 

Above: These are Josh Campbell's bikes in a very cool picture. On the left is a 2002 Suzuki SV650 which Josh claims "rekindled my love affair with motorcycles." On the right is a 2007 Kawi ZX10R, which he says, "has no soul but satisfies my need to taunt fate."

Lee Shreve 

Above: Lee Shreve (North Carolina) has rolled out an impressive array of Teutonic motorcycle muscle. On the left appears to be a K75 in my favorite shade of red. Next appears to be an R100/7, with a K1200LT on the right. Way to go Lee! 

Rodney Lyons

Above: Rodney Lyons wins the long-distance reader appreciation award for this episode, writing in from Western Australia. An eclectic rider, his stable features a prized Yamaha Classic and a beautiful Piaggio MP3 (300) in the back. Everybody knows that motorcycle tires are cheaper when you buy them in lots of 5! Rodney paid me the highest compliment. He said, "Riepe, you writing about Australia is a lot like me writing about Jersey City." Praise indeed. Thanks, Rodney. 

Do you read Twisted Roads? Send me a picture of you and your bike, and you just might win a prize! Send pictures to Write, "Reader's Photo," in the subject line. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Debunking The Pre-Ride Meditation Myth

I have received numerous requests for a blog episode dealing with the spiritualism of pre-ride preparation — and why it should be avoided. Many of these requests came from women, who asked that I include a lesson in relationship building, illustrating how a man should always take direction from the woman in his life. Specifically, I was to avoid any reference to getting laid (or expecting a trombone solo) as an incentive in the direction-taking process.

I believe in accommodating my readers whenever possible (except for the  BMW “R” bike group in Minnesota who insisted I drink poison). This is the requested blog episode.

I apologize to my readers who were expecting humor. This is sophisticated science.

# # #

The face on the clock condemned me with a sneer, and read 2:45 A.M. It was set to detonate in two hours and fifteen minutes, when the first light of day would soil the sky. My eyes felt like I rolled them in cat litter and there was a dull throbbing in the pit of my stomach. These were the symptoms of holistic motorcycle pre-ride planning.

I was supposed to lead a breakfast ride of close friends and associates through a hostile Amish settlement. (The Amish were pissed over a steel vent fan that mysteriously fell from the heavens, stampeding a herd of chickens.) Arrangements called for me to meet the usual suspects (Bregstein, Frechi, Clyde, Gerry, Ron Yee, and David Hardgrove) in the parking lot of a local Starbucks. These hooligans are punctual to the point of pain. If I was ever more than an hour late, they’ll ride to house and rev their BMWs in the driveway. (They’d make more noise rustling a newspaper, but to these guys the symbolic gesture is everything.)

I should have been ready to spring into the saddle. My preparations were straight out of the holistic rider’s manual. The day before — Friday afternoon — I stopped work four hours early to meditate in a sweat lodge. An authentic sweat lodge is a yurt-like structure made of animal hides stretched over a frame of willow rods and bone pinions. I got plans for one on the internet but Home Depot was out of bone fragments, so I just sat in my old Suburban and smoked a cigar as big as my ass.

The cigar was potent and filled the vehicle with a dense cloud of rich, robusto haze. A wasp had followed me in from the driveway and had just begun to realize its peril. It tried stinging its way through the windshield, but to no avail. The nicotine fog enveloped it like an evil spirit and the insidious little fucker’s head exploded with a micro-pop.

The appreciation of nature is a critical part of the cigar/sweat lodge experience.

It takes 40 minutes to enjoy a smoke as dense and as perfectly rolled as an Arturo Fuentes Anejo Shark, in Maduro. (Maduro is a country in which the days are long and hot; the rum drinks are fruity and cool; and the women are dusky and seductive. I go there every time I light one and close my eyes.) The dense smoke of a great cigar presents a joint-like Nirvana (or so I’ve read) in the close confines of the rolling sweat lodge. I smoked so many cigars in that old truck that the windscreen was tinted yellow.

When that cigar was smoked to the point where I needed a roach clip to hold it, I tossed the smoldering clincher into the neighbor’s flowers. (Her cat had been pissing in our garage for years.) Then I looked to the parked K75 for spot maintenance. This ritual began by sitting in a Kermit chair and looking over the bike while sipping something restorative. I recommend a “Planter’s Punch,” made with Myers Dark Rum. These are the squeezings of a whole lemon, a whole lime, a tablespoon of sugar or simple syrup, and an ounce and a half of Myers dark rum, in a tall glass, topped with orange juice and ice, plus a squirt of grenadine. If you are riding the next day, limit yourself to seven or eight of these.

I discovered a loose mirror and set about tightening it. These mirrors were an aftermarket afterthought that turned this 1995 K75 from a bowling shoe into a glass slipper. The mounting screws were .34512 of an inch. One little wrench was specially cast for this size, before all of the dies were broken and all of the toolmakers who designed it were executed. I couldn’t remember if I left the wrench in my coat pocket, in the tool box, or on a rail fence alongside a dirt road in West Virginia. So I fudged it. The mirror would come loose in mid-ride, after I tried adjusting it at 60 miles per hour. Bregsten would run it over.

The seal on the top case was also loose. This was due to a gasket that BMW sells separately. It appears to be three inches too short on initial installation, and eight inches too long thereafter. I used a brand of super glue to hold the stretched-out gasket in place, closing the lid to guarantee a tight fit. An hour later, I would discover the lid glued shut in places.

It was then time for dinner. The truly spiritual rider does not freight up on carbs, huge cuts of meat, nor piles of starches the night before a ride. Experts claim light supping on things like watercress salad, cheese crusts, and herbal tea is the best thing to propel a rider out the door for a traditional Amish breakfast. I parboiled three green beans, a shallot, and some grubs I found in the garden for my evening meal. I planned to eat while reading a popular self-help book titled, How Not To Annoy The Living Shit Out Of Women... A Practical Guide For Men, when the love of my life waltzed in with a friend.

My lover at the time was a doe-eyed beauty, with a voice as soft as rain water trickling through orchids. She had a smile that refreshed my tortured soul and a kiss like a powerful narcotic. Her friend was another hot-looker with a personality like champagne bubbles set loose in the atmosphere. For the sake of this story, we will call the friend “Melissa.” Melissa was a statuesque brunette with a smile that promised a hot foot or a prison riot, and anything in between.

Melissa grabbed my dinner and tossed it to a rabid raccoon outside. The ladies suggested headiing to a local Asian joint, to savor some mild sushi (along with a cocktail or two), before calling it an early night.

“I am compelled to tell you two ladies that I am leading a breakfast run of philosophers through a hostile Amish encampment a first light. I plan to be in bed by 9:30pm, getting a full 7 hours sleep before this ride,” I said. "I want to wake up fully rested, refreshed,  and headache free, prior to pulling out of here with time to spare."

The beauty who was mine looked at me in that special way that women who have been with the same man for more than a decade use to say, “Wanna bet, asshole?”

“Sure you are,” nodded Melissa, with a look that suggested information to the contrary.

The Asian place was intimate, dignified, and accommodating.The sushi chef, whose name was Ichiban Makozowai, greeted us like old friends, which we had become. The manager, Izu Fong Chu, said to me, “Ha ha. Good to see you again, Mr. Jack. Your fren’ very funny. She no start food fight again tonight, huh?”

Melissa wanted adventurous sushi. She ordered cuttle fish babies served in remorse, shark eyeballs in aspic, pulsating octopus suckers, spicy tuna tongues, starfish balls in bonita flakes, politically astute shrimp brains, squid caps, and electrified eel dicks. She ordered hot dishes too. One was called “The Peacock and The Dragon.” According to the menu, it was a guinea hen that had been kicked in the balls and a komodo dragon that died of natural causes. 

There was no bar in this place but it was BYOB. The ladies had two huge containers of mixed cocktails. By the time we had eaten the last deep sea urchin on earth, the waiters were practicing ritual seppuku in the kitchen (disemboweling themselves). So we went to the Irish bar down the street, where it was Mariachi Night. At closing time, Melissa was wearing a huge sombrero, and reenacting the final moments of Poncho Villa on a Dublin Street corner.

I staggered back to the house, leaving a trail of clothing from the front door to the sofa. At 15 feet, the sofa was closest to a first floor bathroom. I couldn’t find a blanket and wrapped myself in a sleeping dog. Chunks of half-digested sushi began to reassemble and reanimate themselves in my stomach. A fiddler crab fought with an octopus in a deadly struggle. A school of yellow tail went into session.  I was close to death at 2:46am, about a minute after this story started. I knew I had seconds to make the bathroom.

There are times in a man’s life where he fully appreciates the principle behind seat belts. I wished the toilet had had them. Next to the commode was a nice little vanity with a candle on it. My lover back then was as practical as she was pretty. The candle was a small galvanized pail, filled with paraffin and citronella. It had three industrial-sized wicks in it. Next to it was my self-help book from the kitchen, which was opened to page 36. This said, “A man should always light a candle or ignite a block of thermite when taking a dump in a confined space smaller than a zeppelin hanger.”

Matches were thoughtfully provided. 

My lover had replaced the exhaust fan in this bathroom with a ventilation system from a Latvian lithium mine. Sometimes it was not enough. One night, the vent fan blew through the roof of the house and disappeared.

I lit the first wick. The citronella struggled. I lit the second wick, and the scent of the citronella was barely noticeable. Then I lit the third and a nuclear blast of citronella filled the room. Twenty minutes later, I stood up, ready to totter out to the couch again. But I am a fireman’s kid, and I blew out the candle first.

Each wick generated a thick plume of smoke, which rose to the ceiling — setting off smoke detectors throughout the whole house. A woman’s voice, tinged with impatience and a sense of irony, drifted down the stairs. She said, “You finally took a dump so vicious that it set off the smoke alarms.”

Does anyone want a used copy of How Not To Annoy The Living Shit Out Of Women... A Practical Guide For Men? I don’t need it any more.


Who reads Twisted Roads?

Dick Bregstein (PA), Pete Buccheit (MD), and Clyde Jacobs (PA) are celebrating their annual West Virginia Bacchanalia Ride this week. This is where the guys occasionally hit speeds of 62.5 miles per hour, stay up until 8:30pm, and eat meals with all the salt they want. Sometimes they will smoke a cigar, but Clyde complains it is usually all gobbed up by the time it gets passed to him.

Above: Things took a dark and dirty turn on a ride to West Virginia yesterday, when the Twisted Roads Editorial Review Board posed for their annual group picture. Please insert negative comments here. 

Yesterday they announced their riding was curtailed by humidity that went above 20 percent, which is Bregstein’s threshold. When I suggested that they watch something other than the weather channel and beauty queen reality shows, they sent me a picture of their team during morning calisthenics.

Above: Here is the kind of riding that Dick Bregstein (left) and Clyde Jacobs do best.

Above: Here is the idyllic senior citizens home where the boys have checked in for their stay at Berkley Springs.

Above: Paul Pollio sent this picture of ideal riding weather from Hancock, NY, where he pulled over for a drink of water. 

Paul Pollio (NJ) took a day trip from suburban New Jersey to Mount Washington (NH) for lunch yesterday. The rain slowed him to a more practical 86 miles per hour, Here is a picture of the rains in Hancock, NY yesterday, where Pollio pulled over to release a trout from his boot.

Above: The classic Indian Motorcycle that I almost got for a gift...

Henrietta Van Dratten (TN) sent along this picture of an Indian, which she bought me for a gift, and then took back. Technically speaking, this makes her an “Indian giver.” (I’m sure I will hear from 16 politically correct ethnic groups over that last comment.) I’ve known Henrietta Van Dratten for years, but under another name. This is all very strange.

Next blog in 24 hours... 
Dispatches From The Front

Leave a comment... Maybe you'll win a prize! 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Memories Of A Bike, Straight Whiskey, And My Father — On Father’s Day...

Parts of the following blog were first run on Twisted Roads in 2008. I have revised certain parts of the story below, to make it more accurate, and to reflect the memories writing it awokened in me. This is a day late for Father’s Day, but so what? The creative process is working very oddly in me these days, but it beats the alternative of not working at all. 

The most challenging moments I have ever had behind the wheel were when driving with a super critical driving instructor — my father. I’d been driving for two years and now heard a sound that was neither a compliment nor a criticism. Nor was it a function of the motorcycle. The bike “yingggggged” its way through curves like it was in a tractor beam. My starts were smooth. The Kawasaki didn’t stall. Stopped at a light, I heard the distinctive click of a Zippo lighter opening, and smiled when I realized my pillion rider was using this lull in the action to kindle a cigarette.

The guy on the back was my father.

Many kids have wonderful memories of unique moments with their dads. The most common of these take place at ballparks, where little league games were played and cheered, and at major league stadiums, where legendary players whacked ‘em out of the park. Fishing is another great Norman Rockwell type activity shared by fathers and sons. Who doesn’t remember the first bass or trout taken in the company of your dad? And working on the engine of the family car with your Dad is yet another source of prime memories for others.

Above" The classic Zippo lighter... My dad's lighter of choice. 

I hated baseball almost as much as my father did. I assume he hated baseball because he never once mentioned it in conversation, nor watched it on television, nor ever gave any sign that he had heard of it. Fish came from Russo’s Fish Market on West Side Avenue (Jersey City). I never knew him to walk by a stream, nor to express the slightest interest if anything lived in one. He hated bugs, the sun, and the heat. As for working on the car, my dad had a great collection of tools. He would let me use any one of them provided I did so without his knowledge and concealed such activity while he was alive.  

He was a classic example of the World War II veteran who could do anything. Basic carpentry, general plumbing, and rudimentary wiring were all in his repertoire. While his mechanical ability greatly exceeded mine, it was not something he attempted to hand down. In fact, he once told me that it was his greatest hope that I would one day make enough money to always pay somebody to do the things on my car that he had to do on his. This advice was lost on me at the time because I was four years old and had just dropped one of his tools down a sewer grate.

I learned to drive when I was seventeen. At the same age, my dad learned how to assemble, maintain, and fire a .50 caliber machine gun at unpleasant Nazis, who were shooting at the B-17, in which he was the tail gunner. (Despite the fact this position required frequent filling, my dad asked for it as the B-17G had a separate door for the tail gunner, facilitating exit. He had started out as a ball turret gunner, but did not trust to the good intentions of his fellow crew members to crank the damn thing up in the event the aircraft became disabled, as the majority of them might already be dead.)

Above: Profile of a B17-G. My father's position can be seen under the rudder. 

He told me the most amazing stories about the war, a few of which did not put him in the best light. This because I was 15-years-old at the time, and the light in which I saw everything was rose-colored. As a man, I now think my father showed great restraint in certain circumstances. I freely admit I will never be half the man he was on his worst day. 

I found some of these stories to incredibly sad. My dad lived in a tent for a bit between missions, which must have aggravated him no end. But he explained to me that living in a tent far behind falling artillery fire (plus eating hot food and getting to take a dump in a facility that also had hot water) was much better than spending days on end in mud-lined foxholes, like my Uncle Bill was doing. My father flew to Italy and Germany 36 times. He never got out of the plane (but always left a little something). 

My father never once spoke of the tents that went vacant when B-17s blew up in mid-air, or wildly spiraled to the ground in gyrations that defeated any opportunity for the crews to bail out. He showed me a picture of a kid, about eighteen years old, dressed in tired fatigues, in front of a depressingly fatigued tent — playing with a little white dog. It was difficult for me to envision my father as an adolescent, but he was the kid in the picture. The dog was a stray that latched onto my dad. Pop had named the mutt “Flash.” 

My father loved dogs and we always had one in the house. I can imagine what it meant to him after returning from an 8- to12-hour flight, in an unheated bomber with open windows, with the roar of four deafening Wright “Cyclone” engines still in his ears, to have a dog lick his hand with a tail wagging. 

“What happened to the dog?” I asked, expecting to hear how my Dad smuggled him home from Italy, or gave him to an orphaned Italian kid, or that the dog lived out his years growling at the mention of Mussolini. 

“The army shot him,” my dad said. “We got back from a mission to discover that military MPs went through the camp, rounded up all the dogs, and shot them.” The risk of rabies and fleas in a camp where every trained man was a critical asset meant no dogs. It was just one more aspect of my farther’s war that I never considered. 

“Did your plane ever crash?” I once asked him. 

“We had a couple of hard landings, after which the aircraft was used for parts,” said my dad. I wish I had asked him more about that, but he made it seem so commonplace.  My first BMW K75 was sold for parts, after a car driven by Emma Blogget ran over it and me. I know what the bike looked like that day. I wonder what my dad’s plane must have looked like.
He was a “no bullshit” kind of person, which made him one of my more articulate critics. His name for me in my adolescence was, “Shitbird,” and I often lived up to it.

In the summer that followed my successful completion of the eighth grade, I was presented with a reading list for high school. Atop the list was “Northwest Passage,” by Kenneth Roberts. I was out of class about two days, when my father wanted to know what I thought about the book. (What I thought was that I intended to read it about 30 seconds before I’d get quizzed on it in September, but I was reluctant to share this strategy with him at the moment.)

A rather one-sided dialogue ensued, in which my dad suggested that the reading list was a Darwinian plot by the Jesuits to separate the higher life forms from the shitbirds, and that I might fool them for a bit if I pulled my head out of my ass and attempted to read a great book that I might enjoy. I looked at the book with suspicion. It was a paperback with 1,000 pages. By page 30 I was hooked as if the book had been printed with narcotic ink. I have since read it at least 20 times.

My dad and I spent thousands of hours in late night conversations on the most incredible topics. These spanned Ayn Rand’s “The Virtue of Selfishness,” the Six Day Israeli War, injuries to the soul, the great works of men and their undoing, the perfection of whiskey, sailboats, float planes, the flaws of politicians, and whether or not I would ever pull my head out of my ass long enough to amount to something. (The smart money said, “No.”) My dad was stoic about the reality of this last topic, though he remained an optimist. 

It was during one of those conversations, he asked if I had ever considered getting a motorcycle. My answer was, “No.” The explanation, which I did not share at the time, was that you could have sex in a car, even if it was a Volkswagen Beetle, like mine. (This was purely conjecture as I wasn’t getting laid anyplace.) Dad spoke about how much fun a motorcycle might be and what adventures lay waiting for the guy who had one. (The details of this conversation, and their ultimate effect, are covered in my book: Conversations With A Motorcycle.) 

It never occurred to me that this could have been the passing daydream of a fireman (albeit a Battalion Chief), with a mortgage and three kids in private schools. But the seed was planted. I wandered into a dealership (another story covered in the book), paid my money,  and became the proud owner of a Kawasaki Triple. (The “Sucker” light burned so brightly in the dealership that I rode out with a tan.)

Months later, I found my dad in the driveway admiring the bike. I showed him how it worked, the tool kit under the seat, and some other neat aspects of that otherwise primitive machine. And before I knew it, I said, “Want to take a ride with me?”

The man who walked through burning buildings and stared down the steely gaze of the Luftwaffe never hesitated.

Wearing only a light zip up jacket and my spare open-faced helmet, he climbed on the back and we took off. It was a weekday afternoon and there was plenty of traffic. I chose random roads, riding north and west to the town of Greenwood Lake, New York. Among the cars my dad once owned was a 1957 Chevy Belair (silver and white with red seats). One of my fondest memories was sitting on the front seat as he hit the impossible speed of 70 miles per hour. I found a straight stretch on Route 17 and opened up the H2. 

“This is 75 miles per hour,” I shouted over my shoulder. I heard him laugh. 

I pulled into the parking lot of a bar. The drinking age in New York State was 18. For the first time in my life, I went into a bar with my dad. We each ordered the specialty of the house, a beer and a ball. This was a glass of whatever the hell they had on tap, probably Budweiser, and a shot of whiskey. I had Jamesons. He had Fleischman’s, a kind of scotch that you would use to clean paint brushes. He bought a round, and I bought one.

I remember telling him about an idea I had for a story. It was about inner city life. He didn’t think much of it and told me if I gave it some thought, I wouldn’t either. He was right. I never wrote the story. We were on the bike again an hour later. The ride home was fun, and took about 70 minutes. The expression “Shitbird” didn’t come up the whole day. My Dad was one of a handful of folks to ride on the back of my Kawasaki.

Now some of you will raise your eyebrows and say nothing. Others may feel compelled to lecture me on the message this sort of story carries about drinking and riding, and how it will impact the nation’s youth. And some may feel that my father exercised really poor judgment.

But if you are going to set me straight about what I did wrong in my youth, I must advise you that this episode doesn’t even make the needle flicker on the “regret gauge.” As for my father, he was the bravest man I ever met. The emphysema that eventually claimed his life was just taking a toehold, and prevented him from getting a decent night’s sleep in the firehouse. He was a captain then, and volunteered to work “rescue.” Rescue rolled on every call. Since my dad couldn’t sleep, he walked through smoke-filled buildings in the dark. He never spoke about that either. 

Happy Father’s Day, Dad! 

New Blog in 48 Hours: The Terrible Side Effects Of Effective Motorcycle Pre-Ride Planning... 


The Winner in the Twisted Roads 
Kangaroo Gloves Giveaway is: 
Sean Kerwick! 

Mr. Kerwick should write me at Twisted Roads ( so I can mail him his prize. 

Who Reads Twisted Roads?

Lori “Z,” alias “Beemer Girl” and “Steel Cupcake (Georgia),” and the publisher of moto-blog “For The Love Of A Motorbike,” sent me this inspiring mug, bearing the message: “Writer’s Block, When Your Imaginary Friends Won’t Talk To You...”

If only writer’s block was that simple. My imaginary friends always talk to me. All of them are women, and none of them are nice. One is at my desk right now. She is a brunette, about 5’6,” with shoulder-length dark hair. She is Asian and steamingly gorgeous. She isn’t wearing much and what she has on is secured with Velcro. She says, “Take all you want, but eat everything you take.” She places my hand on her stomach... And instantly turns into Zorina Pamplawicz, my 84-year-old kindegarten teacher. I could scream. 

I called Lori this morning, and she gasped upon hearing my voice. Lori later confided she’d had a dream in which she’d received an email detailing my death.

“Who was alleged to have sent you the email?” I asked.

“It was signed like a internet petition, with 2,500 names on it,” she sniffed. “All of them were woman or literary critics who claimed to know you.”

“Well, you can hear my voice,” I said. 

“But are you in hell?” asked Lori. 

Bill Elliott (New Hampshire) wrote to tell me how much he liked Conversations With A Motorcycle, and that he’d bought one of the few copies of my cigar book from Amazon. 

Politically Correct Cigar Smoking for Social Terrorists has been out of print for years, and used copies are going for a king’s ransom. (I think Bill paid $2 million bucks for his.) I am seriously considering a major rewrite of the cigar book and reissuing it. I get requests for this often and I think the time has come to do another one, more pertinent to the riding crowd. 

Above: Bill thought this work of art was my spitting image, minus the beard. 

In his travels, Bill Elliott found this stein (Royal Dalton) bearing the likeness of Bacchus, the traditional Roman god of gin, cigars, fast bikes, and sympathetic lovers. Elliott said, “That looks like Riepe.” And in a side by side comparison, there is a strong resemblance. In a conversation today, Bill added, ‘I don’t know if it’s a stein or what. It may be more suitable for flowers.” (Bill, my old dog used to drink out of the toilet. He lived to be 17. I can drink a cocktail out of a flowerpot.) 

Above: I do look like the perfect crucible for rum and Coke. 

Bill thought the resemblance was so striking, that he bought the stein and sent it to me. I christened this remarkable work of art by filling it with rum and Coke, which was consumed in the garage, accompanied by a smoldering a cigar as big as a donkey’s dick. (That was the brand of cigar: “Donkey’s Dick, a mild Nicaraguan taste experience in a $1.50 cigar that is as smooth as your third divorce.”) 

Above: Bill Elliott and "Tim" (pillion) about to set off on another "strudel" raid in Bavaria.

Here is a picture of Bill Elliott in 1967, at the helm of a 1952 “R” bike. He and a friend (identified only as “Tim”) are headed into a Bavaria, for a weekend of utter hell-raising. That was the year that gangs of “R” bike riders terrorized remote Bavarian villages by stopping to taste wine, poke the local apple dumplings, and cough loudly in libraries. “The only thing I remember about that trip is waking up in a field of wild flowers, looking at a beautiful old church,” said Elliott.”

Well Bill, that beats waking up in the church and getting married to a woman with a cast iron ass that says “Tirpitz” painted on it. (Don’t ask me how I know.) Elliott brought that “R” bike back to the United States, where it blew up after a dealer failed to tighten the oil plug following a routine service. 

Thanks for the stein, Bill. 

Above: James Joseph Fox, Ph.D, revered member of the East Tennessee Pterodactyls

Above: Detail of the East Tennessee Pterodactyls club logo. This is cool. 

James Joseph Fox III, Ph.D, a ranking voice of reason at ESU (East Tennessee State University - Tennessee) is a Twisted Roads reader and a devotee of Conversations With A Motorcycle. He also rides with the East Tennessee Pterodactyls. Here is the great man modeling a club shirt. The Pterodactyl logo is a appropriate as the the last of these creatures was still alive when the initial “R” bike design appeared in primitive cave paintings. If a member of the East Tennessee Pterodactyls reads this, I would be delighted to trade a copy of my book for one of these shirts: size 2x. 

© Copyright Jack Riepe 2013
All rights reserved

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Making Women Smile By Going Down Under...

Dick Bregstein and I were in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, rattling the picket fences of the Amish with the thrum of our BMW exhausts. Yet things weren’t right on this day. We had the doldrums. Not the kind that come from the occasional hard time at home or in the office, but the devils that mock you from the inside out.

Dick had savage biker doldrums. His BMW “R1100R” had a recurrent stalling problem that manifested itself with a kind of wheezy chant. His bike seemed to say, “I think I can... I think I can...” whenever it tried to pass my K75. The slide-hammer relief valve, which squirts whale oil on the Johnson bar, was sticking. (This was the story Dick gave me. The week before he’d blamed a shift in the earth’s polarity for the same thing.)

Above: My riding buddy and Mac-Pac pal, "Leather" Dick Bregsein. He is seen here in one of his many disguises. Some folks cannot recognize him as the motorcycle is upright.

My doldrums were of a more intense nature. I suspected the tide was running out on my all-consuming love interest. A woman cannot hide the little signs her heart has turned. Just that morning, the most stunning beauty I had ever held in my arms said to me, “I dreamed I stabbed you 37 times.”

That’s not quite the same as “Don’t touch me and get the fuck out,” but it’s not good. According to a book on dreams, the knife can mean a number of things. Not one of them was a symbol of romantic longevity.

“You don’t seem your usual, happy-go-lucky, eat-shit-and-die self,” said Bregstein. “Woman problems?” We were pulled over by a field where two Amish gentlemen in straw hats were antiquing ladles — to be sold at a roadside stand — by spreading manure with them.

I nodded.

“I figured,” said Bregstein. “We all figured. In the Mac-Pac pool, I have 5/23-23. That’s May 23rd for the day she stabs you 23 times.” (The Mac-Pac is the premier chartered BMW riding club serving southeast Pennsylvania and the world.)

“My riding-club buddies are running a pool on when I’m going to get stabbed by my girlfriend?” I was incredulous.

“Everybody but Clyde,” said Bregstein. “He told her he’d kill you for a flat fee.”

“What was the fee?”

“Ten bucks and a six-pack,” said Bregstein. “He wouldn’t get that much if he won the pool.”

If I’d had the doldrums before, they were really bad now.

The best way to beat the doldrums is to go into a motorcycle shop and buy farkle. Nothing makes a man feel as good as holding new farkle in his hands. Seeing the farkle installed on the bike runs close, but that feeling passes. This is because new farkle gets absorbed by a motorcycle within a day or two. Then more farkle is required to keep flagging spirits elevated. This is the same business model for heroine.

By law, there cannot be a BMW dealership farther away than the planet Mercury. Dick and I rode to the one in the northern hemisphere. It was there I fell in love with a beautiful BMW factory LED stoplight bar. At first I thought it was “retro,” and then I realized it was just “German” stodgy. That made me love it even more. It cost $18,467.00 and my heart broke for the second time that day. Bregstein found a “prescription” windshield for his “R” bike. The prescription was so strong that he could see three days into the future. This accessory cost three dollars less than the Louisiana purchase, and for the first time ever, I saw Dick burst into tears.

BMW riders are not afraid to show their emotions and the dealership was filled with crying riders. But real riders harness the power of their emotional frustrations and get on with life. Bregstein and I did what all men do when confronted with the actual cost of farkle: we looked at gloves instead. Disillusioned men can never have too many pairs of riding gloves.

The current style of riding gloves was apparently influenced by Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles. They come in flamboyant colors with protruding armor on the knuckles, finger joints, and wrists.

I hate them.

Bregstein slipped on a bright pair of grape-flavored, battle-armored gloves and hissed, “Just call me ‘Donatello.’”

“I can’t believe you know the names and matching colors of those stupid turtles,” I said.

“What are you talking about?” asked Bregstein. He slipped his hands into the gloves and jumped down the aisle in a series of bad karate moves.

Gloves are the ultimate 20-minute biker romance. According to a placard over some great-looking gloves in a locked bin, nothing beats kangaroo leather for comfort, protection, and endurance. Kangaroo leather is supposed to offer a seductive touch to your hand while being damn near bulletproof as far as sliding on the ground goes.

“Too bad we can’t raise kangaroos and make gloves out of them. We’d be rich. Exotic women would love us,” said Bregstein. Thus was spawned the adventure Dick and I would come to know as, “Making Women Smile By Going Down Under.”

Our research began by watching dozens of YouTube flicks on kangaroos. This curious animal has a face like a deer, ears like a rabbit, and legs like leaf springs. A Harley rider tried to breed them in the US a few years ago but the animals didn’t like his aftershave, apparently.

Above: Similar to other species, male kangaroos are often accused of thinking with the "little head," which develops a controlling personality at age 13.

We booked passage to Australia not unlike the way Burt Munro traveled to the US from New Zealand — on a tramp streamer — where we were required to work as part of our fare. The ship carried 25,000 tons of organic fertilizer and two shovels. Every few hours, Dick would press his ear to the hull, listen, and say, “I think we’re passing through the Panama Canal now;” or, “That sounds like Tahaiti to me.” Bregstein and I had eyes like lemurs when they let us out of the hold, six weeks later.

The ship dropped anchor 2 miles off Dinkins Cove, in New South Wales, Australia.  They dropped us into the water 10 minutes later. Dinkin’s Cove is a community comprised of 22 bars,14 hotels, nine pawn shops, six whore houses, two movie theaters, and a government-staffed tourist information kiosk. It reminded me of most places in Nevada.

“I have two questions for you,” said Bregstein to the staffer in the tourist information kiosk. “How can we blend in as locals and where is the closest kangaroo herd?”

The lady in the kiosk advised us that the best way to fit in among the locals was to wear a khaki shirt  and to get a hat that snaps up on one side. She then gave us the bad news. It was the wrong time of the year for kangaroos. The Kangaroos had gone north for the winter.

“How far north?” asked Bregstein.

“Trenton, New Jersey,” she replied.

We’d arrived in the height of the emu migration season. Hundreds of thousands of emus were migrating into town, and nesting on any flat surface that was 14-feet wide and 60 feet off the ground. They sought out factory chimneys or tenement fire escapes. They were nesting on every tree, bush, and building eave. Emus weigh about 170 pounds and stand close to six-feet tall. They mate for life. The suicide rate among male emus is about 68 percent. The surviving males are generally discovered to be deaf.

Leave a comment at the end 
of the story and win a pair
of Kangaroo Leather Riding Gloves! 

One winning comment selected
at random...

No one walks around looking up during the emu nesting season. These huge birds defecate a near volcanic eruption of a white substance about the size and density of a large broccoli pizza. It is considered “good luck” to be crowned by one of these, but only by those who witness the coronation from a distance.

The lady in the tourist kiosk advised us to hire a guide at one of the local watering holes, who could show us where the kangaroos were wintering. Our first step was to acquire the appropriate outfits. The shirts were easy. The hats were a challenge. Dick found a cheap tourist copy of an Australian slouch hat in a joint on the waterfront.

“Does it make a difference what side I leave snapped up?” asked Dick, to the counterperson, who was dissolving into a puddle of bad tattoos and cigarette smoke.

“Not to me,” she said.

My hat made more of a statement from the bush. It looked like a partially deflated cowboy hat with a dozen corks hanging from the brim. The purpose of these was to keep flies and other insects from buzzing about my head. We found it in an outback outfitter’s shop under the sign “Hugh McGuffie’s — Welcome.”

“Are there a lot of insects in Australia?” I asked.

“Well, I’ll be blowed,” said the outfitter. “There are millions, but that hat will stop anything short of the Great Australian Loop Centipede.”

The Great Australian Loop Centipede is one of the few living things in the place that does not have a pouch. Each of its young is hatched singly, and fired from the far end of the tube –  like a dart — into the ass of whatever target is presented.

“Are there many of those around?”

The outfitter laughed. “There’s three for every man, woman, and sheep in these parts. There probably one taking aim at you right now.”

“What keeps the Great Australian Loop Centipede away?”

The outfitter glanced slyly from side to side, and said, “This...”

He showed me a WWII army surplus flame-thrower. It was only $489 Australian. I got it and told Bregstein it was for him, as it weighed about 90 pounds. I suspected the sale wasn’t quite legal, as the words “portable coffee maker” were stenciled  on the tanks.

Our next stop was the bike rental shop. The pickings were pretty slim. Dick rented a battered R80 GS that was 32 years old. It had seen two decades of hard service with the Royal Australian Rabbit Fence Maintenance Corp., and had a special mount across the back for stringing wire. It had also been used to drag rubble carts out of a kiwi mine and as a delivery vehicle for a unique brothel called “Tarts On Two Wheels.” The bike still bore swatches of the bright purple livery of its last career, and guys all over town waved at the “Trollop Trolly” as Dick rode by.

I rented a faded blue K75 that had been unpopular with the locals.

“The bike is thought to be haunted,” said the dealer, whose name was Chancre Jack. “You can hear the ghost in the machine when you wind it up.”

Typical to the marque, the K75 snarled into life as soon as I hit the starter. It began to whine as the RPM climbed. I revved it once or twice, just to go up and down the scale, and then I saw the bike shop staff quivering.

“Can’t you hear the tormented soul trapped in the engine?” asked Chancre Jack.

“You mean this sound?” I asked, twisting the throttle. The bike whined like a beauty queen regaining consciousness at my house.

“That’s it,” shrieked the dealer.

“I’ve heard this before,” I said, switching off the bike. “It is the soul of a Valkyrie, seeking revenge.” I then showed the dealer the clear “porthole” for checking the oil. “By tradition,  the K75 was assembled on Walpurgisnacht, in utter darkness. The story says a blind quality control inspector, a former circus midget, got trapped inside one of the engines. His face  is sometimes visible in the window. His screams are present always.”

“I guess you don’t want the bike.”

“I’ll take it for free... And the spirit will  be purged when I bring it back.”

“Deal,” said Chancre Jack.

When we stopped for gas, Dick asked me: “Do you think this trip has too many bad omens at the start?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, we shoveled shit to get halfway around the world and we arrived in Australia at the height of a kangaroo drought. Then the only motorcycle you can rent is haunted. We have to wear these stupid hats. The trees are filled with huge bird-shit generators. And we haven’t even gotten out of town yet.”

I looked at him and sighed. “Dick... The adventure begins tomorrow. There is nothing wrong with that K75 and you’re riding the ‘Squeals On Wheels’ delivery wagon. This is like every trip we’ve ever done.”

“It is?” asked Dick.

“It is.”

And for the second time in his life, Dick Bregstein started to cry.

We spent our last night in town attempting to hire a guide — without success. It was the Sheila Bonzo Bangaroo weekend, or something like that, and no guy was leaving town. “Next time, one of us is going to have to check the national holidays and local customs,” said Bregstein. “We get caught up in this stuff entirely too often. Remember what happened to us in Albania.”

“Looking for a bit of cuddle?,” asked a woman’s voice. A woman’s voice can have many qualities. It can be husky and dusky. It can be light and musical. It can be mysterious or intriguing. Not this one. This one sounded like 25 years of heavy boozing, smoking like an industrial fire, and trading sex for chewing gum. (Not whole packs of gum either.)

Her hair hung straight down and she had a patch over one eye. She had a squashed cigar in her mouth that moved from side to side in an attempt to escape.  When the bartender ignored her, she drank the warm spilled beer that collected the trough under the taps. 

She was hot for Bregstein. The amazing thing is that she was the fourth woman like this to hit on him within an hour. (He wondered if they were sisters.) But she was the first to get huffy about getting the cold shoulder.

“Then why’s ‘ee advertising?” she asked.

As it turns out, Dick had the right side of his hat snapped up, which in southern hemisphere bar circles means, “Gentleman with limited sense of humor and questionable taste in cigars desires the company of a worn-out bar frowze — with eye patch — for pointless conversation and ghastly sex.”

“What does it mean with both sides snapped up?” I asked the bartender.

“It means your friend is acquainted with sheep.”

This is the kind of information you cannot buy at any price.

Then it was my turn.

“Are you the two guys looking for a guide?”

This voice was different. It oozed from blue eyes, short blond hair, seamless tan lines, and lips like one of my adolescent day dreams. She was a second alarm stunner... The kind that simmers for an hour or two before you realize you’re watching the words slip from her mouth as she speaks. There was instant chemistry between us, but it was the formula that generally results in a stink bomb.

“Take off that stupid hat,” she hissed. “The people in this town have been selling you shit and telling you worse since you washed ashore. Do you see anyone else wearing hats and shirts like those?”

I’d been having my suspicions. Bregstein and I seemed to be the only two guys in town who looked like the extras from a Crocodile Dundee movie.

Her name was Sheila.

“Not the Sheila Bonzo they’re all talking about?” I asked.

She rolled her eyes like she and I had been married for years. (That’s the way a woman who’s been to diplomatic school asks a man, “Are you really this fucking stupid?” I remained motionless and expressionless, as any response is interpreted as a  “yes.”)

Sheila told me her story, or the parts of it she thought I’d swallow. She was desperate to get to a remote spot in the Australian outback, but some son of bitch had taken all her cash. Her only alternative seemed to be working as a sheep dipper on an interior-bound mutton drive. And that would take six months to cover 200 miles. By coincidence, the very thing Dick and I were looking for could be found in the same location.


“Only a chump would try to make gloves out of kangaroos,” said Sheila. “The best leather for biker gloves actually comes from wombats. And not any kind of wombat, but the giant vampire wombat. I know where you can find the last giant vampire wombat cave. They are in there hanging upside down by the millions.”

Now Dick and I rolled our eyebrows. The plot had suddenly thickened — like quicksand around our throats. We started out looking for kangaroos and went to the place where they are made, only to discover there weren’t any and that kangaroos weren’t what we really wanted in the first place. And now a total stranger, albeit a mysterious and hot-looking one named Sheila, was willing to put us on to a good thing, provided we took her with us.

“I don’t know,” said Dick. “Maybe we should ask somebody...”

“Who?” snapped Sheila. “Which of these assholes would you trust with the location of the last-known cave of giant vampire wombats?”

“I don’t know,” said Dick. “Maybe him...” He pointed to guy in biker gear passed out on the bar, blowing little bubbles in a puddle of warm, soured beer.

Sheila turned to me, looked into my eyes, and said, “Would I do this if I was lying?” She open her shirt and showed me the tops of the most perfect tah-tahs I had ever seen.

Dawn was a rumor in the skies when we headed into the outback. Dick led, following the rabbit fence into the interior. His bike was loaded with the impedimenta of basic leather tanning. He carried the coffee-maker strapped to his back. Sheila clung to the back of my bike, filling the pillion with a warm presence I hadn’t known in a while.  Romance starts easily on a motorcycle as the rider and pillion candy are already two-thirds of the way there. I tried to help it a little by squeezing the front brake every now and again, causing her to slide forward, bumping my back with her yielding, but firm breasts. (This is known as copping “the about-face feel.”) She threatened to kick me in the balls after I tried this for the third time.

The heat in Australia rises slowly and settles in the air — about six feet off the ground. It is heavy with the moisture of life, the calls of birds with rainbow beaks, the scent of flowers that devour their young, and the penetrating stares of scandalized marsupials who carry their kids and car keys in the same pouch. And sometimes there is the rumble of distant thunder, the sound of stampeding Huntsman spiders, each one weighing more than a pound.

Above: The weakest section of the Great Australian Barrier Rabbit Fence, dividing Australia from neighboring New Zealand.

The road paralleled the rabbit fence for 1400 miles, then turned slightly left at the first curve we encountered. There was a Donut King there. Most Americans regard the doughnut as a US invention. But most European cultures have a tradition that either involves a round fried pastry with a hole in it, or a simple fruit-filled, iced, dough-ball. Contrary to any claim the average American could stake to doughnut fame, the world’s largest doughnut, weighing 3.5 tons and measuring six meters across, was constructed at one of these Donut King locations, in Australia. The world’s largest doughnut-fed ass, however, is rumored to be on display in pink shorts at a mall in Mississippi. It too measures six meters across.

“What’s the problem here with rabbits?’ asked Dick, munching on a doughnut.

I explained how a pair of rabbits got loose in the 1880’s, when Australia was largely a wild settlement of convicts — like the District of Columbia is now. The rabbits mated with the indigenous Tasmanian tigers and the country was soon overrun by 200-pound rabbits that could rip the head off a horse. The fence divided the country in half, and all of the Tasmanian killer rabbits were hunted to extinction on the side that was worth anything.

“What about the other side?” asked Bregstein.

“Fuck ‘em. Who gives a shit?” I waxed philosophically.

“Well, what side are we on?”

“What difference does it make?” I said, pointing to a huge hole in the fence.

We camped alongside the malarial Billabong River, which in the rainy season, is two miles wide, 1800 miles long, and two inches deep. It hadn’t rained in 23 years and we fell asleep listening to rogue Giant Australian Loop Centipedes slurping from the trickle that was left. These are remarkable creatures, and we came upon one that was eating a radial tire it had ripped from a passing tour bus.

Sheila indicated we should make no noise and just slip away.

“Why?” I whispered.

“Because to anything reduced to eating a radial tire, your ass will look like the world’s largest doughnut.” She had a point.

It was odd waking up in the wilderness, nearly alone with a beautiful woman. Her tan was fading into a rich skin tone that seemed to invite one’s fingertips. I saw her at first light, standing in her panties and bra, and in the clunkiest hiking boots you could image. She had straddled the K75 and was attempting to start it by mashing the button and holding it. The bike was gasping.

“Stop,” I yelled. “You’ll fry the starter relay.”

She blushed and the crimson flush spread under her bra. “I always wanted to start a motorcycle. I thought I could do it without bothering you,” she said. “Do you think this bra looks too tight on me?”

It wasn’t tight at all.

Bregstein wasn’t fooled. Later that day, when she went off to hiss at the geckoes, he said to me, “Are you buying that shit she gave you this morning?” Before I could answer, he continued: “That bra wasn’t too tight. I think she bought it with the intention of wearing if for a few days and then returning it for a full refund. Keep your eyes open, my friend.”

“Hissing at the geckoes” is one of those cool Australian expressions that means “taking a piss.”

She did know a lot about giant vampire wombats. According to her story, she was raised in an orphanage in the nearby town of Dangle Creek.  Sheila claimed she used to go into  the cave on school trips, where her third grade science teacher demonstrated how you could knock the sleeping wombats off the roof of the cave with a rock.  “If you used a skipping motion, you might get three or four of these creatures with one shot,” she said. Her class loved these trips and students would spend days gathering stones for the day-long vampire wombat slaughter.

Sheila described the giant vampire wombat as looking like your typical bat, but having a wing span of 8 feet. The female has five teats of varying lengths grouped together like fingers on as glove. Oddly enough, many of the females seemed to come in right and left hand models, depending on which side of the clan cave they were spawned.

“So what you’re telling us,”said Dick, “Is that these things come with pre-attached gloves   — in varying sizes — already.”

“Now you understand,” said Sheila.

“That’s amazing. We’re gonna be rich!,” said Dick. “What happened to all the dead vampire wombats you left on the cave floor?”

“Something ate them,” she said with a shrug. Then she got suddenly distant.

We reached the 2800-mile marker on the rabbit fence that next day. “We have to turn left here,” said Sheila.

“How can you tell?”

She pointed to a rusted sign in a clump of twisted, dried grass. It read: “Turn right for the  most desolate part of the country. Next comfort station:  3400 miles. $200 fine for random spitting or urination.”

“How would they know if I stopped to take a piss?”

“This is Australia,” said Sheila. “You’re expected to turn yourself in.”

The barren outback was amazing. Every mile was like a different segment of a National Geographic special. I had always thought those clips of life transpiring (under ghastly conditions) in a few seconds were time lapse photography. But I took one of several $200 pisses and watched in amazement as a plant sprung up from the wet spot in the dust, flowered, attracted a bee, which was eaten by a lizard, which was ripped apart by a huge bird, which was then knocked out of the sky by a weet-weet tossed by a passing indigenous person. All of this took place in 45 seconds.

The weet-weet is a throwing stick of the indigenous people of Australia. Depending upon the manner in which it is thrown, it can hop along like a tadpole, scurry sideways like a politician, or return to the thrower two years later to report on what it has seen.

The R80-GS handled the outback beautifully. Bregstein actually fell asleep several times, waking up when the bike ran out of gas and fell over. The K75 struggled a bit, wallowing in the GS’s backwash as we traversed croc pits and swamp viper bogs. At one point, the front wheel dug into the muck and the engine stalled. Dozens of Australian monitor lizards swarmed us. These reptiles are insidious man-eaters, so it was without hesitation I sent Sheila wading through the morass to fetch a cable end from the winch on the back of Bregstein’s bike. They hissed and backed off. Bregstein said it was professional courtesy.

The trip was becoming more of a challenge. Sheila’s initial enthusiasm never mentioned the barren outback, the crocodiles, the monitor lizards, the oppressive heat, nor the great white shark that Bregstein found in his top case.  We were running out of essentials. Dick claimed the croissants were beginning to turn and that we were down to three slices of pineapple cheese cake. Gas was about to become critical too.

Sheila got more peculiar as we got closer to the cave. Her recollection of certain details became fuzzy. She hesitated when I asked why she left the region... And how she left this remote place. Her stories about exploring the cave dried up entirely. I saw her standing half naked in the dawn every morning. I saw her standing totally naked in the moonlight — totally naked for the exception of those clunky boots. She would never take them off. The boots were huge, and sort of triangular. They made it impossible for her to work the K75’s shifter in the delicate manner it demanded.

Her fascination with the K75 was the only saving factor. She wanted to know everything about starting it, shifting it, and where I kept my keys. (I knew the motorcycle would bring us together.) It was during one of these discussions that she kissed me... Kissed me and put her hand in my pants... Pants pocket actually. I told her that was where I’d kept my keys. But there was a hole in the pocket lining instead.

We found the village of Dangle Creek at the mouth of the cave on the fourth day. Some houses were still standing, but barely. Some were burned. There was no sign of an orphanage. In fact, there were no signs of anything. 

“What the hell happened here?” asked Bregstein. Dick is hard to fool. Four burned out houses, six abandoned ones, numerous skull faces carved into posts, and a rotting rope dangling from a gallows told Bregstein that more than tumbling real estate values was at play here.

“Where was the orphanage?” I asked.

“The orphanage was a trailer that traveled from town to town,” said Sheila. “Not every town could afford it’s own orphans. We shared.”

“But where are the people?” asked Dick.

“Perhaps they went to a movie,” said Sheila.

“Could they be in the cave?” asked Dick.

“Yes, the cave,” said Sheila. “They are probably all up at the cave.”

There was less than an hour before nightfall and wandering around in a huge cave with waking vampire wombats held little appeal for Dick and none for me. Yet spending the night in this creepy town was out of the question. So we set up camp between the cave and the village.

Dick was positively giddy at the idea that we were about to become rich overnight. In the morning, we’d corner the market on bullet-proof suede wombat gloves. In the afternoon, we’d be the toast of the moto industry. He experimented with names and slogans for our glove line. Some contenders were:
• Soft To The Touch But Hard In A Tumble — Wombat Dick's
• Super Tough Wombat Dick's — “Straight From The Bush...”

Bregstein wasn’t the only one intoxicated by the excitement. As the fire reduced itself to embers, Sheila got hot. The stars were silent witnesses to the passion that unfolded. Some shot off into space, propelled by my desire... A desire fueled by the proximity of the savage Australian bush. Sheila’s skin felt like warm silly putty in my hands. And I felt her hands on me... All over me... Searching and probing. She was naked to the warm air, all but for those huge, clunky boots.

“Take them off,” I whispered. “Take off those boots.”

“In the cave,” she sighed. “I have a deformity with my feet, and I’m shy about it. But I’ll take off my boots in the cave.”

I understood her reticence. Despite my success with women, I too have a less than perfect physique. I have a genetic abnormality with my man-gland. Instead of one penis, I have five prehensile ones. My underwear fits me like a glove.

Night shadows drained into the cave as dawn spilled from the horizon. Sheila and I stepped into the palpable darkness. I thought the cave would be cooler than outside, with drafts wafting upward from subterranean passages. But it was hot and dank in there. And something smelled really bad.

“I’m taking off my boots now,” said Sheila.

The dedicated Twisted Roads reader knows I have a thing for modestly endowed women. Tiny hooters drive me crazy. But I also love women with tiny feet. My last lover had the sexiest feet on earth. I use to marvel at her sneakers. They were almost like toy shoes. I knew what I was about to see wasn’t going to be anything like that. But every relationship is different. I have learned to grow with my lovers — one foot at a time.

The sun rose in the mouth of the cave — directly behind Sheila. The beauty of the woman shone in a golden radiance. She existed as pure sensuality, etched in the most perfect light of day. My eyes traced the outline of her throat, her shoulders and her tight breasts.  The sleek line of her waist led south to the gentle curve of her hips, and to extraordinary legs. These ended in...

I couldn’t believe the horror before my eyes. It was so utterly unexpected. I forgot to breath in that instant, and then I didn’t want to.

She had the feet of an emu. Huge, three-toed feet designed for ripping open termite hills or for kicking Cape Buffalo in the balls. I confess to the gentle reader that I screamed in panic. But this was nothing to what I was about to see. The gathering light revealed I was on a ledge 30 feet above the cave floor, and it writhed like something alive.

Above: She had the feet of an emu... I was horrified. I'd seen worse, but not first thing in the morning. And certainly not when sober.

This portal to hell seethed with Giant Australian Loop Centipedes. Uncounted millions of these disgusting creatures — each the size of a finger — thrummed against the fetid niter-stained walls of the cave. Yet I could see thousands of huge specimens, as long and as thick as a man’s arm, undulating in and out of this terrifying pile. White disjointed bones, picked clean, caught the light too. And then I saw the skulls, each frozen in a silent scream.

“That’s right,” hissed Sheila. “Meet the townsfolk of Dangle Creek. You’re going to be elected mayor today.”

“But why,” I stammered...

“To break the curse for another year. For every sacrifice I drag into this cave, I get to have normal feet for one year. But judging from the meat on your butter-ass, I might get 18 months out this deal,” said Sheila. “And then I’ll toss that other addle-pated twit in here too.”

“You’d sacrifice us just to have sexy feet?”

“You have no idea what it’s like to be different in a place like this.”

I thought of the women Dick had met in Dinkin’s Cove. “You know, I don’t see those feet as much of a drawback...”

“Shut the fuck up,” Sheila screamed. “Would you run off with me on your motorcycle if you knew I had the feet of a huge, flightless bird?”

“Not under normal circumstances,” I started to say. She didn’t give me a chance to finish. I was to going to add, “But I’d give it a shot if you didn’t scratch for worms or start crowing at dawn.”

“Aaaaaarrrrgh,” She screamed. “I hate BMW riders. You think you are so fucking clever with your gadgets and your gear. You are all such assholes.”

I took offense as this rash generalization.

“It was so easy to lead you out here. All I had to do was flash my tits at you. If I’d offered  to let you whisper into my sugar scoop, you’d have thrown Dick to the centipedes yourself. You even taught me how to ride your bike so I had a way out of here.”

There is nothing more discouraging than to have your number dialed right the first time. The centipedes were swarming beneath the ledge and I knew I had but seconds to live.
“Will you answer me one question?” I asked.

“Make it a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question,” she hissed.

“So there really are no giant vampire wombats hanging upside down in the cave, are there?”

“You are so fucking dense,” screamed Sheila. “See for yourself.” Then she dropped kicked me with one of those feet.

I felt myself falling backward over the ledge. It is amazing the kind of things that run through your head in a time of crisis. I thought of my last lover’s little feet, and how she’d get her toenails painted at a joint in Paoli. This one would have to go in for an estimate. A $500-deductible wouldn’t cover that paint job.

The drop was not quite vertical and my flailing arms found the stump of a walla-walla root. My own grotesque feet — two flattened loaves of Wonder Bread — were an inch or two above the snapping mandibles of the centipedes. I screamed one word: “Bregsteeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeen!”

Dick Brgstein is a man of extraordinary patience, but he has his limits. On this morning, he’d carefully sliced the last of the pineapple cheesecake into three pieces, opened the last can of anchovies, and mixed some unspecified local berries with bog water for a celebratory breakfast. He’d set three places offering the nicest view of the cursed town and waited... and waited... and waited. He figured I’d taken Sheila into the cave for a pelvic examination, but would be back momentarily. Momentarily was becoming a honeymoon.

“To hell with the two of them,” muttered Dick. “I’m gonna make some coffee.”

He unstrapped the 90-pound “coffee maker” and flipped the switch marked “brew.” A strong smell of burning jet fuel filled the air. A green light flickered on, and Bregstein hit the button marked, “Dispense.”

There was a loud “whoooosh” and a semi-solid stream of gelatinous fire shot into the cave. It narrowly missed Sheila, arched over my head, and made a warm impression on the local centipede population.

I pulled myself over the ledge’s lip and discovered Sheila was gone. Bregstein said she’s ran past him at 62 miles per hour. “She had the nicest ass... But man did she need a pedicure.”

We never saw her again.

“Did I fry all the giant vampire wombats?” asked Dick. “This coffee maker sucks. It has one setting.”

“Dick, she sold us a bill of goods. The whole thing was just a horrible ploy.”

“I knew it from Day One,” said Bregstein. “I’d catch her staring at me, and suppressing that little sarcastic smile. I wondered when you’d get wise that I was the real target. Do you think there’s another cave around here filled with gloves?”

That’s what I like about Bregstein. He can always see the bright side of discharging a flame thrower into a fragile eco-system.

Four days later and we were back at the bar in Dinkin’s Cove. We decided to wear our hats and get ragingly shitfaced on our last night in Australia. I was thinking very kindly of Bregstein. This was the fourth time he’d saved my life on a ride. I wanted to extend a selfless gesture of appreciation to my riding buddy, who was presently drinking alone at the bar. But Dick is a man of intense pride. He is suspicious of appreciation... Especially from me. This would have to be a subtle gesture.

He never saw me snap up both sides of his hat.

Copyright Jack Riepe 2013
All Rights Reserved

On April 16th, 2013 — The prestigious Germantown Cricket Book Club  grilled Jack Riepe on his new book — Conversations with A Motorcycle — which had been chosen as their "Book Of The Month." Highlights published here on Thursday, May 2, 2013. 
• Authorities have determined that the subsequent attempt on his life was not related...
A brunette suspect was not detained...
• No threat was found from a literary critic...
The book was banned by a religious group...

Order your copy directly... 
$20 for the book... $5 for priority shipping...
Email your name, address, and phone number to:  
Put: "Book Order" in the subject line.