I think it’s safe to say that from a very young age I took a liking to anything that had wheels or a motor and went down the road. Car’s, motorcycles, go karts, trucks and snowmobiles just seem to be a part of my life growing up. I learned quickly as a young toddler the difference between Fords, Chevy’s and other car makes and could identify them easily traveling down the road. Some of my early childhood friends growing up in Gillette Wyoming already had mini-bikes and I of course felt the peer pressure and my dad caved to my request to buy one for me at age 12. My older brother Glenn had a little 100cc Honda that he wanted to sell so dad bought it from him and gave it to me. I rode it for about a year and in 1973 I wanted to upgrade to something larger and I traded it for a brand new 250cc Suzuki trail/street bike. Dad gave me the payment booklet for the bike and told me it was my responsibility to pay for this one. The payment was $22 a month but I just landed a job at the local car wash for $1.60 an hour so I had it made. Still only 13 years old I was growing up pretty fast with a job, a motorcycle payment and the responsibility came with those. I clearly remember the day we picked the bike up and I will have a whole other story to write about that day at a later time.
Some of the other kids in the neighborhood were upgrading their bikes too and we had a lot of fun around Gillette. Obviously at age 13 I had no drivers license but that never stopped me from driving on every street or highway in and around town. I always wore a full face helmet with a dark visor so the police could not see who I was however there was a new young recruit on the Gillette police force who did know. That was my oldest brother Glenn, and he told me, “just don’t do something stupid to get pulled over” and “don’t use my name to get yourself out of trouble”. I took the responsibility very seriously as I did not want to get into trouble and luckily I never caught without a license.
In August of 73 the family was planning our annual family reunion trip back to Minnesota where my dad was raised. Dad decided we should take our bikes. Mom of course was against this as I was to young to make such a trip driving my own motorcycle. But dad usually prevailed in these types of disputes and 3 weeks prior to my 14th birthday we headed out. My dad and mom took the lead on their big Suzuki 750 followed by my brother Mike on his 650 Yamaha and finally me taking up the rear on my little 250 dirt bike. We traveled all day across eastern Wyoming, South Dakota then on to Fargo North Dakota. Gillette to Fargo is about 550 miles. For me to do this in one day on a small dirt bike did not seem unusual at the time but I don’t think many adults would even consider it today on a bike of that size. Outside of riding short day trips here and there this was certainly my first trip of any distance. We went to our reunion and back to Gillette with no issues.
The following year I did this same trip only this time I was by myself. Yes! by myself at age 14. My brother Mike could not go that year, so I used his 650 Yamaha. This made the trip a bit easier. Mom and dad were finishing up a long road trip of there own and met me in Minnesota. Since I was not 15 yet, I still had no license. On the return trip I again rode alone as mom and dad went a different direction. I remember having a chain and sprocket issue before I headed out from Fargo and had to borrow some money from an aunt to get it fixed. I think the bill was about 35 dollars and I only had about 20 on me and that was just enough to get me home. Of course gas was less than 60 cents a gallon so I had plenty travel on. Man oh man what a great memory.
Since my childhood days I’ve had many motorcycles over the years. I have also had times where I did not own one for years at a time but always kept an interest in motorcycling. One thing to note on the trip forthcoming is that I have never really driven a motorcycle in a large metropolitan area. The traffic will probably scare me a bit but I think by the time I get through Seattle the first week of the trip in May I will have been properly baptized into riding in traffic. I am currently trying to rig up some additional mirrors on the bike since my 2 Cancer surgeries to my neck have left it nearly impossible to turn my head around to look over my shoulders. That could be an issue in heavy traffic but I’ll figure it out and I’ll be Ridin On.
And come to think of it as I write this piece, I suppose I should get my drivers license updated to include a motorcycle endorsement before I leave this spring. 59 years old and I still don’t have a license to drive a motorcycle. Go figure….. :)