Monday, July 4, 2011

The Night Before

I headed out from the house to go up to the pre-ride party at Crash 45. Just as I was jumping on the highway The Mothership started slipping her clutch. Shit! Bad timing - I'm 12 hours away from riding 2-up with Michael Lichter all the way to California, I don't need clutch issues... I pull over and give Dave a ring to get his opinion. We decide to not take chances and opt to rebuild the clutch pack. I got the new parts with 10 minutes to spare, threw them in the saddlebags and rode my wounded girl up to the party.

As always, Shane hosted a great party and we can't thank him, Wade and Kaydee enough for all the support and hospitality. Randall from Deluxe Motor Co. showed up and brought the house a few rounds while sharing some of his awesome stories. Hearing Randall's talk of raising hell and good times with great friends got my soul ready to hit the road.

The SpeedMetal crew headed back to the shop with Randall in tow to take care of my wounded clutch. Dave had a million other last minute things to take care of that night, but the first thing he did when we got back to the shop was to pull my primary cover and get to work - that's a real friend. Without Dave I would have been late to start the trip and we would have missed out on some mind-blowing Michael Lichter photography.

Randall kept us all entertained and Dave surprised me with one of the coolest gifts I've ever received, courtesy of the Squidbilles. Seriously Dave, in the 1,500 miles since we split in Cali I've gotten a TON of compliments on that thing. My new favorite road piece...

After a long night I hit the cot on the shop floor and slept like a king. Dreams of the open road and memories of Born Free last year filled my mind as I drifted off to sleep...

The Ride to Born Free - Day 1

I awoke at dawn - too much adrenalin to sleep any longer. It was a beautiful Colorado summer morning - a brilliant red sunrise illuminated the endless sky as a train rolled by in the distance.There was snow and just general shitty-ness a week ago, but you'd never know it by the clear sky and the warm temperatures that morning.

Soon the rest of the crew was up and we began loading the trailer. A bit later Michael Lichter showed up with all his gear. What a professional - the guy had suitcases full of camera gear and couldn't have brought more for himself than a sweater and a few extra t-shirts. We got to work covering the back of The Mothership with blue painters tape and getting his 12v gyroscopes hooked up to the bike's power. A quick check of the helmet radios to make sure we could communicate and everything was good to go.

Matty, Tracie, Dave Griffin, Justin & the rest of the chopper crew rolled in and soon we were off - it was finally under way! I'd been thinking about that exact moment for months, since cold and ice blanketed the landscape and thoughts of a summer journey seemed as foreign as Christmas in July. After a long year of waiting it was finally time for Born Free!

All the bikes, waiting to go

We made it out of Denver painlessly and began the climb up I-70. The bikes were all running flawlessly and my clutch was holding strong - so far, so good. The whole time Lichter was behind me, sitting backwards and shooting some amazing pictures.

Stopping for gas in Silverthorne confirmed our guesses about fuel range and we decided 70-80 miles was about as far as we could push it. As the rest of the crew got snacks in the gas station Michael & I started looking at maps and planning out stops in 70 mile increments. The 112 miles in Utah from Green River to Salina would be our biggest challenge, but that was still a day away.

Me & The Mike Show

We hit the road again to go up & over the passes and begin our decent down the western slope. Heavy construction through Glenwood Canyon was our only slow point, otherwise traffic had been light and easy to deal with. When we stopped for gas in Parachute I did a quick count and saw we were missing a bike. I'd been riding almost entirely in my mirrors the whole way up, so I knew whoever we had lost had to be close by. As I looked down the road I saw the outline of a bike back at the top of the off-ramp. It was Dave Griffin and his XS650. He had it rolled into the station before I could a get over there to help give him a push. I asked him what had happened and he said he'd lost power. His battery was completely dead - must have stopped charging along the way. Out came the tools and the boys crowded around the wounded machine to try and diagnose the problem. After some investigating and philosophizing we came to the conclusion it was something more advanced than a parking lot repair.

Dave pondered putting his bike in the trailer and riding in the truck out to the show, but decided it would be best to get a charge back in his battery and head home. We were all really sorry to see him go, but it was a lot of fun having him along with us for the day. Hopefully we'll get him and a new charging system out on a ride with us again soon. We parted ways with Dave and continued on west.

Josh & Patty on a great Colorado day

In Fruita we fueled the bikes and ourselves. As Jeff went to kick his bike over to leave he noticed his front tire was flat. It was after 5:00 and no tire shop in town was open. We could change it ourselves if we had a new tube, but we weren't sure where to find a 21x3 after 5:00 out on the road. Michael remembered seeing a Harley dealer back in Grand Junction so we gave them a ring. As luck would have it they had one in stock. I jumped on my bike and hauled ass back to Grand Junction to get the tube before the parts counter closed. The parts counter guy kept wanting to crosscheck the tube against the Harley model to make sure it would fit. After the third time I told him it was for a chopped Honda he looked at me doubtfully and said "I don't think that'll fit, Hondas use metric size tires."

Fixing a tire

As I walked out into the parking lot I saw group of HOG riders looking curiously at my bike covered in blue painters tape and 12v wiring. They saw me walking up holding the tube and asked if I had a flat. I said we did, up the road a bit. They asked "what kind of Harley" and I said "a CB750". The older guy in group said he'd never heard of that one and asked if it was some kind of Sportster. I just nodded and hopped on my bike. As I started it up they asked what all the tape was for - I looked back at them and yelled "Michael Lichter" as I rode off. The look on their faces was amazing - they obviously knew that name but I could tell my answer had only raised more questions...

Back at the gas station we ran into Irish Rich and part-timer Steve. They hung out and kept us company while we started changing the tube. By now, the SpeedMetal trailer which had been a few hours behind us all morning had finally caught up. Dave & Ray pulled out the skateboards and tore up the filling station while the rest of the crew worked on Jeff's bike and chatted with Rich. We must have been quite a site - a crowd of greasy bikers with skateboards at a roadside filling station. I saw a few cars creep by, eye the gas pumps and keep on driving.
The SpeedMetal Conoco in Fruita

In short order we had the tire good as new and Mike talked Rich & Steve into riding with us for a bit. Mike got some great shots of Rich and Steve on his newly rebuilt bike. We crossed the state line and had a beautiful ride into Green River and the sun set in the cloudless sky.

When we got to the campground the host at the counter greeted us like old friends, gave the most flat beautiful space of grass in the park and told us to make ourselves at home. We made it into town just in time to catch the kitchen across the way taking last orders for the night. A hot meal and a few cold beers with my road buddies was a perfect way to end such a great day of riding.

Josh & Patty

After dinner we setup camp and Dave showed up with a bottle of Tequila and some stray beers he'd rescued somewhere along the way. El Jimidor warmed our insides as we sat around the trailer bullshitting late into the night. Buck found himself a soft spot in the dirt next to us and checked out for the night. Somewhere after midnight a scantily dressed woman in white came out to give us the gears for making too much noise. At this point Dave already had his shirt off and I think she was secretly hoping for a midnight skinny dip in the park pool.

I went to bed late that night and when I did Mike was still up in the corner going through all the photos he'd shot that day; a look of passionate intensity on a face illuminated by a laptop screen in the middle of the Utah night. The stars were bright, the crickets were singing and I was asleep in no time.

Jeff & Natalie

The Ride to Born Free - Day 2

The late June sun was up early and the heat wasn't too far behind it. I got up, took a shower and had a cup of coffee as the rest of the camp began to wake up. Among the first out of the tent was Mike, camera in hand and capturing it all. He was the last one to bed but you wouldn't know it by the energy and enthusiasm he possessed that morning.

A slow morning in Green River

Somewhere along the way Josh had cracked a wheel spacer and the crew remembered seeing a hardware store on the way into town. He & Jeff made plans to make a run up there while Dave and Sam started to apply the vinyl lettering to the side of the trailer. While Dave and Sam argued over the best place to start stickering the rest of the crew gathered around a shirtless Ray who proceeded to explain the origin of each visible scar he had. It was at this point that Ray told the best story I'd ever heard in my life. I refuse to tell it here, because I simply couldn't do it justice. I've no doubt that each & every person who heard Ray's tale that morning about the straight-line scar running down the inside of his chest will remember it until the day they leave this Earth. If you ever catch Ray at the right time go ahead and ask him about it...

Ray had me crying in the Utah dirt so hard I'd failed to notice what a debacle the sticker work had turned into. Dave's enthusiasm had won out over Sam's slow, steady and pragmatic approach and everything after the "Spee" in SpeedMetal was a crumpled, sticky mess. Upon seeing the results Dave wandered away in frustration or boredom leaving Sam to save the day. Anyone else would have trashed the whole sticker, but Sam worked some magic and in just five minutes the trailer proudly exclaimed "SpeedMetal Custom Fabric". As Sam worked to resurrect the "ation" part of the sticker we laughed at the thought of some old California blue-hairs following the trailer to the show hoping to sample some of Denver's finest hand-made fabrics.

About this time Jeff & Josh made it back from the hardware store with an 8' section of conduit to use for the wheel spacer repair. The long conduit looked like a jousting sword tucked up under Jeff's arm as he rode up and suddenly I wished I'd followed them just to see the looks on the faces in town as "Sir Jeff" rolled through on his steed.

Making a new wheel spacer in Green River

A hacksaw and some encouragement from the shirtless SpeedMetal crew got Josh up & running in no time and soon we were ready to hit the open road. I went to fire up The Mothership only to discover the long hours of Gram Parsons playing on the stereo the night before had left me with a dead battery. We pulled the seat off and the jumper cables came out. After a few minutes of charging off the truck she roared back to life. Mike hopped on the back for another long day at the office and we hit the filling station on the way out to top off the tanks before our 112 mile run through the high Utah desert.

Filling up before the long stretch

I knew the first of the bikes would be running dry somewhere around 70-80 miles in. We had a few gas cans strapped to some of the bikes but we weren't smart enough to put the cans on the bikes that would need them first, so when Justin ran out of gas the rest of the pack went on down the road unaware that he'd stopped. The trailer was behind us and had some gas to spare, but as we measured it out we weren't sure it would be enough to get both Justin's and Jeff's bike all the way to the next filling station in Salina. We kicked the speed down to about 50 to keep fuel mileage up and hit the road again.

Refueling in the middle of Utah

A few miles up the road Mike & I came upon a bike on the side of the highway. As we approached the rider standing next to his bike I gave him a thumbs-up sign and a curious look. He responded by showing me two thumbs-down and we pulled over to offer assistance. As I brought the bike to a stop I saw the rider look up at Mike, smile and shout "Hey Mike!".

What are the odds? In the middle of the Utah desert we pull over to assist a total stranger who just happens to be friends with Mike! Mike introduces the mystery rider as Walter of Kickstart Cycle Supply and organizer of the East Coast Gypsy Run. Mike and Walter had met several years ago on a run down to Mexico. Mike wanted to shoot the run but didn't have a ride. He wandered into a small cafe where the group was eating breakfast before embarking on the run and got a ride with one of Walter's friends. Walter's bike turned out to be fine, just ran out of gas a little early.

Our new friend Walter 
(picture stolen from his blog)

About this time the SpeedMetal trailer had caught up and pulled over. I told Dave we needed more gas and he smiled and told me they'd just remembered all the show bikes were fully gassed up. Turns out this whole time we'd been worried about not having enough gas for everyone and we actually had quite a bit extra. We got Walter fueled up and back on the road and headed into Salina. We passed Justin & Jeff just before the off-ramp as they were still cruising along at 50 mph. Mike & I pulled into the filling station and got caught up with the rest of the crew. I wandered over and started talking to Walter who was in the middle of an impromptu taillight repair. Time passed and I began thinking about rounding up the crew so we could keep rolling. I asked around to see if everyone was ready to go and found out Justin still hadn't arrived. I looked out from the station to see the outline of his tall sissybar at the top of the off-ramp. Turns out we hadn't given him quite enough gas and he'd run out less than 1/4 mile from the station...

Justin & Josh stretching out in Utah

We had a couple no calls, no shows on the Ride to Born Free which meant we didn't have enough time to cancel the extra reservations we'd made at the casino in Mesquite. I knew we were going to have a couple extra rooms that night and Mike & I pleaded with Walter to stay the night with us at the casino rather than try and make it all the way into L.A. that night. After a few minutes we wore him down and he agreed to join the crew for the day.

We hit the road and Mike got some great shots of Walter on his FXR doing his thing. The high Utah plains gave way to lowland desert and oven-like temperatures as I-70 ended and I-15 guided us south. A tight, twisty canyon guards the entrance to Mesquite from the northeast and prevailing winds had aligned perfectly to funnel the triple-digit air up and into the mouth of the canyon. A sweltering, aggressive and unpredictable headwind fought our decent down the canyon onto the desert floor. Heat, mileage and the waning of adrenalin set in as we saw the lights on Mesquite on the horizon and I think all of us were glad to have finally arrived at this small oasis in the desert.

On the road in Utah

We got checked in and handed out the room keys. We parked the bikes along our block of rooms and Dave double-parked them all in with the truck & trailer. Once the vehicles were settled that back door of the trailer came down, the lawn chairs came out and beers were opened. Walter and Ray stated swapping stories while the rest of us took it all in. After a bit Nick Pew and his crew showed up to say howdy with a bottle of road whiskey. I don't know what we were drinking, but it set the beer off just perfectly and we all began to feel our second wind coming on.

Josh, Patty and some hay

At this point the ladies were getting hungry and it was obvious our liquid dinner wouldn't be enough to suffice. They made plans to head over to The Chuckwagon, the casino's buffet. Those of us without female companionship saw no problem in extending our liquid appetizers a bit longer and made plans to meet up with the rest of the group at the buffet after a few more beer cans had been emptied.

An hour or so later we decided our bender was going to go a lot smoother if we ingested something solid. Mike had elected to forego dinner in favor of working on the shots he'd taken that day so Walter, Ray, Sam, Dave and I began our stroll to the buffet. When we arrived we stood in one of two empty lines at the entrance marked off by cheap velvet roping. A frumpy woman at the front most likely born in the 12th century shot us an evil look and asked if we had a black card with a rather condescending tone. Dave explained to her that we did in fact have a black card but we'd mistakenly forgot to renew the membership. This failed to make an impression of any sort on the buffet troll who scurried us into the other (entirely empty) line that was intended for second-class citizens like us.

Jeff & Natalie in Utah

We stood in that empty line staring into an empty buffet for about 10 minutes before we said fuck it and strolled on in. As we walked in we saw Justin and the rest of the crew seated at a long table in the back. we grabbed a small end-table and some chairs to extend out their camp and get our grub on. Just as we were about to sit down and agitated young Asian waitress came out to yell at us. "This area is closed! You CANNOT sit here!". We told her this was our group, they were already eating and we were just here to join them. Multiple attempts at reasoning with the young Chairman Mao wannabe failed miserably as we realized a completely empty restaurant was going to refuse to take our money.

On the way out Ray politely asked the young woman about which water fountains gentlemen like us ought to be using while staying in the casino. Unfortunately I think the brilliance of Ray's wit was lost on her; she just seemed confused and frightened. Somewhere behind me I think I heard a chair get kicked over and something about "fuck your black card bitch".

We found the McDonald's across the street at the truckstop to be much more accommodating to men of our stature, and we ordered up a round of quarter-pounders to be taken back to the trailer and washed down with some cold beers. Ray found some delicious mini-pies in the quickie mart for $0.79 each and tried to start a discussion of convenience store economics with the clerk, who failed to share Ray's amazement at the purchasing power of $0.79.

Back at the trailer the party continued well into the night. The casino was patrolled by middle-aged men in pressed linen shirts who drove around in golf carts with yellow hazard lights. Every 10-15 minutes they'd come around on patrol. While lounging out on the trailer we noticed that each time they came to patrol our area they'd drive up to the front of Dave's truck and turn around. It was obvious they just didn't want to see or know what was going on for fear of having to get involved somehow. We watched with amusement all night as the last 1/4 mile of the casino grounds went unpatrolled and completely subject to our impromptu law.

Ray entertained the group well past a respectable bedtime with the kind of stories only he can tell and when we finally surrendered for the night my healthy buzz was accompanied by a sore gut from laughing at him all night long. I showered off the grime from the day and fell asleep in bed before I'd fully dried off.

Rob & Aylissa on a great day of riding

The Ride to Born Free - Day 3

Determined to beat the arrival of painful desert heat and arrive at camp before dark we set out early in the morning. The night before the group had agreed upon rolling out of Mesquite at 5:30 AM. If I could have, I would have wagered some money that the group size would shrink that day, but to my surprise everyone was up and ready to go right around 5:30. Walter was the first one up & out as he had to be in L.A. before 11:00. We said goodbye and promised to track him down once we got to the show site. The rest of the group made it out and shortly after 5:30 we were back on the road for our final day of travel to the show. Although hot, the trip across the desert was uneventful. Anxious to get their hands on some In & Out the group planned a lunch stop in Barstow. By the time we arrived the temperature was in the triple digits and we were all anxious to begin to the climb out of the desert towards Victorville and into lush rolling hills of Berdoo.

Leaving the desert

Friday afternoon at the In & Out in Barstow should not be taken lightly. We arrived at the beginning of the lunch hour to be informed it would be a two hour wait in the broiling sun. The desire for an exotic burger quickly waned and the group opted to go across the street to dine at the Panda Express. After air conditioning and some hot food had restored our composure and gumption we pressed on. Though the heat was still oppressive the ascent off the desert floor began almost immediately and within the hour we were up in the cool green hills of the California countryside.

Denied at the In & Out

On the outskirts of San Bernadino we made our final gas stop and checked out directions to the show site. The busy California freeways were a shock to us after a thousand miles of wide-open interstate but the pack managed to stay together and I only led us astray once at the very end, and only by a few miles. As the hot afternoon gave way to a cool and gentle evening we arrived at the show site. We met a local named Jeff who led us up to the camp site and showed us how to find Cook's Corner. Back at the show site we were welcomed whole-heartedly by Grant and Mike. They even found a place in the shade at the last minute for our 45' trailer to setup, even though we'd neglected to tell them we'd be bringing it.

On the road through the desert

It's damn near impossible to imagine the time, effort or love required by someone to put on a show like Born Free. On top of everything they'd already done to make a perfect show Grant and Mike were still willing to bend over backwards at the last minute to make sure all the sponsors and vendors had just as good a time as the crowd. The whole SpeedMetal crew felt humbled and grateful for the kindness we were shown by everybody at the show - it really blew us away.

Back at the campsite we weren't sure how things were going to turn out - we had about 15 of us and only had reservations for 3. We pulled up at the entrance and explained our predicament to a super cute brown-eyed park ranger who smiled back and assured me it wouldn't be a problem. It cost us a whopping $15 to get all those extra people into the campground for three nights!

Relaxing in camp

We found our spot, unloaded the bikes and setup camp before dark, then took a quick trip to the general store to get some firewood, beer and other essential outdoor goods. After that it was on to Cook's Corner for a bite to eat and some liquid refreshment.

Mike finally takes a break!

Tequila has a strange way of following Dave Barker around. I never pursue it in the course of my regular drinking and it never really comes looking for me either. We have a mutual understanding, tequila and I, but on certain occasions it seems to ride in on Dave's back happy to see me again and oblivious to the treaty we'd drawn up the last time we met. Friday night at Cook's Corner was no exception; we drank to the limits of sanity at the bar and then headed back to down a few nightcaps by a campfire.

The man in this picture has tequila somewhere...

When we got back Dave lit a campfire that was, for a brief moment, visible from space. The white hot flash of light and mushroom cloud that followed it caught the attention of a few other campers and by the time fire settled to a respectable roar we had three new friends. Ray spent most of the night telling stories to one of the three who'd moved to So Cal from Japan. It was tough to tell how much of what Ray was saying was being understood, but there was little doubt that the parts he did understand were like nothing else he'd ever heard.

After the fire died down the remaining crew went to bed. I pulled my bag out of the tent and opted to curl up beside the embers of the fire. A cool, dense fog wrapped the beautiful night and I feel into a deep, intoxicated sleep.


  1. awesome! ps i like yer new picture on the right side of the blog! :) ha

  2. amazing. looks like the trip of a lifetime

  3. Sounds and looks so amazing. I have been anxiously awaiting the stories.

  4. Awww man, you left out the part about getting the trailer stuck on the way into the show and everyone standing on the tongue so it wouldnt drag. That was some good team work. Thanks for the patch too. Good times!!!