In 1969 we watched Michael Parks in his TV series “Then Came Bronson” riding his Harley Sportster wearing a watch cap, with apparently everything he owned strapped on the bike, a sleeping roll, and a small duffel. We liked the show’s opening, Bronson waiting at an intersection, with a station wagon astride him, the poor guy at the wheel trying to rub the weariness, the boredom off his face. He looks enviously over at Bronson, asks,
“Taking a trip?”
“I don’t know. Anywhere I end up I guess.”
“Wish I was you.”
“Well, hang in there.”
The reason Bronson hit the road on his Harley, according to the script, was his best friend committed suicide so he blew off his job as a newspaper reporter and took off on his bike to learn “the meaning of life,” and to palliate the tragedy of losing his friend in such fashion. My late riding buddy, C.O. “Sonny” Elmore, an early contributor to Rider, used to call that kind of tour a cerebral douche. Since he was a vice cop somewhat frustrated and cynical about trying to police criminal activity, he said was bedrock in human nature, he was fond of the therapy ride.
Sonny was a Guzzi rider, a very tough hombre, built like a fire hydrant. Once, during a staff ride, we were descending the twisties of Mt. Palomar and he lost it, and speared an oncoming Datsun, and executed a body roll over the car. He wound up sitting cross-legged on the asphalt lighting his pipe. His Guzzi penetrated the radiator and beyond, rendering the little car inert. We pulled his Guzzi out of the mouth of the deceased Datsun, did some handlebar readjusting, and Sonny rode the machine home more than a hundred miles with us to L.A.
I called him the next morning. “How you feeling?” He said, “I feel like I’ve gone twelve with Marciano.”
Years pass as they do. We are now in the late 90’s. I am retired from the publisher’s seat at Rider and Sonny’s from the Force is imminent. The phone rings, it is him. He says he is moving to a place in NE California, wants to show it to me, let’s ride up there.
Turned out to be a terrific ride, up the Owens Valley between the dramatic granite minarets of the Eastern Sierra and looming eastward the ancient humps of the White Mountains where eight thousand feet on the summit grow Bristlecone Pine trees, the oldest on earth. In Big Pine we decided to roll out our bags and overnight in the city park. At 4:00 am it’s ka-thwacka ka-thwacka ka thwacka, the automatic sprinklers have erupted and we’re like two Laurel and Hardy guys struggling in our underwear to get our bikes and our stuff out of the deluge. Sonny, always the cop, said he thought he saw the culprit skulking around. We laughed about it for years.
The final leg of the ride from the Lassen County seat of Susanville, up into seventy miles of high country, an endless sea of sagebrush where deer and antelope play under a sky as big as Montana’s, I am thinking my man is moving to the moon, and it’s beginning to look pretty good to me. A current movie hitting theatres in L.A., I noticed before we left, is titled “Citizen Ruth.” The plot line was, opposing militant factions in the abortion battle exploit a pregnant woman addicted to spray paint fumes. The urge to escape the growing frenzy of life in Lala was crawling up the legs of my riding pants. It became insistent when we rode into Big Valley and I saw the pastures of heaven undulating in the wind, and the town of Bieber, Sonny’s hometown to be, looking like idyllic Willoughby in my favorite Twilight Zone episode wherein sane, bucolic Willoughby is an illusion, but so compelling, the harried New York commuter grabs his briefcase and exits the train that is still at speed.
But Big Valley was no illusion. Sonny ended up establishing an auto and truck repair business across the street from the river in downtown Bieber and I got adopted by a wonderful local family with deep valley roots and began learning to farm a hundred acres of alfalfa. It was a great slice of life, somewhere close I think to the meaning of it, and the many motorcycle tours that began right from the end of my driveway, most of them recorded right here in the pages of Rider, are engraved in memory.