You wouldn’t know it to look at me now, but in my teens I was a biker chick. When summer swept the landscape in sunshine and green I hit the open roads; gas tank between my knees, throttle and clutch in hand, toe and heel kicking through the gears.
My nearest friend lived three miles away and others further than that. Before the motorbike roared into my life getting to each other’s places independently was a slow progression from shoe leather, to bicycles, to horseback, to motorbike before finishing with a car. I went through the evolution of transportation and embraced each one in turn. Well, not the bicycle. I hated the bicycle.
During the bicycle years I spent more time embracing the road with my face than anything else. The bike and I never bonded. Living in the bottom of a deep valley had a lot to do with it. Leaving meant a steep uphill climb. More often than not I chose to simply walk the bike to the top, rather than ride.
Either way, it was a long, slow, exit. Returning was anything but. Coming home I would pause at the top of the steep hill and make the big decision. Walk or ride. If I walked the bike down the hill, short of a bear gobbling me up along the way, I was all but guaranteed to get home safe and sound. If I rode I could reach our driveway in a wind whipping, hair blowing, teeth chattering 4.2 seconds . . . or possibly never see home again.
My bike was gearless, missing a few spokes and the brake system consisted of slamming the pedals backwards which sometimes worked but more often than not they simply spun in the breeze. As the bike picked up speed the front wheel — the one missing the spokes — would start to wobble. At first it was just a little shimmy but if the brakes continued to fail the shimmy would quickly progress to a violent side to side action that almost always ended with me dining on gravel.
Even when we upgraded to a new five-speed bike I still managed to devise surprising ways to fall off. I would look over my shoulder to check for cars or bears and drive into the ditch. I would get over into the loose gravel on the shoulder and wipe out. I would pull on the hand brake too hard and stop so suddenly I sailed over the handlebars and left the bike behind. Bike riding did not come naturally to me.
Once I discovered horses the bike was permanently — and happily — abandoned. I loved everything about horses. The way they looked, the way they smelled, the way they moved. Even when I got bucked off, I still loved them. For years horses were my sole mode of transportation and even now I count that time as among the happiest of my life.
Then we got the motorbike. It was quick to find, easy to ride and fast. I could park it in a friend’s driveway without worrying about food, water or fear of getting loose. Other than a gulp of gas and a dab of oil it was carefree. The good times rolled. Why I bonded with a bike with a motor when I was a wreck waiting to happen with the motor-less kind, I have no idea, but bond I did. The horses grew fat while I flew down the dusty dirt roads. I was Easy Rider, The Wild One and Born to Ride. I was . . . OK; I was a teenager on a Yamaha. Ahem, a Yamaha 80. Not a bike to be easily confused with a Harley. Worse, it had signal lights and a little horn that sounded like the roadrunner in the Bugs Bunny cartoon. Suffice it to say, the community did not fear me.
The bike’s true purpose was for helping with the transfer of machinery, hence its size.
With the motorbike in the mix, when a field was harvested the grain truck could be driven home, a pickup driven back to fetch the combine and then finally the motorbike could be ridden back to the field for the pickup and easily lifted into the truck bed, saving the need for a second person or miles of walking; provided one of the daughters wasn’t off riding the bike instead.
Today I’ve come full circle. My favourite mode of transportation is my own two feet. I love going for long walks. And while there is no motorbike in our garage, there are two horses in our pasture and I still love the way they look, the way they smell and how they move.
But sometimes when I hear a motorbike growl in the distance I think of those summer days growing up on the farm and how it might feel to go for one more ride.
Shannon McKinnon is a humour columnist from Northern BC. You can catch up on past columns or check out her garden blog by visiting www.shannonmckinnon.com