Posted July 1st, 2000
This essay was originally published in the Middlebury Alumni magazine
Out & About
Summertime. The weather is hot,
the roads are dry, and I want a
When I was a kid, my dad came home one bright, summer day with a classic: a powerful Indian with turquoise fenders and a leather saddle fit for a thoroughbred. I sat on his lap as we roared around the neighborhood.
In college, motorcycles re-appeared every spring, as reliably as the daffodils. After five months imprisoned in classrooms by snow and ice, many of my friends celebrated the return of warm weather by exploring Vermont’s back roads on two wheels at 80 miles an hour.
In those tumultuous days on college campuses, with all-night vigils to protest the war in Vietnam and demonstrations in support of racial integration, another dispute also divided college students: the rivalry between European and Japanese motorcycles. Companies like Honda, Kawasaki, and Suzuki were flooding America with their fast, flashy machines. Their only drawback was their engines’ high-pitched whine, which inspired the derisive nickname, rice grinders. Triumphs, BSAs and BMWs, on the other hand, were identifiable by a deep, throbbing roar, which defined power.
I had a friend in college who disassembled and rebuilt his Norton in his dorm room every winter to be certain it would run smoothly in the spring. When the weather finally got warm, he would rise at dawn (not typical for your average college student) and explore rural Vermont on his beautiful silver machine, returning for late-morning classes, with a wind-burned face and bugs in his teeth. It was a spiritual experience for him.
Those college days were also the days of discount airfares to Europe, Youth Hostels, and Eurail Passes. Resourceful college students really could see the sights of Europe on five dollars a day. A popular variation on that travel theme was to buy a new Triumph in England or a BMW in Munich, and explore Europe on your new motorcycle.
I couldn’t swing the plane ticket and the bike, so I settled for the plane ticket and hitchhiking. But at a tiny Youth Hostel in central Norway, I met Graham Bailey, a British motorcycle policeman on holiday, touring Scandi-navia on his Vincent 1,000. I spent several days astride that 747 of motorcycles, marveling at the unforgettable scenery of the Norwegian fjords. Bailey, who was driving, was one of the few Englishmen who routinely averaged better than 100 miles per hour on the famous Isle of Mann race course. Needless to say, I was hooked.
As a London policeman, Graham Bailey said he could find me the motorcycle of my dreams at a bargain price from the police impound lot. When the right bike turned up, he would simply buy it, crate it, and ship it to me.
Back in college that fall, during a rough and tumble soccer game, I collided with another player and injured my foot. As I waited in the emergency room to be treated, an ambulance arrived with the victim of a motorcycle accident, and I had a front-row seat as a team of doctors and nurses tried frantically to save him. I had never seen so much blood. The next day, I phoned Graham Bailey in London and canceled my order.
It was not until many years later that my interest in motorcycles resurfaced. I was almost 40, a mature, responsible family man, when I spotted the ad for a 1968 Triumph. It had been lovingly cared for and the price was reasonable. I couldn’t resist.
The day I brought it home, I had to try it out. After all, how could I pass the test for an operators license until I had spent a little time in the saddle. Besides, Thetford is blessed with an extensive network of back roads, and virtually no traffic. Except on that day. On a lonesome stretch of dirt, I passed a State Trooper. It was the first time I’d ever seen a Trooper in our town. He was headed in the other direction, and the road was narrow. I thought he might ignore me. No such luck. I got a ride home in his cruiser, which gave my wife a serious scare when he pulled into the yard. I also got a ticket for operating an unregistered motor vehicle without a license.
But I can take a hint. I just wasn’t meant to have a motorcycle. That’s okay, I’ve had more than my share of fun and excitement anyway. It’s just that, on these hot, summer days… I Dear Editor,
I appreciate Commissioner Motyka’s efforts to explain Forests, Parks, & Recreation’s slowness in dealing with mountain bike trail access on state lands (June, 2000), but I wish he had responded to the points in my May editorial more specifically.
We know FPR allows bikes to use gravel-surfaced roads and forest highways on state lands. This is clearly stated in FPR Policy #4. What we’re now interested in is access to hope you folks roaring down the highway with the wind in your face are really enjoying yourselves.