A Daughter Reflects On The Wandering Soul Of Her Motorcycling Father, And How Much Like Him She Actually Is.
Disclaimer: I am not my father.
It was inevitable that one day I would end up on a motorcycle like my brother, our father, and his father before him. We’ve always been more comfortable on wheels than in houses. Structures are fixed, and they eliminate the possibility that something exhilarating lies just beyond the next hill crest. Fate works in funny ways; from it you may run, but you can never hide.
I am not my father, but I am his daughter through and through. I inherited from my mother freckles, untamed curls, and a slight trepidation towards big red bikes. The similarities end there, and her traits were otherwise conquered by my father’s in the gene pool. Once upon a Honda Trail 90, the sight of my 10 year old kid brother bouncing over the relentless washboards of Swakane Canyon near our home in Wenatchee, Washington fired sugar into every chamber of my heart. The part of my brain genetically predisposed to fall in love with the popcorn cadence of a sputtering exhaust did exactly what it was supposed to do, and an itch only scratched by wind blown hair made itself at home in my hypothalamus.
The combination of two wheels and no place to be provides an equal measure of comfort and stimulation for my father and I, but freedom for me comes in the form of my Salsa Vaya Claris, a glittering steel-framed touring bicycle that I’ve affectionately named Kudra after the character in my favorite book by Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume. Much like her namesake, she is dark of complexion and a force to be reckoned with, able to pull her own weight yet still change directions with breathtaking agility.
She is my perfect woman and travel companion. Together we crest hills, lean into the Chuckanut Mountain curves, and carry fresh produce through the backroads of Bellingham, Washington. Without her I would know nothing of balance, although shopping for jeans might be considerably easier. If you’re ever looking to build muscle I recommend making a habit of biking up slopes with 20 lbs. of groceries and 15 lbs. of college textbooks on a steel bicycle, in the snow, against a headwind. You’ll never set foot in a gym again.
I am not my father, but I am built from the same material. Design flaws of the human body mean that woman-powered transportation has it’s limitations. No matter how frantically I pedal, I will never catch up to my dad’s Honda VFR. It takes him places that are out of my reach at speeds I can only dream of matching, and unless I find a way to keep up I will be just another figure fading into the endless highway reflection of his rear view mirrors.
The older he gets, the more often he is gone. It doesn’t matter what cause for celebration is drawing others home, if the day falls between the second week of June and the first week of September, the chances are high that dad is on the road. Home is wherever his tent, saddlebags, and big red sidekick are. On my 21st birthday, he called me from a stump on the side of the highway somewhere in California. He was quite lost. The few extra feet of height provided by the remnant tree gave him just enough cell service to leave me a voicemail. A beer was promised upon his safe return.
Although the beer was delivered as promised, it did little to fill the void left by the distance between my father and I. It was a canyon that widened with each grainy FaceTime call from some rural laundromat. Written in hieroglyphs on the heart of the canyon wall was envy for his nomadic lifestyle and a desire to be close to him. To take part in his adventures rather than reading about them in his latest article.
I was not as upset about my father’s absence as I selfishly wanted to be. After all, it’s not right to cage a wild wandering soul. I was bred of the same bloodline so I understood the restless undercurrents that propelled him into the high hills at the first hint of sunshine. They ran through me too, only I chose drop bars and pedal strokes over throttles and horsepower. It didn’t matter, because we sought the same things, and I was faced with an ultimatum: I could continue to experience my dad’s world through megapixels and Road Dirt articles, or I could throw a bicycle-toned leg over the seat of a sport bike and plunge helmet first into the family profession of “Riding A Lot and Writing About It.”
One afternoon while home from college visiting Wenatchee, I went into the garage of the house I grew up in where my father was engaging in one of his favorite meditative pastimes: polishing chrome. In this instance, he was cleaning the last of the salt from the Bonneville Salt Flats from his VFR exhaust pipe. Parked in front of the glimmering silver bumper of his 1966 candy apple red convertible Mustang was his vermillion red 1998 Honda Superhawk. If you haven’t sensed a color theme you’re not reading closely enough. I threw a leg over Big Red Beast. “It’s not a starter bike, but you can start it if you’d like.” Good bike. Scary bike. I started it. It turned over, growled, and purred in neutral as I gentle urged the throttle. I did like. The reverberations permeated my brain. Childhood memories of country backroads and canyon dirt flooded in. Decisions were made. Resolve was hardened.
I’m not my father, but I am his only daughter. Joining the Mild Hogs family riding group would make me the stand alone female member and solitary Edwards woman with a motorcycle endorsement to her name. It would mean long trips away from my college friends. It would mean curious looks from fellow riders when the removal of my helmet reveals feminine features that, masterfully masked by bulky riding gear, now proved painfully obvious in my cropped curls and delicate jawline. It would mean risking my biscuits with nothing other than my wits and synthetic fabrics protecting me from asphalt at 60+ MPH.
It would mean the lullaby of engines ripping through the starry night sky, and pavement days that stretched on for hundreds of miles into the horizon. It would mean leaning into turns harder than I ever did with Kudra. It would mean summer winds caressing my chest, tangling themselves around my body and bringing me the sweet smells of native sage and wild blossoms and sea salt. Most of all, it would mean time with my dad. Bonding with my brother. Spending time with my aging grandfather. It would mean a return to my roots on that Trail 90 so long ago, and a lifetime of speed, freedom, and exploration.
I am not my father, and yet children have an uncanny way of inheriting their parent’s passions. However peculiar, two wheeled machinery and creative writing is the hand of hobbies I was dealt. But my stories read nothing like his. How could they? What happens inside the helmet is unique to every individual. It is this sense of solitary completeness, not how fast the bike flies or how brightly the chrome shines, that lends beauty to the bond between woman/man and bike.
*submitted on her behalf by a very proud dad.