Old Man Harley Camping

Well, shit! As a shakedown ride, I really felt ‘shook down’!” These were my thoughts as I wearily pulled the Harleyi back into the shop were I stored it. It was past 9:00pm, and I was bone-weary tired and drained. I’d put in nearly eight hours of riding on the Harley. Probably more exhausting was the high anxiety I felt this morning as I was packing my gear on the Harley. This shakedown trip had been to the nearby (140 miles) Congaree National Park just southwest of Columbia, SC.

It had been a long time—25 years+—since I had put in those kind of miles and time on a motorcycle. I used to regularly do 500-mile days on my long trips. Now it looked like 300 or so was my limit. This getting old sucks! But, it’s like my dear old Dad used to say, “It beats the alternative.” Yep.

I was thinking of another trip out West this fall. Looked like I needed to rethink that for around 300-mile days, not 500 miles based from what I had learned today. I wanted to go to Navajo country in New Mexico’s Four Corners area and visit the Navajo/Anasazi National Parks per my interest in Plains Indian culture and spirituality—background research for another book project. It was 2000 miles out there and then another 2000 back, plus maybe 500 while out there. Instead of five days to get out there, now we were talking more like seven days. I would be camping all the way, with a motel room only every few days.–a budget issue. Sigh. At this age, was I really up for such a long, hard adventure—and on the Harley? On the other hand, why not? I was retired, spending my time gardening, do projects around the house, doing Zen and Unitarian Universalist stuff, and course, writing. These with an occasional adventure thrown in.

Adventures were the spices in my life: life without adventure was bland and boring; a dull meal indeed! To be clear, my adventures were not of the adrenalin-junkie type—i.e., high octane stuff like mountain climbing, sky diving, or high speeds. They were long trips out into nature on Harley, bicycle, and camping; or intense Zen meditation retreats, Native American Vision Quests and sweat lodges. All with a spiritual twist. I was always glad to get back home when they were over and slip back in to my more Clark Kent, everyday lifestyle of chopping wood/carrying water. As for writing, I was working on my third book now and had three others on the drawing board.

What can I do, adventures call me, even as an old man. My Old Man reasoning (and daughters) said, “Dad, take shorter trips around here. There’s all sorts of places to go.” True, we have all kinds of state and national parks within a few hundred miles, many in 100 miles or less. BUT, my inner voice protests, “That’s not our desert!,” then scowls and growls. My heart and inner-voice (subconscious) are called to the desert mountains of the West. Sigh. What’s an old guy to do?

I was trying out my daughters’ suggestion on this trip, which was a shakedown for one for my 75 birthday I wanted to do to the Okefenokee Wildlife Refuge, some 321 miles away. My daughters are my ‘check-in’ voices of rational reason and common sense, along with my old horse therapy buddy, Carl. All three of them are very practical and down to earth. None of them are called to adventures. They are the stay-at-home types like their mother. Although, Carl, in his younger years, was quite the adventurer on both bicycle and motorcycle. He outgrew his though. My trip this time was a test of their hypothesis—as well as a shakedown ride. It been such a long time since I had done one. Packing for camping on a motorcycle was a lot easier than for a bicycle, as I had done last year. It was also a way to test the waters, so to speak, for the longer trips to Okefenokee in two weeks, and perhaps, New Mexico in the fall—could I still do them?

It seemed every time I turned a corner these days, I was reminded that I couldn’t do what I used to do like I used to do it when I was younger. For example, riding/driving at night now. I hated riding the Harley at night anymore. I could still do a car okay. My cataracts made the glare from the oncoming headlights uncomfortable, and my eyes didn’t adjust as well to the bright lights. On a motorcycle you really needed to be able to see!

That said, the ride in tonight after dark hadn’t been that bad. A pleasant surprise, especially considering how fatigued I was. I had no trouble getting through Greenville or Easley. Divided highways most of the way so that the oncoming headlights weren’t right in my face.

Then there was my decreased stamina and endurance. Despite my best efforts, working out, and active physical and mental lifestyles, I could only slow aging down a little. That said, I could still do most of what I have always been able to do. It is like Tobey Keith’s song says, Not as good as I used to be. But I’m as good once, as I used to be. I was in good shape for an old guy.

Other than that, the trip had been a great ride. A great day even. I mean, the Harley had performed beautifully, the weather had been good (cool but no rain), and I was still alive and kickin’(a.k.a., alive, unhurt, walking and talking, etc.) It had definitely been a shakedown ride—and adventure! I had learned a lot. Stuff you couldn’t figure out without getting out and doing it. An experiential approach.

I’m big on the experiential side of life: Times running out, Old Man; the Clock’s ticking. Experience what you can before you can’t. Try it and see. Even my mental health counseling approaches had been mostly experiential: horse (equine-assisted) therapy, hypnotherapy, eco-therapy. I quickly got bored in sit-and-talk office therapy sessions. Often we would go for a walk out in the woods and talk—walk-and-talk in nature sessions.

As I processed the experience from my trip over the next few days, I realized in that one nine-hour period, I had learned several critical things, none of which I could have thought/reasoned my way through. I felt more confidence about being able to make the Okefenokee swamp, canoe-camping trip. It was to be my 75the birthday present to myself. Last year’s 74th birthday present to myself had been my bicycle tour, and I had done that—well, more-or-less.ii


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Buddha on a Bike: Harley Resurrection


June 2, 2022, was my one-year anniversary of my “bicycling-it only” experiment. I had sold my truck on June 2, 2021, and had been getting around only on my bicycle. On Friday (5/26), I went and bought myself another Harley, a 2017 Heritage Softail Classic, my favorite model of Harleys. Enough was enough of this bicycling-it only shit!

I found trying to do only bicycling around here in rural South Carolina, very restrictive, limiting, inconvenient, and dangerous. The latter, I knew going into the experiment. Around SC very few of the roads have shoulders to ride on. Around town here in Liberty, the bicycle was just fine, and I plan to keep doing that. Most of what I need is within a one mile radius of where I live, that’s probably 90% of my going, at least over the last year. However, as soon as I wanted to go further, to one of the other cities around here say, that was a different story. Too many hills, too dangerous on narrow, two-lane roads with no shoulders and often, a good amount of traffic. All of these cities are ten or so miles away–or further, which took lot of energy, effort and time to go to any of these.

Throw into this mix the COVID pandemic with its social isolation and my being pretty much a hermit and single at this stage of my life, I found myself severely restricted on what and where I could go, often requiring finding a ride or borrowing one of my kids cars. Because of these restrictions and obstacles, I had found loneliness becoming more and more an issue.

Woven into this story was my Texas Desert Bike tour, returning back here May 1. The month of May has been largely spent getting my head back together after that tour: all the training, effort, and preparation, and finally the actual doing. On that trip I had decided I was tired of only bicycling it, the isolation, and growing loneliness. This is where the Harley comes into the story/equation.

My daughters had wanted me to be reasonable,and get a small car, maybe a small SUV, so that I could take my two large dogs to the vet and myself around. “Reasonable” is boring, pedestrian, but, yeah, they were right. Sigh. During May, I looked several times on the Internet and was not happy with the costs and my choices.  I had looked several times over the last year with the same conclusion. If I was going to lay down that much cash, I wanted it to be something I wanted to drive, something with some adventure, some excitement, some sex appeal! Increasingly over the last year of bicycling, I had found myself missing my Harleys. To me, Harleys have all of these. Of course the irony here is that the only thing more dangerous than a bicycle is a motorcycle.

This is my fifth Harley and seventh motorcycle. Well, one of these, the first, back in the eighth grade was just a little put-put motor scooter, not a real motorcycle: no gears, only a back break, no signals lights, no helmets back then, etc. You just turned the throttle and it went. Kind of like the gocart I had had in the seventh grade and nearly killed myself on running under a parked car. I was paying more attention to the kids playing in the street and not to where I was going. I was in a coma for three days from that little incident.

Then in graduate school at Texas, I had ridden a little Honda 350. Again, a basic bare-bones bike back in 1970. Put a lot of miles on that little bike: running to and from the University, riding kamikaze in the hill country around Lake Travis, especially at night, one time pretty stoned as I remember. I had come down from Fort Worth and ended up spending the night in one of the technicians that worked in the lab. We had started out with “magic” brownies she had just made, later going riding in the hill country around lake Lake Travis, here on her little 125cc bike, me on my 350cc Honda. Turned out to be quite a night. I remember falling asleep in her apartment, listening to the Rolling Stones new Let It Bleed album that had just come out, her pet rat crawling across the bed. It was certainly a night of “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try real hard, you can get what you need.” Fond memories of that night.

I made numerous trips between Austin and Fort Worth that summer and can still remember how I would “vibrate” for hours afterwards from the bike’s vibrations. No anti-vibration options on those old bikes. And an aching neck: it had no windshield and fighting those Texas winds was tough, even in my early 20’s. Let’s skip ahead 20 years or so now.

I had started out for my fortieth birthday with the smallest Harley, a Sportster. It had a whole lot of “kick” (power) with very little weight, given the size of the engine (997 cc). This was a whole new ball game! This was real motorcycle! No rice-rocket here. It didn’t take me long to “outgrow” the Sporter though. I quickly realized I wanted something for the open road. Aside from a lot of vibration, the Sportster has only a small gas tank, very limited range, and there was not a good way to fit it with saddle bags, etc., for touring.

I sold it and bought a 1981 Superglide. Still not a touring model, but a step in that direction. These are full size Harley. Took it to Sturgis. It was the 50th Anniversary of the rally (1990)! What an experience! On the trip I found it was not a good touring bike–one that you can drive long distances and carry gear. I sold it and for my birthday in 1993, I bought me a brand new 1993 Heritage Softail Classic. Paid cash for it. Drove it right off the showroom floor.

Heritages fit me and they have a 1950’s touring bike look that I really like. When I say “fit,”I’m referring to my very short legs. The bigger touring bikes, like the Road King and Electra

Glides, are too tall for me, even though years later I bought a Road King.  My Heritage is the one featured on my WindWalker book cover. I drove it to Texas and Big Bend several times; New Mexico and all over. Put nearly 40,000 miles on it before selling it around 2001. You can read about the Big Bend trip in WindWalker, as well as the Sturgis rally.

Then I went from 2001- 2013 Harley-less. I wanted to try one of the bigger touring bikes, one with cruise control and a gas gauge, more luggage capacity, etc. In 2013 the Harley bug bit me again.  I bought a 2011 Road King, a bike designed for touring. It didn’t take me long to realize the Road King was too tall for my short legs. (Couldn’t find any images of it. I know I have some somewhere.) So, I sold it in 2015 to help pay for office renovations.

Here we are back in 2022 and on Friday, May 26, I went to look at Harleys. It was decided it was Harley resurrection time! I had been thinking about it a long time. Woke up Friday morning and decided to go look at them. When I told Tricia, my ex and still girlfriend, she quickly pointed out that she knew me and when I said “look,” I had already decided to buy. She was right. This time I definitely wanted one though that fit my short legs. There are several models, but again, the classic look of the Heritage Softail Classics called my name and it still fits my legs. The dealer, Timms Harley-Davidson in Anderson, SC, had just gotten in a used 2017 Heritage. It was in immaculate condition and only had 7000 miles on it! They had not even had time to go over it and check everything out.


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