Well it’s almost summer. The world is fresh and green and in any normal time, the open road would be calling, and I’d be planning a long road trip on Angus. Unfortunately, the open road still calls – just no one can answer right now. In this time of COVID-19, where we are all abiding by stay-at-home orders as best we can, discretionary travel is a no-no, and even if one could, motels and campgrounds are closed throughout the country. There are signs that the virus pandemic is easing up and some places are starting to reopen, but long-distance road trips on the bike are not likely this year, and if you are anything like me you are probably going plumb stir-crazy.
I can, and have, taken a few short rides around town on my bikes -- just to keep the oil circulating and the batteries charged. But I’ve not gone more than 100 miles total since this whole stay-at-home thing started in California in mid-March. I’ve picked every weed out of the yard several times it seems – there isn’t one to be found. I’ve organized closets, and the house is more or less spotless. I’ve watched everything on Netflix. And I’ve read a lot. Mostly my favorite biker books.
I’m not entirely sure that “Biker Literature” is actually a category. I don’t think there is a Dewey Decimal number for it. But I love biker road trip/story books, and there’s a lot to be found if this is your taste in reading as well. Road trip books can be of two kinds. First there is the straight travelogue road trip, describing scenery, towns, and conversations with people and the sights one sees. Then there is the combination of a travelogue and the journey of the author themselves – to find or connect with their past, or their future, to forget something, or to remember it. The latter are the true gems of biker literature. Not only do I learn something about a place or a road, but I learn a little about myself by seeing what the author sees, feeling what the author feels, and listening to them as they go on two simultaneous journeys – one of the road, and one of the soul. When they meld into one trip, that’s a great biker book.
So herewith are some reading suggestions to occupy your time while cooped up waiting for this virus to pass, or to even take with you once the open road reopens.
Two of my favorites are “Freedom’s Rush – Tales From the Biker and the Beast” and “Freedom’s Rush II – More Tails From the Biker and the Beast” both by Foster Kinn. I’ve had the pleasure of riding with Foster a few times, I was honored to be able to write a review of his second book for the cover, and there’s a couple of stories with him and I in it. Foster, who lives in Los Angeles when he’s not on the road, started riding late in life, and has since covered the US, ridden to Alaska and up the Al-Can highway, and even shipped his bike to Hawaii to tick off the last of the fifty states. (I’m still stuck at 48 since I’ve yet ridden up to Alaska and I’m not shipping to Hawaii.). Foster says in his first book; “I didn’t start out to write a book. What I did start out to do is ride. Just that. I wanted to ride my motorcycle, travel on roads I’d never before traveled, meet people I’d never before met, see things I’d never before seen. Breathe a different air.”
“The Old Man and the Harley – A Last Ride Through Our Fathers’ America” by Jon J. Newkirk is another that’s at the top of my list – and one even a non-rider will very much enjoy. When I first got this book, I could hardly put it down. I passed my copy on to my stepfather who had the same reaction, and he’s not a rider. “On June 22, 1939, nineteen-year-old Jack Newkirk straddled a well-worn Harley-Davidson VI Big Twin and set out to see the 1939 New York World’s Fair and the San Francisco Golden Gate Exposition. Both the boy and his country were on the brink of an irrevocable transformation. Both would soon be at war. And both would emerge forever changed. But for one last gilded summer, the “World of Tomorrow” promised peace and prosperity to a weary nation.” In the “Old Man and the Harley”, the author retraces this epic odyssey with his aging father. If you aren’t a little bit teary-eyed by the end of this one you have no heart.
Last but not least on my list, “Riding in the Shadows of Saints – A Women’s Story of Motorcycling The Mormon Trail”, by Jana Richman. I fell in love with this story for two reasons. One, you don’t read a lot about women riders and she has a wonderful voice. And second, because I come from hearty Mormon pioneer stock myself – and my great-great grandfather was one of the pioneers who came west with Brigham Young in 1847. This book has a deep personal meaning. I’d already ridden much of the Mormon Trail before I found this book (and truth be told, I had considered writing something similar and was beaten to the punch by the author of this one.). Like the author I’m no longer a practicing member of the faith, but almost like being Jewish, one can leave the faith but not the culture. One hundred and fifty years ago her ancestors came west as mine did, traveling in covered wagons deep into the wilderness. “One hundred fifty years later the author retraces that route searching for the peace and faith the women before her carried.”
And just for future reference, I’m working on my own such book, tentatively called “Ghosts of the Road”. Truth be told, I’ve been working on it for years. I go in fits and starts – and am about a quarter of the way done. I’d share an excerpt, but I’m out of space this month, so you’ll just have to wait. With any luck I’ll have it done before the next virus hits.