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UnEasy Rider

Say, Chaps, didn’t we crew at Dartmouth?

©By Sam Taylor

It was a concept born of unbridled love of my fellow man, woman, child, and gosh, the whole darn world.  Golden Gate Harley-Davidson had just moved to Corte Madera, right around the corner from my home.  It was the closest I’d ever lived to an actual motorcycle dealer, and I was bound and determined to support my neighborhood shop, regardless of my personal choice of ride.

I like motorcycles.  I like motorcycle shops.  I’m totally non-denominational:  I feel as long as you worship, I don’t care at which altar.  Over the years, I’ve tried many religions; I just happen to believe in BMW and Ducati right now.  But who knows where my spirit (and checkbook) could eventually ascend?

So when the Harley dealer said he was going to sponsor a charity run from the dealership to the Fetzer Winery in Hopland, with tons of food and a good live band at the destination, all while supporting the Boys and Girls Clubs, I figured, Great!  One: good cause, two: new shop, and three: hey, get out of your rut and ride with a different crowd.  Not that my other buds constitute rutdom—it’s just fun to try something new, one of my mottos.

The owner (well, I found out later the father of the owner) of the shop had told me he rode an R1100RS, too.  Now why I chose my Ducati M900 Monster that morning as my weapon of choice I leave to my analyst to determine.  Nevertheless, at 9:00 AM on a mid-May Saturday I dutifully tanked up and rode over to the new Harley shop.  I should have known how this was going to go when, as I was slowly pulling in behind 300 or so of my closest Harley brethren, I overheard one say to another “see what happens?”.  With practiced obliviousness, I dismissed the comment as one that questioned perhaps the seating of a new oil seal.

To be fair, in and amongst the assembled 300 were several nice folks, who, while stuck in an idiotic line for tickets, engaged me in enthusiastic conversation.  A few of them continued engagement even after I told them that, yes, that was my Ducati.  As I came to learn, I was destined to be well-known.

So we lined up and left more or less on time.  It was quite a procession.  I’d just put some new D&D free-flowing pipes on the Duck and I was the quietest rider around.  In fact, a few days later the Marin Independent Journal wrote an article on how the neighbors were complaining about the noise.  Well, in that regard, I’m with the shop and riders:  screw ‘em—they'd moved next to a long-time industrially-zoned couple of blocks. Get a life beyond Chardonnay and SUVs.  But I digress.

So off we rode, in formation (sort of—more on that in a moment), onto Highway 101 north.  I was (accidentally) near the front of the pack.  I kept trying to slide into the natural staggered formation but encountered some major ‘tude.  Some riders shut me out by riding in the center of the lane, others passed me (Jesus—it wasn’t too hard since we were blasting along at all of 50mph), and none ever looked me in the eye (or helmet).  I dismissed most of this as a by-product of my sensitive nature.  At first.  The shut-out continued, though, and I became resigned to it.

So we loped by Sears Point and up 29 through Napa for a stop at the Charles Krug Winery.  I honestly didn’t know what to expect—wine tasting on motorcycles is sort of a no-no in today’s hyper-sensitive mommy-clime.  Yet these were Harley riders, renowned, rightly or not, for their prowess behind a glass.  Naturally, as part of my scientific approach, I partook—only to observe—and noticed that about 25-50%% of the crowd enjoyed the grape.

We left and headed up 128 to Jimtown, near Geyserville, for our next stop.  Now 128 is one of the finest roads in California, and the segment between Calistoga and Jimtown is one of the bestsegments, as you cross from the Napa to the Alexander valleys.  Here’s where I became a tad antsy.  Granted that this was a crowd of about 150 bikes.  Granted that no one was there to set a speed record.  Still, after a little 10:00 am red wine in me it was all I could do to keep the zzzzzs out of my helmet.  Needless to say, I smelled the roses—and the lilys, and the poppies, and the lupine, and—well, you get the picture.

So we stopped at the general store/bar/gas station/only thing in town, and tanked up a bit more.  I refrained from conducting further research at this point, as did most--but not all--of the other riders.  We then left to rejoin 101 for the trip into Hopland.  Lesson learned:  riding in formation with 150 bikes is much more fun on a freeway than on a real road.  It actually wasn’t that bad.  When the sweeping part of 101 came upon us, near the big rock that squeezes the Russian River into 101 just south of Hopland, I truly enjoyed wicking it up to about 70.  I was ever-careful not to pass the leader, who got confused at the turn-off to the Eastside Road (**sigh**) and stopped the whole pack.

We soon came into Hopland.  Many riders, as if out of habit, stopped at The Keg, the bar at the corner of 101 and 175, and at which any traveler on those roads has always seen at least 1 Harley parked out front.  The ride as prescribed, however, continued out 4 miles down 175 to Fetzer.  Lo and behold, I was leading!  I’m here to tell you, friends, this was a seminal moment in my life, but not necessarily a good seminal.  I navigated to the winery followed by 50 or so Fat Boys and parked the Duck.  No one parked near me.

I’ll talk about the Fetzer grounds at another time—were excellent—and the food was good, plentiful, and quickly served.  The band was rockin’.  Yet I noticed a certain timidity and—dare I say it?—age amongst the grizzled Harley vets.  A few free spirits danced but most sort of sat down and/or perused the gift shoppe.  I’m not sure if the young Turks had been waylaid at The Keg, or if there really weren’t any young Turks in attendance….  All I know is that, by my standards, the party was fairly tame.

Met some nice folks over vittles.  One fellow said, in the mild "what-are-you-thinking" amazement reserved for deeply misguided individuals whose motives one is trying to comprehend,  that he usually rode a Ducati but he’d rented a Harley for this occasion.  Ahem.  Another very nice couple told me they’d met (and later married) at the Silver Peso, my local Larkspur dive.  I was moved.  Another dude was in a sidecar with his dog, which I can appreciate.  There was a guy was from Canada on an older, larger, Something-Glide with a killer sound system and, though he was a bit different, was really quite charming.  The only other gent there on a non-Harley (he on a BMW R1100RT) seemed oddly out-of-place, and left early.

Everyone else left about 4:00.  So I bagged a hotel, enjoyed the wine, and stayed there that night and had a ball with the locals.  Spent my time considering everything from The Peculiarities of Human Nature to The Benefits of Belt Drives to the Effect of Tiny Pillions on Women over 40.  I admit however to the conclusion I drew:  people are people no matter what their common passion, and one of our flaws is FEAR of people not exactly like us.  Silly, isn’t it?  Here’s a world where we have Black and White, Christian and Muslim, rich and poor: any difference one cares to discern. Does it have to come down to what kind of bike that you ride? What riding club you belong to? Your displacement?

So, dammit, I’ll go again next year.

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