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It Was The Summer Of Sixty-Nine

Hey, sounds like a good opening line for a song! I was 23, newly married, just beginning to make my own way in the world. Ken, a coworker and high school friend, had just bought a new motorcycle, a Honda CL 350, the street bike with high pipes. Dan, another coworker, was looking at the new Yamaha CT1, a 175 two-stroke dual purpose bike. We were sitting in Kenís apartment, talking about the bikes, and I made the comment that I had always wanted a motorcycle, but my father would never allow me to have one. We all sat quietly as those words hung in the air. My friends didn't make fun of me, but simply waited for the realization to sink in. After a minute, I said, "Hey. Iím old enough to go buy one if I want to!" What can I say? My upbringing must have been really solid! Dan and I got up from the couch and headed downtown. The following day I rode home on a brand-new CT1!

Over the next 60 days I learned the basics of riding a motorcycle. Yes, I had sneaked rides on friendsí bikes many times and had rented mopeds and even a 160cc Ducati at one point, but those rides were always short and fraught with either some kind of mechanical problem or the clumsiness of not knowing how to ride. The little Yamaha was very forgiving and allowed me to learn the basics of cornering and stopping without too much drama. I had great respect for the curves, though, because of the Trials Universal tires it came equipped with. I had been warned they wouldnít stick to the pavement very well. It was a pleasant summer of putting around - I didnít do any hard riding or great distances.

Somewhere along in there, we got the notion we needed to Go Somewhere. I think it may have been when we watched the two-hour pilot for an upcoming TV series called Then Came Bronson, starring Michael Parks. It was a show about a guy who chucked his job and set off on his Harley to find America. Wanderlust set in, and Dan, Ken, Steve, and I decided we needed to go to Colorado. We made plans and picked the middle of August as our departure date.

Living in southwest Missouri as we did, the most daunting aspect of the trip was the Great State of Kansas - none of us wanted to think about droning across that vast, flat wasteland aboard small displacement single cylinder two strokes. Weíd burn Ďem up before we reached the other side. So, we talked a friend into letting us borrow and modify his boat trailer to carry four bikes, to be pulled behind Danís Ford Fairlane station wagon. Some plywood, some drilling and bolting, a few lengths of chain and nylon rope for tie-downs, and the former boat trailer was ready to perform prairie schooner duty across the seas of waving Kansas grain.

A lot of time was devoted to packing the bikes for a week in the mountains. We were going to have to do this on a shoestring budget, and none of us had much in the way of camping gear, not to mention anything specifically designed for motorcycle travel. All I had was a sleeping bag. Steve had a two-man tent with a sewn-in floor, and he generously offered to share it with me. Ken had one as well, and Dan decided to try out an idea heíd been kicking around. He designed and constructed his own personal sleeping unit which was a sleeping bag with weather protection attached to it. Basically, he built a little mini-tent and sewed it to the head end of his sleeping bag; it was designed to keep rain off and insects out. We all figured he could share Kenís tent if the weather got too bad for his invention.

Our clothing wasnít designed for motorcycling, either. Not a leather jacket among us. We would all wear jeans, denim jackets, and lace-up hunting boots. I bought a cheap pair of leather work gloves, an army surplus backpack, and a waterproof tarp.

Funds were limited for provisions as well. By shopping carefully, I was able to purchase what I calculated to be a weekís worth of food, consisting mostly of canned goods and dried foods. Along with the very minimum in clothing and personal hygiene items, it was just enough to fill the backpack. A cheap fishermanís rain suit, a take apart fishing rod, and some bungee cords to secure everything to the bike completed the outfit. Then I added my Kodak Brownie Hawkeye 110 camera; $25.00 cash in my wallet was deemed enough to get me through the week, gas and all. I was ready to go.

We gathered at Danís house after work that Friday evening in August, loaded the bikes onto the makeshift trailer, and tossed our camping gear into the back of the old Fairlane. With Dan at the wheel, we headed into the setting sun.

Image of map of Colorado, Kansas, Missouri area, showing departure (Springfield), pause (Wichita), and arrival (Pueblo) points We hadnít gotten far into Kansas before Dan announced he couldnít drive in the dark, and Ken had to take over. Then along about Wichita, Ken said he was getting too sleepy to drive. Somehow, I always end up behind the wheel on long trips. Throughout the long, dark Kansas night I herded the vaguely steering Fairlane down that interminable two-lane highway. As the sun began to rise behind us next morning, I noticed we were no longer passing through fields of waving grain, but a rolling countryside of sand and stunted mesquite bushes. Or sagebrush. Or some kind of plant foreign to me, anyway.

By this time, fatigue had begun to take its toll on us all, even the ones who had slept. My most vivid memory of the whole trip out is of seeing a sign telling us we were in Las Animas and Dan saying something about the poor Lost Animals - for some reason this struck us as terribly funny and we laughed until our sides hurt. Guess you had to be thereÖ

I gave the driving back to Dan when it got light, and tried to catch a few winks. By the time the others were waking up, we were in Pueblo.

This was the point at which we didnít have concrete arrangements made. We needed to park the Fairlane somewhere and leave it and the trailer for a week, with some assurance they would both still be there when we got back. And not be festooned with tickets, either. While we were deliberating on this, we decided to stop at a motorcycle shop and buy some smaller carburetor jets for the Yamahas to use when we got to the higher altitudes. While in the shop, we told the owner what our plans were, and he offered to let us park the car and trailer on his lot, out of the way up against the fence. We gratefully accepted the offer.

Image of me in riding gear and helmet, standing behind bike with backpack and sleeping bag bungeed to the back

A few minutes later we had the bikes unloaded, the camping gear secured to them, and the car parked next to the fence with the trailer chained and padlocked to a power pole. Then we mounted up and pointed the bikes northward, toward Canon City. Two orange 175 CT1s, a white 250 DT1, and the maroon over white Honda 350. This is how the bike and I looked, all packed up and ready to hit the road! The adventure had begun!

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