Motorcycle riding, or Motorcycling, was some kind of a dignified endeavor equal to being a knight of the roads not too long ago. Braving the streets at any hour, or just commuting through freeways had an aura of heroism and fairy tale flair. Especially if you rode a leviathan of a steel horse, or a sleeper, as insiders would put it. Even the suicidal motto: “Life begins at 170” many bikers adhered to, had some ethereal allure to naive aficionados. That was before the 1990s when acquiring a machine of this type was done with solemnity and careful planning.
Not today, though. A flood of cheap Asian machines made almost out of cardboard has transformed motorcycling into an everyday occurrence dictated mainly by necessity and practicality. They can be seen everywhere zooming by like asteroids in a congested and smoky sky to the chagrin of some old-timers. This new reality encases present-time riders of all types: overweight housewives, youngsters still in elementary, old seniors carrying furniture, deliverers, mail people, pizza dispatchers by the dozen, and so on!
As time goes by, it’s becoming rarer to find sweaty mamas clad in greasy jeans by their heavily tattooed badass companions on strepitous Harley Davidsons, or clean-cut riders over neat Japanese bullets like Kawasaki or Hondas, or wealthy, nerdy weekend warriors on surprisingly expensive bikes gather at road cafes to mutually admire their machines and have a good chat just for the sake of it.
A good thing, though, is that many aging riders, in contrast with their younger years of aimless rambling on the road have now found a creative way to put motorcycling to good use: help little kids fend off bullies, provide road emergency help to stranded motorists, rescue small pets astray alongside back roads, and generally assist any living creature in need of a helping hand, which is quite remarkable and a very welcome change of pace if you get my drift.
But don't get me wrong. Guess all are welcome to the joys of bike-riding, right? But, what about manners and law-abiding riders? Many don't wear helmets. Others lack protective equipment and some even ride shod with sandals and clad in short pants: a no-no. Many have not even the remotest idea on how to sift through-traffic to stay away from the very real probability of being sandwiched between vehicles. Their lack of expertise and street-wise knowledge expose new riders to activity as enthralling and exciting, as it is risky and tragic if taken lightly.
It’s scary to see riders getting into big rigs’ blind spots, wait at traffic lights with no foreseen escape route, overtake traffic on the right-hand lane, approach intersections at great speed, and the gravest of mistakes: not realizing they are invisible to car drivers. These types are inner-city, daily commuting riders who don't travel long distances mainly because their horsepower is limited to keep away from faster highways. How do I know all this? Answer: I was a motorcycle rider who had to master my riding skills over the California roads by reading quite a bit about motorcycling and of course, putting into practice the learned content.
Tired of working weekdays could barely wait for a sunny Sunday to grab the bike and head for the mountains at 4 am before humans showed up at the campground lest they spoiled my fun. Throughout the week, the powerful Suzuki 1150 motorcycle sat at home all shiny and invitingly while I just sighed every time I looked, to instead, leave the flat for the job site by car and get busy with less important things like holding a 9-to-5 steady job.
And how could it be otherwise if biking around Los Angeles had taken me to traverse every single back road from the mountains of San Bernardino to the Mojave Desert? Or, to crisscross the Santa Monica mountains back and forth between the 101 and the Pacific Coast Highway through the winding roads of Mulholland Drive, Topanga Canyon, Malibu Creek, and Saratoga Springs up until Oxnard, not to mention Santa Paula, Ojai, Santa Barbara, and San Francisco.
To ride freely against the wind was a new thing for me and had become a ray of light in an otherwise dull existence consisting of work and lame daydreaming. Right after I got my first bike, the two-wheeled vehicle had opened a new world by transforming fantasy into reality. New freedom unbeknownst to most mortals had gotten a heartfelt welcome on my part. Mostly after finding out that, regarding motoring, nothing beats the feeling of awe when chasing a sunset in pursuit of that mythical horizon of beauty and freedom promised to every biker in the universe.
And even though hanging from the saddle of a steel horse is by some considered as dangerous, I’m not going to delve here into narrating any of the myriad perilous situations I was involved in while doing actual riding along with traffic. Instead, I’ll tell about a highly risky, although somehow magical, or perhaps even dumb one I had, away from the bike, while sitting on a tree stump in a dark and deserted campground located at the summit of the mountains surrounding Los Angeles Basin.
Have to state first that the main reason I had to climb that steep and lonesome road was to truly get a respite from the city buzz, and people. Had no qualms at getting there still dark with not a soul in sight anywhere within a 30 to 40-mile radius. The feeling of being all alone in that remote place at ungodly hours, having a cup of coffee by the fire while witnessing the night getting pushed westward by a golden sunrise was second to none.
In contrast to the freeway hype and din on the way there, the real thrill began the moment I killed the switch, sat down, and started to marvel at the serenity of dawn while watching the majestic peaks, snowed or otherwise. Everything was fine and calm and as always, the first arriving visitors were my clue to head back home. Or, if the timing was right, to plan a lightning trek to Las Vegas or Frisco and risk being detained for speeding.
Back at the campground, the day came when things, at last, revealed themselves. So far, over the last visits had heard thrashing noises coming from beyond the trailer-park garbage cans, well into the woods, away from the camping area. But now, resolute to find out the origin of that noise, went to investigate. Even though there was only moonlight and was a bit shaky, braced to run into nothing bigger than raccoons or rabbits, but what I saw was terrifying: In a makeshift shelter, a mother puma was tending her cub who appeared to be hurt in some capacity.
Needless to say, stood petrified bracing for mama puma’s attack. Strangely enough, the worried cat only regarded me with a stare matter of fact and what seemed like a sad pleading in her eyes. Maybe she had become used to my presence and knew I represented no threat. Maybe her cub was in such a desperate shape that any predatory instincts were put on hold. And even though mother cats become overprotective and act aggressively in the presence of anyone, this time the mountain lion seemed so distraught that looked as if she even wanted to ask for help.
Still frozen in my stride, couldn't fathom why had I lowered my guard to the extent of having disregarded the nearby noises as insignificant to my safety every time I sat there like an idiot, unaware of how close I was to stealth and necessarily lethal attack from a wild beast. Stood there for no more than 4 or 5 seconds before actively starting a slow and careful retreat while scanning the area for a place where I could be safe from an attack to no avail. It was still dark with no buildings of any kind.
Inching my way very carefully, traversed the 100 yards to the bike, thankful to mama puma for having spared me. Started the engine and took off as if there was no tomorrow. Went down the hill to the nearest gas station. Got the phone numbers for the Parks and Recreation as well as Los Angeles Animal Control to ask if they could help in situations like that. Not only they said they could, but it was their priority to help fauna in distress.
Then, went home still wondering why hadn't the puma attacked me, or a bear, or a snake for that matter and why had I been so stupid as to camp before sunrise, with my back to the dark woods, in the wilderness by myself ignoring all the warnings. The truth is that I got the luck of a dumb ass, seduced by the sheer beauty of the place, but not as much as to do it again any time soon. You betcha.