To Ride Or Not To Ride? That Is The Question – February 2012
Perhaps you learned in your middle school science class that the distance around our planet Earth at the equator is approximately 25,000 miles. A little-known fact, for most people however, is that distance is equal to the number of miles I have ridden on a motorcycle. I know, when you see me you do not get the image of some “free spirit” who is flyin’ down the highway with no cares in the world, seeing the sights on two wheels. But the truth is that in the mid 60’s through late 70’s, with nothing more than a tent, sleeping bag, and a few extra clothes, the highway was my home in the summer. There is something about the Canadian Rockies in July and the drive from Banff to Jasper National Park that is beyond words. The ride along the Big Sur on California’s Highway 1 and the scenic Pacific Ocean from the cliffs above – there could be no better way to see these sights than on a motorcycle. A friend and I actually rode our Hondas to my brother’s wedding in Buffalo, New York. From Buffalo, we crossed into Canada and came west, returning to the USA at Detroit, and continuing west across Michigan to Lake Superior where we loaded everything on a ferry. Making land in Green Bay, Wisconsin, we continued west across southern Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Idaho, and back home to Oregon.
On another trip, I rode by myself to visit a girl friend in Virginia, traveling North as far as Maine, and south to South Carolina and then west across Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, returning home via northern California. Back in the day, I could usually pay for gasoline, food, and a campground to pitch my tent for between $15 and $20 dollars per day. It was in Arizona as I was heading northwest to get to the Grand Canyon that I ran low on gasoline and needed to fill up on an Indian Reservation. Talk about highway robbery, I had to pay 87 cents per gallon for supreme. (That was the highest octane gasoline available at filling stations in the day). I think that tank cost me $4.38 or something like that. But, when you are low on fuel and the next gas station is 75 miles down the road, you do what you have to do.
Memories – there are thousands of them. A group of us tourists were stopped along side the road taking pictures of a bear in Banff National Park. Most people were shooting pics from their cars with the windows down. I was using my trusty Super 8 movie camera with the camera in front of one eye and the other eye closed. It was all good until suddenly, the bear started walking toward me. Still holding the camera, I needed to move to a safe area immediately. It is really difficult trying to ride a motorcycle one-handed. I got into some severe weather situations when high winds and thunderstorms caught me in Iowa. I found a roadside rest area and took shelter under a picnic table. Later I learned that a tornado warning had been issued for this same area. There was the rainstorm in Indiana with one inch of rainfall in one hour, and the Texas thunderstorm where I took shelter in the underpass on the road that passed beneath the freeway. I sat on the motorcycle while a 4-inch deep stream of water filled the roadway beneath me. Having grown up in Oregon, I did not know the extent of the amount of water contained in a mid-west thunderstorm.
Only once did I ever crash on the motorcycle. I was in Portland when I was changing lanes and hit a street divider. I laid the bike down hard, with my left hand under the handlebars and broke a bone in my left hand. But there was one incident which led to my selling my bike, never to return to it. That experience happened one weekend when I was on the way to visit my mother in south Tillamook County. On Highway 101, traveling north between Hebo and Beaver, the Nestucca River was on my right. As I rounded the corner, I could see the Farmer Creek rest area and boat launching area to my right. I also could see a Chevy van which was coming toward me and turning to his left in front of me to go into that rest area. I quickly assessed the situation, realizing that he would be across the road before I would arrive there. I looked to my right and continued north at 60 mph. As I looked back to my projected lane of traffic, I now saw what had been hidden behind that Chevy van. It was a Volkswagon van doing exactly the same thing. When I saw him, there was maybe 50 feet until I would hit him head on. He had not seen me because his vision had been blocked by the Chevy in front of him. When he did see me, he was halfway across my lane. It was too late for me to do anything. I was just about to meet my maker. I screamed, made a quick lean to the right, and missed him by what I would estimate to be six inches. I immediately pulled to the side of the road and sat there shaking with the realization of what had just happened.
So, it was not difficult for me to decide to quit riding. Instead, I decided I would rather spend my summers at the drag strip. Two lanes with both cars heading in the same direction is much preferred to a limousine driver in south Chicago making eye contact as he enters the freeway on the right, crossing 10 lanes of traffic and laughing as he crowds into the exact space where I am. Yes, I enjoyed the memories, but sometimes, God has a way of telling us when it is time to make a life activity change. 25,000 miles – somehow that seems like a good number.
Story by Elvon Kauffman.
Elvon Kauffman has been drag racing since 1975. He has been a NHRA Northwest Division Bracket Champion twice – first in 1978 when he defeated fellow Woodburn racer, Joe DiFillipi at Seattle International Raceway and secondly, in 1980 when he again defeated a Woodburn racer, Ron Burch at Woodburn Dragstrip. He was the first and only World Champion in Heavy Bracket, winning with his 1970 Plymouth Road Runner 4-speed at the now defunct Ontario Motor Speedway in October, 1980.
Elvon’s variety of life experiences become the basis for the stories he shares in Straight Talk, a monthly column produced by Woodburn Dragstrip. Hopefully, you will enjoy reading them.