Met a new friend out West who described his life of total immersion in the outdoors and his love of fast cars and motorcycles. His stories were so astonishing and descriptive that I urged him to write them down. Who could have guessed that his prose would be extraordinary too. I told him he reminded me of Hunter Thompson’s gonzo style or other journalists I imagine writing about speed on speed…or some other hallucinogenic. You are in for a real treat! (I hope he doesn’t mind that I relocated the first paragraph from deep within the story to give you a perspective of what is going on)
For whatever reasons, not the least of which was my father having a triple bypass at 35, I always figured on needing to pack as much experience into one presumably short life as a person could. So I’ve had the pedal down as far back as I can remember. The joke is on me of course, I never developed heart disease, but I did break a few bones, lose a shitload of skin and probably deserve to be dead 30 times over doing various things. Also got a late start building a career, so I’ll probably be working until I am in fact dead—but I design/test outdoor gear. How bad can that be?
OK, a quick bio: I’ve always been bipolar or multi-polar regarding outdoor sports, grew up at the beach but was sneaking onto the Irvine Ranch (before it was developed) behind our house with my .22 to hunt rabbits and quail (yes, quail, you just have to make a head shot, and I don’t mean when they are flying) and started fly fishing in the mountains around LA whenever my mom could drive me or with the Boy Scouts, then Explorer Scouts. Luckily the Explorer group I joined was the mountaineering group in Anaheim, which gave me my first glimpse of the High Sierra’s, and I got as interested in Golden Trout as I did in peak bagging.
As soon as I got my driver’s license, it was good bye to the scouts, and I was off every winter weekend to cross country ski tour/snowcamp in the San Gorgonio or San Jacinto Wilderness areas, often alone, which would drive my mom crazy, then backpack with a fly rod in the summer. Surf, ski, climb, hunt, fish, and of course getting around when younger I got everywhere on a bike, which became a nicer and nicer bike which became another, lifelong passion including a little bit of road racing in high school. I quit that because I kept getting clobbered by motorists who in those days weren’t used to seeing humans on road racing bikes out in traffic. Last crash involved being hit from behind by a car and flung through traffic across three fast lanes of the Pacific Coast Highway. It was like playing Russian Roulette with only one empty chamber and surviving without a scratch. The rear wheel and rear triangle of my bike absorbed most of the impact and I came to a stop on the center divider balancing on my crank set, still clipped in, cars whizzing by in both directions. I did not get religion, I just left the bike laying in the highway and hitched home. No more road bikes for me.
Then one summer I came through Ketchum on a fly fishing trip and saw my first mountain bike—one of Tom Ritchey’s first hand-made bikes at the Elephant’s Perch, and my life was wrecked. I was living in Laguna at the time and the steep coastal hills were crawling with jeep roads, single track and game trails.
In a fitting way I was wrapping up my involvement with motorhead activities. My first car was a red Alfa Romeo Duetto softail Spider which I rescued from ruin and re-built myself. My second car was a raging-fast Lotus Elan which followed the same pattern, find a junker and bring it back to life one turn of the wrench at a time. I’d had a go-kart my Dad built for me when I was about 7, motorcycles, etc. so high performance driving was written into the software by the time I was a teen, and I could really drive. At one point I actually thought about it as a career, maybe an F1 pilot like Dan Gurney, but as I started hanging out at various tracks I realized I couldn’t stand the people who were involved with the sport. They were like golfers on crack.
With some irony I had long been co-evolving into a leftist tree hugging wilderness freak motorhead. I joined David Brower’s F.O.E. (Friends of the Earth) when I was 16, was reading Abbey, getting pangs about joining Dave Foreman’s Earth First gang but didn’t like the idea of prison. Note that both cars I mentioned were small, light, fast, fuel-efficient machines. But showing up to a Sierra Club meeting with my Lotus (even though it got 30 mpg) didn’t go too well. Which I found really disappointing. The leftist tree huggers turned out to be like accountants on crack.
In those years I tried everything that fit my personal ethos of small footprint, treading lightly, loving wild places, and having a fucking great time getting to those places. Think of hand-made (by me), aero cross-country ski racks and skis tucked behind the tiny roof line of a Lotus Elan howling through the desert North of LA at 2 A.M., on the way to Mammoth Tamarack lodge with the headlights off, navigating by the full moon at 120 mph with the Doors playing Riders on the Storm backed up by the sound of a nasty, tweaked-out twin cam motor pushing a low, smooth glass slipper through the void. Fuck the Sierra Club. (Continue to Part 2/3 in post below)