I turn off the 78 just past Ocotillo. The paved road drops onto a rutted two track, covered in sand deeper than it looks.
The sudden lack of traction, a twitch of the front wheel surrendering to the dust, spurs ancient muscle memory from the old racing days.
I crouch over the seat now, keeping elbows up, eyes aimed ahead.
I am sixteen and at Saddleback on a RM125. I am bulletproof.
I come to the ditch way too fast, a gear too high to effect any change in momentum or direction.
Pull up the bars and try to off weigh the pegs, will the bike to fly.
But the big bike just plows across the eroded gutter and sticks the far side hard.
All inertia seized, I float for an instant above the bike, above the Earth.
Held there for the moment, then, and already wondering: what will this feel like tomorrow?
I am Sixty and by myself in the desert on an overweighed adventure bike.
I am closer to death than birth.
Was it only a decade ago I celebrated 50 with a ride through a different desert?
A chilly morning start in Barstow, a hilarious finish in Las Vegas, a night filled with countless rounds of drinks and stories of the ride we’d just survived.
Even then, jokes about being old men.
It’s a different world now. I am solo, my usual riding buddies staying within their own bubbles during this long and toxic holiday weekend. We’re separated by distance and disease, but I’ve decided to go ahead and take a long ride myself.
Funny, growing up.
You always pictured that certain people, oh say Baseball players, Presidents–your own doctor– were always older than you.
We’d trip out at the elder statesmen of punk, Lee Ving or Charlie Harper, carrying the torch at some crazy number. He’s already forty, for Christ sake!
But the graduating class just keeps getting grayer, and we’re catching up to them all brother.
Catching up? Hell, what of the Joeys, Ramone and Strummer?
I passed them long ago.
Tragically gone, but frozen in history with coolness forever intact, they’ll never suffer the indignities of decay.
I make the mature decision that I should not be out here, riding the trails by myself.
Back on the pavement and up toward the hills. I wave at a group of guys riding back toward the dirt on their nimble KTMs and Betas. They will soon be rolling around in that sand, falling off and getting back on so many times they lose count. They won’t see the true costs of their stunts until a later date, some distant future unfathomable to a kid on a barely street legal motocross bike.
I watch them in the rear view as they turn off the road and hit the dirt in a riot of dust, out toward the fun.
I gas it up the Borrego Salton Seaway, the luxury of pavement humming beneath me.
The dual clutch transmission automatically snicks into 5th, saving me even the tiny effort of nudging big toe under shifter.
We used to tout our nihilism with a sneer, so sure that we would never see thirty.
That life is meaningless, what better excuse to blackout drink nightly, tell the scheduling manager at Fedmart to fuckoff when the weekend shifts are posted.
We are seizing the day here, don’t ya see!
Of course the sad day comes to those of us unlucky enough to survive.
The taxes unpaid for the last three fiscal years, that pesky molar now insisting upon a canaled root- we learn that the future is upon us, and we are merely along for the ride.
I stop in Borrego Springs and celebrate my day with a bacon cheeseburger.
Hold the bacon, no cheese please.
And make that a turkey patty, fruit cup instead of the fries.
I pop a deflated blueberry into my mouth, its juice bitter as truth.
Each year another vice, another flavor, is sacrificed in the name of health.
Comfort is held ransom against another day of breathing.
I gave up the booze this past decade.
Started running, eat bundles of Kale like that shit is delicious.
Hey. I floss every fucking night.
The hygienist sits back on her stool after exploring my mouth with a little mirror, speechless.
Amazed that someone has actually listened to her scolding advice.
I start West on the 371, shadows spilling long now.
The curves bank back and forth in nice rhythm, and I think back to the last decade with the band.
It is amazing how much has changed, how much has not. The digital compression of our art, the instant and devaluing use of social media to release idea and music.
We’ve been busy, or at least give the appearance.
Released an album, an EP, various singles, a few videos.
We’ll tour again, maybe? But for now we keep the band alive with a post or video here or there. Tiny smoke signals to prove we still exist.
They drop with an artificial splash across the iPhones and flat screens, garnering a few blue thumbs and colored in hearts. We count the likes and loves, needy as 14 year old girls.
We have been reduced to Space Monkeys, pushing the correct buttons in sequence to be rewarded with a salty nut.
I stop into the Sunshine Summit market, ask the girl at the register if there’s a public restroom.
Her eyes don’t leave her phone as she points a pink tipped finger across the parking lot to a Porta Potty.
I am slowly becoming invisible, and I find a comfort in that.
If they knew the real secret, these kids, they would go screaming into the night.
That old dude sitting at the picnic table?
Just as confused as the 17 year old kid that sat on the edge of his bed, writing songs about how weird this is, all of it.
Turns out they don’t hand you the answer sheet after all.
It’s Dusk now, and getting cold.
I stop at a lookout off Highway 79 and get the heavy winter gloves out of a pannier.
Lights are starting to come on in the Coachella valley, sparkle like broken glass under streetlights.
I begin down the twisty road on the final leg, the next stop home.
I lean into the curves, slide my weight toward the apex of each turn, countersteer the front end to make the big bike obey and lean. It occurs to me I am tired, it will be so good to be still and warm.
Now LED headlights come up quick and close, a Subaru WRX kitted out with fog lights and other bolt-on rally nonsense.
I lose him easily enough in a couple turns, but the car hits it on the straights and brakes late, pulling in close again.
I see the driver’s face briefly illuminated in blue light as he glances at the smartphone in his lap. Young guy, texting. Of course.
He double clutches and revs it, sounds like a muted trumpet.
I know of a certain 25 year old who would downshift now and get ready to fuck with this guy.
Maybe the block and slow treatment, or toss him back a windshield snack of pulpy orange. Or more likely, race him down the hill.
He’s still in there, fights to fight. I can feel it.
Tomorrow I start the next decade.
The days and weeks will pass quicker now, speeding toward a focused dot on the horizon.
Will I revisit these GPS tracks on my 70th birthday, or will I be unable to swing a leg over the saddle?
Still here, or gone on unspeakable adventure?
Perhaps locked in an Alzheimer prison of the mind, forever more twelve years old and incontinent?
I swerve into the next turnout and slow, and let the car go by.
6 thoughts on “The Punker Looks at Sixty”
Sublime. The writing.
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Thank you for this. Happy Bday as well.
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I don’t know you, but you can certainly write. I’m in a similar boat as many of my friends have aged out of riding, and I can tell you they didn’t get any younger. Riding is freedom, and they traded that for a more comfortable slide into the abyss, but I enjoy the solitude of riding alone. I’ve written a bit myself, and am always surprised how ideas hit I when I’m on the bike.
Anyway, as I sit here still vibrating from a day squirting around on a friend’s 206hp Kawasaki H2, your story made me want to ditch today’s deadlines and get out.
Thanks so much for the kind words! Would like to read some of your thoughts as well….cheers, M
If you want to see the work, my site is best. For stories, I was a staff editor at Motorcyclist, Cycle World, then Cycle till its demise, tested everything dirt and street sold in the US during that period, then started my agency—Honda, Dunlop and others in the motorcycle space are clients.