I rode up to Ashland on my motorcycle in December, one of those rare days in winter when a major weather change on its way here pushes warm clear air into our area for a single day. Like Brigadoon, a beautiful summers day suddenly appears out of the gloom and we know it will not be here for more than 24 hours. Well, always there is the wind, but we’ll take it anyway.
On my way back from a visit to my nephew’s house, I detoured off to Boy Scout Road , a winding blacktop ribbon that descends into a creek valley.
Off to the left, at the bottom of the descent, there is a subdivision of fine homes now, but when I was young there was only a dirt road that crossed the creek and wound up into the hills. I rode motorcycles in those hills nearly every weekend, year round, exploring the paths that now are paved roads and backyards. Usually I was alone, but I recall one cold, wet, winter afternoon when a friend came off his bike in the mud and launched the Triumph off the side of one of those trails. We watched as it crashed through the tops of pine trees on its way to the valley floor.
In my childhood, there were few homes along Boy Scout Road and the Boy Scout Camp for which it was named sat in the middle of its length. I spent many nights camped there in a canvas tent or on the floor in the rustic cabin that served as its headquarters. Across the road is the field, formed by the creek’s overflow through centuries, where formations were held, and in some of my best memories, night games commenced. We would play Capture the Flag in the field and surrounding woods. I recall vividly running through the woods in the dark, only moonlight for illumination, but feeling no particular limitation. Young eyes take in so much more light.
Just up the road is the sweeping curve where as a teenager in an old yellow MGA, I steered hard to make the aged rattletrap go around and heard a strange “plink, plink, plink” sound, like someone playing the high ends of a vibraphone. It was the spokes of the steering wheel, the ones that attached it to the column, breaking one by one with increasing rapidity until I was skidding, wheels locked, into the gravel shoulder holding the now separated wheel in my two hands, like some sort of character in a silent film comedy.
I meandered over to Rt. 168 where I could see the gas line and power line cuts which used to offer an opening for dirt bikes to go anywhere across several counties. Back then, in the days before everyone went offl-roading, they were unfenced, open from the two-lane blacktop and usually trimmed a couple of times per year so that the utility company employees could get to them in Jeeps or on foot. One was particularly challenging, requiring a rider to descend into a wide, deep ditch and then immediately ascend a steep rough slope to make it to the first leveled off spot where some degree of controlled riding could be attempted. On more than one occasion I had crashed badly enough in the effort to require riding home crookedly, holding bent bars, with my body sitting sideways on the seat to offset the damaged front end. But sometimes I made it and the ride the trail then offered was enough to keep me, like the lab rat that pushes the lever for a food reward, coming back.
There was the apple orchard, Pattons, along the way, a fall stop every year with my parents when I was small. We would get a crate of the red fruit to take home and I would stand watching the ancient wooden screw-type cider press in its brutal work of crushing apples into the brown, unfiltered juice which ran down a worn trough to fill glass gallon jugs. Back home, a drink of the fresh cider with its intense sweet flavor and slightly pulpy texture was close to nirvana, heightened by the smell of the apple pie Mom was baking for later. Dad liked his warm pie with a wedge of cheddar cheese, while I preferred ice cream. In my early teens, I used those glass jugs to siphon gas out of Dad’s car (the inevitable mouthful of gasoline was not nearly as tasty as the cider) on occasion to refill my moped enough to get it down to the Ashland station at the bottom of Gartrell hill. There, a couple of quarters would provide the necessary fill up for a weekend’s riding. The orchard is long gone now, replaced by a group of houses.
Up the road was the place where a work friend of my brother lived. It seemed that whatever device we needed, whatever service such as welding odd things together, could always be found there.
The drag strip was on Rt. 168, a roughly quarter mile straight marked off by a couple of faded paint stripes placed there long before my time by earlier teenagers eager to try their mettle against each other. Friends and I made countless passes down that strip on motorcycles and sometimes in cars, even though the four-wheelers meant that someone was in the wrong lane for the duration. The painted lines are gone now.
Near the end, before 168 joined Rt. 60, there was the house where I made the deal to purchase my Spanish branded motorcycle dealership in the early 1970’s. As grand as that sounds in this current time when motorcycle dealers are huge edifices stuffed with dozens or more shiny machines, mine began as a van load of miscellaneous parts in boxes, some parts books and manuals and the exchange of an amount of cash that even then wouldn’t have bought much of a used car. The two guys I was buying it from were only a little older than me, though by then much wiser in the ways of going broke in one’s passion. Later, I would tell myself it was much better to have done it and failed than to wonder in my old age what would have happened if I tried. I’m in my old age now and I still think that is correct.