The sky was so blue it hurt. Tree leaves, still green, we’re veering to gold. My leather gloves transmitted a touch chill to my knuckles from the autumn morning air. The gravel road under my two motorcycle tires was smoother than most paved secondary roads in Maine. Off to my right, across a rolling, open field, brown cows grazed by a red barn, proving I was in Vermont.
The morning screamed glory and I was scared shitless.
I’ve ridden motorcycles my whole life. I have a picture of me in a sidecar as a toddler with my 8-year-old brother at the handlebars. I inherited the bike when my feet could touch the foot pegs. Dirt bikes and three-wheelers were a constant throughout childhood. My hooligan friends and I tore up the local trails and pole lines. We climbed the hills and rode the bowls at every gravel pit we could sneak into. We buried our bikes up the the fenders in every mud hole for miles around. We disappeared into the woods for whole days, only returning home for supper. When we dumped our bikes, we got up and yelled, “Did you see that?” Fear wasn’t something we pondered.
So, why was I freaking out on a dirt road in Vermont?
When I was old enough to drive a car, I stopped riding off-road. In my early 20s I bought my first street bike for $200. With a succession of faster and bigger street bikes after that, I left the trails and sandy roads behind.
Three years ago, I got my Russian sidecar rig. It’s a passable adventure bike for light off-roading and gravel tracks. Then, I met a bunch of like-minded sidecar nuts. I’ve had more fun with them in two years, riding and camping in the woods, than the previous 20 years of street-biking combined.
This made me pine for my dirt bike days. Two weeks ago, I bought a well-used Kawasaki KLR650. It’s on the cheap end of the two-wheeled adventure bike spectrum. Anxious to get back at it, I signed up for the Adventure Rider CroMag Rally in Barnard, Vermont last weekend.
Adventure Rider is a worldwide online community riders who like to roll over more than just pavement. The CroMag Rally is a low-key event held every year in the Green Mountain State. Over a hundred bikes showed up this year for five days of dirt track, trail and back road bliss. I went thinking I could resurrect my two-wheeled dirt riding skills, which are quite different than those needed for a sidecar rig.
That’s why I was terrified, hurtling toward a broad corner on a silky, pebble-strewn Vermont road at a grampy-like 25mph. I would have thought nothing of taking the same corner at twice the speed back when my head was covered with brown hair.
I told myself: this is why you’re here, to get your dirt wheel back under you, so just do it.
I let off the throttle, slowed to 15mph, chose my line, looked through the turn, leaned left, gave it some gas halfway around the arc and shot out on the next straightaway at almost my entry speed. It was not impressive. But I didn’t dump it and that was a start.
The next few hours of leisurely, lovely roads were punctuated with alternating moments of low-speed terror and triumph. That might be what dirt riding is all about.
I came home from Vermont on Sunday with a bunch of new friends and a thimble of two-wheeled, dirt confidence. Next year, I hope I come home with more of the same.