What is it about Harley Davidson motorcycles? When I was at Myrtle Beach last month, Harley riders were having a spring rally. Thousands of people riding up and down the road with no mufflers or lousy mufflers. They do this every year. I'm not sure why.
I was an apprentice mechanic at a Harley shop for about six weeks when I was a teen. I saw too many wrecked bikes and people in casts. Plus, I'm a crummy mechanic. So I decided I didn't need a motorcycle.
Gary Paulsen bought a Harley when he was 56 years old. He had heart disease, and thought it was time for The Bike. He and a buddy rode from Alamagordo, New Mexico to Fairbanks, Alaska, by way of St. Paul, Minnesota. He wrote about his experience in Pilgrimage on a Steel Ride: A Memoir About Men and Motorcycles. He told some other stories, too. Guy stories, I'd say, for the most part.
If you've read Paulsen's Hatchet, you know he is a good writer. But in Pilgrimage on a Steel Ride, he tells of an incident in his life that certainly inspired part of Hatchet: "I was ... hitchhiking... I rode with a Hungarian refugee who had escaped the Russian brutality when they brought tanks and took Hungary. He was a short man with dark hair and dark glasses and was driving an old DeSoto at great speed, smiling and telling me of the wonders of living in America when a pheasant tried to clear the road, came through the windshield, hit his face and broke his neck and killed him. The car went off the road, but the shoulder was flat, as North Dakota road shoulders tend to be, and the car simply bounced and came to rest in a plowed field. He was not breathing nor could I feel his heart, and in fear I ran from there, covered with pheasant blood and guts, and an old lady picked me up and I worked for her until I took off with the carnival."
That's just one of Paulsen's stories. What a life and what a great storyteller. He raced the Iditarod twice! I have enjoyed a few of his novels, but his nonfiction keeps me coming back for more. I cannot get enough of it. This one is for more mature readers, in my opinion.