Cycle News

Creative Nonfiction
Valerie Shepherd


My dad’s eyes are wide. His coffee-stained teeth stretch around towards his ears and his whole upper body jets out of the driver’s side window as he uses his hitchhiker’s thumb to point to the back bed of his truck, where, all roped up and shining, is a brand new KTM 300 MXC dirt bike.

At first I’m angry at him. He’d promised he would never ride again. I wonder if his years of moping finally took their toll on my mother. Two hours away at college apparently meant I was out of the loop. No one had said a word to me and it was shocking to see my father so unabashedly happy about his purchase; he wasn’t one to usually break a promise.

It was a pickup truck that knocked him down, his last big spill before the vow to never ride again. I don’t remember the hospital, the ride home, or my mother’s initial reaction, but I do remember watching her help my dad into their king size bed, making sure to prop up the leg he almost lost, swelled to twice its normal size. His face was pale from pain and his 6 foot muscular frame seemed to disappear into the pillows and blankets around him.

His first bad crash was right before my little sister Ashley was born. There is a picture of my dad cradling Ashley at about a week old, her pink skin standing out against his white arm casts. Whenever my mom sees this picture, she goes into great detail about the thankless tasks she had to perform while eight months pregnant.

My dad waves me closer as he slowly slides out of his truck. He must be sore. He must’ve been riding. I give him a hug. He smells like Mojave Desert dirt mixed with sweat and Gatorade. The mixture is oddly comforting and I realize his riding is a part of my past too, one I left behind when he quit racing and we moved out of the desert.

“When did you get it?” I ask him.

“Last week. Isn’t she beautiful! Don O would’ve been mad that I didn’t get a Honda,” my dad says as he shakes his head and laughs.

Don Ogelvie was a legend in the motorcycle world, an expert who became a mentor to my dad. Don and his son Bruce were frequently on the cover of a magazine called “Cycle News” that my dad used to collect. The media would follow Don and his son as they held the plates in the top ten of whatever desert race was the largest at the time. They were always pictured together. I think my dad wished he was Bruce in a way. Wished that he too had a father who was not only involved in his son’s life, but a friend to him as well.

“When I first met Don O he was 61. I was in Baja on a trail ride. Did I tell you he had a washboard stomach, even at that age…”

My dad goes on, even though I interject to tell him that yes, I have heard this story before. He knows. He just wants to tell it again, so I let him. He tells me of Mike’s Sky Ranch, where cyclists from around the world would converge for bunk style sleeping and breakfast before they would ride the Baja 1,000.

“…People would be sleeping out on the pool deck, inside on every couch and even on top of the pool table…” He begins to untie his bike as he gets to the part in the story of his first ride with Don and how he was chosen to be the guy behind him on the trail, which apparently was an honor. After the ride, Don asked him what his name was, and after my dad told him, he said: “Shepherd. I’m going to remember that name, because you’re a really good rider.”

I know my dad was good. Some of my first memories are of crowded award banquets with their trophies lined up from tall to short on a brown foldout table. My dad never came home with a short one. It was during this time, his peak as a rider, that he would take me out with him whenever he rode the smooth hills just beyond our house.

My dad would wake me up at dawn and ask me if I wanted to look for Goldilocks with him. “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” was apparently my favorite story at the time. Originally, my dad insinuated that I was Goldilocks and we were to look for the three bears, but this prospect scared me, so he left the bears out of it and we went looking for Goldilocks, which prompted me to roll out of bed for the prospect of a playmate. He would place me in between the handle grips and his chest, one hand would grip the throttle, while his other arm was wrapped around my waist. His forearm was dense and sturdy. I would hold on to it as if it was the protection bar on a ride at Disneyland.

We would look behind cacti and around sage bushes in our search, but within a few minutes I would forget about our mission and revel in the way my stomach would flip when the motorcycle rushed its way up and down the fields. When we would reach the top of a hill, I would look up at my dad and raise my eyebrows to warn him I was frightened. He would comb his shaggy blond hair out of his face with his hands, so I could see his sure blue eyes, then he would smile down at me, his white teeth standing out against his tan skin. I would give the “OK” nod and he would ease over the edge, back off of the throttle, and glide down the hill, all the while playfully echoing my excited scream.

I’m at the bottom of one of these hills when I hear my dad reach the end of his Don Ogelvie story.

“He has Alzheimer’s, you know?” he says as he adjusts the shocks on the bike. I tell him that I didn’t know this and say I’m sorry.

“Found out a couple weeks ago, should have known though. The last time we were down pitting in Baja, Don got lost, which was kinda weird because he knew that place like the back of his hand. He was getting up in years but he could still ride like the wind. When we filled up his empty tank, he said he had used up all of his gas riding around looking for a pit stop,” my dad says as he sits on top of his bike to test out his adjustments. He bounces up and down, side to side, and it reminds me of the way my sister used to ride Clip-Clop the Wonder Horse, a spring rocking horse that she would play on for hours at a time. As she grew older, the horse sank low to the ground and began to tilt to the side, so we had to retire it to the garage where it leaned against boxes of old baby clothes and suitcases filled with pictures of distant relatives.

“I need to keep riding,” my dad says as he nods his head, an affirmation of his own statement. “Wanna go around the block?” he asks me. I shake my head. “I’ll be back in a while then.”

He pushes his boot down violently on the kickstart a couple times before the motor starts buzzing and popping. His belly hangs over his riding pants just enough to make him look uncomfortable in them and his hair seems too short, his neck bare at the collar line, exposing the sun damage from the day’s ride.

I watch him accelerate down our paved street, and I wonder if there are any dirt hills nearby. I know I should be upset about the bike, but I’m not.

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Valerie graduated from Loyola Marymount University where she studied Creative Writing under Greg Sarris. She currently lives in Orange County, California with her dog Josie. E-mail: shepherd202[at]cox.net.