I say: "You don't realize how glorious it is. I'm a bird on the wind. Some warm nights, I ride home through the hills singing the last of the ninth, loud. People on Little Tyler Mountain must think I'm crazy."
For the past four years, I've been a middle-aged motorcyclist. I've learned to ignore (1) office wisecracks about the male menopause, (2) Bernie Palausky's suggestions of training wheels, (3) predictions of imminent doom, and (4) the amazing number of obit page headlines that begin: "Cyclist killed -- ''
Despite all that, it's marvelous. Commuting to work is a daily adventure. Driving a car is a bore to be endured only in bad weather.
It all started in 1980 when gasoline leaped to $1.40 and
commuting from Cross Lanes became as costly as a cocaine habit.
I rebelled and bought a 180-mpg moped.
That was an error of short duration. Fresh-air riding was delightful, but the tiny putt-putt was too weak for a 12-mile hilly trip twice a day.
In those days, the Devil's Disciples (spelled "Diciples'' on their skull-bedecked jackets) hung out at the old Apple Tree Inn on Tyler Mountain. As I putted by at 20 mph, the tattooed Disciples, lounging against their Big Harleys, would whoop, cheer, and hoist their beer cans in a brothers-of-the-wheel salute. I considered applying for associate membership. But the Apple Tree burned and the Disciples left. Wonder where they are today?
The moped was traded off to a family with kids at WVU, for campus use. Then I took the plunge. I bought an old Honda 350 from county sanitarian George Hanna and, at age 49, entered the world of cycling that others experience as teen-agers. In his block in Kanawha City, George ran alongside me shouting and waving while I fumbled with strange hand-clutching and toe-shifting. After a few hours, I soloed and braved the traffic home.
Middle age is the best time to learn cycling. Caution is abundant and speed is less a thrill. Safety articles say most deaths and injuries happen to young riders in their first month. Skill grows gradually. For me, the toughest was countersteering: turn left and the bike goes right. It's impossible, but it works.
Sunny weekends became cruising time. My four kids were smaller then. With one on the back, we'd explore lovely farm roads amid fields of cows, avoiding roadside chickens.
Riding to work presents an image problem. I solved it by parking at the back of the building, entering through the truck dock, and changing out of boots and jeans before encountering the three-piece-suit visitors always in the newsroom. The boss, Ned Chilton, is reasonably tolerant of employee eccentricity. In case he ever complains that cycling is undignified, I'm saving clippings about publisher Malcolm Forbes (worth $200 million -- twice as much as Jay Rockefeller) and his trusty bike. Forbes skidded on loose gravel the other day and got banged up. If he's smart enough to accumulate $200 million, he should be smart enough to avoid loose gravel.
Cyclists share a private bond. Gene Brewer of The Lincoln Journal is my favorite weekly editor; he rides a Harley. Sheriff candidate Danny Jones gets my vote; he has a monster-size Honda. Lawyers can't be all bad if John Fowler rides a Yamaha 550.
Last year, for our 25th anniversary, despite her sarcasm, my wife replaced the old 350 with a sleek new Honda 400. It purrs. By then, our two oldest boys had driver's licenses and clamored for a chance. It terrified me. I limited them to practice on parking lots and around the Jesus statue at Tyler Mountain Memory Gardens. No highway riding for children. The rule at our house is: anyone over 50 can ride the motorcycle.
Now I'm a seasoned veteran. Even with bifocals for goggles, I'm Steve McQueen inside as I lean through curves and float along the countryside, close to nature.
Aside from the fun, the financial saving is considerable. Gasoline costs $3 a week, insurance $70 a year, license tags $9. The new Honda was $1,200. Maintenance is minor; a five-minute, do-it-yourself oil change is $6.
Convention says motorcycles are only for the young and for renegades. Baloney. Conventions disappear as people acquire new habits. Dr. Robert Bock of Charleston rides at age 70. Dr. Lee Pratt belongs to the Motorcycling Doctors Association. Why shouldn't cycles be for bankers or ministers or housewives or retirees -- any free spirit who wants to save money and turn daily transport into sport?
At least 32,000 West Virginians know what I mean. That's how many cycles are licensed in the state.
Whether convention changes or not, I'm hooked for good.