I received an email from a guy I hadn’t seen or heard from in many years the other day. He found me on Facebook, and I was reminded of the good times we had when we were much younger. Joe is one of the guys that I used to spend a lot of weekends with back in the late 70s and early 80s. There were about six of us friends that lived in Johnstown, Ohio, and we all owned and loved to ride off-road motorcycles. One or two Saturdays a month, we would get together and load the bikes in the back of pickup trucks along with coolers and sleeping bags and head southeast to a reclaimed strip mine near the town of Somerset, Ohio. In the email Joe sent me, he mentioned how those weekend trips to Somerset were some of the best memories he had of riding off-road. Thinking about, it I have to agree.
There were four guys that stick in my mind when I think back on those days. Jeff was a short, stocky guy about my age who was probably one of the best off-road motorcyclists I knew at the time. It didn’t matter what kind of bike he was on, he always seemed to be in front of everybody else. It didn’t matter if we were cutting through the woods or attempting to coax our bikes up a 90-degree wall of dirt, Jeff was the first to get to the top and was one of those guys you could count on to help put your bike back together after a long day of abuse to your bike and yourself. Steve was a tall friendly guy who was nicknamed “Crash.” He was totally fearless and would, and did seem, wreck every vehicle he drove. Crash rode like he drove—with reckless abandon and absolutely no fear. Kenny was a big, tall, friendly guy who rode a Suzuki 400. We called Kenny “Kenny Ha-Ha” because that’s how he replied to almost everything when you spoke to him.
“Hey Kenny did you pick up a quart of oil for your bike?”
“Ha- of course I did, do you think I’m stupid?”
You get the idea.
I remember Joe rode a Yamaha YZ250, which he sold to me and then bought a Yamaha 400. The bike or Joe never seemed to get dirty. I don’t know how he did it, or maybe he was as filthy as the rest of us at the end of the day but he never looked as bad as we did. Joe was a good rider and changed bikes a lot, he was always looking for a faster bike that would get him up those hills and through the deer paths that cut through the 600 or so acres that we rode through on those weekends.
We would meet at my Dad’s service station on Saturday mornings with two bikes in each pickup truck and our gear stuffed behind the seats. We usually stopped at a truck stop about half way to Somerset for a big breakfast of sausage gravy and biscuits before we finished the drive to the mine area. Once we arrived, we would pull the trucks over to the side of the main road that cut through the mine area and start unloading our bikes. It was different back then—you didn’t have to lock everything up for fear of it being stolen, so gas cans, sleeping bags, coolers and tools were left in the bed of the trucks so if you needed to repair something on your bike or needed to fill up, everything was handy.
We would ride until it was almost dark and then build a fire near the trucks. Dinner usually consisted of roasted hotdogs or someone would run into town and pick up several pizzas. We would eat and try our best to empty the coolers of the beer we had brought from home. After lying to each other for several hours and cleaning up after ourselves, we would climb into our sleeping bags in the truck beds and fall asleep listening to the frogs and crickets.
Sunday mornings would come and, after shaking off the morning dew, we would climb back on our bikes and ride until it was near noon. We’d load the bikes up and head back to Johnstown caked with mud and dirt. We were too filthy to eat inside a restaurant so fast food to go was our lunch. After getting into Johnstown the first stop was the car wash. We didn’t unload the bikes, we’d just climb in the bed of the truck and rinse the bikes off with the high pressure water and then rinse the bed of the trucks out. Unloading our bikes at our homes, we’d wave goodbye to each other and enjoy our evenings in the comfort of our homes and real beds.
I hadn’t thought about those weekend trips, and how we’d rip through that rough terrain. Looking back it’s a wonder no one was seriously hurt. We all got banged up and bruised a little and our bikes took quite a beating. I think I lost a riding boot once trying to cut through a creek, but two or three weeks later someone would call or stop by the house and ask if I was ready to head down to Somerset. I don’t remember when or why, but those trips became less frequent. I guess it’s just a sign of getting old, or as my wife says, “getting smarter.” I sold my dirt bike, but I have three street bikes that don’t have a chance to get to dusty. I don’t know if I could still hang on to a bike attempting to cut through a thicket, or climb an incline of dirt anymore. But, thanks to Joe, I’m giving it some thought. Thanks Joe. My memory needs a little prodding every now and then.