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“The perfect man? A poet on a motorcycle.” ~ Lucinda Williams

Randolph Harrison, Rusty Harrison, Erica Schwarting, interracial couple
A Couple of Aging Heroes

I was a biker from my late 30s until my early 50s. My dream bike was always an Indian. The biker clubs that emerged after WWII, rode three different brands of motorcycles, Harley Davidsons, Triumphs, and Indians. The reason was simple. After the war, these three were the least expensive. The Indian Motocycle Company was the first motorcycle company in America. It started in 1901. Motorcycles were originally called “motocycles.” In 1953, Indian Motorcycles completely stopped production. For the next 50 years, the brand was in a kind of limbo. Several companies tried placing the Indian name on imported bikes, but the efforts met with a tepid response from consumers. In 2010, Polaris bought the Indian brand and built a new Indian Motorcycle plant in Spirit Lake, Iowa. Since that time, Indian Motorcycles came back with a vengeance, cranking out superior American-made bikes. The model I love most is the Scout Bobber.

Indian Motorcycle
1916 trade magazine for Indian Motocycle

In the 1990s, when my passion for riding first began, all of the genuine Indian motorcycles were over 40 years old. I settled for a series of Harley-Davidsons. My favorite was an old Heritage Softail Classic I named “Nora,” after a dragon from Norse mythology. I clunked around the Southeast on Nora for years, rattling my brains out and enjoying every minute of it. For a while, I used Nora as my sole source of transportation. I took pride in riding year-round rain, snow, or shine.

I was captivated by biker mythology. In the tradition of Hunter S. Thompson, who rode with the Hell’s Angels for the experience, I joined a full-patch motorcycle club, or MC, for a while. Thompson never actually joined the Hell’s Angels. The full patch is of great importance in the biker club community. Any new MC wishing to sport a full patch must receive permission to do so from the dominant one-percenter club. One-percenter MCs are also called outlaw clubs. The U.S. Department of Justice considers outlaw clubs criminal enterprises. Examples of one-percenter clubs are the Hell’s Angels, the Pagans, the Outlaws, and the Banditos. Each state in the US has a dominant one-percenter club. Failure to go through the approval process from your state’s dominant outlaw club to use a full patch can result in violent enforcement. The club I belonged to was not a one-percenter club but we refused to ask permission to wear the full patch.

Book cover, "Hell's Angels"
Book cover, "Hell's Angels"

This put us at risk any time the members of my club wore our cuts, the vests with the identifying club patches on the back. Conflicts between my club and one-percenter clubs occurred but I was never involved in one. While the whole thing may sound juvenile, it is deadly serious for club guys.

My biker name was, “The Professor.” I had a lot of fun and took a lot of risks as an MC member. A hundred of us would ride two abreast, so close that I could reach out and touch the handlebar of the rider beside me. There would be about a foot of space between the bikes in front and behind me. We rode in this formation at crazy speeds for 50 miles at a clip. It was supposed to be an exercise in trust. If anyone in the group were to make a mistake it would have wiped out the string of bikers traveling behind. The biker club lifestyle was strenuous. To be successful, the club had to be at the center of your life. Ultimately, it was not for me, but I enjoyed the experience during my tenure.

After leaving the MC, I cut my hair and traded Nora in for a new Triumph America. It was sleek, fast, and beautiful. I initially called her “Sugar” because she was such a sweet ride. I never felt as comfortable on the Triumph as I had on the Harley. On my second day with the new bike, I laid her down on a sharp curve on Highway 9, near Lake Lure. I broke the clutch handle and a couple of bones in my foot but endured the hour-ride home down curvy back roads, shifting without a clutch. A few months later, I was riding Sugar behind a car and lost control when the automobile stopped short. I awoke in the hospital with a crushed vertebra, a collapsed lung, and several fractured ribs. I changed the bike’s name from “Sugar” to “Alex,” after Glen Close’s character in the movie Fatal Attraction! My recovery was slow and painful. I was bed-ridden for a month and wore a brace for several months after that. I still have residual back pain 10 years later. When I had healed sufficiently, I got back on the Triumph and continued to ride for about two years. But, the thrill that motorcycling generated before the accident had been replaced by an insidious apprehension. Riding no longer brought me joy. I sold Alex in 2014 after Erica and I returned from an incredible trip to Africa. I considered my biking days over, but in the back of my mind, I still fantasized about having an Indian motorcycle.

Recently, I started getting the fever to ride again. A buddy of mine bought a beautiful, new Moto Guzzi V7. I began to wistfully peruse the classifieds for motorcycles (especially Indian Bobbers) with no real intention of actually buying one. That gnawing fear was still present. Erica has had a history of making my “castles in the sky” realities. The fact that we started seeing each other romantically after spending ten years in the “friend zone” was the first dream come true. Because of Erica’s determination, I have had an insider’s trip to New York City, been on safaris in Africa, and explored the jungles of Panama. She was the driving force behind our purchase of Gatsby, a 26-foot Hunter sailboat that became our home away from home. We learned to sail (one of my life-long desires) because Erica pulled the trigger on buying a sailboat while I spun my wheels.

Last Saturday, we went to the Indian dealership in Charlotte to “look around.” We found an incredible, 2021 Scout Bobber. The bike only had 250 miles on the odometer and looked like new. Shortly after buying it, the former owner found that he was unable to ride due to his defibrillator. Erica and I left the dealership and went to lunch to discuss the bike. I was extremely anxious. I was nervous about the money, about selling my car, and most of all about riding it from Charlotte to Morganton. I hadn’t been on a motorcycle in 8 years! During lunch, we worked out the finance and car issues. The only obstacle left was getting it home from the dealership. Should I take the safe route? I could certainly justify not buying the bike. Or, should I muster up my Aging Hero and get back in the wind?

Yours Truly

With encouragement from Erica, I chose the latter. We went back to the dealership, finished the paperwork, and purchased a helmet. The plan was for me to follow Erica home. When I got on the bike for the first time and fired her up I felt excited and more than a little scared. I white-knuckled it most of the way home while Erica kept me in her rearview mirror.

As we approached Morganton, something changed. My muscles relaxed, my anxiety drained away, and I got this irrepressible smile. Handling the motorcycle started to feel natural. It was as if my body was remembering forgotten skills. I roared past Erica showing her my goofy grin. My love of riding came rushing back to me like an old friend. I thought of naming the Scout “Magic,” because that is what it feels like to ride her. But, I realized the right name for this bike is “Eri,” a nickname for Erica.

Until next time, all of you Aging Heroes stay vertical.


That's pretty cool man.

Replying to

Wow! That is incredible! Kudos, man. So glad to know you are well. Jung was a genius. Can't wait to read your book. I have been writing too. Erica and I have been putting together a self-help book.

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