When I was about 13, my mother said to my father, “I want a new house.” We lived on a 50 acre farm in an old, two-story farmhouse with no air conditioning, a basement that looked like something straight out of the mind of Alfred Hitchcock and a fuel oil furnace that added to the “ambiance.” Dad, being the kind of guy who wanted to keep the peace, agreed to build a new house on the property. Pop was also the kind of guy who didn’t believe in debt and wasn’t afraid to tackle any job, so he built the house himself. Well, he did have some help…me. Every day. And every night. And every weekend…for nearly 3 years.
I held boards while he sawed them. I spackled drywall, I drove nails, I hauled rock from creeks, I mixed concrete, I climbed on roofs, I dug ditches and anything else he asked of me. I’m sure I complained some, but I don’t really remember putting up much of a fuss. I just did what I was asked to do. After a few weeks it was not even a question; when I got off the school bus or woke up on the weekends, I knew exactly where I was going and what I was doing. While my friends were playing in the dirt mounds in our field, I was busy building more. And you know what? It didn’t hurt me a bit. In fact, it was a great experience.
When we finally finished the house, my dad treated me to several unexpected gifts, including my first street bike. I had been riding dirt bikes for since I was 6 or 7, but that all changed when Dad took me to a neighboring town to pick up my first street legal motorcycle. It was an orange Suzuki TS250. That was the beginning with my love affair with the road.
Over the many years since, I have “dabbled in the dirt” from time to time. I think I’ve owned 3 motocross bikes (all RM 125s for some reason) and 4 dual sport bikes. That doesn’t count bikes like the BMW F650GS, of which I’ve also had a couple. Every so often I get the urge to return to my roots and buy a dual sport. Back in the 90’s I purchased a Suzuki DR350. I went riding with a friend who was strictly an off road rider. His skills eclipsed mine by a long shot. When I was young I was a decent off road rider, maybe even good, but this guy was great…and I was very rusty. He beat me to a pulp. We traded bikes and he showed me that with the right person on board, even an antiquated DR350 could kick my ass!
Eventually I purchased a DR 650. I took it on some gravel and dirt roads, but nothing too gnarly. The bigger DR was an all around nice bike. In fact, I ended up owning two of them. See a pattern here? I have bad habits, what can I say? If I ever had to pick a bike as my “zombie apocalypse,” ride the world, survival bike, it would likely be a DR 650. But, as I often do, I grew tired of it, and sold it.
My last attempt to quiet that inner “dirt” voice was a Yamaha WR250. I bought the X version though, with 17″ wheels and street tires, because I’m really a street guy who just wants to get dirty once in a while. I bought knobby tires for it but never put them on. Instead, I used the WR to strafe the backroads of my neighborhood.
The desire to own a dual sport and ride off road finds its way into my mind every few months or so. Truth is, most of them are so tall that I can’t even get one toe down without sliding far off the seat. The ones I can manage are not the most exciting performers. Eventually the notion wears off and I realize, once again, that what I love is the asphalt plain, sharp curves and steep inclines, crossing state lines and rolling through small towns that I have no reason to visit other than the fact that I was led there by the road. I might as well face it, I’m a wanderer at heart and the byways are my compass.