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Playin' in the Dirt

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Playin' in the Dirt

I’ve always enjoyed getting dirty; I have an affinity for it, really. First as a toddler anointing myself profoundly and impressing my mom no end, later on I preferred a good dirt bike under me while anointing. Wind as well as dirt and bugs in my hair!

One sunny day in May of ’65, a young guy out of Wyoming came to work our motel office for college money. Being thirteen, I was working my way out of seventh grade and worrying about wasting another brief summer washing dishes in our steak house, coddling the clientele and cleaning the bar room of spilled whiskey, small change and swizzle sticks.

I hated to admit it but I sorely missed the cool bosom of Mother Earth in my fingers, toes and scalp. Hormones, however, were pulling me onward and so were my dad’s expectations.

After showing our new employee the proper way to register guests, run the switchboard and the finer points of our more nubile staff members, I focused my attention on his ‘ride’: a shiny new Suzuki X6 Hustler 250. My gut instincts vehemently noted this might just be the best of both of my worlds, old and new, pre-pubescence and adolescent desires all wrapped up in one pretty blue package with two cylinders and upswept pipes! 

Something deep inside me snapped; maybe it was my middle finger and thumb. My tenacious, practical side blew away on a mild spring breeze and returned only briefly for a good laugh whenever road rashes and open wounds became a hindrance to my normally stoic good nature.

One single meandering lap that afternoon through the woods of my youth and I was deeply hooked and wouldn’t be going back any time soon without a serious chat with my ego or my dad, whichever came first.

By the next summer, I couldn’t stand it any more and there was nothing for it but to beg permission from said father to buy my first dirt bike. I had to promise, however, not to entertain any thoughts of owning my first car until after graduation and that was fine by me as a new dirt bike in the bush has far more intrinsic value than some ol’ jalopy down the road any day!

Summers come late and leave quite early in Yellowstone, so I hustled up to “Whitey’s West Gate Garage and Yamaha Emporium” where I laid down almost 400 hours worth of sudsy labor for a still-in-the-crate 100 Trailmaster with two rear sprockets, one for cruising and the other for climbing trees and testing my vertigo. Outfitted with a scabbard for my .22 Remington and/or my trusty Zebco rod and reel, I enjoyed seeing places and critters normally out of range of even my wandering proclivities. I was suddenly everywhere like road apples at a wild horse roundup, free range childhood being what it was at the time. 

Like pursuing the headwaters of the south fork of the Madison River along the old tracks of the Oregon Short Line to Rea’s Pass. I found old ‘tie camps’ along the way with nothing left to modern history but an occasional log structure being forever digested by time and the boreal conifers and critters. Or witnessing early morning sapphire skies in a hundred quiet, lonely places with nothing to record the transaction but my memory’s bank and trust; still there, whenever I feel like making a withdrawal. Times and sights my old Huffy and I would never have shared.

Two years later, out came the DT Enduro series and so did my savings passbook! The accrued balance settling on a DT 125 that I got to assemble out of the crate it came in as I was, by then, pumping gas for Whitey and renting out street bikes to overconfident tourists and seasonal help.

This unit, due to my simple lack of judgment and enough cash in pocket one overly adventurous afternoon, had a ‘seizure’ (for lack of 2-stroke lubrication) in front of a tailgating tourist, leaving long rubber lines on the highway, a short exclamation in my drawers, and a nice hole in my piston, giving me the opportunity to ‘re-jug’ it to a 175, ratcheting up my thrill riding a tad bit more. I wish I still had this bike as it kept my growing ego from overloading my ass whenever these two got in a disagreement. However, being a ‘gateway drug’, it left me no other choice but to eventually fall head over boot heels, literally, for a beautiful black DT 360, putting more horses under my fanny than my old hero the Lone Ranger ever had, and broadening my free ranginess even further. 

After leaving our impressions through southern Idaho, into Oregon, down to Mexico and back to Arizona, I soon left her in favor of my one true love and raising a family, those teenage hormones finally catching up to me when I let the dust settle a while in Phoenix. When they finally boiled down enough to allow my vulnerability to get some fresh air, an opportunity presented itself in the form of a ’79 Yamaha TT500 I nicknamed “Thumper” for its ability to do just that.

Together, in the hills of the Idaho Panhandle, we bonded repeatedly and enthusiastically with stunning views, wholesome dirt, sand, mud, rocks, brush, trees and the occasional forlorn muffler. Occasionally, this bond became a bit much to bear.

After my nose had a run-in with a 1x6 at work during a blizzard in ’89, causing a perturbable bulge in my lumbar when my butt hit the ground, leaving me near worthless for months, I had to ignore any temptation to ride for fear of even more worthlessness. Ever since that day, whenever my gaze made contact with my old friend’s languishing frame sinking into the duff of middle age, I’d think of making a sculpture befitting its courage, power and exuberance. I wanted to weld it in rigid repose, as it should be, front wheel in the air and eternally happy with a mannequin flailing in tennis shoes and cut-offs hanging on for fear of falling behind. Sadly, I traded her for firewood last fall, so maybe I’ll make a similar piece of work out of my old tiller as they seem to share many of the same characteristics.

All I would like now would be, for memory’s sake, some slow motion clips of those more stellar moments my dirt bikes and I enjoyed together when enthusiasm got in the way of simple easy ‘bliss’, illustrating succinctly why I gave up riding over twenty years ago in favor of saving what’s left of my body for retirement and less dicey pastimes like fishing, hiking and not bleeding so much.

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Scott Clawson Scott Clawson No, he's not the electrician, he's the OTHER Scott Clawson, who's a quality builder when he's not busy busting a gut while writing his humor column for the first issue of each month, or drawing his Acres n' Pains cartoons.

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Scott Clawson, Acres n Pains

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