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Tucson Weekly Hitting The Squids

What's The Worst Thing You Can Call A Bunch Of Hard-Riding Motorcycle Hombres?

By Jeff Smith

OCTOBER 20, 1997:  A MAN KNOWS he's getting into his relaxed-fit years when hell-raising road trips mutate into scheduled events on the desk calendar, coordinated with his fellow Visigoths so as not to conflict with anniversaries, grandchildren's birthdays, or visits to the proctologist.

Every autumn since 1976, I and the boys have picked up the phone, made a few calls, and by whatever means necessary, hit the road for Ruidoso, New Mexico. That's another way you can tell your cavity-prone years are behind you: Your annual rituals get old enough to vote.

This little jaunt started out as a motorcycle trip to the Aspencade Rally, traditionally held the first weekend of October in the mountains of central New Mexico. History has lost track of which of us stumbled onto this intelligence, but 21 years ago as we lashed our sleeping bags to the bikes, gassed up and zippered into leather jackets, we expected a high-octane free-for-all and we were not disappointed.

That first year, by happy accident, the itinerary was set for every ride that has followed. We left from Star Cycle at dusk on Thursday, hit a bar in Willcox and had a hell of a good time. We rode on to Safford, hit a bar and had a hell of a good time. A few beers later we rode north to Clifton, hit a bar and had a hell of a good time. At last call we got a few six-packs to go, found a turn-off for camping at the bottom of the Coronado Trail, laughed and told stories until the beer was gone and had a hell of a good time.

Next day we rode up the Trail in record time, ate breakfast as Hannigan's Meadow, refueled in Alpine, rode to Reserve, New Mexico, and our first visit to Uncle Bill's Bar and had a hell of a good time. Didn't get out of Uncle Bill's until almost dark, and nearly froze before rolling into Datil, where we found Heaven. Join me while I relive the moment:

It was beginning to snow. The wind-chill aboard a motorcycle was 20 below zero. You couldn't focus your eyes for shivering, but off to the left shone the cheery glow of neon and stone hearth. Inside was a wood fire, a country jukebox, scotch and chicken-fried steak. I still believe the cafe in Datil is the most wonderful place on Planet Earth.

And the highlight of the annual Ruidoso Ride.

This is not to demean the Paris Tavern in Magdalena, or the Idle Hour Motel in Ruidoso, or the Birdcage Saloon, also in Ruidoso, or even the Ruidoso Police Station where one year we had to pay three visits to bail Paul out of jail. Or the S-Bar-X Saloon in Hillsboro on the way home.

All of these high spots in the road are part of our tribal history, a folkloric tradition patterned after that first serendipitous ramble, 21 years ago.

It wasn't until the second year that another Ruidoso Ride tradition was born, and that was the Viking funeral thing. The boys were a pretty fast bunch of bike riders. Most of us had raced motorcycles in one milieu or another, and most finished on the podium more often than not. So the Ruidoso Ride--which could have been accomplished in a single-day straight shot--was from the start a three-day, back-road trophy dash. Quite fast and quite dangerous.

I think Obert was the first to crash hard--wadding his 400 Honda trying to keep up with Cundiff's 900 Screaming Yellow Zonker BMW. No serious injuries, but the bike was set afire and floated out to sea, and Obert was carried home on his shield. Then, as the years rolled by, more bikes rolled off the edge or into the mountainside. Dytko went on his head in Clifton, McArdle broke his brother's bike and his own shoulder against a cliff on the Coronado Trail. Next year Mick broke his back and Custer left a lot of hide in the same corner just coming into Ruidoso. Then Tibeault hid a horse in the road and Galper hit deer, or so he claimed.

By this time the body count was getting so high, sensible people refused to ride along with us. There was no shortage of not-so-sensible, and the worst year was 1980, when Murray and Metz invited themselves along, despite our efforts to discourage. We had a feeling they might get in over their heads and they did. Heading out of the last bar on the first night, Murray stuffed it into the hillside, above the open pit mine in Clifton. Metz augured in right behind him, breaking an ankle.

Murray was much worse: both legs broken and bone protruding through his pelt. Jaw shattered and teeth gone. Ribs broken and ruptured spleen. Right arm, compound spiral fractures or radius and ulna. They had to helicopter him out, and he never quite was himself again.

He blamed me for setting too fast a pace. I was merely showing Cundiff what a 900 Ducati could do.

Next autumn I found out for myself: It could launch me into a tree-trunk at 120 miles an hour and paralyze me.

But it couldn't kill me, and in the 16 years since I hit that tree, just 10 miles from Uncle Bill's Bar, none of us has got so much as a scratch. Although Mick has experienced a couple of parking lot get-offs. We still go pretty quick, and I find myself wondering sometimes, when the speedo is reading 120 and the boys are disappearing in the distance, what part of my anatomy I might light on, if, say, my front tire blew out. I hope it's one of those paralyzed parts.

Over the years, observers have expressed curiosity, revulsion and disbelief that a group of reasonably bright adult men should persist at a form of play that has cost such a price in flesh and bone. I have pondered this at length--each of us is, after all, his own favorite subject--but failed at a definitive conclusion.

Perhaps it's the adrenaline. Perhaps running away from tedium. Then again, as Brian suggested to me this very most recent iteration, "Maybe you're just a bunch of squids."

Say it isn't so.

In the motorcycle game the term "squid" is the ultimate insult. It's a contraction of squirrely kid, definitely not what a 35-year-old editorial writer, husband and father, holder of large trophies for winning races at major venues wants to think of himself. Hey, we're not a bunch of teenagers who've never been blooded, riding around in "No Fear" T-shirts. We carry the scars of reality. We've buried our dead. We still ride hard and take no prisoners.

But damn, those discouraging words still ring in my mind's ear: Maybe you're just a bunch of squids.

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