“Do you have a gun in here?”
I heard those words and they just didn’t make any sense. After all, I’m Canadian. I don’t own a gun, much less feel the need to take one with me when I travel.
I was trying to clear security at Boston’s General Edward Lawrence Logan International Airport and for the previous few minutes I had stood and watched as my carry-on luggage was moved back and forth in the scanner and more and more security personnel were called over to look at the screen and puzzle over what they thought they saw inside while shooting quizzical looks in my direction. It was June 2009 and what made this increased security scrutiny even worse was that Logan had been the departure point for the two planes that flew into New York’s World Trade Center Twin Towers on September 11, 2001.
The tech company I was working for had been bought in the fall of 2008 and this had been my first trip to head office in Boston to meet my boss and corporate colleagues in person. After dinner one night I’d gone for a walk and found an automotive parts store with a great deal on a tool that would make motorcycle maintenance an easier process. I didn’t even consider the fact that all I had was carry-on luggage.
By the time I got my heart out of my throat and steadied my knees I was able to blurt out “Oh, No! No! It’s a vacuum pump for bleeding the brakes on my motorcycle.” With that, the case was opened, the pump scanned separately, and I avoided a close encounter with latex.
Another memorable close encounter happened on my first traverse of the North Cascades Range on Washington State Route 20. The North Cascades Highway is the longest highway in Washington State tracking west to east from Discovery Bay, on the Olympic Peninsula, to Newport, on the border with Idaho. The scenery is spectacular riding from Concrete to Winthrop through North Cascades National Park. In 1981 my friends Brian and Fred and I were on our way home after a camping trip to California. On the way down we’d taken a diagonal route across central Oregon and had returned north via US-101 – the Pacific Coast Highway.
Brian was packing a small hatchet that had come in handy for dinner and breakfast fires at our campsites in AB, ID, OR, and CA on our way south. When we stopped at Dash Point State Park outside Tacoma, WA we learned that using the hatchet on real firewood wasn’t an option (unless we’d brought our own), but Duraflame logs were available from the Ranger Station. We took a pass on the faux flames and yet still managed to cook our Pork Chops & corn on the cob by trading some beer for campfire time with people at the adjoining site.
The next day, somewhere along that very scenic Hwy 20, I watched helplessly as Brian was leading the way and the hatchet came loose, took a crazy bounce off the asphalt, and almost decapitated Fred before bouncing off the road into the ditch. We stopped, but weren’t able to find it. At Pearrygin Lake State Park near Winthrop that evening, with no hatchet and no neighbours, we had no choice but to opt for the manufactured logs to get a hot meal.
Perhaps surprisingly, my favourite close encounter involved law enforcement and it still makes me smile to this day.
It was a typical Southern California morning near the end of April 2018 when my long-distance riding partner and I were cruising on I-5. We’d spent the night in Camarillo and visited the Channel Islands National Park Visitor Center in Ventura before pointing our bikes south, heading for Cabrillo National Monument at San Diego. We’d survived the mid-morning madness in Los Angeles and were now enjoying the relative calm of the 8-lane divided Interstate. Perhaps it was the California sunshine that had me holding my black 2010 Honda ST1300 a little above my usual 10% over the posted speed in the far left lane, which is often a motorcycle friendly HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lane.
During one check of my mirrors I noticed the unmistakable shape of another ST1300 quickly closing the gap. It was white – the Police model. I knew that our ride wasn’t the only thing we had in common. Many Police Services also choose to outfit their motor officers with the same high-quality Kevlar gear that I wear. I had previously seen a particularly aggressively farkled ST1300 (AR-15 over a pannier) in San Marcos during a visit to MotoPort, the manufacturer of my riding gear.
As this bike got closer it seemed that the officer was mostly interested in me, as he passed Norm with barely a glance. I was setting the pace and didn’t think my speed was excessive, but I also couldn’t recall when I had last seen a Motorcycles OK sign for this segment of the left lane. Sure enough, that shiny white ST1300 pulled up alongside me and I nervously looked over at him, expecting a wave to pull over. To my everlasting surprise, the officer looked at me, keyed his megaphone, said “Nice Bike!”, twisted his right wrist, and was gone!
- From R. Bruce Thomas