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Common Tread

Who was that fat man on the XR?

Dec 24, 2015

It was winter, cold and gray…a perfect day for fast single track through the barren woods. Alone, I can go any pace I want and, as far as I knew, I was going pretty fast.

I subscribe to the same principle as the tree falling in the forest with nobody around. Does it really make a sound? As long as there are no witnesses, we can believe whatever makes us happy, so I believed I was riding at record pace. I did, at least, until I heard a deep “BRRP, BRRRRP” coming up from behind. Somebody was closing in fast.

I snuck a look back on a tight hairpin and caught a glimpse of a guy on a shiny red vintage Honda XR650. Annoyed that some hot shoe was making me look bad, I would have moved over to let him by, but before I could find a spot to pull off, he block-passed me clean, squared off the turn and disappeared into the trees ahead, leaves flying as he passed.

He was gone in an instant, but I got a peek at his gear. He wore smudged Honda colors, head to toe, and they must have been custom made to fit this guy. He couldn’t have been more than five feet, two inches and was as round as he was tall! A black leather kidney belt was wrapped around his middle. His boots looked like retro “Torsten Hallmans,” as best I could tell, and they were as shiny and black as a British barnstormer’s. I picked up my pace until I’d edged into the danger zone, trying to catch up, but it wasn’t going to happen. He was gone. The misty woods were silent, not even a trace of dust.

Suddenly, I rounded a turn and there he sat, bike propped against a blackjack tree, one shoulder leaned against the trunk, and he was smoking a pipe. His helmet hung on the clutch side and he was smiling. His feet couldn’t even begin to touch the ground. This guy was no spring chicken. He must have been in his late 60s. Probably an old hippie, judging by the hair and beard. He had little round glasses and wore an expandable backpack.

“Man, you can make that tub fly,” I volunteered as I took off my own helmet. “What’s the horsepower on that sled?” I asked, wiping the freezing moisture from my goggles.

“Uhhh, well, I never really thought about it in those terms,” he said with a chuckle that made his belly shake like a bowl full of jelly. “Where I come from, we use a different unit of measurement.”

“This is weird,” I thought, as I sat there scratching my head. I felt kind of funny asking, but I said, “So, do you ride around here often? You seem to know your way around.”

“About once a year,” he said. “I spend most of my time up north, working in the shop.”

I wanted to ask about his shop, but thought better of it, and I looked around to see if anyone else might have come along to tell me I needed an ambulance. I knew I must have been hallucinating.

“Ummm, can I ask you something?” I said as he stuffed his white mane back in his helmet and dropped his pipe into a pocket.

“Sure, ask for anything you’d like,” he said as he reached down to pull out the kickstarter.

He said ask for anything I’d like, not just ask anything. This was very weird.

“Oh, never mind,” I said, feeling a little sheepish for even thinking what I was thinking.

“Send me a letter, Bill. I always read my mail,” he said with a twinkle in his eye as he pushed out from the tree and stood on the pegs balancing the big XR to kick it over. It started instantly and he roosted off into the cold fog, never leaving a footprint.

I sat there wondering how he knew my name since I had never introduced myself. As I rode back to the truck, snow began to fall in big, sloppy flakes. I loaded up, turned on the heater and drove home with the craziest visions in my head. I was still wearing my jersey and riding pants as I pulled paper and pen from my desk and started writing:

“Dear Santa, I never knew you could ride like that....”