Dedicated to the women who RIDE THEIR OWN motorcycles  

Learning To Ride With Wolves

by Tammy Lee Cook

Just after watching the sunrise while holding a cup of hot coffee, my long slender fingers picked up the tools and began adjusting the final drive chain on my well used Triumph motorcycle. Using a slim offset box end wrench held precisely so as to clear the frame, they loosened the mufflers to gain access to the chain adjusters. I stared in fond amazement while my fingers went about their task with no intervention from me. They moved smoothly about their work without wasted motion in a miniature ballet choreographed to their own silent music with each member dedicated to a specific job contributing to the entire performance. Watching them, my mind flooded with distant memories of the time when my fingers first began to study ballet ....

I twisted the ancient motorcycle’s throttle while remembering to “balance the spark” with my other hand much like playing a piano. The wind flattened my hair, tore at my cheeks, and watered my eyes. I tried hard to concentrate and not become distracted by the hot late summer afternoon air alive with buzzing insects intent on collision with my face and the ripe summer smells that I could never smell when rode with my head out of the rusty old farm truck’s window. The wind, that lazily pushed my arm up and down if I turned my wrist while I riding with my arm out of the truck’s window, now screamed in my ears and tried to squeeze the breath from my body. Intense was the only word my eleven year old brain could tug from my blurred senses.

Soon would come the time to close the throttle, mash down with my left toe on the clutch for all I was worth, grab the lever with the big black knob in my left hand and shove it to the next gear. I couldn’t wait to hear the huge motorcycle growl and feel it’s leap forward.

“Always listen to the motor, Tam. You can tell by the sound, she’ll tell you when she’s ready to shift; just like when your horse tells you she is ready to jump” said the grinning voice behind my ear just loud enough to penetrate the haze of my senses.

Leaning forward behind the huge headlight to turn the wind away from my eyes, I was certain if I could only focus on coordinating the throttle, clutch and gear lever and listen very carefully for the change in rhythm of the engine to time my movements, just maybe, this time I could achieve a perfect gear change.

My step granddad, riding passenger behind me on the huge seat with the funny fringe, was waiting to intervene if things got out of hand or if I went too fast which was something I really loved to do! Sometimes I would start giggling and open the throttle for no more reason than the total joy at feeling the bike rush forward. Whenever I did this he would laugh, gently cover my hand with his and twist the throttle the other way to slow us down. As I got better at riding, he would let us go faster before spoiling my fun. But the really neat thing was as I learned to be a better rider I felt more in control of my life. Even with him on the back, here in the wind on this huge old motorcycle nobody was the boss of me. I liked the feeling a lot.

My step granddad was my pal. He had come to live with us after his wife threw him out for drinking, riding his motorcycle all night and getting in trouble with his buddies in town. In exchange for a place to live in the barn, he worked on our farm. His son; my step father, who made us ride through town in the summer with the car windows up ( so folks would think we had an air conditioned car) was always telling his Dad stuff like “you’re a disgrace to our name” and “what will they think if you don’t change your ways?”.

When he moved into the barn filled to the brim with its sharp, thick smells and noises of horse life, he moved into my preferred hang out. It seemed only natural that I taught him how to care for horses and that he taught me about motorcycles. I liked him from the start, he was the first to call me Tam instead of “TammeeeeLeiiieee”...

At this point in the chain project, I noticed my fingers had completed Act One of their performance and were wiping the tools before returning them to my ancient and scarred gray metal toolbox. The wrench my fingers were wiping was originally bought to adjust the chain on an old Triumph Bonneville that I sold at least twenty years ago...

He liked that I was always careful about cleaning and returning his tools to the battered and cracked leather tool roll. “Take care of your tools Tam and they’ll last you a lifetime. Lose them and you’ll be helpless beside the road. Your tools are your ticket to riding the world, without ‘em you’re just stuck... .”

During Act Two, my fingers loosened the axle nuts and then moved on to the chain adjustment bolts. Loosening these was, as always, incredibly tedious. Actually adjusting the chain and aligning the wheel was even worse! It took my steady persistent fingers four tries to get it just right...

“Tam you’ve got to be patient. Only one way is right so you’ve got to try again.“ He gently coached me while I struggled to install one of the four spark plugs in the side of his bike’s huge and wonderfully mysterious engine. Noticing that I had been distracted by my hair constantly getting in my eyes. He pulled his bandana out of his back jeans pocket and tied it around my head. “You’ll need to get at least one of these to keep in your pocket... .”

At this thought, my fingers paused in their struggle to snug my Triumph’s axle nuts and entirely on their own pushed some stray hair back under the bandana tied around my head...

Later, he taught me how to fight and to defend myself with a knife.
“Any girl as headstrong as you is gonna need to know how to take care of herself especially if I’m not around to watch out for you”, was his advice.

I remember not liking this part but understood what he meant and it’s importance. So I learned my lessons, but also awakened to the knowledge that he would be soon leaving us... I really hated that part.

He rode off after Easter when I was fourteen. I met him to feed the horses at our usual 5 am. The mares gave him away with their total silence. Every other morning when I shoved open the sliding barn door and yelled “good morning ladies”, 25 horse heads popped out of stall doors loudly nickering for their breakfast. This morning, their totally silent stares draped a blanket of lonely dread over my heart. I found him in the nursery barn where he had already watered and was mixing hot mash of oats for the foals.

I asked him. “It’s today isn’t it?”

“Yup” was all he said.

I ran back to the mare barn trying to hide my flood of tears from the mares but they knew my pain and tried to console me with lots of soft nickers and nose nuzzles.

When we finished morning chores and swept out his room neat as a pin, I gave him the leather saddle bags I had spent the winter piecing together from scrap harness leather and leather lacing. He packed his few belongings in them, tied them to his ride and after the best tear filled hug I could muster, rode out the farm lane as far as the top of the hill where I could see him in the early sun. We waved one last time. I saw him grab the lever with the big black knob in his left hand and shove the bike into gear, heard the engine roar and he was gone. I never saw him alive again...

My fingers, unguided by me, finished Act Three with a satisfied wipe of the gas tank and a rub of the mufflers with my last clean rag. The Triumph, beckoning with a smoothly idling engine, reflected my image in the new sun light in her hand-polished engine covers. I looked toward the east into the early summer sun where the earth meets the sky and smiled to myself. I was ready.......

He was the last kind, gentle man in my life for quite awhile. With his leaving, his son, my stepfather, turned violent towards mother and abusive towards me. Lucky for me, I had learned my lessons well.

A few years ago I asked my stepfather for permission to be a pall bearer at his father’s funeral. I rode my trusty Triumph and wore my boots, jeans, sleeveless denim jacket, and bandana amongst a forest of black and navy suits. In the intense August heat and in spite of the not so quietly whispered comments and unveiled stares, I remembered my step grandfather’s gentle smile and knew in my heart that he was proud to have me help carry him on his last ride.

Later, his daughter told me he had been living with her after his girlfriend locked him out for drinking and riding his bike in town with no mufflers. She shared a picture of him taken on his new Sportster before he died suddenly of a stroke at age 85. I still wonder if the tattered lace stitched harness leather saddlebags tied across the seat were the ones I had spent a winter so carefully and painfully cutting and stitching almost a lifetime ago.

Sometimes in the hot late summer afternoon wind, when I giggle and open my Triumph’s throttle for no more reason than the total joy of feeling the bike rush forward, I hear his laughter in my ear just loud enough to penetrate the haze of my senses. It is then the timeless threads bonding past with present are reawakened. It is then when I eagerly and joyously embrace our bond, Riding With Wolves.

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Story copyright© Tammy Lee Cook, All Rights Reserved











From Tam:
"This is the first in a series of stories titled "Recipes for the Road" that are about my life and a few of the things I've learned along the way. I thought it might be fun to share." Tam spends more time riding than posting, but you can visit some of her favorite forums,
Women Riders International (WRI), Harley-Davidson Women Riders (HDWR) and Women Who Ride.

WHAT YOU NEED to Know! Cyclechex Motorcycle History Report.
Motorcycle History Report - What You Need to Know Before You Buy a Used Motorcycle.

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