I reached a point of excitement in preparation for the 2021 Donnie Smith Bike Show, but three days before opening, I received notice it had been postponed; due to insurmountable regulations due to Covid fukin 19.
Both the Boys were polished and lookin good for a magnificent presentation.
Also, the editor of a biker rag wanted to feature my “08. But after I sent an article with photos, he replied that he’d forwarded them on the the publishers, and I haven’t heard from them!
So, I’ve put a few words together as a pretext to the article I wrote for that rag. I wrote a good story, but I’m not good at bragging about it for marketing and sales; and for that reason I believe it’s been misunderstood. Now, below this little Ode, I’ve written the most concise and explicit article to hopefully clear up any direction or intentions.
An Ode to My Boys
It’s been a good year
I said with cheer.
To the north and south
west and east,
my Boys beat with the heart of a beast.
I looked to each with pride
as I would to a bride,
but spoke words neither wanted to hear.
Our season has gone
last tracks have been laid,
I sadly say-d.
You, whose miles are few, my ’98
with my battle scarred ’08,
the time has come to hibernate.
While frigid winds blow
and trails cover with snow,
I’ll tend to your needs
for another season you’ll roll.
And in a blink
winter’s chill will shrink,
and in May I’ll call
the ‘08 to make
another ride to The Wall.
With asphalt this year
its tires will rhyme,
as they have the past
eight years’ time!
A Fat Boy’s Destiny
My bankroll zeroed out and I sold my Panhead in the transition of a new career. In 1997, I went to Asia to boost recovery; China (twice), Kashmir, and Singapore were adventures in tenures, but there were more borders to cross.
In 2008, I went to Vietnam for my first time. I was ready to go back in ’72, but served elsewhere. Finally, I was there—to build golf courses. I met a guy who imported bikes thru shady arrangements, and to get a Harley into Hanoi, duty-free, was as much of a surprise as the job. I had a three-year contract and splurged to fill an urge. I called my brother in Minnesota, and told him to buy another Anniversary Fat Boy. (He bought my ’98 Anniversary Fat Boy, too, but it never left America.)
My plan was simple; ride through my contract and move on to another job, possibly in another country, likely, without the Fat Boy. However, strokes of serendipity steered me on a ride that reached beyond imagination.
My contract crumbled a year later, and my next job in Nha Trang was doomed from the start. Then, an offer across the border sounded good, with hope for the Fat Boy. Before either of us went anywhere, I needed to honor our fallen veterans with a ride across the land they saw last—on a Harley Davidson. How cool was that, I thought?
That offer delayed my ride near a year. I rode out on Christmas Eve 2011, and winter wasn’t the best time to do that. The bike and I took a beating, and I returned with no sense of fulfillment. There was something more out there, and I had to find it. I put my work aside and returned to the trails in faith.
With no distractions, the quest consumed me. I rumbled over highways and lumbered over remnants of Uncle Ho’s war trails. Deep in the Central Mountains, the solitude of jungle was a powerful sensation; I felt drawn into a realm no mortal on a Harley had ever been; and found purpose for my presence. I didn’t know combat, or any of the fallen, but I bonded with the spirits of them all. At times, sorrow for them and their families overwhelmed me, and to know that our missing in action (MIA) were somewhere beside my trails, gave me a sense of helplessness I’d never known. I recovered from those times with a handful of throttle, but I didn’t want our ride to be a hateful, or somber, affair. I wanted to celebrate freedom for them on a land they would have appreciated under my circumstances; so, I left my inhibitions in the outside world, and rode vicariously for them with a playful vengeance.
I animated my world with an intimate connection to it. I talked to the Fat Boy, and to my shadow—on sunny days. I talked to the fallen as the wild and rebellious generation we came from, and I talked to the mountains like wise men who watched over us. I held a steady throttle through the scorch of tropical sunshine, where I peeled layers of skin off my nose, and in the wrath of monsoons, I shook my fist and screamed to the heavens—BRING IT ON!
The trails belonged to me and those I rode for, although, they didn’t just lay out for a carefree ride through a land of beauty and welcome; there were threats to contend with, and some trails didn’t favor a lowered Fat Boy with street tires. It takes a big bang to break a pinch bolt, and I broke one, twice. The front skid bar has been straightened a few times and chromed twice, too. On a mountain trail in the crown, I was twisted and pinned face down in mud until a young man came along to lift the bike off of me. I was painfully thrilled that my knee and ankle were not broken. Another time, I rode four days with a fractured right arm. Our MIA’s were out there, and I had to carry the spirit of freedom over a trail near An Khe, and then ride to Saigon for my flight back to Laos. I was the luckiest rider in Vietnam and reminded myself often; it’s all part of the adventure—and to be more mindful!
Despite warnings about riding alone, I crossed Vietnam seven times for 41,000 miles; to include every kilometer of the Ho Chi Minh Road—the best trail I ever rode in my life. Me and the Fat Boy were known and welcome from one end to the other. Children cheered with me and laid fingerprints on all but hot chrome, and those who remembered the fury of American firepower treated me with kindness. I felt freedom like never before, I felt like an American like never before, and at times, I felt a presence of those I rode for.
By mid-2012, I thought my quest was over. It was the ride of a lifetime for those who never had the chance to make one. I saw an opportunity and felt an obligation that you, and millions of others would have felt the same. It was a ride that had to be made with a story that had to be told, which put me at a fork in the road. At 59 years old, I had yet to bank roll a stash for my golden years; do I cross more borders and let the story fade; or take the risk and return to America to write it, before I forgot any of it?
In December, I put the Fat Boy on a slow boat home. As I rode in faith, I wrote in faith with noble intentions. But it wasn’t over! In May 2013, I made my first ride across America to the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial, aka The Wall, in Washington, D.C. As I faced the names of over 58,000 that I rode for, memories from the trails flooded my thoughts, and grief powered over me. I recovered with pride for the ride we shared and the trails we conquered. I rode from D.C. content. Four and a half years after the Fat Boy arrived in Hanoi, I followed trails home via Quebec, Canada.
That’s not bad for an unexpected road trip. I thought I’d have to talk with a priest, a monk, and a shrink to decide if it was laid out by a higher power, fate, or fantasy! But after six thousand hours of writing, I saw that my quest conveyed the essence of American character—that of a free-spirited and patriotic nature; a nature evolved from the sacrifices of millions of Americans in every war since the Revolutionary War. To them, and their families, we have a responsibility to defend and live with the morals, values, and excitement they cherished in the American Way of life.
The Fat Boy is a blessed bike. It never broke down in Vietnam. Other than mild cams, the engine runs stock and strong over 100,000 miles since Vietnam. Not a ride passes without thoughts of the fallen.
I tend to the Boys each winter with special consideration as caretaker of the ’08. A few seasons back, I went all out on a paint job for posterity. Another idea started with a chainsaw file in the holes of the wheels and 60 grit sandpaper on the discs; forty-some hours later they were ready for paint and a polish. An anniversary tour pack was a comfortable addition, and later, I realized it was the lack of an anniversary fairing that made it look odd and gaudy; and I’d grown to dislike the cheap bags and tinny exhaust on the ’98. To satisfy those issues, I put the bags and exhaust from the ’08 on the ’98, and kept a spot of copper on the tour pack, with fresh flat black to tie in with the new bags and new exhaust on the ’08!
I look forward to the miles ahead, and eventually, a rebuild to the heart of the beast. The bike shows a lot about my journey, and a close look reveals scars from thrills and spills; my book tells the whole story. One day, my Fat Boy will be titled to the National Park Service as a donation to The Wall.
For more on my journey, check out my web site.
Thank you, Thank a Vet, & Never Forget
Mike “Track” Rinowski
Author – HARLEY TRACKS: Across Vietnam to The Wall
Available at: www.harleytracks.com