Dharma Wheeler's Blog: The Gonzo Motorcyle Diaries

Date posted: 5/29/2014

The Gonzo Motorcyle Diaries

(Memorable Moto Moments Which May Have Never Happened)

Dateline: 1969, Paris-Dakar Race, Somewhere in the Sub-Saharan Desert

There I was. Rear wheel hub of my R100 GS half-sunk in the desert sand dune I had just roared down it at a 70 degree angle. Blazing sun. Royal blue sky. No clouds. Heat reaching 100F. Malcolm Story has passed me several stages ago. My headlight had shattered during the previous stage. Low on gas and water.

“Pilot error. I should never smoke while riding down-hill on sand. This always happens when I do” I said to myself. “And I should never have listened to that blonde in the cafe on the Champs-Élysées. Motorcycles and woman. Bad mix.” 

I had been in Paris on a long R&R from my 5th. Air Cav tour in ‘Nam. She had purposely caught my gaze from her table with her cafe au lait. She looked like Bridgette Bardot but spoke much better English. I bit.

“You are American?” she asked.

“No, I’m Trouble.” I answered.

“But you look strong American, follow me.” she said with a flip of her bangs.

I was awakened the next morning when she stuck a lighted Gitane smoke between my lips, staring at me with her long gaze. I won’t lie, I inhaled deeply.

“You like danger American, yes? Race in the Paris-Dakar on a moto to amuse me,” she asked casually.

“How hard could that be?” I snorted. “I fly Hueys into hot LZ’s while guys in black pajamas in rice paddies shoot at me with AK's. But me? I just grin at them while humming ‘Sugar, Sugar’ by the Archies. That ride-around-the-block has gotta be a cake-walk, Frenchie.”

I inhaled again slowly. “Find me a bike Mademoiselle- à votre service, je n'ai rien à faire en ce moment.”

She stole a drag off my lung dart. “Strong American, if you race for me, I will meet you at the finish line in Dakar. We will be lovers forever."

But the second-hand Beemer I bought from the tattoo'd Corsican in Marseilles was firmly stuck in the sand. Screwed. I lit up another one. Dark tobacco given to me by the Berber chief way back in the Atlas Mountains.  While coughing and removing a tobacco flake off my lip, I turned my head around aware of someone. The empty desert is like that. It is just never empty. A quarter-of-a-click away I saw the kid. He was squatting by his camel. Nor more than 8 years old, he got up and and approached me with his big furry pet.

“Monsieur…” He pointed at my bike, then his camel and pulled a rope out of his bag. He pantomimed pulling the bike out of the sand with his beast. Then he stopped, gestured again by pointing at himself, “Cigarette?”

I lit up a smoke and handed it to the Little Desert Prince. He palmed his and we both inhaled a few deep pulls, studying the situation. With the butt hanging from his lower lip and puffing like a Brooklyn cab driver, he attached the rope and the camel pulled my ride out of the sand.

I cranked old Sparky up, waved, and went onto the next étape. 

When I finally reached Dakar, there was no blonde at the finish line.

- Dharma Wheeler

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