Riding the outskirts
For some solitary mountain girls, all roads lead to a Harley

Riding the outskirts
Keller Northcutt - 06/09/2022

I’ve always been a peripheral human. I watch how others do things before deciding if I can do them, too. As a child, I devised a mathematical equation of x (how badly I wanted to do the thing) + y (my odds of succeeding) - z (the consequences of not succeeding). The result = will I, or will I not, do the thing. For example, I grew up in Steamboat Springs, and a few times a winter in elementary school, we would go ice skating. As a 6-year-old, I wasn’t convinced I would enjoy it. So, the first time we hit the rink, I sat in the bleachers and watched my peers go around and around. After observing them laughing and enjoying the experience, my mind changed, and I very badly wanted to try. My calculations included the pain of impact on ice, of not being able to stop and social humiliation of failure. Yet the fun looked irresistible, and moments later I was doing the penguin shuffle.  

Fast forward decades. I was a human stuck in the scientific method. Hypotheses, observations, calculations, trials, errors, results. This methodology brought me a positive sum for snowboarding, bouldering and eight years of downhill mountain bike racing. Solitary sports suit a peripheral person – in my mind, the more people involved, the messier the equation. So, it followed that motorcycles were next. 

I pictured myself riding a Harley, someday. Cooly clad in a Rambo bandana, studded leather chaps, eternally cruising into the sunset. The problem was, I didn’t know a single person who rode a Harley, nor did I have any experience with motorcycles. But my sister had a dusty old dirtbike in her garage, so I hopped on and figured it out, skipping the observation step and heading right into the experiment. I stalled frequently. I ran out of gas on receptionless county roads. And I rode it faster than it was built to go. I quickly upgraded to a Honda CB500x, a bike perfectly suited for all kinds of mountain adventures. Together we rode the coastline of Oregon and Washington in four days, camped for a week in Valley of the Gods, and bobbed up and over Ophir Pass. Yet the dream of sitting atop an (impractical) Harley Davidson constantly danced in the back of my mind. The power. The sound. It felt way out of my league, something I’d have to earn. I needed to be cooler, stronger and probably kill a few people before I could own one. 

But sometimes life just brings you what you need. And suddenly, out of the relentlessly blue Colorado sky, Joan the Harley rolled into my world at a delicate 683 pounds, black and silver, smooth as a baby’s bottom. I named her after Joan Jett, an icon of ferocious independence. Although she escaped the factory almost 20 years ago now, we met each other during the sad summer of 2020 (the only pandemic relationship I can claim). The Honda moved to a loving home in the San Luis Valley and is enjoying dirt roads and herding cattle. 

Joan and I took our first date on the Million Dollar Highway. We stopped for selfies on Red Mountain Pass, premium gas in Ouray, premium lunch in Telluride, and sat under the shade of the cottonwoods in Dolores. It’s fair to say it was one of the best days of my life. 

Here are 10 reasons why riding a Harley is the ultimate hobby: 

1) It’s fun alone.

2) It’s fun with friends, because you share an experience but don’t dilute it with conversation.

3) Everything is out to kill you, so you stay 100% in the moment. 

4) You see cute baby horses plopped in spring pastures. 

5) You rip past slow Texans in the summer. 

6) Yellow aspen leaves flutter behind you in the fall.

7) The vibration of a V-twin engine elevates you into a meditative state enviable by even the most ascetic monks.

8) Fuel-efficiency. (50+ mpg!) 

9) It’s the only valid reason to rock a leather jacket. 

10) You get to throw the two-fingered “Harley wave” at people who would otherwise never, ever, ever speak to you in person. (We will address this another time.)

So now here I am. A petite blonde, a few freckles past 30, riding nearly 700 pounds of steel. Since moving to Durango a month before the epic crisis began, it has yet to feel like home, and I remain on the outskirts. Even at the well-loved/hated Four Corners Motorcycle Rally, I did not fit in. But I soaked up the custom bikes, the rowdy events and lungfuls of second hand smoke. I even waved to children while riding in the moto parade down Main.

I recognize that for most people, the calculations for riding a motorcycle result in a not-going-to-happen sum. The potential consequences of error are … consequential. But I suppose I wanted it badly enough, and the rewards continue to outweigh the risks. Riding a Harley quickly became my greatest joy, cheapest therapy and the perfect pastime for a socially inept introvert.

Even though I am still on the hunt for some studded leather chaps, the stories Joan and I have accumulated in our 10,000 miles together are enough to make you laugh, cry and cringe all at once. So stay tuned, there are miles more to go.

- Keller Northcutt

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