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8 Rites of Passage “Sure, we do everything on the bike. We live and we die on it.” Much of what makes a culture viable, what makes it survive over the long haul, is the attention paid to the routine functions of life. Birth, death, and the ordinary rites of passage affirm and reaffirm a community . Harley culture is ritual rich and ritual proud. Having attended a number of weddings, a few funerals, and one birth, I have noted a number of patterns. Always, the bike is front and center. Even in the birthing room, where it was not possible to take a motorcycle, the bike was never very far away. The new mother had ridden to work that very day. THE MARRYING KIND It was a beautiful wedding. The bride wore white leather, the groom wore black leather, and the bike was polished to gleaming. The ceremony took place at one end of a one-street town. The revelers lined the entire block. The wedding took place during the annual Bridgeport High Sierra Run. It was typical Bridgeport weather. It stormed over the passes and snowed for fifty miles in all directions, and the visibility was zero. A number of men, experienced riders all, had gone down in the passes. We arrived in Bridgeport late, hungry, cold, and very wet. Bradley saved us camping space at Twin Lakes, just twelve miles out of town. Ken and I made camp among the rest of the sodden crew. Three Wheel Steve, arriving with no accommodations, crashed with us. Tired and cold and miserable with altitude sickness, I crawled out of the hut the next morning to discover a bright, clear, exquisitely beautiful day. We were in high country. Gone were the foothills; this was the real thing. Over 7,000 feet up, we were nestled in a forest of evergreens. The site, with its tiny wooden huts and rustic cabins, was a camper’s delight. A 151 Cultural Analysis small army of brightly colored two-person tents dotted the campground , and small fires were already sputtering among the tenters. Snow-capped mountains, higher than one could lift a neck to see, towered above us and the air smelled of trees and lakes and flowers and wood fires and cold, cold snow. The little restaurant at the edge of the campground was crammed full of frigid bikers. We waited our turn for food. The ride from Twin Lakes campground to the town of Bridgeport follows one of the country’s most beautiful roads. It winds around mountain lakes, plunges down two-lane roads, and ends with incredibly tall mountains on one side and High Sierra meadows on the other. Quiet cattle graze in the meadows while deer race in the distance. As Ken and I flew down the road I knew that I would never be able to fully describe the importance of this riding experience. This must be experienced. Riding gives us access to a world that can be experienced no other way. The bike provides an entrance into that world. This day on that small two-lane road to Bridgeport, Ken and I shared a high-country meadow. We were sharing the trees and smells and clear, clear air. Even Ken’s Beast silenced its customary roar in the presence of such a world. For once I didn’t complain. In all my urban existence, I had never experienced the awe of commonplace mountain meadows. With tears streaming down my face, we rode into town. Bikes open a special kind of entrance into the natural world. For tent campers, backpackers, day walkers, mountain climbers, and sturdy hikers, the bikers’ entrance must seem strange. Since we go where the roads go, travel at fast speeds, and scare woodland creatures away with our noise and our fuel smells, we must seem like improbable nature lovers. Yet all bikers talk of their love of nature, of the wonders we have seen and of the incredible beauty of the land. Riders become quite eloquent when sharing their experiences of the natural world. Riding gives one kind of access into the world of air and wind. It gives us access to deserts and mountains, forests and cliffs, gorges, valleys and meadows. The bike is transportation and entrance at the same time. For those who do not hike, climb, or backpack, it is the only way in. Cars, while serving as transportation, go from place to place but shield you from the very world you wish...


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MARC Record
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