Artwork by Mr. Jensen
Artwork by Mr. Jensen

Almost Total Recall

Did you ever have a day when you just knew you were forgetting something, but you couldn’t get your mind into its memory mode?

It happened to me during one of those 100-mile trail rides that worn-out enduro riders attend because they can trash can the clock and ride for the enjoyment of hammering over whoops, eating dust, drinking bad water and developing a world-class case of monkey butt.

The I-know-I’m-going-to-forget-something feeling began the evening before as the gourmet cooks were flaring up the campground with either napalm or charcoal lighting fluid. The feeling intensified as the sickening odor of expensive meat burning to a crisp wafted along, accompanied by killer mosquitoes and the agonized yelps of women as they suddenly realized that there is no place to plug in a hair dryer.

These cries have lessened over the years since we old foxes, who used to sleep on the rear seat of a Volkswagen Beetle or under a picnic table with a tarp draped over the top, have begun to tow house trailers. We now spend a good hour trying to level the things before starting up a generator to power the color television and electric fry pan.

I, however, have regressed to the ultimate: a can of tuna fish, a six pack of cheap beer and a flip-out chair that turns into a bed. I even enjoy breakfast in bed, but I try to avoid granola bars which drop a lot of sticky crumbs. I have started colonies of New Jersey ants in Michigan, Florida and Texas. Each year when I return to these events, I park the van in the same spot so the ant relatives can have a little visit.

That feeling of having forgotten something was still with me the next day as I loaded up my old milk crate on the way to the gas stop. In the crate were three one-gallon anti-freeze jugs of fuel, two almost empty spray cans of chain lube, a fried egg sandwich triple-wrapped in three Ziploc baggies, a plastic jug of ice and a BMW tire pump which should have been attached to the motorcycle. I gave up adding gear when the bike’s total weight reached 346 pounds, my theory being that if it were heavier I could never pick it up if it fell, or if I did get it up, the half-hitch in my spine wouldn’t let me ride anyhow.

Artwork by Mr. Jensen
Artwork by Mr. Jensen

For the first time in years, I looked into all the pockets of my old black enduro jackets. I found pennies that had turned green and dimes black as coal; not one, not two, but three pump cans of OFF (what would you expect when you live where the mosquito is the state bird?); one battered tin Band-Aid can containing 10 assorted Band-Aids, aspirin, Dramamine (handy if you happen to be catching a ride in a lurching truck driven by someone other than the owner), a tube of sunscreen, toenail clippers and one forlorn, dry-rotted Trojan which made me feel bad when I thought of what might have been but never was.

Time was running short, so I unzipped my fanny pack and made sure all the tools were still there because they have a habit of jumping from one tool bag to another. I have been accused of carrying enough tools to completely disassemble a motorcycle on the trail and have been told this is completely unnecessary if the bike has been prepared properly. Many times I have received this advice from riders who later stop me to inquire if they might borrow one of my tools. I don’t mind; there’s a lot of satisfaction in watching a know-it-all turn into a third-rate beggar.

There are a great many things you can repair on a motorcycle with a pair of Vise- Grips and a large rock, but rocks shaped to fit a six millimeter Allen bolt are hard to come by.

For a change, this time I didn’t forget to put knee guards on. Normally I remember them after I have the riding pants and boots on and the van shut tight with the inside temperature hot enough to bake bread. Nor did I forget the rider’s meeting. In fact, I haven’t missed one since they began stashing a cold keg of beer alongside the trail near the finish. If you don’t listen up, it’d be easy to blow by it; then you’re left spitting cotton and wondering where everybody went.

I left after the wheel spinners and wheelie experts went on their way, increasing the “irresponsible motorcyclists” reputation another 10 points in the local opinion poll.

I was over three miles out when the flat spot in my memory was severely jolted. My engine coughed once, then quit. I let it motor over, hoping it would fire again, before I reached down out of habit to check the position of the fuel valve, which is sometimes moved by a loop of tough vine or a run-over branch flipping up.

The valve was just where I’d left it—on RESERVE—and the gas cap was just where I’d left it after the last ride: unopened.

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This column originally appeared in our April 2018 issue.