It’s strangely peaceful doing eighty down the highway with my handlebar inches from the veteran rider next to me. The wind feels good on my face, and I feel the sun on my forearms, I check my rearview and see twenty other bikes behind me in the formation. Behind them is some police cars, behind the police there is a hearse carrying a veteran with a funeral procession bringing up the rear. We are riding to bury a Vietnam Veteran, a man who was shot twice in the jungle and divorced twice. He told me over a glass of whiskey that the bullets were nothing compared to the divorces. I told him I’d been divorced before too, and he said “good, I wouldn’t trust a soldier whose never been divorced.”
My motorcycle serves as my freedom, my best friend, and my therapy. Veterans love our motorcycles, the rush of riding, and the comradeship within the motorcycle community. We feel strongly about our motorcycles, we take care of them arguably better than we take care of ourselves. It’s similar to the Rifleman’s creed in the Marine Corps and from the movie Full Metal Jacket.
-My motorcycle is my best friend. It is my life; I must master it as I master my life.
-Without me, my motorcycle is useless. Without my motorcycle, I am useless.
Maybe I’m not entirely useless without my motorcycle, but I’m a hell of a lot happier on it than off it. Riding provides an incredible feeling that’s difficult to compare to anything else. You are zeroed in on the road ahead of you and nothing besides yourself, the bike and the road exist. Your worries fade away and all your senses come alive when you’re riding. It’s an adrenaline rush to lean your body from side to side and to feel the connection with the machine. You shift gears subconsciously and you feel out the road and flow of traffic around you.
Bikers understand why dogs stick their heads of the window. If you have a passenger, their life is in your hands, it’s the ultimate responsibility. You ride on another plane of thought. It’s hard to block out the negativity that’s everywhere in the world but riding totally clears your head. Because if you’re thinking about the news, your date Friday night, or how you’re going to pay the bills you might end up in a ditch with your bike on top of you. I’ve felt lost at times in my life. I’ve been lost before on my motorcycle, but I’ve never felt lost. Riding is peace.
The motorcycle community and the veteran community have a lot in common. It’s about trust, about brotherhood, and respect. A lot of veterans find a familiar home in the motorcycle community after service. The military and the biker world both have their own language, complete with acronyms and slang. There is a vest, with patches you earn like the military and clubs have leadership positions. There are hand signals when you’re riding, just like a military patrol. There are rules to follow, and an unspoken code of respect between riders. That sense of belonging feels good, my motorcycle club has given me a lot over the years.
People riding wave to another on the road. We know that’s our friend even if we don’t know them personally. I’ve travelled to chapters in different states, partied at Hells Angels clubhouses, rode for veteran’s funerals, and supported military causes. I’ve gotten to know a lot of great veterans and shared in some incredible moments. We support the veterans in our community by visiting hospitals, delivering toys on Christmas, and by lending a hand to veterans experiencing hardships. Bikers do an incredible amount of charity work around the country that goes criminally underreported. We check up on one another, protect each other, and laugh and cry together. It’s a rare thing to truly know who your friends are, but military motorcycle clubs provide that. Being a biker and being in the military are both ways of life.
Veterans have long had a love affair with motorcycles. We love the rush of riding and civilian life is short on the adrenaline the military provided. Go get on two wheels because “wind therapy” is better than traditional therapy. Dan Aykroid said, “You don’t need a therapist if you own a motorcycle.” Riding communities give you a tribe to belong to, and riding gives you that sense of danger you miss from the military. Civilian life can be boring for veterans, we need the thrill of speed and danger. Riding is a drug, but it isn’t going to ruin your life. If you don’t know how to ride, it’s time to learn. Then ride fast, ride with your friends, and join one of the best communities in America. When your bike is broken, you fix it….and when you’re broken, your bike fixes you.
Featured Image by Nesto aka Marcelo A. Soffiantini