One is Not the Loneliest Number
By Christopher Nelson - 20 Feb 20
For three hours I stared at the darkened highway just beyond the glow of the headlights, used one finger to hold the steering wheel straight, and stayed silent so as to not wake Shaun Guardado of Suicide Machine Co., curled into a ball in the fully reclined passenger seat. I listened to the audiobook version of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, Or the Evening Redness in the West for the fifth time, and as the sun climbed out from behind the Sierra Nevadas I was stung by words I know too well: “The way of the world is to bloom and to flower and die but in the affairs of men there is no waning and the noon of his expression signals the onset of night. His spirit is exhausted at the peak of its achievement. His meridian is at once his darkening and the evening of his day.” I muttered to myself, “Poignant,” and then Shaun rolled over, his eyelids folded back, and with a exhausted smile he asked, “Can you define ‘poignant’?”
We left Long Beach, California at 3:30 A.M., and still we wouldn’t arrive in Portland, Oregon until well after sunset. I hadn’t planned on attending the 11th annual One Moto Show, but in the weeks leading up to the event I was flattened by a bout with depression, and I wanted to escape wherever I could, as often as I could. I spent most of those sad nights at SMCo, watching Shaun do final assembly of my ’98 Harley-Davidson XL1200 Sport—the devil’s giraffe—and as he did I tried to keep the threads of sanity from falling through my fingers. Six days before the show, I still felt like shit and thought a major change of scene might help, so I asked Shaun if he wanted to drive to Portland in a 2020 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Crew, hauling a pair of his Harley-Davidson flat-track bikes and my malevolent Sportster, which came off the workbench just ten hours before we packed it into the van.
During the 18-hour drive to Portland, we listened to podcasts on the terrifying coronavirus and Anthony Peake, a writer who deals with “borderline areas of human consciousness,” and we scoured our memories for indie horror movies and discussed the possible consequences of Kessler Syndrome. It’s easy to kick back when I’m with Shaun, who is one of the quickest, most aware humans I’ve met. I’m sure he did not like me when we first met a few years ago, but we’ve grown to be good friends, both unabashedly weird in complementary ways. We talk about design and engineering often, and our emotions less so, and we ask each other questions that no person need ever ask, and often our answers are loosely grounded in reality, if bound at all. Our conversations wandered through the odd and the depraved, the absurd and the enlightened, and the van stopped for no more than ten minutes at a time, and we arrived in Portland just after 7 p.m.
We parked the Sprinter a few blocks down from the Jupiter Hotel, where Harley-Davidson hosted a pre-party, and in a naïve hope of further lifting my mood I decided to drink more than two beers, which is unheard of, especially if I’m in a city with legalized marijuana. At 4 A.M. I stepped out of a hot tub a pruned mess and slipped on the flagstone patio, and when I did I cut the inside of my left big toe on a serrated edge of rock. I had come to an oddly decorated, pale-wood, adult-size doll house jammed between a tire shop and a junk yard, bunking with the gracious editors of Iron & Air Magazine, who bandaged me with toilet paper and electrical tape, cleaned the horror show of blood that gushed from the wound, and in the morning drove me to the hospital to get four stitches.
Later that day I hobbled into Veterans Memorial Coliseum, the new, one-stop venue for the three-day One Moto Show—with over 200 custom motorcycles, five bands, and a full day of flat-track racing—but unfortunately the throbbing in my foot became too much to handle, so I left early and came back first thing Saturday morning. In years previous, attendees of the show had to drive an hour or more to a track in Salem to see flat-track racing, sometimes in the snow, and this year everyone looked forward to saving time and staying warm, but on race day it was cold and rainy. The pits in the parking lots adjacent to the arena were thick with pop-up tents and dirt-caked trackers, which often sat idling in the damp because track conditions were less than ideal, and a backhoe had to periodically toss the dirt and smooth out ruts on the racing line where it had worn through to slick concrete. Event organizer Thor Drake of See See Motorcycles presided over the morning rider’s meeting and hilariously explained the difficulties of finding dry dirt in the Pacific Northwest, which lightened the mood.
“It’s Thor’s brain turned inside out” is how Dutch describes the One show, an outrageous spectacle that attracts an overwhelmingly eclectic crowd of motorcycles and people to Portland in early February. The man who brought us Burt Furnace outdid himself this year and pulled together an outlandish motorcycle event, bigger than ever before, with oddball motorcycles, amazing artwork, and interesting vendors scattered about two sprawling floors of the 197,000-square-foot downtown arena. I spent a little time on the upper level—gawking at Hill Hudson’s handmade Bullet 500, chatting up the ladies of ATWYLD, and getting a massage at Sorceress Hands—but I preferred the ground floor, where the main custom bike show was held.
I walked into the dimly lit room and felt immediately drawn to the handmade FXRT fairing on Royal-T Racing’s turbocharged Harley-Davidson, which took home the “One” best-of-show award. Next to it was Carbon e Metalli’s “Lunar Project”—an Apollo 11-themed, two-stroke KTM 250 GS with a 3D-printed swingarm made of carbon fiber and titanium—and behind that was Roland Sands’ ’07 BMW R1200 GS, made to look like a ’85 Paris-Dakar race bike, with a tail-mount Pelican case “emergency kit” that included a pack of Marbolo Reds, a can of Budweiser, and a mini bottle of Jäger.
In a corner of the room Super73 offered demo rides of its all-new R-series e-bike, and in the middle of the room, next to See See’s coffee stand, Indian built itself an island of baggers and offered airbrushed tattoos; the real tattoo artists worked in a room just down the hall, next to a room filled with arcade games and pinball machines. I walked until my big toe howled, and then ordered chicken and “guns,” or crispy potatoes, from Chicken and Guns, and found a comfortable leather chair at the Ascot booth with a clear of view of my Sportster, standing tall next to a slammed ’62 Lincoln Continental.
Many of the faces I saw were familiar. I thought how the best part of the One Moto Show is the crowd it attracts, and how this nomadic clan of motorcyclists I’ve come to adopt is willing to travel from all over to share in the good-natured insanity of it all. With a mouthful of chicken, I had a dozen conversations in passing, and when I eventually got up I ran into Morgan Gales, editor at Cycle World, and we walked the show and discussed our favorite builds. When we came across someone else we knew we invited them to join us, and after hours of meandering with my friends and close colleagues I realized that I hadn’t noticed the pain in my foot, or remembered how sad I’d been before Portland, and suddenly I felt extremely fortunate to be part of this community. We spent the evening in plastic arena seats, watching the dirty chaos of indoor flat-track racing—it was a miracle no one in the sport bike class died—and afterward we stood on the side of the stage as Red Fang closed out the night.
In the morning Shaun, his brother and business partner Aaron, and I had ramen for breakfast, and then we went back to the Coliseum to wait out the end of the show so we could collect the race bikes, my Sportster, and an unexpected stowaway that we would drop at Saddleman Seats in Compton, just down the road from Long Beach. A little after 4 P.M. everything was strapped in, and Shaun and I decided we would drive through the night. He drove first while I watched a documentary on polish sculptor Stanislaw Szukalski, which led to a heated discussion about “the protong,” and when Shaun gave up the wheel and passed out, I turned on “13 Minutes to the Moon,” a BBC series that documents the Apollo 11 mission and the 13 minutes prior to man first landing on the moon, and I thought of Carbon e Metalli’s KTM and how badly Shaun wants to buy it.
The sun came up as traffic on the edges of L.A. thickened, and we pulled into Long Beach at 6:45 A.M., absolutely whipped, and decided it best to unload the bikes after a few hours of sleep. Shaun and I had driven over 2,100 miles, but even still we kept jabbering until he dropped me at my front door, when I thanked him, “for everything.” Shaun and I started building my Sportster two years ago, and now it’s done, but it doesn’t mean we’ll stop talking or scheming or debating the merits of Hollow Earth theory. We came together over our shared love for machines, but we became friends because of our interests outside of motorcycling. The same goes for many of the friends I saw at the One Moto Show, who I will no doubt see in March at Mama Tried in Milwaukee, or in April at Handbuilt in Austin, and I look forward to it. As I fell asleep I thought of another quote from Blood Meridian: “Your heart's desire is to be told some mystery. The mystery is that there is no mystery.”