The Doctor's Notes

Text: Dr. Gregory W. Frazier • Photography: Dr. Gregory W. Frazier

Although I have always tried to keep my gear together, losing stuff while riding a motorcycle was probably the most disconcerting part of my early learning curve. That curve is not yet flat, but it has tapered off over the last 1,000,000 miles of adventure touring. Helping decrease its upward angle was only mildly expensive, but sometimes financially stressful nevertheless. I lost tents, sleeping bags, clothing and once a costly motorcycle helmet. But my most anxious moments came when I lost my passport and later my wallet. Those losses had me pounding walls in motel rooms, screaming into pillows, and using words my mother never taught me.

The tent came off the back of my 1945 Indian Chief in the summer of 1967. Bungee cords were not on the market then, and on that day my luggage and camping gear was tied to the back of the motorcycle with very slippery, plastic-coated clothesline. Somewhere between Canyon, in Yellowstone Park, and Billings, Montana, my Army/Navy surplus pup tent slipped from under the securing cord. I like to believe a following tourist received a well-worn tent and not a 20-pound package bounding toward the hood of his car at 50 miles per hour.

The lesson learned taught me to thread some of the rope or cord through the tent or bag it was in, so that if it did come off, at least I would probably hear or feel it dragging behind the motorcycle.

Thirty-six years later I lost an expensive pair of Aerostich Darien overpants off the back of my BMW R 100 RT between Grants and Albuquerque, New Mexico, on Interstate 40. I had taken them off at a gas station because my legs were uncomfortably hot due to the 90-degree weather and the heat coming off the BMW's horizontally opposed cylinders. I had slid the pants under the bungeed gear already secured to the luggage rack. When I stopped in Albuquerque, I immediately noted the pants were missing as soon as I got off the motorcycle and reached for them. The wind whipping at speed on the Interstate had pushed and tugged at the empty legs to allow their flapping escape from the easily stretched bungee cords.

I was lucky. There was enough daylight left for me to frantically backtrack along the Interstate and spot the pants resting against a guardrail some 20 miles from Albuquerque. And a good thing too that they had not flown onto the front of an 18-wheeler or worse, the windshield of a passenger car.

The two-fold lesson learned then was to wear the pants, no matter how hot, and to unzip them for cooling, or to at least run the bungee cord through the belt for insurance if I had to strap them on the back.

That same year I lost my wallet while getting a massage. Between Laramie and Rawlins Wyoming, on Interstate 80, my pillion, a masseuse, decided to practice her profession. I do not like massages though, whether rolling or stationary, so I was squirming about while she applied various techniques along my spine and chest muscles. My inner voice wanted me to tell her to stop, but my Mr. Nice Guy persona let it go on, like she was contributing somehow to our ride. Between the jamming and kneading of her knuckles and elbows, and my twisting to avoid the pain, my wallet was pushed up and out of the inside pocket of my jacket.

The missing wallet was noticed when money was needed to pay for a room in Rawlins. The masseuse used her credit card to purchase the tank of gas needed for me to return to the last place I remembered handling the wallet, a restaurant 100 miles away in Laramie. I frantically scanned 150 miles of unkempt median and road shoulders that day into the fading light and still came up empty - no wallet to be seen on the highway, nor was one handed in to the restaurant's Lost and Found. The last 50 miles riding to Rawlins there was no longer a Mr. Nice Guy piloting the motorcycle.

That night in the motel room was one of those screaming, head-banging ones that seriously strain friendships. Eventually the inner voice told me not to be rash and call the credit card companies. Wait and look again tomorrow, it said. "The wallet is still out there on the highway, and likely in or near the right lane." It was also unlikely that anyone would spot it in the dark and stop to pick it up with traffic speeding by at 75 mph. But worrying about the $ 600-$ 700 in cash I used to have, and more so about my license and the personal information wedged in the wallet's folds kept me awake most of the night.

Before dawn, the gas tank filled, I rode towards Laramie. Once there I turned around and rode the right lane very slowly towards Rawlins. The inner voice was right. Maybe halfway back the wallet was found on the solid yellow right-hand stripe, with corners of $ 100 bills waving in the breeze. It had not even been run over either: the ink pen inside was still intact as were the credit cards.

That experience, a simple lesson tough to learn, taught me to always wrap my wallet in rubber bands or a long strap to make it less slippery in a fabric pocket; and from then on it held only what was necessary for the day (one credit card and a small amount of cash). The rest I stash securely in a hidden place. Attempts to administer rolling massages were also rebuffed, and I have grown more attuned and responsive to the inner voice.

While traveling through Morocco, descendants of Ali Baba, or one of his 40 thieves, stole clothes off my motorcycle. The theft went unnoticed until, at a gas stop, I saw one of my hanging Aerostich Tank Panniers fully unzipped. These handy bags ride hanging over my fuel tank as they were designed to, but also over the rear sub frame, and resting on top of the rear foot pegs. Located there, behind me, was the best place to store walking shoes or, when in locales like Morocco, the overly ripe clothing I did not want near my sanitary clothes.

Having spent long days riding for more than a week then, I badly needed to clean some sweat-stained underwear. My plan was to find an oasis, stream, car wash, or laundry during the day, give the fetid stuff a wash, and then tie it up to hang and dry off the back of the motorcycle for the day as I traveled. But at the first fuel stop of the day, when I left the motorcycle unattended for some morning ablutions, the robber struck, unzipping the pannier and fleeing with the goods - all of the ripe stuff I had rolled inside a couple of odiferous T-shirts. Later I laughed to myself at how they must have reacted when inspecting their ill-smelling spoils of holey socks, undershorts, and T-shirts well past their prime and best used to wipe dipsticks.

Fortune smiled that day. I did not lose any travel time washing clothes and found an outdoor market where I purchased new undergarments for less than $ 10. Lesson ingrained: you keep the valuables tucked away, and sometimes it is not entirely a bad thing - losing stuff.