Opinion: Riding with Costa

The left-hand corner ahead is far tighter than I expected, and I’m riding into it much more quickly than I’d like. It’s covered in gravel, and the KLR’s chunky tires dig into the loose stones but still skim over too many of them. This is a dirt road somewhere north of Montreal, my first trip out of Ontario in 18 months, and it’s not somewhere I want to lose control.

My guide up ahead is dictating the pace and he knows this road well, but even so, he slows down when he sees me fall behind in his mirrors. It’s Costa Mouzouris, well known to readers of this website as CMG’s former chief tester, and it’s his 2008 Kawasaki I’m riding. He’s leading the way on his own 2005 Yamaha XT 225, and we’re connected with Sena intercoms fitted inside our helmets.

Costa’s slipped out of sight now around the next bend on this twisting logging road, and he doesn’t see the shower of rocks from my sliding wheels. I remember the words of instructor Clinton Smout, who taught me to lean back in gravel and relax my grip on the handlebars, and I try, but my ass puckers and my teeth are tightly clenched.

Mark dusts off his trail riding skills by eating Costa’s dust.

Through the Sena, as my world clings to the adhesion of the Michelins, I can hear Costa’s voice in my ears. It’s reassuring, with wise words from a lifetime of experience.

“… and I mean, do you even remember the first time you had sex? Was it really worth it, or was it all a blur of fumbling and hesitation? For me…”

Costa’s not missed a beat from our day-long conversation. His mind is far away and it’s best not to imagine exactly where. Meanwhile, his Yamaha is hurling its own cascade of dirt and dust somewhere out of sight around the next bend, maybe the next two bends.

Somehow, I make it through the corner with no additional scuffs to Costa’s bike or my riding suit. The KLR did exactly what it’s designed to do, and my muscle memory kicked in as it should to keep everything under control. All that, and I also got to know a lot more about Costa’s early sex life.

This was all part of my first big road trip since Covid locked us down. I’ve done some day-long loops in the last year, but this was the first time I stayed somewhere overnight and carried on riding away from home the next day. It seemed like a big deal, but it all came back quickly and made me wonder why I’d waited so long. Actually, I know why I waited so long – the family and friends I was visiting needed to be fully vaxxed for us all to be safe, and now that’s happened and my God, it felt good to get out properly.

I packed up my Harley Low Rider and took the pretty route east from home in Cobourg along Ontario’s Hwy. 2, hugging the river and enjoying the warm air and sunny sky. This is why we ride motorcycles on road trips: to appreciate the smells of the fields (not always good, but always interesting) and the feel of the wind on our hands and faces.

I took the ferry outside Picton to ride out of Prince Edward County and on toward Kingston, following Mark’s Rules for an Ideal Road Trip. Rule no. 6 states that “You must cross water, preferably by ferry.” I met another rider on the short crossing, making a day trip on his Kawasaki Vulcan 800 from his home at Napanee, and he told me he was longing to get out for a longer ride, like me. “Not with this saddle, though,” he added – that butt killer was the only thing now holding him back.

Mark and his Low Rider make a new friend aboard the ferry from Picton to Prince Edward County.

That night, I stayed with family near Cornwall and visited more family the next day in Quebec, and then found my way to Costa’s place. He owns five motorcycles and was keen to get out for a longer ride, but he also knows that no matter how good you are, it’s not smart to ride alone when you go off the beaten track.

The weather stayed warm and dry throughout our 400-km ride, swooping up to Mont Tremblant on curving asphalt and then back toward home on the dirt and gravel that the bikes were built for. We chatted the whole time on the Senas and it felt like life was finally back to normal, swooshing by with the twist of a wrist.

I was pretty filthy when we returned to Costa’s house, after riding in his dust for most of the day. That’s okay – my Harley was clean, and I was looking forward to another gentle ride home the next day.

Unfortunately, on that final morning, after cleaning off my visor and packing up my luggage, I slipped down the shiny wooden stairs in my stocking feet, finally landing on my ass in his basement. Nothing was damaged except my pride but it was a reminder that no matter what precautions you take, the thing that’s going to get you is the thing you least expect.

So get out there and make the most of your motorcycle. There’s only another month or two of comfortable weather in most of Canada. If you’ve been itching to get back to normal, you can do it now, even if that means a new saddle for your Vulcan.

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