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Laconia - 1974

A-48, Arches National Park, the perfect campsite.

The Fine Art of Motorcycle Touring



   Weekend in Laconia, NH - 1974


Though this wasn't really a motorcycle tour, it was my first overnight road journey. A weekend trip up to Laconia, New Hampshire for some motorcycle races. And a few other things. It's hard to believe it was over thirty-some years ago.


The Prom

In the spring of 1974 I went to the prom with Linda. I hadn't gone to my own prom the year before. There was no reason to, no one to ask, and my other friends were not really into it.

Linda was a check-out girl at the grocery store I was working at in Westport, Connecticut. She was a cute blonde, actually kind of gorgeous, smart and she had this great smile. I loved to be called up front to bag for her. I think it was obvious that I was interested in her but I was too afraid to say anything. One day of out of the blue she asked me if I would go with her to her senior prom. Well, yeah.

Prom night.

The prom was a Friday night in early June. I dressed up in a tux and everything. I picked her up and her parents were parents. I still have the picture her mom took. Her father didn't even seem to mind my long hair. They were much more excited about the event than we were. You kids have a good time. Okay, we will.

I took Linda to Cob's Mill, an old New England mill turned into a restaurant, the one seen in the old Blue Bonnet commercials. It was about ten when we finally made it to the prom, enough time for a dance or two. I didn't know many of her friends beyond a couple from work, so it didn't matter to me. She wasn't interested in spending much more time than that there too. Though I enjoyed dancing with her.

Afterwards, Linda wanted to go for a bike ride. My kind of girl. After changing our clothes we roamed some of the rolling twisting back roads I knew well by heart. Up around the reservoir, back over and down, and for some reason back to Cob's Mill where we stopped, and sat, cuddled on a rock across the water and told each other some secret stories.

From there we went back and got my car, stopped at Compo Beach, her favorite hang-out. There, mostly we just talked about stuff, unimportant important stuff. Before I knew it the sun was rising and it was time to take her home.

Off to the Races

Before I had barely closed my eyes Seadog called on the phone. It was 8 a.m. He wanted me to go to Laconia. Laconia, New Hampshire, for motorcycle races. Motorcycle races.

Condo had already left. Seadog had to work till 5, then he'd go. Wanted me to come along. But Seadog, I've been up all night, besides I have to take the tux back. I soon ran out of excuses. So after a short sleep I got ready to ride to New Hampshire.

It was my first road trip. We left right after Seadog got off work. I don't usually drink coffee but that's how I got to Laconia. I remember the rushes I got for about ten miles out of the rest stops. Yeah, I'm awake! A loud caffeine "z i z z z z z z z z z z" crackled in my poor head. My eyes bugged out. Following Seadog into the night.

It was about midnight when we arrived in Loudon. There had been growing numbers of motorcycle both in front and behind us all evening, now there was nothing but motorcycles. Lots of motorcycles. All kinds of motorcycles. Large ones like Seadog's full dress '59 Hog, small ones like my Honda, fast ones like that screaming Kow, or cool ones like that chopper with the naked girl on the back. Naked girl! I was awake now.

Like the signs say, All Roads Lead to Loudon!!

The highway between the two towns of Loudon and Laconia, about ten miles of rural New England, is one continuous party. From end to end bikers are camped out in fields, lawns and forest, with the Bryant Motor Course in about the middle. It's a zoo for the entire weekend. Harley's parade by. Kawasaki's wheelie.

Someone has poured kerosene across the highway and lit it on fire and we have to ride through. Fortunately it's died down to a few inches of flame. Skyrockets are going off lighting the sky. Firecrackers, we hope they are firecrackers, pop loudly. Drunks race by triumphantly holding up their beer bottles. Yep, your mothers worst fears! This is some kind of place, it was worth the ride just to see it.

Condo is somewhere in the crowd but there is no way we can find him. We find a quiet spot to camp, well relatively quiet. Something was going on about a quarter mile further down the highway.

It didn't matter to me, I was dead tired. We could have camped in the middle of the road for all I cared. We found a small spot in the woods along side the highway.

In the morning we head for the track. It had rained per usual for early-June but happily the clouds part enough for the races to go on. Why they schedule a bike race then I'll never understand. But they do. Luckily, it cleared up enough to race.

We put the bikes in the paddock area with the thousands of others and pay our way into the stands near turn one. We barely walk in when to our surprise we run into Condo who's brought along his little brother David. We take some seats in the stands and the races begin.

This is back in the good old days in many respects. Kenny Roberts (senior) was there on his number two, yellow, white and black Yamaha fighting off Sukzukis and Kawasakis. Legends beyond the race track were there too. The party of the night before is now a thing of the past.

Condo tells us about the fight between the bikers and the cops right beside the spot he choose to camp at. Seems one of the clubs had driven a truck full of bikes up, unloaded and set up camp, even they know it's going to rain. Somehow the cops got offended that they couldn't look inside and had surrounded the bikers with a swat team, seems someone in the club set one of the cop cars on fire and it pissed them off. So there Condo with his little brother caught in the middle of all this. As it turned out that was the ruckus just down the street from us.

In subsequent years the camping would be confined to specific areas. The first steps in controlling such extracurricular events. Later the races would downgraded to the Can-Am series, not count for national points, which would allow the aces like King Kenny to skip the race. The crowds would wane and become more manageable, more tame.

The raceway has been upgraded significantly and Nascar races stock cars there. I'm not sure what the bikes do.

But back in the good old days... I at least got to see the tail end of it. Back in the really old days there was even more excitement. The story goes, back in the sixties, or late fifties, one year during the races, the town of Weirs Beach held some sort of local celebration on the same weekend. They had a parade which, well, you know bikers- some of them decided they wanted to participate in. Of course the local authorities wouldn't let them. So the bikers got upset and in mass attacked the mayors car, turning it over and setting it on fire. The precedence was set.

So I was seeing the final days of something unique, a lost tradition. The races at Loudon no doubt shine-out in many a soul's memories, both very good and in some very bad. Parties like that are hard to find, even harder to preserve.

Every time a whole lot of people start having too much fun someone waves their hands in disgust, Oh, we can't have that, and puts an end to it. I suppose those cars are expensive.

Kenny Roberts. I know I have these photos, just have to find them.

The races are an amazing sight too. The hairpin curve of turn one in front of us produced a few spills. It was my first insight that motorcycle crashes are survivable. Everyone knew you died from that. The guys would crash and slide to a stop, hop up and run over to their machines, lift them up and try to restart them. Ah leathers. Their first concern was to get back into the race. One bad crash occurred above on the back stretch, a bike tumbled out of control at the fastest point, into the sand and dirt. Through the dust thrown up you'd see the bike then the rider, the bike and then again the rider, in this wild acrobatic tumble. A bad one but when the dust settled, he climbed back up to his feet, brushing off the dirt and ran to his busted machine. You could see his disappointment when he realized the race was over. Amazing stuff.

Sidecar.

race action.

On through the classes went the races. We thoroughly enjoyed them to the end. Then it was time to go home. More chaos. We find our bikes and along with thousands of others slowly wonder down the highway. Bikes, trucks, vans and cars took up both lanes heading south in a mass traffic jam. Condo in the lead begins to use the shoulder following others before him. There are even bikes going through peoples front lawns as we exit through the little town of Loudon. Seadog follows Brian and I follow him. A cop yells at them for driving on the shoulder and at me as I'm passing him and I'm unfortunately stopped by the traffic. Eye to eye with him I apologize and promise to get back on the pavement as soon as I can. The traffic goes again and I follow my friends up the shoulder.

Once on the Interstate traffic thins out but it's still an event. People have gathered on the over passes to watch the parade go by, it's a real show. Some wave as we pass underneath them, others hold signs telling us to wheelie or show us our tits. Even gramma and grampa are watching the action.

A pair of Kawasaki's approach us from behind, the distinct howl of their motors inform me. Their just along side of me when the lead bike starts to take their exit but his buddy behind to the right isn't responding, almost crashing together the leader sees his friend is asleep and straightens up just in time. They yell about the turn off to one another, I thought we were going here, No, I thought we were going there. Off they roar into the night. Gee, I think, I almost got to see one of those crashes, close up, real close up.

Very wearily we make our way home. I'd say it was a pretty full weekend for me. A prom, bike trip and motorcycle races, ah, to be young again. To hold Linda in my arms again. In the fall we both went off to college, her to Keen, me to Syracuse.




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  C. C. CROW     P. O. BOX 1427      MUKILTEO, WA   98275   USA