Triumph Scrambler - The Great Sideways Escape

Harvey Mushman Rides Again

Harvey Mushman pulled the rolling hangar door open, and the rising sun lit the school-bus-yellow Stearman biplane inside. He walked around the wing of the restored World War II trainer to the newest machine in the crowded shelter: a Triumph Scrambler. He rolled the bike out onto the taxiway, set it on its sidestand and went back in for his helmet and his old International Six Days Trial jacket, the one with the American flags stitched onto the shoulders.

The morning mist, rolling up over the runway from the Santa Paula River, sent a quick chill through Mushman's well-worn frame. He started the vertical-twin, leaving it in neutral to warm up as he pulled on his sweat-stained riding gloves.

He gulped a last jolt of steaming black coffee, placing his chipped mug on the taut, doped-fabric surface of the biplane's lower wing. He pulled on his helmet, dragged the hangar door shut, slung a leg over the Trumpet and rode slowly down the deserted flight line, past the silent P-51s, T-6s and Corsairs that inhabited this backwater airport, this half-hidden refuge from the real world.

"This thing feels a bit heavier than that old Triumph I used to race," thought Mushman. "But, hell, I'm a bit heavier, too.

"He reached Logsdon's, the old airport coffee shop, just as his favorite waitress unlocked the door. "Hi, Ste...uh, Harvey," she chimed as he approached. "Gonna come in for a cup?"

"Thanks, doll," he replied over the throbbing engine, still revving high from the closed choke. "But I already had a dose."

"Yeah, I've had your coffee. That'd be a dose, all right," she replied. "Where ya headed?"

"I think I'll let this thing take me to Santa Ynez," he said, roaring off into the warming sun.

"October," Sergeant Schulzski said to himself. "I should not be here, cooking in the heat and brown air of Los Angeles. I should be in Bavaria, riding through the mountains south of Munich, the cool nights, the green hills."

Schulzski's year-long tour of the U.S. had drawn more than its share of stares and dropped jaws. After all, he looked like a refugee from the set of "Hogan's Heroes"-a bear of a man astride a camouflaged Ural sidecar rig, with a politically incorrect Wehrmacht-replica helmet jammed on his oversized head.

The Ural was an odd mix, a Russian copy of a prewar BMW. Which made sense, in a twisted sort of way; Schulzski was a strange mix himself.

He was, in fact, a retired East German border guard, seeing the world after years of saving his meager pension. His mother had been a Russian tank commander during the Great Patriotic War and wound up stationed in Berlin after Germany's surrender. Dad was a German prisoner of war, an apple-cheeked teenage soldier captured by the Ruskies as they streamed into Berlin. There had always been rumors in the family that force had been a factor in Schulzski's conception-but Mom insisted to her dying day that Dad had volunteered for the mission.

Schulzski steered the wiggling, wobbling Ural toward the Pacific coast. A stiff breeze was coming in from the white-capped ocean, and windblown sand peppered his bearded face as he swung the rig northward, its 750cc boxer-twin engine barely able to keep him ahead of the BMWs and Mercedes rushing home to Malibu. Kids in station wagons and minivans pointed, stared and giggled as they drove by, but Schulzski didn't even see them. His begoggled eyes were focused on the road ahead, taking him away from the overcrowded, overpriced, overheated city.

Mushman had plenty of time to think as he rode the twists and over-the-shoulder switchbacks of Sulphur Mountain Road. The Scrambler suited his relaxed pace just fine; its upright stance, solid feel and torquey power let him roll over the hills like a blob of mercury. Up in the dry mountains above Santa Paula, time almost stood still-this could be 1963. Every now and then the sun would flash off the chrome gas cap just so, and he'd find himself daydreaming about the old days of airplanes and actresses, desert races and racing cars. And his old friend Steve, now long gone, his co-conspirator in all the craziness that two young men with too much money and too little sense could get into.

He dropped down to the coast, enduring the freeway for a few miles, keeping an eye out for dolphins where the highway edged close to the shore. Through the traffic of Santa Barbara, the city where, it is said, old people go to visit their parents. And up the big, long hill toward Santa Ynez. Maybe get some lunch, taste a nice Pinot Noir or two in the vineyards up there-the ones in that movie Sideways, the one where those two guys from L.A. had all that fun-and all that trouble. His old buddy Steve wouldn't approve-at least of the wine-tasting part-but he wasn't here now, was he?

The Ural was built for the moonscape backroads of Russia, not the manicured freeways of Southern California. So Schulzski was relegated to the right-hand lane on the way up the coast, scuttling along at 60 mph like a crippled bomber limping home with an engine out.

He pulled off at Buellton, where an odd windmill by the side of the road caught his attention and took him back to the Europe of his youth. He wandered his way north, through the yuppified cafes and wineries of Los Olivos. And then, on a whim, he turned up Figueroa Mountain Road, its flat run through horse pastures eventually giving way to steep, rough-paved switchbacks. This was more like it, he mused; the air was getting cooler, and there was no traffic to dodge as the Ural lurched from corner to corner.

Then he saw it: a flash of blue and white up ahead, appearing and disappearing as the curves unwound. A motorcycle. A lone rider. A mission.

Mushman was minding his own business, winding up the mountain, watching the valley shrink below him as he climbed closer to the clouds. The road had just turned from asphalt to gravel when the camouflaged sidecar rig appeared behind him, a strange black hulk of a man hunched over the handlebars like an obese vulture.

"Who is that guy?" he wondered. "Whoever he is, he looks like he drove right out of The Great Escape-sidecar, helmet and all. And I'm on a Triumph, just like in the movie. Weird. Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? Caught in a landslide. No escape from reality...

"What does this strange oaf want from me? Why is he riding a rig straight out of Stalag 13? And why am I humming an old Queen song?"

Mushman picked up the pace, sliding flat-track-style over the dusty road, the Triumph's street tires catching and skittering on the loose sand. Still, the sidecar crept closer, ever closer, its rider's eyes glaring behind his absurd Eric Von Zipper goggles.

"Gott in Himmel," Schulzski muttered to himself. "This Triumph guy is trying to run away from me. Vas it something I said?"

He threw himself into his work, grunting from the exertion, tossing the Ural back and forth across the road.

As he closed, closer, ever closer, rocks and gravel shot-gunned his rig, but he refused to back off. He could make out the distinctive blue enduro jacket, the faint USA markings on the shoulders. The tall, wiry figure of the rider. Why does this seem familiar? It seemed like it was dja' vu-all over again.

Mushman was now riding for his life. He was sliding the front going into every slick, hardscrabble turn, drifting the back coming out, his boots catching on rocks and ruts. He could almost smell the rancid Braunsweiger on his pursuer's breath as the Ural bore down on him, filling his mirrors on the straights.

It was then that he saw his escape. The road was barricaded up ahead, a steel pole closing it off for winter. But if he hit that hillock off the road just right, he could jump the barrier and disappear-the nutjob in the sidecar would never make it.

He faked left, then ran right, off the road and up the embankment. He nailed the throttle, sending the Triumph soaring, higher than he'd ever soared before. Jumping was easy, he thought, just like the old days. Then he remembered: Oh, right, the landing!

To Schulzski, it was like watching a train wreck in slow-motion. He saw the Triumph run off the road, climb the hill and then launch itself, like a diseased cow from a trebuchet, into the air over the yellow barrier. He brought the Ural to a gravel-plowing halt, just as he saw the Triumph land, bounce, slide sideways and skitter to a halt, its rider tumbling like a rag doll.

He ran to the fallen figure lying in the middle of the road.

Slap! Slap! Slap!

"Are you all right, you strange McQueen-like person, you? Are you okeydoke?

"Uh, yeah, I think

I'm all right," said Mushman.

"Then stop slapping me!" roared Schulzski.

"Sorry."

Mushman shook his head, staggered to his feet and dusted himself off as he took inventory. No major damage, and even the bike seemed OK, save for a liberal coating of dust. He turned to the strange, black-clad German: "What the hell were you trying to do? Why were you chasing me?"

"Vhy vere you running from me?" Schulzski shot back. "It vas making my feelings hurt. I'm a lonely guy, you know."

Mushman looked at the absurd, sweating behemoth, his helmet slightly askew. "Yeah, that figures," he said. "Say, you must be pretty thirsty after wrestling that rig up the road. You want to head down the hill and get a drink?"

"Ja," said Schulzski,"but iff anyvone orders Merlot, I am leaving. I am not drinking any fichting Merlot." MC