In a land whereand at a time whenthere are no more physical frontiers, there is yet a healthy reserve of frontier spirit demanding to be satisfied. But the challenge today has less to do with surmounting geographical obstacles, charting them, and claiming them publicly for crown or country. Instead, the challenge is more likely a private oneto conquer personal boundaries between one’s expectations on the one hand and one’s curiosity on the other.
:On a recent afternoon, I visited Nashville’s Collier Cycles to make final preparations for a week-long, cross-country trek astride the Triumph Trophy 1200, the motorcycle with which Great Britain hopes to reconquer America. Sonny Collier, as anyone familiar with the local motorcycle scene well knows, is the bastion of Britishness on the Cumberland. His thriving mail-order business serves as an international source of scarce replacement parts for aging yet venerable Triumph and Norton motorcycles that have survived the postwar decline-and-fall of the British motorcycle industry.
Time was, Triumphalong with Norton, BSA, Ariel, Royal Enfield, and othersrepresented the epitome of two-wheel technology while, in the colonies, Harley-Davidson and Indian struggled to survive (with contrasting degrees of success, we now know). The Japanese, for their part, were still tinkering with motorized bicycles.
Then, in a spasm of industrial devolution, the sun set upon the British motorcycle empire, leaving it in total darkness. For the decade of the ’80s, Union Jack had nothing to ride except antique retro-bikes cobbled into varying states of restoration by stiff-upper-lipped devotees who couldn’t let go. In the land where the sun is known to rise, Japanese manufacturers had conquered the high ground of high-technology. Meanwhile, in Milwaukee, Harley-Davidson learned to serve up rolling museum pieces to a well-heeled clientele attracted by a burly-chic, fringed-and-tasseled image of the open road.
With the advent of the 1990s, in an episode evoking Arthur’s once-and-future kingship, Triumph is back among the living. A high-stakes gamble characterizes the Brit bike’s return to the global marketand the risk bears squarely upon the shoulders of stalwarts like Collier. From parts purveyor to showroom impresario, Collier is among the expeditionary force of new dealers determined to reestablish Triumph’s American beachhead against redoubtable odds.
Among Triumph’s salvo of a dozen models with which the company is storming the American motorcycle market is the Trophy 1200. For a nation of travelers, this four-cylinder, 1.2-liter, 107-horsepower sport/touring model is meant to transform wanderlust into an art form. True, its aggressive styling and serious hardware (which includes massive dual front disk brakes and a six-speed transmission) cater to the sporting rider who prefers interacting vigorously with the road rather than cruising benignly along its back. But the primary function of the Trophy 1200’s lavish bodywork is to cheat the wind for hours and miles at a time; its integrated, weatherproof luggage panniers are meant to provision extended stints away from home.
Indeed, the expedition I was undertaking with Collier’s encouragement was a solo trek requiring a week’s worth of 10-hour, 500-mile days to travel 3,025 miles out-and-back from Nashville to points west and north of Bismarck, N.D. Nominally, I was on the trail of an 18th-century English subjectan obscure Welshman, John Evans, who was first to chart the upper reaches of the Missouri River precisely two centuries ago this year. His manuscript maps, in fact, were acquired by Thomas Jefferson for the sole purpose of guiding Lewis and Clark to and through this region during their own cross-continental mission of 1804.
It is uncanny the way 200 years have engraved the modern highway route to the upper Midwest beside the primordial fluvial one. Whereas Evans connected the dots between rude river settlements at Kaskaskia, Fort Charles, Fort Pierre, and Fort Mandan, I traveled by road along a similar route punctuated by the same stops bearing more recognizable names: St. Louis, Mo.; Sioux Falls, Iowa; Pierre (pronounced “peer”), S.D.; Bismarck, N.D. In the rolling high plains, where speed is unencumbered by traffic and travel by motorcycle assumes an almost nautical quality as you skim the swells in a sea of wheat, I intersected Evans’ trajectory west of Bismarck at the confluence of the Heart and Missouri Rivers.
Evans was one of the first Europeans to encounter the Mandan Indians and one of the few to document their singular culture, which was distinguished by unusual earth-and-timber lodges and a spiritual life centered upon a patriarch eerily reminiscent of Noah. This rich Dakota river bottom was their homeland, and here Evans wintered with them, lost track of his political mission, and eventually fell victim to competing English, Spanish, and American claims to the area.
For their part, the Mandans quietly succumbed to smallpox in the 1830s, preempting the need for more violent exertions to displace them. The lingering mystery surrounding their origins and traditionsa mystery awakened by Evansremains. That, it turns out, is the unexpected dividend that I found in the course of a motorcycle foray far from home. That, I am sure, is the frontier where query has replaced conquest as the source of today’s manifest destiny.
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Doyle, it's also the Daily Caller, Mr. Conservative, Redstate, the Free Republic, Breitbart, and all…
I feel like a broken record, but clearly this needs to be pointed out again…
yep yoyo, that is indeed "what the Fox say"
@Kosh III: The economy collapsed because of "toxic" securities derived from "affordable home loans," loans…
Sad and regrettable, and really inexcusable for a man in his position especially, and hard…