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Petroleum Decay

Stay Wild

Motorcycle maintenance and moments of love

Story and photos by Scott Hathaway and Sharah Yaddaw

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On the Alaskan highway, by some act of fate or chance, our paths crossed. One path on a bicycle and the other on a motorcycle. We made a fire and drank coffee in a rainstorm watching the morning mist rise over the Wrangell-St. Elias mountains. Two years later with one refurbished XT 600 and one tried and true, we left our garden and home behind, stacked our motos to the sky with gear, kicked over our shiny re-built engines, and hit the road together.   

Motorcycle adventures are a love-hate experience. Riding these old single cylinder bikes destroys your body.  At the end of a day of riding, we have become lumps of jelly. Our heads are buzzing, our hands are numb from vibrations, and we are exhausted. All we do is eat, sleep, and ride. These days add up to what we like to call a state of “petroleum decay.” 

The bikes require constant attention but they tractor along like immortal machines carrying us down dirt roads, across streams, over winding mountain passes, and through forests of cactus and coffee alike. We care for them, and they save us when we pop a wheelie on a sketchy cobblestone hill or hit a pothole that descends to China. It is a symbiotic relationship and our motos are as much a part of our journey as we are, like good friends along for the ride and up for the challenge. 

In a state of decay and motorcycle maintenance, we have ridden the wild roads of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and back. We have spent weeks living with local families and immersing ourselves in the cultures of different places. Simple places with rooster serenades and pigs wandering the streets. With wonderful people who have a healthy closeness to the land and the earth and strong families who embrace you and shower you with kindness, acceptance, and love. 

In Guatemala, we slept on the slopes overlooking Guatemala City and awoke to visions of the apocalypse. Volcán de Fuego was cracking and grumbling, sending up huge plumes of ash, and the night sky was illuminated red with the glow of lava. We rode down to the base of the volcano to witness our first eruption and stopped to talk to anybody standing around. One bicyclist who grew up in the city remembered the eruption in 1974 when pyroclastic and lava flow took out most of the agricultural land around the base. He reminisced, “When I was a boy, my father took me to see the lava flowing through the ‘Barranca Honda.’ It’s the volcanoes that make this land so fertile.” As he started to bike away, he kicked at some cans in the ditch and said, “I love my country, it’s so beautiful here. Now if we could only do something about all this damn trash!” 

A true adventure is not really romantic or easy or always fun. A true adventure will test you. You will sometimes want to quit. You will wonder why you are doing this. It is painful, it is hard, and it can bring you to tears that are born from the very depths of your heart in a multitude of emotions. But it is worth it. You will never be the same. A real adventure teaches you about yourself in a true way. There is no room to construct false ideas of who you are. We take this on, we embrace it, we change, and we see the world in a new way.  

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