Stripped Hog

by Kate Farrell on September 14, 2012

Stripped Hog

Stripped Hog: 60s Oakland Hill Climbs

It was a chilly fall day in 1964, on a bare hillside above Oakland. A swarm of bikers wearing black leather jackets throttled their deep-throated Harley-Davidsons with a deafening, sputtering roar.

Standing on a down slope near a dirt path carved in the brown hillside, I turned to my boyfriend, Jack, shouting, “So, this is it. We made it to the Oakland hill climbs.”

He grinned. “Look at that guy,” he said pointing to a biker nearing the crest of a hill who then did a wheelie, spun on his back wheel and aimed his bike down, thundering past at top speed.

It was free form entertainment, bikers toiling up steep rutted dirt paths in heavy V-twin bikes and disappearing on the other side, only to bounce back later, leaping over the hilltops. Somehow they managed to miss colliding with one another on the zigzag trails.

“Come on—let’s go,” Jack said. “Get on.”

I gulped, but straddled the back of his Harley, my arms wrapped around him as he took off, spewing gravel on the flat ground, gaining speed before the climb. It was a rough ride as the bike snarled up and over the hill. On the slow way up I glanced at the bikers riding on the side paths and saw emblazoned on their jackets: Gypsy Jokers, Hell’s Angels. A grisly bunch.

This did not surprise me. Jack rode with the Hell’s Angels and was thinking of joining the outlaw gang. Coming downhill, he waved at a friend and rode over as if dust, noise, and fumes did not exist. They compared bikes. Jack’s was what they called a “stripped hog,” a Harley without chrome fittings, just the bare frame, macho style.

“Meet Kate,” he said simply, a man of few words.

I waved and jumped off. Always thin, I wore my black stirrup pants with sneakers, a jacket over warm sweaters, a scarf tied tightly over my hair. Though I might have been the only girlfriend on the climbs that day, I felt at ease in the middle of the male only chaos.

There was something satisfying in the rebellion of those bikers, the gang theater of the Oakland climbs that echoed my own anger and maddening confusion. It was simple, almost savage: a non-verbal raw expression and possibly dangerous.

We rode back to San Francisco later that day against a blast of cold wind that sliced through me as Jack sped across the Bay Bridge weaving in and out of lanes. I enjoyed the thrilling exhilaration. It reached a trembling wild place in me. I breathed in the icy air whistling through my thin clothes and felt transparent.

Ocean fog mixed with light drizzle as we made our way on city streets climbing the hill to my flat. Jack stopped at the intersection and skidded on the slick pavement. The bike fell, pinning me underneath. He quickly leapt off and with effort righted the bike, but not before the exposed exhaust pipe burned my leg, searing my inner calf.

“You walk—I’ll ride,” he said. “We’ve got to take care of that burn.”

Wincing, limping, aware my pants were ruined; I met Jack at the door.

“It doesn’t hurt much,” I said stoically.

“You have any butter?” he asked. “That’s what my mother always used on me. Stand on the kitchen table so I can take a look.”

Smearing butter on my bright red burn, Jack wasn’t so sure about his home remedies. But I was secretly enjoying the fact that a muscle bound biker who worked on the San Francisco docks and rode with the Hell’s Angels was gently treating my wound.

“We’d better have somebody look at it,” he finally said.

A quick ride later we were at the Emergency Clinic on Stanyan Street at the foot of Haight Street—soon to become a way station overrun with runaway hippies. But that Sunday afternoon someone examined me quickly; reassured me that it was not serious; gave us ointment; and dressed the burn. I still have a scar, a swath of white smooth skin that never tans, a branding of sorts.

That week Jack bought me a pair of motorcycle boots. I proudly wore them to my graduate seminar in literature studies at SF State. This was before women’s boots were fashionable—even wearing sandals was a brazen act.

To me, my black heavy boots were more than protection: they were a way of breaking ranks with mainstream culture and also with the Beat counterculture. I took the freedom of the times to explore an expression of rage as primal as my own.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Patricia V. Davis September 14, 2012

An adventure never to be forgotten, and another side of the wonderful, multifaceted Kate revealed!

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Kate Farrell September 14, 2012

Thanks, Patricia. I still feel privileged that I had such a good friend in Jack –for awhile, anyway! The 60s swept us away in very different directions, but we were both very much a part of those exciting times.

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Sara Etgen-Baker September 15, 2012

So many powerful phrases in your piece, Kate! I particularly like your last line…the freedom of the times to explore an expression of rage. You’re truly a unique person!

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Kate Farrell September 15, 2012

Thanks, Sara! It was a wonderful time to explore and express back then, especially in the 60s and 70s in the SF Bay Area. I hope that our anthology will collect many of these stories and their legacy.

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Elise Frances Miller November 11, 2012

I loved this story – and related to it in a slightly backward way. I, too, have a pipe burn on my calf from a motorcycle ride. My brother and his friend had a cycle accident in ’63 and I swore I would never get on one of those things. But when you are “in love,” you will risk anything. So by 1965, when my boyfriend invited me for a ride – forgetting to tell me to watch out for the pipes! – I swallowed my fears and obliged. First and last ride. I found other ways to express my raw energy. Another story or ten. But I did enjoy your journey, and its conclusion!

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Kate Farrell November 11, 2012

Thanks, Elise! I’m glad that I’m not the only wild one with a pipe scar on my calf. Our shared experience feels like an initiation of sorts!

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Deb Forter January 6, 2013

Biker boots saved my foot in an m/c accident and were forever after a wardrobe necessity for me even in the heat of the sweltering desert rides when halter tops and bandanas were all that protected me above . Your piece stirred fond memories. They were the best of times and the wildest! Deb

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Kate Farrell January 6, 2013

Glad you wore those Biker boots! Hope you’ll send us one of your fond memories. Time is running out: 10 more days to the deadline. Happy New Year, Deb!

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Carol March 12, 2013

I love the way you write!
I had a cousin who was a Hell’s Angel. His name was Jack Farrell.
I wonder if your Jack is the same one.

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Kate Farrell March 14, 2013

Hi Carol, Thanks for your comment. My Jack was a different guy–not your cousin. I often wonder how my Jack is doing in his life path all these many years later.

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