Categories: Features

Riding and the Taste of Freedom

Three things happen to me when I’m riding a scooter or motorcycle: I pay closer attention to the world, I taste a bit of riding freedom, and I get just a little bit smarter. At least that’s what I tell myself.

Riding alone, I almost always end up at a place where I can enjoy a simple pleasure, often something chocolate and a cup of tea. Time alone also lets me watch the world go by, perhaps write a few things in my journal, and let my mind unwind and run free. How often does a person get to feel the kind of freedom you have as a kid, where time doesn’t have meaning and your life seems like it’s your own? Riding provides a glimpse of what life could be like and makes it clear how hard it is to come by.

One of countless stops at coffee shops and cafes; a chance to absorb sugar, caffeine and reflect on life. Riders passing through Boalsburg, Pennsylvania can locate nutritional fuel at the Pump Station.

There’s a lot to see on the road beyond the obvious hazards and risks from vehicles, animals and pavement challenges. A rider always has to manage those and guard against complacency and a wandering mind, lest disaster creep near. While a valuable skill, this is only one form of paying attention. There’s another level of attention that I experience as a dim filter being peeled away from my eyes, revealing a world previously hidden. Everywhere there’s something to see; every scene and space is mysterious and holds secrets to uncover.

Riding along on the Vespa, I find myself exploring spaces and paths because I know I’ll find something – dumped construction waste in which the raw materials for the latest garden installation might spring, or a plant, rock or other treasure is revealed as I step away from the scooter to look in the weeds. My eyes sharpen and intuition whispers “look there, look here …” as it guides me through the journey.

The number of stops I make to explore or take pictures is excessive and obsessive. It drives my decision to seldom ride with anyone, lest they grow annoyed, frustrated and worse. I’ve found other photographers are the best to ride with, as they’re generally curious and have something to do when I stop.

While busy with work and family, things continue to happen in the world. A stop during a ride provided an education on the problems of the New Zealand Mudsnail in central Pennsylvania waterways.

The exploring does leave me just a bit smarter. While wandering at one stop along a trout stream, I saw this poster warning of the dangers of New Zealand Mudsnails – an invasive aquatic species that is troubling the area. Until I saw said poster, I had never heard any of this, and I live close to such a stream. Riding away, I know the importance of stopping aquatic hitchhikers.

This ride took place on July 5th. Looking at the picture I’m certain each and every one of you sees the obvious lesson derived from a stroll around the area.

Central Pennsylvania has some of the best riding roads in America. Here the Vespa pauses during a ride along Spring Creek, a favorite with trout fishermen.

You see it. On the left. The corn. Look at the corn and something is revealed. Well, maybe not, maybe I have special insight having spent the last 35 years working for the College of Agricultural Sciences at Penn State. An early indoctrination by someone, probably a farmer I ran into on an assignment, instilled some words in my head that are still with me involving how you assess the growth of corn. The rule of thumb was that the corn should be “knee high by the Fourth of July.” Well, unless it grew overnight that corn was near my shoulders. So I learned something. Either that rule of thumb is wrong, or something is going really well with this corn variety.

And so the ride went, eyes wide, drinking in the world, free as a bird and tasting freedom, and maybe just a little smarter in a Jeopardy! sort of way …

Steve Williams is a committed scooter rider and seasoned victim of various jabs and jibes from motorcycle riders whose knowledge and understanding of the scooter is limited. He’s noted that criticism dries up as the weather turns cold and he’s still riding his scooter to work when it’s 15 degrees below zero. Despite his predilection for a Vespa, he’s spent considerable time on Triumph, Ducati, Ural and BMW motorcycles, including everything from his secret favorite Triumph Scrambler to the ponderous BMW K1600GTL. He has noted that getting on the Vespa after riding some of the bigger motorcycles can feel a bit like climbing into a clown car. Williams rides more in the winter than the summer and has been a year-round rider for most of his career. He’s the author of the blog Scooter in the Sticks ( where his experience and reflections pile up along with photographic evidence of life on the road.

Steve Williams

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