John Taylor of the Tri-State Norton Riders who has been invaluable in the planning of the 2022 INOA Rip Van Norton Rally has penned the Tale of Rip Van Norton, based on the story of Rip Van Winkle:

Tale of Rip Van Norton

The day started the same as most days did for Rip Van Norton, contentedly polishing or wrenching on his motorcycle in the quiet confines of his small garage just outside the little Catskill Mountain village of Durham. Rip loved to spend hours tinkering with the bike he fondly called Wolf. More than the pride and pleasure Rip got from riding around the local twisty mountain roads, Rip loved the sound of Wolf’s exhaust growl. One good jump on the kick start, and Wolf would drown out his wife Lisbeth’s screeches from the house, mostly about Rip’s total lack of motivation towards doing anything productive for his family. Rip was not a lazy man, but he had an utter inability to do much work that could turn a profit or do anything to help the Van Norton household. In fact, Rip was perfectly willing to spend all day helping someone else with their motorcycle troubles – whether it was in his shop or, preferably, in someone else’s garage out of earshot of Lisbeth’s constant, though somewhat justified, harping at him.

Rip Van Norton was well-known about his hometown for being a miserably henpecked husband, as his Mrs. regularly ranted around the neighborhood shouting insults and tracking Rip down in the village to berate him. But to the rest of the townsfolk of Durham, Rip was one of the cool guys in town, no matter what his wife carried on about. All the women and children in the village loved seeing Rip roar by on two wheels. The men could spend hours with Rip, bench racing and swapping tales of past adventures from the open road. Indeed, when he wanted to console himself and escape from the verbal abuse, he would often ride Wolf to meet up with other motorcyclists at the local pub to enjoy his favorite scotch or locally brewed ale.

Today, Wolf was luring Rip to take him out for a road-carving romp. He was finely polished and looking his best. The bike’s twin cylinders were firing in perfect time after Rip tuned him up last night. The deep snorting from Wolf’s gleaming peashooter exhausts had been urging Rip to get out and blast him around their favorite Catskill roads. Hearing Lisbeth yelling his name from the house, Rip quickly donned his helmet and goggles, rolled Wolf out the garage door, and hopped on. Fuel tap open – carbs filled – key on – first kick – VROOOMM!! Rip could barely hear the curses Lisbeth hurled at him over the sweet sound of Wolf tearing down the road at full throttle.

It was a little early to stop at his favorite pub, but this was the best spot to meet up with some other riders to share the day with. Before Rip had peeled off his jacket, he hears distant thunder in the hills. Harley guys? They’re a fun bunch to hang with at the pub, but last time he rode with them, the pace was so slow they got passed by a log truck going uphill! The rumble sounded far enough away that he and Wolf could at least have some fast fun tracking them down. Back in the saddle and off they roared into the mountains, in chase of whoever might be up there. Little did Rip know today’s thunder was no V-twin.

Heading in the direction he thought might turn up some riding companions, Rip was enjoying how good Wolf was pulling the hills. Lots of torque and smooth cornering were his Norton’s way of sweeping though the Catskill road curves, and Wolf was spot on today. After about 20 miles of aggressive chasing, Rip found no one else on the road. He got lost in thought about the upcoming Norton motorcycle rally when his fellow Norton enthusiasts will come ride the Catskills with him this Summer. Rip, along with some other local Nortoneers, had been planning to host folks from all over the world to come enjoy the beauty hidden in their hills. Rip liked the camaraderie of camping, grilling, and imbibing good brews with his mates. He especially liked leading a pack of Norton motorcycles on a spirited ride over roads he knew like no other. Rip rolled into the Overlook where he thought he’d find some resting bikers, but it was empty. Deciding to take a smoke break, Rip shut the Norton down, dismounted, and lifted Wolf up on his center stand. He stepped back and peeled off his goggles, taking in the view of lush green hills and hollows.

Before he could light up, Rip heard the rumble of thunder again, much closer this time. Then he heard a voice over in the trees at the edge of the lot – calling his name! Rip ambled over, expecting to see someone he knew, when he spied a short odd-looking fellow with a long beard and wide-brimmed hat, trying to roll a wooden barrel up the bank. The stranger smiled and called to him. “Halloo Rip! Fine day for riding, I see.” “Sure is,” was all the reply Rip could muster, being a bit stunned seeing this little man happily struggling to get to the top. Adding to the oddity of the encounter, Rip heard the rumble again, getting louder and closer.

“So Rip, would ye be kind enough to help an old timer get this barrel of fine spirits up to me mates? We’ll be happy to share with ye.” “Fine spirits! Share with me!” thought Rip. “Sure – I’d be glad to help.” Rip bent down and put a shoulder to the barrel. “I think I’ve been hearing them from far off. Are your mates on motorcycles?” “Nay nay my friend”, the little guy chuckled. ‘Tis the rumblin’ ye been followin’ then, eh Rip?!”

Just when they topped the rise with the barrel, a deafening blast of the now familiar clatter startled Rip and he fell over the barrel. Even more startling was when he stood up and saw the source of the thunder. There was a small group of more little men, dressed in the same odd fashion, smoking clay pipes and uproariously playing Nine Pin. It was the rounded stone ball the men rolled crashing into the pins that was making all the noise. They interrupted their game and let out a great cheer when they saw Rip roll the barrel into the clearing where they played. “Hip Hip for Rip!! Hip Hip for Rip!!”, all while excitedly dancing around, waving their hats in the air.

The group pranced about while Rip helped his fellow barrel roller prop the cask up between some rocks. The little guy pulled a barrel tap and wooden mallet out of this long coat, then got to work tapping the reward for their efforts. Soon everyone was pulling clay mugs from under their tunics and lining up for a fill. An extra-large tankard was offered to Rip, and he fully joined in with the raucous strangers, all the time wondering what the hell was going on up here?! He asked no one in particular, “Who are you guys? How do you all know my name?” That prompted another round of laughter, drinking, and frolicking about. “Well Rip – we’ve been up in these mountains for many, many years now – watching you and Wolf tear through the twisties, as you call them. We don’t wander about much, but how could we not know ye’r name with that wench shouting it every time ye tore off on two wheels!” Rip pondered this while he drained his flagon and sidled up to the barrel for a refill. He’d never tasted such a smooth draught…

“Hey, I just got a great idea for you guys! Why don’t you all come join me and my Norton friends at our club rally this Summer? We like to ride our old bikes and play games. Your Nine Pin game will be a big hit! There’ll be lots of good food and laughter. Might even do a little dancin’. I’m sure a barrel of this fine vintage will make you fellas more than welcome. What do you say?”

Now the strangers talked quietly among themselves, casting knowing looks and wry smiles at Rip. Rip figured they had to make some kind of group decision before leaving their mountaintop haunts. He finished off the second brew, starting to feel a bit tired, and thinking he should go check Wolf’s oil before heading back to town. The sun was setting and his Lucas headlamp wasn’t the brightest for dark mountain roads.

Rip drunkenly stumbled a little heading down the bank. “Man, that barrel had some strong swill in it! It’s kinda kickin’ my butt!!” He slid the last ten feet, luckily ending up right next to Wolf and landing on his riding jacket. “Maybe I’d better take a little break here before heading out.” Out of habit, Rip reached up and turned off Wolf’s fuel tap, then pulled out the ignition key and stuffed it deep in his pocket. “I’m only going to snooze for a few minutes while those boys are too busy drinking to make much rumbling. Gotta let that barrel brew wear off some. See you in a (yawn) bit, Wolfie Ol’Boy…”

“Yawwwnn…” Rip tried to rub the sleep out of his eyes. “Owww!” Just lifting his arm up to his face hurt like hell. He felt stiff and sore all over. “Napping on this rocky hard Overlook ground sure took it’s toll on my old bones”, he thought. Rip slowly rolled over on his jacket pillow and blurredly looked up at Wolf, his trusty Norton motorbike. “What the hell!” Rip wiped his face with both his hands, trying to understand what he was seeing. Trusty Ol’ Wolf now looked like Rusty Old Wolf, plus his face felt all scraggly and
rough. He reached up and tried turning one of Wolf’s mirrors down to look at himself, but it wouldn’t budge. “Huh?!” Rip sat up, winced as he stretched, then pulled himself up. “This is the worst hangover I’ve ever had, and I only downed two mugs with those little guys up the hill.”

Rip’s vision started to clear when he realized his eyes weren’t playing tricks on him. His bike was covered with rust like he’d never seen or allowed to grow on his two-wheeled friend. “Wolfie – what’s happened to you?” Rip slapped his cheeks, hoping to chase away leftover delusions from that crazy grog he’d swilled. No – that corrosion is real. He checked his face in one of Wolf’s dirty mirrors and didn’t recognize who he was looking at. The eyes looking back at him were his, but the face had a foot-long beard that Rip had never worn. Totally confused and more than a little scared, Rip dropped to his knees and quietly wept.

That’s when he heard that oddly familiar voice calling his name. “Halloo Rip Van Norton! It’s time for ye to wake up, my friend.” Rip looked up and saw the strange little man he had helped roll that keg up to the bowling party. Those guys were fun to hang with, but that’s when all this weird crap started. “What’s happened to me? What happened to my bike? Who are you and what the hell was in that keg?” The little guy slipped off his big hat, put his hand on Rip’s shoulder, and sat down next to him.

“Aye – I know ye’re scared and have lots of questions. A lot of bad stuff happened while ye slept, but things are better now.”

“What?! What’s gone on?”

“Easy Rip – easy my friend…” The little guy patted Rip on the knee.

“My men and I like to play games, and not just Nine Pin. When ye stumbled onto our hideout, we thought we’d play some with ye. Fun for us, but not so much for ye. Sorry about trickin’ ye with our strong mead. Trust me – ye’ll be glad we did.”

“Glad my ass!! I hurt like hell, Wolfie’s never looked this bad, and I don’t even know who’s lookin’ at me in the mirror anymore. How long have you been messin’ with us?”

“Too long, but it was for the best. We wanted to just lay ye low for a long night then wake ye up in time to head back to Durham for that Norton motorcycle rally ye were so excited about. We liked ye and thought we’d like to come down from the mountain to make some new friends with ye. Then yer world down below started to fall about. That’s why we kept ye nappin’ so long – to keep ye out of what was goin’ on.”

“This ain’t helpin’, pal!”

“I know, but hear me out. A terrible scourge swept over yer world. We saw it happen from our mountaintop perch and decided to save ye from it the only way we knew. We kept slippin’ ye more grog while ye snored. We kept ye asleep to keep ye safe.”

“Safe?! What scourge? What happened down below? How long has this been goin’ on? Tell me what you’re talkin’ about – now!!” Rip’s anger was starting to chase away his headache.

“There has been a wicked illness that swept over yer people two years ago – not just here in the Catskills, but all over yer world. Many, many have been very sick and, sorry to tell ye this Rip, but yer people have suffered far too many deaths from this germ. Far, far too many, my friend.”

Rip was stunned. “All over the world? People sick and dying? For two years?! Is this another one of your tricks?”

“No – this sad news is no trick. We wish it were so. The good news is the plague is now waning. Yer world is slowly returning to normal, and you should, too. That’s why we let ye wake up now.”

Rip swooned from anger to sadness to worry. “What about my family and all my friends? How can this be? I have to get back to Durham right away!” He pulled himself back up on his feet. “Wolfie – we have to go!!” Then he looked again at his weathered ride, never having seen his Norton in such a state. Rip shoved his hand into his pocket. Thank God – the key fob was still there. He stuck it in Wolf’s ignition and gave it a turn. Nothing. No power. Damn!! “Now what do we do? I have to get back down the mountain.”

“We will help ye Rip! Get yerself and yer bike ready to ride.” Rip looked up and saw the band of little men scampering down from the hilltop, their leader urging them on. “C’mon boys! Let’s get our friend Rip back in the saddle!!” Rip was silently doubting his chances for that, but gave a hopeful pat on the gas tank and whispered “I need you now more than ever, Wolfie. You can do this. I know you can!”

His helpers were busy blowing the dead leaves and bugs out of Rip’s helmet. Some had their hats in hand, swooshing the dust off his Norton. “Don’t worry Wolfie. Get us home and there’s a big tube of Simichrome waiting to bring back your shine.” They shook out his jacket and wiped off his goggles. Rip saw that the anti-sump valve had done its job when he checked oil level. He opened up Wolf’s fuel tap and flooded his carbs. It still smelled like gas. Maybe with a good downhill push and a strong clutch pop this might work.

A couple of guys were up on other’s shoulders to help him slip on jacket, helmet, and goggles. Rip thought the jacket didn’t fit quite as snug as it used to. Oh well, Lisbeth had been after him to drop some pounds anyway…Lisbeth!! “Boys, I gotta go!”

Rip quickly swung a leg over Wolf. His muscles ached but remembered the routine. Settling down onto the saddle was comforting. The center stand still held firm. He checked clutch pull, throttle twist, and front end turning. He instructed the boys to spin the rear wheel while he tested the brake. All seemed good, or at least not too bad. Rip pushed the bike off the stand, steadying himself and Wolf on two wheels.

Rip turned the key on and tapped the shifter down into second gear. The elven leader stepped up and held his hat over Wolf’s head lamp, softly chanting words Rip did not understand. A dim glow started to shine through the bonnet, and Rip felt a strange warmth filling him down to his boot tips. Looking down, he saw Wolf’s soft tires lifting up and rounding out. No time for questions now. Rip pulled back on the clutch lever. “Let’s get home old friend!” He thought again about Lisbeth and what she may have been suffering through. Was she even still there? The pains from his long slumber started to melt away.

“Okay Boys! Start sendin’ us down the ridge!!” Three stout push-men got behind Wolf and soon had him rolling up to speed, with the rest of their strange gaggle running alongside, whooping and cheering them on. With one last shove, they let Wolf go. Rip popped the clutch. Wolf let out a loud bark, then spit some smoke before sputtering to a stop. “Damn!! C’mon Wolfie – you can do this. One more time Men – with feeling!!!”

Three fresh pushers leapt in behind and off they rolled. Their leader bellowed encouragement, or it might have been curses for all Rip knew. This time a little further and faster, Rip thought. “I promise you Wolf – fresh 20W50 and non-E gas are waiting for us back in Durham.” Hoping that lure did the trick, Rip let out the clutch. Wolf coughed, snorted, and roared to life!! “Yes, Wolfie my boy! That’s it!! Just 20 miles to a warm, dry shop. We’ll make it now!” Wolf growled back with confident exhaust notes.

Rip remembered his favorite road curves like he’d just rode them yesterday, and Wolf did, too. He was trying to go a little easy, but Wolf’s 750 cc’s of British power kept pulling them like a freight train. Before he knew it, Rip rolled up the Van Norton driveway and kicked down the side stand. As soon as he pulled off his helmet, he heard Lisbeth screaming his name – but it was way different than her past screeches. “Rip! Is that really you? Oh my God!! Where have you been? I’ve been so worried! Are you okay? I missed you and Wolfie so much. I thought I’d lost you both forever!” She ran down the driveway and threw herself into Rip’s arms, her tears of joy and relief soaking into his new-grown beard.

It had been too many years since these two felt like this. Rip swung her round and round, smothering Lisbeth with heartfelt kisses. He set her down and she instantly turned to Wolf, hugging and patting his gas tank like a family pet. This seemed even stranger to Rip than his magical mountain adventure, but he could feel it was real.

Lisbeth rolled up the shop door. “Let’s get you both in and cleaned up. We’ve got lots to talk about.” Once Wolf was back and secured in his familiar old wheel chock, Rip turned to Lisbeth and sighed heavily. “I haven’t been far and I’ve been safe, my love, but I’ve been way out of touch. Some great new friends thought it best to keep me out of town and out of touch. Real Mountainmen! I only just today learned about the tragic times that have darkened our world. Can you tell me what’s been going on? Please tell me our family is well.”

“Yes, there has been widespread grave sickness and suffering. Many – both old and young – are no longer with us. Our family is okay, but some of your friends and favorite townsfolk did not survive.” Rip swooned, steadying himself against his Norton. “You mean…?”

“Yes, love. So many folks were sick and dying that the whole world got locked down. Schools, businesses, entertainment – all shuttered while everyone was told to stay home. It was almost as bad as the disease itself. I had to break into your new bike fund (Yes, I’ve known about it all along) so I could keep the family fed. Sorry…”

“No No!! I’m glad it was there for you when I wasn’t. I’ll tell you later about where I was, after I try to understand it better myself. Where are the kids?”

“Back in school – thank God. They were stuck at home for months. It’s been scary crazy.”

“And I missed the Norton Rally back at the Blackthorne, darn it!”

“No Honey, you didn’t miss anything, The rally was cancelled along with everything else.”

“Oh no! Wolf and I were really looking forward to leading a pack of vintage iron on a romp through the Catskills again.”

“No worries, Babe. Chuck Contrino called last month asking about you after not hearing from you in so long. He was concerned about your disappearance, but said once you heard his good news, he was certain you and Wolfie would find your way back no matter where you’d gotten off to.”

“What news?”

“You didn’t hear? Oh good! You did come back for me!!” She snuggled back into his arms.

“C’mon – what news from Chuck?”

“The Tri State Norton Riders are hosting the 2022 INOA rally at the Blackthorne next Summer. He’ll be especially glad about your return since the club plans to honor your long years of Brit iron wrenching and riding.”

“What do you mean?”

“They’re calling it the Rip Van Norton Rally – Cruisin’ in 2022!” Rip was stunned speechless.

“If I help you get Wolf all cleaned up and ready, can I be your back warmer this time? You look like you’ve lost a little weight and I bet we’ll fit Wolfie’s saddle just perfect together.”

“Lisbeth, I would love that, and so would Wolf!!”

“Then we’d better get to rubbin’…and your Norton, too!”