Styling by Erin Monaghan; hair and makeup by Nicola Gavins
Photography by Curtis Trent
Tyler Olafson is a chameleon – as comfortable in a handmade Prada mohair suit in the city as he is in wool Henleys and A.P.C. jeans on his motorbike.
He started life on a farm near Camrose. You hear it in the way his bass voice stretches “a” sounds and embraces pause. Like the cowboys of old, he’s a wanderer. His job in the ‘patch affords him a flexibility that not many others can claim. And while the job often requires him to work 24 days straight maintaining kilometres of snaking electrical lines, when drag-up fever hits, he has the freedom to jump on his Harley and get the heck out of town.
Lately, the deep southern States have been his siren call and when he goes, he can be gone for a couple months at a time. He travels slowly, as likely to stop at a roadside Texas barbecue joint as he is at Paul Smith’s boutique in Los Angeles. He takes his time in the national parks and historic sites. When it rains, he’ll stay put for a while, because he keeps his schedule on the road as open as a desert Interstate.
What is drag-up fever?
When you’ve been working too many hours and too many days in a row, and you just have to go.
What first took you to the south?
Elvis. I always wanted to go to Graceland, so that took me on a motorbike trip to Memphis, then Texas and on. I keep going back. On my motorbike crossing the country, I feel like I’m one with history. In the 1880s, the cowboys travelled west on their horses, then in the ’30s the hobos travelled on trains, by the ’50s people crossed the country in cars.
Have you ever been an Elvis impersonator?
Not except for one Halloween: I wore a ’68 comeback special. I dyed a green leather jacket from Value Village and I still have the costume, but can’t wear it because it gets ink all over my neck.
You travel mostly on your motorbike. What was your first bike?
After dirt bikes? I had those when I was five or six, but my first motorbike was a ’78 Honda 400. My brother had a crotch rocket, but you just go too fast. I couldn’t really enjoy riding those ones, so I bought my first Harley in 2007. Now, I have four bikes.
What’s it like riding a Harley?
You’re experiencing more on a bike than you would in a car. I see the little things; notice the smells, other cars and people on the road. I’ve got big ape-hangers so I’m stretched out pretty good. I can sit back and enjoy the experience.
Have you named your bikes?
Only the one I’m building. It’s called Wanderlust.
Do you travel alone?
Usually I’m by myself, mostly because of the way I work. I work a lot of hours and then take a lot of time off. Most people can’t just disappear for two months. I can and do. When I’m travelling, if it’s going to be a rainy day all day, usually I have the freedom to just stay where I’m at. I have the freedom to go wherever I want, whenever I want.
What else have you tracked on your trips across the Deep South?
There’s a lot of history in Memphis. Martin Luther King was shot there. And in Dallas, there’s everything JFK. I’m drawn to’50s-60s Americana when times werereally changing in America. I also always camp in the national parks. There are so many beautiful parks.
Do you always head south?
Usually. Last time drag-up fever hit, I threw my bike in my brother’s truck and he drove me to Las Vegas; then from Vegas I went to L.A., then Austin. There was a lot of bad weather, so one night I ended up camping in a ditch on the side of the Interstate. When I can, I take the Pacific Coast Highway. Talk about smells; there’s ocean, the redwoods, then Malibu when all the flowers are blooming. You can’t describe it. On the bike, you experience everything. And I always get soaked. But, my next goal is to go east and make my way through the Maritimes and Labrador.
What do you pack in your saddlebags?
Tent, sleeping bag, small camp stove so I can heat up a can of beans or ravioli. Little axe if I want to make a fire. Air mattress and small bed roll. I have Pendleton wool Henleys, t-shirts, swim trunks and lots of socks and underwear. I only wear Henleys, A.P.C. jeans. If I need new clothes, I buy them wherever I’m at. My beard gets long. I get pretty grungy.
What’s the most memorable piece of clothing you bought en route?
A suit for a bachelor party in Las Vegas. Everyone else had flown in and I drove in from the desert, all covered in dust and mud; my face was red. Everyone was well-dressed, so I found an Armani shop that would tailor a suit for me that day. I went in a dirty, dusty biker and came out a “man about town.”
Your hat – is it a fedora? – begs for some sunny veranda. Where’d you find it?
I don’t know what it’s called, but I like it. I had a hard time finding a vintage hat that fit. I found this one in Portland [Oregon] and it’s the only hat I wear, besides my tuque.
And your helmet?
In certain states, you don’t have to wear them, so I don’t. When I ride without a helmet, I’m really experiencing how a motorcycle was meant to be rode: Air rushing through your hair so you end up with a huge knot at the back of your head that takes a whole night to comb out.
Is your mom going to lose her mind reading this?
No, she knows.
What helmet do you take when you travel?
I take two, ’cause sometimes I meet girls and they want to come with me for a bit. So I have a smaller green one with me on my trips.
You grew up on an Alberta beef farm; did you ever help with calving?
Yes, yes I have. I’ve had my arm inside a cow.
What kind of clothing do you wear for that particular activity?
A very long, plastic glove, then a shorter rubber one over top. That is something: To see something born in nature like that. Within 48 hours, the calf is running around.
Have you ever hit an animal on your bike?
Once. A Canadian goose flew out of the ditch and hit me in the head. It only grazed me, so I kept driving.
You’re not supposed to wash A.P.C. jeans; have you ever had to?
I don’t ride with a windshield because it’s like putting yourself in a cage. I want to experience everything, but sometimes it means the bugs get bad. Last year in North Dakota, my body was literally covered in mosquitoes and moths. So I washed my jeans then. When I get to the ocean, I let the salt water sterilize them.
Have you always been interested in clothing?
When I was younger, we got hand-me-downs, which probably still influences my Value Village shopping. Not until I got older, 24 or 25, did I start paying much attention. I met a girl who was really into fashion and I learned a lot from her. I knew what I liked, but I didn’t know how to apply it. Or how to find it. I like being dirty on the bike; at the same time, I like cleaning up and looking sharp. When you’re looking good, you’re feeling good.
What are your style influences?
My casual style has been influenced by rock ‘n’ roll, southern country, the wanderer. I love pearl snap country shirts. I think I have about 40 or 50 of them and even have doubles of some. I love that they are so colourful. When I’m buying suits, I like a slimmer Italian cut suit. I like dark suits, but always need some colour. So I add it, usually on the shirt or socks. I like little accents. When it comes to formal clothes, it was definitely the women in my life who influenced me. They showed me how a suit’s supposed to fit.
Where do you shop for suits?
I usually go to the boutiques where they’re made, like Paul Smith and Prada. You get more personal involvement from the people helping you there. They’re not trying to rush you in and out. They make suggestions, bring you a cup of water or a drink. You’re there for a couple hours and go through a process that makes me cherish that stuff more.
How much did you spend on your Prada suit?
Do I have to say? It was up there.
Meal Out Catfish po’boy with sweet potato fries at Dadeo