Westward!

I’m not kidding, crossing the Mississippi on my motorcycle felt like a milestone. For a split second as I was riding beside the rusting bridges spanning that long expanse of water, I almost thought there should be fireworks, or pigeons, or a fanfare of some sort. Then I decide to just try to not be flattened by the four tractor trailers crossing the same bridge inches away from me. I did not get a picture.

I got a bit further today than I planned. I’m hoping that gives me more time to explore Northern Arkansas tomorrow. My cousin is meeting me in Eureka Springs tomorrow night, so there is a definite end point for tomorrows ride.

There’s a temptation to find a single story line to expand on in this entry, but I can’t. There were too many experiences in this first day, and I’m too excited to FINALLY begin that I am not ready to boil them all down and risk losing the real moments of the ride.

Today was more about mileage than touring. Georgia and Alabama were familiar turf for me. Mississippi was mostly new, but the route I took wasn’t the best that state had to offer. It also didn’t help that it was 90 degrees.

There was one brief tourist stop. Fame Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Artsist who have recorded there include, but are not limited to; ‘Retha, Allman Brothers, Wicked Wilson Picket, Otis Redding, Waylon, Etta James, Clarence Carter, The Osmonds, Lynyrd Skynrd… Let’s just say if you don’t have a recording from this studio among your favorites you are probably sitting in your study listening to your amazing Baroque collection.

Anyway, while I didn’t get there at the right time to take the tour of the studio, honestly I wasn’t disappointed. The “stuff” doesn’t impress me. Yes, that’s Duane Allman’s guitar, and that’s the keyboard that you hear on “Do Right Woman”, … but it’s the stories that fascinate me. And, I juuuust maybe got to witness a story in the making right there in the lobby.

I walk in the front door that opens into the tiny lobby filled with pictures and records. A young lady asks me if she can help me, and after finding out I can’t take the tour, she offers me free reign of the gift shop. We chat for a bit about how she saw the documentary about the studios and then moved nearby to try and be a part of things. She plays guitar, but is still learning and loves being around the musicians that parade daily through the door. As she talked I found myself drawn to a corner with overpriced FAME stickers. Being a sticker collector I immerse myself in the evaluation. About that time a relaxed and friendly gentleman comes out of the studio. I eavesdrop (something I’m getting pretty good at as I travel solo) as he explains something to the effect of “I’m expecting an album today that I want you to listen to. I think if you start learning some of the style we may be able to get you in as a studio musician some day.” As the young lady tries to look non-challant while simultaneously not fainting, I introduce myself to the gentleman. He’s John Gifford, sound engineer. He seemed like a great guy, and as he exited for a smoke break, I paid for my sticker and congratulated the girl at the counter. The young lady could hardly swipe the credit card. Her voice shook as she told me “He has never said that before! I mean, I know it’s like seven or eight years down the road, but he just doesn’t say that!”

I don’t know. Maybe more magic from Muscle Shoals?

 

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Rules for Riding

You don’t ride for long without discovering that there are certain styles that either fit you, or not. Every group takes some adjustments before finding their own idea of what makes a great day of riding. Not every group will arrive at a mutual understanding that keeps them rolling peacefully. That’s okay. We’re all out there for our own reasons. I’ve had friends I couldn’t wait to travel with, and some that well, let’s just say that I was really busy and couldn’t go.

It’s taken some time, but I think if I had to put down some rules that I look for in riding partners it would look like this:

  1. No whining. <–Period
  2. No dining at a chain restaurant. Road trips are for discovery. You can’t discover the same McThing you have around the corner from your house.
  3. If it rains we get wet. This is why we have rain gear. This is also the source for great stories after the trip. Keep it safe. Keep it rolling.
  4. Keep your bike clean. After the rain, wipe it down, get rid of the evidence, and keep the story. You don’t have to always look like you rode through the storm. You know it. It’s enough.
  5. Adult beverages only after the kickstands are down. Which goes with the next rule …
  6. Don’t be stupid. Yes, have fun. Do not kick a bear, spray paint a bridge, race the police, or lose control of yourself. There’s a fine line between adventure and stupidity. I’ve been on both sides of it. I’m at the age now where if you want to cross over that line, you’re going alone.
  7. It’s impossible to be lost when you are touring. Tour – from the Latin v. to think the next turn just might be the right one. I tour. You tour. We … hey, wasn’t Chet right behind us?
  8. Travel with passion. Relish the sights of birds flying at the same speed. Breath in the smell of the cool lilies growing under the shade of the bridge you cross. Smile at the sound of the engine when you spur it up the winding mountains. Taste the salt in the coastal air long before you see a single wave lap the shore. If it doesn’t help fill your soul, then why ride?
  9. Laugh often. This is painted on a sign a friend made for my home. It hangs in the kitchen.  There is no argument.
  10. Tired? Hungry? Thirsty? We don’t whine. We stop when we are able.

IMG_2443.JPGOkay, those are my rules. And as I look at them, the temptation is to add corollaries, exceptions, and generally become some kind of anal retentive lawyer about it all. That would ruin it, so I think I’ll just leave it there.

How do you like to travel? If you find yourself agreeing with most of the rules above, well, I’m planning this trip across the country …

Part 2 of 2 – COUNTRY ROADS…

CONTINUED FROM THE PREVIOUS ENTRY

The journey through my home state started … well, feeling like home, but immediately after the last turn it felt more like a playground slide with broken glass at the bottom.

I was blessed to be within a mile of Rainelle, a town where my cousin Joe made quite a name for himself playing football. Coasting into town, I took the first turn into a grocery store parking lot. Putting down the kickstand, sliding off the saddle that had carried me over Route 60, I heard the fearful hiss of my wonderful two-wheeled freedom machine becoming a very immobile unicycle. I leaned down to touch the hole in the back tire that leaking all my positive thoughts into space.

It was Friday at 4:50 pm. I was immediately on my cell phone to my extremely unhelpful insurance company trying to get some ray of hope. It turned out that my premiums went to fund their employee parking garage, and wouldn’t apply to a motorcycle tire, or towing, or anything else I wanted unless it was a covered parking space in Mayfield, Ohio.

I knew the odds were long that I would find my huge and rare back tire anywhere close. It’s tough during business hours, but now, as everyone was trying to leave for a summer weekend it would be nearly impossible. Things couldn’t get worse.

Then it started to rain.

When the state police cruiser pulled up I wondered if my day would get better or take another turn to the worse.   The two officers asked me if they could help. They weren’t on duty yet, but out to get a cup of coffee before starting their shift. They gave me a ride to the only motel in town. They introduced me to THE auto parts store owner who was one of the most helpful people to know if you needed a difficult to find part for your vehicle. They even checked in with me the next day to see if I had received the help I needed.

The next day, it was raining again. After spending some time at the auto parts store getting numbers for every tire store in the state, I walked the mile it took to get me back to my immobile bike. A second cousin picked me up, put my bike on a trailer, and took it to a shop 30 miles away. The shop promised a tire that the parts man found in South Carolina would be there in three days. My Aunt and another cousin picked me up and took me to the family reunion at my Great Grandfather’s house.

Road Trip  5252006 175

The three days I intended to spend riding, were now spent with people that share history with me. The days were not wasted. After the reunion, my family took me back to the shop, and I was on my way once again.

The hills of West Virginia had proven my suspicion. Every hollow, creek, and town has people willing to reach out to family. They are my family. It will always be my home.

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Cue John Denver…

Take Me Home Country Roads

 

Life is short. Get the bike.

Road Trip  5252006 004I came down the stairs, turned the corner, and took a deep breath. Then, just like I rehearsed it in the shower, said “Sweetheart, I’m getting ready to turn 40.”

She was reading e-mail on her laptop and did not look up at me. “Um hmm.”

“And there’s this thing called a mid-life crisis that can really cause a lot of damage to people.”

“Yes.” She sipped her coffee without removing her eyes from the laptop screen.

“So I was thinking maybe we should plan it out. You know, be ready for it, and have a strategy to get through it.”

“Really?”

“Yes. And I think you can help.”

“I can?”

“Yes. Which do you think I should get, a mistress or a motorcycle?”

She paused. She slowly looked up, not at me, but at the wall. “Well, … either one will probably kill you.” Another sip of coffee, “Get some more life insurance. I’ll draw up your will for you to sign, and then you can get the motorcycle.”

Okay, that’s not really how it happened, but that is how I tell the story.

I’m one of the many guys who went out sometime around their 40th birthday and purchased a motorcycle. It was my first bike, but I have a lot of friends who rejoined the ranks of two wheelers after decades of being out of the saddle.

Before long, we had a regular “gang” that went to breakfast, rode the curves on the weekends, and about once or twice a year took off on a multiple night road trip. Good times. Middle aged guys with families and mortgages and jobs riding together. Middle aged guys enjoying a reason to hang out, feel good about moving down the road, finding new challenges …together.

We didn’t realize it at the time, but we were writing our stories. Now, when we get together we relive the time Carl screeched down hill through a red light because of bald tires.   We talk about the small hut we visited found that claimed to be a restaurant and proved it with the best peach cobbler we ever tasted. We remember the hidden gem of a hotel just off the Blue Ridge Parkway that let us wash our bikes and park them under the awning at the front door.

I think it’s those stories that people crave. It’s not the bike. It’s my theory that we want to have a sense of belonging to something. We all want to be a part of something just a little bit bigger than ourselves. We want to find out what is over the horizon, around the bend, and just beyond our reach.

Time passed. Now a lot of my “gang” has started to sell their bikes. Many reasons are given; failing health, challenged finances, and time pressure from other life events.

I’m not finished riding. There are more roads I need to find, more stories to uncover. I’ll miss my gang. I’ll come back and tell them what I’ve seen if they want to hear. I can’t put the kickstand down yet. Heck, I passed up a mistress for this.