I just got back from a motorcycle trip. I guess this is the trip that I took instead of going to Devil’s Tower with you and your son Adam. I had business in the Wisconsin Dells and so did Wingnut Dave, you remember Dave, we did the Bun Burner Gold 1500 not quite a year ago. Our intent was to ride hard for the Tail of the Dragon area, do the Moonshiner 28 and some roads that only SC and GA locals know about according to Wingnut Dave.
We stopped the first night in Normal, IL and had dinner at a place that doesn’t even server beer. What the fuck is up with that? I didn’t realize Wingnut Dave’s wife was riding with us, but whatever she’s cool. The next morning we got a very late start because she had food poisoning symptoms. Turns out, quite a few people who ate pizza at the Kalahari were sick that week.
Despite me not sleeping for shit, Thursday was going well. We hit Kentucky 64 East and passed the hotel in Shelbyville we’ve stayed at several times now. I gave a big salute as we road past, we had some really good times there with Dad two years ago and Harley Marc last year. Our plan was to stop in Knoxville that night. You know my requirements for a road stop: a roof and a place I can walk to get a drink and food. About an hour out of Knoxville, Dave’s wife had just had enough, they were going to go home to GA instead. I understood: when I planned this trip I had counted on zero company so 700 miles of riding buddies was just a bonus. Wingnut Dave travels with a GPS on his handlebars and peeled off long before he should have, and I soon saw why. The Weather Channel radar had fucked me and I was about to get super wet. After realizing I needed to prepare for a lot more rain I pulled off at a rest stop so I could put on rain gear and re-plan. It seemed like I could get through the storm quickly so I again headed south on 75. Weather Channel radar fucked me again, however, and the mountains were extremely dangerous.
Apparently no one in TN turns their lights on when it rains: it got to where I was riding with my 4-way flashers on, at 25 miles an hour on a 70mph highway, I couldn’t see the road, I couldn’t see the cars in front of me. I had to admit defeat and pull over. Jen and some friends asked me “what about getting under an overpass?” While Knoxville is only 886ft above sea level, the stretch of 75 north of there is as “up” as it gets: there’s no overpasses. I saw a line of cars and pulled off in front of them so a semi didn’t maul me. When I put the kickstand down and put my feet down I realized the water on the shoulder was flowing up to my calves. Yea, this is not safe.
I had my rain gear on and my helmet on. I stood in the rain for an hour until things chilled out.
I got to NW Knoxville safely after that. I found a shitty motel near some gas stations that sold beer and an Outback Steakhouse. I got dinner and across the street I bought some tall boys and headed back to my room. Now this had become the trip I planned: me alone with my thoughts and the struggle of how to deal with losing you, Bart.
I sat in my underwear on the balcony of my room, drinking Pabst tallboys, as the denizens of Knoxville went about their business, not quietly. It took a long time to figure it out, but hey, you have nothing but time when you’re traveling alone.
See, Bart, you and I are smart. Really smart. I won’t quote the IQ tests we’ve taken, but we’re the kind of smart that often makes it difficult to interact with other people. Sometimes this intelligence comes with an unhealthy amount of ego, and I plead guilty there. See, it’s the correct thing to do to talk to a shrink at this point, and I don’t deny that this might help. But, I’ve talked to shrinks before and I’ve never met one I could really level with because they weren’t as smart as I was. How shitty does that sound? I can treat an MD as a “body mechanic” without hesitation but I’m not going to let someone work on my mind. Nope, I was not going to talk to a shrink about this, but I also knew just riding a lot of miles and drinking a lot of bourbon wasn’t going to do it either. So like any asshole self-diagnosing arrogant piece of shit I realized I would take one of the shrink’s techniques and apply it myself: I needed to talk to you honestly to get things out of my head.
60 ounces of Pabst and some extremely bitter local IPA later, I felt like I’d made a breakthrough and went to bed.
The next morning it became clear that I was not going to make it through the tail of the dragon and the moonshiner 28: there were 6+ hours of storms moving from West to East that day. Memories of the unbelievable deluge and lack of safety north of Knoxville left me with uncomfortable fantasies of being stuck in the mountains on roads that are death traps in the best conditions with nowhere to sleep. So I sent some texts and sure enough my buddy Fawad was eager for a lunch date in Nashville.
Once again, the Weather Channel radar fucked me. Far east of Nashville I got into rain bad enough I absolutely had to pull over. I spent an hour and a half talking to the polite Indian woman in the gas station and texting with CarSpot Andy. There’s a lot of memories there as well: CarSpot may have been the last time we were both truly happy with our careers.
Once I finally got back on 40 West to Nashville, I was glad I’d stopped. Traffic through the mountains was stop and go, and I saw guardrails obliterated and pickups with UHauls attached being pulled up out of ravines by winches. I couldn’t help but think “turn on your lights idiots!” but of course I don’t know what happened. I made a 1:30pm lunch with Fawad in Germantown on the northeast side of Nashville.
Fawad is a dear friend. He rides a sport bike but schedules have so far not aligned for us to carve up the Dragon together. Honestly, when he asked me about you it dug a little bit deeper than most others. He really means it: he has brothers of his own and he can’t imagine what I’m going through. When he heard, he held off calling me for weeks because he didn’t know what to say. Whenever I think I’ve somehow failed to make connections with other humans, I think of Fawad, he’s genuine and proof I’m not a complete sociopath. We have a great lunch, and I leave thinking I hope I get to see him at least once in 2018.
I’ve decided to head to our favorite place in Shelbyville: A Ramada next to a fantastic liquor store with a ton of bourbon and a Cattlemans’ restaurant and a log cabin sales shop. There’s a lot to think about in that little parking lot off of 64. They’ve got a room, and they tell me I can park my bike under the pavilion. We never thought of that, did we Bart?
So I head to the liquor store and get some local micro brew to stash in the fridge in my hotel, and then I head to Cattleman’s. The same server who has taken care of us two summers in a row is there and she takes care of me. I can’t remember her name, but I’ll bet she’s there next summer.
I head back to the room and have a couple of beers, deep in thought. I decide to head down to check on my bike and there’s a smokers’ convention down there. I wind up talking to a guy who has family in Leavenworth, KS, close to where we used to live. He has a Sportster and he claims to understand why I do what I do. I’m skeptical, but simple conversation with salt of the earth folks is a part of spending time on the road.
The next morning, I decide to head down to the Four Roses Distillery. I don’t generally like whiskey but Four Roses is my favorite Bourbon and since I was robbed of some parts of my trip by storms, I figure why not. The distillery is great and I buy a 4 roses patch to add to my vest, and I ride home.
This was in August. I’m writing this in October now. I think I should have started writing this a lot earlier, Bart. You’ve left a pretty big hole in our lives. I think I understand why you did what you did, but I don’t think I can forgive you, for a lot of reasons. Firstly, I’m the one who found you. I have promised myself I won’t ever tell anyone what I saw, but it’s horrible man. You know. You’re the only one who knows what I wake up to some nights. I also have a theory as to why you gave up, and a part of me understands. I think it was money. But, Bart, if you only knew what we spent taking off work and cremating you and burying you, it would have been easier for us to just write some checks to get you through the hard times than to do what we wound up doing.
I think Adam is a bit less respectful than he was when you were around. Don’t worry, I’m spending a bunch of time with him, as much as I can. Amy is overwhelmed, being a single mom is hard. I am committed to making sure Amy is a part of our family forever.
There’s a lot of other things I need to tell you about. I’ve seen your best friend Marc a few times, cleaned out your house, tried to find other riding buddies, tried to keep mom from crying so often.
The last thing I’ll tell you: took me a while to find a place that made it easy, but as bikers do I had a patch made for you. I cried for a while after I ordered it. Still pissed at you brother.