In about two weeks, myself and between 2 and 5 other folks will be heading out of Milwaukee towards the Smoky Mountains. This route has become a sacred journey for me.
Last year, I set out from the Wisconsin Dells with the intent of making yet another trip to ride the 129 and the Moonshiner 28. This was the trip that I made instead of going to Devi’s Tower with Bart.
Tropical storms in the Gulf of Mexico pushed enough rain up into the Southeastern US that I got stranded in Knoxville, TN. I’m not a fair weather rider, rain is a part of life on two wheels. I pack rain pants and I don’t bitch about wet boots. But… There’s a difference between “I got wet” and “I can’t see my front wheel let alone the cars in front of me…”. I finally pulled over to the side of 75 north of Knoxville, I scooted Red Sonya in front of half a dozen cars that were already on the side of the road with their flashers on because it’d be less likely that I got mauled by a semi who didn’t see my bike. When I put down the kickstand, the water on the side of the road was running hard and up to my calves. This is what happens on a road trip, and the good and bad of having no plans and no reservations: I clearly wasn’t going to make it as far as I’d hoped but I’m fine sleeping on a picnic table in a rest stop or riding overnight on a decent road. I waited until I was feeling bored and checked out the radar: when it looked like I could scoot out in between thunderstorms I got ahead of the rain and stopped in northern Knoxville.
This was an important night. I found a motel and a restaurant. I came back to the room and I started thinking about how different life would be if Bart was still alive, the toll it had taken on me in just two months. I started thinking about the right and wrong ways to deal with losing a brother. I thought back to some Psych 101 level techniques and realized that writing letters to the dead would be perfect for this situation. The headspace of two months and 1200 miles finally let me fill in some gaps in my thinking. I sat on the balcony in my underwear, swilling 32 oz cans of local brew while local couples got into fist fights over who took the last cigarette and tried to imagine a future where I could take trips like this and not miss my brother; where I could heal by writing letters that living people would perhaps read, but the primary recipient was beyond reach.
The next day, it was clear that a 300mi wide storm was going to keep me from getting through the Moonshiner 28. Maybe if I’d gotten up an hour earlier, but it was still dicey. I did not have my tent and my MSS with me, so the idea of being stuck somewhere between Deal’s Gap and Walhalla, SC on roads that are treaturous in the best weather was not appealing. Maybe I should have tried: what’s better than a story of camping on your bike in the middle of nowhere? Still, I was not in a “level” frame of mind, and I knew I had friends in Nashville I could see. I turned West, and still had treacherous rain storms all the way to the music city. I had lunch with a good friend, stayed the night in Shelbyville, KY and toured the Four Roses distillery the next morning. I had nearly 2000mi of solo time and I am better off for it.
But I need to get back.
The weather in Robbinsville, NC shows thunderstorms every day for the next 14 days. I have to hope these are “spotty”. I’m coming back and I don’t intend to be defeated. I want to buy land in Western NC some day and I need to start scouting. Less than two weeks, I’m coming back.