Wildcat Mountain State Park

Living in Wisconsin sucks for bikers. Sorry Wisconsin-lovers, this is an objective fact not up for debate, I don’t make the rules.

For the past few years, I’ve made it a point to burn a vacation day in the spring: on the first 70 degree day I can possibly squeak out of work I take the day off and disappear. It’s a way for me to heal, to be alone, and it’s my own version of the groundhog day superstition: if RoadRunner takes off in March, spring is coming six weeks early…

This year spring was a schizophrenic asshole: 36 degrees one day, 78 the next day, snow, then rain, continuous 40-degree temperature swings in a 24 hour period. I assume I was just a cranky asshole with a motorcycle in the garage, but even a local paper concurred that this weather was shit.

I had seen a couple of online discussions claiming that Wisconsin Highway 33 was “Wisconsin’s tail of the dragon”. I was skeptical, but before Bart died he and one of his friends went out there and the result was his friend going over the guardrail bike and all – he said it was the scariest thing he’d ever seen. That’s a tale for another day…

The observation peak at Wildcat Mountain State park is not the Smoky Mountains, but it is beautiful. Be sure to watch both videos at 4k, Youtube seems to murder the quality otherwise.

This is the shitty half of the twisties, and I’m still early in my moto-vlog career. I plan to go back and catch it all from west to east which seems to be the most fun way to ride it. These are also not “produced” videos in any way, no clever overlays you just hear whatever happens to be in my playlist at the time.

I need to come back here and take better video of the whole park, but if you’re in the area this is worth checking out for sure.

Dear Bart Part 1

Dear Bart,

It has been two years. I just took Adam for a ride, so I thought it was the right time to finish this letter. Adam is probably the person who needs you most, but we do the best we can.

Missing you is hard. We used to talk all day every day on the computer while we were both at work.

“How’s work today?”

“When are you leaving?”

“What are you doing tonight, can we ride after work?”

Losing my brother sucks, but losing my riding buddy sucks too. Losing my best friend is worse. You were all three. I’ll be sitting in my basement watching a movie and suddenly miss you being there. I randomly start crying at inconvenient times: not cool man. I’m fine 99% of the time, but then suddenly I’m a fucking wreck dude.

It still hurts a lot to not be able to ask what you think about the world as it changes. I’ve got an electric car, what would Bart think of that? Brooke is driving now, can you believe it?
I found some land in Northern Wisconsin that might be a serious hunting/fishing/cabin-building retreat for us. Something to have in the family long after we’re both gone. This is the kind of thing you would have flipped out over. More than 5000 feet of frontage on the Chippewa river. I won’t buy it, but if you’d been around…

I’ve taken over the website and technology for ABATE of Wisconsin. The more I’ve seen about what we do with legislation at the state level, the more I think you would have appreciated this. You were all about freedom in general and freedom of the road specifically. This would have been your cause.

People say there are phases of grief. In truth, they overlap. I’m mostly done with denial and anger. I mostly just miss you now; not in bad times, but in good times. When I’m doing something fun like planning a ride, I think about how much you would have enjoyed it.

What would you think about my new Indian Chieftain? Would you have come with me to the Tomahawk Rally last year?

You used to like Irish/Celtic stuff so much. I got some rings and I’m having them engraved with your name.

I’m planning a 4,000 mile trip right now, you would have loved this. Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa. I’m avoiding Devil’s Tower I think; this is the place I think of as the ride with you that we didn’t get to take.

Love you brother,

-D

Huh?

About once a year so far, I write a letter to my dead brother as a form of therapy.

I have known far too many men now who have taken their own lives. Every time a friend is going through a hard time that’s more than a parking ticket, I have a sudden panic that they are next. I recently got spooked and called a friend and pleaded with him:

Please, don’t make me give your eulogy. I will if that’s what it comes to, but don’t make me stand in front of your family and try to make sense of your life. There’s a fucked up sense of honor in it for me; it’s a really hard thing that no one wants to do and I force myself to do it. I’ve forced myself to do it too many times, though, and I need you to hang out for a while.

I guess this is my main point this year. Don’t be the next Bart. “Get help” is such a bullshit phrase, it has no meaning. Call a hotline? Talk to a friend? Who can appreciate the depth of what you’re feeling enough to really talk to you? Sometimes losing a job is just losing a job, and sometimes it’s the last thing a man can take. If you find yourself having thoughts of self harm, think about what you would be putting your friends and family through.

Visiting and Riding for a Fallen Brother

Many people, in many different situations, wind up visiting the final resting place of a fallen brother.  I do not mean a brother of the road, an MC, or an armed forces brother. This is my flesh and blood, my biological brother that I grew up with. He was also my riding buddy for sure though: life on two wheels figured heavily in our lives and our relationship. The one person I could count on for any number of miles in any weather, whether there was a bed at the end of the road or not.  I cope as best I can: writing letters to someone who can’t hear me. Words for the dead is salve for the living. Name it to tame it, feel it to heal it.

Dear Bart,

It has been one year since I found you dead in your home. I have promised myself and others I would say no more than that.

It took me a long time to visit your grave. I put you in the ground with our sister, but I had not been back. We visited on Memorial Day, and I feel as though you would have appreciated the flags. I had not cried in quite a while, and I didn’t think I would cry today; when I saw your name on the ground, though, I broke down. I often observe how well my wife has handled the loss of her father by comparison: he was the deepest most meaningful relationship in her life but she is mostly OK. We walked by Tom’s grave to get to you, I feel like being close to Tom is something you’d like.

I have made a few gestures to you. I have an “RIP Jason ‘Bart’ Payne” patch on my vest. I feel like the bike rides had become so important to you that this would be the only way you’d want to be remembered. I have also ordered a couple of rings that I think you’d like: black tungsten with green Celtic designs in the center band; I don’t know if it’s possible yet but I’m trying to get them engraved for Lani and I to wear in your memory.  I’ve also written you a couple of letters. You’ll find them here on this site.

Just now on June 23rd, the exact one year anniversary of your exit, I rode and partied with the Brothers in Chains MC out of Janesville, WI. They are good people who put on a good safe ride. Of all the rides going on, I felt called to do that one. Somewhere, on a wall in an MC clubhouse, is a hand written record that Damon “RR” Payne was riding for you that day.

Not everything is great, of course. Marc dropped your bike on his way to sell it, he hit his head and didn’t know who he was for a while: he blamed himself for forgetting about the new rear tire and fishtailing in the rain. I blamed you. He never should have been on your bike. Adam, I think, is also missing the discipline of his dad. He’s still doing super well in school but he’s not respecting people the way he used to. His mom says he walks around the house with his helmet on, I know I need to take him riding. Soon. For various reasons it has to be me, and that’s OK. I’ll be there for him.

I think about riding in your car and listening to the Dropkick Murphy’s “The Green Fields of France“. The sadness of that song, looking down at a grave, wondering what kind of life the man would have had. I know what that’s like now. It’s not fair that I’m planning these rides without you. It’s terrible the burden of guilt that you’ve placed on Mom. I think about how you’d react to me training for the Hoka Hey or saving to buy land for a cabin. This too shall pass. Talk to you in a year.

Respect.

 

Dear Bart Part 0

Dear Bart,

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.

Vest2017

 

 

Losing Bart

I started this blog as “The adventures of RoadRunner and Bart”. Bart is gone.

http://www.pkfuneralhomes.com/obituary/Jason-A.-Payne/Menomonee-Falls-WI/1736684

Bart was my brother, but over the past several years had become my best friend too. I wrote and delivered his eulogy at his funeral; I won’t repeat it here. He was a true biker and a seeker of peace on the open road. Every time I think about a ride, or do a bike build on the Harley or Indian site, or see what my bike’s worth on NADAguides my first thought is “I have to show….”, but he’s gone.

I’m behind on writing this season. I have pictures from the Slimey Crud Run and the Brewtown Rumble. I have new patches on my vest and new ink on my skin. I didn’t know when I got them that they’d be memorializing not only those events, but my brother too.

I miss my brother.

Riding to Mama Tried 2017

It’s the time of year where I am just dying to ride. My car feels like, well, a cage, and my body is screaming for sunshine. Due to some unseasonably warm weather the ice melted and on Saturday, February 18th I started the riding season.

2017 Start

This was my first time at Mama Tried, and due to the unusually warm weather it was a shitshow getting inside, even with my ABATE vendor badge.  For a while they weren’t even letting vendors inside, and kept only letting people in as others left late into Saturday. Me and Bart got to skip most of the line, but here’s a panorama where you can see it wrapping around the block.

PanoramicLine

This is an important event for Abate of Wisconsin, since this year we’re all about connecting with the next generation of riders. Mama Tried has a very grass-roots custom builder feel to it. Choppers, cafe racers, flat track racing, and usually ice racing. The ice racing had to be cancelled this year because it was too warm! People building and racing their own bikes is a part of the past, present, and hopefully future of motorcycle riding in the USA; some notable people seem to agree with me.

I’m not much of a salesman, but I did get a couple of people to join Abate of Wis, and got to see a lot of interesting bikes, bikers, and gear. My only regret is not getting there in time to get a Mama Tried patch for my vest. I’ll definitely attend next year. I should have taken some pics of bikes, but I’m a moron and I had to work the booth besides.

MamaTried

 

Wisconsin Rustic Roads

I can’t help being a little competitive. When I got back into motorcycling, I started thinking about the patches people wear on their vests and jackets. I don’t run with folks in MCs so I’m not talking about an MC patch with a bottom rocker. I’m talking about the patches you see when you’re around other bikers at casual events. You’ll see a lot of HOG rally patches and pins. You’ll see “I support the 2nd Amendment” and “Don’t Tread on Me” and such quite a bit. I respect those patches and pins, truly, but I don’t ask people about them. A lot of those stand purely for group affiliation or political ideology. Good patches are like a  good tattoo: it’s a personal emblem, but it’s also the start of a story. “Hey what does that mean?” “Oh hey I rode the dragon’s tail last  year too!”

So, if you’re a goofy looking guy riding a Victory in the heart of Harley country near Milwaukee, you might feel the evil eye on you a little bit when you’re parking your bike, and that goes double if you’re flying some “Victory owner” patches. I started collecting patches about where I’d been and what I’d done. The first one I earned (other than by buying a motorcycle) was the Wisconsin Rustic Roads tour.

If you’re near Badgerland, check it out: http://wisconsindot.gov/Pages/travel/road/rustic-roads/default.aspx

Now if you’re under the age of 40 you are likely familiar with the notion of Achievements in video games. Achievements award you for doing something that’s already fun: playing the game. But you get 50 headshots in a row, and you get a special badge. Depending on where you live and your age, again, you may be familiar with the notion of BoyScout/GirlScout patches. I built a fire, I get the fire patch. I caught a fish, I get the fish patch. Well, I took pictures of my bike in front of rustic road signs in Wisconsin until I got the rust roads patch. Riding motorcycles is obviously already fun, but if I do these certain things I’ll also get a badge/patch/cheevo. My favorite photo from the rustic roads tour is my muscle bobber (a Victory Gunner) in front of the sign right across the street from the Potosi Brewery in Western Wisconsin, right across the river from Debuque.

R99.JPG

By the way, this fun little bobber started my mind on the topic of: What is the correct number and kind of motorcycles to own? More on that in the future.

At any rate, I got a patch, and I earned it. I proudly sewed it on to the front of my vest in a random place because I’m not an artist and I’m a pretty shitty seamstress.

vestfront

Still, while no one has really struck up a conversation with me about this particular patch, my other patches have started a lot of conversations. It’s primal, this is one of the oldest ways of interacting with other humans. Your clothes, jewelry, scars, or tattoos say something. You mark yourself. People ask you about your markings. You make allies with people who understand your stories. I like marking myself as a biker with certain patches and tattoos. I may work in Corporate America, but I am proud of my tribal scars.