Dear Bart, Part 2

Dear Bart,

It has been three years.

There are a lot of germs that make people sick that we’re basically always swimming in. The common cold or strep throat is basically always around, but they catch us in a moment of weakness. You’re like that, always in the back of my mind but on a bad day or a particularly great day you’re suddenly there in full force, and I lose my shit.

Speaking of germs, we’re in lockdown due to a new virus that is very deadly and very transmissible. The US has nearly 1/3 of all worldwide cases and over 120,000 Americans are dead from it in about 12 weeks as I write this. I can picture you and some of your friends digging deep into the conspiracy theories on this one. You were never a fan of the science you were so good at. Your wife & son had it, but they got over it. I was scared for a while there.

Our sister lives in Idaho now, and man is there great riding out there. I went West this past year, over Beartooth Pass and through Yellowstone down into Idaho to visit her. She’s finally done having kids at 6, and man the young ones are cute – my totally biased opinion based on who wanted to hang out with their uncle.

This year, though, with the Coronavirus “shelter in place” rules different in every major city & state, it’s hard to say what a cross-country motorcycle trip looks like. I spent a lot of time planning a route through all the New England states, but that part of America has been hit the hardest. I don’t want to get stopped at the Vermont state border or some crap like that, and I’m not sure I want to eat out of gas stations for a week either. We think Georgia is unlikely to close no matter what the danger is, so we might head down to Wingnut Dave’s instead.  Local bars, restaurants, hotels is a part of the joy of travel, I can’t imagine what this is going to be like.

After the last time Mrs. Roadrunner found me mid-meltdown, I thought I’d give talking to a shrink another try. It’s been pretty good for getting me through the winter months. It’s a colder than usual May right now, I’ve only been able to ride a few hundred miles so far this year. Speaking of the winter months, the shrink I mentioned told me I have PTSD from finding you dead. That sounds insane: PTSD is what happens to people who go off to war, not well off people in the suburbs just living their lives.

I probably said this last year, but missing you is hardest when things are good. Some of my crazy plans get a little more real every week. I can see how it might not be too many more years before I can buy some land and do some real bushcraft, maybe build a cabin with the boys or something. You would have really liked that.

I had, for a while, struggled to add anything new compared to last year. I thought about what I’m grateful for, and that includes a small but loyal and awesome group of riders that I have, that you used to be a part of in fact. I think about expanding this group, and I realize that I can never replace you. That’s the hard thing: some things are permanent. Time does not heal all wounds. This will not pass.

I might as well get a tattoo that says “Bart’s gone forever”, because that’s a thing that’s already a scar.

Huh? What the hell is this?

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.

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.

Tail of the Dragon 2016

There are biker destinations that are popular because of the location, because there’s a party there at a specific time, or both. The Tail of the Dragon is always worth visiting as long as there’s not snow on the ground.

I know plenty of folks who consider themselves bikers, probably look a lot more like a biker than I do, and yet have never ridden far enough they couldn’t make it back home the same day. They’ve never camped, they don’t carry rain gear because they don’t ride in the rain, and they don’t put on a lot of miles. Hell, my wife and I met a couple in Jamaica who couldn’t believe I did 1,000 miles in one day because they put about 1,200 miles a year on their Ultra.

I respect everyone on two wheels, but to me there’s a serious division there. This is why I ride. No matter how big your saddlebags are, and if your bike also has a trunk, and how much you can strap onto your luggage rack, when you are going far from home for multiple days you have to turn your brain and your normal routine sideways. If you wear contacts you have to pack them. If you need a phone you have to charge it. Do you know how to do coin laundry? Can you find a way to sleep if it’s late and there’s no room at the inn? I love every second of this. I love taking my huge bloated life and forcing it to fit into a few cubic feet for a while. This feeling of cutting out everything that’s not completely necessary, being forced to choose which possessions to keep, being forced to think about disasters because you don’t know what will happen in the middle of nowhere. Is it worth packing flashlights? Fire starting gear? An axe? A second helmet? Bourbon?

img_20160615_201031

OK, back to the Dragon’s Tail. It’s a section of US 129 between Tennessee and North Carolina. There’s a great site where you can read all about it. It’s 11 miles of road with 318 curves. Bikers and sports car drivers love it. Cops and photographers patrol it with maximum predatory instinct.

I keep a list of all the rides I want to hit, and this summer the Dragon’s Tail went to the top. I put out the call and two men answered. My brother Der Bart and an old buddy Mark I hadn’t seen in years since he went to work for Harley. I’m always jealous when I see big groups on the road: how the hell do they coordinate a dozen or more family and work schedules when I can barely scare up a trio? The Road Runner still has a lot to learn I guess.

We made plans, but no reservations. Everyone was cool with just winging it. Myself and Bart left from Wisconsin and swung down to Chicagoland to pick up Mark. We happened to meet at Mark’s on 66 and naturally everyone had to compare bikes. Me and Bart were on big touring bikes but Mark had a sweet Harley Black Line, a soft tail they only made 1 year. He got a lot of questions and compliments on the old school paint flecks on this trip.

Somewhere in Indiana we needed some food. If you think billboards don’t work, you don’t know any bikers. You’re rolling through, wondering what to eat, and then you see a unique sign. We hit a place that had been on Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives and had some burgers.

I had picked Corbin, KY as the first night’s stop. As I’ve said before, on longer bike trips I like to find a place to sleep with food and a bar within walking distance so I picked a hotel with a BBQ joint across the street. We got there at right before “9 pm” and had a couple surprises. I didn’t think about time zone changes so as we checked in I was told it was actually nearly 10pm Eastern. No problem, I says, they’ll throw some BBQ and a few beers at some tired bikers who tip well. They don’t serve beer, I’m told. Holy shit, welcome to the bible belt.Out come the phones and we start searching for food. You can live on beef jerky an water on the road, but why if you don’t have to. We find a “Micro brew gastropub” (whateverthefuckthatmeans) in downtown Corbin that’s open until 11 open time. I’m skeptical but we ride out.

We roll through a downtown that could be any place in Small Town America. An old school main street, local department stores, brick and cream brick buildings, local bars with neon signs. This is what riding is all about: rollin’ through, sampling some local flavor everywhere we go. So we arrive at The Wrigley Taproom and it’s completely fucking awesome. They’ve got great food, way better than your average bar food, and like 30 beers on tap. This was great by any standard, and better than water in the desert when you were just about to settle for dinner at the gas station and maybe a can of Coors light if you’re lucky. We have a great dinner and a couple beers, and ride back 5mins away to crash at the hotel.

thewrigly

The next day we get up with nothing but slaying dragons on the brain.

Obviously this area cashes in on all the biker tourism, but it doesn’t make the spectacle any less cool to me. There are metal sculptures, signs, billboards, a Harley dealer, and whatever on both side of the Dragon’s Tail. As for the ride itself, it starts in the best way: just a normal US DOT sign that says “Curves the next 11 miles”.

Curves means 318 curves, lots of bikers trying to do it quickly, and you’d better pull over if a more skilled (or reckless) rider rolls in behind you.

I’m OK with saying the riding is challenging. Every year you see pictures posted of people riding 1-up and 2-up misjudging a turn and crashing. We road through West to East and gassed up at the General Store/Dragon’s Tail resort on the other side. Pretty decent food and of course I bought a 129 patch. There are a ton of bikes, every day must be like a huge bike rally here. I loved the variety, I parked Red Sonya in between a Heritage Softail and a Can Am.

As you lean into the curves, you’ll notice photographers everywhere. Shops like 129photos and Killboys are set up to take pictures of every bike that rolls by. They catalog them on their websites later and you can order un-watermarked photos from them later. It’s distracting at first but honestly much easier and safer than trying to have your friends catch you while you’re posing on a switchback turn.

We rode back East to West to the Harley store that’s on the West side. There’s a geezer there with a patch shop, and I paid him a few bucks to sew the 129 patch onto my vest. This dude has a gigantic old school Singer sewing machine that’s operated with a foot pedal and looks like it could survive a bunker bomb. We thought about riding a few more times, but hey we’ve got jobs, and I know of a place towards home where we could have a chill night if we headed back, so we said goodbye. The following Sunday was Father’s Day, and while I don’t like to claim special treatment, my kids like to see their dad and that’s precious to me. We are totally coming back to revisit the dragon, the Moonshiner 28 and all the other awesome riding around here.

dragonpatch2016

We stopped back at our familiar haunt in Shelbyville, Ky and bought some bourbon and had dinner at the steakhouse again. Naturally, the bourbon and local micro brew had to be sampled before and after dinner. We got back to the hotel and did what guys do: we talked about family and bikes and engines all night until the beer was gone and the bourbon was seriously compromised.

Here’s the thing about nights like this. Objectively, you’re just drinking too much in a hotel room in some random town. Yet every time I recollect times like this with the guys I was with, it was one of the best parts of the trip, why? Why is this so important, and why can’t you just re-create this in your living-room whenever you’re feeling stressed about life? Well, I’ve been writing a lot about the head-clearing effects of long rides. You’re sunburned, you’re drunk, your head is empty of stress because you’ve just been grinning for a few days. The booze is nice, but you mostly don’t want to stop because this is real. This is conversation like you don’t have every day. You can’t recreate this on a random week night because you have to be prepared for honesty, and the road prepares you. Most of us under a certain age grew up in a time when certain things were expected of men. You are tough, you are not vulnerable, you are practical, logical, the decision maker of the family, and sure as fuck not contemplative. When the wind strips all that armor away you are in a temporary reprieve where it’s permitted to be contemplative and vulnerable and still a manly man. How can you not be a man? We just rode a thousand miles, defied death on the Dragon’s Tail, ate steak and drank Kentucky Bourbon. But we need to air out, too. We need this, and I wish more of us could admit it more openly.

I actually think this will get better. Social norms are changing, and they’re going in a direction such that my son may grow up a little more sane than I did, a little more comfortable in his own skin. I also love seeing more women riding, maybe the next time I have an experience like this it’ll be in mixed company and we can all ride away wondering why the rat race back in Reality make it so hard to just be humans. My wife rides, and while she hasn’t done a long trip like this yet, she’s so fucking awesome I hope that changes soon. Would you trade your masculine superiority for a partner who can do everything you can do, and sit at that bourbon bar with you and your road brothers and figure out the answers to all life’s problems?  I don’t need to be better than anyone, that’s not what makes me tick. I hope we see more and more people of all possible backgrounds, choices, and proclivities interested in motorcycling

The next day, shockingly not hungover, we all made it home, splitting off from Mark in Chicagoland and me and Bart just a few miles from each other. This was my second trip to the Smokies’s area in two years, and there is something so magical about this place that I’d really like to make it a yearly journey if I can.

 

 

 

2016 Bun Burner Gold

On Saturday, October 8th 2016 three men set out from a Kwik Trip in Waukesha WI with the goal of riding at least 1500 miles in less than 24 hours. If you’re not familiar with IBA certified rides, check out when I previewed this ride a few days ago. Riding were myself, my little brother, and my friend Wingnut Dave.

Our planned route had us taking highways 90/94 to Wall, SD and back. We knew there was some construction and the potential for serious cold but we wanted to hit ‘gold’ and didn’t really have a backup plan.

Some planning always has to go into a ride like this, but it’s also October in the North Central US, which means weather can be an issue. Wingnut Dave had just done a 2-up trip to Seattle and back, so he was good. My little brother rides a VTX 1800. With no heated gear, fairing, cruise control or hard lowers, the IBA might call this a hopeless class ride for him. Not that it couldn’t be done, but, damn. He went and rented a 2016 Road Glide Ultra, which also happens to be the bike he’s been lusting for. For my part, I got the rest of the heated gear I started putting together last year.

I tend to get excited before a trip like this. A long ride is great for clearing my head, but my head’s not clear yet so my mind messes with me. “Hey buddy, really important that we get sleep for this ride right? Ok cool, I’m just going to run non-stop with random stuff until about 2:30am…” To combat this, I employ a variety of sleep aids. This particular evening my sleep aid of choice was a healthy Glencairn glass of Knob Creek small batch. Not the tastiest bourbon, but my mom always told me to try new things.

It was in the low 40s as we set out West. As we got near LaCross, WI it plunged down to 33 degrees. At 75mph, that’s cold. During the first gas stop we all added extra layers, glove liners, etc.  There’s also a reality check: Are we really going to be able to do this? Put a few dudes together and the testosterone goes up exponentially. Of course we’re doing this.

I have driven up to Minnesota before, but it must have always been at night. As we crossed the Missouri river as saw Lake Francis Case I was already regretting the fact that we had zero time for sight seeing. If I do any more endurance rides, maybe I can justify it to myself as a way of finding places to go back and spend some time.

I had not been through South Dakota since I was a kid. My parents were serious road-trippers, and originally gave me the name Road Runner as a CB handle when we would talk to truckers on long trips. In my head I was thinking “We are going to Sturgis”, but heading out to Wall, SD in October isn’t like that at all. There’s a lot of the typical tourist road-side attractions like you would find all over the American West, and you get just enough glimpse of the beauty of the landscape from I-90 to make you want to come back. Be aware that actual Premium fuel is hard to find out there. I know modern engines have knock sensors, but my gas mileage went to hell until I had run a tank of 93 through the bike.

But, again, this was a timed endurance ride. Stops were gas, piss, kickstands up as much as possible. I was a little jealous of Wingnut Dave’s cup holder, he was sipping hot coffee. For me, though, a big part of being on the bike is Doing Without all the Stuff. Sometimes a fully loaded Gold Wing starts to edge a little close to being a two-wheeled car for me.

Other than the cold, the only issue we encountered was stench. Part of SD, all of MN, and again part of WI were bathed in a non-stop stench that defied explanation and was a marvel in it’s continuity. I’ve ridden through tons of farmland, so I know what pig shit smells like. I know what pesticide and non-shit fertilizer smells like. I know what skunk smells like. This was all of it, and it was constant and bad enough I started worrying about blowing chunks into my balaclava.  Most of the last 500 miles smelled like a diaper full of rotten Thai food that had been made with raccoon vomit. Or maybe there is a “baseball bat open season” on skunks I haven’t heard of, or maybe it’s an inside North Woods joke that deer hunters shoot skunks and then throw them on I-90? I don’t know but all of us on this trip have logged a lot of miles and agreed this was a singular phenomenon. We were getting damn close to the end point before I could breathe again and I pity the poor souls who live in those areas.

lepew

Obviously, being alert is a constant concern on a ride like this. We didn’t do ourselves any favors with the time of year we chose. The cold takes a lot out of you. Even though we’re on a trip “for fun”, safety has to be a constant concern. I realize I’m talking to myself a lot “Be alert. Get home safe, you have a family to take care of.”

Other than these thoughts, though, I got exactly what I needed out of this ride: a brain reboot. I generally have a lot of trouble telling my brain to shut the fuck up and give itself some peace. I’m also a natural introvert and people like me can really recharge from alone time. Sure I had two guys with me, but you’re alone with your music and your thoughts 99% of the time.

Being mentally chill is so rare, that every single time it happens after a ride it still shocks me. When I was finally back on my brother’s couch having a bedtime (5am) sip of bourbon and talking about the ride, my ears ringing, it hit me again. My head is empty. I tried for a second to worry about my house or my job and it just wasn’t there. Do this right now: sit down and think about what you were thinking about yesterday. Can you do it?

The Aftermath

I don’t feel old most days. I use a bead rider seat, my fairing and shield keep most of the wind off of me, and generally never have much to complain bout after a ride other than sunburn. Holy shit was I sore today though. The cold and the miles took a toll I didn’t realize until I’d slept and tried to move. There are people who can do 1,000 mile days for a week. Kudos to you, you’re in a lot better shape than I am.

My little brother (by nearly 2 years) is a big boy, but I still can’t believe he did this without heated gear. Just some layers and a leather jacket. I suspect that the power of his epic beard may behind it, and so for now I’m giving him the road name “Der Bart”, the German word for “beard”.

I haven’t submitted to the IBA yet but obviously I know the GPS and the paperwork is in order, so I am looking forward to adding a couple patches to my vest. You can see the full route here.