Slimy Crud Run Spring 2018

The Slimey Crud Run is a grass roots event that takes place twice a year in South Central Wisconsin.

There are no big ad campaigns, no corporate sponsors, no local or regional newspaper or TV promotions, not even the usual obligatory one-size-promotes-all beer banners with the name of the event emblazoned on a huge blank white spot.

Despite all the makings of what should be an unknown event, the Slimey Crud Café Racer Run in southern Wisconsin is attended twice each year, on the first Sunday in May and October, by riders from all over the country and routinely has participants from at least five states in the upper Midwest.

Its origins are nearly as murky as Stonehenge, dating back to the early Seventies, according to one of its co-founders, former Triumph/Bultaco/Matchless racer and former Triumph dealer Lyall Sharer. From humble beginnings, the event has become an organic thing that thrives on its own energy. At each gathering, it isn’t uncommon for anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 machines to show up.

The Crud Run meanders across the scenic Wisconsin River valley from Pine Bluff in Dane county to Leland in Sauk County. The distance between the villages is less than 30 miles in a straight line, but the road mileage can vary from about 70 to, well, who knows? No specific route is prescribed, so the best way to go depends entirely on your imagination.

Despite the name, the event is not limited to the sheathed-in-plastic sportbike set. In fact, while there’s something for everybody in every class of bike, the event seems much more like a rolling vintage and classic bike show.

I set out to see some bikes, get some miles, and represent ABATE of Wisconsin. Yes sir, thousands of bikes descended on the one-stop-sign towns of Leland and Pine Bluff and it was fantastic.

Representing Abate:

MeSittingAgain

Look ma! Bikers! I would not want to live across the street from the Red Mouse.

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-26,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E-Y

I did not go alone. After losing Bart, I started looking for other ways to find people to ride with, and stumbled upon a Meetup group called The Lost Motorcycle Riders of Milwaukee. I’ll write about this at some point in the future, but this turned out to be a great way to find a group.

TheLostSCR.jpg

While there’s no corporate sponsors, a few people do get permission from one of the bars to set up a racing demo station or a brat fry, and of course there are bikes for sale and people looking to be seen.

This year, however, the weather was not cruddy at all. No, this was The Amazing Sunshine run. There are many different ways to get between Leland and Pine Bluff, and you’re encouraged to find your own way. May 6th in Wisconsin there’s still a lot of sand and salt on the roads, but there were plenty of sharp corners and views to make it a fantastic day.

It’s all about the bikes though:

I am reminded that the last SCR I attended was with my fallen brother. I didn’t really think about it during the ride: just the night before and after I got home. Wind therapy still works.

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Across WI, 04.30.2018

A mental health day riding across Wisconsin.

I told my boss: the 1st 70 degree day of the year he would not see me. When such a day seemed certain on the calendar I confirmed, and ditched work. I shared this on Facebook, and people were all over my ass. “Must be nice to have no responsibilities, loser@!”; “Must be nice to be able to ditch all your responsibilities!” Ok, so, I have two kids and while Mrs. Roadrunner is extremely chill I can’t just disappear as I please. Seriously folks, if you see someone taking off on a weekday, maybe assume they have cleared it with their work and family and not that they are some independently wealthy dipshit.

I needed a mental health day, and I knew some people who surely did too. My friend Harley Curtis answered the call. He showed up at Payne Manor at 8:15 am and we got ready to ride.
I got us lost, we got it figured out, we ate miles towards our destination, we didn’t exchange more than a couple of words until we were sitting down at Fort Mulligan’s in Prarie du Chien, Wisconsin. Then we talked. Work. Family. Bikes.

Isn’t it funny how that works? Bikers meet each other and don’t talk until 4 hours down the road. Bikers understand the value of clearing out your head and then talking to a trusted brother about what’s going on.

I picked Prarie du Chien because I didn’t feel like putting on heated gear and heading to The Hurricane Highway. I also didn’t bring a real fucking camera. But I did take a couple of pictures of a really cool town on the Great River Road.  It wasn’t an Iron Butt day, but a 380 mile day in April in Wisconsin is a rare treat. I was able to shed 3 layers as the day grew much warmer than predicted. I came home and grilled for my family, and I went back to work the next day with a clear head.

Planning Multi-Day Group Rides

I’m planning a six day group ride right now, and this will make a few years in a row that I’ve done this. It occurs to me that before, during, and after each trip my friends are sure to thank me for doing the planning. I plan the rides so I have people to go on rides with, not for high fives or to be known as some Exalted Road Captain, but maybe others could benefit from my experience? Here goes: you’re planning a group ride that stretches more than a day and a lot of miles. What do you need to think about?

Use the Tubes

Everything you’re about to read below, I coordinate using email, Facebook, Google hangouts, Meetup.com, whatever. Our lives are too nutty to have a single phone call or in-person meeting and assume everyone will show up on the day of the trip. Make sure everyone has everyone else’s cell numbers and email addresses.

Preview and Circle Back

I tend to start out with a big group of people that I tell I’m planning a trip. This will always be a big initial group because shit happens. Seventeen people saying “Hell yes!” 3 months away will turn into 2 actual travelers by the time the day rolls around. Life happens, people make choices. Additionally, even your friends who’ve never ridden 300 miles in a day will still be pissed if you pass them over for the invite, so invite everyone who would theoretically like the trip, not just those who might actually do it.

I tend to let my friends know vaguely and then tightening it up as time passes:

  1. These are the trips I’m thinking about this summer…
  2. …OK we are doing the Moonshiner 28 in July!
  3. All right I’ve got these dates off work and here’s a potential route, who’s really in?

I like to be at step 3 2-3 months out. Maybe your friends are different, but trekking across the country for 6 days is a lot different than meeting up for a Sunday afternoon bar hopping run. This kind of vacation is highly individualistic and sometimes takes some finessing with the family if one parent is leaving the other one home with the kids and the chores.

Get the Gear if You’re Going To

Gear for YOU is whatever you’re comfortable in. If you don’t mind riding in wet denim, you should be aware that some people do mind very much. Talk about what your rain plan is going to be: wait it out in an underpass, get to a gas station and put on rain gear? Stop and put it on when the radar shows rain ahead? Is everyone OK riding at night? Rain plans are good but what about your “shine” plan? Will your planned gas stops be enough sunscreen for everyone?

Do some people Bluetooth headsets? I’ve ridden a lot of miles without them but maybe I’ll try it some day. Different Bluetooth systems are likely incompatible, and you should experiment before the time has come to put home far behind you. What about tolls? If you’re all leaving from the same area then tolls are a fact of life in a lot of the USA. For me getting around Chicago can be a shitshow so I carry an iPass and I get the people I’m headed south with to get one as well, or I add their plates to my iPass. Parts of Indiana, Florida, Tennessee, Georgia, and others also have tollways. Be ready.

Be Flexible

This is the #1 thing. Weather, humans, tires, and hotels won’t always cooperate. People you know well will act out of character for reasons that aren’t apparent. Be committed to the spirit of the trip, not the agenda you planned out. You can always go another direction, arrive late, leave early, skip a stop, or take a long lunch to keep the group from melting down.

Be ready for something to go wrong. Who’s bike leaks oil? Does someone carry both metric and standard tools? I carry a flat kit and two flashlights. I carry aspirin, a knee brace, an elbow brace, an ACE wrap, and a small towel in case bodies get sore. Depending on what direction I’m going, I carry an Octane Booster as well. Sure, modern v-twins have anti-knock capabilities, but it seems to me that my bike isn’t quite the same (until the next tune up) after running 1,000miles on low octane in South Dakota.

Communicate the Pace

I’m an Iron Butt. That’s part of the life for me, but I don’t expect the same from everyone and I sure as hell don’t look down on anyone who doesn’t push it that far. You need to look at how you’re carving up your precious vacation time and what you’re trying to do vs. what’s realistic. I find a 500 mile day is about perfect when it comes to multi day trips. You cover a lot of ground and you can stop in time to have a relaxed dinner and maybe recover from any aches and pains your body discovered during the day. On the trip I’m planning right now our second day puts us at nearly 700 miles of freeway time. You can avoid a lot of pain and suffering by communicating things like that up front and confidentially: no one wants to bow out in front of a bunch of friends who are gung ho to roll hard.

A lot of us smile the widest on two-lane roads going no more than 55, but you have to balance your desire for two-lane America and family owned gas stations in the middle of nowhere with the size of the country. It’s best to use the freeway system to get close to where you’re going and then slow down and enjoy the curves. I’ve learned this the hard way: just start in Milwaukee and try to get around Chicago with the Harley nav system’s “Avoid highways” setting on. Stoplights every block for hours will suck the good time out of a trip as much as a bad rain.

Don’t just assume everyone in your group is happy to ride 80mph either. Depending on the size of your machine and the gear you’re wearing faster speeds can mean more wind buffeting on your body and you’ll wind up taking longer breaks and losing the minutes you were trying to gain back.  Personally I tend to go about 4 over the speed limit unless I’m in SD and the speed limit is already 80. Just make sure your group knows what to expect so no one is getting frustrated at your slow riding or worried that their riding faster than their experience.

The Pace also includes stopping frequency. Again, someone on a soft tail and used to doing poker runs may have different expectations than the Road Glide and Gold Wing riders they wound up traveling with. At the very least the leaders should be aware of the range of everyone they are traveling with, and expectations of how often you’re stopping. Personally, I have a hard time staying off my throttle and wind up stopping about every 120 miles even if my whole group have big-tanked touring bikes.

Bottom line: make sure everyone knows what they’re getting themselves in to.

Plan the Formation

Every biker I know is comfortable riding staggered formation from gas station to lunch station on a rustic road, but don’t assume  people are comfortable riding side by side in a lane on the freeway. That being said, a tighter ride formation can save a lot of frustration with the cages on a long day of freeway riding. Even if the cars see you, they are likely not familiar with group ride concepts and will try to cut in between bikes if there appears to be a car-sized gap in your formation. Encouraging a little bit tighter formation to discourage misbehaving cages is maybe the one place where I try to get people to ride a little bit out of their comfort zone.

  • At every leg of the trip, make sure there’s a leader (road captain) and tail (sweep). Make sure the sweep understands when it’s appropriate to help block traffic to help riders merge together.
  • Make sure everyone understands the common hand signals as  well as the “tighten up” signal found here.

Plan for & Personalities Activities

You just have to know the group you’re riding with. Who drinks? Who doesn’t? What are the meal expectations? Personally I skip breakfast nearly every day and don’t eat until noon: that won’t work for a lot of people. Who drinks a shitload of coffee and is going to have to stop 80 miles down the road? Which two people are you going to have to warn ahead of time about the other so they don’t get into a political or religious argument and bring everyone down?

Framing the “Personalities” consideration is the activities. Yes, activities. Sure, the whole point of this trip is to ride, but man cannot live entirely on two wheels.

  • Were you planning on hitting a brewery tour or a distillery on the way?
  • Does the group agree about camping vs. hotels for each night of the trip? Are you going to book hotels ahead of time or wing it? If people want to try sharing rooms can they do so without killing each other? (see below)
  • Is one person in the group going to be on their bike itching to ride while everyone else is ordering pancakes inside the greasy spoon?

The down time is an important part of the trip. This has never happened to me, but I can imagine a group being too tired to ride further and yet bored with their surroundings for the evening. I carry some small electronic gadgets to play movies on hotel TVs, some playing cards, and a flask of bourbon just in case things get gloomy. I’ve never really needed to dig into my bag of tricks though: there’s something about riding and sunshine that puts folks into a pretty good mood.

Plan Where You’re Staying, or Agree to Plan not to Plan

From “Communicate the Pace”, above, I like to use the good ole US freeway system to get close to where I’m going before disappearing to the 2-lanes. I tend to plan places to stay in the middle of a trip, but maybe less so on the to-and-from legs. Personally, I’ve lived out of my car for week and have had some of my best sleep in a pile of leaves. I can lean towards pulling over to a rest area and sleeping on a picnic table if need be. Talk with your group about what happens if there’s no room at the inn.

The perfect kind of place to look for is one where you can park your bikes at a hotel and you’re a short walk to food & drink so there’s no getting lost in an unfamiliar town at night after everyone’s had a couple of drinks.

Consider Capturing the Route

I’m going to get in trouble from Mrs. Roadrunner for this one, but here it is: your family might want to hear that you’re OK. They might even want to tell you about the mundane every-day-shit that’s going on back in reality. That sucks. Anything beyond “I’m fine, love you, lookitwouldberudenottodotheseshotsbye” can break the spell of a trip. One compromise I have with my family is that I use a phone app and Spotwalla to track where I’m at. It’s passive, so I don’t have to check in, they can see me rolling and assume a moving bike means a still-alive Roadrunner is making his way in this topsy-turvey world. Later, when I run into my “bar hopping or poker run only” friends, I can watch them weep as they count the number of state lines I crossed on my last adventure. Really, it’s win-win.

Bring a Real Fucking Camera

This is one I wish I’d realized earlier in my journeys. Cell phone cameras are just too fucking decent and convenient, but they are not good, and there’s real value in taking a picture and then moving-the-fuck-on. My daughter is 15 as of the time of this writing and until recently had never held a real camera. After 15 seconds with my basic DSLR she was amazed. “Wow, it takes pictures so fast, and you can zoom the lens in and out!” Truly, not everything is made better being moderner and smaller.

If you can pack it without your bike rattling it to pieces, bring a real camera. They take better pictures, and more importantly: most of them don’t upload to Instagram. Imagine: taking pictures that you will later edit into an album and maybe upload or print after your trip is over. Imagine one less thing to break you out of the magic of the journey. This is what we used to do, and you’d be hard pressed to find a different blogger out there writing about how we used to be less happy than we are in 2018. Something about the character of our lives has changed, and I don’t think being ever-connected to everyone else’s carefully curated narratives about how great their lives are is helping us. Take the pics, post them later.

Don’t break the spell until you have to. If you’re worried about losing memories, take notes on your phone or bring a notebook to write in.

You’re Making Memories, Not Checking Boxes

Just to dive home points already mentioned: be flexible. You never know when someone’s shortcut to a flea market or an off the grid bar will turn out to be either the coolest secret you ever experienced, or the disaster you talk about for years to come. When people go through some uncomfortable shit together they bond over it. Remember that most Americans are really, really good people, and it’s a really safe place to be. Take a chance, take the road less traveled. Be real. You’ll recover from the mosquito bites and the skunky beer. Get out and live a little, be uncomfortable, and tell your kids stories about it.

The first real ride of 2018

I don’t winterize my bike (that’ll be important later). I ride everywhere except first snow to last salt. In Wisconsin that means a lot of cold riding, but with chaps and heated gear I do all right. 2018 has been a shitty winter in Wisconsin. Maybe it’s a normal winter, but a normal winter here is not great. Still, I’ve been able to get out on the bike 3 times already this year, and started my bike several times besides.

Imagine my joy when my bike didn’t start this morning for the first time ever.

I was meeting people. High of 52 in Wisconsin in March. Sun is shining. 23,000 miles on a 2 year old bike. Are you fucking kidding me? The clock is ticking…

My battery was fine, it was turning the starter over. I had a nagging worry about gas. Ethanol draws water, and I had ridden enough that my tank was nearly empty. You really want a full tank to keep moisture out of your fuel. I fucked with this for a while, then ran out in my car to get some fresh gas. I siphoned the tank out (fuel injected Victory isn’t easy to just pull a line to drain the tank) and barely got anything so I put two gallons of clean 93 in. Roll the bike around, shake the tank up, try to start. Put the battery charger on. Pick up trash in the yard and sweep out my garage to pass the time.

Repeat.

Roll the bike forward, then roll it backward and jump on the front break to stop the bike. Shakes the tank up. Try to start her again. Two hours past when I was supposed to meet some folks, she starts up. A test ride, restart, and I’m in business. It’s already 54, hotter than it was supposed to be today. Two miles from the house I stop and top off the gas tank for more fresh gas and to make sure she still starts.

The rest of the day I’m on the back roads with a couple other guys. Listening to David Allen Coe and the Moonshine Bandits on roads that are not ready.

See, in WI it could have been 50 degrees for a while but there’s still snow under a shade tree and maybe some of the smaller lakes are still frozen over with people ice fishing on them. Even if the roads are clean, there’s excess salt and sand that makes the roads less sticky than you’d want. When you’re rolling with guys who insist on doing at least 60 in every 35mph curve, you have to ride careful.

I got a great tour of the kettle moraines in SE WI , I got a little sunburn, and I got a smile so wide it may last me until the next 50 degree day. We ended up at a bar near where a couple of us live, and a few folks from my riding group who’d been elsewhere today happened to land there as well. Good people, smiling from a great day out in the sun, clean beer and greasy bar food. Today was everything it needed to be. Today was a tiny taste of how great life can be: you fix a problem, you spend a day with your knees in the breeze, you shake hands with some great folks. You make plans for rides to come. You come home, make dinner for your family, and you get ready to pay the bills for the next 5 days.

Yea, I got out for a few miles when it was 30 and 40 degrees, but this was the first real ride of 2018.

Waiting for Riding Season

Maybe someday I’ll live in a warm place, where there’s no “Riding Season” because it’s all year round. For now, though, in the frozen wastelands of the north we shovel snow and look lovingly at the motorcycle in the garage. I was actually able to get out recently, quite possibly my first ever January ride. Just a few miles to put a smile on my face and it never fails to work. I never “winterize” my bikes. I ride until the salt hits the roads and sometimes afterwards, giving her a good wash if it hasn’t rained enough. I don’t have a rule for a particular temperature. I’ve ridden as low as 32 degrees although I guess the leather and heated gear makes the cold feel like a non-issue as long as it’s at least 40 degrees. The first and last ride in the calendar year, though, I take a pic of an odometer.

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-26,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E-ve

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

 

 

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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.