My Ride to Fitzgerald, Through Small Towns

I picked up the phone and a familiar old voice was on the other end. My long time pal Earl ‘The Pearl’ Perry from down near Fitzgerald, Georgia was calling to say “Hi”. A man of God, from God’s Country. Preacher Earl and I had known each other from his Sunday morning sermons at ‘Angel City’ Rallies for as many years as I could remember. We had also both volunteered for ABATE of Georgia, fighting for biker’s rights since its inception. Earl had been in a motorcycle wreck and was asking if I could help him. I immediately mapped out a plan to get down to see him in his hometown in south central Georgia some 200 plus miles from where I call home. The weather was right and the springtime had brought the magnolia blooms out in what was sure to be a beautiful commute. The GPS noted a 3 hour, 22 minute ride on interstates – but a commute on interstates was not my plan. I was looking to ride, and ride leisurely. Typically, as with most Atlantans, I look to the north and the Blue Ridge chain of mountains to ride leisurely like. Although there are some wonderful rides to the south as long as you are willing to scratch the surface. My court schedule was coincidentally light for a spring week so I took advantage of a break in the action and sat down at my ever increasingly wrinkly papers. I enjoy MapQuest and Google Earth and all the trimmings of voice activated GPS loaded onto my Road Glide but pre-ride planning I savor over coffee, number 2 pencils and a dog-eared paper map. The electronic option advised the 202 miles could be covered in about half a workday via interstate 75. BOOOOOORING!! How many little towns could I link together with pencil on my map in a trip south? The answer, depending upon how the wind blew at certain intersections, was dozens and dozens.

My thoughts were that I could take the day, schedule a dinner with Earl and his lovely bride Marilyn and stay the night in South Georgia returning to Atlanta fresh the next morning. In typical fashion I planned on a predawn departure to escape the suburbs before moms loaded spoiled kids into giant SUV’s to drive them the 30 yards to a crowded bus stop. They all do this with coffee in hands and cell phones at ears, fuzzy slippers, bed heads, and yearning for quite back home I’m sure. They sit and wait for the yellow bus that seems to wait for me around every corner before pulling out with flashing red lights grinding my progress to a halt. I looked at the map and the biggest impediment to a free flowing trip was a egg like circle circumnavigating the City of Atlanta and clearly marked “285”. That big odd shaped circle surrounding and ever bulging Atlanta with 64 miles of tar snakes, potholes, and road debris that is sometimes more like a long circular parking lot. I am ever trying to avoid this knot of cars and trucks, which we colloquially call the “perimeter”. Used by an estimated 2 million people daily, it is to be avoided unless absolutely necessary on a bike. More pencil, more little towns, more connected dots, less highway.

I thought that if I had a full day to ride to visit Earl that I could take all secondary roads through small towns speckled with coffee shops and mom and pop hardware stores and barbers that had cut the local men’s hair for generations. I left at 5:00 am on a clear spring day. The forecast called for clear skies but some high afternoon temps. The predawn cool was enjoyed in my half shell helmet, my choice when not on the interstate. It always surprises me how many men and woman are out providing for their families, hours before the sun even comes up. Plumbers and landscapers. Delivery drivers and factory workers. Truck drivers and salesman. All out and about, grinding out their living before most people even open their eyes for the day. I have a special respect for the worker who toils in the early hours. I have done this my whole life as did my father and his father before him and all the generations back in Ireland did, I’m told. We are wired to get up before the sun. To get something done, even if it is to simply write these simple words at my kitchen table. I look past my coffee at the clock in my kitchen, which currently reads 5:21. I rose at 4:00 am and I’ll write till 6:00 am, eat a couple of eggs and head to the gym. Office by 8:30 am brew another pot and wait for the crew to arrive. It just makes me feel productive. Sleep, its over rated and I’ll simply catch up with it when I’m dead. The same schedule held true for my ride to visit Earl and Marilyn. By the time the sun was cresting the horizon I was 100 miles from my home, but still very far from my destination in South Georgia. I learned that those pesky yellow school busses are no less an impediment to travel in Grayson or Porterdale than they are on my street. A few times I pass over interstates and my urge to merge into traffic is assuaged by the utter chaos of the commuter cars and trucks backed up on every one. I avoid the “perimeter” by skirting metro Atlanta on side streets first north (Birmingham crossroads, Hickory Flat, Cumming), then easing west (Lake Lanier, Sugar Hill, Dacula, Walnut Grove), and then the slow and steady pace southward through small town America (Mansfield, Hillsboro, Gray). Places where those red traffic dots on my GPS don’t appear as they do near home. Where gridlock is when 2 cars sit waiting patiently for the one light in town to change to green. Where the police officer is also a volunteer firefighter and a peewee football coach. I notice a few things that I scratch on my little pad in my saddlebag when gassing up in those little towns. “Smiling”; “waving”; “curb side conversations”; “no beeping of horns”; “groups standing outside little post offices, talking”. Life just seems slower. The cars are older, perhaps worn a bit more. The buildings need repair in some and are vacant here and there. But there is an air about each little town. I absorb it on my motorcycle, in the open space that a biker enjoys and a driver does not. A more leisurely pace is observed with the pace as slow as each town is small. I chug through places like Madison and Eatonton and miles and time pass but I really don’t get far given the hours that have gone by since departure. It reminds me of how the interstate system has crept the pace of modern life up for the good or for the bad. I wonder about life 100 years ago in these little towns and how I am probably not much different than some stranger on a horse plodding down Main Street barely noticed. In the end the commute was stretched to barely 300 miles but took me 12 hours. Comparatively I could have ridden to Washington DC in the same time. I never left my home state. I arrived tired in South Georgia to a smiling couple that understand the value of time in the saddle. We share a meal at a local restaurant and talk about grandkids and bikes and life. Ultimately we get to business and talk of Earl’s wreck. I pursue his case in the coming months and it’s a story worthy of a book. I ride home on the interstate the next morning and make it in 3 hours instead of 12. There’s nothing to report of my ride home. Once in a while, when time allows, take back roads folks. It makes all the difference.

Well, signing off for now.  Remember, ride hard, ride safe, and when life lets you, ride full throttle.

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