North Georgia on a Pan

As I write this article, tapping away on a small laptop, I sit in a pub in Helen Georgia called “The Hay Loft.” It is reminiscent of an old German Inn tucked into the countryside of the ‘black forest.’ I last rode there in 1984 aboard a ’76 Ducati GT 750. Today, I am on a 1952 Harley Panhead. The Hefeweizen is as expected, not too bitter, heavy on wheat taste and high carbonation. Although the orange slice is traditional, I remove mine, so as not to attract the stares of the bikers surrounding me, throwing back long necks. The Laptop at a bar is bad enough. I’ve just ridden up to Helen on my trusty ‘Pan’ about 150 miles from home. The 2 metal seat springs that are my suspension did little to buff my arse from the imperfections in the tarmac. I am happy to be here, giddy maybe, surrounded by my biker peers. This is authentic pub atmosphere, complete with dark, rough hued wood, and some occasional cobwebs, left I’m sure, to add to the old world charm.

The purpose of my journey that started at sunrise, was to attend the “Destination Helen” rally organized by my friends, Karen and Pat. The event is in its first year and hopefully will provide a bike rally to the Southeast for years to come, right in our own backyard. To fit in with Helen’s old world German flavor, I planned my trip specifically to adhere to old school biker custom: no electronic ignition, no radial tires, no LED lights. Just an old school bobber and me. I left the cell phone home hoping to rely on the good nature of mankind in case of a breakdown beyond my mechanical skill. No GPS, just a PAPER map. No aero stitch Kevlar, just Levi 501’s and black leather boots, not waterproof. I pulled a vintage helmet off the shelf I bought at a yard sale 20 years ago. (This helmet has had some more wear recently, as my son runs around the house wearing it, pretending to be a tank gunner.) A pair of old style goggles completed the look. My gas tank holds exactly 1.2 gallons and my Pan gets exactly 45 miles to the gallon, so my trip was planned as a ‘town to town’ affair. Milton to Cumming (gas), then Cumming to Dawsonville (gas), then Dawsonville to Dahlonega (gas and coffee), then Dahlonega to Suches (gas and banana) then Suches to Blairsville (gas), then Blairsville to Young Harris (gas and some serious stretching), then Young Harris to Hiawassee (no gas just a couple of Hail Mary’s), then gas in Presley before the descent to Helen some 21 miles south on 17/75. That’s half a tanks worth, with 7 stops for gas in less than 150 miles. Most were $1.89 or $2.12 affairs that just topped me off and assured my passage to the next outpost. The chatter and pleasantries exchanged with locals was worth far more than any fuel I bought.

I must say I did not expect to be accosted at the local filling stations, but people are people. They are curious beings. I was approached at each station as if I had landed from Mars. The bike is a draw, but mostly it was the helmet/ goggle combination. A sprinkle of rain wet me down and further added to my odd appearance. Everyone smiled and stared. Old coots shared stories of their ‘Harley chopper’ of years gone by. Young kids pointed and were admonished by Moms with ‘don’t touch. I’m pretty sure they meant the ‘bike.’ Middle aged men with magnet signs on the side of their pickups looked longingly and nodded in approval. Most were talkative, some waved and said “good luck” as if I were riding to Alaska. I took no camera, as it would have conflicted with the philosophy of the day. I suffered no breakdown, but flooded the carb a few times at startup. An old guy, observing my honed start sequence that occasionally failed me, asked to try. He threw a leg and despite his age of some 70 or 75 years, came down on the kicker pedal hard and straight, and started the bike right up. The VFW hat atop his dome fell off and his old gray hair flitted about in the effort. His grin exposed a lack of teeth, but great pride puffed up his chest. He strutted back to his bench where his buddies slapped his back and murmured praise beyond my ear shot. THAT is the best memory of the ride!

I arrived in Helen after lunch some 5 or 6 hours into the day. My speed was slow though my pace deliberate. A modern ride could replicate this path in 2 hours and change with no stops. It may even be as fun, just different. I pulled into town left handing my shifter (foot clutch) to the delight of a few early arrivals, who understood what it means to pilot such a scoot. I cannot say that my derriere will heal anytime soon, but this too will pass. The best thing about this trip is that I will have the memory, and the Hefeweizen. Damn, this is a great country!

Well, signing off for now. Ride strong, ride safe and in the end, make sure you ride home.

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