Six Encounters on a Weekend Bike Trip

If you log onto YouTube and punch in my name with “Fall Foliage Iron Butt” you will find a short video of a trip made this fall on my Harley bagger 2,500 miles in the course of a very long weekend.  The true purpose was to get in one last breathtaking view of the changing foliage in the Blue Ridge, Shenandoah, Poconos and Catskill Mountain regions. You will see towards the end of the video exactly what I mean. Go-Pro camera notwithstanding, I inadvertently started a trip journal in a dog eared notebook I keep on my bike. A writer’s habit. I did not intend to abide by any official “iron butt” rules but logged yet another, nonetheless. What struck me about the trip afterwards as I leafed through my dog eared journal was the odd assortment of characters I met throughout the 2,500 miles of both interstate and back road ramblings.  I pulled that notebook from my tour pack over this early winter and recalled these interludes recorded with pen and paper as sort of a biker road trip social experiment. I realized in the course of my trip I’d evidenced 38 conversations ‘bike side’ as I wound my way across the eastern US. I’ve picked half a dozen to share with you. Here are those entries, shortened and typed with my afterthought at the end of each. Mini stories, a testament to gregarious biker travel, even if riding solo. Next trip you take, remember these words: “Hi, where ya from?” They are sure to solicit interesting responses and maybe gain you some new friends. Here is a sampling of my scribbles: #1: (85 Miles in) Parking lot of Mountain Creek Harley Davidson, Dalton, GaMy first rest stop for the obligatory MCHD T shirt. I’m dictating into my Go-Pro camera when a guy on a HD Tri Glide rolls in. (You’ll see it in the video.) He wrestles a wheel chair off a rear rack and skillfully swings himself into it. He rolls past me and really catches my attention.  I dismount my bike and follow him in. HE holds the door for ME! He’s friendly and fondly brags of the Tri Glide. I didn’t get into the basis of his handicap and we just talk bikes. He seems to know people in the dealership and is most likely a local guy. He’s greeted warmly and knows his Harleys. The Tri Glide, it occurs to me, is a game changer for many handicapped riders. The 900 miles before me simply seems a bit less daunting after 10 minutes with this dude. God bless him. Inspirational. I wish him a long and sunny 3 wheeled life and all the happiness motorcycling adds to the challenges we all face, some more than others. #2: (212 Miles in) Northbound I-40 in Knoxville, TN at a “Cycle Gear” franchise. Forgot my ‘clears’ for night riding. Girl at the counter, “Stacy” pierced nose and many tattoos, hands, arm, back of neck. Said she grew up in the area and was in night school at “Strayer University” nearby. Cute as a button (except the nose ring!). I asked about her tattoos and she gladly shared that each was for a family member. Both her kids, her deceased Dad, a brother in the Marines, old boyfriend (that one was covered in roses w/ a ‘patch tat’). She laughed. She also waited tables at night for extra dough and was raising her kids alone. Got into motorcycles because of a High School boyfriend. The Ninja 250 out front was hers. She recommends some clears, 10 bucks. I thank her and leave. As I think of her now, I hope she gets that degree. I hope she gets to stay home at night and raise her kids without that 2nd job. I hope she meets a guy and they get matching tattoos that fade and wrinkle into old age together. #3: (445 Miles in) Cracker Barrel, I-81 – Troutville, Virginia. Struck up a conversation with an old couple exiting the eatery. They linger about and talk with me as I fiddled with my leathers curbside and they admire the bike. Husband told me they “rode Harleys together for 40 years and had visited all 48 continental US States!” He also proudly announced “married for 63 years!” I suspected they were 85’ish. He walked to his car to swing around and pick up his wrinkled old wife. She smiled and seemed pleased I was speaking with her as the husband took a long time to ‘drive around’ and I half wondered if he forgot her? I kinda though I’d have to ride her home! Before she got in the old Buick, I asked her where they were from and she couldn’t remember! It occurred to me she had some form of dementia or Alzheimer’s. Sad but I was encouraged just the same. Maybe they stopped riding because of her declining health? At least they rode half a century! What a nice memory. An autumn trip, a happy old couple (although confused) in the winter of their life. I ponder them and hope they enjoy good health and each other for many more years, even if on 4 wheels. #4: (550 Miles in) Somewhere in Middle Virginia on a side jaunt. I stopped for gas in a Shell station and a middle aged guy (forgot his name, didn’t jot in notebook) was going in the opposite direction. He was on his way to Independence, Va to have a custom motorcycle jacket made at the “Fox Creek Leather Company.” I have rolled with Fox Creek jacket, chaps and gloves for many years now!! Made in America baby! He told me he was six foot six and had a hard time getting clothes. We talked of Fox Creek and the “Made in America” thing and I wished I could go with him. He seemed on a special journey. His daughters were buying the jacket for him as a gift. Dude had travelled from Connecticut for the weekend on his Road King and had an appointment to get custom fitted. Said the new leather will arrive by Christmas. I resist the urge to tag along and make a mental note to go there myself someday. I wish him many warm miles in the new jacket and fond memories of the Christmas his girls gave him such a loving gift. #5: (639 Miles in) Route 901 in Falling Waters, West Virginia. Stretched my legs and topped off at a “Sheets” gas stop. I walk in behind 2 youthful looking guys in military camos. Obviously fresh Army recruits. Strike up a conversation and ask to buy them lunch. They are affable and happy to share their stories over a meal. High school pals, they enlisted together last year after graduation. On their 1st ‘leave’ they were heading home to Martinsburg, WV for a long weekend. They ate like wolverines. They eagerly regaled me in stories of basic training, machine guns, pushups, mud, barrack life, and hopeful future deployments. They both had asked for Hawaii, Germany, Korea…  Both rode dirt bikes in High School. One had a street bike (a Honda CBR 600) at home in his parents’ garage. Lives before them, they seem hopeful and eager and spirited. They shake hands heartily and thank me for the BBQ. I thank them for the company, their story and of course their service. I wish them successful military careers, safety, and exotic deployments under peaceful conditions. #6: (about 850 miles in) somewhere near Skytop PA (The Pocono Mountains). I followed an old pickup truck with a herding dog (a border collie?) in the bed.  We rolled slowly curving around hills and across stone bridges over slow running creeks. The dog stared at me for many miles and sniffed the air in my direction, wagging his tail the whole time. After 15 or 20 minutes I wished they would pull over so I could pet my friendly road companion.  I waved and he responded with excited pacing back and forth across the back of the truck bed.  He reared his furry head, and smiled like a dog does when happy.  I opined to myself that he must have a good ‘country life’ as he shared the bed with camping gear and a child’s bicycle. My K-9 pal wasn’t riding a motorcycle, but as a biker I know why dogs wag their tales and hang their tongues out car windows and truck beds.  Faces in the breeze, hair blowing, wind rushing by with sights and sounds and smells whooshing past in a way that only you, me and dogs understand. I wish him many sunny rides in the back of that truck, a long ‘dog life’ and happy and safe travels with his humans.

These are a sample of the approximately 50 pages of notes I took over the long weekend ride. “Hi, where ya from…” – 38 times. A car or a plane would restrict contact with all but a few. A quicker journey but an empty notebook. These six picked from dozens in a single day. I’m not saying you should keep a notebook, but be sure to make the best out of the trips you take by simply reaching out with a warm smile, a hello, or a “where ya from?” – Even if they can’t remember where they’re from. It will make all the difference for you and maybe a fellow traveler too. –Irish

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