When I was 22 my old man and I rode choppers across the states. We spent two weeks of that trip camping and riding with some new southern friends. This piece is a taste of the mayhem.
Our bikes created a sputtering cacophony at 7:30 am. We were to ride from Galax, VA to Louisville, KY.
I rode behind Donny — one of the coolest humans I've met — though I may as well have been riding behind a circus truck with Mardi Gras beads, handkerchiefs, rat traps and children’s dolls falling off his motorcycle and pelting towards me (he adds new pieces to his bike just about every day).
We rode into Sliders place at around 4 pm. A bucolic setting by the Ohio River, “thanks to John J and Thelma Daly, my grandparents, they had enough foresight to buy this place in 1960 for $2000 dollars” Slider announced.
Donny handed me a PBR and we all spoke of the tales of the road and the journey ahead of us.
Donny has an air horn on his handlebars which was blasted into my ears at around 9 am. A stomach full of tatters and eggs had us prepared for the short and sweet ride to Nashville. It was upon arrival to the small campground that I had the honor of meeting Road Captain John. An ethereal character, one reminiscent of The Dude from the Big Lebowski.
He tells me his brief stint in the Navy brought him access to the greatest drugs of the 70’s “ones that will make you cum in your pants” immediately after consumption. He was very spacey for much of the trip but very much at peace. I sat alone by the pond in the campground watching dragonflies zap around.
Small amounts of rain failed to deter us. Our fuel tanks only hold 2 gallons so we have to stop every 70 miles but our continual breakdowns make the true number about 50. Devoid of any sense of reliability it is revealed that we are in fact paragons of tolerance and unity. As we get settled into each other’s company it feels as though our collective has eluded direction all together, now we are simply yearning for another mile, another day. Ash makes note of the cluster-fuck of motorcycles we are riding, stating that someone gave the mental asylum “a bunch of tools and bike parts and then let the gates loose”.
Ash is an eloquent man, I like the way he says "back", it sounds more like "baar-ike". He tells me that his father owned a campground similar to the one we were staying at, him and his friends would run around stealing drinks and food from the coolers whilst chasing girls. When his father found out he wasn’t angry because the people would need to buy new items, they blamed it on the raccoons.
Picked up new rider.
His demeanor was melancholic, probably attributable to his recent tour in the middle east. We rode hard around the distinctly dense bushes of West Virginia. At one point we passed a gaggle of female prisoners working on the chain gang, they imitated our movements in a patronising manner. I romanticized about Donny’s childhood and remembered what he’d told me at the start of the trip, how he would “go up in the bush at about 5 in the morn’, walk around, think about thangs.”
We scouted a hidden spot at the campsite and set the sleeping bags on top of the picnic tables. Rich, a man with a fascination of bugs (and about 10,000 of them in his house), found a few spiders and frogs then told us about their particular traits and characteristics. We sat around the campsite with what was left of the Miller Lites and got sentimental. “What was the best and worst thing about today?” Ash pried. A few comical answers, a few earnest, most notable was Chad's answer “I am just really happy I can do this, kind of restores my faith in America”.
Smoke Out 2015
We arrived at the Smoke Out, a two-day festival for the custom motorcycle riders surrounding North Carolina and afar. Beautifully crafted bikes and beer-bellies flood through the gates. The events of the weekend are raucous, with the range of bike gangs from different towns and crews adding some stiffness to the atmosphere (don’t ask them for a lighter…)
Some of the riders had partaken in the ‘stampede’ which is a flat out a 2,000-mile race on vintage motorcycles. A few added supplements and a strangled bike bring the boys over the line in about 30 hours. They got up on the podium looking grim and worn out. I’ve a lot of respect for that, especially the winner who was 71 years old or the couple that did it the whole way 2up.
Back to Galax. Full circle. I was so hungover from moonshine I nearly crashed into Ash’s backend as we turned onto the 220. I can’t help but feel nostalgic. I have fallen straight on my feet, fanging around the south with men adorned in greasy jeans. Men devoid of masquerades.