For a year or more my immediate family had been half-heatedly planning a motorcycle trip to Kentucky for a family reunion. In the weeks approaching the trip the excuses started to roll in: money, distance, old-age, and a few others. I reminded them that THIS was part of the reason we got motorcycles and that skipping this trip would be very regrettable and maybe even establish a pattern.
The night before the trip Caleb -my nephew- and Tim -my father- brought their bikes to my garage for pre-trip bike diagnostics, oil changes, and general planning. My dad's oil was a dark chocolate and licorice syrup and making a terrible racket. Beer, a nice mixture of The Black Keys, Band of Skulls, and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club complimented our haphazard/impromptu troubleshooting and guesswork maintenance.
The next morning I was actually ready before my dad. His 22 years in the Navy makes him perpetually and annoyingly punctual. Bikes rolled out of the garage, greased up, tool kit, gas can, and luggage ready, I paced outside with my morning coffee.
Everyone shows up, we pack and gear up. Dad is nervous and is hacking up the lining of his stomach. His time in the service gave him great time management but a strange lack of nerves or intentional fortitude. The weight of the trip seems to lighten at this point and as we saddle up the jokes start to trickle out. With a rowdy chorus of our v-twins we rip out of my neighborhood.
We are out of St. Louis in what now seems like a flash. After a missed highway junction we journey into the flat wastelands of middle America, also known as rural Illinois. Flat. Featureless. Smelling of pig farms and dairies. Caleb flies in front of the pack, starts messing with his cruise control, and misses us changing highways. We pull over to wait for him which gives us a time to stretch and laugh a little. We decide to take this time to fuel up and let our sweaty butts breathe.
The day starts to drag around lunch time. The highways are straight and very long. Dad is driving under the speed limit and forms a long line of cars behind him. I can't enjoy riding because I'm always looking behind me to see where everyone is. I have to stop for them to catch up.
As we get closer to Louisville we realize out trip is coming to a close. And before we know it the flat terrain turns to hills. Then woods. Then bluffs. Then twisties. Glorious, dark, shaded, tight twisties. It was medicine for the boredom we had to endure. Of course dad didn't try to keep up. After two years of riding and a training class he still treats his bike like a wild animal that could buck him off and kill him at any time. And we all know you don't enjoy your ride until you're confident.
We ride around the outside of Louisville, through a tunnel, over and through some hilly super-highway, then finally to our destination. The last leg was 83 miles and it felt like it took two hours. I was sore, my ears were ringing, and I was tired. But we made it. The old man did it, my nephew -who is new in the saddle- did it. I was extremely proud of everyone, despite the slowness and the frequent stops.
The path home, we decided, would be all highway. We wanted to shorten our trip and ride a more direct route. And while this doesn't immediately sound like "The Long Way 'Round" the fortunes made sure we didn't make it without a hitch.
We pack up, load up, say our goodbyes, roll the bikes from the gravel parking spots, Caleb and I start up. Dad's bike starts vomiting fuel, and not from the carb overflow tube. We park, I rip off my gear, whip out the tool box and get to work. With dad's direction we take off the carb overflow, clean some grit out of the jet, put it back together and it fires right up.
45 minutes late we hit the road. A few back roads later and we're on the highway cruising through downtown Louisville and the rolling hills of Kentucky and Indiana.
The weather warms up. The road starts to get boring. We're going too slow and everyone on the highway passes us. My father and I are lacking windscreens and the wind is knocking us around something fierce. Caleb and I speed up to keep ourselves awake and entertained which, in turn, makes us slow down even more for everyone else. Our group is spread out and other cars easily slip inbetween us. My attitude drops and my frustration becomes hard to hide. Fortunately, or not, my allergies looked to be the biggest cause of my misery. My eyes burned and my throat was closing up.
Humidity rises considerably. There's a thick wall of black clouds rolling over us from the south like a heavy blanket. The wind picks up and drops the temperature 10 degrees. We are now racing the storm to our next stop.
We are fifty miles from St. Louis.
We don't make it.
I cover half of my face to stop the stinging. I hunker down, follow our support vehicle to the next exit where we pull in to the nearest gas station. The station across the street shelters another group of bikers. More bikers join us shortly thereafter. We huddle inside of the connecting Burger King, drink coffee, and watch the weather channel.
The storm gets worse and evolves into a real downpoor. Riders in rain gear pull up and come in to get warm.
After a short while we get a break in the clouds and sporatic blue skies. We ditch what's left of our coffee, gear up and head out. We get a short shower a few miles later but clear skies and dry roads shortly there after.
We break the treeline and St. Louis and it's arch is on the horizon. The feeling of completion starts to creep into our brain, wakes us up and straigtens our spines.
St. Louis traffic is challenging as four major highways converge downtown.
We exit the highway, make our way across town, and pull into my driveway. We made it. 650 miles. Hundreds of miles of straight, drawn-with-a-ruler-highways, wet butts, sore backs, and ringing ears, and I wouldn't trade any of it. I want more. I want it tomorrow. I just want to be better equipped.
Dad gives me a hug that says a thousand words. Caleb demands a group hug. The sense of joy, completion and accomplishment are hard to all swallow at once. We unfortunately must part ways. Caleb has to beat the storm and drive two hours north to his current home and Dad and Mom (in the support vehicle) have to drive thirty minutes west to their home. Our victory celebration is short. They part saying thanks repeatedly as they leave. The next trip will be better, but will in no way be as important as our first.