The morning was perfectly crisp with the air suggesting a hoodie. I had loaded up the bag last night, and it now stands triumphantly strapped to the sissy. While throttling through the neighborhoods on my way to get gas, I wonder how this trip will turn out. I am not worried per se, but as curious as a child on his first camping trip. Having heard the stories from others of trips of woe and worry, I have yet to experience it myself. This would be my first overnight on the motorcycle as well as the first true ride with my father.
My father is a creature of habit. He does not make it out much past a weekly Menard’s trip, mowing his yard, flipping through the morning paper, and a tour to the Big Cow for a buffet dinner. It surprised me, to say the least, when I received the call and he asked, “What day are we leaving?”, this being his response to the suggestion of a trip on his birthday months before. “Ummm, the sixth, I stumbled,” and with that, it was decided. The next month and a half I spent getting the bike ready for a three day trip across two states with my father, a man whom I had, admittedly, not spent a considerable amount of time alone with in my youth.
So as I cross the county with the sun just barely up and the sky blue as the sea; I can’t help but find my mind wandering and wondering. I grip the throttle harder, and the growl of the motor momentarily drowns out everything else. After grabbing some breakfast at the parents’ house, I discussed the day’s itinerary briefly. The trip is now only two days, due to rain, but the weather for those days looks great. As we walk out to the bikes, he points to the wall of leather. Handing me a vest he says, “Here this one is too small for me.” I put the vest on, and it fits like a glove, to perfection. I decide to leave my hoodie there and try the leather vest out for a change. We get on the bikes, and my dad tells me to take the lead, and before I know it we are rolling down the county roads towards the highway, wind whipping all around and the cool air lapping at my face. I realize that the ride will not only be copasetic, it will be great. I look in my mirror to see my dad, arms stretched out, with a slight smile. His head slightly moves left to right as he scans the terrain, which makes me smile too. I know he isn’t worried just by his body language.
At each gas stop, we trade stories of old trucks, houses, and animals seen while we pepper in what wonderful distraction the road will be dishing out next. The next madness, however, is a nice winding stretch of road that requires attention and slower speeds. I learned something new about my father on this stretch. I found out that my father is set in his ways, will not travel above fifty miles per hour. On this particular stretch, anything above thirty-five would have been a slight miracle. In the past frustration would have set in rather quickly, on this day though; I find myself concerned. He is not on a nimble beast such as I; he finds his thrills on a more massive barge-like motorcycle. So as I swerve and dip through the hills and curves, my eyes are drawn to the mirror. I slow my speed and wait until I see his lights bob up, like a buoy in a wave, and once again we are off. Each time I look at his lights my heart lightens allowing me to once again drive harder into the turns and reminisce of times riding highways in North Carolina.
Coming out of a small town I feel a thud on my arm. Then the pain sets in, like a needle driving itself into my bone. I know it is a bee and I am allergic. Swatting at my arm a couple of times I realize it is in my shirt and I must stop. I signal, and we swing over into a driveway. I pull my shirt off and tell my Dad that I need him to pull out the stinger. With surgical precision, he grabs and pulls the barb out leaving nothing but a swollen spot that is now throbbing. I relayed to him that I have my epi-pen, but unless I feel faint there is nothing to do now. So I toss my long shirt in the bag, and with a brap, we are gone. Coming into the next town, it seems that all is well with my arm, although sore.
Once again we are on the roads rolling through shady spots where the cool air sends shivers down your spine until you pop out once again into the sun. The cottonwoods are in bloom and filling the air, where they call home, with a sweet aroma that I can’t help but enjoy with a nice inhale. There are many smells on the roads through the hills. In an hour we can find ourselves sharing the air with horse farms, pine wood patches, the occasional smell of roadkill and pig farms. My father hates the pig farms but, they remind me of my grandparents in upstate New York. They raised pigs when I was a child and the unique blend of cashew, hay, and manure has always taken me right back to those times. Now they will remind me of yet another great memory.
We hit another gas station, and that familiar look of “we better stop soon” is painted all over the old man’s face. I ask if we should stop and break. With outright defiance, he bark’s out that he is fine. This is a delicate situation; I can take his word for it and blast out another 30 miles or take the opportunity to save him some discomfort. Like a sign from above, we cruise right by a National Forest with the comforting symbol for camping facilities. I pull over and talk to my dad. I pitch him the fact that our destination has no shower and that we might want to check this place out. He buys it, and within the hour the tents are up, and the coffee is brewing.
As we talk over the fire and convenience store hot dogs and stale buns, I am being inundated with stories of my father’s past. Not knowing when or if these will be shared again I am attentive and rarely get a word in, even though I wouldn’t have wanted to. We discuss arrests, mistakes, friends, family, and I realize that my father is more human than I could have ever imagined. Believing that he was not, I suppose, had me filled with grandiose ideas that he was not fragile either. Seeing him now, grunting as he gets up, sunburned, and limping I realize he is not. I hope I never forget that for the rest of his life.
In the morning he wakes after a fitful nights rest and suggests we skip a WWII memorial and start the ride home to beat the heat. Who am I to argue, it’s his birthday. So after a great breakfast, we are again on the road, this time following the Ohio River around the cliffs edges. Barges, cottages, and locks pass by as the sweet air is again gracing us with its presence. We are tucking the corners a little tighter today, and the riding couldn’t have been better. Cresting a hill I see something and think, “What moron has placed a deer target next to the road like that” and bang….it lunges. Luckily my reaction was quick, and there was no crisis. This was followed by sighting two box turtles, a black snake, a turkey on the side of the road, and a turkey buzzard that decided it was not moving until it found itself feet from me. As it took off the wings nearly clipped my helmet.
The ride home was faster, as we had decided at camp to take a more direct route. It was a great mix of roads though; with lovely farmland and small towns sparingly dotting the countryside. We came to a familiar town just south of my dad’s county, and with a smile, he looks at me and belts out over the motors, “This is My Town.” I make the hand gesture and off he goes in the lead bring us all the way to his front door. It was his time to shine being in the front and even managed to crest over the 55-mph mark.
As I was getting ready to make my trek across the county to my place, I told him thank you for the use of his vest. “That’s yours.” He says,” If I ever get down that small again I’ll buy another. Thanks for the ride; you handle that long bike pretty well.” With his sunburnt face he cracks that familiar grin, and with that, I know that all is well. The trip led us through small towns, hills, curves, great stories, and the aromas you only get to experience while on two wheels banging out gears. Regardless of what happens tomorrow or next week, right now as I write this, life is great.