Don’t Drink the Water

by bj max

Hikers, joggers and bicyclists all have one thing in common–they’re crazy. Every last one of ’em. In fact, there’s a whole group of these ninny’s that have nothing better to do than run up and down the road for no particular reason other than to, well, run up and down the road. They lug bottled water, Hershey Kisses and power bars around in their backpacks (they all have backpacks) and they run and jump and climb and pedal and sweat, sweat, sweat. They love to sweat. I’m convinced that their goal is to produce, via perspiration, enough water to spin the turbines of Hoover Dam for the next ten years. It’s a disease good people, a mental condition fraught with danger and I’m told by reliable authorities that it is highly contagious and might even be catching.

For instance, my younger brother Taterhead contracted this affliction a coupla’ years back after seeing the I-Max movie, “Everest” and he’s tried to give it to me ever since. My own brother. But, I’m happy to report, it didn’t take and I’m still normal. Relatively speaking. Taterhead’s thing is hiking though. He’s too lazy to jog. He loves to hike and he drags his poor wife and kids all over the Smoky Mountains in search of trails and footpaths that, in his twisted mind, demand to be trod upon. If it’s “up there” then Taterhead wants to hike “up there” be it a mountain within the Appalachian chain or a fire ant mound in the hills of West Tennessee. And in an effort to spread this madness, he pesters me constantly to join him on one of his nutty forays into the wild. Which leads me, finally, to a motorcycle sabbatical and the 2001 Honda Hoot.

It’s a grand day with lots of sunshine, no humidity to speak of and only a slight breeze. My wife, Hildia, and I are rolling east at a leisurely pace, enjoying the scenery and the freedom from toil that our long awaited vacation brings. Traffic is light and life is good. Then suddenly, from out of the blue, “WHAP!” A gray blur ricochets off the right-hand corner of the windshield, whistles past my ear and “BLAP” clobbers my wife behind me. Holy wild fowl, Batman! A cry of pain, a groan over the intercom and I head for the shoulder. I quickly dismount and render a perfunctory examination. Uh huh. Just what I thought. We had been slammed.

This time of year the birds and bees go crazy, fightin’, datin’ and matin’ and one of these lovebirds, a forlorn Mourning Dove, couldn’t handle rejection and decided to end it all with a kamikaze attack on the first thing that crossed its Path. At that precise moment, who should come rolling around the bend but two cackling rednecks on a weirded out horse – the perfect target of opportunity. As we came within range, our half-crazed feathered friend roars in at full bore bound and determined to end it all, an operation that proved to be remarkably successful. After clipping the edge of the windshield, the poor dove began to break up and by the time he reached my wife’s position he was already in several pieces. The bigger chunks, thankfully, were deflected by her faceshield but some of the smaller bits of the fleshy shrapnel peppered her chin and neck and even her, ugh, lips. Pa-tooie.

What a way to start a vacation. Our destination is the Great Smoky Mountains and the Honda Hoot. The Hoot is being held in Knoxville, Tennessee this year having moved from its original location in Asheville, North Carolina. According to its organizers, this popular rally just got to big for Asheville. (We later learned that there were 18,000 motorcyclist registered at this year’s hoot)

We check in at our motel in Gatlinburg, forty miles from the rally site. The reason we set up camp so far from the Hoot is the quantity of rooms available in Gatlinburg and the location. Gatlinburg is only four gear changes from the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and some of the best motorcycling roads on Earth not to mention hiking trails, horseback riding and a million other things to do that, unless you are an extremely dedicated couch potato, are guaranteed to keep you on the move.

The first thing on our agenda is to hook up with my younger brother and his family. After a telephone call to Taterhead, that’s his nickname, Taterhead he prefers Mr. Potatohead but that’s to dignified for one of his stature so I just call him Taterhead, arrives in his minivan and whisks us away to the “Alum Bluff” trailhead and a five-mile hike into the wilds of the Great Smoky Mountains.

The Alum Bluff trail is considered moderate by the hiking crowd and leads to, of all places, Alum Bluff. Alum Bluff is a huge rock outcropping, gargantuan by Smoky Mountain standards and its claim to fame is the high concentration of sodium nitrate locked within its walls. Sodium nitrate or saltpeter as it is more commonly known, was once a key ingredient in the manufacturing of gunpowder and during the War of Northern Aggression, ‘scuse me, I meant the Civil War, Confederate troops mined the area extensively. Saltpeter, as most of you old soldiers know, has an even more sinister use than making gunpowder so if you are ever in and around Alum Bluff, don’t drink the water.

I know this story seems to have strayed from motorcycling but there is a connection. Over the years, we have learned that hiking is a great way to work out the kinks after a five hundred mile motorcycle ride. And you don’t have to tackle a strenuous all day backpacking trip for the exercise to be beneficial. An easy two-mile tramp through the woods or a simple morning constitutional will do. Benefits to motorcyclist are many. For one thing, it heals your mind as well as your body and prepares you mentally and physically for your next ride. Plus, the benefit to your cardiovascular system will help you live longer so you can ride farther.

Hiking Alum Bluff was tough but hiking the motorcycle flea market known as the Honda Hoot Vendor Show proved even tougher. Locating the site of the Hoot was a cinch thanks to the organizers of this year’s rally. All roads, streets and Interstates leading to and from the area were well marked. Some even had those portable electric signs pointing the way. We rode in from Gatlinburg on Thursday morning and never missed a turn.

After securing a coupla’ day passes we go in search of boots and what should have been a fun mission quickly deteriorates into a miserable ordeal. Vendor space, in my opinion, had been oversold and the place was crowded beyond belief. However, after fighting our way down a narrow aisle, I spied the boot vendor’s sign in the distance. I pointed it out and my wife nodded. With our goal in sight we began slashing and hacking our way through a sea of black leather but forward progress was slow.

Exhausted and weak from fatigue, Hildia finally gave up at the “Lip Ink” stall and motioned for me to go on without her. I protested at first but ultimately gave in, realizing that if we were going to survive one of us was going to have to end this thing before we suffocated. After assuring her that I would return I held onto her hand a moment longer wondering if I would ever see her again, then stumbled on alone.

I did manage to accomplish my mission that fateful day but fighting my way into and out of the boot vendor’s chamber was something that I would rather not talk about. Suffice to say that I would never attempt such a reckless mission again. It took too much out of me and I’m afraid I’ll never be the same. ‘Til this day, I still can’t stand to be around crowds and that, good people, is too high a price to pay for a lousy pair of boots.

Happy Motoring.


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