Running from the Sun, Chasing Clouds
by Gus Breiland
Every once in a while a rider has that experience of complete peace while on a ride. We were south bound with Hannibal, MO on our minds while overtaking rain clouds in the distance.
It went dark about an hour ago and I was starting to think about midnight. The hour at which I start thinking about bed. We had both worked that day and it was a vacation, not a rally, so a good nights sleep might actually feel good. Of course Mike is an insomniac and I had already seen what happens when you mix Mike and Scooters earlier this summer during the Mad Bastard Scooter Rally.
We were just north of Waterloo, IA and we had been chasing this storm all night. For me, every time I even think about Iowa, much less ride through it, it rains. Why should this night be any different? But this rainy night Mother Nature has seen fit to give us a light show.
As we cruised down 35 we were running just on the western edge on an easterly storm. Perfect. At Mason City we turned east heading straight for it. At Waterloo we would be in the middle of it. But for now, the roads were just wet from a fairly recent shower.
The sky was exploding with energy. For the first time in my life I saw a lightening bolt not only arc between clouds, but sustain its shape and form for at least a 3 second count. I was in awe and even though there was rain up ahead, I was glad we where chasing this bank of clouds.
As night grew darker, my silly need for sleep began to turn my thoughts from Hannibal to the end of this tank. MMM’s borrowed 2006 Multistrada 620 had about 150 miles on a tank if we pushed it through reserve and I didn’t feel like pushing. An hour more is what I had left in me and then it was Gus’ loopy time. We would end our first night in Keokuk IA, as I did not wish to go on. Mike looked somewhat surprised and fortunately for me I was too tired to care.
My head hit the pillow and I was out like a light. Poor bastard, Mike had already been graced with the experience of sleeping in the same room as me during the Mad Bastard Scooter Rally and was now regretting sharing a room with me again. Apparently I snore? In fact, I have woken myself up before due to my labored breathing, but tonight would not be one of those nights. Mike was getting sick of wearing earplugs and it was only the first day, but I was rested.
Memphis and the Art of the Motorcycle was our destination today, Friday, and we needed to get a move on as St Louis was ahead somewhere in the approaching 600 mile day. As we followed the Mississippi as close as 61 would let us, I was reminded of how sweet the smell of travel is on a motorcycle. Air conditioners and hermetically sealed automobiles have ruined our appreciation of a good manure pit or wild flower patch. The fragrance of a freshly rained on pine grove has to be one of the most eye opening morning experiences one can have and I was loving it.
St Louis is a big city with big pieces of tarmac and big numbers of cars day and night. Mike and I changed bikes for this stretch and I watch the Multistrada weave in and out of traffic searching for a little bigger piece of real estate. While Mike was working the transmission and personal traffic demons out of his system, I was riding his Cagiva Gran Canyon, watching our exit pass us by. Fortunately, Mike, trooper that he is, continued his charge ahead. Damn the torpedoes, we’re making good time. Where are we?
As I passed Mike with a hearty “follow me” wave of the arm, I led him over to the off ramp and we had a bit of a discussion. “We missed our turn.” “We did?” “Yup, about 2-3 miles back.” “Huh, I didn’t see it.” “I noticed.” Suddenly my thought turned to my boot, which was baking in the MO sun. “Mike, is this normal?” looking at my boot now covered in oil. “No,” was the reply as that sinking feeling hit both of us. Mike’s eyes scanned the bike for the offending weeper “My fork seal is leaking.” “Great! Let’s roll.”
As long as it wasn’t motor oil, we were in business. Mike offered to switch bikes, but I figured I needed a little bit of a challenge with the front wheel being soaked with fork oil. Plus, he had a Russell seat so I was finishing this tank of gas before I would go back to the Ducati’s stock seat.
61 was taking a hell of a lot of time and we were roasting in the bible belt sun. We hopped on I-55 for a little slab down to Memphis as the Art of the Motorcycle stopped taking people in at 7 and we had yet to find a place to eat. While meandering south we stopped in Cape Girardeau for a bump and BBQ at a nice little brewpub called Buckner’s. While there, we called ahead to a Ducati dealer in Birmingham in the hopes they may have a secret stash of Cagiva fork seals. They did not, so we continued to boogie down to Memphis knowing that Mike’s bike was going to be rust proofed for the rest of the weekend and right turns would need to be taken cautiously. After watching Mike get lost in Cape Girardeau, I was wondering how he would fair in a wet paper bag.
Now I know that I have riding quirks but hey, I’m writing the story. So until Mike contributes his “Gus goes the speed limit and is smelly” article, you will have to bear with me finding fault in my riding partner. As we ran around looking for a way back to I-55 in a residential neighbor hood we came across a local officer of the peace. Mike asked a simple question “Where is…?” and with a grin the officer pointed to the road just to the south that we were running parallel with and replied “It’s right over there.”
I laughed. We rode on.
We rolled into Memphis and unfortunately, due to a 3-day trip and miles to still cover this evening, we could not share in the revelry of Beale Street. We b-lined it to Art of the Motorcycle and headed out of town. And yes, Art of the Motorcycle was cool, but my description of the Art will not be as lyrical as the 100 other reviews you have read so I will not bore you with typos and incorrect specs of the Scott Flying Squirrel.
Have you ever traveled in the south? Have you ever noticed how freakin’ big bugs are in the states where it doesn’t freeze? We walked out after the show and gazed upon our bikes, our gear draped over them, directly under a street lamp and I wondered aloud “ewwwwwww” as I thought of all of the bugs that had sought refuge within my ‘stich.
After shaking out my jacket and a call to the DA (Domestic Associate) with a recap of the day, we were off. Tonight’s destination is the halfway point to Birmingham and the Barber Museum.
Now I am a man who likes beer. I also like a beer at the end of a day’s ride. A typical motorcycle vacation for me will end each day with a burger and brew once the clock strikes 12. Well, the south’s liquor laws were forcing us to ride a couple of blocks to some TGIF clone and ask if they have food. “Appetizers only.” “How bout beer?” “Sure, but it’s going to have to be quick cause we can’t serve after midnight.”
On to Birmingham, and the pilgrimage that all motorcycle enthusiasts should make to the Barber Museum (www.barbermuseum.org), a beautiful facility. Take plenty of film and give yourself plenty of time to traverse the 5 floors, 80,000 square feet, and 900 +/- bikes from around 140 different manufacturers, all on the grounds of a racetrack that you can watch from inside the building. Stunning.
It was raining as we left. In Minnesota, as it rains the humidity usually dissipates and riding through rain can be somewhat refreshing. Not in Alabama. Fogged up this, the grey sky obscuring the freeway slab, the ride out of town was just enough to get damp. Our bikes were turned north and we headed home. But for tonight Paducah KY will be called home. Of course we had do go through the obligatory “We have beer but no food.” Mmmmm, New Castle on an empty stomach only to reward my body with a little Steak and Shake across the street.
We got to our hotel at 2:30 am with a wake up call of 5am pending. 12 hours from home and I wanted to be riding during daylight. That wake up call was brutal. Steak and Shake was still fresh on my mind and Mike was out cold in his ear plugged cocoon. I decided to take a shower and go back to bed for an hour.
Our ride home was pretty uneventful. We ran through rain. We passed cars and cars passed us. We watched Sturgis roll past us into the rainstorm we had just passed through. All in all, it was a b-line down and a b-line back. Not really a proper way to tour, but a great way to take a borrowed bike and put some miles on its clock.
With hindsight being 20/20 we should have added a few days as originally planned to visit New Orleans and drive down 18 on the Mississippi’s gulf coast. I guess this just teaches me to take the time and enjoy rather than boogie here and boogie there. But I can say without regret that a motorcycle is the best way to travel this great country, albeit for 3 days. Our Multistrada performed flawlessly and made me grin ear-to-ear, chasing Cagiva rabbits from southern town to southern town. With winter approaching and a new perspective on time away, my time in the small bug, hard freeze region of out country will be filled with maps, travel guides and well laid out plans that will only be crushed by new challenges and time constraints. For now, I can at least dream that every weekend will be filled with motorcycle trips and every destination will have beer past midnight and a full menu at our disposal.