A Most Excellent Adventure
We crested a steep climb and guided our bikes into a gentle left turn, and then pulled into an overlook area, climbed off and simply stood there – drinking in the vast Virginia landscape that lay beneath us. “Wow” is all I could say as we surveyed miles upon miles of mountains and valleys as far as the eye could see. This was Skyline Drive, a 100-mile run over the top of the mountains in the Shenandoah National Park. It was the most spectacular scenery I had ever seen.
Little did I know that over the coming days there would be many more “wow” moments, each seemingly even more spectacular than the last, as after the Shenandoah we biked the nearly 500 mile Blue Ridge Mountains Parkway, and after that into the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee. It was a 16-day motorcycle trip that is destined to live forever in my memory.
As I now reflect on what I and my biking buddy Claude crammed into this adventure, there was so much. It was challenging, awe-inspiring by times, educational and emotional, and a time for personal growth on different levels.
It had everything – from the best biking imaginable to solid deep conversations at a campground with the crickets and frogs so loud and beautiful under the star lit skies it was peacefulness personified.
Then there was meeting up with a young student in Charlottesville whom we asked for suggestions on a place to eat. She said she was going that way anyway and to come along, and as we walked we talked about the incident there the week before when the white supremists, neo-Nazis and other low lives who feel emboldened by Trump marched as did the counter-demonstrators. This young lady told us about that night, and about how she helped tend to the injured. Later we went to the street where the guy mowed his car into the innocent people, killing one, and we saw the makeshift memorial with the flowers and notes people had left.
Another night in our motel bar we met up with a somewhat tipsy archeologist who was working on a pipeline, searching out artifacts. When the bar closed he insisted we go back to his room for a beer, where he asked again, I think only half jokingly, if he could move to Canada. He was from Louisiana and claimed Acadian heritage on his father’s side, showing us a Cajun fiddling video on his smart phone I guess as proof. He felt a need to get away from Trump’s America.
The Great Cavern in Virginia was fun - three quarters of a mile of connected underground caves and huge spaces with a great guide who told stories of weddings and dances held there back during the times of the civil war. Cool to see stalactites formed millions of years ago, in these caves untouched except for the adaptations to make them accessible to tourists.
Our day at Gettysburg was amazing. I thought I knew the story of the civil war but I learned so much I didn’t know, or thought I knew but was wrong about. The way they present the story is so genuine; the history really is brought to life in everything from the battle strategies to the reality of a soldier’s life, but what we were left with more than anything was the raw brutality of it all. That’s the take away.
But like is so often the case, the memories are in the little things. Like the biker we connected with for the eclipse. He had one of those pairs of glasses to look at it through, that he shared with us. Cloud cover messed up the best part of it, but it was still good. Then we met up with him again about an hour later, when shared shelter from some heavy rain at a picnic table with as roof and he told us his story of his wife divorcing him because he was a workaholic. After that he sold his company, boat and all his possessions and built a cabin that he uses as a base but really just bikes and he has been everywhere. Talk about a road warrior. He camps wherever he can, often sneaking around to find a spot where he doesn’t have to pay. He learned that asking local police is a good way to find a place to pitch his tent. He was a really nice, fun guy to spend some time with. He invited us to share the cost of the next camping site, but we declined. We had more miles to do.
One thing we learned is that GPS even surpasses sliced bread as the best invention ever, at least for bikers. Aside from that unfortunate incident where it took us through a series of far too sandy and steep dirt roads, it worked wonderfully to keep us off the Interstates and on secondary roads, which we took pretty much all the way home from Gatlinburg, Virginia, through Amish country, and through all manner of small towns with tons of character and characters.
There was Teddy’s Restaurant in Nickleville, a small town in Upper New York State. After a good chat with our server, the owner came over and we spoke with him for the longest time. Great stories including one of the small community’s high school basketball team and how they won the state championship years ago and how the whole town came to the restaurant to greet them back and celebrate, and how now some of those players are now grandparents who bring their grandkids in and show them the pictures of the team on the wall. Also on the wall he has a world map where he marks with push pins the exotic locales people come from who land at his restaurant. In the end he tore up our bill, and he’s going to mark us on his map.
I could go on but suffice to end this by saying what I have learned or I should say what was re-enforced for me is that the road less traveled really is almost always the most rewarding route to take. Stay off the highways and get to where people live.
In biking you never know what can happen. As my buddy Claude says – with a motorcycle you take the good with the bad. There’s inevitably bad – the close calls, weather that sucks, whatever, but the rewards usually far outweigh the negatives. And there were rewards aplenty on this trip. It's always good to arrive home again, but as I nestle into my favourite chair, I reflect on something someone much smarter than me once said, that growth mainly comes from two things – reading and traveling. Do both if you can – this life we have isn't just a dress rehearsal.