The Great Summer Trip – Hitting the Jackpot

With a belly full of sausage gravy and biscuits and a head full of pleasant conversation with the illustrious John H. Whittenberger II, Sophie and I departed the surprisingly-varied-in-elevations Wabash, IN and continued south.  The stretch of road going past the government building stairsteps its way from stoplight to stoplight like a miniature version of San Francisco, only without the trolley.

I’d regale you at this point with colorful descriptions of the varied terrain of northern and central Indiana or with exciting tales of interesting sights and adventures, but the truth is that – to my eyes – most of Indiana has a monochromatic quality about it.  You ride by a large farm and are inundated with the smell of fertilizer, and then you round a corner to find another farm just like it.  Do this several dozen times, then pass through a small town.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  It’s not that this is even a bad thing (in fact, it develops a certain calming rhythm to it), but it’s not my personal cup of tea.  I prefer roads that change direction without intersecting at 90 degrees.  Plus, I didn’t see a single pink house for you or for me.  That John Cougar was full of it.

Additionally, it started raining again, most likely because I put the rain suit back in the trunk when I stopped for breakfast.

The one item of significance in central Indiana was the time it took to get through Greenfield, IN on Highway 9.  I’ve been through Greenfield before, and it’s normally the kind of stop-and-go town that you would expect in a thousand other places across the United States.  This time, though, it seemed that the Chief of the Indiana State Police decided that all oversize truck traffic in eastern Indiana was to be routed through downtown Greenfield at 11:30 am.  I kid you not, four oversize loads came from four different directions and met at the main four corners in Greenfield at exactly the same time.  Between four oversize trucks, eight pilot cars, and about 135 police escorts, the entire town was brought to a standstill.  Policemen and local citizenry were staring at the traffic jam like chickens watching a card trick.  It took over an hour to travel the 18 miles from Greenfield to Shelbyville.  By that time, I had about had my fill of Indiana.

The last bout of rain for this trip came as I neared Burnsville.  The rain clouds finally decided to ignore whether or not I was wearing my rain suit, and the skies just opened up.  I stopped on the roadside and hurriedly put on my rain gear (I must have looked like a one-legged man trying to win a butt-kicking contest).  It rained fairly hard until I got to Seymour, and then it was like someone flicked a switch… from overcast and rainy to clear and sunny in about 30 seconds.

The thing about rain gear on a motorcycle is that you can keep the outside wetness out, but you tend to keep the inside wetness in.  Suffer a soaking or drown in Turkish Bath effect… take your pick.

 

Self portrait, since no one was there to help me

 

Thankfully (?), the town of Seymour had an abandoned State Police post (I figure they must have all moved to Greenfield).  I shed my rain gear once again, didn’t even bother packing it nicely (just crammed it in the trunk), and kept rolling, buoyed by the thought that in a very short time I’d be out of Indiana.

Once I kit Kentucky things started improving.  The roads become smoother, swooping bends became more regular, and gas was suddenly 10 cents cheaper.  The accents got funnier, too.  My smile for the day came at a gas station in Brandenburg, KY.  It would seem that one of the locals had bought a new fishing boat and was proudly showing it off to his friend.  At one point in his story he accidentally dropped his car keys in the engine compartment.  Out came a flurry of four-letter obscenities, backed with a nasaly southern drawl that made me chuckle out loud.  There’s nothing like hearing a country boy yell “DAH-yum” at the top of his lungs to bring a smile to your face.  I stood in the shade and ate trail mix while I watched two grown men dig around in that boat like my cousin Nikki’s dog burying potato pancakes (that’s another story I’ll have to share).  Eventually they found the keys, so I fired up Sophie once again and continued southward.

 

 

By the time I got to Leitchfield I had a raging case of monkeybutt, so I stopped at Smitty City for an ice cream sandwich and a cold drink.  Right about then a local rider showed up on a pretty blue Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail (that’s him standing behind my bike in the picture above).  We sat at a table in the shade for about a half hour talking about traveling by motorcycle, life in the military (his, not mine), and the merits of old bikes (mine, not his).  He told a great story about being stranded at the top of a mountain on a military base in Colorado while on a bike trip many years ago.  I don’t know if he was telling the truth, but he had such a great way of telling the story (especially with a Kentucky accent) that I didn’t care – it was worth it for the entertainment value.  He could have told me that he was the reincarnated persona of T.E. Lawrence and I’d have probably played along with it.

Eventually, Captain Colorado finished his crab sandwich and Gatorade, gave me a hearty handshake, wished me a safe travel, and headed off stage left while I exited stage right, knowing that in an hour I’d be stopped for the night.

A bit of a backtrack is needed here…

While planning for this trip, I had considered hotels, camping, sleeping on park benches, and just winging it altogether.  At one point I remembered that the guys on the Honda ST-Owners forum (a site for riders of the Honda ST1100 and ST1300 motorcycles) have what they call a RAN list, short for “Rider Area Network”.  It’s a list of riders across the nation who have volunteered their homes, garages, mechanics skills, or other such aides to other riders who are ever in their areas.  I had looked for any RAN members in the greater Bowling Green area and came across a fellow named Bobby Robinson.  A little nervously, I emailed him out of the blue and asked him if he would mind if a fellow rider camped out in his yard for the night, and he graciously agreed for me to be his guest.  He even told me “If you get here by dinner time my wife will cook for us”, so I timed my entire day around the thought of being at Bobby’s house by 5:00.

Meet Bobby Robinson

 

Mr. Robinson on the left, stylish author on the right

 

Bobby and his wife Norma treated me like I was a long lost relative.  Not only did they have a beautiful home, but Norma prepared some of the most delicious barbecue I’ve had in years.  Seriously, the woman is a magician in the kitchen, surpassed only by my mother and my wife.  I tell you honestly that her barbecue beans were some of the best I’ve ever had.  Not only were there beans, but she made barbecue ribs, barbecue chicken, grilled corn-on-the- cob, and even homemade strawberry lemonade.  Not the easy way, either… it had actual mashed strawberries in it.

 

This is just a portion of what Norma made for dinner

 

My favorite comment about the food was when Norma told Bobby and me “Be careful when you pick up the ribs, because they’ll fall off the bone”… as if that could ever be a bad thing.  She wasn’t lying, either.  Pick up a bone, twiddle it between your fingers, and the meat would fall off the bone like water off a duck.  I ate enough for three men and loved every minute of it.

Later that evening as I was contemplating where to pitch the tent, Bobby asked me if I’d rather stay in their guest room.  By that point in time I had been so charmed by Bobby and Norma’s home, their hospitality, their friendliness, and Norma’s wonderful cooking that I decided to skip the camping for the night.  Besides, self-sacrifice is for kamikaze pilots.

To meet Dad at his workplace on Saturday by 5:00 pm, I knew that I had to leave the Robinson’s house by 5:00 am Eastern (4:00 local time).  I got up about an hour early (3:00 am local), and Bobby was already up and waiting for me.  We had some pleasant morning conversation, Bobby took a few pictures for his own collection, and I gave Sophie a quick once-over after I loaded the saddlebags.

 

Sophie spent the night in the stable

 

It was still dark outside when I left the Robinson house, but my spirit was bright with the enjoyment of time spent with a new friend, and the cool of the morning was offset with the warmth of a genuine hospitality that you don’t see every day.  To Bobby and Norma Robinson I would like to extend my sincerest thanks.  Your kindness was the perfect end to the first day of a special trip, and I hope that our paths will cross again.  May God bless you richly for your giving spirit.

 

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