Blue Highway Home

Our years of living have proved one thing – There will always be a blue highway home.

It’s not so much the city streets, but more the connecting highway from where our life has taken us, to the place from which we come from. The slower pace, the faded white lines and the grass growing right next to the highway pulls you to your roots. This highway only works in one direction, and the feeling is always the same. You begin to see things as they were but not oblivious to the changes, and the faces of friends and family appear like photographs. So close to home.

I’ve traveled the blue highway home many times but for me there’s a difference. I never felt the pull of a distant dream that would put me miles away from where I was raised. I’ve chased plenty of those dreams, but it felt more like it needed to be done from the familiar surroundings from where I stood. I’ve talked about this in so many ways, and the question still haunts me. How would the blue highway home feel from the outside looking in?

I’ve talked about this in so many ways, and the question still haunts me. How would the blue highway home feel from the outside looking in?

As time passes, our reference to home is fluid. It depends on the conversation and the depth of knowledge our listener has of us. Do they know the whereabouts of my upbringing? Are they only familiar with my current location, or does it really matter? For those who really know us, there is a sense of understanding that home will always be at the end of that old highway. In a sense, when reflecting, we see things similar to the road that takes us home. Quiet and full of memories, recognizable faces and that back porch light, pulling those thoughts to a place of comfort and familiarity.

We don’t always have the urge to go home, mostly because a part of us never left. Sometimes that blue highway is a source of resentment or angst and best not traveled. But life can be full of these feelings no matter where you go or where you’ve been. For me, the blue highway is a reminder that no matter where you end up, there will always be an open door when looking back.

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Not Always Together – But Never Alone

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Certain days have a way of falling into a special place, kept as memories, that are treasured forever. Yesterday was one of those days – filled with laughter, fellowship, brotherhood and determination.

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A week or so ago, a ride was put together to Cassoday Kansas, a small town that hosts bikers the first Sunday of the month during the riding season. The ride, suggested by my dear friend Gary Meadows, was to invite some friends to ride along with him to meet up with Soldiers For Jesus, MC – Kansas City Chapter in Cassoday. Gary has been fighting the fight with cancer, and this was his way of showing cancer the true power of the love and support he has behind him.

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I’ve ridden with Gary before. DJ, a mutual friend of ours asked if he and Gary could ride to the rally with me a few years ago, and since I was going by myself, I welcomed it. That particular trip was thrown together in what seemed like a matter of days, and not knowing Gary on a personal level, it was clear to me he is someone who’s path I should have crossed many years before. His sense of humor and his sincerity is as genuine as his laughter. DJ, Gary and I had a great time and everything about the trip was effortless. We met up with Dennis Webb and Roger Larmer at the rally which only added to the experience. Thinking about this ride always brings a smile to my face and will go down as one of my best memories riding to Sturgis.

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So as Sunday morning rolled around and the weatherman predicting favorable conditions, we gathered with Gary and his wife Charlene and Gary’s nurse Dee, who came along to offer not only moral support but also to monitor his condition for the ride. In this group that gathered, I realized the wide range of lives that can be touched by such a good guy.

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If you’ve read anything I’ve written before, you would know I do some of my best thinking from the seat of my motorcycle. I knew when we pulled out of the parking lot I’d have about 100 miles or so to pull some thoughts together. Sometimes these thoughts can be a mixed bag of emotions, some are reflective, but today it was about being present. Both figuratively and literally present.

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Gary, I can only speak for myself but it was truly an honor to ride with you once again. It was inspiring to see the love and support of your fellow bikers, but also your family. I witnessed the emotions and the power of prayer in the parking lot of a Casey’s. I saw the fellowship with the SFJMC-Kansas City as they wrapped their arms around you. I felt the bond between us when we embraced, and the lump in my throat when we spoke. These things I will never forget. The lives you’ve touched goes beyond the mechanics of the motorcycle – your church family and your community are living proof of that. I know I’m a better man because this path I’m on crossed yours.

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We ride – because that’s what we do. Not always together, but never alone. 

Finding Enthusiasm

UPDATE: I’m back working in the powersports business. But c’mon, you knew that would happen.

After taking approximately 16 months off from my previous gig at a local dealership I proceeded to haul RV’s around the country. Now I’m back doing what I thoroughly enjoy. After hitting a proverbial wall in the motorcycle business, which left me dazed and confused, I’ve found a new enthusiasm. I wondered if I’d ever get it back. It’s back.

We all know the struggles this motorcycle biz has had the last few years. The industry as a whole has been trying to figure out how to get previous customers to buy again and fresh blood into the sport. I’m positive there is no time being wasted or energy conserved to bring new models and ideas to fruition, while the experts are trying to get a grip on the secret recipe for growth. In spite of it all it’s really a great time to be a part of this. The flip side is getting that enthusiasm back to the dealer principles that have been feeling the weight of sluggish sales and fewer door swings.

But let’s face it, we have a generation or two not interested in smelling like exhaust, their hair styled by a helmet, or putting their disposable income on the counter of their local dealership for a new or gently used motorcycle. And of course, the internet has impacted every facet of this industry – just as it has every other brick and mortar business down the street. Let me be clear here, every business has its challenges – whether it’s competition moving into your territory, price wars or brighter/shinier objects for sale. That’s business. But the internet is open 24 hours a day and has an audience reach that can’t be rivaled. Don’t believe me? Look into the palm of my hand. Or your hand for that matter. That device we hold is our window to the world around us. Plus lower prices, free shipping and 24/7 phone support is pretty attractive, but not nearly as attractive as our friendly staff. Have you seen these faces? You would see them if you would just look up from your window to the world. Human interaction seems to be waning, would you agree?

That’s business. But the internet is open 24 hours a day and has an audience reach that can’t be rivaled. Don’t believe me? Look into the palm of my hand. Or your hand for that matter.

I can sit here and make excuses as to why inventory isn’t being moved, but do we have to make things harder than they really are? Are we truly so absorbed with the larger picture we forget the fundamentals of building a customer base and exceeding expectations during the customer buying experience?

I recently read an article online at Cycle World written by Seth Richards about his experience of trying to buy a used bike. I liked it so much I read it twice. And as a motojournalist, Seth knows bikes. As for me, someone in this business, it hit me square between the eyes. I get it. I know exactly where Seth is coming from. We as dealerships need to understand how important every customer is and how easy it is for a buyer to walk right down the information super-highway to find another bike. Oh, and with their cash in hand.

It’s true. As painful as it is for me to say, I too have walked into a dealership only to leave dumbfounded – and for a host of reasons. Not being greeted or acknowledged, a staff lacking knowledge (or even more so, a salesperson that has never ridden a motorcycle), and a retail space in disarray with faded and dusty merchandise. Attention to details? how about attention to your customers. There are also dealers that do a great job and it shows. These dealers are usually moving more merchandise because of it. I will admit, we all can do better each and every day.

I’ve wondered if the last few years of flat or negative numbers has had a larger impact on dealers than originally thought. With a combination of internet competition, lower profit margins and a switch in consumer interests from things mechanical to digital has dealers scratching their heads. But more importantly, the loss of enthusiasm and focus that pulled so many into starting a motorcycle shop in the first place. I’ve spoken with dealerships that are on the verge of closing if “this year” isn’t any better than the last. Little do they know, that may be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But more importantly, the loss of enthusiasm and focus that pulled so many into the business to begin with. I’ve spoken with dealerships that are on the verge of closing if “this year” isn’t any better than the last. Little do they know, that may be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I encourage you to read Seth’s article in the link above. He has a point – several things going wrong in the sales process cost the dealership not only a valuable sale, but also a more valuable customer. I don’t know Seth personally, but I do know folks that have had similar buying experiences with virtually the same result. The dealer maybe had a couple of opportunities to salvage the deal with Seth, but he left disappointed. I don’t blame him.

While you’re shopping online for parts, gear or bikes, I ask that you give your local shop the opportunity to earn your business. The better your relationship with your dealer, the better things will get all around. Spend a little money locally but don’t be afraid to get online as well. We are quick to rate our online experience, but in the case of Seth’s personal experience I would recommend pulling the dealer principle (if possible) aside and explaining the reason for not buying. Either they will accept this as constructive criticism or they will reinforce your decision to buy elsewhere. Thanks for the article Seth!

Baby Boomers and Bacon

It’s almost like I fell off the face of the earth. I know in one of the last posts I wrote said I was going to get out of this mental funk and start blogging again. Well, the road of life has a way of taking you places, doesn’t it? For a guy who rides motorcycles almost every day, I really never saw this coming. I think some of the mental block I was experiencing was actually from riding my motorcycle. In the last couple of years I rode to Boston, L.A. and Sturgis a couple of times and the many miles of local roads can sure put a lot of stuff into perspective. But it also took some of the fun out of it. I wouldn’t trade any of those miles for anything, but I was at a point where I was riding without appreciating the fact that I was doing what I love so much. Instead of riding to clear my head and put my life – past, present and future into perspective, I was just rolling along with my head in this thick cloud of stuff. I’m not sure, but at one point I decided I needed a change. A big one. One that makes you question your own sanity and shit your pants. Sorry, but that is the only real term I could think of. So without too much hesitation I made a complete career change and now I’m transporting recreational vehicles from the manufacturer to their dealer destinations. In simpler terms, I move RV’s around the country. I know, right?

Since I started my blog I have written so much about riding my motorcycle and the random thoughts that roll around in my head and the life I’ve had growing up in the small town of White City Kansas. I’m sure if you have read any of what I’ve written you will get to know me pretty well. And I must admit this blog has opened up so many doors for me in the powersports industry and I’ve had an opportunity to not only get so much better at this but to also meet so many great people along the way. And it goes even further than that. I have also been contacted by several organizations to be a consultant within the powersports/financial community, talking trends about local, regional and national stuff in the business that I won’t bore you with. Who would have thunk a small town kid from White City would be contacted to write articles for magazines and talk with investors about what goes on in and around my small world? Thank you Jmadog Blog. So with all this I became less carefree and more of a stick in the mud. I think so anyway, others may say I was riding a wave. And what do I do? I take a break from writing and although the riding was still a big part of who I am, I still felt like I needed to figure it all out. Besides, the grandkids and my beautiful daughter moved back to Colorado Springs and I realized how important this was for them but also how difficult it would be for Paw Paw. Did I mentioned I made a career change? Let me tie all this together for you. So I started following the RV industry. Sounds boring, doesn’t it. Well, with all this talk about where the powersports industry was headed – with an aging Baby Boomer customer base and no generation coming in to take their place – I started doing my research. The RV business is on a steady incline and has been for a few years and then it hit me; This is where the powersports/Harley-Davidson customer is going. they’re buying Side-by-side off road vehicles (a growing segment in the industry) and RV’s. But wait, that’s not what made me change careers. I was coming back from Oklahoma after picking up a motorcycle from another dealer and on the radio they were talking about FEMA moving RV’s to Texas and along the coast after the hurricanes and at that point I wanted to be a part of something that made a difference. Not that I didn’t think someone buying a Harley-Davidson wasn’t changing someone’s life but c’mon I think you know what I mean. And so here I am. After traveling twenty-six states in the last two and a half months, driving as of today, 34,000 miles, I can say without hesitation that at this point I’m doing what I need to be doing. I also have plenty of time to think… Just the other day a memory came to me from when I was a kid and we were visiting relatives in Benkelman Nebraska. My folks and all my aunts and uncles would go out for the evening and leave us kids at Duane and Bonnie’s house to entertain ourselves. Great memories with my cousins for sure but when the adults came home my Uncle Duane would cook breakfast and to this day I can still see him doing this and smell the bacon. I haven’t thought about that for a long time. There’s more to this story but I’m sworn to secrecy.

I’m not going to kid anyone. This change has had a steep learning curve when motorcycles came so easy for me. I’ve made a couple of sacrifices and I’m willing to do it to achieve my goals. I’ve never doubted my abilities to adapt to any situation and let’s face it, I’m a pretty likable guy. Just sayin’. As I gather my thoughts and shift a few gears, I will see where this takes me.

Mental Ditch

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It’s easy to get pulled into the ditch. I can remember in my early teens, driving my ’72 Dodge Charger around town in the winter snow, looking for snow drifts to plow through. This was a great car but it didn’t do well in the snow. Those after-dark Friday nights driving around White City in the snow would often find you getting the front-end pulled into the ditch, often due to a heavy right foot and an out-of-control back-end. Right up there on the center console, next to where your cell phone would have been had we had one, was your gloves. Someone was getting out to push.

So what does this have to do with a mental ditch? I thought you would never ask. It’s easy to get pulled into the ditch of negativity. Sometimes it happens faster than we can react and we find ourselves sliding into a bad attitude or mood. Despite how we felt before it happened, it can suck you in requiring someone else to push you out. We need friends riding shotgun with us to make us understand that we are responsible for our own attitude and that we aren’t responsible for the attitudes of others. And besides, they are willing to get out and give us a push in the right direction – just like we would do for them. Literally and figuratively speaking.

But there are times when even my motorcycle can’t get me out of this mental ditch I find myself in. The best people in my life know when I need a push.

We are at this point in the year where I normally talk about riding my motorcycle and all those wonderful thoughts that roll around in this pretty little head of mine, and believe me those blogs are coming. But there are times when even my motorcycle can’t get me out of the mental ditch I find myself in. The best people in my life know when I need a push, and will gladly get out and give it all they have. After all, we have to be home by midnight.

Place Your Bets

Editor’s note: This blog is starting out like so many others.

This time of year can be difficult when you ride motorcycles. The ride to work is cold but the ride home is beautiful. This morning’s ride was typical for this time of year with a start in the low 20’s. I was dressed adequately but I noticed an air leak somewhere around my neck so I just sucked it up and dealt with it. With a high temperature today in the mid 50’s it is a promise from the weatherman that my ride home will be alright. Cool. That’s in the groovy sense, not the meteorologist sense.

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So as I rolled through the small Kansas town of Skiddy my mind starting drifting off to last night’s ride home. After I rode south of Interstate 70 my mind seemed to lock in on my shadow to my left. For once the sun was still at a point in the evening to cast a shadow, for whatever reason I was focused on how sharp it was. And how weird I look on a motorcycle. I’m sure there is some explanation based on the angle of the ditch, the height of the hillside, the trees and tall grass alongside the road but no matter, it created quite a show. So I thought about this for a few miles and miraculously it took my mind of the temperature for a few minutes.

Only this time it was a steaming, sizzling plate of steak fajita.

Once I turned right on highway 77 heading north it’s nothing but a straight shot to work. Now I know in a previous blog, Hog Heaven, I smelled bacon while riding. I don’t know how this happens but it happened again. Only this time it was a steaming, sizzling plate of steak fajita. I know what you’re thinking – this is just a commercial playing on the radio in my helmet. I don’t think so. I could smell this and actually hear the sizzle. I’m sure there is a valid reason why this phenomenon happens, but I don’t know what it would be. Is it subliminal advertising? Could it be a new app on my phone? Am I hungry for fajita? Bacon? So many questions, and lunch is so far away.

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I don’t know if my mind is coping with a cold ride by featuring a La Fiesta commercial to keep the blood flowing to my extremities, or if I’m delusional. My money is on delusional.

 

 

Planning the Ride. Check.

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It’s been a few months since I’ve written anything for my blog. For whatever reason my head felt empty and for once, I was at a total loss for words. I know, right? So now that I’ve had a break, it’s time to get my thoughts together and prepare myself, and you, for what might be coming as the weather warms up here in the Midwest. It’s March, but little do we know, spring is right around the corner. Or, a couple of blocks down and around the corner. Either way, we’re close.

I have a few trips planned – some long, some short – to put those much need miles on my bike and to fill my head with tall-tales and wild stories of where I’ve been and the people I’m going to meet. And I will meet people. I’ve made this small promise to myself to actually ask someone their name as they tell me their life story. I’m really bad about that. Of course, most will tell me their name right up front so it isn’t a big problem, but nonetheless I will do my best to have a formal introduction. Check.

I’m hoping to do Sturgis again this year for a couple of reasons. First, I feel like there is some unfinished business. I went last year and I didn’t accomplish a few things I had set out to do. I felt a little out-of-sorts and it was just weird. This time I plan on taking the weirdness out of it (take the weirdness out of Sturgis?) and look at things a little differently.

Los Angeles on my motorcycle? Hopefully. Probably. Yep. Check. Maybe even another trip that direction. More to come on that.

Iron Butt. I’m putting some ideas down to achieve an Iron Butt. I know I’ve probably done a couple over the years, but I’ve never documented it to get a certificate – 1000 miles in 24 hours, 1500 miles in 36 hours and it goes on like so. Sounds easy enough. I just need to figure out a route and pick a weekend. Oh, and read the rules from the Iron Butt Association. I wouldn’t want to hammer out 1000 miles only to find I didn’t follow the rules.

It doesn’t hurt to have goals. Sure some can be lofty, but none are impossible. It also doesn’t hurt to have a plan, and I need to work on this. I have a habit of shooting from the hip and somehow it’s worked for me this long. Shoot from the hip – Check.

Hopefully this year will bring sunshine and light breezes but I know there will be rain and high winds somewhere along the way. That’s okay. I’m ready for whatever comes my way!