Often, when I’m driving around the skirts of White City I find plenty of quality memories in my rear view mirror. Just the other day as I headed East out of town, I turned south down a gravel back road kicking up a dust trail. I’ve been down this road plenty of times but this time was different. As I looked in my rearview mirror I imagined Russ Sams’ dad Sammy driving us down to the Council Grove Lake in his old Chevy truck on one of those endless summer days. As we rode in the back of the truck to the lake, the dust rolling behind us, the sound of gravel beneath the old bias ply tires, it gave the promise of fishing and a cool swim making any hot day better. Jean, Russ’s mom, would make us bologna sandwiches with potato chips on them and I usually won’t eat them any other way to this day. I’m not sure why the dust kicked up a memory like that, but I’m glad it did.
Another memory that I have recently recalled is hanging out in the White City pool hall playing snooker and watching Craig Christlieb and a few others play. Craig’s family lived south of White City out by the old bridge at the top of the hill where I usually take pictures of my motorcycles. Mel Bidwell and I, and a few others hung out there as growing up and I have to admit we all played a good game. Again, just some of those memories that bring people and places back like it was yesterday. Well, maybe the day before yesterday.
I used to know everyone in town, where they lived and such. But like the dust behind my old truck the other day, people and places head off in the direction their lives inevitably take them, but somehow those memories linger in the air. There’s a lot of those reminders stored away for days of driving down any old gravel road, and I appreciate those of you that had a hand in creating them, and leaving them with me.
I talk about my experiences and memories a lot, but I’m sure those who find themselves either in or somewhere other than White City also have their own unique recollections of these dust trails. My only hope is this dust doesn’t settle any time soon.
When I look around this small town where I’ve lived for the last 55 years, it’s not hard to see it through the same eyes of when I was a kid. I couldn’t have had a better experience growing up here, and possibly so much so that it has kept me from taking the leap that so many have and moved on to bigger and maybe better places. Life is funny when we look back through those same eyes, full of nostalgia, all the while the future is happening every second around us. With each blink of the eye, the future creeps in, pushing those memories further behind us and dulling the edges ever so slightly.
We’ve seen these changes throughout the years here in town as every small town has. But when driving down the main drag each and every day, those changes seem to happen at a pace hardly recognizable. For someone who hasn’t been here for years, a drive down highway 4 through town may seem drastic. What used to be is included each time we hear I remember when.
There’s talk of pulling up the red bricks along the five blocks of Mackenzie street and replacing this stretch with a new surface. I understand both sides of the conversation of keeping the brick versus how much Mackenzie needs repaired. What’s not to love about the history, effort and appeal of a brick main. I’ve written plenty about growing up here and how this town influenced my upbringing. Even when describing to anyone who might ask where I live, I explain how we cruised main street and hung out at the pool hall. I brag about the freedom we had and the friends I grew up with and how some of my fondest memories happened on and around these same red bricks. I think you catch my drift, and maybe you’ve said the same.
Let’s not kid ourselves, Mackenzie street is tired and has been getting rougher in recent years. Obviously, if there were an easy and inexpensive way to repair the brick it would have been done. When the bricks were originally placed, traffic wasn’t anything like it is today. Trucks are bigger and heavier now and the traffic just isn’t the same as when we were cruising main back in the 70’s. You would have thought those bricks would have worn out then with all the back and forth we did on that street.
But, with everything I’ve written and remembered about this small town, it isn’t based on red bricks. Although Mackenzie street was built on a good foundation for the bricks to last this long, it isn’t about the bricks. We are the bricks. This community of those who live or once lived in and around White Cityis Mackenzie street. Each brick along those five blocks represents every one of us. I know not all have fond memories of living in White City, and for some it was just a step along their journey to where they are today, and that’s OK. For some it’s a multi-generational family of farming with their life’s work planted and ranched each year on the outskirts of town. You drove to work, brought your kids to school, and opened shop on this street, And for someone like me, who’s memories and appreciation for how I turned is priceless, thanks to so many of you who are still here with me. WE are the bricks that make up the five blocks of Mackenzie, and that won’t change.
I’m OK with leaving the bricks in place and I’m also OK with replacing them with a smoother surface. In a perfect world we could correct the issue and keep the brick. I also know that no matter the surface on Mackenzie, there isn’t any cruising down the main drag anymore, but I still have the memories. Keeping the brick won’t bring back all the businesses of a once flourishing small town but some of those old business owners still live here. That same road that took so many away to follow their dreams will also bring them back no matter the surface.
Looking around us, the change is inevitable. I love the bricks on main street because it’s a piece of this town that’s genuine. And the fact that this discussion is happening tells me there are plenty of folks that are passionate about this. I get it. Like I said, if the bricks stay I’m good with it. If the decision is to resurface it, I’m good with that as well. Maybe the bricks can be incorporated into a sidewalk around the park as a reminder of a community that appreciates it’s past – I don’t know.
When I drive through town and hear the familiar sound of my tires rolling over the brick, and my mind’s eye sees the store fronts and the familiar faces from 1975, it always takes me back to cruising on a Saturday night. I’m also dodging the ripples in the bricks as I’m trying to get down the street. For me the memories will always be here, and for everyone who built this community brick by brick, past and on into future, it’s a job well done.
If only it could talk. If only their stories were written on the walls by those who told them in the present tense. If you look just beyond the tall grass and the trees, or the boarded up windows, you can still see the life of many. Hard work and maybe a not-so-easy life, but hopefully a happiness, the kind we wish for everyone, to be the storyline. Get up every day and make sure chores were done, kids to school, and off to your job all the while worrying about the bills and the news of the times and thinking – no wishing – for time to slow down. You know, just like we do now.
Somewhere in a box, pictures tell the real story. Brown and ivory now instead of black and white, history was made before it was history, with every flash of the bulb
For every abandoned house, business or town for that matter, there are many chapters between the hard broken backs of those who built them. So busy living every day, focusing on the small and meaningless, and wandering through their lives. Pictures and family-time were priceless. As front doors were closed for the very last time, with a final look over the shoulder, another chapter of their life was started. Somewhere in a box, pictures tell the real story. Brown and ivory now instead of black and white, history was made before it was history, with every flash of the bulb.
So here we stand on the edge of a gravel road, our high tech camera or phone in our hand, thinking of the light and angle to capture what is impossible to see. The laughter and tears, the birthday celebrations and the celebrations of life. The wins and losses and the hidden demons that some families hide that needed to be overcome. Let’s face it, life at any stage can have some dark places that the warm glow seen from the street won’t shine upon. But yet we make the best of what we have.
Even as the proprietor spun the Closed – come again soonsign around of his business in decline – or for other reasons known only to those at the coffee shop – he felt the weight of his family and a community upon his shoulders that seemed heavier than the day before. But we know this new chapter brings the high that always comes after a low. We’ll make it. Somehow we always do.
At no point have I stood at my front room window looking out at the road wondering if somewhere into the future there will be an interested photographer looking at the proper light and angle of the broken glass and naked wood of this house long left alone, and a roof, tired and weak from holding perfectly still waiting for the picture to be taken. But I have witnessed a few local businesses, once thriving, with a bell hanging above the door, close. A place where folks would catch up on the latest, spend a little money, and come back soon. Silent now, but the appreciation lives on for those who dedicated their time serving their neighbors. Maybe, we should let them know this before the bell over their shop door stops ringing.
But not all lost and abandoned stories ended in despair. Folks are usually looking for a better life and those hard decisions made at the dinner table resulted in a move, be it figuratively or literally, to do just that. Move up, move out, expand or take a chance can be scary, but we’re willing to do it because in the end we believe in us. The remnants of what is left behind can be seen from the gravel road or from the curb on Main.
The old saying “the more things change, the more they stay the same” works most of the time but lets face it, change is change. This bridge is about two and a half miles from White City and I’ve taken my motorcycles here spanning the last 16 years or so because of the cool backdrop the bridge provided. But time marches on, infrastructure needs improving and old country bridges need some lovin’ too. To me this old bridge wasn’t bothering anyone but that’s just me being selfish.
Growing up in White City Kansas, there are many places where the past is still very present. Old buildings and houses, some abandoned, a brick street running through the heart of town, an old water tower most recently repainted and a whisper of the sound of a town once thriving. Don’t get me wrong, there is life in this town of mine but you have to know where to look. White City isn’t immune to progress, after all we have seen such progress in our city streets, Co-op, school and those entrepreneurs keeping their businesses going. It’s a great place to have grown up. But, back to this old bridge.
The first time I traveled out the bridge only to see trees had been removed and construction was under way, I was a little shocked. Word travels fast around these parts and I hadn’t heard anything about the bridge being replaced. I’m not sure the county owed me a phone call, but the surprise of what I saw left me a little sad. This was a great spot to ride out to and stop, kick rocks off the edge and listen to the water pass underneath. Once in awhile there would be fresh graffiti painted on the supports giving you, at minimum, the year of the graduating class, give or take a year or more, and maybe the status in relationships tagged with a heart. A place where feelings were expressed, good or bad, with a can of spray paint. As the construction progressed, the scene turned into an unstoppable step forward.
The small town guy in me will miss this bridge for many reasons. Just like the memories of growing up in a town at a time when every storefront had a business, the constant cruising down the street on Saturday night and being home at midnight was a thing. The motorcyclist in me will miss it for a peaceful destination and appreciation for it’s service to the county. Oh, and for a backdrop for pictures.
There are plenty of places like this – old and interesting – that would make a fine place to picture my motorcycles, but this place was special. I’ve grown up in this area and watched the landscape change around me, yet it basically stays the same. You only need to know where to look.
There seems to be a lot of conversation about the new Harley-Davidson Pan America within the BMW community. I follow both groups on social media and I’m amazed at some of the comments I’ve read coming from both crowds. Even Zach and Ari have a video out explaining how either brand shines outside of their respective genre. As a guy who likes all-things motorcycle, I find the Us versus Them to be the same argument as to the chicken and the egg. I like eggs and I like chicken. Why argue about it?
Clearly, Harley-Davidson has stepped beyond their comfort zone with the Pan America and BMW has done the very same with the BMW R 1800 Classic. Or are they still in their comfort zone? Both companies have been around a very long time, (and it shows) and both companies have produced motorcycles that have appealed to a wide range of interests. Just take a look at their powerplants and you’ll see how each have held on to the past and brought those designs into the future. Classic lines and designs can sell product, that’s for sure.
I’ve never been the guy that thinks mine is better than yours when it comes to brands. Every brand can have a bad day and even a model within ranks can have issues that it can’t outrun. Rose-colored face-shields can soften our opinions but time marches on. So back to these respective groups on social media – reading comment after comment of how owners of one brand talk and think of others amazes me. As riders, we ride and usually own several makes and models over the years. Heck, even in some sort of secret and successful marketing strategy by these makers of motorcycles, we may own several bikes at a time consisting of different brands! And then to splinter off even further, these bikes could even be for different types of riding based around touring, dirt or sport. Does that make any of the plethora of bikes I’ve owned any better than yours? Of course not. But social media has given most folks the power and authority to comment their negative opinions that add nothing to the discussion. We ride. We bench race. We opinionate.
I’ve owned a lot of motorcycles over the 45 + years of riding. Some were good, others were great and a few left no impression on me. But they all served a purpose in getting me where I am today. It took many miles and a lot of dust to figure out what kind of riding I like to do and of course, some motorcycles are more suited to me for that purpose. I’m not going to go out of my way to pull the conversation down to a lower level by beating up the so-called competition to the brand I’m currently riding. If it takes Harley-Davidson to up the game in the ADV category, then so be it. Honda, Moto Guzzi, Triumph and Yamaha will have to up their game along with the BMW line-up. Will Harley-Davidson bring out a smaller displacement ADV bike? The Saucepan America? My bet is not in the near future. But would it be so bad?
Will Harley-Davidson bring out a smaller displacement ADV bike? The Saucepan America? My bet is not in the near future.
There’s plenty of room around the world for any manufacturer to step out and create something new and exciting. As a consumer, I can appreciate the effort it takes to bring a new bike to the dealer’s floor and it’s interesting to see how opinions and brand loyalties then become the discussion. I get it, we take a certain pride in what we ride and bragging is what fills the comment section. I still wave at anyone on a motorcycle regardless of what they’re riding because you never know at what stage of the motorcycle experience they are in. At the end of the day, we ride, and what we ride is a matter of where we are in our participation in this sport.
I acknowledge all of my fellow riders and would stop to help or shoot the breeze with any of you wherever I may find myself on this road we ride. With a new year ahead of us and a new model year coming, we can only hope it brings with it a bunch of new stuff to discuss. Save travels!
I often write about my reflections and deep thoughts from the seat of my motorcycle and just to be clear, not all of my thoughts are always that deep. Sometimes I need to rely on just my good looks to get through the day. On my 54-mile-one-way October commute this morning I decided to take notes on exactly what goes through my mind on a normal ride. Some may not make sense to you and quite frankly I’m just as confused. Random and weird? Of course they are. These are basically in order from when I left the house to arriving at work, so here we go;
Wow, the weatherman said windy today and it is. Is this a stiff wind? Who originally called it stiff? It definitely isn’t gusty.
All I can taste is my toothpaste and Frosted Flakes this morning.
For once, I’m wearing the right gear for the ride. I sure got it right this time.
That is a new Stop sign post. I wonder what was wrong with the old one?
I wonder what that red tail hawk sitting on that fence is thinking about?
Why don’t they call it Festober?
That skunk smells like a banana, in a weird way.
I love the smell of chimney smoke.
I came home this way last night about 8:30 pm and that t-shirt wasn’t laying in the road then, and what it’s doing out here in the middle of nowhere. I’m curious as the size…
Another red tail hawk sitting on a fence post – that’s two.
Why haven’t we added any more letters to the alphabet? Is 26 all we got?
Deer Rd. Why isn’t there a Red Tail Hawk Rd.?
This wind hasn’t let up yet. Still no gusts but would I call it stiff? Perhaps.
Three white vehicles in a row.
What ever made me think as a kid, my thumbs were double-jointed?
What is Doug Heffernan’s father-in-law’s name on the show King of Queens? I should know this.
I’m going to need gas today.
I need to walk more. If I ran out of gas, I could do that. (laughing inside my helmet)
Arthur Spooner. I knew I’d get it.
It’s going to get hot today for October.
Yes, these are actual ponderings this morning, and the ride was over before I knew it. And it’s crazy how an hour commute can cause the mind to think of so many insignificant things to pass the time. But if all else fails, I have my good looks!
For October, the weather has been ideal and I know I should ride more but lately I haven’t been feeling it. I’ve had a big project hanging over me and it’s finally finished, so it’s taken me a minute to let that go. The constant reminder is gone of a house that needs remodeling to sell and has left me with withdrawals and a sense of how much time it was actually consuming. Whether it was the physical or mental part – either way it was draining. Now, that time is filled with a guilty feeling for taking an afternoon ride when surely, there is something that needs done… trust me there is and don’t call me Shirley.
I had a great ride around the countryside with lot’s a gravel and dirt roads and plenty of time to think. It’s weird getting my head on straight, and quite honestly, it makes my helmet fit a bit better. This ride just reinforces the fact a motorcycle can convince me to take a few hours and just let it go. Call it what you will, but as for me it was much needed.
Although I usually have a direction in mind when I leave the driveway, this time I just went. I didn’t pay any attention to which way or what time it was because that wasn’t the point of this ride. I was going to allow it to unfold as if each intersection was multiple choice with no right answer. I’m more likely to have a plan in place but this time I let the ride happen, and it worked. I let my mind and bike wander together.
Kansas can be tough for someone who rides motorcycles, or at least the perception of Kansas can with it’s rolling hills and straight roads. But you just have to know where to look. Even better, maybe you don’t need to look – just let your mind and bike wander.
It’s odd really, to be sitting here typing out a blog that is so long overdue. It’s been a busy year with work, large projects and a constant sense of urgency to get things done. Even with this punching me in the face every day I have still managed about 20,000 miles on my motorcycle. Mostly a daily commute but also some backroads and a quick trip to Sturgis a couple of weeks before the annual Motorcycle Rally. That trip was weird, with 2200 miles and a total of seven face-to-face conversations with two of those being in Kansas. It was a good ride with lots of time to duck some of those punches to the face I’ve felt most of the year.
I’ve had lots of great experiences going to Sturgis for the Rally, and although the memories can run together, some of them stand out as clear as if it were just this year. The ride there and back, the people you meet along the way, and the conversations you have with those you will never meet again give you this sense of how it’s the people we bump into in our lifetime that can have the biggest impact in any given situation. Interactions with our fellow human beings is still one of my favorite parts of riding a motorcycle. And even as I like to ride either alone or with very few others, I find it’s those brief moments of fellowship along with the interesting stories people will tell you, that make any trip memorable.
Coming back from this trip to South Dakota, I could see as I approached Grand Island Nebraska, I would eventually run into this storm that was building across North Central Kansas. What ride through several states doesn’t end with a crescendo? I have ridden in many rain storms and I travel with a rainsuit at the ready, so this wasn’t that big of deal. South of York Nebraska it was clear to me I would get my chance to pull my rainsuit out to see if it fits. If any of you read my blogs from my previous trips, you will know my history of the ever-shrinking-it-must-have-been-put-away-wet rainsuit. Well, this one still fits.
Ifany of you read my blogs from my previous trips, you will know my history of the ever-shrinking-it-must-have-been-put-away-wet rainsuit. Well, this one still fits.
As I hopped around pulling it on over my boots, I could feel the rain coming. Within a mile after getting back on the road the rain came and it wasn’t messing around. It hit and hit hard. By my rain gauge that I keep conveniently inside my head, this is at least the second or third worst rain I’ve ridden in. As cars were slowing down or pulling over, I kept pushing through. Yes I know, pulling over would have been the wise thing to do, but… Within a few miles it was clear I wasn’t going to ride out of this without a fight, so I turned my heated grips up a notch and titled my head down.
Once I settled in to a water-filled groove, I knew this was going to be okay. I noticed another rider heading in the opposite direction and quickly realised how lucky I was to be prepared. He wasn’t. I felt sorry for him because I know how miserable it can be. I did have a few cars pass me but mostly I would pass them. I’m sure I was an odd sight but let’s be real, I’m an odd sight regardless. I did notice a white truck from Louisiana that kept hovering around – first following me then passing me only for me to pass again. I sensed visibility at times affected their designated position on the road, but just make up your mind fer-cryin’-outloud.
When the rain subsided around Belleville Kansas, I decided to ride on to Concordia where I would need gas. This gave my rainsuit a chance to dry off before putting it back in it’s bag. It was a good ride from Belleville to Concordia as the skies were clearing and the temperature started warming back up. Another successful ride in the rain and I will be able to tell this story for days and weeks to come. Embellished of course.
As I pulled into the gas station and climbed of my GS1150 the white pickup from Louisiana pulled up to the pump next to me. As I gracefully struggled getting my foot out of my pant leg the woman in the passenger seat came over and asked if I was okay. She and her husband intentionally followed me to make sure I was going to be alright. She asked me several questions about the dangers of riding in this type of rain and what I would have done if it started to hail? Before I could answer, her husband also walked over and fired off several concerns as I stripped off my suit. I explained how an experienced rider like me who’s no-fear attitude towards adverse conditions, my nerves of steel and a perfectly fitted rain suit could get me through anything. Along with my perfect smile and full head of hair of course.
I explained how an experienced rider like me who’s no-fear attitude towards adverse conditions, my nerves of steel and a perfectly fitted rain suit could get me through anything. Along with my perfect smile and full head of hair of course.
What a beautiful moment this was. Perfect strangers concerned for someone they didn’t know who was in a very vulnerable situation. You know, like it should be. And even more so, they were concerned for ME. I thanked them for worrying and wished them safe travels back to their home state. I’m telling you, it’s the people that make this short time we have on earth a beautiful thing.
As I rode to work in this month of December, the temperature hovered in the mid-thirties. A full moon ahead of me, the sun rising over my shoulder, I can see the winter colors telling me we’re a few months away from the smell of Spring. Wait, do colors have a smell?
While the miles tick by on my commute, my mind wondered to spending longer days in the saddle and more consistent temperatures to ride every day. I’ve ridden many winters on my Harley’s but this winter I’m on my BMW GS. The view is different as the seat is higher, but my wishes of warmer weather will always be the same. I wonder what trips are in store for me in 2020?
I also just finished reading Ted Simon’s book Jupiter’s Travels for the third time, and as always, it makes me realize there is so much more world out there and at the same time, the world is such a small place. Heck, there are a few places and roads in Kansas that I have yet to see, so I’m not real sure a trip through Mongolia is on my schedule for 2020. As I ride across the prairies of my home state, maybe I’ll just pretend I’m there. Kansas/Mongolia. Kangolia.
I’m not real sure a trip through Mongolia is on my schedule for 2020. As I ride across the prairies of my home state, maybe I’ll just pretend I’m there. Kangolia.
I know, the modern day convenience of gas stations, fast-food restaurants and manicured roads can leave a lot to the imagination, but you know what? It’s the people. The people you meet and engage with are the true sights and sounds of an epic ride. Even with that dramatic scenery we all crave, and those lonely miles in the saddle where I find I do my best thinking, it’s those faces and the conversations I remember. The handshake or wave, sharing a connection with locals that always ends with a smile. That’s what Ted Simon speaks of and it’s so true. Even in my home country or my home state of Kansas. The motorcycle I’m on is a way of introducing me to perfect strangers.
While my dreams of riding around the world may never happen, it’s just nice knowing those that share the same feelings of adventure with me. Whether through print or video, or even in person, I know the experience is real, the people are real and the landscape is worth the ride.
While the riding this time of year leaves me longing for a big ride through vast territory, I’ll settle for whatever the weather will allow. Short days and shorter trips are enough for now.
For early December, the weather was looking good. I had a list of things to do but mostly I just wanted to go ride my motorcycle. So in the early afternoon I put on my gear and took off, not sure of the direction I was headed I mostly wanted to put some miles on. Feeling guilty at first because walls won’t paint themselves, I hesitated but quickly got over that feeling as I rode off.
It felt good to get out. The weather hasn’t been the best but I figured an hour or so on the bike is what I needed to sort my thoughts. I hadn’t been on Humboldt Creek road for a while so I headed East towards Alta Vista to take Humboldt back North towards Junction City. I figured a big loop finding my way back home was a good bet.
It’s funny how the same road can look different based on direction, the time of year and the time of day. How the light casts shadows and the specific colors nature is wearing during any particular season can make a familiar road feel different. This was one of those rides.
How the light casts shadows and the specific colors nature is wearing any particular season can make a familiar road feel different.
After a quick ride on the scenic Humboldt Creek road, I ended up at a park to take a minute and enjoy the afternoon. I pulled up and laughed at myself for hitting the kill switch to shut my bike off. I don’t normally shut the bike down this way, and for some reason I did – even wondering why I would do that. Oh well, I’m getting older and I do weird stuff some times.
While sitting there admiring the side view of my BMW GS from about 30 feet away, a couple of kids rode up on their bikes. As I sat there on the bench I remembered how I was at 10 or 12 years old, riding my bike and dreaming of owning a motorcycle. I noticed one of the boys kept looking at my bike as they were horsing around and I was sure he too had an interest like I did in motorized two-wheel motion. I smiled at the thought.
I noticed one of the boys kept looking at my bike as they were horsing around and I was sure he too had an interest like I did in motorized two-wheel motion. I smiled at the thought.
I’m sure it was only a few moments as all of these thoughts ran through my head. Then, out of nowhere, it appears this boy is coming over to talk to me. At first, I thought what shall I say? Is this my chance to influence a young man who shows some interest in how motorcycles can change your life? Am I up to it? And how cool would it be to bump into him in 10 years on some lonesome highway where he recognizes me and says “hey, you were the one who got me into motorcycling.” How strange, I was just thinking this and now he’s 20 feet away and closing.
12 year old boy; Hey mister, is that your bike?
Me; Yes, it is.
Now keep in mind, my brain is clicking along faster than the conversation. I’m anticipating where this is going and I’m trying to be helpful and attentive to his questions because after all, this is my chance! For the last 20 minutes or so, while I’ve been sitting on this bench, this boy has admired my motorcycle. Now he’s mustered up his courage to come over to ask what it’s like to be wild and free on two wheels. Pay attention Jeff!
12year old boy; Your headlight is on.
57 year old me; Hey, thanks…
When I pulled up and hit the kill-switch, I forgot to turn the key off. That usually happens to new riders – and guys like me just trying to enjoy a ride in December. For 20 minutes or so my key was on while I admired the profile of my motorcycle in the afternoon light. Thanks kid, for letting me know. As I got up and walked over to my bike, the boys climbed on theirs and took off. I guess they already know what it’s like to be wild and free on two-wheels.