Next Stop – Clarityville

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I often wonder what really rolls around in this head of mine when I’m on my motorcycle. I do quite a bit of thinking behind my handlebars but to pinpoint one single thing would be difficult. My thoughts bounce around to many different things and sometimes even come back to the beginning of when the ride started. I’ve said I do my best thinking inside my helmet and this still holds true, but some days it’s hard to find clarity even on a perfect ride.

I need to get beyond the familiar 22 mile ride to work. Although this daily ride is good, it has become the source of a mental block that I’m finding hard to get around. Even an additional 10 miles added to the trip or an alternate route might suffice, but I still need to head in a different direction – maybe taking the long way to Clarityville. Fresh scenery and different smells would do my noggin some good. I’ve been to Clarityville before and its a nice place to visit on your motorcycle.

Fresh scenery and different smells would do my noggin some good. I’ve been to Clarityville before and its a nice place to visit on your motorcycle.

With Sturgis right around the corner, plans are being made. As always, I leave the “Last Minute” clause open in case I need to pull the plug. Things can change right up until the night before I leave and you have to be mentally prepared to throw in the towel and admit you’re not going. Fortunately for me, I haven’t had to exercise this clause but that’s not to say I haven’t stood there at the 11th hour (or was it 11 o’clock at night?) the night before staring at the bike loaded down patiently waiting to hit the road thinking I would have to cancel the trip. Bummer.

As it stands now, Sturgis looks like it’s a go. I need a vacation for sure, but I also need to put some miles under me and clean out some cobwebs in my head. What better way than to see some new countryside through these tired old eyes of mine?

A Guiding Light

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The night has come. Too soon for me but it is what it is and I must keep going. It’s not often we ride into the night but the full moon is pulling me West beyond any control I have. It’s mesmerizing. I can’t look away. As if hypnotized by a cheap magician at the circus trying to get me to reveal some inner most secrets for all the world to see. It is big and beautiful but I must watch the road for any dangers that might present itself. But while I’m at it, I let the flood of memories hit me, and boy do they hit hard.

Moonlight can do funny things to you. It can bring light to even the darkest places and it can give you visions that are only reserved for dreams and angels. The daylight hours can’t reveal what only the night can bring, and the moon is the beacon of light to which they surface. Rolling down this back road I realize that as a kid chases fireflies after dark, I have been chasing something from my past. As the firefly lights up you know where to run, but as the light goes off you are once again running in circles trying to find your way. On, off, then on again, we are just two steps behind what it is we a trying to reach. Then, without warning, we see another and then another only adding to the frustration of which way we are heading.

But tonight the road is straight and the light ahead of me is not fleeting, but rather as constant as the hum of my motor. The darkness is split by the fence on either side and the only movement I see is the tops of trees as they sway with the wind – dark as shadows, moving as if they hear me coming. How far does this road go? When will I lose sight of the moon ahead of me? How could tonight be the night when the road I’m on is heading directly into something so beautiful? It is bright enough to cast tall shadows of objects to the left and right of me and for once it all seems to be in slow motion. My thoughts don’t match my speed and it seems I have all night to think about what things I would change given the chance and what things would stay the same no matter what. But I don’t have all night, much like a dream appears so real but only lasts minutes, this too will end.

So where is this road taking me? Just like all roads – it is my destiny. Whether a road is random or planned, it takes us where many have gone before. The unknown. Tomorrow will be another bright and sunny day but it is not guaranteed. With each sunrise and sunset we have just a few minutes – just like our dreams – to make those slight adjustments to the direction we are headed. With any luck at all we’ll have a little light to guide us.

 

A Back-Roads Summer

100_4734Living in a rural community in Kansas, it’s not hard to travel the “back-roads.” After all, you have to take these quiet highways just to get anywhere. In about twenty minutes these two-lane roads around home can get me to any of the neighboring communities while throwing in a little bit of scenery along the way. Sure, in some parts of Kansas you can see the next towns elevator or water tower in the horizon, or maybe it’s wheat fields and sunflowers for miles. I truly can find the beauty in this being from Kansas and all. But as I travel these roads almost daily on my way to work or running errands, sometimes I just let it roll by without taking it in. We bikers always talk about taking the long way home or we listen for someone to speak of an interesting road they were on that we have yet to find. I have found that if you have the same predictable pattern of where you ride, these roads become stale and a bit boring. Sure the seasons change and that will give you a different perspective, and we all know every little bit helps.

But what would happen if we just reversed the route in which we take? How about taking the long way to work? Hey, I’m a creature of habit, and the long way home after work always leads to, well… home. But what about taking the long way to work? Sure, it can be done. I just have to get up a little earlier and be mentally prepared for wild animals and unfamiliar corners that sneak up on you. Who knows, maybe by changing my route to work I can convince myself that this back-road is a new, untraveled road that I can tell my friends about. Of course by changing my route, those that I regularly see on my way home or to work will wonder where I’m at, while the new route will bring brand new people to wave at and curiosity will make them think a biker has moved into their community. Just like the family that lives near the train tracks, after a while you don’t hear the train. My new route will have people thinking a train is coming! Come on, my pipes aren’t that loud…

So make this a “back-road” summer. Take the long way home or the long way to work. Change it up and make it interesting. Do what you would normally NOT do. Be different. But make sure you do the one thing you want to do-RIDE.

 

The Dip in the Road

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Ah, the small town life. Not too exciting but every once in a while, there will be something that happens and we all take note. Back when the Council Grove Drive-in was open it was not uncommon to go to the movies with six or more of your friends. It was cheaper that way as you could pay by the car load instead of by the head. Now I don’t know about you but it only made sense to do it that way. It was like the box store philosophy of the more you buy the more you save! But sometimes you just wanted to go with your date and it was worth a little more for that. In what day and age would it be acceptable to have bodies in the trunk of your car except to go to the drive-in? Today, you would go to jail…

 In what day and age would it be acceptable to have bodies in the trunk of your car except to go to the drive-in? Today, you would go to jail…

For those of you that grew up in similar communities, you also had those places you hung out at. In White City, we had the “Y”, which was just a mile North of town where there was a fork in the road at the rail road crossing. We would hang out here when you just needed to get away from all those “city lights”. All ten of them.  There was the church parking lot, right on Main Street, where you could sit and watch everyone cruising the four blocks of Main to the point of nauseum. We also had the “dip road” South of town about a mile which as you can imagine was a road with a dip in it. It was a dirt road, and a great place to go out and drink beer with you friends and not have to worry about much. The mixing strip, the Parkerville bridge, Effland’s hill, Blythe’s hill and the cemetery were some of the places you could just name and everyone knew where you were talking about. Burton’s grove, the “crooked bridge” and Maloney’s pond were a few more that should be mentioned for the record, and all were just a few minutes from the city limits.

Things were different back then as we didn’t have cell phones or cable TV. But some had CB radio’s and of course a  few calls to “Red Dog”  which would quickly be answered, and the evening would be off to a great start. We miss you Earl! It was a simple time with 8-tracks and vinyl seats, windows down and waving at the car coming down the road from the opposite direction. Making u-turns at the locker plant and then again at the old depot. Then a run out to the mixing strip, turn around and back to town. Repeat. That was a Saturday night in White City. Stop at the pool hall for something to drink and to show someone who didn’t know any better, how air was blowing up from the bar stool stands. Yep! Lift the stool off its stand, have them place their hand over the hole to feel the air, then slap the back of their hand down into the grease and leave a circle of grease in their palm. Good Times. Even a local guy like me has had the old grease trick done a time or two. You never knew, maybe the second time there WOULD be air coming out of it.  But we didn’t care, it was just a good time to be hanging out with friends in a small town.

I wouldn’t change a day of it. It is who I am and probably always will be. Kid’s don’t cruise much anymore and the pool hall and locker plant are closed. Those of us that remember, still refer to the landmarks by their old names. Mainly because Effland’s and the Blythe’s still live out there and the Parkerville bridge is still, well…how you get to Parkerville. So next time you pass through any old town that looks like it has seen it’s better days just remember, somethings you can’t see.

The Explorer In All Of Us

Growing up “small town White City” isn’t a bad thing. Looking back it was a great time to just be a kid. Riding all the back roads around town gave me a great sense of direction and a good idea how far you could go on a tank of gas before hitting reserve. Practicing wheelies and power slides outside of town where no one could see or hear you was good as to not raise any eyebrows and to keep my mom and dad in good graces within the community. But it didn’t stop me from practicing those wheelies on my way out-of-town! So much for being a kid…

You never knew what you would find. Maybe an old cemetery where I would get off and check out the headstones, and sometimes find one with a familiar name from White City. It all helps put the pieces together on how far out side of town the farmer’s family went. There was always old farm equipment parked from days gone by and left for dead. But no headstone was necessary. Their names were painted right on the hood.

At times I would be parked on a hill miles from town and look off in the distance and see the Mor-Kan grain elevator in the distance calling me home, but I wasn’t quite ready. More power slides and wheelies to be done and who knows what else. You would rarely meet anyone on these back roads but when you did there was usually a friendly wave and once in a while you might stop and talk for a few minutes to a class mate whose family farmed as they were on their way to town. 

At one time I was pretty good at both wheelies and power slides. After all, practice does make perfect. But as all things do, the dirt bike needs gas and I’m hungry, so back to town we go. I often wonder if my parents really knew what I did on those long summer days on my motorcycles. Gone for hours and coming back dusty or skinned up. Not all wheelies were successful! I’m sure they did though, even when they didn’t say anything about it. If any of you know anything about a small town, it’s hard to keep a secret. Or maybe it was the marks in the gravel from my power slides as I left town…

The way we were

They say that everything comes full circle. Old becomes new again and fads come and go. I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s and I will tell you there are certain parts of that era I really don’t want to see again. Hair styles and leisure suites, bell bottoms and fringed jackets, I can live without. But there are many things that I miss as well. Three-wheelers! I had several in the 80’s and even raced them competitively. They were a great source of fun and as far as I was concerned, safe. At least as safe as the person riding it.

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I never felt out of control or in “danger” at any time, and I don’t think the evil three-wheeler had it out for us. Looking back I think they were a very neccessary part of our lives and was just a step to the four-wheeler we love today. An absolute hoot to ride and race, it’s weird that future generations will have to look at them from a history perspective.

Countless hours of play riding in all kinds of weather, all year round. Water, snow and mud were just a normal day and you could ride wheelies FOREVER!

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Sure, you had to ride them differently than anything else. Steering with the rear wheels, sliding around corners, transferring your weight to stay on it was a workout. A solid rear axle made it interesting and unless you picked up the inside wheel as you were turning, it wanted to go straight. The first time I rode one was a 1980 Yamaha Tri-Moto 125. A friend and I were riding out in the country North of White City and happened along a farmer friend of ours that was using his Tri-Moto for checking on fences. We stopped and talked to him and it was really the first up-close encounter I ever had. Beautiful yellow plastic, big balloon tires and a freakish long saddle. With no suspension, a guy like me had to wonder how it handled.

The next thing I know, I’m being offered the opportunity to ride it back to his house about a half mile away. I jumped at the chance and Grady and Mike took off on the dirt bikes and left me to figure it out! Rope start, semi-automatic transmission and no instructions on how to turn it. Couldn’t be that hard! It started easy enough, with one pull of the rope. Great! I clicked it into gear and turned the grip. But the grip didn’t turn. Thumb throttle. OK, so maybe it’s a little different than what I’m used to. I give it some gas and run right into the barb wire fence. Grady and Mike are long gone and I’m in some episode of the “Twilight Zone”. Nothing is what it seems and Rod Serling is standing just behind me with a suite and thin black tie on (didn’t that come back into style?) smoking a cigarette saying “Jeff, just when he thinks he knows it all…he enters the Twilight Zone”. I back up a little give it some gas and once again, right  into the fence. After a few minutes I get it going and for a half of mile I never felt sure of what would happen next.

It didn’t take me long to figure it out and of course, I had to have one of these things. So after owning several and racing a few and many, many hours of fun, they were gone. I actually remember when Suzuki came out with the first four-wheeler. I drove an hour to a Suzuki shop to see it in person. I really didn’t think at the time anyone would want a “four-wheeler” because three wheels had to be better. I also made the same assumption when cassette tapes first came out and Beta versus VHS. Don’t ask me about stuff like that. I still have a closet of stuff waiting for old to become new again.

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The Road Home

I have been living in this small town in Kansas now for about 45 years. White City hasn’t changed much over time and the same could be said about the people who live there, me included. That isn’t a bad thing, it’s just how it is. From White City you have to travel about twenty miles in any direction to get to another “incorporated” town. Skiddy, (look it up!) which is “unincorporated”, named after Francis Skiddy,  is about seven miles from White City and I’ve seen that town slowly turn into a memory of what it once was. The Pepsi sign on Mann’s Grocery is still there but the roof is not. The Standard station is a house now but for anyone with any history in the area, you know what I’m talking about. A church and a school are still standing but that’s about it. Population hasn’t change as there are maybe 20-25 that are living there.

Riding to work the past few days has been interesting. There is work being done on a pasture to remove a tree line for new fencing. I know some might think I’m a motorcycle vagabond, traveling the two-lane highways, sleeping on picnic tables and writing this stuff on discarded paper bags. The reality is I have a job and have traveled this road from White City for over thirty years. So as this work is being done the landscape around Skiddy is changing. Somewhat of a shock for a small town guy like me. I can only imagine the shock the citizens of Skiddy are experiencing as they are a smaller community than White City! Change just doesn’t happen that often so when it does it almost always makes the newspaper.

But this morning the trees have all been removed and now you can actually see around the curves for any oncoming cars or tractors. And I must mention it’s a nice view of the small valley into this pasture. This tree line has been there as long as I can remember and has defined this section of road. It’s forever gone and I’m a little sad. I know this road like the back of my hand. Now it looks like the back of someone else’s hand! At least this half of mile where the trees are gone!

I like it and as progress goes, so does Skiddy. A new fence will be up in no time and the cattle will have a new view of the passing traffic. I use the term “traffic” loosely as I passed two cars this morning in the first fifteen miles of my commute. And that’s OK, as a small town guy will tell you, “some, or a least most, things never change”!