Ride 50 at 50 Part 4: Surrounded by Indians

 

248In what seemed like an eternity, I finally met the 3 Amigos David, Andrew and Adrian. Day one, I left Sunday morning to meet up with the trio at Blip Roasters in Kansas City Mo. A beautiful morning ride, I arrived a little early and met Ian Davis the owner of Blip. While having a hot cup of coffee, I engaged in conversation with a few like-minded folks about Blip Roasters and our dedication to these two-wheeled machines. Wonderful. Shortly thereafter and without much fanfare, the 3 Amigos rode in on their Indian Motorcycles and as we say in America – Welcome! After some handshaking and introductions, these three made themselves at home. A few pictures and some video were taken and we saddled up and headed west to Junction City. Just in time as the rain began to fall. Me on my Harley-Davidson surrounded by Indians.

 

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It’s interesting how a group of riders deal with the dynamics of riding and spending so much time together. These three have ridden roughly 1500 miles across the U.S. so far and they have it down. They’ve known each other almost a lifetime, so a lot can be said between them without saying word. Throw an American into the mix and it gives each of them an opportunity to take a mental break from the others. See? I’m doing good things for others all the time!

After we arrived in Junction City and after a nice dinner of burgers and beer, plans were made for day two. Originally, Dodge City Kansas was on the radar but when you’re this close to the World’s Largest Ball of Twine in Cawker City, you go see it. So day two we set off under cloudy skies with that sliver of blue on the horizon letting us know that the sun would be our friend for the day. After about 100 miles, we stopped in Beloit for a cup of coffee with the anticipation of twine right around the corner. We loaded up, turned on a couple of cameras mounted to me and my motorcycle and headed down the road. What a beautiful day, with clouds floating against the big blue sky.

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No one can be fully prepared for it. The quaint little town of Cawker City holds in its possession the envy of all twine connoisseurs, the epitome of dedication and the record for balls made of twine. I would hate to be the community with the World’s Second Largest Ball of Twine. It just doesn’t have the same ring to it. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. Follow your dreams and whether its balls of twine or coming to America to ride motorcycles with your best friends, just do it. The people who call you crazy secretly want to do it as well.

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After a brief stop soaking in the ambiance of burlap we once again headed west on highway 24 through the rolling hills of green beneath a ceiling of blue. This stretch of road was perfect for me to think about how this all came about. You can read the previous blogs I’ve written about David, Andrew and Adrian and their journey to the U.S. But as I rode along with them, I realized that in some weird way this was going to happen. How random is this? Is it random at all? Sometimes we make things happen and sometimes it all happens for a reason. Maybe both? I believe so. Did I change some little bit of their trip by riding with them? How did we get on highway 24 when the trip is supposed to be highway 50? Yeah, that’s the stuff rolling around in my head while I have these three following me through north-central Kansas.

The rest of the ride to Hoxie was uneventful but satisfying for me. I hoped in some way these three new how great it was for me to spend a couple of days riding with them. We stopped in Hoxie for some beef jerky and a drink, and I knew it was all coming to an end. We were 20 miles north of Interstate 70 where our ride would go separate ways. We did a short bit of video, said some warm goodbyes and fired up the bikes for the final ride as the “Four Strokes” as we headed south.

That moment – that last three miles summed it up for me. We’re all alike no matter where we’re from and we had just ridden across the state of Kansas together. Our pilot in the crop duster has no idea that he’s responsible for the exclamation point on this trip for me.

One of the most memorable times for me was about 3 miles north of the interstate as a crop duster came up from the field it was spraying. David was passing me shooting a little video and I pointed up at it. As David saw it circling around for another pass, he raced ahead to catch it on video as well. Andrew, Adrian and I slowed, David was about a mile ahead and I knew that he was setting up to catch me for the last time riding by as we went our separate ways. That moment – that last three miles summed it up for me. We’re all alike no matter where we’re from and we had just ridden across the state of Kansas together. Our pilot in the crop duster has no idea that he’s responsible for the exclamation point on this trip for me.

By the time I turned east heading back to White City, the 3 Amigos were a mile from Oakley where they would call it a day. I still had a few hours to go but I didn’t mind. This is where I do my best thinking. I won’t bore you with my ride but I will say that there were storms brewing in front of me and I had a date with a rain suit.

 

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Inside This Helmet of Mine

It’s a simple concept really. Write a blog about growing up in a small town and my experiences riding my motorcycles. This is how it all started and, for the most part, still is. As this blog has grown and more and more people from around the world read it, it tells me that this simple life of mine and my reflections on life from the seat of my bike have been enthralling, or at the very least humorous in some way. If nothing else it has given you a look at what goes on in this helmet of mine.

So where do I go from here? I fully enjoy writing and putting these thoughts I have out there, and I would probably still do this even if it was more in journal form. A book with real pages and an ink pen that writes in cursive hidden in the hallway next to my motorcycle helmet sort of journal. But if you know me, you know I don’t write in cursive, but in all-caps. Come to think of it, I type using four or five fingers out of the ten I have but it all seems to work out somehow.

Winter weather, like our age is all subject to perception. I’m still young at heart and there is plenty of beauty and nice days during the winter months – it’s all in how you choose to look at it.

As winter keeps me from riding as frequent, or more accurately my urge to throw away my underoos and pull up my big-boy underwear, I find the desire to ride to be that much more obvious. Winter weather, like our age is all subject to perception. I’m still young at heart and there is plenty of beauty and nice days during the winter months – it’s all in how you choose to look at it. You would think the cold weather wouldn’t bother me as much as I appear to have put on my winter layer of fat. Mind over matter…Blah! Acting like a kid in trouble, I walk past the bike in the garage on my way out the door trying not to make eye-contact with it. I’m sorry for all the nice days I didn’t ride, and I will try harder this year. But the blog goes on anyway.

It really is hard to believe this blog is going on five years now. Five years of letting my thoughts fall out of my head in this random order and putting it out there for anyone who wants to read it. I go back and read some of my past posts and it surprises me that I’m even capable of putting a sentence together. If there is one thing that surprises me the most is the top three post that I’ve written. White City Ks. 66872, Hello, My Name Is Jeff, and A Dip In The Road have been some of the most viewed posts I’ve had and I thank all of you for that. I do have my personal favorites as well and these three are right up there. Some posts are more personal than others and some don’t tell the whole story but for the most part the point comes across. And there are some things I have wanted to write about but just haven’t pulled the trigger. If you could see the draft section of this blog it would truly show how random I can be. Yikes!

 

 

 

Big News in a Small Town

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It doesn’t take much to be considered big news in Small Town America. A house being built, new bleachers at the football field or a sidewalk that has been replaced with fresh concrete can top the list, and often do. Growing up in White City puts you on the side of being pro-active because for many years, if you didn’t have what you needed from the grocery store before 6pm, you just did without. If your car needed gas, you had to get it before the gas station closed, or wait until the morning when it opened. No, we didn’t roll the streets up at dark, unless it was dark at 6 o’clock.

But times do change and before you know it, the modern world creeps into these small, sleepy towns. I can remember the excitement when the Central National Bank expanded to include a drive-up window. I know, the hustle and bustle of the downtown area of White City can be daunting, but the convenience of the drive -up was welcomed. A few years later, the bank added an ATM machine in the lobby to make convenience more convenient but you had to get out of your car to use it. I don’t think the community could have handled the excitement of the drive-up ATM.

Our newspaper, The Prairie Post  (of The White City Register), used to print the actual paper the old-fashioned way. Big machines with lots of moving parts and loud noises with presses that weren’t good for anything but printing the good and bad news of the week,  and they worked hard to put out the Thursday paper. Real ink and no spell-check made for a wonderful paper that when you read it on Thursday, most of the news had already circulated around town. But it is great to read the paper and see your name in it on occasion. With computers finally making it into what is now the Prairie Post, the paper became a more streamlined operation. Still once a week, but now it’s only the quiet sound the keyboard makes as the news is entered in. And the phone ringing of course as news is breaking.

When the gas station updated their pumps to take your credit card day or night, I went up the very first day (after 6pm) just to try it out. Now that’s pretty convenient. But I think most of the locals still like to go in during business hours to hear the latest news and have a cup of coffee. After all, the paper won’t be out for a few more days. Most of the White City community works out-of-town and as you would expect, we have seen the ATM and pay-at-the-pump before, but when it changes the landscape of White City, it’s like we’re seeing it for the first time.

Change is good and there isn’t anything wrong with a little convenience. But I still find myself in a small state of panic as my internal clock strikes 5:45 pm. Milk, bread, gas and cash? Check.

A Day in the Life

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Walking down the halls of either the White City grade school or high school brings back plenty of memories. Not only was the grade school big for a small town, there were plenty of steps to keep Mr. Otis or Mr. Haun happy with our physical fitness. A small gymnasium was the focal point of a lot of activities like recess when the weather was bad, basketball practice when the big gym in the high school was in use, but it also served as a lunch room, and a place for prom to be held each year. How many times did I sit there in class smelling the lunch that I was about to eat? Plenty. And what about a milk break in the morning? Why yes, thank you. We spent a big part of our lives going up and down those stairs, from class to recess to lunch and back. How many times and how many steps? We’ll figure that out someday in math class.

Worrell’s house on the corner, which by the way is no longer there, took up some of the play ground, and next to their house was a make-shift baseball diamond where I broke my ankle in sixth grade. School was almost out for the summer in 1974 and now I had a broken ankle. Who knew that in a month I would have my first motorcycle and no way to ride it? Bummer. I think it was Stan and Ron, or maybe it was Rusty and Steve that carried me from the East side of the school property, past the wind-break/walkway that separated the high school and grade school buildings to the office. My mother was called to take me to the hospital, while some of my classmates told me to quit showing off in front of the girls! Whether or not that’s what was said, that’s what I heard. If you know my mother, she drove the speed limit to Junction City getting me to the hospital, all the while, with my leg crossed and my foot dangling. Good times.

We often think about those days when school was anything but fun, but it is a compilation of the good times and bad that makes the experience what it was. Worrying about homework or a test the next day wasn’t very productive and as we all know as adults, worrying about the small stuff still isn’t productive, but it’s in our nature. When our kids are going through school, we often worry about homework, tests and grades more than they do. But we all got through it. Some better than others, but that doesn’t take away anything from those that received less from the experience than some. We all have our own personal experiences and memories of those days and it takes getting older to put it all in perspective. Maybe that should be a class; “Perspectivism: A guide to putting it all together to figure it out.”

If you sit and think about all the bus trips, field trips, games (home and away), and where Mr. Albrecht took us in band, and how it all comes together with so many students and teachers trying to achieve the same goals, it’s amazing we accomplished it at all. Being an average student, using humor to mask a lot of insecurities deep inside that full head of hair I had at the time, I look back and wish that the guy I am today could have told the kid I was back then to relax and be yourself. Comparing now to back-then isn’t fair for me but that is how it is. We grow up and realize who we are and even though we feel we haven’t changed, we did – even if just a little. We find that strength inside and we become who we really are, even though it was there all along.

What seemed like an eternity to get through school, I look back and realize, just like today, the years fly by. Thanks to all of those that had a hand in my education and helping a small town kid realize those insecurities were all in my head. While humor will get you pretty far in life, it helps to have a few friends that are willing to carry you when you need help!

City Limits

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Walk down any main street in any small town and you can feel it. The slower you walk, the stronger the feeling through the soles of your shoes. A vibration of days gone by and a sense of those that walked the same sidewalk many, many years ago. Taking the time to look through store-front windows and see the product of a day-to-day business that serves the community even though it doesn’t make a profit. Built from a sense of pride and to fill a need, only to be cannibalized by a larger community off in the distance. The inevitable happens and the bright lights inside become a dim memory. Bigger and faster takes the place of carrying your sacks to the car for you. A screen door is not as fancy as those automatic kind and I guess since no one in those big cities holds the door open for you, the doors do it themselves.

Character is established in both architecture and ancestry and we live the life of a small community and we carry on the life of how we were raised.

Small is as small does, and the personal touch is knowing your name and asking “how you are doing” and meaning it. We hear it so often without sincerity that when it is asked by someone you know, you know they mean it. Main streets have sincerity. It is built into every small town I’ve been through, and you can’t tear it down and modernize it. It’s engrained in the wooden floors and door hinges and when the door swings open, it makes the sound of “welcome home.” You can’t make it bigger or shinier without making it cold and dull. Small towns have that warm feeling of porch lights and a wave to your neighbor, and a stoplight doesn’t give off the same glow as a small town street light. Convenience is a state of mind and its definition isn’t in the dictionary. Small towns are a way of life and at any time you are just a block or two away from being out-of-town where culverts and silos take the place of curbs and steps.

Like an old barn that on the outside appears to be weathered and worn, the small communities wear it like the patina people so desire on antiques and collectibles. They have a feeling of used – not used up, cared for and precious and a link to times past. You know, when life was good and times were simple. Life is still good and it’s only as simple as you make it. Character is established in both architecture and ancestry and we live the life of a small community and we carry on the life of how we were raised. That, my friends, can be found between the city limits signs of White City.

Bits of Memories

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Have I ridden down this road before? It looks familiar, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. Some of the scenery looks the same and it just feels like I’ve been down it before, but who knows? Maybe I’ve been on this road before and the reason it’s not quite familiar is I came from the other direction. Yeah, that’s it. Or is it?

Riding a motorcycle puts us in these places all the time and even driving around with your window down can have the same effect on you. People, places, sounds, sights and smells – pretty amazing isn’t it? A quick whiff of a certain smell can bring back a flood of memories. In the blink of an eye you are transported to a place back in time with thoughts and conversations as clear as if it just happened yesterday. It could be a word or phrase a friend always said to remind us of tall tales and laughter that would never end. It’s crazy to think that a trigger like that can be so powerful – but it’s only if you are paying attention. It happens all the time I’m sure, but with the daily distractions, we don’t have time to process it or recognize it when it presents itself. How great would it be to catch each and every one as it happened and for that brief moment remember “the good times.”

It can be as simple as passing an alfalfa field that is ready to cut. You pass by this field of alfalfa for days on end, and then all of a sudden you see the bluish purple hue and realize it is ready to bail. When I see something like that, as insignificant as it may seem, it takes me back to a time when living in the moment was so very important and my eyes and ears were open. It has always stayed with me and for that I’m grateful, because the connection between that moment in time and an alfalfa field today means a lot to me. The smell of a skunk takes me back to being a kid laying in bed late at night during the summer with my head next to the open window in my room. For those that can’t remember, there wasn’t always air-conditioning. The clear bottle of Miller High Life Beer takes me to 1982 and hanging out with friends Mark, Tim and Randy from around the Flush, Kansas area. Good times with good friends and good beer. The “event” or memory is one thing, but there is always something within the memory that starts you thinking back to when, where or who was there. There was a time when Valentino’s Pizza in Manhattan Kansas had gum stuck to their sign twenty feet in the air. Who knew it would stick when I threw it? Every time I think of Valentino’s, it reminds me of that night.

Maybe it’s the taste of homemade ice cream or the smell of the aftermath when a firecracker goes off. The sound of rain and thunder, a train whistle or the wind blowing through the trees. And of course anything your grandmother made in the kitchen can put you right back there standing on the chair next to her. I’m sure slamming your finger in a car door won’t take you there, but the song on the radio that was playing just before you got out will. You would think living in the same small town I grew up in would be sensory overload and yes, there are plenty of things that can stop you in your tracks and cause you to reflect on a memory, but in some instances, it becomes the normal and those memories become engrained in you to the point of seeing things in the light in which they were originally cast. My mind’s eye still sees things the way they were when it comes to White City, and not knowing if that’s a good or bad thing, but it is what it is. If the light is just right, and you squint with your good eye, this small town hasn’t changed a bit. From what I’m told, White City has a train go by every hour or so, blowing its whistle. I’m sure it does, but I don’t hear the whistle any more. It must be my mind’s ear is not listening.

So wait for it. It will happen today as it happened yesterday. Those triggers that bring back even the smallest bits of memories. Good or bad memories for sure, but either way memories all the same.

A Letter to Miss Kylie

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My, how you’ve grown. It seems like just yesterday you were talking to us in sign language before you could put sentences together. Now look at you, smart, beautiful and all girl! And so this year you begin school and with that your life will slowly change and evolve into whatever and wherever you are destined to be.

You sure have a way about you. All “matter-of-fact” and funny, but you are also a very beautiful, independent young lady with an opinion and feelings that surface without warning. I look at you and I hear your mother saying the same things or acting in the same way – sensitive, compassionate and carefree throughout your day.  I also look at you and see your father. Stubborn and strong without a doubt, but that’s a good thing. You have the best of both your mom and dad, but you will also bring a little of yourself to the surface that defines who you are and who you will be. A head full of hair and big beautiful eyes with a hand that fits perfectly in mine.

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The one thing you don’t know about me is I can see the future. Very much like you are today, you will get through your worst days while every tomorrow gives you the chance to forget about what “has” happened and focus on what “will” happen. Nothing is so bad that you can’t get through it. Be yourself no matter what and do everything you can to make a difference in your life or someone else’s life. Some things you will have to find out for yourself and that is a part of growing up and you will never be alone even though some days it will feel that way. As you get older you’ll find that faith, family and friends are what really matter, and that a bad day at school, or the fight with a friend is temporary. And you will make friends. Lots of friends. You will find friendship in the most unlikely people, but more importantly, you will make a difference in someone’s life without even knowing it. You are that special. Like I always told your mother when she was your age, whenever there is a new student in school, always walk up and introduce yourself. If there is one thing they need at that moment, is someone to walk up and make them feel welcome. You might even make a life-long friend in the process. That also holds true no matter where you are in this life.

As you grow older, the answers to questions you have always had will be answered. Sometimes it’s not the answers you thought they would be, but realize that this is a part of life and we have all discovered it in our own way and our own  time. Don’t rush through it;  take your time to see the beauty of this world and witness all that God created. You will grow up fast enough and you will miss a few things along the way. But you will find as you get older, you will come to appreciate the wonders of this world and all the people who cross your path. It is a wonderful world and you are  just beginning your walk through it. When life gets hard to deal with, talk to your mother. She has an understanding of what things can be like when the world doesn’t turn your way. She’s had her moments, and still does, but she is funny and beautiful and only stronger because of it. Above all, keep a sense of humor.

I love spending time with you. You are very perceptive and it amazes me how quick you are with a smile and a laugh, and how much energy you have. When you are here visiting, it’s great to go for a walk to the park so I can bore you with stories of me growing up in this small town. I hope someday we can spend more time together, and we will, I know it. As you get older our conversations will change from “why” and “how come” to deeper talks about how you are doing at school and work, instead of me telling you about growing up in a small town. But I have a feeling in a few years you will again ask me how it was when I was growing up. Funny how that is.

There will come a time in your life when your daughter or son will become a living example of your childhood, and you will look back as a mother and realize how much your mom and dad love and care about you, even though sometimes it won’t seem like it. You can always come to me and tell me how you feel but I will always side with your mom and dad. I will do my best to listen, explain, hug and love you, because that is my job. I am here to give you perspective on things and life in general-all the while loving you with all my heart. You will understand when that day comes and you become a parent and grandparent.

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Just like your mom and dad, there is nothing better as a parent than watching your children grow. That’s where you and Casen come in – watching both of you grow is nothing short of a gift for an old guy like me. You have a way of making everything else seem a little less important and you give me the gift of allowing me to put my life into perspective. And when there is a smile on your face it puts a smile on mine. That is the difference you have made in my life, without even knowing it. See? I told you I could predict the future!

Miss Kylie, you are an amazing young lady with your life just beginning. You will do extraordinary things along the way, but first things first. Know that I love you and I always will and I am always here for you no matter how far away it seems. You are a joy in my life that nothing can replace.