Yellowstone and Beyond
I think most people think about retirement in terms of age, savings, pensions, and social security entitlements. I saw it as a time when I would be free to do whatever, whenever I liked, a time when I could throw away my wristwatch and desk calendar. I looked forward to the rest of my life unshackled by work schedules, appointments, or the bossís whim. I dreamed of that day I could pack up and ride off to anywhere I pleased, ride as far as the road would take me, and stay for as long as I chose to stay.
My plan for retirement went into effect when I was 55 years old. I began simplifying my life. I sold the second car, paid off all the credit cards and the mortgage, and stuffed all I could into the 401K. I had ten years to retirement and my goal was to become debt free in five and then build a fund that would secure my wifeís and my own future, then put aside enough for a bagger and traveling wherewithal. It was a good plan and it worked fine for 8 years.
My body began letting me down. Years of abuse and neglect started to take its toll. I couldnít do the hard physical labor that my job required and I was forced to make the decision to quit early. Although my design was cut short by two years I had enough put back by then for a used Electra Glide and with what was left over, one last solo quest to Yellowstone and the great North West and then to as far as my money would take me down the Pacific coast highway. I wouldnít be able to afford motels and restaurants like I planned. I would have to camp and face trying to rest these old bones and stiff joints on the ground at the end of day. But nothing worthwhile comes cheap and I was willing to face a little discomfort to realize my dream of seeing this beautiful country from the flight deck of a motorcycle. I could do it.
I retired the last day of July. I was 63. The rest of that summer I spent fixing up the house. I took care of all those little jobs that had gone wanting while I was working and spent my evenings planning my ride and ordering what gear I thought I would need for the trip. I bought a sleeping bag and one of those self-inflating air mattresses, luggage, new boots, and I even dipped into the general fund to purchase a GPS! What the hell, you live once.
That GPS is a fun toy. It comes with mapping software that allows you to plan your trip with waypoints and other points of interest along the way. You can enter the address of a friend and it will take you right to his front door. I spent the winter evenings laying out potential routes to places I wanted to visit and stopovers at the residences of my buddies all over the country. Google maps has a satellite feature that lets you see the road you will travel in enough detail that itís almost like being there. I spent hours drifting along those satellite picture-scapes with my mouse memorizing every feature of the land, choosing campsites and marking possible photo opportunities.
First stop would be about three hours into the ride in Columbus Ohio to see Dave Brown and then on to Kokomo Ind. to spend some time with an old friend from my high school days. I gave thought to taking a little side trip to Springfield to see an old and honored enemy from my Navy days just to knock on his door and when he answered, pop him a good one in the snot locker and then leave him lying there wondering what the hell happened!
Joe Pitra is in Iowa, he promised to pop me in the nose if I didnít stop in to see him. He offered a cook out at his house in my honor and then he and a host of his riding buddies would give me an escort for a day. I plotted a course from Joeís house to the Badlands Park and if I timed it correctly I would arrive at Sturgis in time to meet Rick and Cheryl and spend a day with them.
My nephew attends Sturgis every year. He sets up a booth where he does ink and I gave thought to having him donate a little art for me. He has a buddy he calls Monster. Monster is a huge Native American hell bent on his own destruction and that of anyone who gets in his way. If you can get past the first impression of him and if you donít piss him off in the first few minutes after the introductions, youíll probably survive the encounter, and then you will find you have a life long and most trustworthy friend. I canít wait for him to crush my hand again in his bear like paw with that vise like grip.
I planned to see all the sites thereabout and then follow my front wheel to Yellowstone.
Of all the places in the world Iíve ever wanted to ride, Yellowstone country is at the top of the list. This has been my dream since the eighth grade when one of my classmates brought slides to school of his familyís vacation in Yellowstone Park. He showed us bears and buffalo, eagles and hawks, mountains and lakes, geysers and some of Gods grandest handy work. I can only surmise but I think it must be a wonderful place. By that I donít mean pretty. I mean wonderful, a place of awe. A place where you can stand at the heart of the land and feel itís pulse and where the chills of wonder overtake the heat of the day. I think it must be a place where you can become very small and most insignificant without giving away any of your pride. I think it must be some sort of natural solvent that dissolves all your prejudice, all your vanity, and that pompous godlike self-image we all develop living our tiny everyday existence and replaces it with a true perspective of our world and our place in it.
My GPS would then lead me through Big Sky country that offers me days of pure lonesome with only the throaty rhythm of my exhaust to keep me company and clear nights to wonder alone at the vastness of the universe from my sleeping bag. In three or four or maybe five days, whatever, I would run head long into the ocean, hang a left, and then wait for the Golden Gate Bridge to appear from the fog, all the while drinking in what must be the longest stretch of the most beautiful scenery in the country, that is if my friends that have been there havenít been lying to me.
Dave Elkins would be waiting for my call the second I cross the Calf. Border. My old friend I have never met promised to show me the Sierras and of course buy me a couple beers. Dave and I have planned a campfire for years where we could get drunk, smoke a cigar, and tell each other lies straight on till morning.
A ride up to Vegas to see the nekid ladies and then back trails over the Rockies and then itís all down hill to home. That was the plan.
It didnít happen. I found an Electra Glide Standard in nearly showroom condition in early April. I slicked it up with new white walls, tuned it, replaced the drive belt and fluids, polished it to a high gloss, then took it out for a three hundred mile shake down run. It was grand! This was not the Harley I rode thirty years ago! It was smooth beyond belief, sure footed, and agile. When I had tested my pack up there was only one chore left. I left home on May 8th Motherís Day, to pick up a spare set of plugs and an irresponsible punk in a CJ totaled my ride and broke my body.
Two and Ĺ months in the hospital, seven surgeries, (three more pending), and I can now get around on crutches. My two wheeling days are over, but next week Iíll bring home a 2002 Honda Gold Wing Leyhman Conversion Trike! It is truly a thing of beauty. Thereís a place to strap a pair of chromed out crutches in back, a place to hang my bum leg out in the wind, enough storage space for all the gear imaginable, and it lights up like Times Square on New Years Eve! This year will be different. Well, after I put that punk in the Jeep out of circulation for a few months where he canít get me again, it will be different!
When next I post to ďStories From the RoadĒ Iíll have the real story for you, not just some old manís pipe dream. Thereíll be a few changes, this time I wonít be alone. The best friend a man ever had, my buddy Bobby, has decided I canít do this alone so heíll be riding along to take care of me. The truth is he wants to take a long road trip but heís afraid heíll get lost if he goes by himself. My son is making noises like he will be part of it too so it wonít be the solo adventure I planned but there is always next year.
Yíall ride safe now. Hear?
One day, one mile, one roadsign, one experience, one view, one friend at a time....