I woke up early because I had a big day ahead of me. Today I would ride US 129, a road with 318 curves in 11 miles famously dubbed the Tail of the Dragon. I was anxious to roll. Ann prepared a lumberjack sized breakfast of bacon and eggs. My family all knows of my hearty appetite, so the provisions are always plentiful when I roll into town. “Joe’s coming? Get a case of beer, a package of brats and a pound of bacon.” This sounds like a joke, but I often tap deep into the surplus, especially while travelling. I live, I experience, I overindulge.
I know the price I am paying. 2 years ago I was down to 175 pounds from working out and taking care of myself. I was running the Warrior Dash and religiously hitting the gym. But since my broken engagement of 2011 something left me not caring. I started eating and drinking more leading to my current scale tipping of 210. I currently subscribe to the ideology of immediate gratification. What the hell? A truck might roll along and flatten me at any moment so I’d better be grinding on a chili dog rather than a rice cake if that is my fate. I realize I am being short sighted. Maybe this behavior is to escape, or at least bury the sadness that I haven’t been able to sustain a stable relationship. Since that breakup in 2011, my esteem has been in the trash. My present situation with Nicole is helping matters. She is certainly good for my esteem, but there are shards left behind from every broken relationship. I went from being divorced, to an old high school flame, to long distance failed engagement, all within the period of 3 years. Three relationships started and ended and here I am trying again with another old flame. Yet, I retain hope as a survival instinct. I must believe the thoughts of a brighter relationship future.
One of my auxiliary driving lights broke a wire somewhere along the way. Brian hooked me up with a soldering iron so I could make the repair. Brian does high end cabinet work, a commodity in high demand due to the amount of medium-density fiberboard that pollutes kitchens everywhere. He is a salt of the earth kind of guy and treats Ann well. He is also one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, and I am glad he and Ann married after her first marriage ended. They eventually found each other but it took time – 50 years in her case. Her long journey towards happiness encouraged me on mine. Patience is a practice I need to study more often. Again, thoughts of a brighter future
I had about 3 ½ hours to the Tail of the Dragon, one of the most famous motorcycle roads in the world. I had a knot in my stomach as the road is one of the most challenging I have yet to ride. I am not sure that knot was nerves or excitement because this drive will be a first, and as I age, firsts are hard to find. The roads going in were all gorgeous pieces of tarmac. I wasn’t rushing but I was riding at a relatively sporty clip, enjoying the overhanging trees and twisting uncrowded roads. This is the zone where I think best. I never play music when I ride. I instead listen to the hypnotic hum of the road. I find this one of the most therapeutic and calming things that I do, driving through nature and thinking about life. this is the place where the noise in my brain finally halts for a few hours and I achive a clarity that people talk about finding when meditating or waiting for a set of waves to roll into shore.
My calmness was abruptly interrupted by none other than a 12-foot-tall dragon constructed out of chrome plated, repurposed motorcycle, car, and truck parts. This is the nexus of the Tail of the Dragon. I pulled into the lot of the gift shop that coraled the metal monster and parked the Brick for a moment. I wasn’t mentally ready to take on this road just yet. I clicked some photos and watched as brave knights set out on steads branded with Ducati, Yamaha, and even Harley to slay this mythical beast. They staggered their start up the hill as to not run into each other. One of the great features of the Tail is that there are no cross streets in 11 miles, meaning that no one is going to pull out in front of you from a blind side street.
I decided the time had come. A huge smile crossed my face as the Brick burbled to life. I wasn’t properly attired for true sport riding. Normally I would have full leathers and boots, but due to my light packing, I was reduced to just my Arai Helmet, Dainese riding jacket and gloves, Levi’s, and Adidas Sambas. I had to quell my inner Valentino Rossi, which was the right move since my K75C is not really an all out sport bike. I also had the ballast of my saddlebags to prevent me from any really peg scraping leans.
I waited for a window and took off up the Tail with my iPhone mounted and recording the run. I was hesitant at first but after a few turns my confidence sharpened. I was surprised to find that many of the curves were actually banked which allowed me to retain a higher rate of speed than I expected. I certainly wasn’t breaking any records, but the feeling of riding this road reinforced my belief that I am and always will be a motorcyclist. Being out in the wind at speed has no match. I continued along the Tail as my heart raced and my concentration remained at a peak. I saw photographers on the side of the road as I drove by knowing that I would get a few off bike pics, a bonus for the solo traveler. After about 25 minutes I neared the end of the Dragon and stopped at a bridge where many other bikes had also stopped. This was a serious crew, many of them wearing full one-piece racing suits and exotic bikes covered in carbon fiber. I sat on a low, graffiti covered rock wall and talekd to a guy who had a beautiful Ducati 916. We chatted about bikes old and new as we gulped water. He was older than me, well into his 50’s but his love of sport riding never decreased. He has had a stable of bikes over the years and he loved them all. He shared that he also owned a K75 once and said it was the most reliable bike he ever had.
I remounted the brick and drove the last bit of the Tail, but it was not as eventful as there was construction and traffic started to clog. I turned back and rode the twisty pavement backwards towards the start. The feeling was just as good if not better as I was getting a handle on the banked turns. I made it back to the start and pulled into the Dragon’s Den Pub right across from the metal dragon statue. As I parked the Brick, I saw a Ducati 900ss getting ready for a run. I immediately got choked up. Right after my divorce I bought a 1994 900SS SP and restored it while I was on sabbatical from my NYC college job in 2009 – 2010. I loved that bike, not only for the reason that it was my dream bike, but because after my divorce it represented freedom. My wife would never let me get a bike when we were married, so the minute our marriage ended, I did just that. I restored the Duc to near perfect condition but at the end of my sabbatical I was out of money. I put the SS up for sale hoping it wouldn’t sell until the day I needed to return to NYC, but low and behold I got an offer I could not turn down the first week the ad ran. I found out later that the buyer parted out the bike leaving no memory of my work on my dream bike.
I choked back my sadness and entered the pub. I pub is a huge place decorated with rustic pine. I ordered a pork sandwich with slaw and a Bud Light and sat watching rider after rider tear off up the Tail. The food was tasty and I felt among like minds as the room filled with motorcycle conversations all overlapping each other. Many riders come to the Tail and stay at the hotel next door to the pub. They ride the road back and forth for days trying to best yesterday’s time, as to drive their lances in deeper towards the heart of the beast. I admire their competitiveness, but this dragon is not mine to slay. I’ve done amazing things in my life and I have nothing to prove. My simple one time back and forth satiated my ever declining blood lust for speed – a glimpse of a career fork not taken as a motorcycle racer.
After my lunch I took one last look at the metal dragon guarding the road entrance and smiled to myself. An old guy like me can still get some kicks on an ancient horse. As I exited the Tail my iPhone display read “No Service.” I wasn’t worried I knew I just had to head south and eventually service would return. There is really only one way out and I took the road without worry. My phone eventually found a satellite and just as it did, Nicole called. I quickly pulled off the road and answered, her voice breaking up due to the the spotty reception. The call was a serendipitous sign that somebody was out there thinking of me even if I was physically miles from anybody I knew. The call was cut off, but the idea of hope was restored as I fired up the Brick again and took back to the road.
The drive into Woodstock was relaxing. The challenging banked twists of the Tail made normal backroads driving effortless. The weather remained perfect all the way to my brother Tom’s house. I followed the GPS into his subdivision that serves as a suburb of Atlanta. As I pulled into his driveway I was stunned by the enormous beauty of the house. This is the home of my goofy kid brother who used to mock sports commentators by making up fictitious players during our one-on-one Wiffle Ball games? He has done well for himself.
Tom was the last of the 5 children in my family. We are close in age so he followed me from school to school, trailing a couple of grades behind. We have many of the same interests such as guitar, computers, and motorsports. He got into computers early in life and received a Coleco Adam as a starter computer, a pricey gift for our modest family income. I watched Tom grow with computers. He quickly moved from model to model as the processing power fell short of his abilities. He bought an Atari 520ST, an early Macintosh competitor, and I followed suit because it had MIDI connection built in for controlling synthesizers. We used this MIDI connection to network the computers and play MIDI Maze, an early first person shooter. His knowledge of computers quickly outpaced mine and he ended up getting his degree in computer science. Through computers he followed his career path upward into report generating which is a simple way of explaining his current position with a major communications company.
Tom and his wife Georgia met me in the driveway with big smiles. He opened the garage door and next to his car was a color sign he created that read, “Brick Parking Only” complete with the BMW roundel. I laughed with joy at his ingenuity and attention to detail. He put some thought process into my arrival just as my sister Ann did with the bratwurst. I felt welcome.
Touring the house I was further stunned. Their walk-in closet is the size of my NYC apartment and everything is decorated with taste and style. They worked hard to buy this house and then spent time to make it their home. Their three cats roam the luxurious digs with a wonderful laziness that filled me with envy.
We blabbed for a awhile and decided on a seafood restaurant called Goin’ Coastal in nearby Canton. Georgia noticed my many pictures of oysters on facebook and thought I would enjoy some. We were seated only to find that they were out of oysters, even though other diners were enjoying dozens. “We just ran out,” the waitress piped. I wasn’t worried about the meal though, I was just happy to be put with my brother and his wife. After dinner, we walked around the area. The town was quaint with restored buildings and an old theater. Before I left Tampa for NYC in 2000, I toyed with the idea of opening a performance space for bands and cutting edge theater. I often think about what might have happened if I went down that road. We all take our own path. Tom took a career and made money, I followed the arts and struggle to pay my rent. We probably imagine living in each others shoes at times, but given a mulligan we would both make the same choices.
We headed home and I went up to bed. I snickered at the mountainous stack of decorative pillows that Georgia had piled on the bed in the guest room, realizing they would not fit in my apartment. I talked to Nicole for a while on the phone and told her of my day. She was happy I was having such a great time and told me to be careful. As I dozed off I thought about what an adventure packed day I had lived. I ate like a king. I said goodbye to Ann and Hello to Tom. I road the motorcycle road of a lifetime.
Everyone has their Lottery fantasy planned out. If I ever win, I am going to do what I am doing right now – drive around the country and visit family and friends as I find new firsts. The greatest feeling came to me as I thought about this notion. I am living my lottery fantasy. Tom loves the warm home he created with Georgia. They are living their dream. I believe my home is in the saddle of a 25 year old motorcycle, barreling through the woods down twisty roads towards family, friends, and parts unknown.