National Biker Roundup

And Away We Go

“Be your brothers keeper

So watch yourselves. If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent forgive them.” ~ Luke 17:3

 

Part of this trip is about second chances, mostly of the last time I tried this. With that as part of the picture though there’s also an aspect of forgiveness in my life right now. Trying to figure out how to let go of being hurt, angry, and feeling betrayed. Realizing that my actions today, positively interacting with the world will result in some degree of improvement. Somehow it all rolls together for me and becomes one. So its and effort in self improvement, and part of that means facing failures in one way or another. Some of you already know that this isn’t the first time that I’ve tried this long haul of a trip, even though it’s much shorter than the last time. Though I will say this started off as a much longer effort taking me all the way to the great state of Alaska and eventually back home again. Seems like a great idea, right? Well that’s what I thought until I did the budget and realized I was a crazy person. Not too mention the two guys riding part of the way with me have jobs that they actually work during the summer and don’t have the time off that teachers like myself have. So eventually this trip fell apart.

Ardmore Springs Circle to Whittier, AK - Google Maps

The Original Ride Idea (early on this ride included a ferry from AK to OR and lots of madness) 

From the ashes of that failed concept though came this more practical version that allowed for me to take time during this final full month of my break after some summer teaching. So let me fill you in on why this trip is happening the way it is. I have this idea for a two- year photography project exploring the idea of community development and the way it’s evolved in North America over generations. Next year we’ll push toward completing the rest of this trip as in the map above, but it’s going to take some effort. I’ve got a bit of a story to tell:

“North American Portraits: Locals & Locales of the Quintessential Road Trip

The traditional idea of community structure was founded on the idea of individuals forming living groups, derived from families, built through apprenticeships, seeking education, and either a return to, or remaining in or around the area where one was raised (generally within a 20 mile radius). This ideological founding of “home” isn’t isolated to the United States, but was once the dominant method of community building across the globe. In contemporary modernized societies this idea has become a way of the past as individuals no longer feel the need to remain within a distanced range of their place of birth, generally unless for reasons of financial or familial obligation (such as agriculture, caring for an elder, etc). This work is meant to explore the aspect of why individuals now reside and / or travel from place to place, as seen through the lens of individual experience and connection. This series of photographs will address issues of identity, place as navigated through location and context, but also how these aspects may vary and alter over geographic / demographic differences throughout North America. Secondly the method of production utilizing the traditional idea of the “roadtrip” as an “all-American” experience that is somewhat universal to the audience. This serves as a way to connect the individuals interviewed and photographed, while also allowing the viewer an understandable way in which to “navigate” geography, and content, while also speaking to ideas of diversity and addressing transient populations within our current socio-political climate.”

So there’s a number of reasons that this trip makes sense for my own photographic efforts. That’s not it though, this trip is also about a sense of self. Engaging that part of myself that I rarely get to during the year of being a professional. It’s also about finding opportunities for engagement with a brotherhood defined and built on the road. Its also about seeing some sights I haven’t in a long time, like Niagra Falls and Detroit, and seeing family and friends along the way who will hopefully become part of this photographic effort as well. I’ll be hitting the National Biker Roundup, back in Kansas City for its 40th anniversary and visiting with old friends, hopefully in Colorado and Kansas that I haven’t seen in way too long, including some new little people I’ve never met. That being said, this is what I’ve ended up with including a sudden change just a few hours ago bringing me up through Tennessee and finally getting to ride the Tail of the Dragon.

Revamped 2017 Map

The finalized map, (showing stops) the day before departure, this is doable… right?

Tail of the Dragon

Tail of the Dragon: 11 Miles – 318 Curves (now that’s a helluva ride)

So what else is happening on this crazy ride. Well last time I decided to tackle reading “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” it was great to reflect upon and also be following somewhat of the same route in the book. This year I’ve found a reading I’ve been sitting on for a while called “The Happiness of Pursuit” by Chris Guillebeau, an autobiography about the author’s traveling attempt to visit every country by age 35, and of course there are plenty of stories to tell along the way. I won’t ruin anything as I’ll be talking about it as I go, but I’ve been looking forward to it and I feel like in a way it too is reflective of my experience of these trips and the many travels I’ve been fortunate enough to take. Basically it’s a book about long term happiness in life, which is something I’ve been seeking.

This years reading

The Happiness of Pursuit

 

Essentially one of the big things I’ve discovered since the last attempt at this ride that failed miserably, and ended with me having to suddenly buy a new bike along the way is this…. I can’t control everything, so this time I’m willing to go with the flow and let things happen, all while being proactive but also able to react appropriately. Not just in this trip, but in life. I’ve had some ups and downs since then and I’m still here, doing okay and striving to be better in every way. So I’m ready to accept this challenge and all the stormy moments and sunburns along the way, which I’m sure there will be plenty.

 

Tomorrow I head for Knoxville through the dragon, and then onto Columbus, OH for a rally and time with some of my brothers. I can’t think of a way to better begin this trip. So now I’m in the final stages of preparation, making sure everything is charged that should be, all my checkpoints are met, and seeing who is willing to put me up along the way. So if you happen to be one of those people in one of those cities on that map, feel free to reach out if there’s a couch to spare for a night or two. Either way I’ll be moving fast and hard, while photographing at each stop and hopefully connecting with people as I go. All that being said, there’s also been a little change in the bike, so I’m even getting used to how she handles. Not too mention fancy FMGF patches on the way, helmets and some other stuff to bring all this into one effort. I guess I figured, if I’m going, I’m going all out.

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Broken But Not Beaten

“The test of the machine is the satisfaction it gives you. There isn’t any other test. If the machine produces tranquility it’s right. If it disturbs you it’s wrong until either the machine or your mind is changed.”

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

I started some time ago talking about whether or not I was really doing this alone. Or at least the idea that I’ve realized that I can do very little alone. This has rang through so many times during this whole experience. Today has sat with me largely because of two people. Neither of whom I know very well, but both have lifted my spirits and fed me a little wisdom to move me forward. In this world of virtual connectivity that we all so often exist within its easy to become distant and detached, allowing only keystrokes to maintain those relationships that once required conversations and in-person connection.  My day was brightened ever so slightly and put into context by two of those connections today. Both met in person in the recent past, but neither overly deep. One at a time when this trip was beginning to tear at me, his daily lightheartedness and friendly persona was a relief to my spirit and a renewal of an ideal that I thought lost. The second being someone I met years ago and saw again overseas.  Though both had kind truthful words to share today that meant something real to me.

I love my family and friends, they are my rock upon which I build my life. I don’t express that enough. It is truly through them all that I find reasons to continue moving forward. I have been through hardship and heartache but in the end they’re still there. My friend, nay, my brother who is with me today has been a consistent source of support and strength during my darkest hours. This has been no exception. I say all of this to say that hardships come and go. We are not defined by the number of times we are knocked down but by how often we get back up. We are left scarred and bruised but those do not equate the sum of our parts. I always tell my friends, especially those I know share the faith, that God never gives us more than we can handle. “If He brings us to it, He’ll bring us through it.” If I believe that then why am I so frustrated. If I am going to talk the talk than I also need to walk the walk. This is a challenge, in every way. I will take from it and learn from it what I can, but I will not let it beat me. I’m better than this… today I chose to get back up.

Day Seventeen

Today is a day that I’ve committed myself to getting some work done. Yesterday I happily slacked off and didn’t shoot a single photo of the event. Today I’m geared up with both cameras and ready to work. I strategically set up my day to provide some particular photo opps. The one thing I didn’t get in my previous years of shooting was good road shots while riding. Photographing the act of biking to some extent. So the GoPro plays heavily into this years work. I tried last year but just didn’t really get the images I wanted. I felt it wasn’t telling the story that was meant to be told. So that is my goal this year. While the portraits and one-on-one engagement is still the meat and potatoes of the biker project it feels incomplete without the other imagery. So my hope to round it out with these images taken today and next week at another rally in Cleveland. So today I’m sticking with my people and riding as a group to do what I need to in order to capture the shots.

Today’s agenda included going to run errands first with Big Red, Pit Stop and the State Burners. Namely getting something to drink for later and meeting with DemDamDawgs out at a BBQ spot. I was supposed to roll with the Rough Riders first but their time kept getting pushed back. So its off to get some food. No pictures of this one, but we ended up at Billy Simms BBQ. I got a sandwich called the Heisman. Chopped brisket over hot links on a toasted bun… and I said I didn’t really want anything heavy. Yeah, this sandwich was slammin’. The brisket was perfectly cooked and the sauces really pulled it all together. I’m the guy who likes things hot enough to burn your face off so the hot links weren’t spicy enough, but they never are. So the addition of some peppers and pickles were a nice touch to add to the heat level. Pit Stop and Big Red had the rib platter. It was outstanding, it was also the last order of ribs, the group after us left because there were none left. When a BBQ place runs out of something by 3pm, you know its good.

From there it was errand time. Too hot to go the field still so we wanted to relax a bit. So off to buy some beer for later and cigars for the fellas. I’ve been toting around a fancy leather wrapped french pipe  so I’m good. Though the peaches and creme tobacco smells amazing. Back at the hotel we all relaxed and caught up. Smoked the pipe and had a drink.  We all rallied for dinner a few hours later for a stop Big Red wanted to make. Spudders.

So we may have been duped on this one. Spudders is a steakhouse in Tulsa, it was featured on Man Vs Food and gets pretty solid word of mouth. We rolled in with the Rough Riders after Big Red took us on an impromptu “tour” around that area of town. In other words we got lost. Haha. And if you’ve never been lost with a group of older riders when they want to eat, it gets touchy. Just saying. So we roll in and finally get seated. 14 of us and it was a tricky scenario with a party of that size coming in suddenly and believe me, people were hungry. Nonetheless, we all sit and order drinks, which takes exceptionally long just for water for most of us.

Around the table most of us ordered steaks, or some sort of variation. The prices were a bit high but not astronomical. The food finally came out. When I say finally, it was a good while. I think everyone hit the frustrating point. I honestly wasn’t that hungry after the BBQ  sandwich I had at lunch. My belly was pretty content so I wanted something small. Since they were out of steak tips the next thing that caught my eye was chicken livers. It’s not something you see on a menu very often so I thought I’d try it out, I used to love them as a kid along with gizzards.  I have to admit, they were well cooked, not overly tough and breaded well. Like all liver though they were dry and needed gravy… no gravy. That was a little of a let down. Actually as a whole unless people got a steak then they were a bit let down. To be a steakhouse with as much positive feedback as it had I was disappointed as were many. I don’t think I can recommend this one. Pit Stop had some crab cakes that were horrendous. Pass it up.

After that we went back to the field for a few hours. I photographed along the entire way and it was just the opportunity I was looking for. I was able to capture some video as well and I have to figure out what to do with that. All in all though I think I got the stuff I missed from last year. There are a few other shots that I think would be a good addition and I’ll keep working to pull those into the mix. But if these come out I think I can call this project a wrap to some extent and begin looking forward to the amassing of images for exhibition. First a website though. Priorities. I won’t post any of those pics. Those are saved for the real deal, but here are two random ones from the Roundup this year.

Yeah that dude has an LED display on his swingarm. What of it!?!

Yeah that dude has an LED display on his swingarm. What of it!?!

Bet his tricycle can beat up your tricycle.

Bet his tricycle can beat up your tricycle.

Other than hanging out with the Rough Riders and a few others we knew the Roundup ended smoothly for us. There are events tomorrow but we won’t go. We hit the road early for St Louis. The one moment of ridiculous was coming back to the field tonight though. Apparently the speedway was at capacity so the police weren’t letting anyone in. The reasonable answer was of course to sneak us in the back. So we ride around the back and they send up through a literal fi

eld of like 18″ grass and bumps, holes, and everything else to the back of the drag strip for like two miles. It was madness. It was also hysterical though. These are the moments I cherish from this type of trip, only with my motorcycle family. All the madness almost feels worth it. Another successful Roundup complete.

All tucked in for the night

All tucked in for the night

Just Breathe….

“The true system, the real system, is our present construction of systematic thought itself, rationality itself, and if a factory is torn down but the rationality which produced it is left standing, then that rationality will simply produce another factory. If a revolution destroys a systematic government, but the systematic patterns of thought that produced that government are left intact, then those patterns will repeat themselves in the succeeding government. There’s so much talk about the system. And so little understanding.”

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

I’m not really sure what to take from all of this. My mind today is stuck really on one little minute moment that I brought up in my last post. Brotherhood. I’ve spent the last month or so preaching the love of biker brotherhood. The unspoken rules and regulations that we buy into as part of this lifestyle. Except yesterday I stood on a hot street in almost literally the middle of nowhere and watched three clubs, heading to the same place as me, ride right past without a word or a nod to see if I was okay. You don’t do that. Not as a biker. But what about as a black biker. There something about it that feels so racially biased. Like me, most of them were black, all even if I remember correctly. The reason this quote sticks at me is because of the conversation about the “system”. So many black people I know talk about the “man” and the “system” keeping them from achieving or limiting access and while I can’t say I disagree in full, to some extent we have to look at ourselves. I’m not saying this doesn’t effect others beyond my race, but I can only really speak for myself and my knowledge. I’ve consistently had white bikers stop over the years, including yesterday, when I’ve been on the side of the road. 99% of the time I was fine, grabbing some water or switching helmets or something, but nonetheless they checked. I see this, an occasion where I’m heading to a predominantly, historically black event, to celebrate the culture of black bikers and biker lifestyle in general and not a single black face stopped to help. To me that’s a sign of something so much larger. That’s a sign of a lack of self respect, and respect for your neighbor and in our black communities often the same lack of respect that leads to black on black violence and crime. It may seem like a leap, but I don’t think so. Its a micro-cosmos of the whole. It saddens me deeply, it scares me and makes me lose a little more hope in ever seeing a day where we move beyond our current condition. Sure there may be a systematic method for limiting our access to better lives but what does it matter when so many of us are so concerned with ourselves we can’t see beyond our little world to do the little decent things that make function as a society, as a whole, instead of a gathering of desperate individuals. I’m sorry I’m rambling. My head isn’t fully in this today. I’m still a little jarred from yesterday and how I’m feeling today.

Day Sixteen

Its not that today was uneventful, but it was slow moving. Partly because I feel like I’m still pulling it together from yesterday. I can’t say I feel much better. I still feel like I’ve been chewed up and spit out raw by this whole thing. My energy is drained, I’m angry and frustrated at myself, the trip, everything about it actually. Today I am not in a good place.

A few things did happen today though to move the day along at least. In the morning we went to Waffle House for breakfast. Lisa Lisa, Big Red,Pit Stop and myself all went and took the morning to get a bit to prepare for the day. Afterwards we had to run to the Harley shop and take care of some little things, I needed a new piece of hose for my shocks and to get into my battery compartment and I didn’t have the right screwdriver. We also just tend to end up at the Harley shop as most of my riding family are Harley Davidson die-hards and its like going to church for them. So that was our next stop. Beforehand though Big Red and I rode out to the Tulsa Speedway to pick up my credentials for the rally since it tends to get busy at the gate at night. Then back to the hotel to pick up some stragglers and off to HD. Once there we actually bumped into Chief from the Toros, Lisa Lisa’s bother and hung out for a bit. I took care of my needs and got my charger working.  After that it was back to the hotel once again.

At this point Big Red and Pit Stop decided to go to visit the historic Greenwood Cultural Center and Black Wall Street areas. This was once a central point for black businesses and hub of financial exchange which is now commemorated by various things. I would swing by later but first wanted to take care of some little things. I finally got my hotel room, I unpacked and cleaned the bike and I showered. All things that desperately needed to be done.

A clean set of two's always makes you feel a little better.

A clean set of two’s always makes you feel a little better.

After this I took it easy. I made some calls and got dressed to go meet everyone out at the field at the Speedway. First I went stopped to get a new sd card for the GoPro, and a visit to the Black Wall Street area. As we said, “you have to know your history.” Then out to the field. I usually take pictures like a madman while there. Honestly this year I was too exhausted. I found the Rough Riders tent which is Dirty Red’s club.  We chatted for a bit and I dropped off beers in a cooler and then went over to the drag-strip where everyone was.  We caught up and watched races for the next two hours or so. Some poor man named Pete was embarrassed so bad he may never leave home again. He got beat so bad that in the announcers words’ “Pete was so slow he couldn’t catch himself.” We had a good time though. It was honestly nice to just not have anything to do.

Know your history.

Know your history.

Pete took a beating on the pavement today.

Pete took a beating on the pavement today.

My boy Big Red used to live in Denver so he knows lots of dudes from the set out there. Actually most of the guys I know are vicariously through that set as well, other than the old heads from Nap. Which is great because it keeps me diverse in my riding crew. A number of the Denver dudes were in though. DemDamDawgs was running deep and as always came up all the way on two’s. Kaveman and his crew did it as always. We respect those that ride all the way unless you have a valid reason not to. You gotta earn your place on the set. I’ve only towed to one for safety reasons. I’ll never do that again, its just not the life for me. Some of the State Burners from St Louis also came up, Game and Eezy. They ran with us the rest of the night and part of the next day. Those are good dudes, really all my people are. That’s what still bothers me so much about the day before. We’re young on the set, but we know the rules of the game. I credit Big Red, Realwun and Dirty Red for helping me learn it quick. But I also see it in these young cats. We respect it, we live it, we treat it with the honesty it deserves. How it is that whole clubs and others treat the code and the life like a throwaway item yet claim to live it? It hurts.

Reunion Time. Demdamdawgs and the fellas representing.

Reunion Time. Demdamdawgs and the fellas representing.

Then it was back to the tent and a few beers. There was a jazz concert that night out on the main stage and while my friends went over to watch I relaxed at the tent with drinks. You could hear the music wafting through the air and it was perfect. We called it a night around 12:30 and hopped back on our scoots to head back to the hotel. Of course no night was complete without another Waffle House visit. I really don’t think you need to see pictures of my cheddar jalapeno biscuit and hot tea. Needless to say it hit the spot. Today turned out to be not so bad after all.