A Man’s Struggle with Earth and Machine
by Scotty Kerekes (Scooter Tramp Scotty)
The night was unusually dark with tall green forests lining either side of the little two-lane highway meandering through the natural beauty and small country towns of southern Tennessee. The air at midnight was still warm since the heat wave that plagued the South and Eastern states settled in over a month ago. Yet the climate was pleasant setting out for the night’s sunset ride. For a moment, my mind wandered back over events of the recent past…
The coldest of winter had been spent deep in Baja Mexico where, for the entire two month stay, I’d not seen so much as a drop of rain nor had need to wear a jacket except on rare occasion. However, the spring’s warming air had moved me farther north and I’d come to Phoenix for Arizona Bike Week. Although there would be no great stories to tell of my time there, I’d enjoyed this event just the same. To the north, winter’s frigid fingers had not yet released their hold upon the land, so I’d simply continued the slow migration east.
In Austin, Texas the Electra Glide’s rear cylinder began to belching smoke; but I’d ridden the 200-miles to Groves anyway. Once there, Dale’s Bike Shop (an old friend) graciously allowed me to pull the EVO’s rear head in his front yard. Closer inspection had told the story of a broken exhaust-valve guide. After Dale sold me the parts, his machinist installed them and in a few short days, I was back on the road at a total cost of about $50. Florida then granted a warm three-week stay, but by late April, the easy journey north had begun. Early May in South Carolina brought the Myrtle Beach Rally and it was there that I’d worked a hard week on the motorcycles that came for service at Cycle Solutions (a traveling dyno tuner); for after the long winter my funds were running unusually low. Next, the uncommonly interesting town of Ashville, North Carolina offered a wonderful three-week stay in a beautiful and very private spot beside a great river. There, with camp nestled into the unrivaled beauty of the Smoky Mountains, I’d finally finished writing the book that had been torturing me in recent years. With the writing done, I visited Jody Martin of Martin Motor Sports (a small Harley shop), and as it had been so many times before, I made camp in his yard, shared his home, and repaired a plethora of the small problems that the old Electra Glide had earned so faithfully over the years—for she now showed a total of 454,000 miles on the odometer.
These were all fond accounts of yet another winter’s travels and maybe I would write them some day. But, for now the past was only a memory and the future just a blank canvas of the places and events yet to come. Few cars roamed the little Tennessee highway at this time of night and even the small towns were unusually vacant. The old Harley-Davidson pulled strong and true against the pavement of this midnight dream and, with few cares in the world to interrupt the experience, I glided gently through this surreal beauty in the company of an uncommonly quiet mind.
At 1 a.m. sleepiness won out and I leaned forward to peer attentively over the windshield attempting to locate a good spot to put in home for the night. At the road’s right, a short driveway dropped quickly through the trees then ended at a metal gate; its tattered mailbox told the story of a property that had probably been long ago abandoned. After hanging a U-turn in the dark road’s deserted center I pulled into the driveway and cut the motor. The sound of croaking frogs instantly filled the air as I squinted through the din of moonlight that thinly illuminated a big yard of scattered trees separated by land covered with a type of grass that grew low to the earth. The dirt driveway that led beyond the gate was also covered in grass, making it quite obvious that no one had been here for a long time. In the distance, a large, singlewide house trailer sat in complete darkness with thick foliage growing so closely against its front entrance that I could not believe anyone lived there. Looking back to the locked gate that crossed the driveway, I noted that, although there was a sharp drop that fell into a deep gully at its right, there was still just enough room between the drop and gate to squeak the big motorcycle through if I was careful.
Pulling the Mini-Mag flashlight from the case at my hip, I dismounted and walked with only slight apprehension around the fence; for I’d performed this ritual a thousand times before and practical experience said that my assessments were probably correct. After shining the flashlight through the trailer’s front window to the shambles of ruined possessions inside, I pulled its unlocked door open only to find more of the same. Beyond the old sofa, chairs, broken china, and other great piles of just plain junk I could see that the back door hung open from a broken hinge. This show was over; and with the people long gone, the old house-trailer now served only as home to a few select creatures of the forest. I could certainly live with only them as my neighbors.
Turning away, I walked to the property’s far end and found a beautiful spot in which to camp. Within 15-minutes, the bike was brought in and I was bedded down in the tent that sat beside it. By 7 a.m. the bike was again packed and ready; for I hoped to put in 100-miles before the afternoon heat set in.
Once the engine had warmed, I moved slowly toward the gate at which we’d passed so easily only the night before. However, as the huge and heavily loaded motorcycle passed the gate, suddenly it pitched violently to the right until its tour-pack hit the end fencepost that stopped it from toppling completely over.
After trying to lift the heavy bastard upright and finding that I could not, I killed the engine and shut off the gas before dismounting to better survey the situation. Walking around the bike, I saw nothing that would hold it at such a screwball angle. In an attempt to lighten the burden, I unloaded the camping gear and tried to lift it again. Still I could not. After more head-scratching and confused contemplation, I decided to try pulling the weeds that grew thickly around the vehicle’s front end and see if there was a funky rock or something hidden under there.
Sure enough there was. But this was not something as simple as a rock for, much to my shock and amazement, a heavy two-foot pole that protruded stoutly up from the ground was now jammed between the bike’s front end and frame/crash-bar/lower fairing. It was only by dumb luck that I’d missed the damn thing on the way in.
I reached for the offending pole/post but quickly found that it would neither bend nor budge. Next, I stood back to contemplate this almost impossible situation. There, directly at the top of a deep gully, a big-assed motorcycle sat hopelessly jammed between the fencepost at its right, and that useless pipe that protruded from beneath holding it from the left.
We were many miles from any town or person and already the air was growing hot. For a few more moments, I scratched my head in silent contemplation. There are times in this world when people must rely solely on their own best judgment and action to affect the outcome of a difficult situation. This was one of those times and for it, my mind settled into an uncommon (at least for me) state of clarity.
I turned and walked to the old freestanding garage that accompanied the house-trailer. Inside its open door, the remains of a small farm-life whose time had passed lay scattered everywhere. An old rototiller sat rusting against the far wall. A lawnmower too. Bits of discarded chain, and auto parts (a generator, engine head, starter, flywheel, etc) lay scattered across the floor. Discarded pails full of old rusting bolts and small engine parts were here and there. Rope, old halters, and other horse oriented paraphernalia rested in the other great piles of junk that littered the place. And there were two plastic buckets that sat filled with water from the leaky roof.
From the garage, I commandeered a broken shovel and one long and rather thin piece of pipe. Then, from the great piles of rubble that also filled the house-trailer, I took a tire-iron. Next, dressed only in shorts against the morning heat that was already growing oppressive, and engineer boots for the dirt in which I’d be working, I returned to the hopelessly stuck bike. First, I inserted the long length of pipe taken from the garage into the offending post that held the big motorcycle captive and tried to bend it outward. No luck; for the post was made of cast-iron and would not budge. Next, using only the tire-iron to loosen the dirt, then broken shovel to remove it, I began to dig. But the ground was hard and the going unnervingly slow.
Returning to the garage, I took one bucket of the murky water and brought it to the bike, filled the hole with water, waited a few minutes, then began to dig again. The soggy mud proved much easier to work with and the going was slightly faster. Slightly.
And so I worked, took breaks, added more water, tried again to bend the offending post with my garage pole, then dug some more. It seemed that the other end of this stinking post must lay somewhere near the earth’s core. When almost three hours had passed, and just when I was about to give up, the post moved! Just a little; but it was enough to renew my dwindling hopes. As a burst of excited energy coursed through my dirty and blistered hands, the digging resumed with renewed enthusiasm.
Fifteen minutes later the post came free and, after a moment of slightly premature celebration, I sat back to contemplate the new problem. For there, at the top of a rather sheer drop that fell 20-feet onto a gully, a very heavy motorcycle sat leaning against a fence and at the same time over the huge hole that had been dug beneath it. To make matters even more fun, the bike’s original clash with the post had pushed it slightly farther into the gully and the front wheel no longer pointed directly to the safety of the driveway’s hard pavement.
Again, I walked around the bike to contemplate. First, I tried to pull the front end farther out of the gully. No chance. Well, it was obvious that that hole would have to be filled before anything else could happen so I returned to the garage, grabbed a bucket of rusting bolts, small engine parts, and wrenches then dropped it into the hole. Next I poured the contents of another like it in and spread the rusting metal evenly around. On top of that, I added a coil of rope then topped it all with a layer of dirt. When this was done, I retrieved the shovel and scraped an easier slope from front wheel to the driveway’s blacktop.
But there was still a not-so-slight chance that when the bike began to move, rather than glide easily up onto the driveway, it would choose instead to slide, then topple, into that goddamn gully. It seemed a wise move to go down there and remove any large rocks, refuse, and the pieces of an old metal fence that were laying in the way. Yea, like falling head first down a 20-foot drop while beneath an 800-pound motorcycle wouldn’t kill me anyway.
When this was done it was time for the moment of truth. I righted the bike, started the engine, dropped ’er into gear, took a deep breath, and rode the motorcycle right outta there.
Easy as pie!
Once on the safety of driveway-pavement, I killed the motor and threw down the kickstand. As the day’s sounds mellowed again into only the calming chatter of so many birds who occupied the surrounding forest (I’d not noticed them before) a great rush of tension left my body.
It was over.
Looking over the motorcycle, I noted that the only damage was one large dent that the offending post had pushed into the front fender. Well hell, the fender had already been tweaked by a hit-and-run who’d tagged me in Milwaukee the year before. It was shot anyway. The good news was that no metal rubbed against the front tire. The bike was fine. It would roll.
After a short breather to reacquaint myself with the beautiful southern Tennessee countryside, I reloaded the bike then pulled back upon the small highway to reclaim my place on the pavement of this never-ending journey.