Northbound in Mid-October
Barber Vintage Festival
Sixty miles out from Lake Wales, Florida, I stopped in Mascotte, at the Rainbow Family Restaurant, which had become a favorite of mine because of its cheap and honest breakfast. As I was backing the Tiger into a spot out front, it seemed hard to move. I thought it was just me and my sore wrist still being too weak from my accident to pull on the bars to force it in reverse into the spot.
Breakfast was its usual goodness, made up of scrambled eggs with cheese mixed into it, grits, and a couple hot cups of coffee. When finished, I went out to discover the real reason why the bike had been hard to move; the rear tire was completely flat, the culprit, a screw dead center in the tread.
I filled the tire up with a small compressor I carry with me, and it seemed to be holding, at least enough to get to a Harley shop in Groveland that I had been told about in the restaurant, just a mile or so back the way I’d come. It was about eight-thirty, and the shop didn’t open until nine. I rode down and parked up in the gravel in front of the shop to wait.
As soon as the owner showed up, the first thing he said as he exited his pickup wearing a scowl was, “I don’t work on those; only Harleys,” and, "I don't do tires." Not surprisingly, he had a “Fuck Biden and Fuck You for Voting for Him” sign plastered across his building, along with a Trump flag flying from a pole near the door. He walked inside without saying more, although he conceded to letting me park my non-Harley-Davidson in his gravel, while I walked across the highway to a McDonalds to get in the air conditioning, get some coffee, and to the make a call for a tow.
Three hours later, back across the road I was still sitting in front of the shop, sitting on the ground in the sliver of shade cast from the building, waiting for the tow vehicle, while conservative talk radio angrily blasted from inside the shop. I could fix the tube myself, as I had packed all the tools, but the one thing I didn’t have was the special patch for the inside of the tire, and I did not want to start such a long ride with only fixing the tube and not addressing the tire as well. But I did have AMA towing, having luckily just re-upped my membership a week or so before, which I had let lag for a couple years because of our financial situation then. I made the call, and a little after noon the truck arrived. Of course, the tire was flat again, and I started to get my little compressor out to pump it up enough for us to easily roll the bike to the truck, when the shop owner, knowing the tow driver, finally became helpful and offered us the use of his compressor. He even wished me luck.
With the Tiger mounted securely on the truck bed, I jumped into the shotgun seat in the cab, and we were off to a shop in Oakland, south of Lake Apopka and northwest of Orlando, about fifteen miles away. Traffic was dense, and it took at least a half-hour to reach the shop, after which they went to work on the tire, while I strolled around the showroom and outside looking at all the different models they had in stock., Surprisingly they had two Honda CRF300Ls, a bike in demand that my friends in the Atlanta area had to order and wait weeks to arrive. After checking out the bikes and sitting in a deserted corner of the showroom fiddling with my phone, by about two o’clock the bike was ready. I went out to check it and was met by two employees drooling over the Tiger. We had a little chat about the bike and what I had found I liked about it so far, after just seventy-five miles or so of riding it. While the tow was free, I had to go back inside to pay a whopping $135 for the repair, which would cut significantly into my already meagre budget.
The tire delay meant I would not make it to Birmingham that same day, or at least before dark. With a right eye that was damaged by a baseball line drive that had never fully recovered, along with my run-in on the Bonneville with a deer after dark, I’d sworn to stop riding after night fell. I’d have to stop somewhere. Where that somewhere would be and how much more it would affect my budget I’d have to see. I’d ride until late afternoon and then start looking for a cheap motel. I wasn’t going to camp and spend the time tearing down and packing up the gear in the morning. I needed to get to the Vintage Festival as early as possible, already being a day late and missing events that I should have already been at, getting photos for the magazine. For those missed events, I’d need to track down members who’d been there and get promises that they’d send me some images to use.
It was late afternoon when I got to the Georgia state line, north of Monticello, Florida. I had already spotted a deer roaming around the fields on the side of the road at about three-thirty, so I wanted to find a place as quickly as possible, well before total darkness set in. By Thomasville, I spied the names of a couple chains of common economical motels side by side and pulled in. For eighty-five dollars a night, I had a room in some sort of merged double motel in a bit scruffy part of town. The clientele wandering around the parking lots looked a little unsavory, but the room was clean and had a bed, which was all I needed. I had been told continental breakfast was also included, so I expected to save time and money in the morning, not having to stop somewhere for breakfast. I emptied by panniers and detached all the easily removeable stuff from the Tiger, leaving the empty panniers and top box still attached and hoping for the best. To top off the evening, there was also a Waffle House within walking distance, so I took a stroll there for a quick bite before retiring to my room for the rest for the night.
In the morning, I was pleased to see the empty soft panniers still on the bike. As I went out to begin repacking the bike, two doors down were a pair of police officers having a talk with a man about “domestic violence.” I packed quickly as voices were raised, got on, and rolled to the front of the lobby to drop off the key and grab breakfast. Pickings were slim, but they did have a self-serve waffle maker for a hot item. I poured the mix in, closed the lid, rotated the iron, and went to get coffee while I waited for my waffle. Hearing the “ding” I retrieved my meal, buttered it up, poured on the syrup, and scarfed it down, while out of the corner of my eye I could see a police officer in the adjacent lobby talking to the apparent victim, or perpetrator, of this morning’s scuffle.
While the police were still there, I made my escape and headed north. The temperature was pleasant most of the way, after a short run-in through the trailing edge of a front and rain. The sun came out on the other side and stayed out all the way to Birmingham.
I took a little shortcut I knew up to Leeds. It was a run through a couple mountains, with enough twists to make it a fun ride, and it allowed me to approach Birmingham from the east, and less busy, side of town, with Barber Motorsports Park on the eastern outskirts of the big city. Because part of the journey was intended to let me have some time to get to know the Tiger better, this stretch also was perfect to see what “Sport Mode” would do. Turning onto Highway 21, I switched modes and let it rip, being delighted with the performance increase.
From Leeds, on the other side of the mountains, it was a quick ride west to Barber, where I checked in, ran down some photos from earlier events, caught up on the schedule, and started the photography work.
Sounds of Japanese Horsepower Contest at Barber Vintage Festival
Cross Country Races at BVF
I’d been chatting with a fellow about his book about an overland ride he’d taken with his wife and an infant daughter in a sidecar. He and his wife were camping at the festival and had invited me to stop by. It had rained torrents the day before and most of the park was still soaked and muddy. The route to their campsite, being soft wet grass torn up with muddy ruts everywhere, had me thinking the inevitable result for me would be the first drop of the Tiger, especially considering the almost street tires that were original equipment on the dual-sport Tiger that I had to work with, but surprisingly, I made it in, and later out, muddy but still upright.
Dinner was about ready when I arrived. We shared spring rolls, pork, and rice, while discussing the book and meeting friends camping with them or others dropping by.
My friends lived in Georgia, as did their camp mate, who it turned out, had been at Anderson College when I had in the late-'70s. We discovered that we had many mutual friends and common stories to share. Other people came and went: a young couple on a muddy dirt bike, two-up, with a baby in a chest harness as well, and an interesting young woman who had come from Miami to ride her first trials and ended up coming in third.
After dinner, I risked the two miles in the darkness to my friend Ken’s place, just outside the motorsports park, where we listened to music and caught up with each other until midnight, after which I made my bed on the couch and soon was fast asleep.
After breakfast buffet with Ken at Laney’s, a local favorite, Saturday was another work day at the festival, where the Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Club was having a contest for the loudest bike in a few categories, a couple of technical presentations, a huge bike show, and an awards presentation, with awards given by a well-known past Motocross champion, AMA Hall of Famer Mary McGee. The sun had been blazing all day. I was hot and worn out and happy to see the afternoon heat fading after the awards for the club’s annual barbecue dinner on the, by then, slightly drier lawn that had to be abandoned earlier in favor of the street-side for the bike show.
I got back to Ken’s unscathed just after dark with a very cautious and slow approach on the final road to his place, in hopes of avoiding deer, which I’d seen in the area before. We spent another night listening to music and having some drinks. It felt good to know my work was done and there would be no need to get up to an alarm the next morning. Sunday would be the real start of my journey, making decisions each day on the fly on when to leave and when and where to stop.