Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Beverly Hillbilly Bikers

Dante Never Visited Louisiana in August

In Dante's Divine Comedy, he talks about the nine circles of the "inferno" or hell, detailing a journey wherein he views the people, their sins and their punishments.

Frankly, Dante didn't know what the hell he was talking about. He never visited Louisiana in August and he never took a long motorcycle trip with my family. If he had, he'd have known that the inferno had more than nine circles and the punishments meted out by the lord of the underworld were cake walks comparitively speaking.

Of course, in his Divine Comedy, you are meant to find the humor in the sins and pain of punishment, however ghastly they might appear, that is inflicted. That's about the only thing that Dante got right. It's definitely funnier when it's happening to someone else or viewed through the scope of time and space.

Don't know what I'm talking about?

Start the journey into the inferno:

Day 1: The Beginning
Day 2: You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet
Day 3: Burnt Ends

For Day 4...

We woke up early on Day 4. The night before we had discussed continuing our journey. So far, it had been a lot more excitement than I was planning on. Or, I should say, a lot DIFFERENT excitement than I had been planning on. Part of me was happy that we were going on. The other, more sane side of my mind was wondering what the hell I was doing going into the back and beyond with a bunch of crazy people I generally referred to as "my family".

Why, oh why, do we never listen to that side of our brain? Okay, maybe "never" isn't the right word. Sometimes, I do listen. But, when it is something that I want very badly or have been planning on for a long time, I am hard to dissuade.

Did I mention that we are ALL hard headed, stubborn wack jobs?

Yeah, it's like that.

I took a cold shower via the hose on the side of my cousin's house. You may recall from Day 2 and Day 3 that the bathroom there was in a state of disrepair.

Who am I kidding? I've seen cleaner and better bathrooms at one pump gas stations in BFE where they keep recycling that same damn rollamatic towel that has turned black with use and has a spot or two of blood on it. Not to mention unmentionable product on the floor, grease and "goop" from the "mechanic" named "Earl" liberally encrusted on the sink and a message that says "Help me!" scribbled in pink lipstick on the mirror.

At least, in those bathrooms, the water ran and nobody warned you against flushing toilet paper into the septic.

Yeah, it was like that.

So, in deference to my more sensitive nature, the one that insists on some sort of clean habits, I donned my bathing suit from the previous day and grabbed my bar of antibacterial soap, trooping over to the hose to stand in line with the rest of the people intent on washing some part of their body and rinsing their suits out at the same time.

Believe me when I tell you that I accomplished this task in very short order, was dressed and packed in record time, standing near the bike hoping to subliminally urge people to get a move on so we could get to the station and allow me to use the facilities for more..uh..important calls of nature.

This time we by passed the little station up the road and went to the station at Wal-Marts. Yes, a gas station at Wal-marts, though not directly linked to them. Once again, sweet relief.

Then we trooped over to the grand imporium of capitalism to do some shopping. I needed some sweat proof sun block. I had been using sun block regularly on our, to date, short trip, even though I was wearing a full face helmet. The sun was brutal on the face and my freckles had a tendency to join together under the best of circumstances to form a raccoon type mask around the eyes. It was so bad in some summers that people mistook the mass of freckles for a deep tan. I do have some regard for my complexion, so sweat proof sun block was required. The sweat not only rinsed away the sun block, but the sunblock had a tendency to run into my eyes at inopportune moments and stung like a thousand little bees. Something else Dante forgot to mention in his cute little journey into hell.

The arms were also important. It was bad enough to have the wind beating against them, add the sun and you were likely to see some rather leathery looking scales appear.

I do have my little vanities.

I also purchased some better lip balm, two cases of bottled water, some more spam, beanie weenies and pork-n-beans. I went to the main grocery area and picked up some condiments, cheese and tomatoes. If I was going to eat spam anymore on the trip, I was intent on making it palatable.

We finally got underway around 9:30 AM and it was already soaring into the upper 80's. Another hot one and it was going to be a scorcher.

The sun burn on my back was already reacting to the heat. The straps of my overalls were irritating the hell out of it and I almost decided to go for the jeans except it was such a pain to get the pant legs over the top of my "Frankenstein" boots. That's what everyone called them because they had an inch and a quarter lug sole that gave me just enough height to stand flat footed at a stop. An important endeavor if you are riding safely.

Uncle Lewis had decided to ride his bike after all. Oh, joy. I loved the guy and he had been the one to give me my first lessons on the bike, teaching me about safety and not riding under certain circumstances, yet, here he was, being all machismo or hard headed or just plain crazy, insisting on riding after his day old collapse; in the front of the pack. Once again, I decided that a stretched out pack would suit me fine and so would the back of the pack.

We took off heading out of Arkansas. Southern Arkansas was nice, but once it flattened out into Louisiana, there wasn't a whole hell of a lot of scenery to look at. Of course, maybe a native southern Arkansan would say differently, but the heat and the condition of the road had my attention much more than the slightly rolling hills covered in a hazy, heated mist.

I mentioned that my bike only gets 90 miles to the tank? We had to stop by 11pm, just on the other side of the Louisiana border for gas. At this point, it was about 95 in the shade and the uncle was beginning to fade. I'm not sure if reason set in or the aunt finally put her foot down, but they traded places in the truck and gave Robert the keys to his bike.

Off we went again.

Midway through Louisiana the heat had reached around 100. Maybe more with the heat index. I don't know, but, again, heat exhaustian was ripping at our group. It was just about to kill me and I was drinking water, wearing thin overalls and a wet bandana around my neck that, with the dirt and grime flying off the highway, contributed to several dirt streaks on my white T-shirt. Now I know why bikers always wear black. Some of my t-shirts never recovered from that trip. About this time, though, I didn't really give a rats patutti. My main concern was not passing out at 80 mph on a well traveled highway.

As we went along, I kept flipping the shield of my helmet up to get some air. Any air. The damn thing was like a sauna. Now I know why soldiers call their helmets "brain pots" or "brain boilers" or whatever. I did feel like my brain was cooking like those commercials of the egg frying on the sidewalk. Just as yummy looking, too.

The problem was, the shield was too loose so every time I flipped it up, the wind would flip it shut after only a few minutes of air. It was damned annoying. Up. Down. Up. Down. Not that the air I was getting was any better. The wind whipping across the highway was coming from the west. West Texas that is and it was the hottest wind I had ever felt in my life. Imagine the inferno we were discussing earlier. Imagine every time the flames roared and a hot gust of fire and brimstone blew into your face.

It was that hot. So hot, in fact, that it was stealing my breath away. I almost found myself holding my breath in a desperate attempt to not scorch my lungs or choke down my peck of dirt in a few hours instead of over a life time. I do believe I choked down at least two pecks on that little six hour journey out of the third circle of hell and into the fourth.

We finally stopped and everyone was digging for water this time as well as using the melted ice cold water from the cooler to pour out on kerchiefs and t-shirts. Several bottles of water also found themselves onto heads. Mine included. I already had "helmet hair". Wetting it down was not going to make it worse.

I proceeded to dig around all the stuff, that seemed much more precariously packed than before, for the tool box I kept. I needed a screw driver. That face shield was coming off. I didn't even care if I got smacked by the big ol' june bugs that were making their presence known by the welts on my arms. Not to mention the small pebbles and other crap that came flying off the wheels and out the windows of the "cages" as we affectionately referred to cars and trucks. Diesels were our nemesis.

Eighteen wheelers not only throw a ton of crap on you, they also have a tendency to suck your bike towards them in the vortex their mass creates in the wind. Not only were we fighting the wind from hell out of Texas, but we were fighting that as well. A hell of a way to develop arm and back muscles.

I tossed the offending shield into the back of the truck where it remained the rest of the trip. We stood around stretching and drinking for a while longer. The aunt said that there was a camping place in Natchitoches, Louisiana that we should stop at for the night. They had a pool and showers and a little Mexican restaurant nearby that they swore by. Of course, a little argument ensued over the correct pronounciation of Nathitoches. I said it was Natch-e-toe-ches. The aunt said Natch-e-teaches. It was a stupid argument that probably had no bearing except the heat was playing havoc with my temperment.

Hot and surely.

I still think I was right.

As my uncle rightly pointed out, it didn't matter and we needed to get down the road. Once again, we started off.

As I predicted, the june bugs and other insects must have had some sort of inter insect communications because all of them seemed to aim right for the big hole I'd left in my helmet. One in particular was so big, I saw it coming for a mile and when it reached my windshield, instead of smacking it to my satisfaction, it flew up the wind drag and came right for my face. I ducked away just in time to avoid such a fate, but it smacked the side of my helmet like a baseball at 90 mph and just about knocked me silly. That's my excuse anyway for swerving all over the road and causing the nearest bike to do the same and the chase truck to brake dangerously.

Everyone seemed to be looking in their mirrors to see if I'd gone "heat stroke", too. Frankly, I can't imagine what I would have looked like had the little bastard actually succeeded in making it through the hole and smacking my face. Probably would have had a black eye which would have just topped off the entire trip.

We finally made it to the camp site after 8 hours of riding. When we stopped, I didn't even want to get off the bike, I was so exhausted. I just hit the kill switch and sat there, my whole body vibrating as if I was still fighting the wind, the bugs, the grinding road and the vibration of a motorcylce that may never have taken that sort of ride before.

The poor dear. But it was holding up. Thank God, because my dad had repeatedly warned me that an air cooled rice burner with 850 cc's might not react kindly to the heat and the long runs. I think the stops every 1.5 hours helped it maintain. If it had died, I would never have heard the end of it.

Finally, I was roused enough to get off and start setting up camp. I had this feeling that, if I didn't do it now, later I wouldn't want to after the pure exhaustion had set it. Everyone else was doing the same in anticipation of hitting the little Mexican restaurant, coming back for a shower and lying down on a flat surface that didn't move.

As I began to search for a viable place to set up the tent, I noticed that our campsite was crawling with critters. Not just any critters: red ants. If you don't live in an area where red ants are prevalent, you may not understand the intense hatred I had for the little buggers. We didn't call them "fire ants" for nothing. In those movies we seen as a kid, where the guy is buried up to his neck in an ant hill by the indians waiting his fate, it was red ants that were his demise. I can't imagine a worse way to go.

You see, this is why I say Dante didn't know jack shit about purgatory or the other 8 circles of the inferno. If he had, he would have included red ants, 18 wheelers, stinging sun block and Mexican restaurants on "two-fer" nights along with the raging heat in his inferno.

Hot pokers in the privates? Whatever, dude. That's like Six Flags over Alaska comparatively speaking.

Finally, we were done with the camp set up. I did my best to set up the tent in an "ant free" zone, but that was pretty limited choices. I shook out the sleeping bag as best as I could and zipped up the tent in hopes of fending off invaders. My bro and cousin Mikey had abandoned their campsites to their wives and traipsed off to the little gas station next door in search of some juice to drink. They came back as we finished up, laughing it up a little.

"Man," Mikey said, plopping into his camp chair, "you should have heard these guys in the gas station."

"Yeah," bro added, "very funny." I'm not sure he was quite as amused.

Mikey went on, "We were standing in the back of the station getting juice and this trucker came into pay for his gas. He must have seen us pull in or something. He was telling the clerk to spread the word that some "ignorant ass bikers" were over here and they needed to keep their trucks locked. Should have seen his face when we walked up behind him." Mikey was still chuckling.

The rest of us were stunned for a moment. Me, too. Moi? Ignorant ass biker? I beg to differ with balding beer bellied trollers of truck stop lizards. I am quite certain that I do not qualify as an "ignorant ass biker". At least, I did at that time. I preferred to see myself as your average middle class American having an "adventure" on a bike. Oh, how 10 days in the inferno will change your attitude. Particularly, when one must constantly fight the ignorant ass truckers for space on the road.

Now, don't get me wrong. I have all sorts of folks in my family. Some of them are even truckers. But, when you got several tons of steel behind the wheels, pulling a small house, sometimes, just sometimes, truckers don't see your little 500lb bike.

That and the fact that we WERE a middle class extended family with very little criminal history (I'll explain that someday). It wasn't them that needed to worry, but us.

After a few more seconds of stunned silence, we all started laughing. Now that was a hoot. The Henry clan, complete with biker chic mommas and brand new chase vehicle scared the crap out of some truckers (evil laughter here). We decided to adopt it as our little motto: the I.A.B. We were going to have it emblazoned on our jackets as our "colors". I.A.B. that is. We weren't actually going to spell it out. It was going to be an inside joke. I am quite certain no other group had it.

Finally, we trooped over to the Mexican restaurant across the truck stop parking lot. We laughed pretty loud and kept discussing the I.A.B. Making it into the restaurant was like getting a reprieve from hell. Suddenly, it was air conditioned. I felt the cool blood rush to my head and was almost dizzy for a minute. It took them a few moments to get us some tables near each other. For the first time, I ate at a restaurant that did not put tables together for out group, but insisted that we have two separate ones in order to keep their floor "clear".

Whatever. We were hungry. Starving even. Our lagging appetites earlier due to the heat came back in full force after the refreshing rush of air conditioned air. I noted that Margaritas were on special for a dollar so I ordered one with my food. Honestly, I can't remember what I ate. I do remember the Margaritas. When they came out with two giant mugs per person (everyone else deciding to indulge as well), we were all kind of shocked.

It was "two for one" Margaritas for a buck. Hell of a way to scare up business (and they were packed).

I gulped down the first half of my first margarita with a basket of chips and salsa. At that point, I realized that the Margarita's were kind of strong. Very mouth puckering. I couldn't tell if it was the cheap tequila or the sweet n sour they used. Still, I couldn't resist and finished it up before the meal was out.

Now, you may start thinking here, as I was surely unable to do due to the baked brains I was suffering from, that, drinking Margaritas with little food on your stomach and being severely dehydrated from the heat, regardless of the amount of water drank, is not a brilliant idea. As a matter of fact, if you are looking for a cheap drunk, I highly recommend it. On the other hand, you could say it is down right "stupid".

Fortunately, we were only walking a block. Still, I didn't feel it yet.

The food came out and I gulped down Margarita number two with whatever Mexican food thingy, accompanied by rice and beans, I was devouring. My cousin's wife didn't feel like drinking the rest of hers so she asked if I wanted Margarita number three, which I acquiesced to without blinking an eye lid. I hadn't noticed yet that the rest had stopped drinking theirs, too.

We got done and I generously paid the bill for our table, aunt and uncle doing the same. As much as everyone was supposed to bring, I knew that the trip was tight for the rest of them and I had a little more money after selling off "old Bess" to some gentleman that were only interested in her four wheel drive.

We left the restaurant. I was still feeling fine, right up to the moment we walked outside and the hot winds of hades blasted us in the face. That and about ten steps was enough to make me start feeling suddenly loopy. I laughed the first time I stumbled. Everyone laughed, too and joked about my walking versus driving abilities. Halfway to the campsite about a block away, I was really feeling my cheerios. I was laughing. Loudly. Stumbling often and, to the slight embarrassment of the family, repeating the words, "ignorant ass bikers" as we passed the rows upon rows of diesels parked behind the truck stop.

They dragged me away quickly, but laughingly. I don't think any of them had had the privilege of seeing me blasted before.

I remember sitting in my camp chair at the site and feeling the world spinning. It was still so damned hot. I wanted to put on my shorts, but just couldn't pull it together. Suddenly, I found my self slipping out of the seat and in need of the solid earth below me. I leaned against the chair, but it gave no support. I laid face down on the ground, without a blanket, and put my head on my arms.

Why wouldn't this freaking earth stop spinning?!

I recall everyone laughing and telling me to get up. Then I heard one of the girls trying to whisper something about getting the camera. I was drunk, but I wasn't that damned wasted and I sure as hell did not want that picture accompanying us back to civilization. Who knows what sort of blackmail these people could get up to?

Still, I really didn't feel like gravity was my friend as yet. Mikey's wife was calling my name over and over, trying to get me to look. I could see the aunt's feet standing near by, ready to snap a picture for posterity. I decided to give them one and raised up one hand high enough to flip them the bird.

It wasn't even 8pm. That was certainly a new record for me.

I plopped back down and listened to everyone talking. The heat had been a killer that day. They started talking about getting up earlier and getting down the road to beat some of the heat. We were already getting up at 7 AM and that was rough enough considering I was on vacation. I said so, loudly. I'll be damned if I'm getting up before the sun. Drink more water, you freaks.

Er...don't mind me, I'm drunk. An argument ensued. Half the camp wanted to wake up at 5:30 AM. Some suggested six. Me, I just kept saying "no". I don't really know what for, but I had set my mind that they weren't waking me up that damned early. No. Nada. Never.

The argument continued for sometime, getting more and more intense. Now they were saying something about going on to Pensacola from Gulf Port. As I pointed out earlier, we didn't really have time or money for an extended trip. The boys kept saying something about just another few hours down the road. I pointed out that it was at least five hours additional one way. It couldn't be done in a day and also enjoy any of the sites they wanted to see and another day was impossible. Everyone kept arguing and my head started pounding.

Finally, I stumbled up and said I was going to go lay the quiet. It wasn't dark yet and that was a bummer, but I was going to lay down anyway. Far away. I stumbled over to the tent and zipped myself inside, intent on on shedding the overalls and pulling on my shorts. It was even hotter inside the tent. Reminded me of those old movies with the Indian sweat lodge. Drunk as I was, I didn't feel the need for purification right then so I upzipped the tent, dragged the sleeping bag outside to find a breeze. Any breeze. Even if it was hotter than the winds of hell.

I laid down face first. I heard Mikey and my bro insist that, while the rest of us were stopping in Gulf Port, they were going on to Pensacola. They wanted to see the dolphins and some place that looked like a sand castle. The tawdry amusements of us poor folks. Everyone seemed to be parting on angry terms.

Well, that was certainly a shitty way to end a hellish day.

"Kat," a disembodied voice said as a toe nudged me, "you need to get up and go into your tent."

"Uhhh? Mmmmfff...mmoommmff." My tongue did not work and the voice in my head was bleary. Like me.

"You need to go in your tent." Again, voice waking me from the dead.

"No. No move." Was that me sounding like a bad Indian from a John Wayne movie?

"Suit yourself, but I think you're going to be sorry." Annoying voice.

"Too hot. Sleep here. Go away."

I fell asleep as the annoying voice faded away.

Sweet oblivion.

How little I understood the divine comedy of life. Dante was a putz. What the hell did he know about hell? Nine circles of hell? I could do that on my worst day and still have something left over.

I could teach that scribbler a thing or two.

He should have gone down to Louisiana in August.

Try it, then you'd find out what a cheap hack he was. Better yet, make sure you take about eight other members of your immediate family with you. Don't forget to stand around for eight hours in the heat, add in some ants, some Mexican food and Margaritas. Make sure your entire family is onery and contrary.

I dare you.



Anonymous said...

Dang ,this sounds like a remake of the "Vacation" movie series with bikes instead of the"Family Dumpster" or whatever that green barge was called:)....I haven't finished it yet,but you might make a book on how not to plan a run.......I don't think even Cousin Eddy had a burnt trailer in his yard,though!....Any of you give up bikes after this?

riceburner147 said...

Kat: On the subject of camping, (this particular time we drove to the Skyline drive) A friend of mine and I (He was my pastor at the time, a great guy from S. Carolina 2 masters degrees and a doctorate) took a trip to the skyline drive in January. It was unseasonably warm (40 degrees or so) but a constant downpour. As we were planning the trip i inquired as to what kind of equipment he had, He told me he had a good parks etc. As i had been camping in thrh cold weather for many years i had a lot of very good stuff ie; marmot sleeping bag, gregory tent (made for severe weather) marmot shell and pants (you get the idea. To make a long story short, after a long day of hiking down a ravine we ended up at the bottom in driving COLD rain and the parka my friend had was a 20.00 K-Mart POS. He was shivering and starting to be inchoherent. Now, in this park you are supposed to be very ecologicslly sensitive. No camping near the trails etc. Well, when i realized that Chuck (same name as me) was close to hypothermia I informed him we were pitching camp right her and NOW. He started babbling about the park rules and such. I just said, we are getting you warm now. Pitched the tent and put him in my warm clothes and bag. The next day he was fine and we had a gorgeous day (sunny and 10 degrees). Lesson, check out your compatriots gear b4 one goes into a difficult enviroment. BTW, today, he is a Doctor and no doubt can afford much better gear. Other than the Parka problem, we had a great time and I can only wish that he lived closer to me now cause he was a great friend.

riceburner147 said...

please excuse (sp) errors, close to bedtime !

Kat said...

Ricey...I obviously had my own spelling errors and grammatical errors. I figure if it ever goes to print, I'll need a damn good editor.

As for equipment, wait a little, I'll be talking about some equipment issues somewhere around day 8. LOL

Anon...I can't give away the ending. You'll just have to wait and see how it turns out. ;)

Jim said...

I think I see Day 5 starting badly...

Kat said...

Jim...I guess you'll have to come back and find out. :)

Although, you may have a future as a fortune teller or psychic.

Jim said...

Neither, I think. Just reading between the lines. :-)

Ed - Dallas said...

Yeeeedogggy!!! Sounds like a whole heckuva' lota fun!!!


Laissez les bon temps roulez!