Mid-life crisis…? Maybe (not really)

Thrill seeking…? Perhaps

Recapturing a measure of childhood freedom and exhilaration…? Definitely

I have given this topic a lot of thought. I asked myself many questions before plunking down my first dollars in this adventure…

Would this be a passing fancy?

Would I really like it?

What would I tell my parents who have never really expressed an opinion directly about motorcycles? (This turned out to be something that my dad actually enjoyed, unbeknownst to me or any of my other siblings, in his youth).

What would my friends think?

Did I really care what any of them thought?

What would happen if I got seriously injured?

These were just a few for starters.

 


 

Badasses

I’ve met a few of these…

Before 2008, I usually associated motorcycles and the people that ride them with the stereotypical Hollywood bad boy image of tattoos, leather, and general hell-raising. While there is certainly that element involved in motorcycling circles, I have met many, many more generous souls that frequent charity events, will stop to assist a stranded rider, or just come up and start a conversation with you as though you are a long lost old friend that they haven’t seen in quite some time. This, in fact, has been one of the most pleasant aspects of this journey.

 

But... I've met many, many more like these.

But… I’ve met many, many more like these.

A little back story…

InMyBlood

Riding was in my blood from an early age, I was just a little late to the party!

My family visits the blue ridge area of Tennessee every year. We do this in part because it is an area of magnificent beauty that evolves from season to season to provide us with a different visual experience every time we visit. I must admit as well, the area has two additional special memories for me. The first is it is where my wife Gina and I honeymooned in 1995, the second is it is the only place I recall from my childhood that we, as a family, visited together.

 

 

My first visit to the smokey mountains was in the early 1970’s. I was admittedly too young to remember much more than anything that I have reconstructed from old photos that my dad took during the trip, and the stories told each time we relive the trip through those photos. My most vivid memories are sleeping in a tiny storage cabinet in the conversion van that we used to take the trip, and my mom yelling at my dad to stop taking pictures while he was driving. Yes, my dad was one of those drivers that the locals hate and call “looky-loos.” But how else would we have those amazing photos to reconstruct the details of what would be one of only two trips that we could afford to take as a family? Thanks dad!

Griswalds

Hollywood should send our family some royalties from this movie.

Our second trip to the smokey mountains was when I was fifteen years old. My older brother and sister were no longer a part of our “daily” household as they were off to college. This trip could be likened in many ways to the National Lampoons Family Vacation movies, complete with the luggage laden roof on our station wagon. As a matter of fact, the part of Clark Griswald could have been a loosely biographical recounting of my dad (and I suppose me now) on this type of trip. The passengers in the car included my dad (Clark), my mom (Ellen, could almost pass for a brunette version of Beverly D’Angelo), my dear grandmother, (unlike the grandmother in the movie, mine lived many more years after the trip), my sister (not quite old enough at the time to be a good direct parallel to Audrey), and of course me… The Rusty in the story.

 

My Mom & Dad around the time of our second trip to Tennessee

My Mom & Dad around the time of our second trip to Tennessee

Becca

My “baby” sister

Steve

Yours truly. Super stylish…

My memories of that trip are more lucid and more of my own recollection. I remember the seemingly endless hours spent in the car riding from New Orleans to Tennessee, and the subsequent hours spent riding from destination to destination for what I was too young to really appreciate; The majesty of God’s magnificent creation. The lesson that I came to later appreciate from that trip is that it is not always about the destination. Sometimes, in fact more often than not, it is really about the journey…

What does all of this have to do with riding motorcycles you ask…? Well, indulge me for just a little while longer…

I have been blessed in many ways, a wonderfully devoted wife, four amazing children, and a prosperous business. Family 2012My father was an amazing example to his family as to what the proper role for a father should be. There was always food in our stomachs, clothes on our backs, and plenty of love and wisdom to go around. After a distinguished career in the safety and health field, he retired. I was never aware of my dads secret desire to ride again after he retired. As a matter of fact, I was never really aware of the fact that he had ever ridden before, much less that he had a desire to return to the activity.

A friend shared this with me, and it sums up my fathers situation pretty well:

When you are young, you have all the time in the world, endless energy, but no money. In your middle age, you have all the money and energy you need to do the things you want to do, but no time to do it. In retirement, you have the money and the time, but no energy…

As what so often happens to retiree’s, they intend to do many things when they have the time to do so, as was my dads intentions. A series of strokes and a prolonged battle with cancer has left him with diminished equilibrium and other challenges that has prevented him from pursuing his love of riding.

Get to the point already…

SmokeyView

We have been fortunate enough to make a return trip to this very special place to our family for an annual trip since 2004. More often than not, we frequent our favorite local eateries, attractions, and take in some of the sights that the area is famous for. One of our favorite drives is from Gatlinburg to clingmans dome. This stretch of asphalt provides a plethora of grand vistas and visual scenes that can literally take your breath away.

Cushman scooter_boy scout_tatteredandlostIn 2009, as we made our traditional trek to clingmans dome, I noticed a group of riders on these very unusual looking bikes. We would trade off passing each other at various stopping points along the route, but it sparked conversation between my dad and I that revealed my dads previous love for riding. Dad’s first bike by today’s standards would be called a rat bike: a virtual hodgepodge of parts cobbled together to make a bike that runs. Reliability, fuel economy, comfort… These were of no concern. Dad’s Cushman scooter was enough of a thrill to him to make him a fan of riding for life, even if the vast majority of that time was spent out of the saddle. My father also related several stories about his time in the navy where he would rent a Vespa scooter during shore leave just to go for a ride to take in the scenery.

Not the actual Vespa that my dad rode, but this would be of the same vintage.

Not the actual Vespa that my dad rode, but this would be of the same vintage.

Dad talked about the vespa scoot as though it was an old friend, one that he regretted not keeping in touch with. He remarked specifically about the “twist and go” nature of the vespa scooters and how he didn’t understand why all motorcycles weren’t built that way. “It was the smoothest riding vehicle I have ever ridden” he would remark.

One of those stories recounts the ill effects of an untrained and scared passenger that leaned in the wrong direction during a particularly tight turn that threw off dads balance and the scooter careened out of control. Maybe this is why my mom was not overly supportive of my dads desire to ride again…

Back to the riders and their bikes…

6561

 

What I noticed about these riders and their bikes was a carefree level of enjoyment of their riding experience and the appearance of stability that their bikes had in the hairpin turns that you do not normally see with other bikes. I did not have an opportunity to speak with any of these riders that day, and now that I ride, I certainly understand why… They want to ride!!! But I committed a mental picture of their bikes to memory and started my research that evening on this mystical three-wheeled leaning machine.

Within minutes, I found the Piaggio website and started to envision myself in the saddle of one of these fine machines. Dad was thrilled to see that the company that he held in such high esteem, Vespa, was part of the same company. It seemed like a perfect fit.

Could I convince my wife I hadn’t lost my mind?

Should I dream in private and count my thoughts of riding as a delusion of grandeur?

I think not!

Yes, it leans... Yes, thats me... and Yes, I will ride.

Yes, it leans… Yes, thats me… and Yes, I will ride.

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