For the last ten years we’ve done an annual ride at a local nursing home, Valpo Care and Rehabilitation Center. The residents enjoy riding in the sidecars and hanging out with riders that volunteer their time. Normally, we keep things pretty tame on the rides. This year though, I saw my chance for a little fun with one of the staff’s kids. It was a major anniversary after all.
“Flying the chair” is a basic sidecar riding skill, one that new rig owners are encouraged to practice, preferably in a vacant parking lot. The reason is simple: sometimes the sidecar will get lite, generally on right-hand turns. The rider, or pilot as often referred to needs to know how to handle the machine under such circumstances.
This short clip shows me bringing the chair up on a right-hand turn. In truth, it’s not difficult to lift it on a straight run with a bit of body English and throttle application. Once in the air it’s possible to keep going until you run out of gas or road, which was what happened here.
Thanks to Eli for taking capturing the action with his phone.
After they settled into the paddy wagon, Brenda and her companions were securely shackled hand and foot. An expanded metal divider separated low, hard benches which were arranged length wise along the van’s walls. A small window in the rear door was the only connection to the outside world. In contrast to the celebratory mood of a few minutes earlier, the girl’s outlooks had deteriorated considerably. Gloom pushed anticipation aside. Brenda looked at Liza through the mesh. Neither felt like talking.
Officer Malvey secured his seat belt, checked his mirrors, and then gave a nod. The sally port’s garage door began its laborious assent. Once open, it revealed an ominous sky replete with thunderheads and flashes of lightning. Brenda assumed they would head south, as the two DOC women’s facilities were located in Indianapolis and Rockville respectively-each about three hours away. It was going to be a long ride. Nothing was set in stone, but since Rockville was a designated intake facility, Brenda guessed that was their destination. Soon, the wagon was lashed with sheets of pounding rain.
Logistics of transporting eight anxious women were simple: keep driving until you get to the destination. No stopping to stretch. No bathroom breaks. Any variation posed a security risk. After a couple of hours of riding there was little frame of reference when unfamiliar structures appeared out of the mist in the rear portal. Brenda had no idea what they were, or even where they were.
What the hell are those things? They’re so huge. They’re kind of freaking me out. They look like . . . aliens. I’m scared. Man I hope we don’t hang around here very long.
The windmills of Fowler Ridge performed escort duty for many miles. Once they were gone, an even more disquieting sight seized Brenda’s attention. Malvey had driven off the main highway and stopped at what Brenda assumed to be some sort of a gate due to the muffled voices that filtered into the prisoner compartment.Then, he drove a short distance, ground the transmission into reverse which gave a high-pitched wail as the van lurched backwards. His dazed passengers got the first glimpse of their new home. Through the portal Brenda saw the sun breaking across the clouds as it glinted off of the razor wire of Rockville Women’s Prison. Even in this place of sadness, the rays of light gave her hope.
Since I’ve been hanging out at the airport I figured a video on airplanes would be appropriate in my bike category. Let me explain. A lot of pilots are also motorcycle enthusiasts. A group of guys based at Porter County Airport have an informal bike club that meets on Tuesday evenings at guy named Louie’s hangar. This past Tuesday as Louie was preparing to take one of his planes up, I filmed the proceedings with my Nikon D 90, my first attempt at video. Here is the resulting short clip. Now for the disclaimer: Don’t try this at home! Death or dismemberment can result. The participants shown are experts.
Two of my favorite American writers followed an all-to-common path of living fast and dying hard. Jack Kerouac’s work is still affecting American culture forty-five years after his untimely death at age forty-nine. Take a look at his Nine Essentials for Writing Spontaneous Prose.
Since 2010 I’ve used Blogger for my online writing experiments. Overall I’ve been very satisfied with the service. I even bought my domain name www.ridetowrite.com for a reasonable $10 per year from Go Daddy. Recently, I’ve been working with a site construction tool by WordPress. It gives a bit more flexibility design wise over the basic Blogger offering.
I’ve decided to roll my original blog into a host provided by GoDaddy. My aim is to expand my offerings while keeping my current content. As a side benefit, I’ll be able to provide links and better quality pictures. Eventually, video will be added to the mix. I’m looking forward to showing, rather than just telling about riding through places like the Yukon or crossing the Brooks Range. I’m thinking of using the new Garmin action camera. But I’m getting ahead of myself, another Alaska ride is a ways down the road. In the meantime, I’m going to play around with my Nikon D-90’s video mode. Now to find a willing monkey to ride in the side car and film the action . . .
We live in a world where seemingly unrelated actions can have implications far beyond their place of origin. Such is the case of the global heroin trade. An article from The Week, Why is heroin so cheap? brings up interesting points as to how a conflict in one region can affect the output and availability of a commodity such as heroin. The consequences can be unintended, or much more sinister. I’m reminded of another profit-centered drug, one that brought a major power to its knees. The Opium Wars of the 19th century were a direct attempt to wrest control of Chinese silver. The victorious British won the right to export opium sourced from their colony, India. The Americans for their part were not guiltless in the debacle, bringing in their own supply from Turkey. The net result: upwards of 10% of the Chinese population became hard-core addicts and totally nonfunctional as a result. This is something policy makers might want to consider when crafting a treatment strategy based on handing out drugs. Maybe the money would be better spent on recovery resources; a cure as opposed to a band aid.
I have to admit that on the subject of hard drugs and addiction I’m a total novice. Actually, for most of my life I lived in blissful ignorance. But news accounts of drug deaths across the nation, and even in the small town in which I live became hard to ignore. I began to wonder if there might be others like me, people that weren’t uncaring; they just didn’t realize the extent of the problem. I wondered if there was something I could do to help educate them, not from an expert’s point of view, but from that of a greenhorn.
The main impetus for this was my befriending a woman who turned out to be a recovering heroin addict. She was a regular person, a good person. She just made some poor choices. One day I offered to try and tell her story. When she accepted, I had no idea what I’d gotten myself into. But I did realize I’d need to do some research. With this in mind, I’d like to present some articles that have been helpful to me. Since death is something many addicts tempt daily, an excellent piece that recently ran on CNN, How heroin kills you seems as good place as any to start.
The woman driving the purple Saturn onto the Bishop Ford Freeway had not smiled in months. Her hair, wrapped into a bun, was the color of faded gold. It poked straw-like from the tie that tried to hold it back. Her high cheek bones sunk in. Gloss pasted a fake sheen on thin, hard lips. Gold embroidered script on her black apron recalled the name of a popular local restaurant. To most whom past that day, she seemed like just another waitress on her way to work.
Three o’clock traffic was heavy, but then, it is on this particular stretch of Interstate 94. The worst of rush hour was a couple of hours away. Brenda, the waitress, deftly maneuvered the non-descript sedan next to a huge red semi, its eighteen wheels kicked up clouds of dirty gray mist onto the windshield. Worn wipers struggled to clear a path doing more harm than good. The dreary September weather and enormous truck provided a rolling shield from eyes prying into the car.
Ten-month-old Justin cooed in his car seat, while five-year-old brother Tate made rapid fired questions to no one in particular as he peered out of the grimy window. Brenda desperately wanted her son to be quiet. Soon, her jaw tightened and sweat streaked her make-up. Tears clouded her eyes. Nausea welled up. All of these were familiar feelings, daily occurrences. More than anything, she longed to get better, if only one more time.
The daily, and at times, twice-per-day ritual runs into the city were worth the risk to Brenda because of higher quality merchandise. But who was she kidding; it was just a better grade of poison. The ache in her gut meanwhile was getting worse. She felt as if she’d puke at any second.
Maybe some music will take the edge off.
She punched the button. A favorite tune, “How to Save a Life” by the Fray filled the sedan’s interior. The ironic lyrics mixed with the innocence of her small children and the menacing moldiness of stale cooked drugs. She cried. A sense of urgency overtook her. She was unable and maybe even less willing to outrun it.
Tate babbled on. He couldn’t understand what was about to take place, yet sensed all was not right. Brenda rifled through her purse. A vital tool and constant companion was nowhere to be found.
Where is that damn lighter?
“Mommy are you okay?”
God I wish my kids didn’t have to see me like this.
“Mommy will be better soon Tate.” The words rang hollow.
There it is. Thank God. Her trembling fingers wrapped around the plastic cylinder. It felt cool to the touch, familiar, yet repulsive at the same time.
“Yes, Tate. . . Mommy is going to be better soon.”
Brenda opened the console and retrieved a purple Crown Royal bag. Its contents: bottle of water, hypo, miniature baggie, not unlike one a jeweler might place precious gems in, cotton and soup spoon were dumped into the apron. The spoon had been swiped from work. It jarred her back to reality.
The spoon, damn it, I’d better hurry up. Don’t want to be late.
She pushed the accelerator harder. Switching hands on the wheel, Brenda popped the cap off the needle and dropped it into her lap. The water bottle was likewise opened and 10ccs drawn with practiced precision. The baggie was torn with her teeth. An acidic combination of plastic and gas irritated her tongue. Its contents were emptied into the spoon now grasped between the thumb and forefinger of her steering hand. Water was injected. Next the lighter flicked. The blue flame danced on the scorched stainless steel while the mixture popped and fizzed. Elapsed time: about fifteen seconds or another a quarter mile down the road to nowhere.
Cotton, a short piece of cigarette filter actually, was dropped into the mixture. The idea was to filter out dirt and debris. If only it were that easy. The needle plunged into the concoction which leisurely climbed up the tube. Panic engulfed Brenda.
Come on be steady. For God’s sake don’t spill it.
Overhead sign: Indiana Two Miles. The Bishop Ford morphed into the Borman Expressway. Another hand switch at the wheel; she could only get high in her right arm.
Tie off with the apron. That thing gets quite a workout. Jab the needle in the forearm.
Pay attention . . . watch for blood in the tube. Ah, there it is, just a bit of red, a connection. Now push slowly. Men have it easier: bigger veins.
Another quarter mile and the state line crossed. A warm sensation, sweats, shakes, nausea, and cramps all dumped at the border. Soon an unfamiliar feeling reared its head.
What am I doing? I’m not in control.
What was that? Where’d it come from . . . maybe it’s the meetings?
There’s no power to stop. There’s no way out.
At the time, Brenda had been going to Narcotics Anonyms meetings in an effort to get clean. She began to feel as though she had a foot in two different worlds: one life, the other death.But unlike the concrete line that separated Illinois from Indiana, this one couldn’t be straddled. It was an illusion. She wasn’t going to be okay.
I don’t even recognize the person I’ve become. I look in the mirror and hate what I see. This is so far from who I was . . . I wasn’t brought up to be a cheat, a thief and a liar, a junkie. This can’t go on forever . . . something’s got to give. God help me, it better happen soon.
Brenda managed to get into town just in time for her four-to-close shift but still had to drop the kids off at her mom’s house where they’d been living. A girl named Nina had also been staying there and offered to take her to work. Nina then asked to borrow the Saturn for a run into the city. Brenda agreed, knowing she’d need a boost later. The first few hours of her shift flew by, but by 9:30, the high was wearing off.
Nina finally got back to the restaurant around ten and was waiting in the parking lot. Her haunts were in a different neighborhood, one with a dealer unfamiliar to Brenda. Brenda’s craving was getting bad. She asked the manager if she could go out for a smoke, a ruse. Nina passed the Crown bag through the driver’s window.
Back in the restaurant, Brenda grabbed yet another soup spoon out of the bucket and retreated to the handicap stall, her sanctuary. After going through the drill for the umpteenth time, the apron again earning its keep-something wasn’t right. An understatement if there ever was one.
Soon Brenda’s drug arm, the one that carried a broken off needle, a souvenir of what she’d become- turned splotchy, hived and itchy. A bad batch of smack, maybe, but otherwise, a normal high. Brenda brushed off the odd effects and went back to work. Later, almost as an aside, Nina mentioned she had used the needle from the Crown bag. Sort of an “oops” moment to Brenda, but at this point, she didn’t care anymore. Brenda credits a later diagnosis of Hepatitis B to that accidental co-mingling of body fluids.
With the shift over, Brenda went home to get some sleep. She woke up sick, bad enough that she trusted Nina to make yet another run. The Saturn finally reappeared at three that afternoon bearing the ersatz-precious cargo of five ten-dollar bags. Brenda decided the late hour justified doing $20 worth, enough to “get the sick off.” Still, it was a far cry from her $200 days of just a few months prior.
Trouble comes to a junkie in many forms: little plastic bags, dirty needles, flashing blue lights. That sunny Friday in September, it came in the guise of a phone call at 3:45, just as Brenda was getting ready to go to work at the restaurant.
“Brenda, I need you to come in right now.” The firm, yet compassionate voice, belonged to Angela, her long-suffering probation officer. Brenda’s mind reeled. Did she find out about the runs to the city? Maybe it was the last test? What does it matter? I’m had.
She hugged Tate and Justin before she left. She looked each in the eyes and brushed her fingertips across their foreheads. “Mommy loves you.”
Then she turned to walk out the door not knowing this would be the last time she ever saw her younger sons. Her family was unable or unwilling to care for them. Child Protective Services took it from there. Her older two boys were already gone.
The Porter County Courthouse is prominently situated on the town square. An imposing structure, it is constructed of Indiana limestone. Its stark exterior, marble paved halls and high ceilings project an all-business attitude. Post-9/11 security measures rouse a mild prison-like impression once inside. Nina had offered to drive since Brenda was agitated. Brenda took one last drag from her cigarette and stared at the courthouse for a long minute. Then she turned to Nina: “If I don’t come out, take the car to my mom. But I’m probably not coming out.” With that she pulled the door handle, crushed the butt, and marched off to whatever fate had in store. She was so tired of running.
Brenda hesitated at the courthouse entrance to gather her composure. Then she crossed the threshold, two of the longest steps of her life. She made small talk with the guard at the security desk, as if lingering could delay the inevitable. After clearing the metal detector, she turned left and walked through as set of unmarked double-doors. Directly ahead was a single door, also unmarked. Protocol dictated taking a seat on one of the plain wooden benches flanking the hallway and settling in for a long wait. On this day however, she was ushered to Angela’s office within minutes.
“Do you have something you want to tell me?”
Angela’s words carried a mildly accusatory tone. Brenda knew from past experience not to tip her hand. After all, she didn’t know what they knew. She wasn’t ready to fess up, not just yet.
Suddenly she reconsidered and blubbered: “Please don’t put me in jail.”
“I don’t know what else to do with you. You are going to die.”
Angela seemed to speak from genuine concern. In retrospect, Brenda credits her with saving her life. But then again, the train Brenda was riding on was full of rescuers; some of them just never received the credit due. Angela slapped a file on the desk, one that didn’t have to be read to know what it said: two failed tests, probation violation.
“Open your mouth.” As Angela swabbed, she asked the rhetorical question: “Are you going to fail this one too?”
Oddly, the turn of events came as a relief. Brenda didn’t have to run anymore. She couldn’t if she wanted to. But unlike her prior arrests when she didn’t go peacefully, this time she was resigned to her fate. But more than anything, she just wanted someone to save her.
Valparaiso Police responded quickly. “Hands behind your back.” The cop towered over Brenda. He wasn’t exactly mean, but he wasn’t polite either. He’d been through this drill before. Cuffs were slapped on. Her arms were pulled high. And it hurt. She scanned the street as they marched to a waiting squad car. The purple Saturn was nowhere to be seen. It was probably halfway to the city. Ten minutes later, the waitress, still wearing her little black apron reported for her shift at the Porter County Jail. It was to be her home for the next thirteen months. The journey however, had just begun.
The Illinois River faded in the Suzuki’s rear view mirror. Up ahead, an ominous black cloud engulfed the entire state of Missouri. Intermittent drizzle was soon punctuated by brilliant bolts of lightning. As I rolled into Hannibal, the heavens opened up, pounding me with sheets of heavy rain.
Under a big gas station canopy, a couple of locals told me the Mississippi was eight feet above flood stage. They also warned of numerous road closures throughout the Missouri River Valley. This didn’t bode well for the day’s ride, but since I’m not one to hole up, I gulped the last of my coffee, jumped on the bike and pressed on.
Interstate 72 morphs into U.S. 36 at Hannibal, twenty miles out of town U.S. 24 intersects. It angles southwest, winding through some of the best riding the Show Me State has to offer. Soon a sign advised the birthplace of Mark Twain was just seven miles off the highway. Since the rain had let up I figured I’d check it out. The state has constructed a fitting tribute to its most famous son within the confines of Mark Twain State Park. Along with Twain’s life, slavery in Missouri and the Civil War are also featured. The latter was to be a common theme of this ride.
Back on U.S.24, my brief window slammed shut. The rain returned with a vengeance and the roadway took on the appearance of a river. Keytesville Missouri was the end of the line. There a low-lying stretch was completely swamped. The town as it turned out, was important during the Civil War, as it was home to Sterling Price. I decided to spend the night and take in the museum based on his life. A planter and lawyer as a civilian, Price served with distinction as a U.S. Army brigadier general during the Mexican-American War. Later, he did a stint as governor of Missouri. Then, as ominous clouds of war formed, his state called again. He accepted a command in the Missouri State Guard. While initially opposed to secession, Union outrages caused him to cast his lot with the Confederacy as a Major General, serving in numerous campaigns. It is an odd commentary that a man who served his nation and state so willingly died a pauper after the war.
Missouri 240’s smooth pavement twists and turns through rolling pastureland. I had a blast on its perfectly engineered curves and rises. At Marshall I swung west on U.S. 65 which reconnects to U.S. 24 and parallels I-70 a few miles to the south. The relaxed two-lanes are a different world compared to the intense super-slab. But watch out for Waverly, it’s a speed trap. No, I didn’t get a ticket, but I did observe the local constable doing a good business. The town’s other claim-to-fame is a tidy park dedicated to the memory of another citizen-solider: General Joe Shelby. A life-size bronze statue captures him in full battle dress on his trusty steed. A successful Missourian during the antebellum era, he steam boated and operated a hemp mill at Waverly. As with Price, the fortunes of war would greatly impact his life. I would cross paths with Shelby again before this ride was over.
A few miles up the road Lexington was the site of “The Battle of Hemp Bales,” so named for Sterling Price’s innovative tactic of using the ubiquitous farm product as rolling cover, it represented the greatest victory of the Confederacy in 1861.
Missouri 13 passes within a couple of miles of the Confederate Memorial State Historic Site at Higginsville. As I rode into the grounds, I noticed a large gathering at the cemetery. A park ranger told me that the Confederate Memorial Day ceremonies were just wrapping up, but I was welcome to take in the remainder. An annual event, every state of the former Confederacy was represented. Re-enactors wearing period correct uniforms including cap-and-ball revolvers and cavalry swords milled about. Speeches and prayers were offered to honor those who died fighting for a cause they believed in. As I rode away, I couldn’t help but be moved by the sight of dozens of miniature Stars and Bars flapping gently in the breeze as they marked the graves of the fallen.
Back on 13, I continued south, happy to avoid the crush of I-70 in the distance. At U.S. 50, I headed west. Signs soon alerted of another Civil War site, Lone Jack. I exited, but was perplexed as to exactly where the battlefield was located. At a newly constructed quick-mart, I learned I was standing on it. The property long used for reenactments had been sold recently. Only three acres survive. This is a pity, as Americans need to be reminded of the time when our Union almost didn’t endure. The grounds now consist of a visitor’s center operated by the Friends of Lone Jack and a cemetery. There, Union and Confederate dead are buried just a few yards apart, a rarity in Civil War battlegrounds.
Twenty-five miles to the west, U.S. 71 drives into the heart of Kansas City. What is the current metro area played host to fierce fighting during the Battle of Westport. While there is no longer a battlefield per se, an extensive motor tour winds through points of interest. One of the most haunting was at Forest Hills Cemetery, site of Shelby’s Last Stand. The imposing Confederate Monument guards the final resting place of many of his men. The General himself famously fled across the Rio Grande rather than surrender. Upon his death in 1897, he rejoined his compatriots at the scene of their defeat.
Kansas City boasts of another war memorial, albeit one from a different century. The Liberty Tower was dedicated in 1921to honor those who gave all in “the war to end all wars.” Human nature proved those words premature just two decades later. Exhibits in the accompanying world-class museum paint a picture of the chaos that engulfed the globe and our species’ propensity for self-destruction. King Solomon once said there is nothing new under the sun. This ride reminded me just how providential those words were.
We’d just survived a particularly brutal winter in Beautiful Northwest Indiana. I’d had my fill of potholes and choppy corners and was looking forward to smooth pavement and sweeping curves. These I would find in abundance in south central Missouri. The night before I was to head out a giant crater less than a mile from my house transformed my Suzuki V-Strom 1000 into a fair approximation of bucking bronco. I didn’t drop the bike, but the impact bent both rims. I stared in disbelief at the damage, ironic on a machine that had once carried me across the Alaskan Arctic with nary a scratch. With no time to fix the damage the Strom’s Givi luggage was swapped to its brother bike, another Alaska veteran, my Bandit 1250.
The interstates to Fort Leonard Wood Missouri were efficient to the nth degree. There isn’t much else to say except that the crosswinds and driving rain on I-57 in Illinois beat me to death. I was almost happy to face the gale head-on once I swung west on I-44 at St. Louis.
My daughter’s captain course graduation had brought me to the fort, after which I was bound for the Kansas City area to visit a new grandchild. Desperately wanting to stay off the super-slab I was drawn to Missouri 7. Seeing the squiggly line on my well-worn map my daughter offered: “That road is nauseating but you’ll love it on the bike.” That was all I needed to hear.
I struck north into the heart of the Ozarks on a clear spring day. Trees throughout the rolling countryside were greening up after their own winter hibernation, though not as deep as the one I’d suffered through. They stretched as far as the eye could see.
The curves I’d been dreaming of appeared almost immediately. At times they lazily meandered through pastures and woodlands. Other times, they took on a more technical quality with rapid fire switchbacks and decreasing radius that challenged my bike handling skills. The kid was right. The road was a blast!
Towns along the way were generally small. Montreal Missouri for example, features but two businesses, a gas station/convenience store, along with a proud American tradition, the country gun shop.
Alamo Arms was undergoing a face lift when I visited, courtesy of prosperity driven by the high demand for firearms of all types. In an economic recovery that hasn’t quite taken hold for many industries, guns and ammo sales are booming. As the proprietor showed me some of her wares, I was drawn to a rack of used rifles. There in the middle was a Chinese Mosin-Nagant M-53, the best example of the type I’d ever seen. The price was reasonable and I wanted it. Strapping it to the bike though, would have been another matter. Sort of made me wish I’d taken the Ural with its sidecar instead of the Bandit.
By late morning I was getting hungry. The Smokeshack Barb-Que in Warsaw looked inviting. Reeled in by the $5.75 beef brisket special, I also couldn’t resist the freshly baked blackberry cobbler. The food and service were great. As I was paying my bill the owner recommended I check out the Harry S. Truman Dam and Reservoir, just a short ride up the road.
The sprawling conservation project is managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who also maintains an impressive visitor’s center. Situated high on Kaysinger Bluff, exhibits provide a fascinating look at fossils, fauna and history of the area. Across the parking lot in the woods is another attraction. There on ten acres leased from the Corps, a replica 1850s pioneer village is waiting to be explored. Demonstrations showcase just how tough everyday life was on the frontier. A festival held each October draws thousands of visitors and includes Civil War and mountain man camps. A tremendous amount of volunteer labor is required to keep the old-time traditions alive. Hopefully some of the legions of school children that are bussed in every year will catch the vision and help preserve it. Maybe one day I’ll bring my own grand kids.
With the afternoon spent it was time to move on. I was in luck and the road over the dam was open. Views on the short ride were spectacular. A few more curves lay ahead as I passed through colorfully named towns like Tightwad and Coal. But all too soon the party was over and the squiggly lines were pulled taut. Yet another interstate awaited me. Still, I’d spent the day riding on pothole-free roads, had some great food and seen some interesting sights. Plus the weather was perfect. What more could a rider could ask for?