Indian Lookout Country Club
1142 Batter Street
Pattersonville, NY 12137
Phone (518) 864-5659
Fax (518) 864-5917
Monday, September 25, 2017

All the Way Home

By Yoni

Every year I ride from upstate New York to the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee. It used to be my longest ride, but has been overtaken by endurance runs of a different magnitude. That, combined with my preparedness as I'd learned and improved each year on my camping gear and motorcycle tools, had made this year's trip pleasant and relatively uneventful thus far.

The first day I started la little later than planned, as usual. It's always easy to plan to leave at six in the morning, doing so is a whole different animal and rarely, if ever, happens. I'd made it all the way to Fort Chisolm, Virginia at nightfall, where I slept underneath the pavilion at an RV centric campground, waking in the morning to make a cup of coffee on my tiny stove and happily tighten my chain before leaving, headed south to the impending craziness of a ninety thousand person music and arts festival.

The only real adrenalin moments had been a stupidity issue when my left rear view mirror needed to be tightened and I kept forgetting to do so each rest stop until finally when I changed lanes to go around a slow car, I almost collided with a car that was already there because my mirror was not pointing where it should have been. The people I almost hit had been forgiving, though taking the time to make me feel as stupid as I deserved: the driver motioning to his eyes as I passed him, and then on to me, scolding that I should watch more carefully. They were right.

The only other dramatic moment was a quick little whoop-de-doo of a skid on gravel as I'd entered the campground. I'd recovered from that, too. I had an early lunch at the first rest stop off 81 in Tennessee on Tuesday, the one with the statue of dancing people that I like so much and the giant guitar on the building across the highway, munching on vegetables I'd brought.

Went through Knoxville with no problems, adapting to the interstate arm reaching around it and bypassing the road construction that has been grinding along for about a decade. Got to the staff check in area, and then went to an entrance gate of the festival.

This was the most uneventful ride thus far, and though fun, it had been a little boring at times. I was wondering what I would write about. The nice thing about the uneventful ride was that this was the first time I'd arrived early enough to set up my campsite during daylight. I'd thought. Then I got to the gate to enter the festival.

"No motorcycles," said the young peon with the ostentatious tie-dyed hat perched on his head, so that I and anyone else entering the festival would know he was a cool sort of security dude.

"Yeah, I heard about that," I'd responded, thinking he was participating in an age-old joke I hear at the Rendezvous, at Sturgis, at ABATE events, and any other motorcycle rally I can think of. You've probably heard it, too: Someone states that, "next year I hear they're not allowing motorcycles." Everyone then comments that those motorcycles are too loud, or too dangerous, and someone, usually quite drunk, chuckles contentedly at the absurdity of the thought: No motorcycles. How ridiculous.

This time it was sort of funny, too. At first.

"No motorcycles," he said again.

"Look, buddy," I told him, "I've just ridden a thousand miles to get here, and I'd like to get to my campsite," hoping the edge in my voice would show him that the joke had gone a bit too far.

He responded. "Well, there's no motorcycles allowed."

I stared at him, realizing he thought this wasn't a joke. "You have got to be kidding. I've been riding a motorcycle to this event for five years now. They are allowed in."

"Nope," he answered, "Never have been, never will be."

I tried for the polite approach, telling him, "I believe you may be mis-informed because I've been here several times with a motorcycle. They are allowed in."

"Nope," he told me, drawing himself up to his full height, which wasn't much taller than my paltry five foot three, and trying to look impressive. "They are not. We've never let them in."

It took four hours. We went on like this, becoming progressively more unpleasant to each other, with me eventually calling my supervisor at the festival to explain that I was being blocked at the gate, and this idiot peon telling me with much glee how "a whole bunch of people came here yesterday on motorcycles, trying to get in, someone's stage crew, I reckon. Had to turn 'em away. They were on motorcycles. Not allowed in, those scooters. Never have been, never will."

Jerk.

My boss called my cell phone back to say that they were working on getting me in and to just be patient. But things were colliding between that music festival sense of time, where everything drifts along on a lazy clock that barely turns until suddenly four hours have gone by, and my reality of the road, involving the juxtaposition of miles and time, which had not yet transitioned to the lazy roll of a music festival. Because, as already stated, I was stuck at the damned gate with the self important peon repeatedly telling me of his working security for Phish because he was oh-so-important, and me trying so hard not to hurt him because, as I had to keep reminding myself, I wanted to get into the festival much more than I wanted to severely injure this idiot.

I called my festival boss again, explaining that I'd been waiting four hours with this over blown excuse for a security peon, who didn't know his job or when to keep his mouth shut, and that I had to have an answer soon. I'd ridden a thousand miles. It was five o-clock. I was tired. Either I would get in, eventually, or I would be told I really wasn't allowed in, in which case I had another problem: There were ninety thousand people waiting in the surrounding areas to enter the music festival the next day. This meant every single hotel room and every single campsite, for at least a hundred mile diameter, was already packed chock full. I hate riding at night, and I know from experience that riding tired at night is a stupid thing to do. I needed an answer within enough time to give me two hours of daylight to ride by if I couldn't get in.

I explained this patiently, if tightly, to my boss, along with the information that I'd made arrangements to spend my vacation time with a buddy in El Paso if Bonnaroo did not work out. So I need an answer soon or I was headed for Texas.

Fifteen minutes later my boss, and his boss, came careening across the campground in a pickup truck, with the top boss leaning out the window to tell me, "Follow me! We're going in!"

The peon tried to argue.

"Look," the top boss told him, "She's coming in. That's it. Shut up."

I grinned and followed the truck to my campsite.

For the record, motorcycles are, indeed, allowed at Bonnaroo. Motor scooters, the Apri things, or little zippy electric scooters, are not. Stupid security people who don't know the rules of their own festival, should not be.

I followed my apologetic boss to my work station and campsite, next to an art installation made by a young graduate student from the University of Tennessee and his friends and father, who had come along to see what his kid did with his talent and time.

I spent a lot of time talking to the kid and his father throughout the festival.

My own father had recently had a heart attack, and I'd only just decided I was still going to Bonnaroo. I live near my parents, and jokingly call myself the "first responder" when there's any medical emergencies. I'm the kid who runs to the hospital, I'm the kid who sits in the waiting room, I'm the kid who calls the other kids and helps people get organized and figure out just what's going on.

All these responsibilities had me planning to skip Bonnaroo this year, just in case something further happened that needed my presence, until my sister decided to make a run for sainthood and told me, "That's ridiculous. You go there every year. I'll take a week's vacation in upstate New York, and hang out. Go enjoy yourself."

So I did. Though I was parent preoccupied throughout much of the festival, calling them frequently and becoming anxious as my dad developed what at first seemed to be a slight fever sometime in the middle of the festival, which stabilized, then got worse, then got better, then got worse again. Each time things looked rough I would make plans to put my bike in a storage area around Bonnaroo and catch a plane flight home. Each time things would then become not so bad, and I would stay where I was. Which I wish I hadn't done.

Sunday night I called my parents, right before Phish came on, to see how things were going.

They were going very badly. My father was in the hospital, and I decided I was on my way home. I made plans to put my bike in a Bonnaroo storage area and began calling airlines. There was only one problem: I was trying to leave on a Sunday night or Monday morning, exactly when the other ninety thousand people were trying to leave. There were no flights.

I recalibrated my plans and went back to my campsite. I spent the night packing and left shortly after dawn, headed toward New York as fast as I could go.

At first, it wasn't so fast. As aforementioned, ninety thousand other people were also trying to leave and until sometime in the afternoon, Bonnaroo is a mighty mess of a traffic jam, with everyone trying to get on the only interstate or the same cleverly planned out back road shortcuts. I would have spent hours in seething, frantic anger over being stuck in a hot, Tennessee sun covered traffic crawl through Manchester. Except that I have a motorcycle, and I was desperate.

I pulled out left and up past the car in front of me, and this became the modus for the beginning of my trip. I went past everyone. The few times that oncoming traffic forced it, I would briefly weasel my way between two barely moving cars in the hours long traffic jam; hours long for everyone else, that was. I slid quickly alongside like a wily sprite, skimming along the surface of the clogged traffic river through all the back roads, picking up speed as I got toward the front and the cars finally spaced and began to move. I finally got to the interstate and began a purposeful high speed grinding toward New York. I grimly rode, stopped for gas and made no effort to talk to anyone, with an attitude that caused people to walk around me, never trying to initiate conversation.

I got to Knoxville, cursing my way past signs which proudly proclaimed that the construction throughout the city was officially over, but neglected to inform that construction just outside the city had barely begun.

Somewhere in northern Virginia I stopped for the night, at a campground behind a truck stop; setting up my hammock between two trees and crawling in, with a tarp to cover me and without even taking my boots off. I fell into a heavy sleep, listening to the soothing purr of diesel engines and dreaming about an idealized past.

I had uncharacteristically sensibly realized that to continue riding at night while tired and overwhelmed with family matters would probably not be a good idea. My brain was so full of worry and recollections that I barely even remember the day's ride.

I woke up in my dry cocoon of hammock and tarp, listening to the pattering sound of drizzling morning rain, happy that my campsite was so easy and quick to pack up. I made a quick cup of coffee and some oatmeal, put on rain gear and packed away the campsite, depression as heavy as the cloud covered that surrounded, and began the wet journey north.

I rode out of the rain within an hour. Got gas and kept riding. Thought about my father and kept riding. Saw the proud, bold sign declaring, "Pennsylvania welcomes you!" and kept riding. Entered New York. Kept riding.

I usually celebrate a little when I enter New York, the land of excessive laws which I call home. This time it was just another curbside sign on the way to an important meeting. I don't think I even smiled.

I got to the hospital, put my kickstand down and went to see my father.

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