All the Way Home
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
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
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
"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."
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
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
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.