A Fam­ily Af­fair On In­di­ans


Icould see him in my mir­ror, his arms wav­ing above his head—the univer­sal sig­nal that some­thing has gone wrong. Just as quickly as I had seen him, he was gone, back be­hind the two-story brick colo­nial we had rented on Airbnb. Those few mo­ments ear­lier, my fi­ancée Kyra and I had ex­ited the small park­ing area in front of our rented ac­com­mo­da­tion. We pulled up to the stop sign just around the cor­ner and were wait­ing pa­tiently for my fa­ther to join us so we could con­tinue our jour­ney up the East Coast. Clearly some­thing was screwed up. Over our head­sets, I said, “Shit, he must have dropped his bike,” and then I put the kick­stand down on my Chief­tain and walked ca­su­ally back to­ward where my fa­ther was last seen, hop­ing that my leisure would al­low him enough time to right his Spring­field and get back in the sad­dle.

What I saw when I rounded the cor­ner, how­ever, was about as far from what I an­tic­i­pated as I could imag­ine. Stick­ing out the side of a yel­low Chevro­let Aveo was my fa­ther’s In­dian. The only words I could muster were, “What the hell did you do?!”

This story doesn’t start in Nashville, Ten­nessee, where the in­ci­dent oc­curred. In­stead, this story starts in Baja, about two years ago, when my fa­ther ac­com­pa­nied Kyra and I on a month-long dual-sport ride. That was the first time he had been on a bike since 1972, what some might con­sider a rather se­ri­ous hia­tus. But in his de­fense, when he de­cided to get back on a bike, he went all in, out­fit­ting a brand-new Suzuki DR650 with all the bits and pieces re­quired to ride around the world. Then he hit the road, ex­plored Baja with us, and pro­ceeded to par­tic­i­pate in the LA-Barstow-to-Ve­gas ride, a sort of se­ri­ous of­froad ad­ven­ture from La La Land to the City of Sin. And he sur­vived all of it, with a shit-eat­ing grin on his face and dirt in his beard.

But then the bike went back into the garage, and his hia­tus re­sumed, un­til I called with a plan to ride a trio of In­di­ans up the East Coast from Day­tona Beach to the Big Ap­ple. And once again, my fa­ther geared up and got se­ri­ous about his mo­tor­cy­cling.

We hit the ground run­ning. Kyra and I ar­rived a day ahead of my old man and grabbed all three bikes from the In­dian Mo­tor­cy­cle dealer in Day­tona Beach. We parked them three-wide in the drive­way of our friend’s rental house. My fa­ther didn’t know what bike he’d be on, only that he’d re­quested a Spring­field and that I told him he’d be happy. When he ar­rived the next af­ter­noon, he was greeted by a 2017 In­dian Spring­field clad in Steel Gray over Bur­gundy Metal­lic paint. A beau­ti­ful bike. And he was,

as pre­dicted, happy. He had not, how­ever, rid­den a mo­tor­cy­cle of this size…ever. A prac­tice ride around the neigh­bor­hood was deemed a ne­ces­sity. My fa­ther’s a big man at 5-foot-9 and a solid 250 pounds. He’s strong too—lift­ing weights since I was a child and prac­tic­ing Muay Thai most week­day morn­ings. So the bike didn’t feel too big for him, and he han­dled it well. The next morn­ing, we bid our friend farewell (thanks, Tr­ish!) and hit the road—my fa­ther on his Spring­field, my­self at the helm of a two-tone 2017 Chief­tain, and Kyra be­hind the bars of a 2016 Scout. Our next stop? Sa­van­nah, Ge­or­gia.

Rid­ing through the South in Septem­ber is a gam­ble in re­gard to the weather. We knew this. And tried to pack ap­pro­pri­ately. But noth­ing can pre­pare you for 90-plus-de­gree tem­per­a­tures mated to 90-per­cent hu­mid­ity. It’s the kind of hot-and-sticky peo­ple write about in books. Where your clothes soak through in sweat and stand­ing still feels like sink­ing into a warm bath. And that’s ex­actly what we en­coun­tered, and what we rode through, log­ging slow miles and avoid­ing the in­ter­state from Day­tona Beach to Sa­van­nah, the quaint South­ern town that left us want­ing more. Save for the sticky heat, our ride was un­event­ful, al­beit beau­ti­ful. Rid­ing along the edge of the At­lantic Ocean pro­vides a mo­tor­cy­clist with spec­tac­u­lar views in all four di­rec­tions. The salt air fills your hel­met, and windswept sea off your right shoul­der re­mains ever present and invit­ing, teas­ing you with its cool com­fort.

The first few days of this en­deavor were cen­tered around our ar­rival in At­lanta, where we’d planned a visit to our friend

Steve West’s shop. Steve, bet­ter known as Sil­ver Pis­ton, makes jew­elry that the mo­tor­cy­cle in­dus­try finds most ap­peal­ing, a com­bi­na­tion of De­pres­sion-era hobo art and care­ful crafts­man­ship. We had ar­ranged for Steve to fit my fa­ther with a ring that would match the two Kyra and I al­ready owned. Again, the ride from Sa­van­nah to At­lanta the day prior was un­event­ful, if not hur­ried. But our visit to Steve’s shop was ev­ery­thing we had hoped for! He took a cus­tom-crafted coin, heated and ham­mered and af­fixed it to a cigar-style band, and test-fit­ted it on my fa­ther. Then, he pro­ceeded to pol­ish and de­liver the fi­nal prod­uct. The process was nearly as beau­ti­ful as the fi­nal prod­uct. And so the re­main­der of our time in At­lanta was spent point­ing our three fists to­gether like a scene from the Cap­tain Planet car­toon.

The next day Steve showed us around the city: the Martin Luther King Jr. Na­tional His­toric Site, which in­cludes his grave, and the Ebenezer Bap­tist Church where he preached. We fin­ished with a few beers be­fore we went to bed.

Sub­se­quent days were spent ham­mer­ing down the high­way miles be­tween At­lanta and Birm­ing­ham, Alabama—home to the Bar­ber Vin­tage Mo­tor­sports Mu­seum—what we might con­sider the holy grail of mo­tor­cy­cle mon­u­ments. Hon­estly, I had a spir­i­tual ex­pe­ri­ence walk­ing into this mu­seum— mo­tor­cy­cles of all shapes, sizes, and vin­tages hang­ing from the ceil­ing, climb­ing up­ward in a spi­ral, lin­ing the walls, and fill­ing the floor space as far as my eyes could see. It was a glo­ri­ous mo­ment! We spent all day in­side the mu­seum. We watched as the mo­tor­cy­cles went from an­ti­quated en­gines at­tached to bi­cy­cle frames to the four-cylin­der, 200-hp mon­sters that make quick work of a lap around Day­tona Speed­way. We ogled old In­di­ans and Har­leys, looked in as­ton­ish­ment at a hand-crafted bike built by Brit­ten, and won­dered what else they had hid­den in­side this mu­seum of mo­tor­cy­cle amaze­ment. But alas, we had many more miles to tread. So once again, we headed north (ish).

The In­di­ans, for those won­der­ing, per­formed flaw­lessly through­out our ex­cur­sion. The Chief­tain with its new Ride Com­mand sys­tem helped us nav­i­gate the crowed city streets of DC but also pointed us in the ap­pro­pri­ate di­rec­tion when we wan­dered off the park­way. I lis­tened to mu­sic plumbed into the sound sys­tem via Blue­tooth and uti­lized cruise con­trol at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity.

Aside from a com­plaint about lim­ited vis­i­bil­ity through the tall wind­screen adorn­ing his Spring­field, my fa­ther was smit­ten. His bike, with re­mote-lock­ing sad­dle­bags and a key­less ig­ni­tion, proved to be a per­fect com­pan­ion for a man who doesn’t de­sire the ac­cou­trements that come with 2017 tech­nol­ogy. It was more than enough mo­tor­cy­cle for my fa­ther, and he walked away want­ing one—bad.

Kyra, a sea­soned vet­eran on the Scout, did not like the fac­tory floor­boards but was oth­er­wise with­out worry the en­tire time. She was faster than us, could han­dle the curves bet­ter, and didn’t have to think too hard about how she parked her bike. It, too, was the per­fect pair­ing. Yes, we could have ac­com­plished this trip on other of­fer­ings from Amer­i­can, Bavar­ian, and Ja­panese OEMs, but the In­di­ans, like they had in our pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ences, were ev­ery­thing we wanted: Amer­i­can made, mod­ern, re­li­able, and beau­ti­ful to boot.

My fa­ther isn’t al­ways the eas­i­est guy to get along with. He’s stub­born like his son

and has been sin­gle since the ’90s. But un­like any of the plan­ning or pre­par­ing is­sues we may have had in our pre­vi­ous trip to Baja, this time my fa­ther made his de­sires clear: He wanted to ride the Blue Ridge Park­way to Thomas Jef­fer­son’s home, Mon­ti­cello.

If you’re un­fa­mil­iar, the Blue Ridge Park­way is Amer­ica’s longest lin­ear park. It runs for 469 miles through 29 of Vir­ginia’s and North Carolina’s coun­ties, mostly along the Blue Ridge—a ma­jor moun­tain chain that is part of the Ap­palachian Moun­tains. What it lacks in speed and sweep­ing turns, the Blue Ridge makes up for with an end­less sup­ply of scenic vis­tas and land­scapes lit­tered with oak, hick­ory, and tulip trees disappearing into the dis­tance. It’s a sea of green and mist that’ll make the de­layed pace worth ev­ery ex­tra minute. Turn­ing onto the park­way from the tourist trap of a town, Gatlin­burg, we rode it. But be­fore our Blue Ridge ride would be­gin, my fa­ther would un­in­ten­tion­ally park his sparkly Spring­field in the side of an Aveo…

My fa­ther’s ac­ci­dent was more of a tip-over gone wrong. While Kyra and I waited at a stop sign, my fa­ther mounted his Spring­field and at­tempted a rather tight U-turn so that he could exit the park­ing area where the Aveo was wait­ing, un­know­ingly, for a proper skew­er­ing. As he rounded out his U, the Spring­field leaned her­self over, land­ing firmly on the crash­bars. At that very mo­ment, from what my fa­ther told me, he lost his grip on the bars, to in­clude the clutch. The 111 Thun­der­stroke mo­tor took full ad­van­tage of this mis­take and grum­bled be­neath him, muscling it­self for­ward with my fa­ther all but grasping, un­suc­cess­fully, for brake or bars or any­thing that could stop this train of mo­men­tum from con­tin­u­ing its tra­jec­tory. What hap­pened next is not en­tirely clear, but ev­i­dence sug­gests that as my fa­ther tried to fight the in­evitable tip-over and en­su­ing slide, the Spring­field righted it­self, flung my old man from his seat, and then dived it­self head first into the side of a yel­low Chevy. This, of course, oc­curred al­most in­stan­ta­neously and left my fa­ther with a scraped-up el­bow and rather bruised ego. But shit hap­pens. And it can al­ways be worse. The bike was with­out much in the way of dam­age. The lit In­dian or­na­ment that lives on the end of the front fender was cracked and bro­ken and sad, and the fender it­self was crum­pled in­ward ever so slightly. But when we righted the bike and re­moved its front wheel from the side of the Chevy, she stood up­right and tall, her wheels pointed straight, and she turned and stopped like she should. The Chevy, how­ever, was an­other story. I sup­pose they don’t make them like they used to? In­surance doc­u­ments were ex­changed, apolo­gies were pro­fessed, and then we hit the road, fi­nally. Although the ac­ci­dent de­layed our de­par­ture from Nashville by a few days, In­dian re­quested that a deal­er­ship check out the bike and make sure it was road­wor­thy. We were headed to­ward the Blue Ridge within 48 hours of the in­ci­dent. Per­haps a lit­tle hum­bled.

Two days on the Park­way might be one too many when the pace is so slow and you’re try­ing to make up miles. But it’s beau­ti­ful, and you should en­joy ev­ery minute of it! Or you’re not do­ing this mo­tor­cy­cle thing the right way. Our exit, how­ever, was com­ing up, and we needed to hit the high­way hard in order to spend more than a mo­ment at Mon­ti­cello. We spilled off the Park­way in uni­son just east of Blow­ing Rock, North Carolina, and set our cruise con­trols for Char­lottesville, Vir­ginia. We saw some other things be­tween Ten­nessee and Vir­ginia—the Bilt­more, bach­e­lorette par­ties in the back of pickup trucks, and a life-size Ti­tanic-themed ho­tel—but we would spend the next few nights in a nowhere town and then fi­nally, on the fol­low­ing day, at Jef­fer­son’s home on the hill, just as my fa­ther had hoped. With a day or two still avail­able in our sched­ule (the Aveo in­ci­dent didn’t slow us down as much as we’d ex­pected), we de­cided to visit Wash­ing­ton, DC, some­where else my fa­ther had not been.

We drank whiskey at the Round Robin, a bar that ev­ery pres­i­dent since Zachary Tay­lor has at­tended, then saw the tra­di­tional sights of our na­tion’s cap­i­tal. We stayed out­side of town and de­parted a few days later, happy to have had the time but feel­ing a lit­tle un­ful­filled. There’s so much to see in that city, and a few days are far too few! Our next stop? Get­tys­burg.

Our trip cul­mi­nated in a tiny town out­side of Ne­wark, New Jersey—an un­event­ful end­ing to an oth­er­wise lifeal­ter­ing trip with my fa­ther and fu­ture wife. We parked our bikes and walked back slowly, won­der­ing when our next multi-thou­sand­mile ad­ven­ture to­gether might take place. Yes, trav­el­ing with fam­ily can be in­fu­ri­at­ing. But if you play your cards right and plan for the in­evitable—even if that in­cludes the skew­er­ing of a small Chevro­let—you’ll have a lot more to look back on…and maybe even more to put on your cal­en­dar mov­ing for­ward.

Lov­ing the old iron at the Bar­ber Mu­seum.

Stop­ping off at the Bilt­more man­sion in Asheville, NC.

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